‘A piece of Norway’ in the Midlands

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith had ditched her hard hat and wellies for a trouser suit and high heels when she returned to Redditch outside Birmingham to officially open a development of 36 pre-fabricated and environmentally friendly Norwegian-built timber houses.

“It’s absolutely fantastic that they’ve been completed so fast,” said the Home Secretary of the two developments in the Lakeside area of Redditch which now have brought much-needed affordable housing to the borough. Smith had already been to the site during the building process of the homes which are the first in the country to achieve level 3 of the Government’s new code for sustainable homes.

Reducing carbon emissions

The houses, built by Norwegian company Hedalm Anebyhus, have double-glazed windows made from recycled glass and doors made from sustainable timber at a modern factory in Norway. The homes were exported with insulation in the walls and assembled on site with a complete house being water tight in a few hours, a time far less than conventional house building. There is less waste on site during the construction because of the ready-made sections which also remove much of the manufacturing element. This in turn reduces the impacts on the physical environment often caused by traditional building methods, such as noise, chemical and particulate pollution and wastage of products. The Norwegian construction method has enabled the properties to be completed in a record six months, over 50 percent less time than a conventional build scheme.

In addition, the new occupiers not only benefit from affordable rents but achieve even greater savings in fuel bills thanks to the energy efficiency capabilities of the properties with the expected energy costs being 60 percent less than a traditional house. Being built to Eco Homes Excellent and the latest Building Regulations Part L has resulted in a SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure) rating of 109 compared to 78 for a traditional house with C02 emissions being reduced by over half. “Twenty percent of carbon emissions come from our houses, but these homes will help combat that,” said the Home Secretary of the properties which also benefit from a recovery element within the heating system to encourage heat retention and recycling in the property.

More houses to come

One of the two developments is made up of 20 two, three and four-bedroom semi-detached houses. Eleven of these are for rent with the remaining nine sold in a 50 percent shared ownership arrangement. The other development features 16 two-bedroom bungalows for rent, suitable for elderly or disabled people.

Hedalm Anebyhus, the company behind the houses, uses only the best Norwegian spruce and pine that have grown to full maturity over 90 years. The company is owned by four forest owners who have a long-range policy and manage big resources of forest. In addition to the Norwegian company, the homes have been developed by Accord/Redditch Co-operative Homes in partnership with Redditch Borough Council and The Housing Corporation. The developments are managed by Breedon Housing Co-operative, a fully mutual tenants group, which is in charge of repairs, grounds maintenance, lettings and combating anti-social behaviour. There are now talks of further developments being built by Hedalm Anebyhus.

A piece of Norway

At the opening, where Smith planted a symbolic oak tree, the Mayor of Redditch said the borough had long been in need for affordable homes that were quick to build and used modern methods of construction to ensure low carbon emissions. The Mayor praised Hedalm Anebyhus’s efforts and said “this project has been such a success because of your efficiency.”

As a result of the quick completion of the houses, occupants have already been able to move in to most houses at the development which resembles a regular Norwegian street with its red and white timber buildings. Arild Blixrud from Innovation Norway, a state-owned company set up to promote commercial opportunities for Norwegian businesses by encouraging innovation, internationalisation and profiling, said at the opening; “Coming back here I feel I’ve found a little piece of Norway and I hope the British will enjoy living in these homes as much as we Norwegians do.” And judging from what one of the many residents who took part in the official opening had to say, the British are enjoying their new Norwegian homes: “It’s so nice to come back to a home where you don’t feel the draft from the windows on a cold night!”

A piece of Norway in the Midlands; the new houses in Ken Somner Gardens. Photo: Thomas Aastad / Royal Norwegian Embassy

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One of the two developments is made up of 20 semi-detached houses. Eleven of these are for rent with the remaining nine sold in a 50 percent shared ownership arrangement. The other development features 16 bungalows for rent.Photo: Thomas Aastad / Royal Norwegian Embassy

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith planted an oak tree at the development during the official opening on Friday 5 October.Photo: Thomas Aastad / Royal Norwegian Embassy

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