Introduction

In 2013, we were commissioned by Orkney Islands Council to prepare a development brief for land at Copland’s Dock. Copland’s Dock is directly across the Hamnovoe from the beautiful town of Stromness. We developed an urban design framework for the town and its surroundings in 2008 as well as preparing a number of development briefs for various sites in and around the town but now, some aspects of that work have been overtaken by events.

In particular, the land to the south of Garson has now been identified as the location for a renewables pier. This useful piece of infrastructure chimes with the Council’s sensible ambition that the Orkney archipelago should play a role in the future of The New North and its potential for oil and gas as well as surface natural resources and the opening up of new trade routes through the Arctic Circle assisted by global warming.

Coplands Dock renewables pier under construction 13 Decemner 2013
Of course the Copland’s Dock renewables pier is a small investment in the future but it opens up an area of land for associated developments which could be of great value to Orkney in terms of economic development. But could also be highly damaging in terms of environmental impact, especially the visual relationship with the historic fabric of Stromness itself and the National Scenic Area.

Purpose of the development brief

The Garson peninsular has experienced a gradual spread of development from north to south over the past decades. To date, there has been limited attention paid to ensuring a coordinated overview of development phasing or the establishment of parameters for building layout and design which reflect the highly sensitive setting of the sites. The Stromness UDF started the process of re-assessing the priorities for new development in Stromness. Critically, it established the overriding principle of ensuring that new development is contextually sensitive, well designed and of an appropriate quality to ensure that it is a long term asset to Stromness.

The purpose of this Development Brief is to provide more detail on the planning and design considerations which are critical to the successful coordinated development of the Garson site in the light of changing circumstances especially in relation to the growth of the harbour and the accommodation of the renewables industry.

A renewables pier: location and context

Copland’s Dock lies to the south of recent residential development on the east shore of Hamnavoe around the area known as Whitehouse Rocks, immediately north of Inner Holm. It is a substantial area of land currently in agricultural use. Construction of a new pier on the site is underway together with a temporary access road and construction yard. The renewables pier will form the centrepiece of the new development area together with the existing disused Copland’s Dock.
the remains of the old Copland's Dock boatyard and slip
The proposal has been subject to environmental assessment as part of the SEA for the draft LDP. This concluded that the area was broadly acceptable for development subject to mitigation.
The main risks of adverse impact relate to visual intrusion within the National Scenic Area (NSA), the impact on the listed buildings and other historic features, the possibility of archaeological remains, the possible impact of the access road on residential amenity and road safety, and the need to protect water courses. It was considered that all of these potential impacts could be mitigated through the development brief for the site

Development Brief Strategy

The role of this Development Brief was to establish common planning and design principles for the development in order that the site development around the renewables pier as a whole is coordinated and well designed. It is recognised that the development of the site could be damaging to the visual integrity of the NSA and Stromness – or it could be developed in such a way that disruption was minimised, enabling the continued protection, conservation and sustainable management of the NSA Special Qualities.
Coplands Dock renewables pier sections
The central strategy for the development of the area is that it should follow the coastline at a level somewhere between the upper flood limit and the bases of the field boundary walls around the site. Level development areas should be created at a height as close to the shoreline as possible, with minimum height of 4.57m AOD, rather than rising up over the existing agricultural areas. This means excavation of the rising ground around the new pier to create level yards against an exposed rock backdrop and natural rising ground which is typical of the context. This is a more appropriate response than trying to bench new development into the hillside in terraces.
coplands-dock-development-area
New development proposals must also respond to the following strategic principles:

  • north of the new pier, the existing Copland’s Dock area should be retained and used, with a new slip and storage for small boats
  • north of Copland’s Dock, the development areas between the existing access road and the shore could potentially be used for small fishing industries
  • east of the new pier along the shoreline, yards should be created to meet the requirements of the emerging renewables industry and other appropriate users in phases
    around the shore, provide for a network of open spaces and pedestrian routes including an area of public open space to the north of the development area
  • accepting a minimal industrial aesthetic in building design, keeping colour to a minimum
    considering opportunities for biodiversity enhancement within open space areas identified within the site. For example by shrub / tree planting using native species and by incorporating existing stone walls within the development
  • consider and reduce light pollution from pier and yard floodlighting
    ensure that any potential historical and archaeological richness throughout the development site is considered
  • consider using excavated material from yard construction to create new slipway or to create development areas at the sea edge

Willie Miller, the founder and principal of WMUD, died on 12th January 2021 after a short illness. Willie was a much-loved husband and father and had a huge circle of friends  and professional colleagues. He was a multi-talented urban designer whose work had a major impact on hundreds of cities, towns and neighbourhoods throughout the UK and over the past 25 years. He also worked in Ireland, the Channel Islands and the USA.

Ines Triebel has been with WMUD since 2005, and she will continue the practice, drawing on her skills as a planner and designer. Ines has worked on place strategies, masterplans, policy guidance, regeneration and development frameworks, and the design of public realm and streetscape projects. She has extensive experience of working with communities, including charrettes.

WMUD will continue its long-standing strategic partnerships with Benton Scott-Simmons, Nick Wright Planning, Kevin Murray Associates, icecream architecture, yellow book and others. Please direct inquiries to Ines at [email protected] or contact any of the practices named above.