A new modular council development in Newhaven, East Sussex, is being hailed as a ‘game changer’ for social housing and a window on the future of residential schemes. The entire development consists of 36 modules constructed within the Boutique Modern factory, less than two miles from site, in Newhaven and craned into place.
Lewes District Council
This is the council’s second project with Boutique Modern, following on from the first sustainable project which delivered a smaller scheme of volumetric homes along the coast in Peacehaven.
In line with the local labour agreement in place with Lewes District Council, both the factory and site employed a number of Newhaven residents, many on apprenticeship programmes.
The 13 one- and two-bed apartments are equipped to the highest specification, in terms of standard and desirable features, sustainability credentials and fire safety standards that effectively future-proof the development against all anticipated toughening of regulations post-Grenfell inquiry.
The project overcame COVID-19 lockdown pressures, completing in an impressive 10-month time frame. Contractors carried out the demolition of the old council building and prepared the foundations while, simultaneously, the modules were being constructed within the Newhaven factory. The method of construction ensured winter weather delays were avoided and minimised the impact on the local community.
The previous smaller Peacehaven modular project only took six months from the beginning of the project to the first residents moving into their new homes, approximately 50% quicker than a traditional build – great news when the council is under such huge pressure from the housing register.
Families on Lewes District Council’s housing register are now living in Palmerston House and will soon be enjoying lower living costs as it is anticipated the mains energy use will be reduced by 70%, taking the properties ‘off-grid’ for up to three or four months of the year.
In line with the council’s sustainability principles, the 13 homes in Newhaven have been delivered to:
• Drastically reduce the carbon footprint of the building
• Reduce waste of the construction process
• Build locally – employing local people, training locally
• Take a fabric-first approach to design
• Use modern technology
• Build with modern methods of construction to significantly reduce the build period
• Enable sustainable transport
Every apartment has its own 2.1kWh solar PV installation and 2.7kW battery to store electricity generated during the day for use at peak times. Power usage monitoring displays are also installed in each home and all residents will receive advice and guidance on how to interpret and use the information to further reduce energy use.
The modules are super insulated, meaning they are 40% more energy-efficient than traditional homes.
Mechanical ventilation and heat recovery systems are installed in each apartment. They filter and exchange the air to keep the environment low in humidity, saving on maintenance issues/costs and maintaining a healthy fresh air supply within each home.
Modular housing: Setting trends
Lewes District Council is now working alongside neighbour Eastbourne Borough Council to progress sites for 300-plus homes on sites already within their ownership, as well as working on a programme of acquiring sites for future delivery.
Planning applications are being prepared, with the vast majority of the schemes delivering affordable rented properties that are directly targeted at the identified local need and the housing list.
Within the council’s overall development plans, an ambitious programme of modular housing delivery is integral. This will help ensure delivery targets are met
by March 2024. The programme is aligned to Homes England’s new Affordable Housing Programme 2021-26 and a focus on modern methods of construction and sustainability.
Councillor William Meyer, Cabinet Member for Housing at Lewes District Council, said: “Palmerston House represents a complete and hugely exciting departure in 21st-century housing construction.
“These wonderful new homes provide a design template that I am certain will be replicated all over the UK as decision makers discover what we have achieved
“There is no doubt that this is a game changer, not just in terms of raising the bar for sustainability and fire safety, but also in build quality and finish. The apartments are stunning examples of what social housing professionals should be striving for.”
Despite being under 18m, Palmerston House has been built to meet the 18m Fire Regulations introduced following the Grenfell investigations.
Each apartment constitutes a one-hour fire compartment, and every habitable room has a MIST fire suppression system installed. In the event of a heat detector being triggered, a fine mist is produced to extinguish the source of fire, rather than the whole property being drenched. The nature of the water dispersal means repairs and reinstatement required are less extensive. The system also limits damage to other homes.
The development also features automatic opening vents (AOV). In the event of a fire, every walkway window and the roof vent in the stair core will automatically open, allowing smoke to clear.
A communal fire alarm system is integrated with the fire brigade or monitoring company. It detects any fault and activates within seconds.
Councillor James MacCleary, Leader of Lewes District Council and Ward Councillor for Newhaven South, said: “When the Co-Operative Alliance took over the council, we put building homes and reducing carbon output at the heart of our agenda. Palmerston House achieves both of those things.
“On top of that, it is a truly cutting-edge building that just adds to the sense that Newhaven is a town where a lot is happening. It’s a great addition to our town and, most importantly, represents a positive future for local families who can now look forward to spending Christmas together in their new home.”
Other headline specifications at Palmerston House include:
• Back-up dual main cold-water tank and pump system in case of pressure drop-out on the main network and increased usage from the dwellings. It is a networked system so in the event of pump failure, a text or phone alert is sent out to the maintenance team.
• Stormwater attenuation tank installed to slow and reduce rainwater impact on the local network
• Audio communal door entry system and key fobs for residents. A station within the plant room is currently being installed for the maintenance team to produce new fobs and drop fobs off the system.
• Safety system on the roof with specialist harness and lanyards to allow safe working for maintenance teams
• All homes have satellite and terrestrial TV capabilities and superfast fibre pre-installed.