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Sustainable self-build homes - a likely future for Welsh developments?

One Planet Caravan - Courtesy of Mark Waghorn Architects Ltd
One Planet Caravan - Courtesy of Mark Waghorn Architects Ltd

•   Policy points to low-impact future
•   Home and caravan designed to tread light on the land  
•   We need to stop being 'passive consumers' - architect

The Welsh Government's One Planet Development policy is a forward-thinking approach to driving a move towards more sustainable lives. We spoke with Mark Waghorn, lead architect of the Mark Waghorn Design practice in South West Wales, about the challenge of meeting stringent environmental standards, and encouraging lower consumption. 

The policy is about Wales' aspiration to live within its global means within a generation. Waghorn explained:

“Management plans have to be submitted showing how you will use local resources, grow your own food, manage waste – and the dwelling has to be removable. It's a radical approach about minimising environmental impact, and it's not just about CO2. It assumes all the world's resources are shared equally and pushes you to live within your means. You have to include information about consumer purchases and transport as well.

“It's suitable for individuals, couples or families, and is perfectly achievable using current building methods and technologies. There have been six or seven applications approved so far.”

One Planet Caravan - Courtesy of Mark Waghorn Architects Ltd

One Planet Caravan - Courtesy of Mark Waghorn Architects Ltd

Widening the appeal 

All undoubtedly noble objectives, but with numbers of sites being developed to the demands of the policy currently low, is it an approach that's reaching the numbers of people it needs to? Waghorn said:

“It's well-known among people who are interested in living this way, but the average person perhaps wouldn't know about it. As part of the One Planet Council, we're exploring how people could implement this in less remote areas, on the edge of a settlement. This would be for people who want to live a more sustainable lifestyle but perhaps would want to maintain a full-time job. 

“The current standards demand growing 35 per cent of your own food, with another 30 per cent of needs catered for from the profits from another on-site source. We hope to be allowed to come up with a less stringent specification that would be low energy, but not quite all the way.”

One Planet Caravan - Courtesy of Mark Waghorn Architects Ltd

One Planet Caravan - Courtesy of Mark Waghorn Architects Ltd

A light footprint

While negotiations on this adaptation of the policy continue, Mark's firm has come up with two designs to meet current standards: the One Planet Monopitch Home and One Planet Caravan

The modular home made from locally-sourced timber was the first to be conceived, and it features pad foundations that can be removed. It's also super-insulated, and can be taken apart and reused or recycled. He explained:

“The planning policy requires you to demonstrate that what you are doing is reversible; if you left the site you would leave it in the same state you found it or better. You're not talking about building with a concrete base, it has to sit lightly on the land. This is a good philosophy to have anyway.”


A movable home—in two parts

The caravan design meets planning requirements to be entirely moveable in not more than two pieces. What's known as 'park homes' are not subject to the same building regulations as houses, such as the requirement in Wales for all homes to have sprinkler systems – an addition that adds significant cost. 

The two parts split lengthways to be transportable by road, and a further development means there are multiple possible designs for each site – different permutations based on the way the parts are put together. Waghorn said:

“The connotations of park homes are unfortunate – they're traditionally seen as made of lots of unnatural materials like plastics and not very naturally landscaped. This one is different – we're trying to take the typology but make it into something environmentally friendly, aesthetically pleasing and useful.”

One Planet Monopitch Home - Courtesy of Mark Waghorn Architects Ltd

One Planet Monopitch Home - Courtesy of Mark Waghorn Architects Ltd

Caring means sharing

The firm's ongoing plans for the designs are refreshingly community-minded in this profit-orientated world. He explained the approach:

“We're taking it forward as an open-source project, developing the designs for free, for everyone as a downloadable model you can play about with. All additional work will be free and shareable. There are no limitations on how it can be used, it's for everyone to use for themselves, and also for anyone looking to commercialise it.

“There's already a community in Wales very interested in self-build, though often making smaller structures. It's about learning from experience and sharing what works with other looking to do similar. This is a different culture to that of having intellectual property rights – it's more about working together for the common good.”

One Planet Monopitch Home - Courtesy of Mark Waghorn Architects Ltd

One Planet Monopitch Home - Courtesy of Mark Waghorn Architects Ltd

Sustainable lifestyles – wherever you are

Waghorn also hopes to help in spreading sustainable ideas that go beyond building fabric – and beyond the more remote areas that are the current focus of One Planet Development. He said:

“This is not just for rural areas – you can grow your own food in smaller space, even in city window boxes. You can apply some of the designs we've been working on to higher density sites. 

“The suburban layout is often criticised, but there's potential here too. There is plenty of space to provide for a lot of your own needs, though local transport infrastructure has to be considered too – you can't be driving huge distances, negating the self-sufficiency achieved elsewhere.”

Ultimately, Waghorn has a vision for a different kind of living, and it's one which he brings to his architecture practice. He added:

“My belief is we need a better link with our environment, and to move away from being passive consumers to more active. An understanding of the natural world is essential.” 

Share your thoughts with us. Post a comment below or tweet us at @energysvgtrust. Discover more information about home energy efficiency, or follow Mark Waghorn Design on Twitter.

Gary Hartley's picture
Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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Your blog has given me that thing which I never expect to get from all over the websites. Nice post guys!

Thank you so much for this post ! What wonderful, refreshing designs and ideas for sustainable homes - and open-source shared too !