“Build on brownfield first,” says Bristol construction firm

“Bristol needs a master plan to identify and develop brownfield sites”

August 28th 2015

A construction firm based in Bristol has been lobbying for an increase in the use of brownfield sites instead of building on greenfield land. Paul Evans, Managing Director of Helm Construction, said the lack of a definitive plan to identify and develop brownfield sites will continue to hinder house building because of the lack of space coming forward.

In a story reported in Business Leader, Paul Evans said every neighbourhood in Bristol could identify any number of suitable brownfield sites, reducing demand on the greenbelt and countryside.

“While it’s good to see Bristol City Council has identified space for 200 new homes on the former sidings at Ashton Gate this really is a drop in the ocean compared to the thousands of new homes required,” he said. “Bristol needs a master plan such as the one introduced by Wakefield Council to regenerate a whole swathe of land and former industrial premises in Castleford.”

“Where possible we believe we should be addressing every scrap of brownfield land before sending diggers on to open fields,” he continued, “whether it falls within a designated Green Belt or not. In order to supply the 250,000 new homes the Government has called for it’s clear Bristol needs to play its part by stepping up its own building programme, which only managed to deliver some 900 new homes last year. While we might not be able to earmark every one of the new homes we need on a brownfield site, we will succeed in reducing the potential impact on our countryside.”

For the full story, see Business Leader.

Note: Business Leader Ltd is an independent publishing and media company that exists to promote business and enterprise across Bristol, Bath, Somerset and the surrounding area.


Photograph: Derelict hardstanding, near Thorney Hill, Hampshire © Copyright Jim Champion and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. The hardstanding is part of the RAF Holmsley airfield in the New Forest, which was operational during the Second World War.


Ground Source Energy Expo 2015 showcases ground source heat pumps

GSHPA event will form part of the ‘Heating and Renewables Roadshow’

August 26th 2015

The Ground Source Heat Pump Association (GSHPA) will be holding its ‘Ground Source Energy Expo’ event at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry on Thursday, 10th September 2015. The event features an exhibition of the latest technologies together with a series of talks and discussions on the latest developments in ground source energy, with sessions devoted to the domestic market, the commercial market, the economics of ground source heat pumps, and also a session on water source heat pumps (marine and surface water).

Ground Source Energy Expo 2015 will coincide with the final event in the ‘Heating and Renewables Roadshow’ which is visiting five venues across the country in September. The Roadshow will visit Edinburgh, Manchester, Farnborough and Exeter, as well as Coventry. Paul Stephen of the Heating and Renewable Roadshow says: “The Roadshow will showcase some of the most innovative heating and low carbon technologies, making it fully accessible to installers, contractors and specifiers all over the country.”

Each venue in the Roadshow will feature over 60 suppliers and manufacturers showcasing their products. A seminar programme is scheduled for five theatres at each show, with speakers from trade organisations across the heating and renewables industry including the GSHPA, the Sustainable Energy Association, the Building & Engineering Services Association, the Electrical Contractors Association, and the Heating & Hot Water Industry Council. Additionally, each regional event will include a series of hands-on demonstrations for visitors, giving them the chance to test manufacturers in an effort to understand new innovations that best fit certain applications. The final event in Coventry will also feature an awards ceremony for innovatory work, with 25 categories of awards.

The last ten years has seen an increase in interest in ground source heat pumps, due to rising fuel costs and the search for sustainable solutions to rising energy demand. In March of this year, DECC (the Department of Energy and Climate Change) launched its Central Heating Fund and invited bids from local authorities for funds to improve the housing of those deemed to be living in fuel poverty in their area: “Local Authorities are asked to come forward with developed proposals that meet the primary aim of the Central Heating Fund, to incentivise the installation of first-time central heating systems in fuel-poor households who do not use mains gas as their primary heating fuel.” The eligible technologies include ground source heat pumps. DECC’s guidance to the Central Heating Fund is available as a PDF document from the GOV.UK website: click here to download the guidance.

