Hastoe’s new straw bales housing scheme officially opened by Eric Pickles MP

A development of four affordable ‘straw bale’ Hastoe homes in High Ongar, Essex, has been officially opened by Eric Pickles MP. This is the first development of straw bale housing built in Britain by a housing association.

Two 2-bedroom and two 3-bedroom houses have been developed by Hastoe Housing Association at Millfield in partnership with Epping Forest District Council, on former Council-owned land. The houses have been let at affordable rents to families on the Council’s housing register. Hastoe has filmed the build process and will release time-lapse footage and interviews with the key people involved to share knowledge within the industry.

The land was transferred to Hastoe at a discounted price, and the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) contributed a grant of £92,000. The properties were designed by architects, Parsons + Whittley, and constructed by DCH, a local contractor based in Coggeshall. The straw bales used were a sustainable by-product of farming and the bales were sourced from a local farm – Williams Brothers.

There are a number of benefits of using straw bales within housing. Whilst the costs of construction are similar to costs of conventional construction, houses built using straw bales need almost no conventional heating due to their exceptionally high insulating properties. The residents will benefit from fuel costs around 85% cheaper than the average costs for heating similar homes of traditional construction.

Structural parts of the houses, such as the walls, have been built using timber frames, in-filled with the straw bales. The walls have been covered externally, with a lime render. The character of straw bales houses suits the rural location of the site at Millfield, overlooking farmers’ fields. With clay tile roofs the houses incorporate mainly natural materials and have a slightly rustic quality, although overall they have the appearance of conventional homes. The timber porches are roofed with sedum plants.

Since the straw absorbs carbon dioxide as it is growing, it is widely accepted that buildings of this type of construction have a low, zero or even negative carbon footprint. When complete, the high level of energy efficiency will reduce CO2 emissions by around 60%, compared to conventionally-built homes.

Tests on other straw bale structures by the University of Bath have established that they are strong enough to withstand hurricane force winds up to 120mph – enough to defy the huff and puff of any big bad wolf! They also have a fire rating at least double the requirements of Building Regulations.

Eric Pickles MP said:

“The High Ongar housing development is wonderful and such a remarkable move forward – in terms of what it delivers and its low energy consumption. I would like to congratulate all those involved as this is the kind of niche development that small communities really need. The High Ongar homes are not only beautiful but very important to the local community.”

Hastoe’s Chief Executive, Sue Chalkley, said:

“The High Ongar straw bales scheme is an exemplar project. Hastoe is committed to providing affordable housing in rural areas for the benefit of local people.

“Sustainability is a key part of our approach and this is mirrored by Epping Forest District Council’s drive for highly energy efficient homes. We have been through an extensive design and planning process to ensure that the new homes will be a real benefit to the community.”

Councillor David Stallan, Housing Portfolio Holder for Epping Forest District Council said:

“This is a brilliant project and I am extremely proud of the part Epping Forest District Council has played in assisting Hastoe to make these new homes a reality. As well as providing much needed new social housing for local families, these new homes could be a model of sustainable, energy efficient housing in the future. The straw insulation is incredibly effective meaning the tenants from our housing waiting list will have some of the lowest energy bills possible.

The houses are not only built from the ‘greenest’ of materials. They will also be some of the least polluting as the tenants use a fraction of the energy usually needed to heat conventionally built equivalent homes. The fact that we are using straw from local farms as the main material makes it all the more remarkable. I hope we see many more equally exciting projects in the future.”

Becky Ashley, Strategy Manager for the HCA in the East and South East, said:

“This is a great example of the government’s investment in housing in rural areas. This innovative development makes good use of the available land to provide attractive, sustainable and economical homes that the residents are clearly very happy with.”