Dr Steve McCabe

In this article, Dr Steve McCabe (Associate Professor, Birmingham City University) and Mike Leonard (CEO, Building Alliance and Visiting Professor at Birmingham City University) provide an insight into Project 80; a new initiative led by Midland Heart which will provide an initial development of 12 homes and 12 maisonettes in Birmingham that meets the Future Homes Standard, three years ahead of schedule.

The article focuses on the project’s goals and how it will play a key role in informing the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) Technical Consultation on the Future Homes Standard in the second half of 2023.

Mike Leonard

Birmingham based social housing organisation Midland Heart is the first developer in the UK to construct homes in compliance with the Future Homes Standards. Additionally, they have commissioned 12 months of post-occupancy research. Importantly, the developments which are part of Project 80 consist of homes been built to an extremely high quality and expected to last at least 150 years. From the outset, Project 80 emphasises the importance of making residents central to the research journey. This will ensure their experiences are monitored and analysed to improve future design of homes.

As a direct result of choosing to use locally produced brick and block and other British made materials and skilled tradespeople, the investment delivered a multiplier of over £6 million to the West Midlands economy. This is of critical importance as, according to the RICS, construction delivers £2.84 for every £1 invested as well as ensuring local skilled employment which is essential to parts of Birmingham in which youth unemployment is over 20%.

What is Project 80?

Project 80 consists of, initially, development of 12 homes and 12 maisonettes in Birmingham to be built by Bromsgrove based Tricas Construction. Using local materials and skilled workers, in compliance with the Future Homes Standard which, from 2025, will become mandatory for all housebuilding in England, the objective is to achieve 80% reduction in carbon. This objective is attained through intelligent design and selection of materials. Heat pumps combined with superior insulation and enhanced ventilation is essential.



A key objective of Project 80 was to demonstrate the fact that the Future Homes Standard may be met in building homes which people recognise as traditional houses and built, where possible, with locally manufactured construction products using locally skilled labour. This approach is intended to demonstrate how traditional construction methods, which are by far the most popular method of construction, may be adapted and evolve in order to achieve the very highest standards of building performance.

The project is a demonstrator and features a range of specifications which includes aerated and concrete blocks, high performing insulation and the bricks, roof tiles, ventilation, windows, and doors all made in the UK. Four types of heat pump were used, different levels of air tightness were targeted, with a range of enhanced ventilation solutions to ensure indoor air quality and prevent overheating. One of the design considerations was the need to make space for hot water storage as this had been largely removed due to the use of combi boilers. The masonry construction will provide long term reliance in a warming climate that will result in more extreme weather events including droughts, floods high winds, summer overheating and wildfires.

The homes were occupied by Midland Heart tenants and are now subject to extensive post occupancy monitoring using sensors and occupier interviews to fully understand the user experience of living in a Future Homes Standard home. This research, which covers the whole design, build and occupation phases is the only one in the UK, where we can measure the entire process. This will inform the Department of Levelling Up Technical Consultation on the Future Homes Standard in 2023.

Examining Design and Construction Processes

The researchers are empirically examining practical issues in achieving homes in which energy used to create heat and cook will see the reduction of carbon emissions, as well as allowing occupants to enjoy enhanced levels of affordable comfort all year round. The need for energy efficient homes has assumed significance due to energy prices increase which has affected all households in the current cost-of-living crisis.

Project 80 was managed in a highly collaboratively way. A steering group comprised of the architect, developer, main contractor, sub-contractors’ manufacturers, energy assessors, building control and academics, met regularly to report on progress and suggest improvements. In recognition of the fact that most new homes are constructed by sub-contracts the research team invested time to ensure their understanding and views on the changes were captured and acted upon.

As issues emerged during on-site sessions, manufacturers were instigated to agree immediate interventions and contribute directly to product innovation. The full findings and recommendations will be included in a joint report to be produced by Midland Heart and Birmingham City University later this year.

Residents’ Experiences

It is too early to provide comprehensive data analysis and running costs as we have not experienced a full Winter. The early indications, however, are very encouraging and many learning points have n been recorded. Of note is the difference in operation of the homes which are generally fully occupied. This is suggesting that systems such as ventilation may become stressed when exposed to a large amount of cooking, for instance.

We are immensely grateful to the residents who have been extremely helpful in providing data insights and the Handsworth site has provided a living lab for BCU students to engage in an immersive learning experience. Project 80 is designed to provide the research and evidence to support the scalable and affordable delivery of the Future Homes in 2025, whist avoiding unintended consequences. The results will be provided to the Department of Levelling Up. Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to feed into the Technical Consultation on the Future Homes Standard in the second half of 2023.

Crucially, this is a project in which, where possible, British-produced materials were used as local labour employed. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) estimated that for every pound spent on construction there’s ‘payback’ through what’s known as ‘the multiplier effect’ of £2.84 in the wider economy because of money earned and taxed as well as in purchases made by workers and their families. If this factor is applied to the 12 houses built on behalf of Midland Heart in Handsworth as part of Project 80, there’s a gain to the West Midlands/UK economy of over £6 million pounds in addition to providing much needed high-quality homes for Midland Heart customers.


Dr Steve McCabe is Associate Professor at the Institute for Design, Economic Acceleration & Sustainability (IDEAS) and Senior Fellow within the Centre for Brexit Studies, both of which are based at Birmingham City University. Steven is a long-standing academic and has written extensively on issues of management, business and politics.

In the last two years, as well as writing a number of chapters dealing with Brexit, inequality and the pandemic, he has co-edited Brexit and Northern Ireland, Bordering on Confusion (published by Bite-Sized Books, ISBN-13:978-1694447807) and English Regions After Brexit: Examining Potential Change through Devolved Power (ISBN-13: 979-8666953099) and Exploring the Green Economy: Issues, Challenges and Benefits (ISBN-13:‎ 979-8532032347) both also published by Bite-Sized Books. He has researched and written extensively on the way in which British housebuilding developed in the past century and may be improved through economic intervention and technological innovation.

Mike Leonard is CEO of Building Alliance CIC and also a Visiting Professor, Manufacturing and the Built Environment, Birmingham City University.

Mike is currently driving many initiatives to achieve our climate change objectives, whilst ensuring resilience in the built environment. A strong believer in the power of collaboration he has built an extensive industry and academic network, identifying, and acting on common goals.

He is the founder of the Futures Group, the UK cross-industry, and highly influential new homes “think tank”. Mike is currently involved in research aimed at improving the quality in building. This includes Future Homes Standard Demonstrators, preventing overheating, enhancing indoor air quality, addressing the fire risk, reducing the use of single life plastics, decarbonising the built environment, and embracing the skills gap.

Both Steve and Mike are members of the Centre for the New Midlands Housing and Communities Leadership Board.

To learn more about Project 80, please visit Midland Heart’s website