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Sandfields project provides carbon-neutral homes using innovative methods and materials

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The new homes will be insulated using wood, wool, and mushrooms

Two Neath-based construction companies – J.G. Hale Construction, and timber frame construction specialist, SO Modular – are collaborating on a state-of-the-art project to build 55 new homes, and refurbish 72 existing flats, in Sandfields, Aberavon.

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The scheme will eventually provide 127 carbon-neutral homes for social housing provider, Tai Tarian, delivered across three phases, over three years.

The project is a continuation of the existing relationship between J.G. Hale Construction, SO Modular, and Tai Tarian, and is funded by the Innovative Housing Programme (IHP) – a Welsh Government funded programme to encourage and test innovative approaches to constructing social and affordable housing in Wales.

Construction of the 55 new homes and refurbishment of the 72 flats will be completed utilising modern methods of construction (MMC), including construction of all new homes off-site at SO Modular’s timber frame factory.

The scheme will achieve carbon neutrality via a range of in-house green and sustainable initiatives.

Most notable of these is the use of natural, eco-friendly forms of insulation made from three unusual and innovative materials: welsh sheep’s wool, locally sourced from Neath-based Crynant Farm; mycelium, the vegetative filament root structure of mushrooms; and a wood-fibre insulation developed in-house at SO Modular.

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The pioneering insulation methods are providing a pilot study for the viability of their use in the wider construction industry.

As well as reducing the project’s overall carbon footprint, the use of these materials and technology aims to reduce fuel poverty for the development’s tenants by ensuring all homes are built with the top EPA rating of A.

A household is deemed to be in fuel poverty if, in order to maintain a satisfactory heating regime, it requires a spend of more than 10% of its net income on fuel, and in ‘severe’ fuel poverty if fuel costs are more than 20% of household income. Recent Welsh Government figures state that an estimated 155,000 households were living in fuel poverty during 2019 – equivalent to 12% of all households in Wales.

Both J.G. Hale Construction and SO Modular are recognised for being dedicated to innovative, eco-friendly design, quality materials and finishes, and sustainable building practices. The companies are committed to using local sub-contractors and suppliers, with all suppliers and sub-contractors for the Sandfields project sourced from within Wales, with 95% residing within Neath and Swansea.

In collaboration with Neath Port Talbot College, the partnership will also be providing specialist, innovative traineeships, via their in-house training academy. The trainees will be supported by in-house mentors, who are specialists in their respective fields.

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A range of Community Benefits will also be provided for the local community, coinciding with the Welsh Minister of Housing’s Wellbeing of Future Generations Wales Act, 2015.

Tai Tarian’s director of assets, Andrew Carey, said: “County Flats is a prominent part of the Aberavon seafront. Built in the 1950s, the flats are looking tired and are in desperate need of updating. This development will do just that and will provide flats that will be amongst the most energy efficient and sustainable homes in Wales.

“It’s fantastic that we will be working with J.G. Hale Construction, who have committed to using local products and local people.”

David Harrhy, managing director of J.G. Hale Construction, said: “We are delighted to be collaborating with SO Modular on this incredibly innovative project for Tai Tarian. The development, when completed, will be completely unique in its use of new sustainable materials and technologies, which we are sure will become more widely used within the construction industry.

“We fully support Tai Tarian’s objective to reduce fuel poverty for its social housing tenants, and by building all homes to the ultimate EPA rating of A, we will not only be helping the tenants save money on their fuel bills, but also be helping reduce energy usage, which is great news in tackling climate change.”

Charlotte Hale, operations director, SO Modular, said: “We’re very proud to be working on this collaboration with J.G. Hale Construction for social housing provider Tai Tarian. The use of these ground-breaking materials, along with our modern methods of construction, should set the standard for similar, future developments.”

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“Our commitment to using local sub-contractors and training local people will, undoubtedly, improve the skills and opportunities for those in the Swansea and Neath areas, making the region the go-to place for knowledge on these new sustainable materials and methods.”

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Construction

Housebuilder reports “exceptional demand” as Aberavon development launched

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“Exceptional demand” has been reported as the first homes at a new development on Aberavon seafront were released for sale.

All appointments were fully booked on Saturday as Persimmon Homes West Wales opened the doors to the sales office.

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Two homes were purchased at the Awel Afan development and a further 10 reserved on the Early Bird scheme over a busy weekend.

A total of 137 homes are being built on the former Afan Lido Leisure Centre site on Princess Margaret Way.

Sharon Bouhali, Sales Director at Persimmon Homes West Wales, said: “We’re pleased to have launched our Awel Afan site.

“The demand has been exceptional. Right from the moment we acquired the site and announced the plans, we have seen a phenomenal amount of interest from a wide range of people wanting to live in his amazing location.

“The housing market remains buoyant in West Wales but, even so, the buzz around Awel Afan is almost unprecedented.”

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Opened by the Queen in the 1970s, the Afan Lido was destroyed in a fire in 2009 and the site has been unused since.

Persimmon say the development will bring a massive boost to the local economy through the construction industry and its multiplier effect. According to figures from the House Builders Federation, for every £1 spent on housing, £3 goes back into the economy.

