UK study tour - new housing developments

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In March 2012 Nick Collins led a study tour to the UK to look at new housing developments.  Study tours have been a proven way to engage New Zealand organisations in what is happening overseas.

The UK tour aimed to:

  1. Investigate what New Zealand could learn from UK experiences, particularly for the Christchurch rebuild.  Do alternative construction methods offer opportunities to deliver more affordable, higher performing homes?
  2. Investigate whether there are any proven technologies in UK which can assist New Zealand in delivering higher performing, more affordable and sustainable homes.  For example, affordable alternatives to unflued gas heating; Other heating / ventilation solutions; Prefab / modular building solutions
  3. Investigate any successful UK examples of modern construction methods (i.e. prefab and modular) being successfully integrated with sustainability features.  Are they effectively building more sustainable homes through modern construction methods, or are they in fact just building the same old poor quality houses faster and cheaper?

The study tour made connections and seeded the ideas for developing the housing showcase project, now the New Urban Village in Christchurch.

Developments visited included:

  • The Triangle, Swindon (GreenSquare & Hab)
  • Upton, Northampton
  • Icon, Somerset (Crest Nicholson & Clarks)
  • Smartlife, Cambridgeshire
  • Accordia, Cambridge
  • Oxley Woods, Milton Keynes


Learnings: the good

The tour discovered some useful initiatives, worth considering in New Zealand.

  1. Innovative approaches to engaging with communities.

a.      Giving home occupiers  resources / training in how best to operate their homes - particularly important where complex systems installed.

b.      Focusing on building a community, not just a neighbourhood

  • Engaging early with future homeowners / residents and consultation on design.
  • Investing in community facilities.
  • Establishing and providing training for a residents association.
  • Providing communal cars.

2.   Technological innovations

  • Complex heat recovery / ventilation systems with vents in most rooms
  • CFL-specific lamp bases
  • Sophisticated double boiler systems with solar water heating input.
  • Radiators on flexible couplings so lifted off mounts for cleaning / painting.
  • Automatic opening vents in south-facing atrium spaces - open at preset temperatures.
  • Floor to ceiling blinds (activated automatically) to provide shading.
  • Use of thermal chimney which ensures fresh air and excellent ventilation in summer.
  • Use of timber windows - can be opened on two planes and inverted for easy cleaning.


Learnings: The bad

However, it was not all good news.  The tour discovered some issues and problems to avoid in New ZEaland.

1.    Mismatch between what is provided and how people use homes

  • Need to address life style choices e.g. providing alternative transport when parking is limited to one car, and providing storage for lifestyle ‘toys’
  • Lack of utility space / inconvenience of utility space

2.    Basics still being done wrong.  

  • Poor quality of installations or construction
  • Poor quality of coatings.  In particular, paint finishes failing, especially on north facing wood
  • Design shortcomings in homes deliver sub optimal outcomes e.g. difficult access for maintenance, and weathertightness issues from poor design
  • Mix of Modern Construction Methods - timber framed, steel stud and Poly concrete blocks - letting down overall durability and doesn’t always create smart outcomes.    

3.      Features of homes that meet high performance (HSS) not consistently used.

  • Design shortcomings eg  not designed for sun (Upton)
  • Relatively low use of sustainable technologies
  • Technology and kit in home to counter poor design.

4.      Features of neighbourhoods that meet high performance (NSF) not consistently used

  • Developments always not designed for sun 
  • Neighbourhoods not designed to integrate public transport and local facilities and retail.  Lack of nearby retail means continuing need for cars, more than one per family.  Where built close to public transport, fewer cars.
  • Council looking at penalties for not using public transport.

Central square, The Triangle

Hothouses, The Triangle

The Triangle, Swindon


Accordia Living, Cambridge

Accordia Living, Cambridge


Lime Tree Square, Icon

Lime Tree Square, Icon


Upton, Northampton

Upton, Northampton