Willmott Dixon, in partnership with NHS South of Tyne & Wear, has achieved its ambition to build the UK’s first BREEAM ‘outstanding’ health facility.

The company’s £17 million Houghton-Le-Spring Primary Care & Leisure Centre scored over 86 per cent in its design stage assessment to achieve the highest sustainable accolade possible for property. The building is due for completion in June, when it will be re-assessed in a BREEAM post-construction review where it is expected to retain the ‘outstanding’ rating.

BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) is the leading and most widely used environmental assessment method for buildings. It addresses wide-ranging environmental and sustainability issues giving the ability to demonstrate the environmental credentials of buildings.

Factors behind the centre’s super ‘green’ rating include renewable energy provided by 12.5 square metres of solar thermal panels to preheat domestic hot water, 350 square metres of photovoltaic panels and an 18m high wind turbine, while ground source heat pumps supply natural heat from the ground to the entire building. This will drastically reduce its carbon emissions and provide much lower running costs, with a targeted EPC rating of ‘A’.

Health facilities are traditionally high consumers of fossil fuel energy, so Willmott Dixon wanted to demonstrate how it is possible to create a highly energy efficient community health facility in Houghton-le-Spring in Sunderland.

A further innovation is a Breathing Buildings ventilation system. This utilises a 1m wide 'thermal wall' that runs through the middle of the building which, together with a concrete plenum at its base, provides fresh air at a constant temperature by using its thermal mass. The wall is divided into 49 separate chimneys which feed individual rooms on one side and a large central atrium on the other via low powered fans.

Further features include electric car plug in points in the car park, exporting redundant heat to the neighbouring Sports Centre to ensure no wastage, exposed concrete soffits to provide natural cooling at night, green sedum roof to encourage biodiversity and attenuate rain overflow to reduce the drainage load, as well as rainwater harvesting system. The project will also see 98% of waste diverted from landfill.

Key partners involved with this unique project include P+HS, architects, Mott MacDonald, M&E engineers, LJJ, building services contractor, Southern Green, landscape architect, Cundall Johnston, structural engineer and Breathing Buildings for the innovative ventilation system.

The centre will be the focal point for community health, providing a minor injuries unit, diagnostic facilities, a 24 bed rehabilitation unit, a physiotherapy suite, accommodation for retinal screening, outpatient clinics and healthy living services and wellness studio and café. The centre will be the fourth such facility in Sunderland offering a wide range of health services in community settings.

Alongside, but integral to the healthcare facility will be new and refurbished sports and leisure facilities including a fitness studio and wellness suite with gymnasium and weight training equipment.