I was delighted to welcome Shadow Policing Minister and until recently Shadow Housing Minister, Jack Dromey MP to Oldham and Saddleworth recently to see for himself a number of innovative housing and community projects in the constituency.
First stop was a visit to the St Mary’s Project, a Contour Homes/Symphony Housing project, which has a focus on providing eco-homes as part of the development. The project has seen the construction of 93 new homes, of which four meet the level 6 standard under the Code for Sustainable Homes, meaning they have a ‘zero carbon rating’ and are packed with features including triple-glazing and A+ rated electrical appliances.
Two properties have Passivhaus status – the fastest-growing energy performance standard in the world. These homes are exceptionally airtight and are fitted with a special ventilation system which means occupants need to pay only around £70 a year in heating costs. St Mary’s have the first Passivhaus properties built in the North West.
At a time when families are finding it hard to make ends meet, with falling living standards and higher energy bills, it’s great to be able to show Jack this new housing project and celebrate completion with local residents, the Housing Association and Oldham Council. The development not only benefits greatly the individuals living at St Mary’s, with its focus on sustainable housing, but also regenerates the whole area.
We then travelled to Delph to meet with the eco-community group in Saddleworth who were originally inspired by the concept of the Invisible Home. The group has come together to develop affordable self-build homes for them and their families, using locally sourced materials that will blend into the landscape.
Jack and I were so impressed with the members of Saddleworth’s Eco Self-build Group. Their co-operative approach to building homes that reflect their specific needs and personalities, but in harmony with the environment and wider community, supporting each other in the process, is inspiring.
As a country, we compare so badly with the rest of Europe in facilitating self-builders and this should be a more prominent part of housing policy. I will be meeting the Self-Build Group with the new Shadow Housing Minister, Emma Reynolds, next year to see the Group’s progress and learn from their experiences.
The final stop was Alt Primary School to see the work the local community have been doing on establishing a Green Route to School. Completed in December 2012, residents of Alt used a £45,000 gift from Forever Manchester’s Fair Share Trust, and working with the Alt Community Challenge Team, created a Green Route to School. Along the route are fruit trees, bushes and developing spaces to grow vegetables, as well as murals painted by local people.
When I heard about the work being doing in Alt I was keen to bring Jack along to see for himself a great example of a true community project. The success of the project is all down to the ideas and hard work of the Alt Community Challenge Team, which enormously benefits the local community. Jack gave a big ‘thumbs up’ to the project and has asked to come along again later in the year and walk the whole Green Route, perhaps also sampling some of the great homemade preserves made from the fruit trees!