NRP Enterprise Centre plans could make Norwich a ‘green capital’

Pioneering plans to construct the UK's greenest building in Norwich to showcase the city's world-class low-carbon business credentials were unveiled to the public last night.

The �15.9m NRP Enterprise Centre project proposes an 'exemplary academic and workspace environment' at the gateway to the University of East Anglia, and is a key component of the wider development plans for the Norwich Research Park (NRP).

The planned 4,000 sqm building would include teaching rooms, a lecture theatre, exhibition space, and a business 'hatchery', where as many as 25 fledgling low-carbon firms could be nurtured.

Although it would be built to the highest energy-efficiency standards, the bold ambition to be the greenest building in the country is largely based on the choice of renewable materials with very low 'embodied energy' expended during their production.

That means driving down the carbon footprint of the project by using natural products, sourced as locally as possible – including timber from Thetford, wheat thatch from Starston, north Norfolk reed, chalk, lime and flint.

One of the most striking visual feature of the design is the thatch cladding of the outer walls, which would be built in prefabricated panels being developed with the East Anglia Master Thatchers Association.

It is hoped the development can put Norwich on the international map as a 'green capital', creating more than 200 jobs and providing space for innovation to flourish, while supporting traditional Norfolk industries.

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During an exhibition of the plans at the UEA's Sportspark yesterday, project director John French said he hoped it could act as a beacon to inspire similar developments, both in Norfolk and around the world.

'What we are trying to do is create a world-class building that is exemplary in its low-carbon performance,' he said. 'Just like the Olympics, we want to create a buzz about the place.

'It will be a huge benefit to Norwich's economy and to Norwich's reputation as a green capital. It is a statement building. It states a set of values associated with the university, making its contribution at a practical level towards addressing climate change. 'Alongside our world-class research and teaching this is a practical example of how we can put it into practice.

'We want to demonstrate that this is possible to do, so that people will copy it. People never change in society unless someone comes along and does something differently.'

Mr French said the layout of the building would place academic and business users side by side.

'This is part of the concept,' he said. 'The UEA has never had an enterprise centre. We want students to interact with businesses and to start their own businesses as part of the hatchery. They might be developing an energy-monitoring device or a new natural construction material. It doesn't have to be high-tech to be low carbon.'

The building will harness energy from the sun, with heat distributed and controlled by an innovative circulation and ventilation system. Although a modern concept, the building materials are very traditional, including 'rammed chalk' walls, built within timber frames and clad with straw thatch.

'We are using renewable materials and moving away from synthetic chemicals and concrete,' said Mr French. 'We want to show there is potential for much more use of things like Norfolk reed and that could help the Norfolk Broads if more Norfolk reed was used in projects like this.'

Architect Ben Humphries, a director with London-based Architype Ltd, said while the established best-practice benchmark for 'embodied energy' in university buildings is 845 kilos of CO2 per square metre (kgCO2e/m2), the goal for the NRP Enterprise Centre is just 168.

He said: 'When you consider it is 4,000 sqm, it is a huge saving of CO2 over the 100-year lifetime of the building.

'It will set a new standard, not just for the UK, but for the world. It will be a real trailblazer and it is all down to the local supply chain and the use of natural materials. As they grow, they absorb CO2, so they have a negative carbon count, whereas concrete and plastics use a whole lot of energy to produce.'

Among those who arrived for the consultation exhibition was Norwich city councillor Bert Bremner, who said: 'This could make a real difference to Norwich. The business incubator is really important to develop employment, and the use of local materials is going to give real opportunities for local skilled craftsmen to do good work. It will set an example for us and it will be a beacon for others to see the city.'

The UEA secured �6.2m from the European Regional Development Fund on top of �7.2m of its own funding and �2.5m of government funds to take the project forward.

A planning application is expected to be made following the public consultation. If approved, the project is due to begin in May and be completed by September 2014. It would be located alongside University Drive as the first phase of a masterplan which includes a further academic complex and an underground lecture theatre.

A consultation on the plans runs until August 31. Further details can be found at