How can we build our homes and communities so that they co-exist harmoniously with Nature? What does it mean to create a sustainable house, a sustainable community, a sustainable city? For each additional day that we live, design and build unsustainably, we pull another fibre out of the fabric of Earth’s ecosystems.

Beddington Zero Energy Development

by Guy Dauncey

The Beddington Zero Energy Development (BedZED) is a high density, high amenity, carbon neutral, sustainable urban ecovillage located in Sutton, 20 kilometres south of central London.


BedZED is an award winning, 92 home urban village, in south London, that has demonstrated that carbon neutral ecological living can be affordable, attractive and commercially successful.

BedZED has its origins with the BioRegional Development Group, an independent environmental organisation which develops products and services designed to meet our everyday needs from local renewable and waste resources, and to demonstrate that humans can live quite happily while consuming only their fair share of the Earth’s resources.

Aims and Objectives

BioRegional’s original intention was to simply relocate to green offices as they were outgrowing their original building. However when BioRegional met eco-architect Bill Dunster in 1997, and found a 1.6 hectare development site in their area, the partners plans grew into designing an urban cluster of homes and offices that would make sustainable living easy, affordable and attractive. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has estimated that by 2016, Britain will need over four million new homes. If these homes are built at the current levels of density, they will cover an area land greater than the whole of Greater London, and create an additional burden of stress, road congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, landfill waste and unsustainable living that will impact the whole nation.

In 1997, the partners linked up with The Peabody Trust and the London Borough of Sutton to develop a project on the 1.6 hectares brownfield site of an old sewage works. A set of green building and design goals was established reflecting many dimensions of sustainable ecological living, and the consulting engineers Ove Arup and Partners joined the team, along with Ellis and Moore (structural and civil engineering) and Gardner and Theobald (construction). One of the conditions of planning consent imposed by Sutton was that the project should achieve a 50% reduction in fossil fuel consumption from private car use over the next ten years, compared to normal development.

Construction started in 2000 on 92 dwellings and 2,500 square metres of workspace, offices, and community accommodation, including a nursery, sports club house and 5-a-side football pitch. The residents started moving in March 2002, and nearly all the homes were sold within six months of completion, at prices starting around £102,000.


The village is just a few minutes walk from Hackbridge railway station, and the first thing to strike the eye is the curbed nature of the roofs, and the large brightly coloured wind cowls on the roof. The homes have all been designed so that they face south to maximize their passive solar gain, using masonry and concrete to store the sun’s heat, and super-insulated to a very tight standard of energy efficiency, including triple glazed argon filled windows and 30 centimetre insulated wall cavities. Such well-sealed buildings need a regular air exchange, and the rooftop cowls use the wind’s energy to channel fresh air into the rooms, pushing the warm stale air out. As the air leaves, its heat is transferred to the incoming air through a simple system of 19 plastic bag dividers located at the base of the wind funnels, which transfers around 70% of the heat into the incoming cold air. It is by measures such as this that the project has managed to reduce the amount of energy needed for space heating by 88% compared to an average UK home. In order to reduce its energy demand further, all of the homes have been fitted with super-efficient lighting and appliances, lower volume baths, and water efficient taps and showers.

The heat and electricity for the whole project is generated onsite in a biomass combined heat and power plant which burns chipped tree waste from the London Boroughs of Sutton and Surrey, which would otherwise have gone to the landfill (generating methane), providing almost all the hot water and electricity the site needs. A 109 kilowatt array of 1138 photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof, installed by BP Solar, provide around 88,000 kWh of electricity for the site. The PV panels also provide shade for the conservatories, and are an integral part of the building envelope. They cost £420,000, with subsidies from the EU Fifth Framework programme, the DTi and SEEBOARD.

BedZED’s water consumption has been reduced by 33% simply through the use of dual flush toilets and low water appliances and fittings. When fully commissioned BedZED’s Green Water Treatment Plant, which treats all the site’s waste water and sewage, will reduce mains water use by a further 33%. The Green Water Treatment Plant is biologically-based using plant roots and microbes to remove the nutrients from the waste water and sewage, recycling it back as clean water to be used to flush the toilets and for irrigation.

Where possible, recycled building materials have been used, and the bulk building supplies have been taken from within a 35 mile radius, including 50% of the concrete and 80% of the timber, reducing the impact of heavy trucks burning fuel while they haul materials all over the world. The timber came from local hardwood forests that have been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council for their sustainable ecosystem based management.


The single biggest impact of most housing is the transport that we generate as we travel to work, play, and shop. BedZED’s goal is a 50% reduction in private fossil fuelled car miles over ten years, compared to the area’s average. BedZED is well located close to railway stations and bus routes, and within easy walking distance of local schools and shops. BedZED includes 1,600 square metres of workspace and offices for 100 workers, making it possible for the residents to work on site. A nursery, dance studio, and club house are included in the design, reducing the need to travel. Every home has been equipped with an easy arrangement to receive a weekly box delivery of organic produce, reducing the need for shopping, and high speed internet links encourage on-line grocery shopping.

To reduce the need for car ownership, BedZED has generous bike storage facilities, and links to Sutton’s existing cycle network, and its own car share club - Zed Cars, which has 42 members. Each shared car displaces four or five privately owned vehicles.

Living at BedZED

BedZED is a deliberately high density settlement, with 82 homes on just 1.6 hectares, including a large green open space with space for allotment gardens, and yet every home has either a conservatory, and/or a private rooftop garden on top of the workspace roofs that can accommodate raised beds.

This is a density of 130 homes per hectare, far higher than most new town settlements. If all of the four million new homes that are needed by 2016 were built in a similar manner, they could be placed on existing brownfield sites, eliminating the need to use any agricultural land.

Of the 92 units, 44 were sold privately; 23 are under shared ownership; 10 have been rented to key local workers; and 15 are for affordable social housing. Nearly all of the units were sold within 6 months, and the result is a mix of people and ages who are experiencing a very satisfactory sense of community.

Structure and Finance

The £17 million project was accomplished by a partnership including the BioRegional Development Group, the Peabody Trust, the Department of the Environment & Transport, Bill Dunster Architects, Ove Arup Consulting Engineers, Gardiner & Theobald Quantity Surveyors, the London Borough of Sutton, and Ellis and Moore.


BedZED’s performance can be rated in several ways. As a high density community of people, the residents are reporting that they enjoy living there. As a commercial development, the units sold very quickly. As a carbon neutral project, the combinations of energy and water efficiency, heat recovery and local carbon neutral power production are achieving their goals. Water heating has been reduced by 57%, space heating by 88%, electricity consumption by 25% and water use by 33%, compared to an average UK home. Since most of the power and heat comes from carbon neutral sources, BedZED’s main greenhouse gas emissions result from the reduced amount of trips by fossil fuels cars that are still being used.

Equally important, BedZED demonstrates a strong contribution to local economic development, through the provision of local workplaces, the encouragement for walking and local shopping, and the use of locally sourced building materials. BedZED also demonstrates a way to accommodate the UK’s planned population growth while demonstrating a model for sustainable living, and local economic development.

For further information contact:

Jennie Organ,
BioRegional Development Group
BedZED Centre, 24 Helios Road
Wallington, Surrey

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 8404 4881
Fax: +44 (0) 20 8404 4893

Email: +


Written by Guy Dauncey, Sustainable Communities Consultancy, Victoria, B.C., Canada
First published in LEDIS, November 2004