South Shields’ Claims UK’s First Carbon Neutral Street

The village of Ashton Hayes may be aiming to become the first carbon neutral community in England (though not the first such community in Europe, as that distinction has been claimed by the city district of Västra Hamnen, in Malmö, Sweden). But the Sinclair Meadows development, which recently opened to the public, may have helped South Shields beat out Ashton Hayes when it comes to bragging rights on the United Kingdom’s first carbon neutral street.

Developed by the non-profit Four Housing Group, Sinclair Meadows consists of 21 residences constructed with the goal of actually being carbon-negative. The development includes nine three-bedroom houses and twelve two-bedroom apartments, all of which “will be let at an affordable rent.”  The finished development opened in September, to considerable interest; according to Inhabitat, prospective residents were interviewed before even touring the development, as Four Housing Group wanted to make sure that everyone who wound up living in Sinclair Meadows was genuinely interested in the deep-green aim of the project.

Sinclair Meadows

image via Inhabitat

The residences here were timber framed using sustainably grown wood, stuffed with hemp insulation for thermal efficiency, and plaster using lime to ensure healthy, breathable walls. These natural materials play a critical part in helping these homes lock in CO2 — and when the buildings reach the end of their natural lives, these same materials can either be recycled or safely left to biodegrade without undue harm to the natural environment.

Passive solar orientation helps the homes make the most of the heat and light of the sun when it’s most needed, during northern England’s long winter months. These residences were also fitted with active solar in the form of rooftop photovoltaic panels, which supply 100 percent of the energy required to power the homes on the street. And what heat is still required by these highly insulated, ideally oriented homes is supplied via a community biomass broiler that runs on recycled wood pellets.

Sinclair Meadows1

image via Inhabitat

All non-potable domestic water needs at Sinclair Meadows are handled by South Shield’s abundant coastal rainfall, as each dwelling comes complete with an integrated rainwater harvesting system. This system collects water from all of the development’s rooftops and shunts it below ground to a holding tank, where it’s then used to flush toilets, wash clothes, and run the dishwasher too.

Home energy management systems in each residence are a key part of the energy efficiency equation, but so is that big computer-in-residence called the human brain. In keeping with that idea, each resident at Sinclair Meadows will receive training on how to use the energy monitoring systems at work in their homes. This is aimed at empowering residents to live their day-to-day lives as efficiently as possible, rather than simply relying on the built-in green technology to to do the work. Energy efficient habits will help residents reduce energy costs while helping to ensure that the sustainable aim of the project is a success. (It’s estimated that the development will pay off the carbon footprint of its construction in around three years.)

Each house here comes equipped with its own garden space, including a shed and a compost bin. Quite civilized, you’d have to agree — but each home also features birdhouses and bat boxes to encourage the local wildlife (and natural pest management) to make their home at Sinclair Meadows as well.

Sinclair Meadows is the first UK development to surpass the voluntary Code for Sustainable Homes Level 6, a carbon negative U.K. standard that clocks in at 15 percent beyond zero carbon.

South Shields, where the development is located, is a town in Tyne and Wear, on the northeast coast of England.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.