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Eco Nuts In Devon

March 15, 2017

By Paul Homewood


h/t Philip Bratby/Dave Bodecott






One of the first zero carbon primary schools in the country has been built in south Devon.

The new £7 million Dartington Church of England Primary and Nursery School opened its doors to pupils on 25 February 2010.

There are four separate clusters of buildings which are constructed from pre-fabricated sustainable timber panels.

They are insulated with natural wood fibre and clad in locally grown sweet chestnut. The under floor heating is being provided by air source heat pumps with ventilation via a heat recovery system.

The electricity will come from photovoltaic panels mounted on the roof and the water will be heated by solar power.

The school is planning to sell some of the electricity it generates to the National Grid.

Solar panels

Solar panels are one of the eco features

Rain water will be collected for re-use within the school and a sustainable drainage system is being incorporated within the extensive landscaping which includes reed beds and ponds to filter grey water.

The new school replaces the dilapidated old primary and has been built on a site nearby.

Dartington headteacher Jill Mahon said: "It is a stunning design and is truly a unique building.

"I believe it will be a flagship school which will be extremely environmentally-friendly.

"The eco building fits in very well with our school culture and it will really be an amazing learning tool for the children."

BBC Spotlight’s Adrian Campbell was shown some of the features of the new building by one of the pupils, Emily – watch his short film at the top of the page.



MARCH 2017



A Devon council has agreed to an £8 million out-of-court settlement over a ‘zero carbon’ primary school which had to close just three years after it opened because of a leaky roof.

The former Dartington Primary school buildings in Totnes were hailed as ‘visionary’ but they started letting in water shortly after building work finished in 2010.

It shut three years later and more than 300 pupils had to take their lessons in a collection of temporary buildings.

The school was eventually demolished at the the end of last year.

Devon County Council has now said it has reached a settlement with the architects and builders involved, reports the BBC.

The council launched a claim against firms involved in the design and building in 2014.

The former buildings had solar panels to power classrooms and rainwater recycling.
But according to a report commissioned by the council, the building started letting in water shortly after it was finished.
The report blamed the design and highlighted "complexities within the rainwater harvesting system".
Problems centred around a groundbreaking sustainable roof which was clad in thin strips of locally-coppiced sweet chestnut.
The wood was intended to provide a "natural and breathable envelope" without needing any sort of artificial membrane or waterproofing.

But parents said the sweet chestnut cladding soon began to buckle and warp, leaving gaping holes for rainwater to trickle in.
The water was supposed to flow into giant cisterns which could be used to flush the toilets but instead it caused damp patches and mouldy walls.
The school in Totnes, Devon was praised at the time for its environmentally friendly credentials when it opened as one of the UK’s first zero carbon schools.
But it was later declared off limits with lessons moved to temporary marquees and huts.
Legal action is on-going after Devon County Council launched a lawsuit against architects White Design and Interserve to cover repairs and bills for temporary classrooms.

Devon County Council ordered a full investigation which confirmed the leaks were "likely to be the result of the scheme design".
White Design has previously denied any liability for the faults.
Building of a new school started in January and the children are expected to move in at the beginning of 2018.



Meanwhile, all the soppy headmistress, Jill Mahon, can say is that 90 per cent of the material would be recycled locally.

“How can you be sad when it is being reused. We are seeing a whole process which couldn’t be much richer for the children."
I would have thought the kids might have had a much richer experience if their education for the last 7 years had not been ruined by a leaky roof, followed by three years in temporary marquees and huts.

Still, at least it was zero carbon!!

  1. March 15, 2017 5:36 pm

    “The eco building fits in very well with our school culture and it will really be an amazing learning tool for the children.”

    It certainly has been an amazing learning tool. The children will have learned that anything labelled green is a scam, will be a financial disaster and won’t work properly.

    Incidentally, the school is (was) very close to Totnes, which is a “transition town” and is full of eco-nuts.

    • March 17, 2017 11:47 pm

      I think it was Edison who said there is no such thing as a failed experiment because he now knew of thousands and thousands of things that wouldn’t work.

  2. Timo Soren permalink
    March 15, 2017 5:41 pm

    The arrogance of ‘enlightened man’. Let’s see the foreshadows.

    We have been catching rainwater for over 3 millennium and it is not hard. But they had to redesign it better.

    We have been making roofs for over 3 millennium and it can be subtle. But they had to redesign it because even the roof needs to be a perfect green-eco-wacky system.

