Damien Hirst eco-homes ‘out of reach’ for ordinary buyers

Plans by controversial artist Damien Hirst to build 500 eco-homes in North Devon have been greeted with optimism by sustainability experts, but some question whether the scheme will do much to promote affordable housing.

Hirst hopes his plans will form a national blueprint for environmental housing – the properties will feature hidden wind turbines in the roofs, photovoltaic solar panels and state-of-the-art insulation – but concerns have been raised over how their costly their price-tag will be.

Speaking to edie, Mike Tregent, principle officer for waste & resource management at KMH, said he was glad a celebrity was leading by example, but felt the initiative wouldn’t be enough in itself to deliver the step change needed to improve the quality of quantity of new housing stock.

“The fact that it is Damien Hirst at least ensures that good practice will gain a high profile,” he said, but added: “Unit cost is important, but liveability is important too and besides which, prices for green options will come down with greater uptake.

“I still believe that the best way to get wider improvement is through upgrades to building regulation and greater incentivisation of schemes such as Passivhaus and BREEAM.”

Paul Crabb, a local councillor in Ilfracombe near where the homes will be built, thinks the scheme has great potential – particularly for the area’s on-going regeneration drive – but admitted that there was a lot of discussion taking place on how much affordable housing should be provided as part of the initiative.

“It is my belief that we already have enough budget housing,” he told edie. “If the focus of this new scheme remains on providing radical quality homes, it will do much to provide quality housing for existing families, and help to house the increasing number of micro businesses choosing to move to our town.”

Meanwhile eco-designer Mark Shayler, who heads up his own consultancy Tickety Boo, said that while building more sustainable homes is nothing new – “everyone is doing it” – where Hirst could add value as an artist is in the design ‘psychology’ aspect of a living space, which he feels is sorely lacking in most new builds.

“We need to embrace innovation and passion in housing design, houses have been too boring for too long because they’ve been designed by architects and not artists,” he asserted.

“When celebrities rush to embrace eco-stuff when they’re successful you can’t help but be a bit cynical, but on balance I think it’s a good thing. But there is a risk of it attracting the cool young things who want a holiday home not a place to live,” he added.

Hirst is hopeful that build work on the project will start as early as next year, but Crabb revealed that there were a few nimbyisms being raised due to the ‘horseshoe shape’ of the parish.

“There is a concern from people living on quiet estates at the ends of the horseshoe, that this infill will suddenly make their homes ‘on a main road’,” he said, but added that a traffic study was underway to address these concerns.

The properties would be built on land at Winsham Farm just outside Ilfracombe, which Hirst has made his home in recent years. He already has a restaurant, an art studio and several properties in the area.

Maxine Perella

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie