New housing developments in the UK - study tour 2012

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In 2012 Nick Collins led a study tour to the UK to visit eight housing developments in the UK and the EcoBuild conference and exhibition in London.  The tour looked at both neighbourhood and house design aspects of the developments.

 

Homes not neighbourhoods

Developers are building homes rather neighbourhoods and this is impacting not only on the sustainability of the city but on the performance of the home.  Developments were often not designed for solar gain, being laid out in a grid pattern aligned to existing roads with limited solar orientation of homes.  Often the developments were not designed to integrate with public transport or include local facilities/ retail, despite designing limited parking for one car families to encourage alternative transport.  The lack of retail integrated into the development means continuing reliance on cars, and most developments had parking issues with more than one car per family. 

 

Medium density issues

One lesson to be learned was the need for medium density developments to address issues with car ownership, use and parking, utilities and storage.  Streets and footpaths clogged with parked cars were a common sight where developments planned for one car families only and parking spaces provided were limited.  Without planning for alternative transport (i.e. linking homes to real time bus information, providing communal cars, providing bike storage / cycle lanes), space needs to be provided for two cars. 

Furthermore, parking needs to be close to dwellings - where parking was provided in communal compounds, people just parked on street outside their houses, across footpaths and sometimes at oblique angles to road / parking spaces.  In the Accordia Living development in Cambridge, parking issues were so severe that the local council was considering penalties for not using public transport. 

The provision of utility space for rubbish and recycling bins needs careful thought.  Councils provided up to three wheelie bins, but in medium density developments, these clogged footpaths and streets.  The solution would appear to be either communal collection/storage, or a variety of bin sizes (not three big wheelie bins per apartment!).

Another medium density issue was a mismatch between design and lifestyle choices.  There often appeared to be little space provided for recreational equipment - it was common to see bicycles, fridges and dryers on balconies, and back doors crammed with shoes and bikes - and in one case, kayaks.

 

The basics still wrong

Sadly, many of the basics were still being done wrong.  It was disappointing to see a poor durability of materials, for example, and design shortcomings in homes were delivering sub-optimal outcomes:

  • Solar orientation was not a given
  • High wooden gables were a design feature but meant access to recoat north-facing wood (a permanent cladding) was three floors up. 
  • Design was causing weathertightness issues - in one development, inadequate protection over the front door resulted in rain washing onto carpet and had to be modified later.  In another there were no eaves and only small parapet flashings.

Indeed there was a surprisingly inconsistent use of features for high performance such as use of solar (heating, solar hot water, PV) or rainwater collection.  Where technologies were included it was often to counter poor design - for example, houses had complex ventilation systems which ran all the time because the design did not cater for natural ventilation.


Triangle development