3rd June 2020
Planning and the New Eastern Villages
We’ve been contacted recently by SCV member Julian Jones on the topic of planning and the new eastern villages.
Swindon is obligated to build a further 8000 houses. A chart of UK Climate Emissions for 2017 (BEIS government figures, production basis) shows that 55% of emissions are due to energy.
- Energy Supply 24%
- Business 17%
- Residential 14%
This illustrates that energy reduction is very important. Yet, building regulations are not where they need to be.
Passivhaus is a voluntary German-originated internationally-used standard for building energy efficiency based principally on insulation, air tightness and ventilation with heat recovery. It represents the gold standard for energy efficiency and can reduce energy use by 80-90%.
Exemplar UK Projects
- Exeter Council – a series or projects showing decreasing marginal costs
- Norwich Goldsmith Street – an conventional-looking social housing scheme, 93 homes, which won the RIBA National Architecture Prize. Build costs were in line with conventional: see Passivhaus Trust page.
- Nottingham Council – including social housing
These projects tend to be eye-opening. Why? Well, because they use standard building materials and practices and add little or nothing to the build cost. Indeed, the build cost is a fraction of the house price which also includes the land price, so it adds even less proportionally to the house price. These projects demonstrate that energy efficient future-proofed homes are perfectly feasible now and cost need not be a barrier. Julian and Jane are seeking to get Councillors to visit some of these projects.
Government Supported Experiments
There have been one or two government-supported experiments with energy-efficient housing in Swindon.
One of these was a Hab Housing project (Kevin McCloud) that Swindon Civic Voice showcased and also won a RIBA national award. Originally dubbed The Triangle, now Howse Garden, it is off Northern Road, just north of Ferndale Road and the Great Western Way.
This had some teething problems, and after government grants ran out there seemed to be little follow up.
For example, an evaluation by Oxford Brookes University identified overcomplicated heating controls so people didn’t use them as intended.
The Local Plan in Swindon
The Local Plan undergoing revision and the final submission draft being prepared.
Energy efficiency is the most controversial element. Whilst people want to see it, some are also concerned not to disrupt the smooth passage of the 8000 new homes in the pipeline. As that could mean SBC losing control of the planning process again. As, if not enough homes are built the government may override the council planning process and allow plans to go ahead anyway, with SBC having to pay the developer’s appeal costs.
BUT, high energy efficiency in new developments is one essential element of moving towards SBC’s climate change targets agreed by council at the beginning of 2019. National standards are complicated and changing, but there do appear to be sufficient hooks to mandate sustainable design practices and energy efficient design and construction if there is the political will to do so.
The Planning Applications
The 3 biggest planning applications are:
- Lotmead and Lower Lotmead Villages – 2500 homes
- South Marston and Rowborough Villages – 2380 homes
- Great Stall East Village – 1550 homes
The energy efficiency of the buildings in these villages depends on the planning documents and the Energy Statement and Sustainabilty Statement within them. If these only need the regulatory minimum then that’s all the developer will deliver. But if they outline more stringent requirements, developers with the interest and capability to build energy efficient buildings will bid for the work.
These statements therefore influence the energy efficencies of these new builds.
For Lotmead and Lower Lotmead Villages and for Great Stall East Village, Peter Brett Associates produced the Energy and Sustainabilty Statements. These are well written and although not binding will influence the build in the right direction.But they need to be updated and strengthened, and the plans are up for decision at the committee on 9-June . You must register representations by noon on the previous day.
For Rowborough, there is only a Sustainability chapter of one page which is cursory. That means that the statutory minimum is likely to be delivered. The consultation on this application has just officially ended meaning it’s likely to come before the planning committee soon. Unless officers are still waiting on other issues.
The New Eastern Villages are also being built on a flood plain. It could be that these are villages, rather than a continuous development, due to flood risk -e.g. built on higher ground or surrounded by drainage.
Now it’s of the utmost urgency to:
- Lobby Councillors on the detail of these plans
- Promote to the Councillors what other councils have achieved
- Publicise the risks of these developments in terms of flood risk and energy efficiency.