Steve Wright, head of Gusto Construction, has been taken aback by the interest in his ecologically virtuous Nottinghamshire development. But he’s a quick learner. Now he’s thinking of setting up as a green consultant.
“It’s bizarre, everybody normally hates housebuilders,” says Steve Wright, chief executive of Gusto Construction, “but we’ve actually had landowners approach us offering sites for development.”

Gusto is nearing completion of Millennium Green, a small development of 24 houses and a business centre in the Nottinghamshire village of Collingham, outside Newark. What has brought it to the notice of these landowners, including such august bodies as the National Trust and the Environment Agency, is that Millennium Green has been built as a commercial, environmentally sustainable development “without a penny of subsidy”, says Wright.

He admits that he never set out to be a pioneer; it happened, he says, more by chance than design. Before Millennium Green, the company had been putting up standard houses half-a-dozen at a time. And the transition has not been easy: there’s been a lot to learn and some unexpected challenges. “I’m going to have to take a knock on this one,” says Wright, “to cover the up-front costs in developing the design.”

The Millennium Green site was originally a school playing field bought under a compulsory purchase order from a farmer by Nottingham Council. The school has since closed and the council sold the land back to the farmer with a restrictive covenant stipulating that if it was resold the council would benefit.

Wright bought the land but bridled over paying anything to the council. “It doesn’t seem right for the council to make money off land that didn’t belong to it in the first place,” he says. Rather than ploughing into a legal battle, however, Wright decided on a more conciliatory tack. “Nottingham council has an active environmental policy,” he explains, “so we offered it the option of putting the money, which was in the region of £200 000, into enhanced green features on the development.” Such an option would be mutually beneficial: Wright would keep his money and the council would gain kudos from promoting green construction.

Wright submitted a planning application for the development based on sustainable lines. “We had to scrap the original site layout and redesign the site to take advantage of passive solar gain by orientating the buildings to face south,” he says.

Unfortunately for Gusto, the council rejected his conciliatory offer after the planning application had been accepted, leaving Wright to foot the additional costs. But Wright seems philosophical about the decision. “Without the possibility of a trade-off with the council to cover the additional costs, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to have gone down the green route in the first place,” he says. In fact, Wright does not appear to be unduly distressed at all, basking as he is in the intense public interest in the scheme. Instead, he feels as though his company may have stumbled on a potentially lucrative niche.

“The development was designed in-house,” says Wright. “It had to be to keep development costs realistic for a business our size.” To date, Gusto has completed half of the scheme.

Externally, there is little evidence of ecological aspirations, save for a small green, dotted with fledgeling fruit trees, and the occasional glint of the sun glancing from roof-mounted solar panels. There is also a still-empty plot, where the business centre will go, so householders can take a short walk to work. But, with these minor exceptions, the estate of two to five bedroom houses looks much like any other out-of-town development.

Inside, however, it is a different story. The homes are packed with environmental goodies, including a system to store rainwater for flushing toilets, watering the garden and filling up the washing machine. A solar panel supplies heat for hot water and top-up central heating, which means the small, efficient condensing boiler should remain turned off for most of the year. The south-facing glazing also helps conserve heat, as does the fact that the walls, roof and ground floor are stuffed with insulation to “almost three times the level of the 1999 Building Regulations”, according to Wright.

The walls are traditional brick-block construction with a 150 mm cavity, plastered internally to improve thermal mass and reduce air infiltration. In fact, the houses are so airtight they meet strict Swedish building regulations.

Even the gardens at Millennium Green have green shoots: raised beds for growing vegetables, and a composting bin for organic household and garden waste.

Finding suitable construction materials locally was tricky. But Wright says his local builders merchant has risen to the challenge. As it happens, he says, the development has led many materials suppliers to develop an environmental policy.

Wright is amazed at the interest the development has generated. “It’s unbelievable the number of people we get traipsing around here on Sundays,” he says. “The business is opening a lot of doors.”

There have been so many enquiries that Wright is thinking of sharing his new-found knowledge with other housebuilders by opening a consultancy on how to build green.

How green is Millennium Green?

How green is Millennium Green? Earlier this month, the BRE and NHBC launched a voluntary environmental rating system for homes called EcoHomes. The scheme is a homes version of the BRE Environmental Assessment Method, used to assess commercial developments. The method assesses the environmental quality of a housing development based on the broad environmental concerns of climate change, resource usage and impact on wildlife. These concerns have been divided into seven environmental categories: energy, transport; pollution; materials; water; land use and ecology; and health and well-being. Credits are awarded where specific performance levels are achieved in each category, and take account of the relative importance of a category. These are then counted. The more credits, the greener the development. The overall rating for the development is then awarded as a pass, good, very good or excellent. The assessment is intended to be carried out by a BRE-approved inspector. Based on the pre-assessment checklist, Building evaluated the Millennium Green development. Energy CO2 emissions Carbon dioxide emission of less than 35 kg/m2/yr but greater than 30 kg/m2/yr. Credit:6 Thermal peformance Above the highest category.Credit:10 Provision of drying space Drying room is kept warm by the heat of the solar water cylinder. Moist air is extracted through a ventilation system with heat-reclamation. Credit:2 Provision of eco-labelled white goods White goods are rated A. Credit:2 Provision of external lighting systems that are low in energy Security lighting is less than 150 W. Credit:4 Transport Access to public transport Eighty per cent of the development is within 1000 m of public transport. Credit:2 Cycle storage provision The two-bedroom houses have a cycle store. Garages used elsewhereCredit:2 Proximity to local amenities The development is within 500 m of a food shop and post box. Credit:2 The development is within 1000 m of five out of nine of the following: post office, bank, leisure centre, chemist, school, medical centre, community centre, public house, children’s play area. Credit:2 Safe pedestrian routes to local menities.Credit:2 Home office facilities All houses have space and services for a home office. Credit:2 Pollution Ensuring no ozone-depleting substances are used The roof is constructed from concrete tiles with recycled newspaper insulation. Credit:4 The walls are a brick-block cavity construction with 150 mm cavity filled with fibreglass insulation. Credit:4 The ground floor is constructed of screed insitu concrete slab over 150 mm polystyrene insulation. Credit:4 The copper hot water cylinder is lagged with CFC-free insulation. Credit:4 Boilers Specified with efficient burners emitting 20 mg/kWh of nitrous oxides. Credit:12 Materials Sustainably managed timber Forestry Stewardship Council-certified timber has been used for the basic building elements.Credit:6 Finishing elements are from FSC-certified sources. Credit:3 Storage of recyclable waste An external composting bin and internal storage rack for recycling waste glass, paper and plastics is installed in the garage. Newspapers for recycling are collected by milkman. Credit:6 Water Water consumption estimated at 30 m3, per bedroom, per year. Credit:24 Land use and ecology Ecological value of the land Development is on an a former school field that has a low ecological value. Credit:4 Gusto has used an environmental expert to increase the site’s biodiversity. Credit:4 Advice sought from expert to sustain habitat of water voles. Credit:4 Change in site’s ecological value Minor and positive. Credit:12 Making effective use of the building footprint No basement, no third storey. Credit:0 Health and well-being Daylight provision Meets BS 8206 for all rooms. Credit:8 Soundproofing Properties are detached. Credit:16 External space All properties have a private garden. Credit:4 Total credit: 155 Rating: Excellent