A thousand new homes could be built in the Gomm Valley if the revised scheme put forward by a development company headed by former Greenpeace directors Jonathan Smales and Michael Manolson gets planning consent.

The original plans drawn up by Human + Nature were based on Wycombe District Council’s development brief for “up to 400 homes”.

As a result of feedback following the public consultation in June, fundamental changes have been made to alter the dynamics but not the ethos of the masterplan.

Last Sunday, the local community and beyond were invited to Tylers Green Middle School to view the re-worked plans for the site.

The developers estimate the development will take between eight and ten years to complete if the ambitious scheme goes through in its present form.

Those involved with the project hope it could form a blueprint for future developments built on sites where the risk to the natural landscape is the foremost concern.

One of the hosts mingling with visitors in the school hall to answer questions on Sunday admitted the biggest problem was to convince sceptics “we’re not away with the fairies”.

The fervent environmentalists involved in the project are world class professionals in the building industry with experience of working on schemes of profound sensitivity.

Smales and Manolson along with some of the architects and engineers engaged in the Gomm Valley development contributed to the successful outcome of the Olympic Park both in the building of the main stadium and velodrome for the 2012 Olympics and their future use.

Below is a list of the principals involved in the scheme for the development of the now named Little Haldens (an old English term for secluded community) and a few of the headline projects they’ve worked on in the past.

Evidence suggests they are a group hell-bent on creating the wherewithal for a future community to live in a beauty spot without spoiling it – there’s nothing woolly about the commitment of these guys.

Moreover, by way of making the most of natural resources and introducing practical amenities, their avowed aim is to provide an environment that will result in an enjoyable and fulfilling lifestyle for generations of those who come to live in the Gomm Valley, not just by building thoughtfully designed homes to match the widely different needs of residents in the years, even centuries, to come. It’s a tall order.

Are Smales and co away with the fairies? If you can find time to read the answers to questions put to Jonathan Smales by the Free Press when he attended the latest public consultation you’ll have a better idea:

Number of homes and distribution

We are proposing to build circa 1,000 dwellings, working to the premise that we want to offer a wide choice of homes and they must reflect their precise context on the land in terms of configuration and design.

We anticipate 52 per cent will be one and two-bed apartments or duplexes, 33 per cent three-bed houses and 15 per cent four and five-bed houses.

We propose [to provide plots for] around 100 self-build homes. We also aim to provide a co-housing project.

The development will take the form of three separate villages (Orchard, Hillside and the Urban Village) with different layouts and character responding to their precise situation.

Urban Village will be sub divided into Little Haldens Square and Lower Brook.

The total net developable area in our proposals is around 28.8 hectares of the total land area.

Bearing in mind that more than 50 per cent will be flats, the building footprint for the 1,000 dwellings will take up eight per cent of the [Human + Nature development].

We estimate that [the original scheme] for the development brief would have occupied between five and seven per cent depending on the unspecified size of the units.

Amenities to engender the future lifestyles of residents

Little Haldens Square: artisanal café/bakery; lifestyle General Store with Post Office; destination rooftop restaurant; neighbourhood management office; (potential) microbrewery – the aim is these are all independent and bespoke; neighbourhood recycling centre; neighbourhood management team space; logistics (parcel/box scheme delivery and collection – to minimise large vehicle deliveries)

Pre-school nursery

Primary School: the school will have easy access to the resources of the whole valley for outdoor activities and learning.

Co-working spaces and maker’s studios

Shuttle bus service to Wycombe railway station and the town centre at peak hours, e-car and e-bike clubs. The bus can be hailed by residents for the outward journey as it tours the main streets.

Little Haldens Park: Green Team offices, yard and fields studies; summer café pergola; community shed (for community events); small sauna building associated with the natural swimming pond; art + nature exhibition space.

If co-housing takes off (that is if we find committed families to participate), there may also be a community kitchen.

Community Gardens and Allotments

Public ornamental and productive gardens let and run on a sharing basis with professional gardening support from the Green Team.

