We spoke to Emma Osmundsen, Shadow Director (Development) and Client Lead (Build) at Exeter City Council, about Exeter’s emergence as a world leader in sustainable developments.
Exeter City Council has been leading the way with its environmental property developments for 10 years now. The approach has been quiet but consistent, starting small and growing in ambition but reaching global recognition for adopting four stringent environmental factors that form the core of all the Council’s developments, both commercial and residential. Exeter’s efforts may have gone largely unnoticed in the UK but its achievements have been picked up globally with Exeter cited as one of the leading global sustainable developers providing advice and inspiration to North America, New Zealand, Canada and mainland Europe.
The interest derides from the fact that for the last decade all new Council buildings in the
Very low energy – certified to the International Passivhaus Standard
Healthy – meet the German Building Biology (IBN 2015) Principles
Climate Ready – designed to be climate resilient to at least 2080 Integrated within a sustainable landscape – buildings are set within a permaculture integrated landscape.
What does this all mean? In reality Exeter has council homes and a pipeline of council buildings, including a leisure centre and swimming pools, extra-care village and offices. These buildings are healthy for residents and occupants, comfortable regardless of the weather and extremely cost effective to run (thereby helping to eradicate fuel poverty). From a Council perspective we have reduced operating and lifecycle building costs, happier and healthier tenants with reduced rent arrears and anti-social behaviour and exemplar buildings that are performing way beyond comparable building regulation compliant assets.
Exeter City Council is proud of its environmental credentials but more importantly they are driven by delivering best value. Built assets are invariably one of the most expensive investments councils need to make and by adopting a triple-bottom line approach to new developments, Exeter has proved that it can deliver developments that are truly environmentally, socially and financially sustainable.
Over the last decade the Council have developed 103 certified passivhaus homes, including the UK’s first multi-residential passivhaus development in 2010. These have all been affordable homes meeting the City’s ever increasing housing need. Of these homes, over 60% of residents have not needed to switch on their heating since the homes were occupied – whatever the weather! This has helped transform some households who can now afford a family holiday or extra curriculum activities for their children.
The healthy features of all the new developments mean that residents have reported measurable health improvements and continue to be surprised by the quality of their surroundings, not least good sleep as a consequence of the low electro-magnetic radiation in the homes and the exemplar air quality with a constant supply of fresh air. There is much excitement ahead of the delivery of the UK’s first passivhaus leisure centre which also incorporates the Council’s building biology approach. This will enable swimmers to experience fabulous water quality utilising ultra-filtration in place of chemicals.