    Well at least it appears the ‘extensive landscaping’ survived. I guess it was hard for them to muck up a lawn. But I could be wrong there!

    • johnrmcd permalink
      March 16, 2017 12:47 pm

      In tropical and sub-tropical Australia we have been using corrugated, galvanised sheet steel roofing for many years. It is light, strong, seals well and is waterproof. In places where rain can be accompanied by strong winds, this can be fool-proof. But this story suggests that fools can be very inventive.

  3. Athelstan permalink
    March 15, 2017 5:44 pm

    When political dogma trashed common sense and never mind the kids now – eh?

    Jill Mahon needs reroofing, actually, the leaky windbag is obviously in need of a full rebuilding of upper storey.
    As for Devon council – green tosserati mafia begets idiot policy and piss poor outcomes – still it’s not like it’s their money – is it?

    see also…………

  4. AlecM permalink
    March 15, 2017 5:52 pm

    Charge the councillors who voted for this educational failure.

    • Ian Magness permalink
      March 15, 2017 6:01 pm

      Exactly! You really couldn’t make this up and the guilty parties are those deluded councillors who approved the taxpayer’s expenditure on such a stupid scheme.

      • David Richardson permalink
        March 15, 2017 6:12 pm

        Yes Alec and Ian – it is negligence in public office – BUT if we pursued everyone in public office, guilty of that, we would need 24/7 courts and even then we wouldn’t be able to process them all.

  5. March 15, 2017 6:07 pm

    More wheels coming off. The children learned a proper lesson, for sure. Just not the intended one.

  6. tom0mason permalink
    March 15, 2017 6:14 pm

    I think I see the problem —
    “… a groundbreaking sustainable roof which was clad in thin strips of locally-coppiced sweet chestnut. ”

    A wooden roof should not break ground as this usually leads to problems with rain ingress.

    Still this project should supply plenty of wood pellets for local ‘sustainable’ wood-burning stoves and furnaces, even if the £7million+ supply cost is a touch expensive.

    • spetzer86 permalink
      March 15, 2017 7:07 pm

      Send it to Drax. Makes more sense that shipping the wood from the US.

  7. A C Osborn permalink
    March 15, 2017 7:11 pm

    It must have been a disaster to knock it down, rather than just re-roof it.
    A Typical Green Venture.

    • BLACK PEARL permalink
      March 15, 2017 8:22 pm

      Exactly !

  8. Dick Mandemaker permalink
    March 15, 2017 7:17 pm

    Paul, what do you make of this data?

    Regards, Dick

    Sent from my Windows 10 phone

    • March 15, 2017 8:41 pm

      Not Paul, but some info. Change smoothing radius to 250 km. Remake map. Then realize how much of the February Arctic at smoothing radius 1200km is made up. Ditto Africa.

      Arctic is unusually warm this winter (-20C instead of -30C) because of a series of Arctic lows that earlier pulled in warmer North Atlantic air, and more recently warmer Pacific air. That pattern stopped end Feb, and temps have returned to ‘normal’. Caleb at blog Sunrise Swansong has been posting on this unusual weather pattern since last fall. Same weather caused the usual Arctic winter cold high to slip south. Places in the Canadian Arctic archipelago just hit record cold as partnof this unusual weather pattern.
      Despite this weather, sea ice extent is ‘normal’ with multiyear ice continuing to build back from the 2012 low caused by a summer Arctic cyclone that swept a lot of multiyear ice out the Framm Strait.

      • CheshireRed permalink
        March 15, 2017 9:33 pm

        The Guardian reports that a ‘new study’ reckons ‘collapsing’ Arctic ice’ is causing an ‘Airpocalypse’ – all the way down and across in eastern China. I kid you not. Fake news in all its glory.

      • nigel permalink
        March 16, 2017 9:10 am

        The circulation of the Guardian has halved since 2010 – to 156,000.
        THAT is worthy of the adjective ‘collapsing.’ But the company made so much money from sale of the ‘Auto Trader,’ that they can keep their propaganda, joke, paper running for many years yet, catering to their cult.

        According to the most recent data (Day 73 of 2017) from the National Snow and Ice Centre’s MASIE 4-km-resolution product, the extent of Northern Hemisphere Ice is 14,599,567 square km. This particular time series goes back to 2006. On Day 73 of 2006 the extent was 14,552,593 square km.

