Nottingham: Sustainable housing in times of climate change and resource scarcity


Provision of innovative energy efficient homes within resilient communities.

Our vision for Nottingham is to provide high-quality affordable homes within communities that promote the health, happiness and wellbeing of their occupants and encourage the efficient use of resources as a means of stimulating long term social, physical and economic renewal of urban neighbourhoods in the city.

Amidst resource scarcity, Nottingham understands the need to build housing which adapts to climate change as a tool for the regeneration of derelict sites and the provision of sustainable, affordable and aspirational housing.

What are we dealing with?

Tackling urban regeneration, climate change and housing crisis

The provision of sustainable affordable housing poses a challenge for many European cities or urban regions. Furthermore, the need to mitigate the effects of, and adapt to, climate change has put additional pressure and demands on residential developments. Many public bodies are experiencing cutbacks, whilst simultaneously facing pressure to deliver additional requirements such as energy efficiency, provision of extra public realm and flexible models for financing or changing household groups.

Like many cities in the UK, Nottingham has experienced a shift from manufacturing to service-based industries. A common link between these cities is the high proportion of workless households resulting from unemployment. In 2013 Nottingham was found to have the highest proportion of workless households in the UK. In addition to high unemployment rates, this shift has also led to a change in the urban structure and make-up of the city. Manifestations of this have included the proliferation of brownfield sites and underused buildings in central locations and along the River Trent, and a decline of urban infrastructure due to missing resources for maintenance. Although the river was once an important hub of activity, useful for transporting goods to various ports, it is now separated from the city by derelict industrial sites. Today some of these problems are exacerbated by climate change, scarcity of resources and the financial crisis. 

Nottingham is committed to reducing carbon emissions produced by its domestic energy use by 37.6% by 2020. However, much of its existing housing stock does not provide healthy, comfortable and energy efficient living environments that would help to meet this target. The elderly and the young are particularly vulnerable to rising uncomfortable temperatures in the summer. In addition, high and increasing heating costs in the winter put many under financial pressure and often in the so-called fuel poverty, when households have fuel costs that are above the national median level, bringing their residual income below the official poverty line. 

Furthermore, the increasing pressure on the local housing market and the available housing stock has been heightened by a series of demographic changes triggered in part by the growth of the elderly population. Many of the recently built conventional residential developments do not promote a sustainable lifestyle from an ecological, economic and social perspective. Overall, the upshot of this is that Nottingham suffers from a lack of inclusive, comfortable energy efficient and healthy housing that is affordable to buy or rent and run.

  • How do we tackle the need for energy efficiency with an aim to reduce fuel poverty?
    "We are ambitious in Nottingham to tackle fuel poverty through both technical energy efficiency solutions, and helping people to lower their bills through behaviour change. We have set up Robin Hood Energy as the first local authority energy supply company with reducing energy costs in the region as one of its key aims. And now we are working with both Nottingham Universities on projects to explore innovative ways of improving energy efficiency further." Alan Clark - Nottingham City Council

What is the vision for the region?

Nottingham aspires to capitalise on development opportunities around the River Trent, an area spanning about 250 acres. Consisting largely of centrally located brownfield sites with underused or abandoned industrial buildings, it offers unique opportunities for development. The 22 acre site at the River Trent Basin will kick start regeneration of the area and is expected to act as a catalyst to stimulate wider development. 

The establishment of better links from the city to the riverside using the canal corridor, by means of infrastructure such as cycle paths, will not only open up the area to more social interactions but will also strengthen the integration of this area with the existing city centre core. In addition, allowing home owners to take on more ownership of the design of their homes via custom build processes will enable the building of houses that are receptive to the needs and preferences of individuals across various demographics. This will allow for the provision a mix of contemporary, high quality and energy efficient homes that will help to foster place making, community cohesion and social capital in the development. 

Focus on affordable energy efficient strategies for home owners and communities as a whole will endeavour to make the community more resilient to exogenous influences often brought on by rising fuel costs. In particular, the formation of local community energy schemes (led and backed by the community members) will help to decrease carbon emissions and increase the resilience of the infrastructure by encouraging local energy generation and use. This will contribute to addressing fuel poverty and energy security challenges by empowering the community to manage their own resources.

  • How did the visioning process work?
    "The collaborative planning effort undertaken during the regeneration of the Trent Basin area drew from knowledgeable and dynamic people from the local government, the design and construction industry and academia. During this process, a conscious effort was made by all to change the way things are done and to bring what the community wants into the heart of housing development at an early stage. Only by working together under this premise, have we been able to deal with barriers and grab the opportunities urban regeneration offers." Nick Ebbs - Igloo Blueprint.
    "Many of us are working towards achieving sustainability goals, and facing the difficulties this brings. What differentiates us in Nottingham is the cooperation between academia, industry and authorities, enabled and supported by TURaS. The design framework used in this collaborative planning process encouraged an innovative approach towards achieving sustainable urban communities that are resilient to adverse change." Lucelia Rodrigues - university of Nottingham. 

