A trip to the BRE's Innovation Park leaves you feeling that with the right conditions and backing the zero carbon housing dream might just be do-able
After getting thoroughly grumpy about Government fudge and inaction this week it was nice to get out of the office and visit the BRE Innovation Park, which is housing new prototypes of efficient houses. Here I was greeted with some refreshing optimism. Yes, admittedly it was from the people who are behind the new schemes but I was pleasantly surprised at how livable they were. I popped in to the Sigma house, developed by Stewart Milne, and the Lighthouse, put together by Kingspan.
The most recent visitor to the Sigma house, according to the visitor's book, was Iain Wright, a parliamentary-under-secretary at the CLG who was full of praise for the house in his comments.
There are four levels to the Sigma house, which appears to work pretty well - both Sigma and the Lighthouse are airy and light. The height allow you to have higher density schemes and is a throwback to older Georgian houses. I was trying to imagine these styles of houses in a street context, which will be an interesting challenge. Could they be positioned like an old-style terrace, or a curved terrace? Or is it actually better to position them in a more scattergun in order to take advantage of passive solar benefits? Clearly a big issue for planners.
There's obviously challenges that the teams face if they want to roll out the prototypes. I'm not sure some of the renewables will be staples (especially wind) and cost clearly is a major hurdle. Air-tightness and water remain tricky technical challenges as well. Stewart Dalgarno, product development director at the Stewart Milne Group, told me that the firm is going to start a programme of value engineering with some of the main suppliers of products on the Sigma house to work on the cost issue. And he points to the skills needed amongst the trades as another major hurdle.
But I left buoyed by the energy that has and is being put in to save energy on these projects. Judging by the number of visitors, from politicians to major developers, contractors and architects, the message is getting out.