Bicycle Parking

Extensive bespoke cycle parking facilities around the whole place… the main street Ashwells Lane is to be built at a gradient of 1:20 which enables cycling.
Green waste composting, wormery and biogas unit

Organic waste treated on site and produces energy and rich compost. We are looking into having our own energy company: there will be air-source heat pumps, solar thermal and photovoltaics; we will also buy into a neighbourhood renewable energy supply contract; we will look for an operator to install and run the electric vehicle charging points.  

So, question - Mr Smales, are you away with the fairies?

Answer: “We see our job as being to help create the ‘new normal’. 

This is a normal where it is made really easy, obvious and manifestly pleasant to live in energy-efficient homes with good natural light, made from strong earthy, natural materials; where the energy to power these homes and our lives is inherently clean and the air doesn’t poison us; where people want to walk and cycle and use buses because they are convenient, safe, healthy options that get us where we want to be easily; where people enjoy using our efficient bus service because they meet their neighbours, save money on parking and reduce congestion, making it easier thereby for everyone to get around; were we may not all have large gardens – and many, especially older people, can’t maintain them – but we do want to look over and/or enjoy the use of a garden from time-to-time to grow food or flowers; where the architecture is elegant and well-made, a bit Catholic in its variety, sometimes fun and sometimes beautiful, not pastiche traditional but not clinical modern either – it avoids trying too hard to be much more than a great home – the architecture gets the job done well, stands the test of time as it adapts to the different families who will live there and ages gracefully with the elements, making a lovely spectacle for everyone else! 

"Where we have local shops and services that help meet our daily needs but also have a bit of spark and wit and about them – offering something different; to be able to eat in cafes and restaurants where we know the team working there cares about where the food comes form, about our health and about the pleasure of eating well; where we make that bit of extra effort to separate our ‘waste’ knowing that it will be collected and put to good use not just dumped or incinerated; where we can easily get to a bit of wide open space and run around, walk the dog, take in the view, see and meet others, find children for our children to play with.

"In short – it’s just really a more neighbourly, healthy and planet-conscious way to live, made dead easy by the way the place and services around us are organised. 

"In this way it becomes a culture – a way of living that is just…natural.”


The highlights in this regard – and in plain(ish) English – are:

Net Environmental Gain: which is to say, the land, its wildlife habitats and ecological richness will be enhanced significantly by this project by comparison to the current state; this will be achieved by, among other things:

  • Resourcing and effective management of the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and connecting it to a wider network of chalk grassland.
  • Enlarging and managing the County Wildlife Site.
  • Planting and managing c5,000 new trees (semi mature).
  • One km of new hedgerows and effective management of the existing stock.
  • 20ha of new/regenerated chalk grassland…this is a very important habitat for England.
  • New wetland areas as part of the water management system along the valley; this will bring new insect and birdlife.
  • Networks of green roofs creating aerial green corridors for insect and birdlife.
  • Community gardens and slip parks.
  • The orchard at the top of the site.

Collectively these features will help ensure that the ideal of human+nature is realised here.

Good homes and a great place for people to live while enhancing habitat for the natural world. 
Who’s who? 

Our team:

  • Founders and directors Michael Manolson and Jonatan Smales. Former Greenpeace directors, lifelong environmentalists, Global Green City initiatives for UN, Olympic Park & Legacy, sustainability, strategy and urbanism for 20x major regeneration and new settlement projects across the UK.
  • Alex Ely is an architect and urbanist and our Lead Design adviser (www.mae.co.uk)
  • Brent Lock West (3x winner British homes Ward 2018); Grahame Park (masterplan of the year 2017); 
  • James Hampton & Dan Rea architects and landscape architects (www.periscopestudio.co.uk)
  • Stefan Sjoberg, Ola Kjellander, Angela Wojda, architects (www.kjellandersjoberg.se) LEED Platinum projects, nominated for the EU Mies Award 2019, Swedish Design Award 2018 
  • Jon Dales, Amy Priestley, Oliver Davey, street designers (www.urbanmovement.co.uk). Glasgow Avenues, Brighton Valley Gardens, Camden street design
  • Ed Mcann, Dan Epstein, Carrie Behar, Fred Labbe, Fiona Wyatt, engineers and sustainability (www.usefulprojects.co.uk). Olympic Velodrome, Head of Sustainability for the Olympic Delivery Authority, water strategy, Olympic Park