The UK’s latest holiday homes are environmentally friendly, affordable and stunning, too, discovers Cathy Strongman
Owning a bolt hole in the sun once seemed the ideal way to forget the worries of the world. But with aviation contributing to 1.6% of global carbon dioxide emissions, and the government responding this month by doubling air passenger duty on flights, staying in the UK is increasingly the most economical and ecological option.
Yet holiday homes here come with their own pitfalls. As the UK housing shortage continues to highlight the senselessness of properties standing empty for six months of the year, buying existing properties as second homes has become a frowned-upon — not to mention costly — exercise.
But there is an alternative. Innovative eco-chalets, cabins and retreats are springing up in Britain that could satisfy both your bank manager and your green conscience. They look fabulous, perform to top environmental standards and, crucially, are classified by planning authorities as holiday lets. This allows any individual to spend a fixed amount of time — most often six months — in residence, while letting out their retreat to others for the rest of the year.
Owners get to escape to the country guilt-free while turning a tidy profit, safe in the knowledge that their eco-retreat is helping to preserve, rather than destroy, some of Britain’s most spectacular countryside.
The way we will live
For those with a location already in mind, the architects at Buckley Gray Yeoman may have the answer. They have come up with the Retreat, a simple yet elegant, modern prefabricated mobile home, and have already built 52 of them in the UK. Because the Retreat conforms to the legal definition of a caravan, it can be installed in places that traditional homes cannot. The timber comes from sustainable forests, and optional green additions include sheep’s fleece insulation, dual-flush toilets, sedum roofs, photovoltaic panels and solar water-heating panels.
The Retreat arrives by lorry, takes a day to set up and costs from £50,790 for two bedrooms to upwards of £83,286 for three double bedrooms. “The idea was driven by two factors,” says architect Matt Yeoman. “The increasing number of people, especially younger people, looking to escape the city and get back to basics, and the vast gap in the market for a holiday home that was cool and contemporary.”
– The Retreat, 020 7729 2889, www.retreathomes.co.uk
Environmental construction firm Ecobuild UK has built 10 lodges in Swaledale, North Yorkshire, that are now run by Natural Retreats, a holiday company. The scheme’s three-bed lodges are made of glass and sustainably sourced European larch, with sedum roofs contoured like the hills that surround them. The lodges’ windows face south to maximise solar heat gain and they are insulated with recycled newspaper; they have condensing gas boilers and wood-burning stoves.
Two of the lodges are owned privately, but Natural Retreats lets out all 10 at rates ranging from £525 to £770 per week, depending on season. The lodges occupy about 10 acres of a 52-acre site of mixed woodland and ancient meadow. More lodges and a possible yoga retreat are at the planning stage, but each new lodge will have a minimum of two acres of land around it, and 20% of the homes will be available for private purchase. Three-bed properties, expected to be built at the end of this year, will be priced from £275,000. Natural Retreats ploughs a percentage of its profits into protecting the natural habit and has the support of English Nature and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for its plans to create a wildlife area.
– Natural Retreats, 07940 379 119, www.naturalretreats.co.uk
PORTMILE LOG CABINS
These ecolodges, built by Charteroak Estates on the site of a derelict factory in Portmile, Devon, recently received a David Bellamy Conservation Award. Two-bed lodges, which cost £150,000 to buy and can be let for £350-£750 a week, include green features such as timber harvested from responsibly managed forests, rainwater harvesting, sheep’s wool insulation and dual-flush lavatories. Optional extras include photovoltaic cells for electricity, solar water heating and sedum roofs.
“By developing a rustic brownfield site and reusing concrete from the factory in the lodges’ foundations, we have enhanced the site, rather than using virgin green land,” says Michael Shaw, director of Charteroak Estates. “The lodges also prevent people buying up existing housing stock and squeezing out locals — an important point, considering that in 2004, 55% of England’s 210,000 holiday homes were in the West Country.”