Steve Douglas on how a footballing trip to Brazil resulted in an unexpected lesson in low carbon housebuilding

Steve Douglas

The World Cup’s over and I’ve resisted the temptation to recount my trip to Brazil to watch a rather meaningless game between England and Costa Rica. I missed the annual housing bash in Manchester to be there but am told the 24 hour monsoon that we encountered whilst in Recife was nothing compared to the weather my housing colleagues had to face.

I’d like to say that housing took a complete back seat during the month but actually courtesy of the Austrian Embassy, I managed to combine my two passions. I also learnt something and have some thoughts for local authorities wanting a win-win for new developments.

For those who may not know, Austria did not get through to the World Cup Finals, but the country does champion Passivhaus developments. So I found myself invited to the launch of a Passivhaus scheme on the night of the now infamous Spain vs Chile game that confirmed the demise of a recently great footballing nation.

The classy Austrians put on the football after the presentations. But even with that distraction there were some important messages for housing providers about why energy efficient homes matter and why they can work.

Credit goes to the many players involved in the scheme but particular praise should go to the architects, KKM

The scheme itself is a former public house in London Borough of Hillingdon on green belt land. Planners and local authorities adopting innovative thinking from Europe are becoming more sympathetic towards low energy buildings – specifically Passivhaus in this instance – and are opening up land for them that would not normally be permitted for development.

Passivhaus was introduced to strengthen the planning application and add further to the “Very Special Circumstances” argument for development.

The design team, including consultant and installer Green Tomato Energy, ensured that a strong landscaping strategy was developed, re-establishing a “natural” ecology that was significantly neglected while it was a pub. To quote the publicity material “Ecology and sustainably are widely seen as a complement to one another and therefore it is natural that the redevelopment of the site would benefit from a strong and comprehensive strategy emphasising the mutual significance of both”.

In short new homes – 16 in total; the most efficient you can get, so they are cheap to run; but also attractive and with a keen eye on design and the environment. More than that they’re for rent and sub-market rents.

Credit goes to the many players involved in the scheme but particular praise should go to the architects, KKM Architects for their perseverance and attention to detail, The housing association- Shepherds Bush HA, a smaller community focused organisation, prepared to do the difficult things and to the authority, Hillingdon, who were prepared to look at poor greenbelt land and consider solutions that actually do make a positive difference.

And of course to the Austrian embassy. Thank you and good luck for the Euros. The qualification rounds begin in September.

Steve Douglas is a partner at Altair