A new housing development in York that promises to slash heating bills by 83 per cent is moving closer to completion. 

City of York Council is creating the 34-property site in Duncombe Square, off Burton Stone Lane, Clifton. 

The development has been designed by social-housing award-winning architects and features Passivhaus design, enhanced community living, parking for 16 cars, quality materials and work certified to standards higher than existing housing regulations.

Passivhaus standards have been developed since its origins in 1990 in Europe and typically involves very high levels of insulation – including triple-glazing and double-thickness walls - compared to properties that adhere to existing building regulations.

York Press: An artist's impression of the public green space within Duncombe SquareAn artist's impression of the public green space within Duncombe Square (Image: City of York Council)

Eleven one-bed flats and 23 terraced houses made up of two, three and four bedrooms are being built, and figures from the Passivhaus Trust suggest an 83 per cent saving on the estimated heating bill, at today’s prices, of a three-bed home compared to one built to current building regulations.

The council has not released pricing yet on the properties but says 40 per cent are available through outright sale, 40 per cent shared ownership and 20 per cent social rent.

A free open day for members of the public on November 10 has reached its full allocation.

The council says the site completion is expected in mid-2024.

Adam Harper, housing development manager at City of York Council, said: “We create an airtight layer.

York Press: This view will overlook the central green spaceThis view will overlook the central green space (Image: Kevin Glenton)

“In a typical home, you can have up to 50 per cent of your heat being lost just through draughts and air leaking.

“We don’t have any chimneys in these properties, but we also don’t want any air leaking through the walls, the roof, or the floors."


Adam said Passivhaus buildings need a good quality ventilation system because there’s no air-loss through leaks.

He said: “If you’re inside a house and there isn’t ventilation, it gets awfully stuffy, you get carbon dioxide levels going up, you get too much moisture.

“So Passivhaus also requires a special kind of ventilation system.

“The ventilation unit recycles the heat from the air that’s being expelled outside.

“In a normal ventilation system that you’d have in your bathroom, the warm air from the house is just going outside, it’s being lost, that heat’s gone, it’s lost money if you like.

“Whereas this system’s using the warm air from the outgoing air to heat the incoming cold air.”

York Press: The site is the council's first Passivhaus schemeThe site is the council's first Passivhaus scheme (Image: Kevin Glenton)

Sophie Round, housing delivery programme manager at the council, explained the Passivhaus design is one part of the planned sustainable community which is one of the themes in the council’s housing delivery programme.

She said: “When we talk about sustainability, yes we’re talking about really reducing carbon emissions, we’re talking about really affordable homes for the residents in the long term but we’re also talking about mixed communities, intergenerational communities, properties that are built to space standards and accessibility standards that people can grow into."

How much is Passivhaus costing?

In addition to reducing bills and carbon emissions, the council says the other themes to its housing delivery programme for this site and for others include delivering the housing residents need, building healthy homes and neighbourhoods, and supporting sustainable transport choices and connectivity.

Sophie said: “We felt, by looking at the private sector, that we could do it better.

“We hold the housing waiting list, we understand the needs of our residents, we’ve got the responsibility for homelessness.

“All these things sit within the council and we felt that we could tackle that better.

“With healthy homes and neighbourhoods, Passivhaus factors into that.

“Really healthy air, good for allergies, constantly being at a temperature of about 21 degrees centigrade.

“But for us, healthy homes also means good public realm outside your door, having good access to green spaces.”

York Press: Adam Harper said that the completed structures are certified by Passivhaus to ensure their effectivenessAdam Harper said that the completed structures are certified by Passivhaus to ensure their effectiveness (Image: Kevin Glenton)

Councillor Michael Pavlovic, executive member for housing, planning and safer communities, said: “This is a nice place to live – the place-making element of what we’re trying to do, as an authority, as a council.

“If you just look, 34 houses there, there’s a green space in the middle, there’s an environment that people will feel they belong in.

“It’s not just a home, it’s the home, it’s the environment and I think that’s incredibly important to incorporate those elements into the design."

Semi-mature trees are to be planted and every property looks out over the green space, via a balcony or garden space.

There will be two terraces of properties, each with a gated ginnel to allow for socialising and play within each terrace whilst not being accessible to the public.

There are more bike sheds than the average development and an active travel path take residents into York via Grosvenor Road without residents having to travel along Burton Stone Lane.

Sophie said it was hard to say how much Passivhaus was costing.

She said: “We are building a different type of community.

“We’re building a really high-quality community – we’ve got growing spaces on here, we’ve got play areas, we’ve got everything to bring people together, really good infrastructure for cycling, it’s a more complicated question than saying ‘How much is your Passivhaus site costing you?’ because it comes along with everything else.”

Latest Passivhaus Trust figures – based on around 2,000 units active in the UK – indicate that the cost of building a Passivhaus is up to four per cent higher than building an equivalent sized house to existing building regulations.

Chris Herring, chair of the trust said that upskilling existing workforces is the real issue.

He said: “You’ve got to understand the air-tightness, you’ve got to understand the quality.

“It’s about building properly in the end.

“There is a real need for training the trainers.”

Sophie Round said: “There’s definitely a gap in green skills, there’s no way away from that.

“It’s a wider piece isn’t it about getting involved with education.

“We obviously have lots of apprenticeships and work being done through our contracts, there’s social value in our contracts.

“It’s a bigger piece that probably needs some wider investment and wider effort being put into it.

“The green skills thing does pose us a bit of an issue.

“I think we are looking at something between five and ten per cent increase to get this fabric approach that’s going to sit there – you don’t have to do anything to it, it doesn’t need updating in 25 years but you’ve got that solid investment – there is a really good business case, especially when you look at stuff around arrears and people being able to pay their rent, and just the human cost of it.

“It’s much better for our residents.”