Social housing providers are increasingly turning to ground source pumps as a cost-effective solution to the energy component of a sustainable home and meeting the Government’s “Eco Home” standards. The Housing Association Magazine reports on a recent project by Northwards Housing Association who replaced a district gas plant on the roof of a 1960s high-rise tower block with a ground source heat pump system: “This would be the first installation of its kind in the UK – traditionally used to service individual properties or serve heating from a communal plant room, individual ground source heat pumps had not been utilised in a multi-storey high-rise building before.”

The domestic RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) was launched in April 2014 whilst the commercial RHI tariffs for ground source heat pumps doubled in May 2014 and the GSHPA says “this proven lowest running cost, lowest carbon renewable heating technology offers the huge potential to help meet the UK’s carbon emission reduction targets. It also provides the lowest running cost of any cooling technology.”

For more information on Ground Source Energy Expo 2015, see the GSHPA website.

Buildings of the future could be built from waste, says Professor

Structural building materials are being made from shredded beverage cartons and agricultural by-products

August 25th 2015

In an article written for The Guardian, Dirk E Hebel, Assistant Professor of Architecture and Construction at ETH Zürich, describes three ways in which buildings of the future could be built from recycled waste materials. “Truly sustainable cities of the future will not differentiate between waste and resource,” he writes. “Rather, they will understand waste as the starting point for something new. Ideas and initiatives are taking shape that provide a glimpse of how we could build our urban environments more sustainably in the future.”

He describes the first way of “building from waste” as “urban mining” because existing buildings already contain materials that could be reused in future buildings. The natural resources required for the production of construction materials like sand and gravel are depleting, he says, but stand in huge piles in our urban environment: “While traditional mines dry up, cities are gradually becoming the mines of the future.” The technology already exists to recycle copper and to recover the metallic waste from electrical cables whilst aluminium, which is extensively use in buildings such as skyscrapers and tower blocks, could also be recycled from buildings and reused. The reuse of aluminium, he says, needs only 5% of the energy originally required for its production, thereby helping to save the large amount of energy needed to mine new raw materials.

The second way is turning waste into building materials and the author quotes a number of projects and products that illustrate how this can be achieved:

  • A new type of stone that can be turned into products like surface materials and tiles, and is created from recycled building materials from demolition sites.
  • Newspaper Wood – a wood-like material made from recycled newspapers.
  • A project that uses plastic bottles which lock into each other without mortar and form an effective brick bond.
  • A material that is made out of 100% reused, shredded beverage cartons in a process that uses no water. “The recycled material was intended initially for interior wall cladding but when pressed together can also function as a structural building material.”

Expanding the definition of waste to include “anything that appears momentarily as worthless, superfluous or disgusting,” the author describes the third way as experimenting with biological materials derived from bacteria or fungi. One example here is a process that mixes bacteria and nutrients to create a self-healing concrete. “Concrete can crack easily under pressure but by embedding calcite-precipitating bacteria into a traditional concrete mixture, smaller cracks can be closed.”

The second example is a material that was used as a structural component in a building showcased in the summer of 2014 in a collaboration between Ecovative, the inventors of the material, and New York architects The Living. Ecovative is growing materials made from agricultural by-products and mushroom mycelium. “The mycelium, once its growth process is inhibited by lack of light and heat, turns into strong materials with structural parameters comparable to stone and concrete.”

To read the full article, see the Guardian website.


Photograph: Waterbeach Waste Management Park, near Chittering, Cambridgeshire © Copyright Hugh Venables and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Site Investigations and CDM 2015

“Duty holders within the geotechnical sector are grappling with the reality of implementation,” says AGS

August 24th 2015

All companies working in the construction sector, whether they be developers, building firms or consultancies, must comply with a number of rules and regulations set by Government, and keep up to date with the latest changes. One such set of regulations is the Construction Design & Management Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015) which came into force in April.

