One Brighton, the first 'One Planet Living' development, promises to bring sustainable and family-friendly apartment living to the UK. It also points to how future Thames Gateway developments might look

BioRegional Quintain and Crest Nicholson have already bagged some of the major development opportunities in the Thames Gateway. Schemes such as One Gallions and Rochester Riverside promise to not only set new environmental building standards but also to create developments and ultimately communities where residents live more sustainably and with the prospect of enhanced well being.

If you want an early preview of what this brave new world might look like, get down to Brighton, where the companies are currently onsite with their One Brighton development. To all intents and purposes this will provide the blueprint for their Thames Gateway projects.

According to BioRegional Quintain managing director Pete Halsall, One Brighton is the company’s development template, with One Planet Living being the ‘DNA’ of the project. “We have driven our sustainability principles into every aspect of the development, and in so doing will be delivering, on a commercially viable basis, considerable wellbeing, health , social and environmental benefit, and now have confidence to upscale.”

Designed by architect Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, winner of the 2008 Sterling Prize for its Accordia housing project in Cambridge, the development, close to Brighton Station, comprises two blocks of up to ten storeys, housing a total of 172 units - studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments.

One Brighton

BioRegional Quintain has chosen to focus on three areas; good design, the building’s carbon footprint and community perspective. And therein lies the difference between a low carbon building and sustainable development. “We have taken apart and then put back together again in superior form the high density apartment concept,” says Halsall. A building physicist by training and a UK pioneer of sustainable developments, he describes One Brighton’s rooftop allotments, its “sky gardens”, car club, and even the site canteen, as passionately as he does the clever building technologies.

European technology

On the technological front, the development actually employs tried and tested technologies, many from Europe. As a result of this, says Halsall, risk is eliminated. Paradoxically, he adds, One Brighton goes environmentally further than say BedZed, which intentionally set out to trial new technologies.

The One Brighton buildings are concrete framed, but the concrete is green, in the sense that it incorporates 100% recycled aggregate, and half the cement has been replaced with ground granulated blast furnace slag (GGBS), prolonging the life of the structure. The use of post tensioning has resulted in significant reductions in the amount of concrete used to form the frame, with thinner floor slabs the undersides of which are left exposed in the room to provide thermal benefits.

Instead of breeze block infill, the German-made Zeigel block system is used; essentially tongue and groove, fired-clay blocks, which form a single leaf construction with dry vertical walls.

This system, Halsall explains, was developed after German unification as a means of increasing building productivity to meet the burgeoning demand for housing as East Germans migrated to the more prosperous west. The blocks are highly thermally efficient and very simple and quick to lay. “It’s like Lego for adults,” he says. “It’s got great characteristics and is cheap; very much a case of ‘Why wouldn’t you?’.”

BioRegional Quintain has chosen to focus on
three areas; good design, the building’s carbon
footprint and community perspective

Primary insulation is provided by an Austrian wood-fibre board manufactured from waste wood from which the sugars and resin are driven out, and the resin alone added back, as a means of discouraging bugs and insects that would otherwise feed on the sugars.

The resulting board is not only bug-induced-rot-resistant, but also has very good thermal and noise insulation properties. It has a seven hour plus heat decrement delay, meaning it takes a long time for the heat to get through, which in turn “provides effective passive cooling in summer and a very good overcoat in winter”.

Hot water and space heating for the entire development comes from an Austrian-built biomass boiler, which again, says Halsall is tried and tested.

And the development makes use of mechanical ventilation heat recovery, which Halsall describes as “fresh air heating”, as the ventilation system is also the heating system. Outside air is drawn in and preheated by heat recovery from the kitchens and bathrooms. It is heated further with a coil run off the biomass boiler, providing not only very efficient space heating, but also excellent indoor air quality.

This factor, Halsall believes, is poised to become a significant issue. The UK green building sector tends to blank the air quality debate, he asserts, and efforts to make buildings ever more airtight in the name of thermal efficiency could lead to potentially serious indoor air quality issues.

Mechanical ventilation heat recovery is a much healthier way of heating, says Halsall. It also means you don’t have the bizarre situation where you engineer beautifully air tight and efficient windows and then drill holes through the frame to provide ventilation. “When I tell engineers in Europe that this is how we tend to do it in the UK they just don’t believe me.”

One Brighton

In addition to such technological features, the inclusion of sky gardens at different levels atop the building, plus generous balconies, rooftop allotments and other communal spaces, will also make a difference to the development’s sustainability credentials. It is, says Halsall, “the soft infrastructure that helps to create community”. One Brighton is a real attempt to make apartment living suitable for family living, and is as close as you can get in the UK to what has long existed in continental Europe.


Perhaps not surprisingly, the developers have faced a number of challenges, particularly on site, challenges that Halsall puts down to a general resistance to change. For example, Denne Construction was initially unsure about using Zeigel blocks. However, a short trip over to Germany to see the system in use soon resolved the situation. Similarly, development partner Crest Nicholson was not comfortable, initially, with the biomass boiler, until that is, it had seen one installed and working well, in Austria.

Another hiccup was failure to secure an NHBC warranty for the build, because the Zeigel system is not BBA accredited. Although certified to more exacting German standards, NHBC refused to accept this, and as a result the scheme is now insured with Zurich.

On a more successful note is the implementation of BioRegional Quintain’s local sourcing policy to the onsite canteen; despite initial resistance, the site operatives have now fully embraced the good quality, low-food-mile produce on offer. And it is not all mueseli, fruit and yogurt. When I visited the site I thoroughly enjoyed a generous serving of Speldhurst sausage and mash with onion gravy that would put many a gastropub to shame. A useful reminder that saving the planet isn’t necessarily about sacrifice and restraint - great food like great buildings can be good for the planet too.

Principles of better living

One Brighton is a One Planet Living development, which aims to enable its residents to live within the resources provided by the planet - not the three planets that a typical British lifestyle needs to support itself.
It is based on ten guiding principles developed by BioRegional and WWF International. They are:
zero carbon
zero waste
sustainable transport
sustainable materials
local and sustainable food
sustainable water
natural habitats and wildlife
culture and heritage
equity and fair trade
health and happiness