        In general, the surface ice is less, in the last few years, in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean (technically the Bering and Okhotsk Seas) outside of the Bering Strait, and in the open waters of the Barents Sea which merges with the Atlantic, and where the Gulf Stream has tended to penetrate further.

        The Arctic Ocean, itself and the water among the Canadian islands, is always 100% ice covered in the winter.

        Year to year is very variable in this Sea.

      • Nigel S permalink
        March 16, 2017 10:24 am

        Autotrader plus a ‘tax efficient’ scheme in Cayman Islands, the Guradian’s (sic) hypocrisy needs to be restated as often as possible.

  9. johnbuk permalink
    March 15, 2017 8:47 pm

    As long as they all feel, and be seen as, virtuous then targets achieved?

  10. Robert Christopher permalink
    March 15, 2017 9:07 pm

    “Still, at least it was zero carbon!!”

    Pencils not allowed?

    • Ben Vorlich permalink
      March 16, 2017 8:24 am


  11. March 15, 2017 9:26 pm

    And what would the regular school have cost?

    • nigel permalink
      March 16, 2017 10:59 am

      “…the regular school would have cost?”

      I am not a builder. But a quick trawl through the internet brought up the fact that a new elementary school in Virginia USA cost (for the building itself) $ 7,160,934 for 442 places.
      That would, undoubtedly, be to a modern high standard. So a school for 300 in the UK, I guess, should have cost about £4,000,000.

  12. John F. Hultquist permalink
    March 15, 2017 9:45 pm

    “complexities within the rainwater harvesting system”

    • Bloke down the pub permalink
      March 17, 2017 11:13 am

      Looks like the barrels that were washed ashore when the MSC Napoli broke up.

  13. March 16, 2017 1:35 am

    Reblogged this on Jaffer's blog.

  14. Ben Vorlich permalink
    March 16, 2017 8:23 am

    Wooden roofing using shingles is an established and reliable technology. Normally Cedar is used as far as I’m aware. Whoever specified the the materials to be used seems to have been more concerned about locally sourcing than quality and suitability. Presumably the supplier had not actually tested the shingles.

    Like A C Osborne I too wonder why it couldn’t have been re-roofed which would have cost considerably less than £8 million or were there more issues not reported possibly the walls made of the same wood also warped.

  15. Ex-expat Colin permalink
    March 16, 2017 9:02 am

    The technical/sustainable bragging about the school is here:

    I think a roof replacement would be too heavy…the hippy structure is all wood. See wall spec pdf on above link

    Its a completely impractical design for a school I think. Eco awkward!

    • Nigel S permalink
      March 16, 2017 10:42 am

      I think the basic structure was OK, they sued the architects not the structural engineers. The Eurban solid timber system is excellent and quite widely used. Poor roof detailing seems to have been the problem which is why structural engineers leave that to architects and their PI insurers. I suspect it was the ‘deadly toxic mould’ that did for them in the end and prevented the sensible solution of reroofing; hoist on their own petard.

  16. Roy Hartwell permalink
    March 16, 2017 9:54 am

    Know this school only too well !! Soon after it was built, black mold was creeping down the walls and buckets appeared in strategic positions to collect the leaks. I’m sure it would have worked well in a cold, dry climate such as Sweden or Finland but given Devon’s propensity for rain !! The roofs where built to funnel into a central gully, could have worked but …! It’s been some years since it was closed down and finally demolished with the kids having to work in portacabins. Council blamed architects, architects blamed builders builders blamed architects ad infinitum !!

  17. March 16, 2017 11:30 am

    ‘The electricity will come from photovoltaic panels mounted on the roof and the water will be heated by solar power.’

    Except it’s not sunny every day – so what happens then?

  18. Athelstan permalink
    March 16, 2017 12:14 pm

    Listen, it’s all for your own good and besides which it’s saving YOU money……….. innit?

    Britain’s low carbon energy revolution is actually saving money for households, a report says.

    Households make a net saving of £11 a month, according to analysis from the Committee on Climate Change.

    Wow and Cor!:

  19. March 16, 2017 1:48 pm

    Please allow me to acquaint you with an article by one, Nassim Taleb, entitled “The Intellectual Yet Idiot.” It chronicles those who have all the impressive “titles” who can write about how to do something, but have not the slightest clue how to actually do it. I think we area dealing almost exclusively with this “mind set”.

    View story at

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