A nodding donkey restored in Dukes Wood, Eakring

A Story of Transition

8th September 2021

How Earking is Transitioning to a post-hydrocarbon era…. a journey of decarbonisation

Perhaps nowhere in the UK is the process of decarbonisation at a settlement scale more apparent in the built environment than in the Nottinghamshire village of Eakring. Once the country’s largest inland oilfield, it’s now generating enough renewable electricity locally to power the village several times over. Seventy years after the last drop of oil was extracted, Eakring is expanding with nine fossil-fuel-free homes, ‘Howgate Close’.

During its 27years of operation from 1939 to 1966, Eakring’s former oilfield, yielded 3,000 barrels of oil daily from 170 wells, employing 1,200 personnel. So vital was the role of Eakring’s oil during the second world war that Geoffrey Lloyd, Secretary for Petroleum (1940-1942) wrote;

“…Oil was also heat and light and mercy…..it fuelled kitchens, it powered the radios and telephones, it warmed and illuminated the hospitals, it refrigerated the life-saving plasma’s it heated the instrument sterilizers, it ran signal devices, water purification systems, and repaired machinery.”

Eighty years after Eakring No.1 first struck oil in June 1939, a fitting epitaph to Eakring’s oil legacy was erected in the nearby ‘Dukes Wood’, now a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Here a six-foot bronze statue depicts an American oilman aptly named, ‘Oil Patch Warrior’. Lest we forget how this natural resource was won, the five remaining restored nodding donkeys are keeping the Warrior company.

Another of Eakring’s oil exploration legacies resides in the form of the National Grid’s Training Centre. It was on this site that D’Arcy Exploration Company (now BP) set up its ‘Eakring Yard’, which eventually evolved in to BP’s Research Station. From here in 1965, Britain’s first oil rig ‘Sea Gem’ was developed and its 200feet high structure pre-assembled in Dukes Wood. ‘Sea Gem’ was later shipped from Great Yarmouth achieving Britain’s first hydrocarbon discovery in the North Sea’s British Sector, now known as ‘West Sole Field’. Many of the rig’s crew where Eakring Yard personnel.

A Journey of Decarbonisation

Once Britain’s oil exploration epicentre, Eakring’s nodding donkeys are now replaced with solar farms and wind turbines. In the last decade, three wind turbines have been erected within the Parish, a 12mW solar farm built on Bilsthorpe Road and over 250kW of roof mounted photovoltaics installed within the village. A concomitant benefit for Eakring Parish Council is it receives a 25year annuity of £7,000 annually.

Eakring is now emerging as a settlement in transition, on a journey to decarbonisation. Enough renewable electricity is already generated locally to power the village, but in a post-hydrocarbon era, buildings will likely generate their own energy.

One such enterprise is Eakring Farm, from its roof mounted photovoltaic panels, generate 130,000kWhrs annually, making the farm a net producer of renewable energy. When energy storage facilities become commercially viable, the farm will have the ability to become energy independent, another step towards decarbonisation.

In May 2022, Eakring is to have nine fossil-fuel-free homes completed, providing local residents with post-hydrocarbon era ready homes. Each of the properties will have the ability to generate a surplus of energy annually. It’s estimated the surplus energy could be enough to power another similar dwelling.

Eakring is a settlement that has started the process of transitioning to a post-hydrocarbon era, leading its own journey of decarbonisation. Perhaps this Nottinghamshire village is unique in the UK. Within its environs it still has standing the apparatus used for the winning of fossil fuels sitting alongside the apparatus used for delivering fossil-fuel-free energy.

“…ecologically sound and sustainable ways of living.”

 

1st September 2021

“By practical example, to act as a catalyst for change towards ecologically sound and sustainable ways of living.”

-Hockerton Housing Project’s (HHP) 1995 Mission Statement

The designers of Howgate Close for twenty- four years have been living an autonomous lifestyle in the UK’s largest collection of earth-sheltered dwellings;

 “The Hockerton Housing Project is the UK’s first earth-sheltered self-sufficient ecological housing development.  The residents of the five houses generate their own clean energy, harvest their own water and recycle waste materials, causing no pollution or CO2 emissions.  The houses are still amongst the most energy efficient purpose-built dwellings in Europe.”

