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How Norwich initiated the largest Passivhaus building programme

Norwich Passivhaus
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It is hoped the construction of Passivhaus homes will reap benefits for residents and Norwich City Council alike, as chief executive Laura McGillivray explains


  • Project: Rayne park
  • Objectives: Development of 172 units to generate income for the council’s general fund via development by Norwich Regeneration Ltd. Private housing for sale and rent plus policy compliant affordable housing. 112 units to passivhaus standards
  • Timescale: May 2017 to October 2020 (construction period)
  • Cost to authority: Construction contract is £29m approx. Loan facility to NRL is £11.5m
  • Number of staff working on project: 1.5FTEs (council employees) working approx. 50% of the time on this project in client role via a SLA to NRL. Reporting to NRL board. Specialist skills eg design/ planning/ employers agent procured externally
  • Outcomes: 172 new homes for sale, private rent, social rent and shared equity of which 112 are to passivhaus standards
  • Officer contact details: Gwyn Jones

In recent years we’ve purposely stepped away from adopting a typical local authority approach as a housing provider here at Norwich City Council. We felt we had a choice: go for safe standard housing or be bold and ambitious. We chose the latter.

In so doing, we’ve initiated the largest Passivhaus building programme in the country. We’re providing these low energy homes across new housing developments – whether for our tenants, as affordable housing, or as properties available for private sale/rent.

We have a particularly proud history of seeking higher environmental standards in the delivery of affordable housing by working in partnership with local registered providers.

For the city council, there were a number of drivers that led us to take the decision to deliver Passivhaus. Among them: the promise of reduced energy bills for our tenants to help them tackle fuel poverty; compliance with the council’s environmental strategy; the ability to generate income from council assets; and the desire to replace stock lost through the right-to-buy with high quality new stock using the retained RTB receipts.

Our new approach to providing housing also saw us take the step of setting up an arms-length development company in 2015. Norwich Regeneration Company – which is wholly owned by the city council – is one of a package of measures to generate income for the council’s general fund, so reducing reliance on central government funding.

The Rayne Park development at land on Three Score in the Bowthorpe area of Norwich marked the company’s flagship project to deliver the first phase of 172 homes on site (part of a proposed development of 1,000 homes in total).

Construction is well underway with the first private buyers and tenants, as well as social housing tenants, preparing to move into one of the contemporary-styled flats or larger family homes.

Some 112 of the Rayne Park properties are being built to Passivhaus standards. That means they all contain mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MHVR) systems, triple-glazed windows and traditional combi boilers providing hot water and minimal space heating.

The council will manage the social housing on the development, while estate agents Leaders manage the private sale and rental portfolio on the company’s behalf.

Rayne Park can boast of being the largest mixed-tenure Passivhaus development in the UK, with everything from one bed apartments to five-bedroom family homes available. It also includes 57 affordable homes.

Meanwhile, in a different part of Norwich, we have another development well underway which features 100% Passivhaus properties – all of which will be council housing.

This site, located on Goldsmith Street, to the west of city centre, has planning permission for 105 Passivhaus properties. With a construction cost of £14.9m it offers one-bed flats to four-bed houses and is the largest 100% Passivhaus social rented development in the country.

The project has been funded through the council’s housing revenue account, from a mix of borrowing, reserves and 30% from retained right-to-buy receipts.

We estimate residents will make up to 70% savings on their energy bills due to the degree of airtightness achieved and the technology in use.

But the Goldsmith Street site hasn’t been without its challenges. It was originally designed for a consortium of registered providers as a solar-gain scheme rather than Passivhaus. So design changes were needed to meet the required standard. Clearly, the moral of the story is that Passivhaus should be decided at the earliest possible stage.

It also needed more design time than a standard building regulations scheme, so that’s also worth bearing in mind at the outset.

All in all, as a council housing provider, we’re taking bold steps to provide energy efficient, high quality homes to meet housing demand and need for the people of Norwich and surrounding areas. And that’s something we’re deeply proud of.

Laura McGillivray, chief executive, Norwich City Council

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