Judgement day looms for Neville's zero-carbon footprint

The Man United star is passionate about his flower-shaped property – but others are less than convinced by it

Jonathan Brown
Sunday 23 October 2011 01:22
Neville has a flower shaped house
Neville has a flower shaped house

To its supporters it blends seamlessly into the commanding moorland setting, evoking the high principles of green-thinking with the mystical atmosphere of an Orcadian neolithic settlement. Those who are not so keen on the planned futuristic dwelling of Manchester United star Gary Neville believe that it bears more than a passing resemblance to the troglodyte abode of the Teletubbies.

Bolton Council is expected to give the go-ahead imminently to the former England defender's plans for a subterranean £6m carbon-zero pad. It is due to be built adjacent to the 12-bedroom property that he and his wife have already erected on the site of the hamlet he owns in the bucolic surroundings of Harwood, in the Lancashire Pennines.

Council approval for the scheme, which has provoked anger from neighbours, is expected to be a formality after officers have recommended that it be built, although the final decision is likely to rest with the new Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman. Neville, who earns £90,000 a week, has taken a keen interest in the new house – hailed as the first carbon-neutral private home in Britain. He commissioned one of the country's leading architectural practices to come up with the design.

Should it go ahead on the site of the former farmstead, once home to 60 people, the construction will include a wind turbine, ground-source heat pump and solar panels, providing power for the more conventional footballer's mansion next door (complete with a shrubbery monogram and private golf course).

While opponents in nearby villages claim the development is out of keeping with the surrounding area of green-belt on Manchester's northern commuter fringes – they are also anxious over noise and visual intrusion from the site's wind turbine – environmentalists have broadly welcomed the proposal.

Roughly 40 per cent of CO2 emissions come from buildings, and last week the European Parliament approved laws that will mean that all new homes by 2020, whether built or refurbished, must make use of renewable energy to help curb carbon output.

Dave Coleman of Manchester Friends of the Earth, praised the plan. "It is not the sort of place most of us would live in, but we are always criticising footballers for driving big 4x4s or wearing daft blingy jewellery, so this is broadly a good idea," he said. "The one issue is that it is on green-belt land, but it gives a bit of football glamour to the kind of design that most of us will need to comply with for the latest EU directive."

Environmentalists fear that unless people start to commission low-carbon homes now, the necessary skills to build them will be insufficiently developed in Britain to meet the new tough legislation when it comes into force.

But such high-minded talk has cut little ice with potential neighbours of 34-year-old Neville and his wife Emma. While many of them quite like the plans for the flower-shaped 8,000sq ft home with its four bedrooms, swimming pool, gym and landscaped children's play area, they believe it is in the wrong place. Of particular concern is the inclusion of the wind turbine, which critics say will be taller than Bolton Town Hall. So far seven petitions have been raised against it and 114 objections received, with only eight in favour.

Campaign group Rage (Rise Against Greenbelt Exploitation) commissioned an 18-page report from low-carbon experts Parker Wilson Consulting questioning whether the home is as "eco" as it claims to be. In 2004, ministers amended planning rules to allow for the building of new homes on green-belt land if they were "innovative, cutting-edge designs", in what architects welcomed as a new golden age of country house building. But the campaign group's report concluded: "It is not clear from the planning application what exceptional circumstances exist which would allow such a development to be approved."

John Price, chairman of the Blackrod and Horwich Environmental Group which has backed the campaign against Neville's new house, said local people feel ignored. "We feel that it is out of character for the area. The wind turbine is excessive for the size of the development and will produce far more electricity than is required. How can that be eco-friendly?"

Hattie Hartman, sustainability editor of The Architects' Journal, said there were still important questions to be asked about the project, including how the building offsets the carbon used in its construction. She said: "I think it is excellent that someone like Gary Neville is taking carbon design to heart and trying to push the agenda forward. But I would be very interested to see how they are defining zero carbon and what they are doing specifically to achieve it."

The building's designer, Stuart Fraser of Make Architects, whose recent work includes the Handball Arena for the London 2012 Olympics and the capital's Grosvenor Waterside development, has said all material would be locally sourced and traditional building techniques used. He described the space as "a beautiful and functional family home".

Neville has declined to comment on the proposal. It has been claimed that the footballer has been ribbed by his team-mates over his plan, with some dubbing it Neville Neville Land and humming the Teletubbies theme tune.

Footballers' hives

* When the home of Gary Neville's younger brother, Phil, proved a little tricky to sell it was dubbed the house with everything but taste included. For £4m, potential buyers looking for an 18th-century pile on the outskirts of Burnley, Lancashire, were offered a gilded fantasia straight out of the time of the Sun King himself. Kitted out almost entirely in Versace, the Everton captain's home included his-'n'-hers gates and gold-panelled ceilings. It was eventually bought by a businessman for £2.6m.

* Steven Gerrard and his wife Alex's £2.5m detached home in the upmarket Merseyside suburb of Formby is so grand that even the detached two-storey gym at the bottom of the sprawling garden has its own postcode. Neighbours opposed the development, describing the Liverpool captain's dream home as like building an "Asda in a beauty spot". In 2007 it was robbed by burglars.

* Before their split, Ashley Cole shared a £3.55m Hurtmore House with X-Factor judge Cheryl. The presciently named Georgian pile in Shackleford, near Godalming off the A3, was used in the Second World War to house Canadian troops preparing for D-Day. The couple bought it from computer tycoon David Gilbert in 2007.

* Wayne and Coleen Rooney's £4m home in the Footballers' Triangle village of Prestbury, Cheshire, began life as a 1930s mansion but was bulldozed to make way for the domestic dreams of the couple. Among the modern conveniences installed was a giant swimming pool, a sweeping staircase and a museum-load of Grecian statues. A £30,000 CCTV system was installed to prevent prying eyes.

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