BLOG: The West Midlands could take the lead on green housing

John Christophers of Associated Architects looks at signals of change in the West Midlands and makes the case for higher standards in new build homes.
West Midlands Green Housing

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July 19, 2018

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The West Midlands has the expertise and potential to become the UK’s leading region for sustainable residential development. Birmingham’s 60% carbon reduction target by 2027 is already significantly ahead of the current government 22% reduction by 2022*.

With influential Mayor Andy Street at the helm of the newly-created Combined Authority and private sector organisations placing zero carbon and reduced energy consumption at the heart of design, planning and construction, the Greater Birmingham conurbation could be at the vanguard of a green housing revolution.

West Midlands housing sits within Mr Street’s portfolio, which means he has the power to place the region at the forefront of residential sustainability and inspire new zero carbon standards across the UK.

The Mayor, and the West Midlands Combined Authority, have repeatedly stressed that the 215,000 new homes to be built in the WMCA area must be not only delivered quickly but also must be high quality and new housing developments should be great places.

Several WMCA-led groups are looking at aspects of what this means in practice, including what a new-build healthy homes performance standard should look like and how this standard could be used by developers.

Among these is the Sustainable Housing Action Partnership (SHAP), a not-for-profit company that brings together key thinkers and leaders in West Midlands housing.

One of SHAP’s key research areas is the development of a West Midlands healthy homes new-build standard for the financing of the delivery of high quality, energy efficient homes.

SHAP is feeding in research recently completed for the West Midlands Housing Officers Group including a new-build healthy homes standard fit for 2050, cost estimates for enhancing energy performance standards beyond Building Regulations and a smart, sustainable procurement model that supports greater certainty that desired outcomes can be achieved from investment in housing.

The Combined Authority’s Housing Delivery Team has been created to help the West Midlands unlock the thousands of new homes needed in the region by 2031 and is supported by a £5 million investment to expand construction skills.

A similar level of investment in sustainable innovation, design and building techniques could create a thriving green economy that benefits homeowners, workers and businesses for generations to come.

Birmingham’s fuel poverty statistics do not make for healthy reading and are among the worst of UK core cities. Only 2% of the city’s energy is currently from renewable sources compared with a UK average of 10%.

Yet among this gloomy data there is an appetite to innovate with various building projects blazing a trail and enthusiastic organisations willing to play their part.

King’s School Worcester’s Bartholomew Barn, a contemporary re-interpretation of an agricultural barn, is a new multi-purpose sports and drama facility designed by Associated Architects. It is the UK’s first-ever ‘Passivhaus/Multi-comfort’ building, and a world-first Multi-comfort school. It costs just £74 a year to heat the 400m2 building and all mechanical ventilation is provided with heat recovery efficiency of 86%.

Average UK Primary schools use around 100 units of heat per year (kWh/sqm/yr), whereas the Passivhaus/Multi-comfort standard delivered by Bartholomew Barn is 15.

Further examples of what can be achieved can be found in Much Wenlock, Shropshire, where 12 new affordable homes have been designed by Architype.

Commissioned by Shropshire Housing Group, the greenfield scheme is a mix of 1 to 3-bedroom houses, all of which are designed to achieve Passivhaus certification. The standard aims to offer residents a healthy and comfortable lifestyle, with the robust building performance that will keep operational costs to a minimum.

And the multi-award-winning 10 Woodcock Street building in Birmingham city centre commissioned by the City Council placed sustainability as an absolute priority.

Associated Architects’ design has achieved an impressive 15kgCO2/m2 annual energy/CO2 consumption for space and water heating and the building won the National BCO Test of Time Award 2017 and National and Regional BCO Awards in 2013.

Through collaboration, best practice and local know-how, the West Midlands has the potential to set new benchmarks in sustainable residential and commercial spaces. We simply need the investment, bold legislation and political support to make it happen.

John Christophers is Senior Associate at Associated Architects

*Adopted Birmingham Development Plan 2031

UKGBC has recently launched a Birmingham and the West Midlands Local Network – UKGBC members can sign up to receive network updates here.

In April, UKGBC published a Policy Playbook, which is designed to help enable local authorities drive up the sustainability of new homes.

Make sure to follow the UK Green Building Council on TwitterLinkedIn, and Facebook.