The new regulations place an increased emphasis on client responsibilities and the AGS (Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists) has issued some guidelines on the implementation of the new regulations, including clarity on whether the regulations apply to site investigations. The AGS says that “in an industry sector where the client is rarely directly involved in the ground investigation phase, questions are being asked about how the regulations will be applied.”

In an article written by Tom Phillips of RPA Safety Services and Julian Lovell, Chair of the AGS Safety Working Group and Managing Director of Equipe, questions are put to the Health and Safety Executive, seeking clarification on the duties and responsibilities of clients, contractors and consultants, and where those duties and responsibilities lie.

Their first question concerns the definition of ‘construction’ in the regulations. They point out that the definition excludes site survey and that in many cases clients see ground investigations as site survey, which raises the question whether the new regulations apply to ground investigations. The Health and Safety Executive offers the following clarification on the limits of site survey:

“Site survey is restricted to non-intrusive works so taking levels, making measurements, site walkovers, gas monitoring and visually examining structures for faults would all be typical examples. If the works involve penetrative works, even with hand tools, the work is classed as construction and the regulations apply.”

“We are keen to stress though that the regulations should be applied proportionally to the level of risk involved. A shallow, hand dug trial hole will require minimal paperwork in terms of a construction phase plan, as the risk is low, but duty holders will still need to consider the risks associated with such things as underground services, contaminants, ground stability, preventing falls into the excavation, and they must plan how the work will be carried out, kept safe and made good. In many cases, simple repetitive work will be based on standard company procedures but these will need tailoring for the site and locality in question and the prevailing conditions.”

The article also covers the following three areas:

  • clarification on the duties and responsibilities of clients, consultants and contractors under regulation 15 (1)
  • clarification on the roles of the Principal Contractor and Principal Designer in the early stages of a ground investigation phase and subsequent phases
  • clarification on whether consultants may be classed as contractors under regulation 2

To read the full article, see the AGS website.

“Share your ideas about a Great North Plan”

IPPR seeks views on a spatial planning framework for the North of England

August 14th 2015

Five events have taken place in the last couple of months in cities across the North of England to discuss the idea of a ‘Great North Plan.’ The events were held in Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester and were organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).

The events have come about as a follow-up to two events labelled ‘Framing the Future’ held in 2014 when a number of organisations in the North-West came together to discuss planning issues. The IPPR says: “At each of these events, participants expressed a clear sense of frustration that, at a national level, matters of planning and economic development were not being given the attention that they deserved, and that spatial planning processes at the sub-national level were fragmented. There was agreement that, in the absence of any serious national spatial plan, the North of England needed a plan of its own: a Great North Plan.”

A partnership consisting of the northern branch of the IPPR, which has its headquarters in Manchester, and three RTPI regions (Yorkshire, North-East and North-West) decided to plan a series of regional round tables, with each event following a similar format: a morning session aimed primarily at planning experts, and an afternoon session involving wider stakeholders such as local authorities, transport agencies and businesses. IPPR North is intending to write a report on each event and has also issued a ‘call for evidence’ from the wider community on what people think of the idea of a Great North Plan.

The call for evidence is open until 30th September 2015, and this will be followed by a ‘Northern Summit’ conference, hosted by Leeds City Council in early 2016. IPPR says the event “will assemble more than 100 stakeholders to draw together work emanating from the regional round tables, and to discuss the way forward for a Great North Plan. It will feature keynote speakers including a minister from the new government, a presentation of the round table findings and evidence, and break-out groups on some of the key themes.” IPPR will then produce a report exploring what a spatial planning framework for the North should look like, and how it might be developed.

IPPR says that one of the aims of gathering evidence is to solicit proposals for the greater integration of transportation and spatial planning, whilst the consultation is framed around two key questions:

  • What should be the nature and scope of a strategic spatial planning framework for the North of England?
  • What might be the process and timetable for the development of such a framework?