HHP was formally opened on October 27th 1998 by Rt Hon Nick Raynsford MP, the then Construction Minister, he said;

“This housing development represents a truly innovative approach in constructing new homes using sustainable techniques and materials in a way which is building a real community spirit.”

Another visitor, HRH the Duke of Gloucester, remarked that HHP…

“…..is built on sound scientific theory put into good practice”

It was the Vale’s Southwell home that inspired The Hockerton Housing Project. Nick Martin, a Nottinghamshire builder, had undertaken the construction of the Vale’s Southwell home in 1994 and was subsequently inspired to build his own self-sufficient housing project, what emerged was HHP.

In 1996 Newark and Sherwood District Council granted Planning Permission. Summing up the recommendations to the Planning Committee, the Planning Officers report stated:-

“This scheme has considered all elements of the development and has shown how they can be carried out in a sustainable way.

 In the words of Hockerton’s architects, Professors Brenda and Robert Vale, HHP is;

“…design(ed) for a life estimated in centuries rather than decades.”

Howgate Close Design Principles….their origins

18th August 2021

“…trapping and storing the sun’s energy”

                                                                                                                                          – Brenda and Robert Vale

 

The nine dwellings of Howgate Close are designed to operate free of fossil-fuels, deliver low to no heating bills while maintaining steady state internal air temperatures.

 Achieving a ‘zero-heated’[i] status, requires the application of passive solar design[ii] techniques allied with a high thermal mass superstructure and a super-insulated envelope. Empirical data[iii] supports the premise that high thermal mass buildings can significantly reduce heating loads together with a concomitant reduction in green-house gas emissions.

The passive solar design techniques applied at Howgate Close are millennia old. Troglodytes selected caves with southerly entrances, Neolithic settlers built dwellings on the southern shores of Skara Brae, Orkney Isles and  Saxon farmers orientated barn openings for threshing and drying. These intuitive building design decisions of orientation and material selection were instrumental in heating, cooling and ventilating ancient buildings.

Modern day champions of passive solar design, are Architects, Professors Brenda and Robert Vale. Their extensive Cambridge University research led to the 1975 publication ’The Autonomous House[iv] which elicits “trapping and storing the sun’s energy”[v]. Putting these techniques in to practice, the Vales converted  their Witcham Toll family home, described in their book, ‘The Self Sufficient House’. Later in 1991, they optimised these techniques in their Southwell home (7miles from Howgate Close) of which a forensic account is given in ‘The New Autonomous House’. The Southwell home builder, Nick Martin, commissioned the Vales to design the Hockerton Housing Project (HHP) which later became the architectural precedent for Howgate Close.

The four basic principles of passive solar design;

  • Southerly building orientation – optimizing solar gains for heating, lighting and ventilation
  • Selective Glazing locations – maximising glazing on the south elevation for solar gains, reducing glazing to the north, east and west to reduce heat loss
  • High thermal mass structure – using dense building materials to act as a large storage radiator, stabilizing internal air temperatures
  • Super-insulation envelope – which reduces the rate of heat loss from the buildings while increasing their capacity for retaining stored heat.

Howgate Close delivers.

 

 

[i] DETR. 1998. Building A Sustainable Future. General Information Report 53. P13

[ii] SZOKOLAY, S.V. (2007) Introduction to Architectural Science: The basis of Sustainable Design

[iii] HARRALL, J. (2014) Reservoirs of Heat: The defining characteristic of high thermal mass buildings.

[iv] VALE, Brenda & Robert. (1975) The Autonomous House: design and planning for self-sufficiency

[v] VALE, Brenda & Robert. (1975) The Autonomous House: design and planning for self-sufficiency

Howgate Close: Is this a third way?

4th August 2021

A rhetorical question asked by Professor Ian Rotherham when recently introduced to ‘Howgate Close’ by Dr Chris Parsons.

