SETTING A NEW STANDARD for Green Precincts
Just three kilometres from the heart of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, Newinbosch is a sustainably designed neighbourhood estate offering exceptional amenities and diverse, affordable opportunities for those looking to embrace secure community living and a wholesome lifestyle. Owned and developed by local property developer Similan and JSE-listed construction firm Raubex, the 48ha mixed-use development will be rolled out over the next four to six years, with the first-phase occupation taking place in the first quarter of 2024.
The Newinbosch precinct aims to incorporate internationally benchmarked and acknowledged sustainable design and green building practices. It is currently registered with the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA) for a Green Star Sustainable Precincts rating and aiming for a 5-Star Green Star rating, and is registered for and targeting an EDGE Residential certification.
Starting with the end in mind
Green building and sustainability consultant André Harms, Founder and Director of Ecolution, says that it has been an incredibly interesting and inspiring project to work on, given that Similan set out to develop a sustainable residential precinct, and put into practice what needed to happen in order to achieve that vision – only seeking a green building certification along the way, to confirm, expand on and enhance the interventions incorporated. “They had a good intuition as to what sustainability means on this neighbourhood precinct scale, and had researched and applied various initiatives because of their passion and convictions,” Harms says. “When Ecolution came on board, it was a case of taking stock of what had been done, and then applying it to the Sustainable Precincts benchmark. They had already included so many things organically, and we were able to advise on some further additions in order to push the boat out further. We submitted the Round 1 submission for a 5-Star Green Star Sustainable Precincts rating, which we will hopefully achieve to make it the first in South Africa for this type of development.”
The Sustainable Precincts tool evaluates large-scale development projects at a precincts/neighbourhood scale, based on a “Plan for Development”, and applies to new rather than existing precincts. The categories considered in this tool are governance, livability, economic prosperity and environment. Dr Peta Brom, Senior Sustainability Consultant and Certification Operations Manager at Ecolution, says that the Newinbosch precinct has a good spread across each of the categories. “From an economic prosperity perspective, the different housing typologies and erf sizes reach diverse target groups. There are a number of start-up projects in various phases of ideation to drive empowerment and economic development, which really fall at the crossover between economic prosperity and livability. For example, the neighbourhood will boast a not-for-profit urban farm, where the restaurant and residents can obtain healthy produce, with proceeds going to those working at the farm.”
In addition to encouraging and recognising projects that engage in and facilitate the development of the project’s community, livability points are awarded for projects that promote healthy and active living. Newinbosch was meticulously crafted to introduce a Live-Work-Play ethos that enriches residents’ quality of life. The sports and training facilities are vast and varied, from a 25m swimming pool and kids’ pool, gym facilities and cycling and running routes, to pickleball and multipurpose courts, boules, a farm and recreational dam, and a dog park. Other amenities include an outdoor amphitheatre with picnic lawns, an eatery, coffee shop and wine bar, shared office space, the Grappa Shed events venue, and the on-site Newinbosch Square shopping centre.
Newinbosch is the only development in Stellenbosch with specifically allocated zoned land for a school. The pre-school facility, in collaboration with Pret op die Plaas, a well-known local preschool, opens in January 2024, and a private primary and high school are planned to launch in the future. The whole neighbourhood is designed to help children flourish in an environment where they can learn, grow and have fun. Amenities like jungle gyms, trampolines, a skate park, a bouldering wall, smooth paths for little wheels, and cricket nets all prioritise safe and holistic development, within the realms of a natural, outdoor world.
Connecting with people, connecting with nature
All of the amenities have been planned around community connection, health, accessibility and the needs of residents, as well as the wider community. “It’s about being able to greet neighbours walking past the work-from-home office niche, with openable windows directed at thoroughfares, or breaking up the day by heading to the lifestyle centre,” says Harms. Newinbosch is based on the five-minute neighbourhood concept, allowing residents to reach amenities within a five-minute walk/ride from any point in the neighbourhood.
When it comes to the handling of the environment and land that Newinbosch is being developed on, there is a commitment to not only minimise the effect on the site, but to also enhance the biodiversity, habitat and quality of the green spaces. “The existing ecology had been heavily invaded due to commercial agriculture and the use of herbicides and the like, so there was a lot of room for improvement, but the team has really taken it to the next level,” says Dr Brom. “The original land was quite interesting ecologically, located on a narrow finger of Swartland Shale Renosterveld, which contains the highest concentration of threatened plant species.”
Great effort has been taken to help restore local fauna and flora habitats, with locally indigenous plants and trees planted in parks and green spaces. The landscaping design has been integrated with water-sensitive urban design (WSUD) solutions such as swales, thereby combining flood resilience with ecosystem regeneration. Pocket forests all around the precinct provide shade and cooling. “Biodiversity corridors have been included so that fauna can travel through the site. The water network provides pathways for freshwater organisms such as amphibians to move along and connect with existing stormwater underpasses to the nearby river. And then there’s the pollinator corridor along the electrical servitude, so there’s been a great deal of consideration put into Newinbosch’s ecology,” she says. In addition to being locally contextualised, the landscaping has also been designed to be climate resilient. As a result of these efforts, the site could, in the future, register for a Net Zero Ecology certification through the GBCSA.
Load shedding resilience
Asked as to what other aspects of the precinct really stand out in terms of being a “sustainability highlight”, Harms says that the energy system that the Newinbosch team has devised comes to mind. “I have not seen a hybrid energy solution of this scale and comprehensiveness elsewhere in South Africa,” he says. “It is complicated, as the residential units are being rolled out in phases, but the plan is that once it reaches a certain size, there will be sufficient renewable energy being generated through solar PV, coupled with a battery energy storage system, to make the whole precinct resilient to at least the first four stages of load shedding.” Harms says that there will likely also be a back-up generator.
“The topic of energy and electricity is an inevitable one around South African braais and dinner parties. When Newinbosch residents are having positive conversations, about the benefits they receive as residents, and how well it works, then we will know we’ve done our job properly,” says Harold Spies, Director at Similan.
The balance between achieving these sustainable solutions, while keeping home prices accessible and affordable, is a key challenge for the development. “It’s easy to throw money at getting the right technical solution, but our vision is to keep the homes accessible, and so we have put a lot of effort into negotiation, and ongoing, proactive collaboration, so as to stand firm to our principles,” says Spies.
“I think another challenge is to be honest about the fact that these topics are nuanced, and relatively new, and in some cases difficult to reconcile with the status quo – how industry does things and what information is available, for example,” says Harms. “Newinbosch will hopefully receive the preliminary 5-Star target Green Star Sustainable Precincts rating in the next few months. When it does, it will really reflect a giant effort that is possible only as a result of learning from other projects and standing on the shoulders of those others who have walked this journey,” concludes Harms.