02. 06. 2010

Grand Designs on Sustainable Housing

Encountered my first Minister in the new Coalition government – in the shape of Grant Shapps, Minister for Housing – on Thursday last week at the ‘Opening Ceremony’ for a new housing development getting underway in Swindon.

Not just any old housing development. The Triangle is a 42-home, mixed tenure, affordable scheme, the design for which has been put together by Kevin McCloud (of Grand Designs fame) and a housing association called Green Square. All the houses will meet Code Level 4 in the code for Sustainable Homes, and some of them Code Level 5. It’s backed by the Housing and Communities Agency (to the tune of £2.5 Million) and by DECC’s Low Carbon Innovation Fund. And the main contractor is Willmott Dixon, who were there in force at the opening.

It was Grant Shapps’s first outing as minister – so new that he inadvertently described himself as ‘Shadow Minister’ on one occasion. He did well – not just in his enthusiasm for the project itself, but in simultaneously confirming the 2016 target for zero carbon housing in England. This had somehow been left out of the Coalition’s new Programme for Government, which had caused a bit of a stir. He also pledged to bring to an end a three-year stand-off on how exactly ‘zero-carbon’ will be defined (‘that’s not as easy it sounds, by the way!’) within weeks. And that would be impressive.

Somewhat to the consternation of his equally new officials, he also had to familiarise himself with the brand new building material called ‘Hemcrete’, this is made out of hemp, produced by a company called Lime Technology, and it’s being used as the principal building material for the 42 houses.

I think he got a real buzz discovering more about Hemcrete – as did I. Kevin McCloud is already very enthusiastic:

“Hemp is the second fastest growing crop on the planet, after bamboo, so it can be slotted in between other crops during a growing season. It also requires almost no inputs, and enriches the soil. It’s non-combustible, breathable, tough and flexible, and has remained our first choice ever since we saw it being used.”

It also makes a hell of a difference in terms of greenhouse gas emissions when compared with traditional brick or concrete blocks in a normal wall section – to the tune of around 130kg less in terms of CO2 per m2 . Which makes it a genuinely ‘carbon positive’ material – as in more carbon locked up than emitted.

What really excited me about all this is the way in which innovation is, at long last, beginning to impact on a hugely conservative, risk-averse industry. There were even some leading Private Equity Investors present at the opening ceremony – and that has to be a good sign!

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Comments

03. 11. 2011
Dave

This is a really good post, so many new home builders are adopting sustainable living these days. I’m assuming that it also betters the property’s house valuation too. In the end they definitely work out to be more cost effective anyways.

12. 10. 2011
pm

Jonathon, "Splash" told you all about this in the early 1990's. Remember ESP.

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