Pushing the boundaries of design

With buildings accounting for 40% of the UK's carbon emissions, the construction industry has an important role to play. John Haven paid a visit to Wiltshire, home to the latest scheme showcasing its environmental credentials

It is essential that buildings are better designed, constructed and occupied in order to reduce carbon emissions, energy consumption and resource depletion."

These are the words of Richard Simmons, the chief executive of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (Cabe). And it seems that his demands are slowly filtering through the construction sector. In fact, some innovative schemes have come to fruition in the past seven years. And the environmental impact of our houses is being given some serious attention.

One such pioneering project is Market Quarter - a 256-home development in Chippenham, Wiltshire, by Linden Homes. The 3.8 hectare site consists of 145 one- and two-bedroom apartments, 95, two-, three- and four-bedroom homes, and 16 apartments above garages. Over the next three years, it will be turned into an exemplar of environmentally responsible housing. The project will be created to achieve a rating of excellent - the highest rating that can be awarded to a housing development with EcoHomes, under the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (Breeam). With this independent assessment, the environmental quality of the scheme will be second to none, taking into account the concerns about climate change, the use of resources, pollution and impacts on biodiversity.

And, since planning approval was granted last June and construction began in August, Linden has already offered a glimpse of its environmental consideration by carrying out on-site remediation. This has saved 200 lorry loads of contaminated soil from needing to leave the site, which would otherwise have been destined for the UK's already overflowing landfill sites.

As for the homes themselves, energy-efficient heating systems will be installed, which, when combined with low-voltage lighting and high levels of insulation, help to reduce CO2. Research from the Energy Saving Trust reveals that around 70% of Britons believe energy efficiency is an important issue when buying a new home. And 45% are willing to pay £10,000 more for a responsibly built property.

All materials used in the construction of the homes have been carefully selected to reduce the impact on global warming, with 60% of timber used coming from sustainable sources. And, when it comes to recycling, the whole process has been made easier for the future occupants. Recycling pods feature inside each dwelling, and a communal storage area has been planned for recycling bins for the apartments.

To conserve water, each home will use a daily average of 110 litres of water per person (compared with a national average of about 150 litres). This will be achieved by using dual-flush toilets, aerated taps and efficient shower heads. External rainwater collection systems will be provided to further combat water shortages.

Elsewhere, an accredited ecological expert has been appointed to introduce native flora to encourage the settlement of local wildlife. And any feature of ecological value will be retained onsite during the construction process, creating enjoyable surroundings with minimum impact on the natural environment.

And what about the planning of each abode? Designs have been made to maximise the amount of natural daylight in the living room, dining room and study. And all come with sound insulation which meets building regulation requirements.

Linden Homes Western's managing director, Toby Ballard, is delighted with the project, in which the company will achieve its first excellent Breeam rating. He says: "It is such an exciting development, which will push design boundaries and bring new ideas to housebuilding."

These new ideas don't just include building environmentally friendly homes, but also the incorporation of Homezones. First pioneered in Holland, the concept behind Homezones is to provide a safe and healthy environment for the community, where the emphasis is placed on the needs of the pedestrian and cyclist, as opposed to the motorist.

Thus, through effective design, the boundaries between pavement and road are blurred, encouraging drivers to slow down and children to play in the street. Good street lighting also helps.

What Linden Homes is creating on the brownfield site of Market Quarter, which was formerly used as the town's cattle market, is a showcase for future development of this type.

Elsewhere, the company is embracing the environment in other areas too. It is currently working alongside the Bristol Wood Recycling Project (BWRP) at a number of its developments across the city.

The BWRP has been operating for more than two years, saving hundreds of tonnes of resources from going to waste. And now Linden is using the not-for-profit organisation as its favoured method of dealing with wood waste, and has been recycling the waste from a number of its timber-frame developments.

www.lindenhomes.co.uk

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