Hit for six
A 91-home Yorkshire development might mark the peak of sustainable house building. Martin Hilditch finds out why
A puff downwind from the imposing cooling towers of Ferrybridge power station, the finishing touches are being made to an almost unique housing project.
The 91 homes in the Park Dale development, in Airedale, near Castleford, Yorkshire, are unusual because they are all being built to level 6 of the code for sustainable homes. To put this into perspective, as of June this year just 31 homes have received a level 6 rating (the highest possible under the code). Just 286 more have been planned. In fact, outside this little corner of Yorkshire randomly spotting a code 6 home is a little like tripping over a Yeti on a holiday in the Himalayas: not technically impossible but very, very unlikely.
So why have the people behind Park Dale invested in code 6 homes? And, given that the government is only demanding that housing providers hit code 5 to meet its definition of ‘zero carbon’, is it likely to remain one of the only examples of its kind?
To start with the first question, while Park Dale is a showcase for the most sustainable new housing, it is also reinventing the area. Previous homes on the site were demolished early last decade because of lack of demand.
‘This was something we felt we had to showcase as a site,’ explains Kevin Dodd, chief executive of 31,000-home housing association Wakefield and District Housing, which is behind the scheme. ‘It was somewhere that people didn’t want to come and live. We have invested in the future. This [development] has things in it that are going to come [forward] in the future - but we have got them today in Airedale.’
Park Dale’s eco-credentials are certainly impressive. As well as featuring photovoltaic panels fitted unobtrusively to every roof, the homes are heated by a district biomass boiler heating system, have triple-glazed windows and grey water recycling - where bath and tap water is recycled to flush toilets - as standard. One home will also remain in perpetuity as a learning centre, where residents, building apprentices and children from local schools can be taught about everything from saving energy to sustainable construction.
Mr Dodd is proud the homes were built using traditional brick and block work, rather than being prefabricated. This meant a local workforce picked up skills and employment, he says.
‘If we wanted to do carbon bling we would have brought it in by helicopter and there would have been people in white suits screwing them in,’ he adds.
In tight economic times, though, the Homes and Communities Agency, which funds new homes, is certainly now shying away from developments of this standard (and cost), Mr Dodd feels. The scheme, designed by architects NPS and built by Keepmoat, cost £12 million - for 71 affordable rent and 20 intermediate rent homes - of which £5.77 million came from the HCA.
But Mr Dodd says it would be a shame if the HCA refused to fund further schemes like Park Dale.
‘I think the HCA should be putting its investment into homes for the future,’ he states. ‘I don’t like tokenism and I don’t think that’s what we should be about. The more you bring in this type of development, the more CO2 emissions come down. The HCA should be biting our hands off [for more].’
The £120,000 cost per home is likely to continue to give the HCA pause for thought, however. According to research carried out for the government this year, code 6 homes cost an average of £15,000 more than their code 5 equivalents. So, for the moment, Park Dale is set to stand as a tantalizing early glimpse of what could be.