Hockerton Housing Project in Nottinghamshire is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion it welcomed the Chairman of Newark and Sherwood District Council, Councillor Keith Walker, to unveil a plaque commemorating the legacy of the three parties. The Project would not have got out of the ground without an enlightened landowner, pioneering architects and a visionary local authority, and it is their legacy that Hockerton Housing Project is celebrating this week with representatives from local business and the local authority.
The homes at Hockerton Housing Project (HHP) use 20% of the energy used by a similar-sized house built at the same time, for the same price. There is no loss of comfort. Instead of fossil-fuelled central heating the homes are built to absorb heat from the sun over the Summer and early Autumn, which is then released over the winter. This keeps the homes cool in summer and warm in winter. Air quality is maintained through the use of heat-recovery ventilation and water heating costs are reduced through the use of a thermal store.
By reducing the energy demands of the homes, the Project is then able to meet much of its remaining energy demand through onsite wind turbines and solar PV. This idea caught on in its wider community. In 2009, the parish of Hockerton invited the trading arm of HHP to manage the installation and management of a community-owned wind turbine. This now generates power equivalent to that used by the village and raises funds for the sustainable development in the community. As a pioneer of community energy HHP has since run a range of courses and support services for communities and land-owners installing and maintaining community-scale systems.
These ongoing and expanding benefits would not have happened without support from the original landowner, pioneering architects and a supportive local authority.
Roy and Eileen Martin were the original landowners of the land on which the Project is sited. On purchase, it had little environmental benefit. It was a monoculture of grass, mainly used for grazing due to frost pockets, boggy areas and exposure to wind. When their son, Nick, proposed a sustainable development incorporating organic land management alongside eco-housing they gave their support. Over time this formalised into a governance framework of a 999 year lease with a peppercorn rent, provided the Project continues to meet its social, environmental and economic obligations.
Professor Brenda Vale and Doctor Robert Vale are architects, and now world-renowned experts, in the field of sustainable housing. Their design framework for eco housing is a simple and cost-effective combination of high thermal mass, to store and release heat; super-insulation, to retain that heat in the structure of the home until it is needed; and designing for the environment. Whilst working at University of Nottingham they built a zero carbon autonomous town house fitting to the historic town of Southwell. Serendipitously they had used local builder Nick Martin who was looking for architects to help him and a group of friends with their ideas for Hockerton. They used the same design framework, but adapted it to the greenfield setting. By covering the main structure of the homes in a hill, the Vales were able to limit the loss of land from nature; by orientating the homes to face South, the Vales were able to maximise the solar gain used to heat the homes; and with the Vales’ design requirement to use rainwater harvesting to meet all water needs, water reservoirs were introduced that improve the habitat for a range of flora and fauna.
David Pickles OBE was chief architect and energy manager for Newark and Sherwood District Council in the 1990s and 2000s, whose work with others generated a national reputation for innovative energy work in the East Midlands . He understood the vision and the need for research and development of zero carbon homes. He worked with Hockerton Housing Project to develop a framework that ensured the greenfield development would benefit rather than harm the green environment. The resultant section 106 agreement remains a cornerstone of the Project’s activities 20 years on. In particular the requirement to generate employment instigated the trading cooperative that today provides a range of educational and advisory services to a range of individuals and organisations, along with an income for residents .
Councillor Walker has visited the Project over the years – during their initial build and when they were first occupied and was interested to see how it was continuing the original vision set out with Newark and Sherwood District Council in a section 106 agreement. He congratulated the residents, past and present on what they had achieved. Guests also heard from Stormsaver, Tarmac and Nottingham University about their interest in the Project’s approach to sustainable housing and water systems, with many questions about why such an affordable approach wasn’t being taken up by developers.
Around 2000 people a year visit the Project each year; it has featured in thousands of green building and energy publications and informed millions more through broadcast media; and is studied by architectural and engineering students across the UK and beyond. But the Project remains, primarily, home to 5 families and their shared interest in continuing the legacy of an exemplar sustainable development that could, and should, shape the design of housing fit for the 21st century.