‘Howgate Close’ offers many solutions, not least attending to recent issues raised by the European Environment Agency.

“Agriculture has high impacts on the environment and the climate…...farmers can play a key role in maintaining and managing Europe’s biodiversity. They are also a critical component of the rural economy….. impacts on the environment and its socio-economic importance for many communities.”

https://www.eea.europa.eu/signals/signals-2015/articles/agriculture-and-climate-change

‘Howgate Close’ attends to some of these issues while offering a replicable model providing;

  • generational investment for farms
  • local housing for local people
  • biodiversity by re-wilding
  • community access to woodland pasture meadows

It is accurate to describe Howgate Close’s 10acre development site as having ‘no net biodiversity loss’ instead, a ‘net biodiversity gain’.

Dr Parsons inspiration for the project was in part, tackling local community concerns to changes in their immediate surroundings e.g.

  • Living in close proximity to intensive industrialised farming i.e. agrochemicals effects on health and wildlife
  • Restricted access to open-countryside with increased intensive land use
  • Erosion of biodiversity and wildlife. 
  • An absence of wildlife sites close to communities

Under-construction on part of the 10 acre site are nine homes with exceptionally low lifetime embedded carbon, dwellings whose functional lifetime will be measured in centuries rather than decades.

The ‘Howgate Close’ business model facilitates funding in-perpetuity for; property upkeep, maintenance of woodland pasture meadow while securing renewable energy for generations, into the emerging post-hydrocarbon era.

Integral to the model is Dr Parsons self-imposed Section 106 Agreement with the Newark & Sherwood District Council to retain properties in rent for a minimum of 15 years and exclusively for local people. If ever sold, the dwellings can only be sold for 80% of market value in-perpetuity.

Professor Ian Rotherham described Dr Parsons stewardship of Eakring’s landscape, as;

“A vote of faith in the future”

Is then, ‘Howgate Close’ a third way?

Is this a way of creating a ‘wood-pasture meadow’ for every village in England?

Indeed, will other farmers take up the model?

‘Howgate Close’, rural housing by numbers

22nd July 2021

Literally describing ‘Howgate Close’ by numbers gets us closer to a formulaic solution for replicable rural housing.

Dr Chris Parsons project, Howgate Close, will deliver 9 rented homes with accommodation for up to 23 local people. His development takes 10acres out of agriculture to deliver 9 single-storey privately rented dwellings with access to 8acres of managed wildlife area. His aim is to provide exceptional energy efficient homes (SAP Rating 142A) with low running costs for some of the local 415 population (Census 2011) Many of whom who have been priced out of local home-ownership with average Eakring house prices at £405,129 an increase of 12.35% since June 2020.

As a second-generation farmer of 1,500acres, whose family have been farming in Eakring, Notts, since 1939, Dr Parsons is looking to create a commercially viable rural housing template for other UK farmers to adopt.

One of the project’s legacies, will be its contribution to generational settlement growth, increasing Eakrings’ circa 200 households by 4.5% with a potential concomitant 5.5% population increase. This growth is facilitated by an additional 14 bedrooms from 5no. 2bedroom and 4no.1bedroom dwellings with a total floor area of 474m2.

Another lasting contribution for the households, is an accelerated transition to a post-hydrocarbon era. Collectively, the 9 homes will generate annually around 50,000kWhrs of renewable electricity from 138 roof mounted photovoltaic (PV)panels. It’s estimated, each home will generate 50% more energy than they consume due in part to their low rates of heat loss (Building U-Value 0.16W/m2K) These super-insulated fabrics are achieved with 968sheets (246 cubic metres) of Ravago’s ‘Ravatherm’ extruded polystyrene insulation boards (Lambda value 0.027W/mK) enveloping the entire building.

Third party verification of the project’s exceptional energy efficiency and carbon mitigation standards, is provided by Elmhurst’s SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure) calculation which have produced Ratings of 131A and 142A. Once registered, these EPC’s can accurately be described as ‘one in a million’.

