5 Oct 2009

World Habitat Day today: thermal envelopes, Ruscombe housing and more

I was asked some weeks ago to blog today on the subject of World Habitat. The United Nations has chosen the first Monday in October to be World Habitat Day - a day to stand up and let it be known that affordable, adequate housing should be a priority everywhere. See the website here for what it is about: http://worldhabitatdaynews.com/

However I've ended up picking several housing topics.
As regular blog readers will know I've covered various aspects of housing on this blog in the past - I had wondered about writing about the changes to housing that could mean Council's like Stroud building Council housing. But that is for another time.

Then I wanted to highlight The Guardian that recently covered the two-bed thermal envelope house - see article here - a revolution in the village of Chewton Mendip! Here there are homes with ultra-modern materials which already meet the government's strict zero-carbon rating that all new houses will have to meet from 2016 - and, crucially, they have been built to a comparable cost to conventional houses, blowing away in an instant the claims of the big housebuilders that meeting the 2016 target will entail huge cost and put up property prices.
"These are the most thermally efficient houses built in the UK in 2008 and are twice as good as the PassivHaus [energy efficiency standard] in Germany. And if I had built them on a larger scale on a larger plot, they would have been cheaper to build than conventional houses; I am quite sure of that." Local builder Arthur Bland
It is vital we move in this direction rather than building homes that aren't even fit for the next 10 years. Rising fuel prices and climate change mean sustainability is not some add-on measure. One aspect that I don't think gets enough coverage is the wonders of green roofs - I will try and do a blog on that soon as I'm in the midst of building a small shed with a green roof and can share the fun I've been having.

It was therefore encouraging to hear that householders are willing to pay more for a home with renewable technologies. Results of a survey of 2,500 people by the Energy Saving Trust show that 35 per cent of people surveyed would be happy to pay more for a home with microgeneration technology present. 49 per cent of those surveyed also said that they would be interested in finding out the suitability of their home for generating renewable energy. However, 53 per cent of respondents said that they are put off installing renewable technology due to the high upfront costs and the long return period.

This is good news and was certainly reflected in the many people I spoke to in the recent Eco-Renovation Open Homes event that I helped organise here in Stroud.

Next month the Coffee House discussion returns to Star Anise cafe and looks at planning locally: Where should housing go? This is very timely as here in Stroud that is exactly what we are looking at - plans for the next years - do folk want more houses in the villages or new settlements or what?

Ruscombe fields (pictured) have already been purshased in a whole host of plots with the view by their owners of turning them into housing. You can read lots on this land banking in this blog by using the search facility (see for example here). Anyhow the fields have been resubmitted along with others in this district. Does this mean development in Ruscombe? See the plans I've photographed below.....

All this raises concerns - you will note that the "Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment: Methodology Scoping Report", (catchy title that one!) is out and a desktop study of development in the area is also being completed. The Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (HLAA) basically provides information on opportunities that exist to meet the housing needs within the District. It will be used to inform the core Strategy DPD (Development Plan Document), which sets out the key elements of the planning framework for Stroud District. It is NOT the full Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment but rather a scoping report. At least that's my understanding.

As you will see from my attached photos developers have already put forward Ruscombe fields and others in this area - but this is not about making decisions on that - these fields do not meet the Council's current criteria for development - they are in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) plus a whole host of other reasons that have been noted before. Clearly we need to robustly object to even the suggestion.

All this is all the more pertinent as a van was parked a week or so ago in the fields - this maybe wholly legitimate - indeed at this point I have no reason to suspect otherwise - but we need to be watchful as we want to ensure the Article 4 on those fields is upheld - that article removes certain permitted development rights like putting up fences.

So the challenge is on - where to build housing - not many folk want it in their backyard. As many have pointed out we are failing to look at what is going on in the wider picture - the types and density of housing needs relooking at, the way our economy is biased towards the SE and to a lesser extent SW putting pressure for more homes, the fact that we are still building on flood plains or areas that maybe under a meter of water in years to come, the fact that the number of second homes equals the number of homes we need for homeless - isn't there something about people paying more for the privledge of a second home.....hey I've written on this before so wont go there this time.....suffice to say we need a proper look.

On World Habitat Day I've touched on issues locally but clearly we need to look much wider at what affordable housing means to other nations. How can we even be thinking about building Trident when so many don't even have a roof? See Bruce Kent in Stroud here. If we are serious about world peace making sure folk have the basics is surely the first step. Now it's virtually World Habitat day - I was going to rework this so folk could read but you'll have to have it in this raw state - apols for errors!

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