The key issues identified by IPPR include:

  • What are the key components of such a framework? IPPR says “these might include issues of land use, energy, transport and other infrastructure, water and population, among others.”
  • Where should the boundaries covered by such a framework lie, and how should it address cross-boundary matters?
  • To what extent should the framework be ‘inclusive’ and to what extent should it focus on the big cities?
  • How might such a framework fit with the statutory plans of local and combined authorities, and with the Government’s plans to create a ‘Northern Powerhouse’?

IPPR is inviting anyone living or working in the North of England to share their thoughts, either by emailing a submission of no more than 5,000 words or via Twitter using the hashtag #GreatNorthPlan. For more information, see “Do we need a Great North Plan?”


Photograph: “No 3001 Manchester Metrolink tram” by Dr Neil Clifton – geograph.org.uk. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Architects praise housing developments in this year’s RIBA awards

Affordable housing scheme in Glasgow wins the RIBA Award for Scotland 2015

August 12th 2015

Housing developments are a prominent feature in this year’s RIBA awards for the UK’s best new buildings. RIBA (the Royal Institute of British Architects) makes its awards annually to buildings that demonstrate the best of British architecture and has criticised many new housing developments in the past for their lack of quality, cheap materials, and unimaginative design, labelling some housing schemes as “shameful shoe-box homes.”

This year however 9 individual properties and 7 housing developments are among the 37 winners of RIBA’s best building awards in the ‘house’ and ‘residential’ categories respectively. Quoted in The Independent, Philip Gumuchdijian, Chair of the RIBA awards group, said that high quality housing developments were the stand-out trend of 2015. The nominated projects showed it was possible to build “exceptional new housing developments that are profitable, sustainable and desirable places to live,” he said. “There is obviously a desperate need for housing. It can be difficult to create beautiful spaces when there is a formula but this is a year of good architecture that will be useful.”

The seven housing developments that have won awards in RIBA’s ‘residential’ category are:

  • Brentford Lock West, London
  • Laurieston Transformational Area, Glasgow
  • Parkside, Derbyshire
  • NEO Bankside, London
  • Darbishire Place, London
  • West Burn Lane, St Andrews
  • Abode, Cambridgeshire

Two of the housing developments are housing association schemes. The Laurieston Transformational Area in the Gorbals district of Glasgow was a £22.3 million project for the New Gorbals Housing Association. Three tower blocks were demolished in 2012 to make way for the scheme, which provides 201 affordable homes for rent in a new layout of streets and mews settings. The development has achieved an Eco Homes standard of ‘Very Good’ and has won the RIBA Award for Scotland 2015 as well as the Scottish Government’s Client of the Year Award 2015. RIBA says of the scheme: “Reinterpreting the traditional Glasgow tenement, these blocks, fittingly urban in scale, provide high quality homes close to the heart of the city.” The Architects’ Journal says the scheme uses “a contemporary tenement form with a variety of housing types – apartments, maisonettes and terraced houses – all exploiting the rich possibilities of corners, southern aspect and courtyard environments.” The designers have replaced the bay windows “typical of many Glasgow residential blocks with balconies excavated into the depth of the red brick wall” whilst the four-storey apartment block “stands as an object perceived in the round within a parkland setting.”

Darbishire Place in Whtechapel, East London was a £2.3 million project for the Peabody Housing Association and has won a RIBA London Award. Philip Gumuchdijian, Chair of the RIBA awards group, described the scheme in The Independent as “a super high quality block that is beautifully crafted.” “That’s Peabody,” he added, “notionally among the most economic. And it’s beautifully done.” RIBA’s website says “this dignified new building, with its refined proportions and details, replaces a fine Peabody mansion block taken out in the Second World War by a V2 bomb, along with another block whose footprint now provides a garden at the heart of the newly completed courtyard. The use of materials and form allows the new building to complement its neighbours without mimicking them… On the south side a sliver of the building slides out of the square and forms a very narrow and elegant elevation, which leads one into the scheme, providing a further level of interest and architectural distinctiveness.”

