Good green housing schemes promote mental and physical well-being - and help save the planet, argues Bill Randall
A healthy home
‘There is no planet B,’ said the poster held aloft by a face-painted child in the children’s parade that opened the Brighton Festival earlier this month. It’s a powerful and timely message in a city and a nation that are conspicuous in their consumption.
Indeed, if the whole world plundered as much from the global storehouse as Brighton & Hove and the rest of the UK, three planets would be required to meet humanity’s needs.
To curb the local and voracious appetite for finite resources, Brighton and Hove is embracing the One Planet Living framework. Developed by social enterprise Bioregional and conservation charity WWF, the framework is designed to help individuals and organisations examine and meet the sustainability challenges they face.
The framework has 10 guiding principles which cover: sustainable transport, water, food and materials; protecting and restoring biodiversity; adopting a zero waste approach; reviving and promoting culture and heritage; creating fair and equitable economies; and promoting good health and well-being.
The other principle is zero carbon: making buildings more energy efficient and delivering all energy with renewable technologies. A start has been made on this front in Brighton with a One Planet Living housing development next to the railway station. The 172 flats, offices and community facilities are built in high-performance materials, locally sourced where possible. The scheme is virtually car free, with generous cycle parking and limited parking for disabled residents and the car club.
An onsite biomass boiler and photovoltaic panels meet about 50 per cent of the residents’ energy needs, and the balance is bulk purchased as guaranteed green electricity through the One Brighton Energy Services Company. The scheme is topped off, literally, with rooftop allotments (which are hugely oversubscribed) and communal sky gardens with views across the city to the sea and the South Downs.
Completed in 2010, the scheme is a benchmark for about 30 One Planet Living schemes across the world, among them ambitious projects in the US, China, France, Australia, Abu Dhabi and Portugal. Brighton & Hove has ambitions to develop another One Planet Living community with 700 homes, a school, workspaces, community facilities and quality open space on 47 hectares of land on the city fringe.
It was, of course, Peabody Trust’s groundbreaking Beddington Zero Energy Development (BedZed) in Sutton that spawned the notion of One Planet Living developments. Completed in 2002 and the work of Bioregional and architect Bill Dunster’s Zedfactory, it is a living laboratory and one of the most influential sets of green buildings in the world.
Home to around 220 residents living in 100 houses and apartments, it also includes 2,500 square metres of commercial offices and community space. Government ministers, officials and architects from China, Canada and France are members of the international housing brigade that has beaten a path to its door.
The proof of this green pudding is in the eating. On average residents use about 45 per cent less electricity than households in the surrounding area and their heating use is 81 per cent lower than the local average. Carbon emissions from energy use are 72 per cent lower than similar homes built at the time.
Residents use cars less than their Sutton neighbours (mileage is 65 per cent below the local average), thanks to the introduction of London’s first car club, and they use just 72 litres of mains water per day, topped up by 15 litres of recycled or rainwater. Water consumption is 58 per cent lower than the local average, critically important in the UK’s driest region.
Waste audits reveal that 60 per cent of waste by weight is recycled or composted, which is about twice the recycling rate in a typical development in the UK. However, not everything has worked and lessons have been learned. The combined heat and power plant, for example, was unsuccessful and has been replaced with a wood-fired boiler.
Eighty-four per cent of residents say moving to BedZed improved their quality of life. The next step for researchers is to calibrate the ways in which living at this green housing test bed has improved residents’ mental and physical health and well-being.
Peabody, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, could be forgiven for having a sense of déjà vu about this health research. The trust, which has been a housing pioneer throughout its long history - from carrying out the first slum-regeneration schemes in London to installing the first solar panels on social housing estates - began recording the health benefits of its work from its earliest days.
In 1879, the death rate on its estates was 20.9 per 1,000 people - 3.2 below the London average. In 1882 the birth rate was 45.04 per 1,000, 10.74 above the London figure, and the infant mortality rate was 137.41 per 1,000 births, 13.59 below the London average. By 1914, infant mortality in the Peabody community had dropped to 76.92 per 1,000, compared with London’s rate of 103, and the death rate was 10.14 - almost a third less than the capital’s rate of 14.4.
Peabody’s work helped address the health inequalities of Victorian England. Now it is working with Bioregional and others to tackle the threat posed by climate change. Where the trust went in the 19th century others followed.
Remembering that there is no planet B, we could do worse than take its lead today. Locally and globally, a decent and green home makes all the difference.
Bill Randall is a Green Party councillor, leader of Brighton & Hove Council, and a housing journalist