What is the strategy for the region?

Aligning the interests of different parties to enable collaborative planning

This transition strategy will seek to provide space and time within the collaborative planning process for interdisciplinary collaboration and learning. This strategy will create the conditions necessary for the implementation of the overall vision – setting off from the land assembly process to the provision of sustainable design strategies that will help promote energy efficiency in communities.

Collaborative ‘energy efficient’ planning for the Trent Basin brings together the technical expertise of key stakeholders with different specialisations and skills from the council, industry and academia. This helps to shape the process by drawing from expert insights and accounting for a collective and multidimensional perspective and gearing towards attaining affordable, energy efficient homes within resilient communities. 

The creation of a ‘new’ community in the Trent Basin site will trigger a catalytic mechanism for widespread local change across the waterside and the larger Nottingham area. Particularly, the provision of an increased number of links within the area and with the city centre will improve accessibility and open up the site to more social interactions. Similarly, the provision of a well thought out public spaces will enhance the site, creating a sense of place and improving the sense of community for residents. 

The building of adaptable housing will encourage the formation of liveable communities that encourage a mix of demographics. In addition, the delivery of energy efficient homes will enhance their affordability, allowing for homeowners to spend less on energy for comfort purposes. The introduction of a community energy scheme will facilitate the sharing of energy and resources amongst community members, promoting community engagement and foster the sense of community. Vendor agnostic business model templates that can be used by any developer to deploy a community energy scheme as part of their own projects with no additional subsidy will be developed, tested and shared.

  • What is the potential importance of community energy schemes to the Nottingham strategy?
    "For wide scale implementation of sustainable local energy generation we need a mind shift away from personalised household energy generation and use to larger community schemes that will provide greater efficiencies and cost savings to households. For this to happen we need the energy system embedding in housing developments from the very outset at the planning stage with an embedded 'bottom-up' approach to how we plan, design, deliver and utilise local community energy generation and storage assets. This is something we are doing at Nottingham's Trent Basin development as a blueprint for other schemes across the UK and Europe." Mark Gillot - University of Nottingham. 
  • What are the community members views on taking part in a community energy initiative?
    "It is important to acknowledge the fact that community schemes cannot necessarily be established in sync with new urban development, and because they almost inevitably require the investment of time by those that are enthusiasts must be able to grow organically. This means in reality that some form of initial structure needs to be provided for the engagement with and management of energy within new schemes, which can easy transform themselves into more democratic and community focused enterprises." Julian Marsh - MOZES

How do we implement the transition?

Realisation of a 350-home smart community energy scheme as a catalyst for change

The waterside site covers a large area of over 250 acres. Part of this area - the 22 acres Trent Basin site – has been earmarked for the initial housing development that is expected to trigger and inform the development of the larger site. The focus is the development of low-energy housing and an innovative community energy scheme in phases.

Traditional planning systems are often criticised for being too top-down or not participatory in nature. Contrary to this approach, the Trent Basin planning process has been collaborative. The collaborative approach demands that various active actors work towards common goals, sometimes via diverse paths shaped by individual needs, to aid the realisation of the transition. In this case, the developers were fundamental in implementing sustainable development targets in the scheme. 

The involvement of community members is also crucial as they are the intended final ‘consumer’ of the ‘product’. Given that the site consists of a mainly brownfield area, there was little in terms of community involvement at the initial stages of development. Hence, learning from other local communities with similar needs was essential, via for example the TURAS Geo-timeline tool. That said the input of the ‘new’ community will also be highly valued. This is best displayed in the planned involvement of future house owners in the setting up of the community energy scheme. This will involve the setting up of an Energy Savings Company (ESCO) that will be used to manage local energy production and distribution as well as raising community awareness. As part of this, homeowners will be given the choice to opt-in or out of the scheme. Similarly, with the custom-build approach, home owners can integrate personalised solutions that will make the home more suitable to their particular needs.

  • What are the key lessons learned from this process?
    "The development of a new urban quarter, complete with a smart community energy scheme, public space infrastructure and a range of well-designed homes requires the development of shared ambitions and trust amongst stakeholders. The additional complexity of the development process is mitigated by the added value to the site and the city, and in the innovative model of a proactive engagement with the future community through the choice of custom built solutions and participation in the community energy scheme." Katharina Borsi -University of Nottingham.
  • "Researchers and other members of this process were keen to evaluate the planning and implementation process and share their learnings. Particular focus on the replicability and scalability of the design strategies developed meant that they were easily transferable. This is evident in the case of the community power initiative employed in the TURAS demonstration site at the Meadows and later at the Trent Basin site." Lucelia Rodrigues - University of Nottingham.

Key lessons learned

The Meadows Geotimeline
Strengthening local social capital by gathering and sharing community related data. 

Custom-build - Trent Basin 
Differing collaborative design process for the design of individual homes.

Localised Energy - The Meadows
Promoting community energy schemes and user participation in a new community. 

Collaborative Planning - Nottingham
Creating a liveable and resilient community by bringing together technical expertise.