The Independent reports that another trend in this year’s list is the renaissance of brick as the dominant material amongst the award winners. RIBA’s President Stephen Hodder is quoted as saying it was an intriguing development: “Brick is firmly established in the British psyche as a safe, long-lasting, familiar material. Architects are using it more and more. People are interested less in fake bricks but more in real brickwork and craftsmanship,” he said. The Independent points out that this comes despite a brick shortage in the UK with the Federation of Master Builders warning that housing projects could be threatened by contractors struggling to get deliveries of bricks in less than two months.

Winners of RIBA awards in the ‘house’ category include a fishing hut in Hampshire, a garden studio in Wiltshire, a barn on the South Downs, and two self-build projects: a cliff house on the Gower peninsular, and a house in Somerset whose walls are insulated using recycled paper and whose garden contains a 4,500 litre rainwater tank. For more information, see the RIBA website.

When is brownfield land of “high environmental value”?

Wildlife and Countryside Link publish new planning guidance

August 11th 2015

A consortium of conservation organisations has published new guidance on what constitutes “high environmental value” with regard to brownfield sites. The guidance has been published by Wildlife and Countryside Link, a group of organisations concerned with the conservation and protection of wildlife and the countryside. The guidance covers brownfield sites that might contain wildlife habitats in urgent need of conservation.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states that “Planning policies and decisions should encourage the effective use of land by reusing land that has been previously developed (brownfield land), provided that it is not of high environmental value. Local planning authorities may continue to consider the case for setting a locally appropriate target for the use of brownfield land” (paragraph 111).

However, there is currently no definition of “high environmental value” and further clarity is not provided by the NPPF. The Planning Practice Guidance accompanying the NPPF refers to possible biodiversity interest and specifically to recognised wildlife habitats frequently found on brownfield land, whilst paragraph 24 of the Guidance states that environmental value should be assessed before development decisions are taken. Wildlife and Countryside Link say that with no definition of “high environmental value” available there is a lack of understanding of what this means in practice, and a lack of clarity on how to implement the NPPF in order to achieve its objectives.

The new guidance seeks to add more detail to the NPPF by defining when a site might be considered to be of high environmental value, without saying that such sites will necessarily be unsuitable for development.

The definition is as follows:

“A site should be considered of ‘high environmental value’ in biodiversity terms if:
1. It contains priority habitat(s) listed under Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006; or
2. The site holds a nature conservation designation such as Site of Special Scientific Interest, or is defined as a Local Wildlife Site (or equivalent) in local planning policy.”

Wildlife and Countryside Link say that, using the criteria above, preliminary government statistics suggest around 6 to 8% of sites fall into the ‘high environmental value’ classification. In making the case for the criteria, they argue that “protection of such a small number of sites from inappropriate development is unlikely to prevent the re-use of brownfield sites overall, discourage suitable development sites coming forward, or force additional development into greenfield areas.”

They also explain that two of the UK’s top sites for wildlife diversity are located on brownfield land and support some of the UK’s most scarce and threatened species. One such site is Canvey Wick in Essex, a former oil refinery that has been designated an SSSI for over 1,400 species of invertebrates. The second is the former Harbury Cement Works at Bishops Hill in Warwickshire: “Once a limestone quarry with associated cement works, this site supports diverse wildlife including a large population of Small Blue butterflies. Planning permission has been granted for a mixed use development including 200 dwellings and employment usage. The planned development will retain the ‘high environmental value’ areas by creating a nature reserve and provide for the reserve’s long term management.”

The guidance document is available as a PDF from Wildlife and Countryside Link.


Photograph: Hardstanding near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk © Copyright Adrian S Pye and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.