Midlothian Councillors pause building homes to the Passivhaus standard

Wednesday October 11th 2023


Six new flats in a courtyard behind Buccleuch Street in Dalkeith are being built to Passivhaus standards.

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

Ambitious plans to build council housing using ‘green’ Passivhaus standards have been ‘paused’ after it was revealed they are costing up to £150,000 more than standard homes.

Midlothian Council introduced a policy to build Passivhaus homes to help it reach its Net Zero targets, however a meeting of elected members this week saw questions raised about the benefits.

Councillor Stuart McKenzie, the council’s SNP administration’s housing spokesperson, moved a motion calling for a pause on any future development commitments using the standard until more information on the benefits could be produced.

He said: “This was a decision made at council to use Passivhaus and I am not saying that was the wrong decision.

“I think at the time we made the right decision for the right reasons, but if the chamber is content I would like to propose we pause the use of Passivhaus so we can better understand the cost variants and why it is coming out significantly more expensive.

“It could be that we move forward with Passivhaus in the future or find another way to provide houses that are just as warm.”

The call came after a report to councillors on recent builds and ongoing sites showed a huge gap in costs.

In Dalkeith’s Buccleuch Street, just yards from the council’s headquarters, ten housing units due to be completed next month were estimated to have cost £330,276 each while at Newbattle where 90 Passivhaus homes are being built the cost per unit was £341,456.

Another site in Newtongrange where 79 new homes are being built to a non Passivhaus standard, the cost per unit was estimated at £182,886 and they were told a site where enhanced energy standards had been used still came in lower than Passivhaus at £302,000 a unit.

The report to councillors said: “Passivhaus is an internationally known standard with exceptionally high energy efficiency working to achieve buildings close to Zero Carbon and in turn address fuel poverty issue in a time of ever-increasing fuel bills.”

It said Midlothian had become one of the leading providers of new Passivhaus social housing in Scotland adding it is a “fully tried and tested solution with guaranteed performance outcomes”.

However councillors were concerned by the difference in costs and called for more information about the benefits of the housing when compared with other options,

Councillor Stephen Curran backed Councillor McKenzie’s motion saying he was not convinced by claims made over the housing.

He said: “If we use the development next door on Buccleuch Street which is a Passivhaus development, I was told on visiting the site they would deliver an 80 per cent saving in energy bills.

“I still find that hard to believe and I think it is a great point Councillor McKenzie raises, just how efficient are Passivhaus compared to a standard energy efficient house?”

Council executive director Place Kevin Anderson told members if they wanted to pause Passivhaus then “now is the time to say” as he pointed out the Buccleuch site was almost complete and builders were ‘on site’- at a housing location in Bonnyrigg.

He said: “We did adopt that (Passivhaus policy) in terms of our commitment to net zero as one of the avenues to reach that so there is that implication in terms of our policy if we are not going to deliver that in our housing stock, although there are other avenues we can, and are delivering, on other sites where Passivhaus was not seen to be the solution.”

Councillors agreed to pause future developments until a report could be brought to members with more details.

You can watch the Councillors discussion of the report (CLICK HERE TO READ REPORT) on the video below.

Note: The council cameras were misaligned during the meeting so when some speakers speak, for example the provost, the camera is zoomed out rather than the normal zoomed as normal.

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