Zero-carbon homes above car parks the future for housing vulnerable young adults

Zero-carbon modular homes built above public car parks could help thousands of vulnerable young adults live in low-cost, sustainable council housing, while supporting them into work and education, following a successful pilot project in Bristol, a new report shows.


The ZED PODS zero-operational carbon modular homes were designed and constructed as part of ‘Hope Rise’, a housing project that delivered 11 newly built, one- and two-bedroom homes purpose-built for housing young adults at risk of homelessness.


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These unique homes were constructed on an elevated platform above an operational public car park in Bristol, utilising the air-rights above to bring forward much-needed council housing, and retaining 100 percent of the existing car parking spaces.

The concept of Hope Rise was instigated by Bristol Housing Festival – a five-year initiative to test and deliver innovative housing solutions across the city – in partnership with Bristol City Council.


The homes were manufactured by turnkey modular housing company ZED PODS Ltd, while the housing support element was provided by YMCA Bristol. The post-evaluation report was funded by social justice charity Commonweal Housing.


The ZED PODS zero-operational carbon modular homes were constructed in just six months using its proprietary build system, and created homes for young adults identified as being at risk of homelessness.


The nine young adults are aged between 20 and 35 and moved-on from a range of housing situations including low support shared housing, sofa surfing and a safe house, three were care leavers including two refugees.


At the time of moving in, four of these young adults were working, four were not in education, employment, or training (NEET) and one was in college. One year on, six were working, one was NEET, one was in college, and one was doing an apprenticeship. Additionally, four ‘Community Builders’ were recruited by YMCA Bristol to move into the two 2-bed homes to live alongside and help foster community spirit with those young adults formerly at risk of homelessness.


The one-bed homes cost just £370pcm, while energy bills averaged £46pcm, making them truly affordable to residents in receipt of the Local Housing Allowance. The average price for a one-bedroom flat in Bristol is £1,084 pcm, according to real estate firm Zoopla, making these zero-carbon homes two-thirds cheaper than existing local housing stock.


ZED PODS’s concept of utilising air-rights over an operational car park to ‘increase’ land-supply has proved highly successful at Chalks Road, Bristol where the homes are located. Research by estate agents Knight Frank shows that as many as 103,000 homes could be built above existing car parking spaces in England, which could hold the key to unlocking tens of thousands of affordable homes for young adults at risk of homelessness, as well as key workers across the country.


Meanwhile, research from national youth homelessness charity Centrepoint has found that almost 122,000 young people in the UK approached their council for help, as they were homeless or at-risk in 2021.


Off the back of this multi-award-winning development of 11 homes, ZED PODS now has a pipeline of around 1200 homes, the majority of which will be for affordable and social housing, earmarked for those at risk of homelessness, households on the housing register, and keyworkers.


The residents have found that once in their homes they are entirely unaware of the car park. The entirety of the existing car parking space has been retained for the local community. In addition to the new homes, three new electric vehicle car charging stations and cycle storages have been added at the site.


The homes are fitted with latest renewable technologies like solar panels on the roof, heat-pumps, and triple glazed doors and windows, making the homes zero-carbon in operation.

The project also piloted a peer-to-peer support model, in which a team of four ‘Community Builders’ were recruited to live alongside new and existing residents, helping to improve and foster community spirit. Around two thirds of the young adults chose to engage with the Community Builders, who supported individuals with a range of practical, emotional and social needs, including finding work or training opportunities. Support needs that were identified as part of the process included hanging shelves and pictures, confidence hosting, volunteering in the community, starting an eco-group, work experience, job applications, exam prep and returning to education.


CASE STUDY: Jamal (name changed to protect anonymity) came to the UK as an unaccompanied minor from Syria and was under the care of Social Services until he was 21. He had most recently lived in a shared house with support which was coming to an end, meaning he needed to move on. His support worker referred to him as a model tenant and thought he would be ideal for Hope Rise.


Jamal himself was keen as he was used to living as part of a community when growing up and wants to be part of something where he can make friends. Jamal worked with a Community Builder and the YMCA to access paid work experience as a labourer on a site alongside the Community Builder. This enabled him to gain invaluable skills which he has transferred across to his carpentry apprenticeship. Jamal feels very much at home at Hope Rise; he is extremely grateful and happy for the help he has received from the Community Builders and other residents and looks forward to integrating more within the community over the next few months. He recently passed his driving test and can now drive further afield for work. He is also keen to obtain his Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card.


Ellen Grist, Research and Evaluation Lead at Bristol Housing Festival, said: “Innovation is essential as we seek to deliver homes fit for the future to meet Bristol’s housing need. Hope Rise is a truly innovative development that has increased the capability and confidence of the whole supply and demand ecosystem, and the learning in this report has the potential to enhance the design and delivery of hundreds if not thousands of homes.”
Councillor Tom Renhard, Cabinet Member for Bristol City Council, said: “There is a crisis in the availability of affordable housing across the UK. The pressing need to build high-quality, energy-efficient homes, combined with rapidly rising construction costs, is making the delivery of new homes for council tenants increasingly difficult. Hope Rise has shown us that innovation is essential as we seek to deliver homes fit for the future to meet Bristol’s housing need. We hope the learning from this pilot project will lead to the design and delivery of hundreds if not thousands of homes.”
Ashley Horsey, Chief Executive at Commonweal Housing, said: “Reduced access to mainstream social housing, continued rises in private rents, coupled with an explosion in zero hours contracts for too many entering the world of work, all during an ongoing cost of living crisis has opened the chasm for an ever-growing ‘financial precariat,’. When these systemic housing issues are being navigated by those at risk of homelessness, the need for new imaginative solutions is clear. That is why Commonweal was pleased to be able to support all partners involved in making Hope Rise a reality.”
Tom Northway, Chairman of ZED PODS, said: “We are extremely pleased with the performance of the building during occupancy which has improved wellbeing of its residents and made a positive impact on local community. This scheme, designed by our inhouse architectural team, and built using our propriety build system, demonstrates how superior energy-efficient affordable homes can be built on constrained infill sites. This is an outstanding result of truly collaborative work which have changed lives of young people.”