Housing future hopes

A small housing development in north Lancashire is pointing the way towards the sustainable future of homebuilding.

The 20 new homes rising from the ground in the village of Halton are being built to the exceptionally low-energy Passivhaus standard.

The properties are being constructed using airtight building fabric. High-performance windows and doors with insulated frames are also being incorporated in the process.

Air source heat pumps are used to heat and cool the building and provide hot water.

There is an aspiration to link to local renewable energy sources, including a hydroelectricity plant on the nearby River Lune which will power the estates electric vehicle power points.

Passivhaus homes are built with meticulous attention to detail, rigorous design and construction, according to principles developed in Germany.

These homes generally need 90 per cent less energy for heating and hot water than standard buildings and have very low running costs. It means they are better for the environment and cheaper for people living in them to run.

We must all play a part if we are to decarbonise our economy

The family properties, for affordable rent and shared ownership, are being developed by South Lakes Housing (SLH) in partnership with the Lune Valley Community Land Trust.

The estate is being funded by SLH, Lancaster City Council and Homes England and building work is set to be completed in the summer.

Blackpool-based Tyson Construction is delivering the development. Philip Helm, business development director, believes it points the way to the future.

At present, Passivhaus building costs are an issue for commercial housebuilders. The construction bill for these low energy properties in Halton is 20 per cent higher than for normal traditional timber frame homes.

The development has been made possible by a partnership approach that has delivered grant funding and Homes England support.

City council leader councillor Caroline Jackson says: “The city council’s priorities are very clear – to take action on climate change, to build local community wealth and engage with our communities in a way that gives power and co-creation. The Halton projects fit every element of this.

Charles Ainger, who chairs Lune Valley Community Land Trust, stresses the homes will be for local people in the Halton area and talks of the “sustained collaborative effort” that has made the development possible.

Philip Helm says: Were really excited to be involved in delivering these homes and to be building up our knowledge of Passivhaus construction. The process itself is not hugely technical, but it is very clever.

Though cost is an issue now, he believes that, as the technology is developed and becomes more common, prices will fall to a point where the finances stack up for large scale homebuilders.

Cath Purdy, chief executive of SLH, says the aim of Passivhaus building is to help achieve affordable warmth while reducing the environmental impact.

She says: We must all play a part if we are to decarbonise our economy and we need homes that are fit for purpose, that are affordable to heat, that are comfortable and healthy, which is so important to many families.

The decarbonising path the construction sector is taking is clear. New homes and buildings in England will have to produce significantly less CO2 under new rules announced by the government in December to help the country move towards net zero.

Under the new regulations, CO2 emissions from new build homes must be around 30 per cent lower than current standards and emissions from other new buildings, including offices and shops, must be cut by 27 per cent.

Heating and powering buildings currently makes up 40 per cent of the UK’s total energy use.

The government says installing low carbon technology, such as solar panels and heat pumps, and using materials in a more energy efficient way to keep in heat will help cut emissions – lowering the cost of energy bills for families and helping deliver the UK’s climate change ambitions.

Under the new regulations, which will come into effect from June this year, all new residential buildings, including homes, care homes, student accommodation and children’s homes, must also be designed to reduce overheating, making sure they are fit for the future and protect the most vulnerable people.

Improvements to ventilation will be introduced to support the safety of residents in newly built homes and to prevent the spread of airborne viruses in new non-residential buildings.

The government says the changes are an important step towards a cleaner greener built environment, paving the way for the Future Homes and Buildings Standard in 2025, which will mean all future homes are net zero ready and will not need retrofitting.

Housing minister Eddie Hughes said: The changes will significantly improve the energy efficiency of the buildings where we live, work and spend our free time and are an important step on our countrys journey towards a cleaner, greener built environment.

Latest figures show 46 per cent of the homes in England are now rated C or above for energy efficiency, compared to just 14 per cent in 2010.

However, there are challenges ahead posed by the new rules. Paul McNeill, director at Preston based building control professionals Ball & Berry spells them out.

He says: When the changed rules come into effect, the main issue will be a lack of sufficiently trained people to specify and install the technologies that the government says will make new homes more sustainable and carbon efficient.

“Right now, there isn’t the widespread capability to install photovoltaic panels, air source heat pumps and electric car charging points, so the government, and our industry, must ensure we’re investing into training as well as the mass production of these products.

Paul adds: “Additionally, the government should be looking at the realities of new build housing and the challenges they present.

These measures may work for detached and semi-detached homes, with ample ground space and off-road parking, but the density housing required to meet demand for our growing population isn’t designed to accommodate sustainable technologies as easily.

Alternative strategies will be required for new build apartments and social housing, for example, to ensure the updated and amended regulations are fit for purpose for all types of living.

Work to meet the skills challenge in Lancashire is already underway as the countys construction sector gets ready to respond to the low carbon agenda.

In December, it was announced that Preston College would lead a new collaboration between Lancashire-based partner colleges, construction sector employers and wider stakeholders as specialist low carbon skills centres are created across the county.

The skills accelerator project is a direct response to the ten-point Green Industrial Revolution plan outlined by the Prime Minister in November 2020 and is being funded by the Department of Education.

Creating ten new courses by 2026, enabling 2,224 people to gain new low carbon skills, the project is a collaboration between eight of the countys FE establishments.

It includes the creation of Building Services Skills Zones at Preston College, a new Plumbing Technology Centre at Blackburn College, and an Insulation Technologies Zone at Lancaster and Morecambe College.

West Lancashire College will host a Green Initiative Centre and existing building services provision and curriculum resources will be updated at Blackpool and the Fylde and Burnley Colleges.

Nelson and Colne College Group and Runshaw College are also engaged in supporting the project.

The aim is to support Lancashire-based employers as the construction sector transitions to air source and ground source heat pumps and associated smart technologies.

Mick Noblett, Preston College vice principal, says: “This project is a highly exciting collaboration, not just between Further Education colleges but sector specialists across Lancashire.

Addressing a recognised industry need, in the context of the Lancashire region, the project allows us to deliver the skills, qualifications and competences needed to support the meeting of ambitious targets.

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