BedZED. redefining the way people should live

NESTLED inside Sutton, Surrey in the United Kingdom is a housing development that represents what is perhaps the western world's best example of a low energy, eco-friendly community.

Aptly named Beddington Zero (Fossil) Energy Development (BedZED), the £15-million housing scheme boasts a blend of features, including solar panels and wind cowls, which sit atop the roofs like peacocks while they filter air into and out of the homes.

There are also roof gardens, which double as habitats for wild life, such as birds which nest there. There is also waste water recycling and rain water trapping to facilitate the flushing of toilets, while buildings are constructed with thermally massive materials that store and release heat as the temperature cools.

Beyond that, the development, where possible, has been constructed with the use of natural, recycled or reclaimed material, with the wood used on sections of the buildings approved from the Forest Stewardship Council, as part of the effort to ensure it came from a sustainable source.

Underlining all of this is the intent to have the development produce at least as much energy from renewable energy sources as it consumes, resulting in no additional release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

In this way, the carbon-neutral development stands as a thriving alternative to the way homes in Jamaica and elsewhere in the world are traditionally built - without thought to what many scientists argue is a changing global climate caused by, among other things, increased levels of greenhouse gases into the earth's atmosphere.

The multimillion-pound development is the product of collaboration among the Peabody Trust, which is committed to the fight against poverty in London; environmental consultants BioRegional Development Group, which is dedicated to developing practical solutions for sustainable living; and Bill Dunster Architects.

The first of its kind in Britain, BedZED was completed in 2002 on land reclaimed by the Peabody Trust, having been purchased from the London Borough of Sutton.

The housing development boasts 82 residential homes - one of which went for £265,000 a year ago - which range from one to four bedrooms. The one sold last year had three bedrooms, according to Jennie Organ, communications manager with BioRegional.

The homes have a mixture of tenure, with 34 for outright sale, 23 for shared ownership and 10 for key workers at BioRegional. Fifteen others are available for rent, with another 14 galleried apartments available for outright sale.

Also forming part of the development are buildings for commercial use, an exhibition centre, and a children's nursery. There is also a show flat which is used to give the estimated 15,000 or so visitors who annually flock to the development, insight into the operation of the 'green' facility.

BedZED residents are, in the interim, big on enhancing the reputation of the place as low if not zero carbon community. As such, 50 of their number share among them three cars, forming part of what is known as the car club. There is also the ongoing promotion of walking, cycling, and the use of public transportation as preferable to the use of a privately owned automobile.

At the same time, there are charging sites and free parking on the compound for electric cars, as part of efforts to promote the use of such vehicles. Beyond that, and their use of renewable material, residents make a point of purchasing locally produced goods, as part of an attempt to lower their carbon footprint (individual contributions to greenhouse gas emissions).

And they have been reaping the dividends of their actions, as is reflected in their declining utility and other costs. Among their achievements, Organ said, has been:

. an 88 per cent reduction in space heating;

. a 25 per cent reduction in the electricity use; and

. a 65 per cent cut in fossil fuel car mileage.

At the same time, their achievements have been rewarded as the development has won several accolades, including the 2004 Civic Trust Sustainability Award in 2004; the Housing Design Awards in 2003; and the Building Energy Globe Award in 2002. BedZED was also a finalist for Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's (ODPM) Award for sustainable communities in 2003; a finalist for the 2003 Sterling Silver Prize; and a finalist for the 2002 World Habitat Awards.

Organ, for her part, has encouraged other communities to adopt strategies employed by BedZED residents in order to reap similar benefits.

"We see that for the most part, the biggest benefits are coming from the car club and the goods sales. So we would say definitely put in a car club and definitely get your good locally," she said.

BY PETRE WILLIAMS Sunday Observer senior reporter

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