Energy and consultation - building Agar Grove Phase 1a

Monday 5 August 2019

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The team behind this year’s Overall Winner in the New London Awards 2019 came to Store Street to explain the principles behind what is the UK’s largest Passivhaus project. And it was clear that effective consultation and post occupancy evaluations with the residents were key drivers in the project’s easy progress.

Agar Grove Phase 1a is the largest of Camden’s 15-year community investment programme, delivering some 38 social rented homes as the first phase of a masterplan of 493 homes in total. All the new homes are built to the Passivhaus standard, with a consequent promise of a reduction of 90% on energy bills.

Ian Sumner, consultation and engagement officer for LB Camden, said that the council now has its fully owned company called Camden Living, offering below-market rent properties, and that all of its schemes are ‘resident-led’ in order to build support. It started looking at Agar Grove because there was a high level of investment needed on the estate to deal with damp and condensation, sort its ‘unusable’ green space and solve design issues that gave rise to anti-social behaviour. ‘From surveys we did this week, people were telling us that they felt much healthier in these homes, with no condensation, no damp; they have private space and shared public space, giving interaction with their neighbours’, Sumner said. The key to the scheme had been a series of thorough consultation events and ‘door-knocking’ that found that locals liked the strong sense of community there, but also alerted them to some of the problems. Only four residents had to move off the estate. ‘All in all, it was a boost to the area’, said Sumner.

HawkinsBrown partner Seth Rutt said by the time the scheme went to planning in 2014 there were no objections, principally because of Camden’s consultation work with locals, the scheme ultimately proving to be ‘a big team effort’ and ‘critical friendship’ with Mae Architects, Grant Associates and Max Fordham. Passivhaus was introduced to the 60s estate along with improvements to its ‘unprogrammed’ public realm and the density of housing was doubled. ‘It was important to us that this feels like a piece of city, with all the buildings having their own personality but a shared DNA’, said Rutt. Building regulations and Passivhaus, though, are not that far apart, said Rutt – it’s actually the construction quality and testing where things come into play.

Finally, Ann-Marie Fallon, Associate,Architect and Certified Passivhaus Designer, Architype, said the project had been ‘an amazing journey’ with both pain and pleasure involved in delivering Passivhaus at scale. But a new vernacular of building for ‘what we need’, leaving resources in nature, needs to be adopted, she urged. The clear benefits of Passivhaus include increased comfort for users, but ultimately, and simply, better-quality buildings, Fallon added. ‘We’re reducing energy by design, not offsetting carbon by adding on.’ 

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