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The Daily Telegraph

Oct 2004

Bob has always been interested in building and planning, and he spent some years working in an architect’s office before he ran away to sea.

However, it was when he was working for BBC local radio in Shropshire on a documentary about sustainable agriculture that he was inspired to try his hand at designing a modern, ecologically-sound estate.

‘I drew up a scheme for 60 houses surrounded by woods with their own energy source, waste recycling plant and so forth. I took it to the local planning authority, who told me to forget it. It would need an act of parliament to get it built on virgin land in that area.’

Instead he bought the bankrupt Six Bells pub, re-licensed it and, on the land behind the pub, got planning permission for five prototype ‘eco-houses’.

Both the pub and the houses were a success. In fact, so much so that a local landowner who had outline planning permission for a modern estate on the outskirts of the town offered it to Bob instead of putting the acres up for general auction.

And that is where Bob is now building his 40-house eco-neighbourhood, The Wintles. It is unlike any other estate in the country. And yet it is inspired by the nature and form of the houses in the old town of Bishop's Castle. The Swedish-style, clapboard properties are grouped around small greens which have been arranged to form an environment that favours pedestrians rather than cars.

Each house is built from locally sourced, recycled materials and has a large area of glass on the south and west sides that lets the sunlight warm the interior. The walls, floors and roofs have unusually thick insulation to keep the heat in, while there are no draughts because of the high specification of the construction. Heat-recovery units have been installed to use the outgoing hot air to heat the incoming fresh air that is filtered to remove pollen and other irritants. Solar-panelled water heaters are standard and water-recycling systems are available as an optional extra.

Meanwhile, the houses are designed in the traditional manner of a ‘cruck’ house by using thick timbers in an angular arch to support the walls and roof.

Bob’s design means that the internal layout of each house is flexible, so that no two houses on The Wintles are the same. Amazingly, all the design and building are being done without an architect.

‘I sketch out what I want,’ he says. ‘The builder looks at my sketch to see whether he can make it work. And then the project manager and the site manager have their input. Even the craftsmen are consulted.’

This shared responsibility and the attention to detail have made the houses far grander than the average new build.

‘If we produce houses that look like any other modern houses, despite the fact that they are ecologically superior, they will be difficult to sell,’ says Bob.

‘Instead, we have put in oak floors, solid wooden doors and other touches to highlight and help pay for the things that people don’t see. And so, while the houses are more expensive than a normal estate house, they are also better built and finished. The result is that we are still making a profit. We are proving that it is possible to build an environmentally interesting estate and make money.’

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