As a practice we like to look back at completed projects to see how well their initial environmental aims were achieved. Laverstoke Mill in Hampshire is one of these, with our practice first getting involved in preparation of an EIA in 2008.
The Mill itself, on the River Test, has a fascinating history. There has been a mill on the site since before the Domesday Book (AD 1086), with a corn mill known to be present in AD 903. The height of its industrial use covered the years 1719- 1963 and during that period it produced high quality specialist paper and in particular, bank note paper for both the Bank of England and the Bank of India – rupees and sterling.
It ceased being a paper mill in the mid-1960s and ceased industrial use in 2005. It was bought for development potential by Berkeley Commercial Developments and was built out by the Bombay Sapphire Company, opening as a distillery and visitor centre in 2014.
The Mill makes a great day out, with visitors being able to view the distillery process and sample the botanicals that go into the spirits.
What is most impressive is how sustainable the development is, highlighting that even in the most sensitive and constrained sites, nature and the built environment can work together to achieve exciting outcomes.
Stream velocities were affected, and there was little of the streamside vegetation nor gravel beds characteristic of The Test, an SSSI, in this location.
Post-development, the situation is greatly changed. Soft engineering has replaced the vertical concrete embankments in many places, resulting in a natural stream course where one had not existed for possibly centuries. This has resulted in increased habitat for native fishes, particularly brown trout. Bird and bat boxes are in place and bats can still access the roof spaces of buildings for roosting. Rainwater harvesting and restricted flow devices are also part of the implemented design.
The sustainability of the Mill is perhaps the most impressive. It uses photovoltaic technology to replace electricity, resulting in a net reduction in fossil fuel consumption of nearly 60%. At present it uses spent product for biomass generation of heat and hot water needs, but the company aims for continuous improvement, with full independence from external sources of energy by means of heat and energy generated from industrial by-products.
A key issue is the interaction of the site with the environment. The distillery is entirely self-contained; it takes no water from The Test nor does it return effluent to it. And this closed system approach applies to all areas of the new development. For example, the glass houses contain example planting of the botanicals (mostly sub-tropical and tropical in origin) used in the refining process. These are grown within secure glass houses, which both limit the non-native species exposure to the natural environment and protect the specimens from frost. The glass houses themselves are extremely attractive features, evocative of the gin production – and consumption!- experience.
This was a particularly enjoyable project to research as not only is it in a beautiful location and showcases a particularly high quality historic restoration, but it also provided the opportunity to sample the excellent product of an environmentally committed developer/owner.
Unit 15 The Barn, Evegate Business Park, Station Road,
Smeeth, Kent, TN25 6SX
0845 226 3618