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Planners, developers and house builders need to do more

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

The Joseph Rowntree Derwenthorpe Sustainable Housing Development, York

Harrogate frequently tops the list of the best places to live in the UK and being joined this year by Ripon it’s perhaps not surprising that more and more people want to come and live in the District.

This year’s coronavirus pandemic has apparently only increased the appeal of a move to Yorkshire, which is now a property hotspot, with at least one in four would-be city escapees interested in God’s Own Country, according to a recent survey by the online mortgage provider Trussle.

This popularity does however come at a price - the apparent insatiable demand for more and more houses. The Harrogate District Local Plan allows for the building of some 4,000 new homes in Harrogate alone, by 2035, with many more planned in nearby communities such as Green Hammerton, Killinghall and Ripon, as well as many other towns and villages within Harrogate Borough Council’s jurisdiction.

As these new homes are built, we must urgently consider the impact of their provision on the District’s zero carbon ambitions. Developers and house builders, building the same old housing estates, generating the same levels of traffic and the same levels of energy consumption simply makes no sense.

Domestic buildings currently account for 23% of the District’s carbon emissions, yet many new builds do not even meet today’s building regulations, inevitably creating the potential for even greater emission levels in the future. Whatever the planning authority permits to be built now, could and should have a life expectancy of many hundreds of years, covering many generations. That means we must get them right from the start, using the best building standards possible.

In a recent paper on sustainability of developments, published by the Western Arc Coordination Group - who represent concerned residents and parish councils from around Harrogate - Zero Carbon Harrogate helped to outline what local residents and potential homebuyers should be looking for and highlight the need for urgent action if we are to achieve the District’s net zero target. Planners, developers and house builders have a huge responsibility to deliver new developments that are designed and built to zero carbon standards.

There is a great opportunity to build highly energy efficient houses, designed for modern day living, using available technology and low impact materials. Excellence can be achieved with timber-framed designs, integrated solar panels, heat pumps and heat recovery systems, resulting in minimal annual energy bills for residents. However, current national planning policy and developers’ plans take no account of the urgent need to reduce emissions and so this rarely happens.

Site design is also critical. It is possible to create low-car developments, where residents have attractive community spaces, ‘play streets’, car clubs and good public transport services, as well as shops, schools and other supporting facilities within walking distance. The Joseph Rowntree Derwenthorpe development in York, as shown in the image, is a good example of this kind of quality design.

Greater consideration also needs to be given to creating new homes in our town centres, renovating and re-purposing existing buildings into homes, whether empty retail and storage space or unused accommodation in upper floors. This conversion activity will offer opportunities to improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings and provide employment for local people. New occupants could then support the rejuvenation of shopping, eating and entertainment opportunities surrounding them, with the nearby transport hubs making car ownership unnecessary.

More homes are needed but we want to see sustainable developments that help to enhance the environment we live in rather than destroy it, so that our District remains one of the best places to live.


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