Milton Keynes: best property in Britain?

Graham Norwood discovers why a Wimpey development in Milton Keynes could be named the best building in Britain

A Milton Keynes housing estate built by one of the country's biggest developers may be about to win an unexpected accolade – the award for the best property in Britain.

The scheme, called Oxley Woods, was built by George Wimpey and is competing against specialist eco-homes, a lovingly restored medieval cottage and a series of other properties in the final stage of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' (RICS) awards to find the nation's finest property.

Oxley Woods was designed by the architects behind the Pompidou Centre in Paris, who were asked to create an estate of futuristic-looking houses.

Each home has an "eco-hat" chimney that removes warm air from communal parts of the house, augments it with solar power from panels serving the whole development, then re-circulates it to individual living rooms. The homes produce 40 per cent less carbon dioxide emissions than conventional new houses of a similar size and 50 per cent less when the eco hat is used to help heat the water systems.

As a bonus, the homes look really funky too. "They offer local people the opportunity to live in sustainable homes for the future with energy-saving features which are set to shape the way homes are built across the UK," says Wimpey spokesman Peter Gurr.

One of Oxley's competitors is a medieval cottage in Somerset which had been derelict before being restored by a husband and wife team over nine years. The grade II-listed building is "a wonderful testimony to how individuals can produce real quality and end up with a special home," according to Simon Potts, a chartered surveyor and chair of the award judges for the 11th year. "The couple used traditional local materials and it was a daunting project. The man was the builder and the woman was the conservation expert. The result is magnificent."

There are four award categories: the sustainability section looks at using recycled construction materials and energy-efficient building techniques as well as addressing waste and transport issues; regeneration recognises housing and other schemes that improve the vitality and prosperity of an area; conservation assesses the standards of restoration and renovation; while community benefit examines how local people gain facilities and status from a building – and possibly have a hand in constructing it, too.

Many of the 54 entries short-listed from the original 350 entries are offices, community buildings or commercial premises. But there are also short-listed entries from niche residential developers such as Ecos Homes. This firm's scheme at Langport, Somerset, is Great Bow Wharf, a warehouse that has been converted into eco-homes. The end result is "an example of how environmentally well thought out a house can be," according to the Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud, who will host the RICS awards ceremony in central London on Friday.

Two other mainstream house builders – Crest Nicholson and Barratt Homes – are involved in another short-listed entry in the regeneration category, the New England Quarter in Brighton.

Within this scheme of 355 new homes for 1,000 residents, 30 per cent is designated as affordable and managed by a housing association. Each home has solar panels, a wood-burning boiler, a solar-powered recharging point for electric cars, as well as small wind turbines and an allotment serving the entire quarter.

The development also incorporates shops, offices and community facilities in a bid to discourage residents from using cars.

"The four categories overlap and standards were very high. But one thing stands out amongst almost every potential winner," says Potts. "That is sustainability – it dominates so many entries and so much of our building. It's our future, which is what makes it so important in these awards."



For more information about the awards, visit www.rics.org

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