Do EcoVillages and Other Sustainable Developments Inform UK Housing Concepts?

Green developments are perceived as a means to circumvent local planning processes. Private investments in earth-friendly, resilient development can still work.

In this age of sustainable design and building, it’s an unsettling fact that the “eco-towns” thought to offer housing solutions in the UK have not come to fruition. But in the best ways of looking at it, the stalled concepts of green communities might provide ideas and lessons for the kinds of communities that are and will be built in the near future. The problem may not have been green building per se, but the process by which such communities are bureaucratically created.

In 2007, Gordon Brown initially proposed ten large-scale, carbon-neutral communities that would be built on greenbelt land. Ideally this would have delivered 200,000 new homes which, of course, are sorely needed in the UK where an estimated one million households are waiting for affordable accommodations.

The idea of earth-friendly building is technically no longer a pie-in-the-sky concept. LEED certified buildings, including residences, as well as Passivehaus construction, which entails structures so energy efficient they draw little to no energy from outside sources (using solar or geothermal energy instead), are becoming commonplace in Europe and the world over. With construction supply networks incorporating once-advanced technologies and materials as standard equipment, it has become increasingly expected that high-performance buildings make much better use of resources (energy to build and energy to operate) than in previous times.

But something that is well understood by experienced homebuilders and investors (such as land fund managers) is that it is unsavoury and nearly impossible to parachute in a large-scale development onto any community. EcoTowns have yet to be built, and the reasons are largely because existing communities opposed them – not because they are environmentally sustainable, but because they impose large changes on the existing communities themselves. The progressive concept was perceived as a means to circumvent planning authorities, but those authorities fought back.

Two communities are still on the planning process track, in North West Bicester (a 382-acre, 2,600 home site) and Rack heath (near Norwich), which could include 5,000 new homes, 30 per cent of which would be affordable. Each would feature renewable energy use, efficient waste reduction and management, minimised transportation emissions (incorporating public transport, bicycling and car sharing) and efficient water use. But as of late 2014, neither has been built.

Top-down planning is problematic in England, particularly in the new “localism” era. Planning authorities are required to increase the housing supply to meet the high demand, but how and where is to be worked out with local communities. This is how private development companies are accustomed to working – develop a plan and provide the infrastructure necessary to enhance the community. Typically, these are on a smaller scale so as to minimise disruption and to answer immediate needs, such as to provide housing that then makes the area attractive to employers.

Still, the environmental goals and tactics can be incorporated into smaller, investor-led development. Energy-efficient homes are more valuable. Natural green spaces, watershed management, preservation of habitat and healthful living amenities (such as walking and biking accommodations) still provide a qualitative living experience.

This is why capital growth planning from private investors has a greater chance of succeeding in the next few years. Working through prescribed (and modernised) planning processes, they can propose community-appropriate development where eco-friendly features are a clear enhancement of the local environment. In other words, sustainability does not require large-scale building.

Individuals can get involved in these developments as investors, including members of those existing communities; before doing so, however, they are advised to consult with an independent financial advisor to determine if the investment fits an overall wealth-building strategy.

Discover Cornwall and the South West Coast

Cornwall has an array of wonderful sights and hands-on experiences for children attending primary school. Travel to the south coast of England and let your pupils explore one of the world’s largest conservatories and indulge themselves in this diverse Mediterranean landscape. The quaint towns that dot the coastline are typical examples of traditional fishing villages nestled comfortably in the stunning scenery.

A primary school travel group will have endless opportunity to discover the many interesting aspects of this county. The Innovative Eden Project stands out as a major attraction and the Tate Art Gallery in St Ives houses a marvellous display of fine contemporary art. There are also the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Gardens that are well worth a visit and free for students. St Ives is a beautiful town to spend a day exploring the cobbled streets and winding alleys that are typical of the Cornish towns.

The Eden Project

The Eden Project welcomes primary school travel groups and offers some very exciting opportunities for pupils to learn, engage in workshops and experience the innovative ideas that brought this project to life. There are thousands of different plant species grown here and these are intermingled with unusual and modern art and architectural sculptures. The purpose-built education centre stands out as a living classroom and makes The Eden Project an even more attractive destination. A specialised education team on site means you can bring your group to attend organised workshops that are packed full of new learning experiences for pupils of all ages.

