Eco-Bicester – sustainable learning from a rapidly growing town

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After the 2016 annual event for the Eco-Bicester Living Lab, an initiative for sharing the learning and innovation from the UK’s first eco town, Lewis Knight reflects on some of the achievements in Bicester.

p1050304The annual Eco Bicester Living Lab (www.bicesterlivinglab.org) event is always really interesting and this year was no exception, with over 60 delegates from across Oxfordshire and learning shared.

The Eco Bicester Living Lab, a collaboration between Bioregional and Oxford Brookes University, is an umbrella initiative for all projects within Bicester that conduct high-quality research and deliver sustainable development across the town. The aim is to share the valuable knowledge gained and learning happening in Bicester with industry, policymakers and the voluntary sector so they too can create better, more sustainable places to live and work.

Currently, there are nine projects involved, but this is expected to grow substantially over the next few years. At the event, we heard updates from some of these projects and about their successes and experiences. Highlights included:

NW Bicester

NW Bicester, led by A2Dominion, is the UK’s first Eco-Town and a true zero carbon development. Its first phase, Elmsbrook, is an endorsed One Planet Community. The initial homes have been sold and in April 2016 residents started moving in. In July, an electric car club for residents was launched. A2Dominion has set a target for 10% of residents to switch to electric by 2018 and, in support of this, is installing home charging units free of charge to households that make the switch within the first two years of moving in.

Bicester Eco-Town Performance Improvement Toolkit (BEPIT)

BEPIT is a four-year, Innovate UK funded research project to understand and close the ‘performance gap’ between homes from when they are designed to when they are built.

Loughborough University, one project partner, shared that most issues that cause this gap occur frequently and are relatively minor but are difficult to detect – for example, difficulties were found particularly around the airtightness detail and thermal insulation. The main bit of learning? The knowledge to develop solutions is often already within project teams and with increased communication, co-ordination and knowledge transfer, these problems can be greatly and easily reduced.

Bicester Moves

Bio Regional10132This is a WRAP funded research project to explore ‘town-wide’ increases in reuse. This project was delivered by award-winning, social enterprise Bicester Green. The project looked at how a whole town could reduce waste, increase recycling, upcycling and reuse through a variety of methods. This included reuse workshops, community Freecycle and sharing events, silent auctions and the production of a Bicester second-hand goods and repair guide, which was circulated to 4,000 residents. It was a great success.

These activities resulted in over half of Bicester’s charity shops reporting a sharp increase in donations and Bicester Green experiencing a 50% increase in donations. This, in turn, led to a 59% increase in sales of recycled and upcycled goods, generating almost £10,000 for the social enterprise.

As Bicester is a rapidly-expanding town, learning about how we can encourage sustainable consumption over the next few decades is significant.

The great thing about the Living Lab is that it is always growing and evolving. There are already new projects in the pipeline with new partners, which are focused on mapping Bicester’s green infrastructure and exploring the use of ‘waste’ heat within the town.

After the project updates and lively discussion the event was closed by our Chief Executive and Co-Founder, Sue Riddlestone OBE who commented that “Bicester has three ‘ambitions’: to be an eco-town, a garden town, and now a healthy new town. The Eco Bicester Living Lab brings together the high-quality research and evidence base to ensure these ambitions can and will be achieved”. We also hope that other towns access the lessons learned in Bicester and will be making information available online.

We are already planning the 2017 event and are excited about what the next 12 months hold for Bicester and the Living Lab. If you have a project idea or would like to become involved in the Eco Bicester Living Lab then please contact either myself (lewis.knight@bioregional.com) or Nicole Lazarus (Nicole.lazarus@bioregional.com). More information can be found on the Bicester Living Lab website.

The event also marked the launch of the Eco Bicester Living Lab PhD study which aims to evaluate the actual performance of the NW Bicester exemplar development. The three-year study is funded by Oxford Brookes University 150th Year studentship, with financial support also coming from Bioregional, Cherwell District Council and A2Dominion. 

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