Groundbreaking sustainable neighbourhood project approved

Image: Human Nature and Periscope

Food Foundation to partner with groundbreaking new sustainable neighbourhood project after planning permission granted 

The Food Foundation is to partner with Human Nature Places on a unique new sustainable neighbourhood development in Lewes, East Sussex, after planning permission was granted (15/2/24) for the project to go ahead.

  • A health and food strategy will be central to the new Phoenix development which is set to be the most sustainable neighbourhood in the UK with a unique and groundbreaking vision. 
  • A new community canteen will be central to creating a culture of food growing, education and provide residents and the wider community with healthy and affordable access to food.
  • Walkable neighbourhood built around a principle of shared living provides breakthrough model for sustainable placemaking 

The UK’s largest timber-structure neighbourhood is also projected to deliver exponential sustainability, social impact and significant biodiversity net gain.

The Food Foundation is set to start work on a visionary new food and health strategy in partnership with Human Nature to create a unique new approach to developing a 7.9 hectare brownfield site into the UK’s most sustainable neighbourhood.

The Phoenix site in Lewes, East Sussex was granted planning approval by the South Downs National Park planning committee last week.

Designed to prioritise people over cars, the Phoenix will be a walkable, multi-use development on a former industrial site that will provide a unique neighbourhood with community, health, and food central to its culture.

The mixed-income, multi-tenure development will provide 685 homes with 30% affordable housing, creating a place where people will be able to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle.

When complete, it will be the UK’s largest timber-structure neighbourhood, and a blueprint for sustainable placemaking and positive social impact that can be deployed at scale.

The project has been developed by Human Nature, a campaigning development company that designs, builds and manages intrinsically sustainable places which respond to the crises in climate, nature and health.

The Lewes-based company was founded by former Greenpeace directors Michael Manolson and Jonathan Smales.

The project will build on The Food Foundation’s previous Food Cities initiative which aimed to mobilise and support city authorities in Birmingham and around the world to develop and implement food policies, strategies and multi-stakeholder partnerships that aim to increase access to healthy diets and generate a positive impact on urban food systems.

The project will include a series of courtyards and community buildings, and provide a walkway along the River Ouse; there will be opportunities to grow food across the site.

A community canteen will provide locally sourced and affordable meals to the neighbourhood and the people of Lewes.

There will also be on-site recycling, waste-management schemes and composting facilities, and an urban-farming and community-gardening strategy. 

Children growing up at the Phoenix will be able to attend a brand-new nursery with access to healthy fresh food and where food education will be central to its ethos. The Phoenix will also be the home to a new health centre where social prescribing and prevention can tackle obesity and diet-related diseases, with opportunities to trial new approaches.

Human Nature is working with some of the UK’s leading architects, landscape designers and engineers plus local businesses and foundations to create breakthrough models prioritising social value and impact.

These include Archio, Stirling Prize-winner Mae, regenerative design agency Periscope, Arup, Expedition Engineering and Whitby Wood.

At the planning committee on 15 February 2024, members voted for a resolution to grant planning permission, subject to section 106 agreements and resolution of outstanding issues with National Highways. 

Jo Ralling, Head of Campaigns and Development, The Food Foundation, said: "Our broken food system makes it very hard for people to make healthy and sustainable food choices.

"Working with Human Nature on their visionary plans for The Phoenix will enable us to build a positive food culture into the fabric of an entire neighbourhood.

"Too often urban environments prevent people making the choices they want to feed themselves or cook for their children.

"We are seeing, obesity, food poverty and diet-related disease at record levels with the current cost of living crisis making it even harder for people to afford fruit and vegetables.

"We aim to work with Human Nature to create a toolkit to enable all urban development to put food systems central to their thinking and give the future generation better long term outcomes."


Jonathan Smales, Founder and CEO of Human Nature, said: "We are delighted to be working in partnership with The Food Foundation.

"Our aim is to create a food culture and environment to tackle the reversible trends we are currently seeing at a National Level.

"The current mainstream model of development is catastrophic. Not only does it fuel unsustainable lifestyles and the climate crisis it also creates social divisions which exacerbate loneliness and fail to tackle obesity or diet-related diseases.

"Our focus on radically improving environmental and social impacts through the power of placemaking can create a template for the towns of tomorrow."

Find out more at 


Please contact: Juliet Grant on 07929 075489 or email

Emily Ward, Communications Consultant, Human Nature, at or or call 07800 995697.


Jo Ralling, Head of Campaigns and Development, The Food Foundation   

Jonathan Smales, Founder and CEO, Human Nature 

Joanna Yarrow, Chief Impact Officer, Human Nature 

Twitter: @Food_Foundation 

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The Food Foundation is a charity working to influence food policy and business practice, shaping a sustainable food system which makes healthy diets affordable and accessible for all. We work in partnership with researchers, campaigners, community bodies, industry, investors, government and citizens to galvanise the UK’s diverse agents of change, using surprising and inventive ideas to drive fundamental shifts in our food system. These efforts are based on the continual re-evaluation of opportunities for action, building and synthesising strong evidence, convening powerful coalitions, harnessing citizens’ voices and delivering impactful communications.        
Registered Charity Number 1187611.

Human Nature is a campaigning development company, founded by former Greenpeace directors Michael Manolson and Jonathan Smales. It designs, builds and runs intrinsically sustainable places and communities at the neighbourhood and village scale, where it is easy to live happy, healthy and sustainable lives. It is based in Lewes, East Sussex, where it is bringing forward the award-winning Phoenix project. 

The Phoenix is a trailblazing vision to transform a brownfield site in Lewes into a sustainable neighbourhood, designed for the way we need to live now and in the future. It aims to set a new benchmark in urban planning by bringing together best practice in modern methods of construction, sustainable mobility, energy efficient design and landscape architecture, all while providing good homes, jobs, training opportunities and generous public space for the town. When complete it will encompass 10,000 sqm of service, commercial and employment space in healthcare, light industry, creative business, hospitality and retail. At the heart of the neighbourhood will be a series of public squares connecting to a community canteen, event hall, taproom, fitness centre, workspace and makers’ studios, much of which will be housed within repurposed industrial structures. Shared courtyards, parks, green corridors and rooftop gardens will enable social interaction, promote communal living and provide habitats for local wildlife. The masterplan has been recognised with the Pineapples Future Place Award, AR Future Place Award for masterplanning and regeneration, and a commendation from the Oslo Architecture Triennale Neighbourhood Index.

  • Masterplanning: Human Nature, Periscope, Kathryn Firth (Arup) 
  • Architects: Adam Richards Architects, Archio, Al-Jawad Pike, Ash Sakula Architects, Charles Holland Architects, Human Nature, Mae, Material Cultures, Mole Architects, Rabble Architecture, TDO 
  • Executive civil engineer: Expedition 
  • Executive structural engineer: Whitby Wood 
  • Environmental engineers: Atelier Ten 
  • Transport: WSP, Urban Movement 
  • Timber engineers: Eurban 
  • Ecology: Ecology Solutions 
  • Planning consultant: Whaleback 
  • Cost consultant: RUA 

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