The national house builder says that each home built also creates 1.5 full-time direct jobs – and at least twice that number in the supply chain.

The development will be made up of two, three and four-bedroom houses, as well as a range of two-bedroom flats.

Homes currently on sale include the popular two-bedroom terraced Alnwick with its modern open plan kitchen/diner and the four-bedroom detached Hornsea with ensuite and integral garage.

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Persimmon Homes recently supported Afan Lido Girls FC with a game-changing grant of £20,000 through its Building Futures campaign.

(Lead image: Persimmon Homes)

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Construction

Time to raise the bar on Wales’ housing standards says Minister

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Welsh Government Minister Julie James has announced the upcoming launch of a consultation on proposed new social housing quality standard for Wales.

The Minister said the Welsh Housing Quality Standard 2023 (WHQS 2023) would ‘build on the excellent achievements of its predecessor’ – the standard introduced in 2002.

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Since then, the Welsh Government has worked with social landlord delivery partners to invest billions of pounds to significantly improve and maintain the quality of social homes across Wales.

As a result, by the end of 2020, 99 per cent of social housing in Wales met the original WHQS – a standard which is more demanding than in the other home nations.

Speaking in the Senedd, the Minister said: “Reflecting on the levels of achievement of the current standard, I am sure members will agree that, after 20 years, the standard is due to be reviewed, especially to acknowledge the considerable changes to how people live, work and feel about their homes.

“The world has moved on apace in the last 20 years and our expectation of our homes has moved on too.

“The proposed standard aims to be bold but ultimately achievable. We aim with our consultation to ensure that the voice of the sector is taken into account in finalising these standards and getting them right.

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“Setting standards is not an easy business at the best of times. It is even more challenging setting standards relating to the decarbonisation of homes – which is a developing area where we are learning what works best on an ongoing basis.

“The £220m committed over this term of government to the Optimised Retrofit Programme, our whole house, pragmatic, approach to decarbonising existing homes will help.

“It will provide some of the answers to how we effectively and efficiently reduce carbon emissions from homes in line with our Net Zero Wales plan.

“However, in the face of the climate change emergency we cannot stand still, and we must continue to push progress and set standards to address decarbonisation through a variety of measures in existing social housing.”

More than 900 tenants have been involved in the development of the new standard and technical elements have been supported by experts who have looked at what else is happening across the UK and the rest of the world.

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The Minister added: “I make no apology for proposing what some will see as a bold approach, I am determined the standards bar should be raised again.

“Meeting our Net Zero Wales targets requires us to make determined progress and I believe these standards are fit to take us forward in that regard.

“Our social housing tenants deserve these standards to be the best we can make them.

“My firm hope is that these standards will not only be brought to bear for social housing, but that in the future other tenures may consider how they too might meet and exceed these expectations.”

The proposed WHQS 2023 standards will be published for consultation from Wednesday May 11 and will be open for stakeholders to respond to for 12 weeks.

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Construction

Skills shortages and material costs continue to impact Welsh construction activity

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man in white and black plaid dress shirt holding white printer paper

Construction market activity continues to rise in Wales despite rising material costs and ongoing skill shortages, latest data from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) suggests. However, the sector doesn’t expect to make a profit this year.

The Q1 2022 RICS UK Construction and Infrastructure Monitor shows greater than +40% of respondents in Wales reporting a rise in workloads in the quarter, up marginally from +37% in Q4 2021.

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The report says that infrastructure projects, alongside activity related to the development of public and private sector housing shows the strongest workload growth – with private housing up +48% and public housing up +54%.

Despite the growth in current workloads, the impact of global supply shortages, rising costs and a lack of skilled workers are impacting on activity.

When it comes to labour, 66% of survey respondents said that they were experiencing a shortage of quantity surveyors, whilst 67% reported shortages in other construction professionals and 65% pointed to a lack of labourers.

Despite the current challenges, respondents still remain relatively optimistic for the coming year ahead regarding workloads. However, they expect profit margins to be severely impacted by rising costs. Over a third (+36%) of respondents expect workloads to rise in the next 12 months. However, expectations for profit margins are now firmly negative with a net balance of –25%.

Aled Davies of VINCI Construction UK Limited in Cardiff said that material prices are increasing exponentially.

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Peter Jenkins of Willis Construction Limited in Cardiff said that the impact of the war in Ukraine is being felt in fuel and material costs as well as their availability.

RICS Chief Economist, Simon Rubinsohn, commented: “The good news in the latest report is that the industry remains positive about the outlook for activity and that the generally upbeat mood can be seen not just in regard of infrastructure and housing development but also in the commercial sector.

“However, it is clear that the sector faces significant challenges which have been reflected in recent official data showing a sharp rise in vacancies across the construction industry. RICS numbers demonstrate these shortages are pretty much across the board including quantity surveyors and project managers as well as both skilled trades and more general labour.

“This, combined with problems around accessing building materials in the current environment, is exerting significant upward pressure on construction costs at the present time.”

(Lead image: Tima Miroshnichenko / Pexels.com)

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