Do we want to be a predictable local authority when it comes to providing social housing or do we want to think outside of the box? This was the important question we asked ourselves about the future delivery of our council homes. Our answer was to be bold and ambitious, so we opted for creative, modern, and eco-efficient homes that meet Passivhaus standards – rigorous energy-efficient design standards that mean houses can maintain an almost constant temperature. As a result, we can proudly boast that we have delivered the country’s largest Passivhaus scheme for social rent in Norwich.
The design of Goldsmith Street cleverly recreates the terraced streets that were removed in post-war clearances while delivering high-quality accommodation for our residents. The scheme has won many awards, including the 2019 Stirling Prize for architecture. We chose Passivhaus due to the promise of reduced energy bills for our tenants to help them tackle fuel poverty; compliance with the council’s environmental strategy; the ability to generate income from council assets; and the desire to replace stock lost through right-to-buy with high-quality new stock using retained RTB receipts. The project had a construction cost of £14.9m and was funded through the council’s housing revenue account, from a mix of borrowing, reserves, and retained right-to-buy receipts.
Thanks to Passivhaus technology, our residents are seeing up to 70% savings on their energy bills– a big help to those in fuel poverty. Passivhaus also complies with the council’s commitment to ensure new development is carried out sustainably, as well as helping with carbon reduction and future-proofing of homes. Another result of the council’s commitment to developing Passivhaus homes is a significantly upskilled local workforce, creating a specialist niche in the construction market. We have a particularly proud history of seeking higher environmental standards for affordable housing by working in partnership with local registered providers and wanted to ensure our development projects set that standard even higher and helped to address fuel poverty for our residents.
Following the reinvigoration of the Right to Buy scheme (RtB), the council signed up to the RtB one-for-one replacement scheme and set an ambitious target to deliver 250 new council homes. With Goldsmith Street delivering some 100 or so homes, we’re proudly well on the path to meeting the housing need of 254 affordable dwellings per year in Norwich. One of the most important things that Goldsmith Street has achieved is raising the profile of council housing and showing other local authorities that they can also deliver. It is heartening to see how councils are now leading the way on high-quality, environmentally sustainable housing that is future fit.
As a council housing provider, we’re taking bold steps to provide energy-efficient, high-quality homes to meet housing demand for the people of Norwich.
Through our own experience we have learned some key lessons: embed Passivhaus as early as possible to inform decision-making; engage professional advice in your design team – having a Passivhaus designer/certifier to inform design decisions around building form, orientation and materials is key to keeping costs down; procure contractors who understand Passivhaus and have delivered it in the past; using a JCT standard contract rather than a design and build allowed us to ensure the quality was maintained in both material choice and in terms of instructions and oversight; Passivhaus requires education of all parties including staff, maintenance contractors, and tenants. We prepared guidance sheets for residents alongside training for maintenance contractors and staff.
The Passivhaus Trust has excellent resources to assist with projects as well as details of qualified consultants. Moving forward, we are taking our learning into our next projects and looking at how we can reduce carbon further.
- Passivhaus consultant employed to assess all construction details.
- The contractor had an air-tightness champion to oversee quality on site.
- Passivhaus toolbox talks were given to all contractors and subcontractors working on site.
- Three air tests during construction for each property.
- Reports of lower fuel bills.