40% of UK carbon emissions come from households. The build determines how much energy is used on heating, where it is built affects your travel and what it is built with has a huge impact.
If we are serious about averting the climate catastrophe we don’t have much choice, we have to start building zero carbon housing. York city is leading the way and plans to build Britain’s biggest zero-carbon housing project, of 600 homes in car-free cycling paradises full of fruit trees and allotments. When will the rest of the UK catch up?
Joseph Rowntree, Yorkshire’s chocolatier-philanthropist wanted to build “improved houses” for working people in 1902, with his experimental village of New Earswick. Over a century on, Mikhail Riches wants to break the mould again, building 600 homes across eight sites within the ring road, each designed to have zero net carbon emissions. Every element of the scheme, from the front door out into the transport network, is tuned to tackle the climate emergency head on. Is this the future?
The plans entail rethinking the way such neighbourhoods can be arranged. Cars will be banished to the corners of the sites, and the streets devoted entirely to people and play spaces. Generous green passages will run between the rows of homes and around the edges of the developments, providing communal areas to garden, sit together and grow food. Every house will come with a bike shed, fitted with electric charging points, while a fleet of shared “cargo bikes” will also be available to rent, for those occasions when bulky items need to be transported.
Terraces will be orientated to take maximum advantage of sunshine. Each house will have solar panels and be warmed by energy-efficient air-source heat pumps. The energy consumed in the extraction, production and transport of the construction materials will also be closely monitored. The buildings will be timber-framed and, while there will still be bricks; they will be supplemented with roughcast render and durable timber cladding.
Plans have been developed in close consultation with local communities, to ensure they link to their surroundings, unlike so many suburban-minded cul-de-sac schemes churned out by volume house builders. The sites will have a permeable network of paths for people, dotted with allotments and fruit trees.
Denise Craghill, York’s housing Councilor says: “It’s important that we tackle climate change, but also build houses people enjoy living in.” The council, like many others, has declared a climate emergency, pledging to be net zero carbon by 2030. However, unlike many local authorities that have made the promise, York is getting on with it.
In 2006, Gordon Brown introduced the Code for Sustainable Homes but in 2015, the Conservatives scrapped the zero carbon homes target, and accelerated the slide back to business as usual. Despite passing a law in 2019 stating that the country must reach “net zero” emissions by 2050, the latest proposed adjustments to the building regulations is another slip backwards.
Many easy wins could be adopted across the industry with no additional costs, but there’s no aspiration or leadership from government. It’s left to progressive councils, like York, to lead the way.
This project could stand as a model for the rest of the country to follow and we need to make sure our Government takes notice.
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Sherwood Forest Friends of the Earth