Once an old china clay quarry, this site, which is as big as 30 football pitches, has been transformed into tropical, futuristic greenhouses housing a museum of nature that aims to teach visitors about the delicate relationship man has with his natural world.

There is more to Cornwall

Cornwall is not only famous for its flora, but is also home to Newquay Zoo, an award-winning zoo housing over one hundred species of animals. Go wild and visit the big cats at lunchtime, have fun and join an activity trail, or take notes and listen to one of the animated zookeeper talks. From creepy crawlies to penguins, wildebeest to red pandas, the animals here come from all over the world. In the tropical rainforest exhibit, pupils can learn about the world’s largest and most fragile ecosystem and interact with its different environments, and a visit to Toad Hall teaches about the threat to many of the world’s amphibians today.

A different and interesting excursion is to The National Lobster Hatchery, one of the very few research laboratories focusing on marine biology that opens its doors to visitors. Education at every level is catered for and primary school travel groups can gain a wealth of information from the group sessions given here. Pupils can begin to understand the need for conservation and sustainable fishing if the fisheries are going to survive their current situation. Stock enhancement programmes are developed here and sustainability issues are comprehensively researched.

Being a coastal county Cornwall has a rich maritime history. The National Maritime museum dedicated to the celebration of the sea is a fascinating place to spend an afternoon. The museum is now engaging in more research and exploring under the sea too.

A beautiful place to stay with easy access to some educational and enjoyable attractions, Cornwall is a great option for primary school travel.

Holiday Activities on the Jurassic Coast of Devon and Dorset – South West England

The unique and beautiful Lyme Bay traverses West Dorset and East Devon in south west England, a part of the coastline known as The Jurassic Coast. Declared by UNESCO as England’s first natural World Heritage Site The Jurassic Coast is up there with the world’s most famous attractions such as the Grand Canyon in the USA and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

The Jurassic Coast covers 95 miles of truly stunning coastline from West Dorset to East Devon and the landscape records 185 million years of the Earth’s history. World Heritage status was achieved because of the site’s unique insight into our geological history as it clearly depicts a ‘walk through time’ spanning the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods of the Earth’s development.

Charmouth beach in West Dorset is one of the best places along the Jurassic Coast to search for fossils. Experts lead guided fossil walks and they are organised from the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre, situated just by the beach – the walks take place throughout the year and help to bring to life the area’s geological history.

The Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre is a mine of information regarding the geology of the Jurassic Coast, the fossils and the local wildlife – the centre’s wardens are on hand to answer your questions about the area. The Heritage Centre promotes the sustainable collection of fossils and it’s worth checking out the advice on fossil collecting at the centre before setting out on your own fossil hunting expedition.

One of the most wonderful ways of exploring The Jurassic Coast is to take a ride on The Jurassic Coast Bus Service (the X53). This bus travels along what must be one of the most beautiful and scenic routes in the country and connects Exeter, Sidford, Beer, Seaton, Lyme Regis, Charmouth, Bridport, Abbotsbury, Weymouth, Wool, Wareham and Poole (summer service). An Explorer Ticket offers unlimited travel along the route for a day. The ticket costs just £6.00 for an adult, £4.50 for a child or £13.00 for a family ticket (up to four people with no more than two adults).

You can sit back and enjoy the views from the top deck while somebody else drives but you can also get off the bus and explore the towns, villages and attractions along the route. The bus service is also ideal for walkers who want to walk along a section of the coast path as they have the option of either travelling out or back by bus.

The low floor buses run every two hours and tickets offer unlimited travel for a day. So why not hop aboard and let the bus take the strain as you explore this stunning coastline.

There is something almost magical about this area and it is certainly a wonderful place to take a break. Take some time to come and explore the heritage coastline, the historic towns and hideaway villages in an area of truly stunning natural beauty.

The Jurassic coast is a wonderful place to visit all year round and is an ideal place for family seaside holidays, romantic short breaks for two or winter weekend breaks. One of the most flexible ways to visit the area is to book a self-catering holiday cottage.