Other Useful Information:

Planning Authority Newark & Sherwood District Council: https://www.newark-sherwooddc.gov.uk

Builder: Eagle Building Specialists: https://www.eaglebuildingsolutions.co.uk 

Photovoltaics: Cambridge Solar: https://www.cambridge-solar.co.uk

Project Manager: Ian Walton ian@ianwaltondesigner.co.uk 

Design SAP Calculation: Elmhurst Energy Service: https://www.elmhurstenergy.co.uk

Structural Defects Warranty: ICW http://i-c-w.co.uk

Turton Building Control: http://www.turtonbc.co.uk

Designers: https://www.hockertonhousingproject.org.uk

Hardwick Windows: https://www.hardwickwindows.co.uk

Electric underfloor heating Gaia: https://www.gaia.co.uk

Technical Consultant Dr Jeremy Harrall www.drharrall.com

‘Howgate Close’, a replicable rural housing solution

13th July 2021

‘Howgate Close’ brokers a replicable model that can provide both rural housing and wood pastures for every village in the country.

Located at the western gateway to the Nottinghamshire village of Eakring, the site’s 10acres have been taken out of agriculture production to provide nine homes within a managed wildlife area.

Eakring farmer and retired GP, Dr Chris Parsons, describes his project, Howgate Close as an opportunity to address some of society’s most pressing issues: rural housing shortage, climate change, soil restoration, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, water management and purification and community cohesiveness.

Howgate Close’s main objective is to provide local people who’ve been priced out of home-ownership, with high quality rented homes, offering low running costs, low maintenance and access to the open countryside. Also underway are plans to benefit the wider community with permissive access rights to part of the wood pasture.

Dr Parsons engaged the local ‘Hockerton Housing Project’ (HHP) to design ‘Howgate Close’ using the design principles applied at HHP by its Architects, Professor’s Brenda and Robert Vale.

Those design solutions were first published in the Vale’s 1975 book, ‘The Autonomous House’ and implemented at their former Southwell home, ‘The New Autonomous House’  Over 40 years later, the Vale’s design principles have been applied to Eakring’s latest additional nine dwellings, less than 7miles from their former home. On July 27th 1994 their Southwell home became the UK’s first dwelling to export photovoltaic (PV) generated renewable energy to the National Grid.

At Eakring,138 roof mounted photovoltaic (PV) panels are to be installed, providing a 61kWpeak array with the potential to generate annually 50,000kWhrs of electricity, an average of 5,512Kwhrs per household/year. It’s estimated the 1bed units average annual energy consumption to be in the region of 3,500kWhrs/year and the 2bed circa 4,500kWhrs/year.

Eakring’s nine single-storey homes have achieved exceptional Design SAP Ratings of 131A and 142A. The SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure) calculation is the UK Government’s primary methodology for measuring energy efficiency and carbon emissions in dwellings. Once completed (May 2022) these dwellings will be rated in the top 0.01% of the 14million registered EPC’s (Energy Performance Certificates) in the UK.

 

Other Useful Information

Howgate Close was granted planning consent in July 2018 by Newark & Sherwood District Council https://www.newark-sherwooddc.gov.uk

Buildings constructed by Eagle Building Specialists www.eaglebuildingspecialists.co.uk 

PV (photovoltaic) panels are to be supplied, installed and commissioned by Cambridge Solar https://www.cambridge-solar.co.uk

Howgate Close is Project Managed Ian Walton ian@ianwaltondesigner.co.uk

Design SAP Calculation undertaken by Elmhurst Energy Service https://www.elmhurstenergy.co.uk

A 10year Structural Defects Warranty is being provided by ICW http://i-c-w.co.uk

Turton Building Control http://www.turtonbc.co.uk

Triple glazed softwood windows are to be supplied and installed by Hardwick Windows https://www.hardwickwindows.co.uk

‘Back-up’ electric underfloor heating is being supplied and installed by Gaia https://www.gaia.co.uk

Technical Consultancy provided by Dr Jeremy Harrall www.drharrall.com

General building materials supplied by Turnbulls https://www.turnbullsonline.co.uk/

Structural design by Sidebottom Richardson Cheung https://www.srcltd.com