Developers have revealed details of a £95m “groundbreaking” housing scheme which will pave the way for future homes in the UK.
A2 Dominion will build 393 homes packed with eco technology to kickstart a 5,000-home eco settlement at North West Bicester.
Built in traditional style, the homes will feature free daytime electricity from solar panels, cut price heating from underground pipes and bulk buying deals.
Diggers are expected to roll on to the site off Banbury Road this autumn and the first eco residents could be in by Christmas 2013.
Plans for the first phase – homes, a school, pub, business centre and shops – were approved last summer.
A2 Dominion project director Steve Hornblow described the development as “groundbreaking”. He said: “We are very much into making sure the scheme is sustainable in the long term not just the short term.
“Hopefully the extra work we are going to do is going to create that sense of community. It’s not just 400 boxes but a sustainable community.”
The firm has been involved in building eco homes in Oxford – at Salesian Gardens, Temple Cowley, and Sunnymeade Court, Cutteslowe – to eco level code four, but the Bicester scheme will take it to the next level.
Mr Hornblow said: “Code level five is a big difference as it’s zero carbon on the energy side. It’s the only scheme in the country building the true definition of zero carbon.
“It does cost more to build an eco house – whether we can achieve a high sales value is still to be decided. Nobody has done it.
“We don’t know at the moment but we expect them to be similar prices to any other development.”
The highest level is code six, but developers say the site will be unique when taken as a whole development.
One of the toughest challenges will be to hit the target to reduce car usage.
Developers hope the estate will have no more than 50 per cent of trips made by car, compared to a survey showing 67.5 per cent currently in Bicester.
Mr Hornblow said: “We are trying to be realistic and practical about these targets. It will change over time, but it’s a big ask.”
To hit the target, initiatives will be included such as electric car charging points, a car club, footpaths and cycleways and a bus service – organised by the developers – with stops a maximum of 400m from any home.
Every house will have solar panels, making the scheme the largest residential solar array in the country, rainwater harvesting and heat provided from underground pipes.
The so-called exemplar site will be built in four phases over five years.
Mr Hornblow also confirmed A2 Dominion, which has a base in Botley Road, Oxford, had agreed to build all social housing across the entire 5,000 home settlement.
Cherwell District Council confirmed it would pay £2.16m towards the primary school, £4m for the eco business centre and £3m for the energy centre using Government grants. A2 Dominion has also contributed £3.5m to the cost of the school.
Anti eco town campaigner Tony Walton, chairman of action group Bicester Against Eco Con (BaECON), said there were many questions still left unanswered.
The group is unhappy the council is contributing £9m to the infrastructure of the scheme and has labelled it a “white elephant”, saying its location and size are wrong.
Mr Walton said: “BaECON intend to examine the planning process, coordinate interested private and professional parties and continue to inform the public.”
A masterplan for the entire site is still being worked on by eco town facilitator P3Eco. It is looking at wildlife and archaeological surveys, and is due to be ready early next year.
Owen Robinson, a property consultant with Taylors Estate Agents, Market Square, Bicester, said: “I think the homes will definitely attract people. It’s a question of selling point and these houses will appeal to a lot of people, but it’s a difficult one to call. In principal it’s a good idea but I don’t know whether they’ll pull it off or not.
“The amount of people who come through the doors looking for an eco house is minimal.”
What the estate will include... A2 Dominion has planning permission to build the first 393 homes– 274 for private sale, 26 shared ownership and 93 rental properties. Homes will be designed for a lifetime meaning they can be adapted easily, and 64 per cent will be designed so a room can be built in the attic. The ethos of the site will be community, it will include play areas, communal barbecues areas, herb boxes, allotments, and seating. The design will encourage children to play in the street. Two entrances will be built both off the B4100 Banbury Road, and a new speed limit is likely to be introduced with a 20mph limit on the estate. Old hedgerows will be kept and moved within the site Ponds will be created to increase biodiversity. Traditional local materials will be used in construction and those manufactured will use green processes. Technology will be designed to cope with climate change of up to 10C. All appliances with be included and will be the highest environmental standard at the time. A tablet computer in every home will give real time information about buses, traffic and energy usage, and community messaging. A car club will be run by firm Common Wheels. Ten apprenticeships will be created. A gas powered combined heat and power plant will supply heat. Gas is bought in bulk and the cheaper rate passed on to households. All properties will have at least one parking space. Large properties will include a home office. Work will go towards environmental kitemark One Planet endorsement, currently only held by six developers in the country and 20 globally. There will be a bus-only stretch of road between phases one/two and three/four. For more information see nwbicester.co.uk