London Borough of Lewisham Passivhaus development by Levitt Bernstein Associates Limited for Phoenix Community Housing.

Passivhaus is gaining traction in the UK. But issues remain around visual appearance of retrofits in conservation zones.

Of late, Scotland has been particularly supportive of Passivhaus developments, with several given the green light.

Kingdom Housing Association has secured planning consent from Fife Council for a £5m (AUD$8.98 million) development of 30 new Passivhaus homes in Gauldry, about eight miles from Dundee.

The development will include homes for social rent and homes to suit a range of housing needs, with 10 two-bedroom homes suitable for older people and 20 two- and three-bedroom family homes. The plan is to start on site in early summer 2021 with completion slated for 2022.

According to Kingdom chief executive Bill Banks, the organisation went to great lengths to gain the community’s acceptance.

“There is a very high need for affordable housing in the north Fife area, and unfortunately, there is a shortage of sites to meet the needs,” he said. “The project is intended to help meet current and future housing needs in the area and sustain local communities.”

Passivhaus social housing, Drymen development: Conic Way and Montrose Way, Image credit: ECD Architects

Over in Loch Lomond, planning has been approved for the first social housing scheme in the Trossachs National Park. This development at Montrose Way, set in a sweeping rural landscape, includes 15 Passive House affordable homes designed by ECD Architects.

With the idea being to lower costs for residents while reducing environmental impact, aiming for Passivhaus standard expects the amount of energy required for heating to decrease by up to 90 per cent and the total energy usage by around 70 per cent.

A mixture of terraced bungalows and semi-detached two-storey home orientated to maximise solar gains in living spaces will have solar PV installed on the roof, triple-glazed low-E windows with high performance frames, and a Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) system.

London development

Down in the London borough of Lewisham, construction is set to begin on some of the most sustainable new homes ever built in the borough after Phoenix Housing Association secured planning approval for its first new Passivhaus housing scheme.

London Borough of Lewisham Passivhaus development by Levitt Bernstein Associates Limited for Phoenix Community Housing.

It is an intergenerational scheme offering 30 much-needed affordable homes for people over 55 alongside two four-bedroom flats for postgraduate students, to be located on a former site of bedsits close to Beckenham Hill Station.

Phoenix Community Housing chief executive Jim Ripley said: “It’s vitally important that we don’t just build new homes but homes that contribute to the battle against climate change and well-designed schemes that create places where people are proud to live.

“There’s a huge demand for affordable housing both for older people and for students. The new development at Melfield Gardens will help to meet the need for both and offer a place where different generations can mingle and support each other. I can’t wait to see them being built.”

The new scheme will complement Phoenix’s existing development program, with 70 new homes currently on site and dozens more in the pipeline thanks to a £60 million (AUD$107.7 million) investment from Pension Insurance Corporation.

Phoenix has appointed the architect Mikhail Riches for that scheme – winners of the prestigious Stirling Prize in 2019 for their development at Goldsmith Street in Norwich.

Historic conservation still stopping some projects

But another Passivhaus project has been narrowly rejected by councillors in the Eden District Council’s Planning Committee for a major zero-carbon retrofit of an office building earmarked as their local authority’s new headquarters.

Find out how to build your Passive House on The Green List

Rendition of the plans for Penrith Council’s zero carbon town hall retrofit that was rejected on grounds of not blending in with the conservation zone.

This was to be an overhaul of a 1970s building known as Voreda House in Penrith, which the council bought after it was vacated by the NHS last November.

Plans for it, designed to achieve Passivhaus and carbon-neutral standards and drawn up by local practice 2030 Architects, included replacement of external cladding, removal of outside stairs, a ground floor extension, and major internal changes.

The concerns were related to its visual impact on the local Conservation Area where it sits. In the UK, developments on any historic, listed buildings or buildings within designated culturally sensitive areas face an uphill battle against what often seem to be arbitrary planning criteria.

The opinion of officers representing the law on such matters carries undue weight. Often it is impossible to replace acutely inefficient windows and doors, or add solar panels to roofs, for reasons of visual appearance.

The criteria apply to the state of the building when it was granted listed status, and not even to the time when it was built, so metal window frames and single glazing and other arbitrary features become permanently protected.

In this case, a council conservation officer initially judged that the proposals would raise the profile of Voreda House and that the harm to the conservation area and the setting of listed buildings outweighed the public benefit.

A council spokesperson said the design would be changed and resubmitted: “In light of the comments and recommendations made by the members of the planning committee, we will look again at the application to see what amendments need to be made, and we will present a revised application for consideration at the earliest opportunity.

“The plans for Voreda House have been described as an exemplar scheme of national significance. The proposal is to deliver the UK’s first large-scale Passivhaus Standard office building retrofit and provide a modern, high-quality sustainable and safe environment for Eden District Council’s staff, partners and customers.”

In January, 2030 Architects said their “Covid-resilient design” incorporated high levels of ventilation with the potential for UVC sterilisation as well as well-spaced workstations and “easily-sanitised shared facilities”.

The project involved replacing gas boilers with electric heating using an air source heat pump in conjunction with a heat recovery ventilation system.

Housing Associations are key drivers of Passive House

Hanover joins Orkney Housing Association, West of Scotland Housing Association, Eildon Housing Association, Nith Valley LEAF Trust (NVLT) and Argyll Community Housing Association as one of the first groups of housing associations in Scotland to implement Passivhaus standards in social and affordable housing.

Rendition of Passivhaus retrofit of St Sophia’s Primary School, Ayrshire, Scotland by architects Hamson Barron Smith.

With the UK Passivhaus Trust now celebrating its tenth anniversary, and EnerPhit Passivhaus renovation standard now extending to the renovation of school buildings with St. Sophia’s Primary School, also in Scotland (above), aiming to be the first school in the UK to achieve EnerPHit certification, the future is looking bright for Passivhaus in the UK.

David Thorpe is the author of Passive Solar Architecture Pocket Reference,  Energy Management in Buildings and  Sustainable Home Refurbishment.

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  1. I love the Passivhaus concept and think it should be widely taken up all over the world. I do think that Architects and Designers need to produce designs that fit aesthetically into the current period building’s design. Surely this should be possible, a few modifications to the look would no doubt be unavoidable but on the whole I believe designs can be achieved that are similar in appearance to the existing buildings or at least look like they are in keeping with the surroundings era of architecture. Modern looking buildings are simply not to a lot of peoples taste, but there is no reason why an old style cannot incorporate the beautiful details of a period building while still having all the modern technology and design features such as orientation to make it work as a Passivhaus. Things as simple as triple gazed colonial window styles being incorporated if the original style dictates. A little bit of detailing could go a long way. With modern technology, particularly when production is done on a large scale, this extra attention to details and aesthetics should not add much to the cost. It is a shame to lose the beauty and history of a building to make it more comfortable and efficient when the two can be incorporated with a little care and creativity. Yes it will be a copy and not an original but the feel and charm can still be maintained.