Experimental house in Leeds pioneering Climate Innnovation District

Exciting new ways of living are being trailled in the CITU development in Leeds

Jonathan Wilson outside his new home in CITU's Climate Innovation District in Leeds
Jonathan Wilson outside his new home in CITU's Climate Innovation District in Leeds

If you are nervous of heights then lying on a giant net with a long drop beneath may not be your idea of relaxation but it works for Jonathan Wilson. It is, he explains, perfectly safe. The net, usually used on catamarans, is secured by lengthy bolts and has been passed by building regulation inspectors so there is no chance of falling down the light well that stretches all the way from the ground floor to a huge skylight on the top floor of his three-storey town house.

“It’s not for everyone but I love it. It’s a piece of joy that helps me switch off from the day. I like reading here under the stars,” says Jonathan, who is development director at Citu. The net is part of a project that has seen him go beyond the call of duty for the pioneering home building firm he works for.

He sold his Victorian house in north Leeds so he could buy one of the first properties in Citu’s award-winning Climate Innovation District, which sits by the river on the edge of Leeds city centre. When complete, the district will be the UK’s biggest sustainable urban development.

The open plan living space

In pursuit of perfection, Jonathan is using his new home as a test bed for a host of new design ideas, some of which will be carried forward into apartments and houses in the next phases of construction on the 15-acre site, which will eventually hold 800 homes and over 25,000 sq ft of open green space.

Citu is already miles ahead of traditional volume housebuilders in terms of innovation, energy efficiency and great design but, says Jonathan: “We want to go further.” Citu launched in 2004 to build the Greenhouse in Beeston, the first apartment block to use ground-source heat pumps, solar panels and rainwater harvesting. Next came contemporary low-carbon homes at Little Kelham in Sheffield.

The Climate Innovation District is its most ambitious project yet and has already won a host of awards. The timber-framed, Scandi-inspired homes are airtight and topped with rainscreen cladding. They all have mechanical ventilation and heat recovery conventional doors with sliding doors to create flexible spaces.

Unlike the other houses on the site, there is no corridor on the ground floor so it is a totally open-plan living/dining/kitchen space. There is also more natural light, though it also meant that a sprinkler system had to be installed for fire safety.

Dieter Rams Brain record player was Jonathan's design inspitration

The concrete floor on the ground floor and the ply floors on the two upper levels have been exposed rather than covered. “There have been mistakes too but I’m happy to make them because they are valuable lessons,” says Jonathan, who isn’t completely happy with the plywood kitchen, which has no tall units. “I thought it would look better and flow better and it does but it isn’t user-friendly because it means you do a lot of bending down to get in the fridge.”

The extra long kitchen island, on the other hand, is a big hit and is great for entertaining, as is his dining table, which he made himself from corrugated cardboard and recycled plastic.

The look throughout is minimalist unlike his former home, where walls were filled with pictures. “There are a few key pictures but the building is the art,” says Jonathan, who has also added plants for air purification.

On the first floor, what is two separate rooms and a shower room in the other Citu houses is a second sitting room/guest bedroom, a shower room and an open-plan space with glass balustrade that could be used as an office/playroom. “This works well so we plan to give future buyers the choice of a separate second room or an open-plan space,” adds Jonathan.

Jonathan enjoys reading on his net strung in the void between floors

On the top floor, what is two rooms in the other properties is a main bedroom with a bath at one end and an ensuite plus an open-plan area with the net stretched over the triple-height void that allows light to run down the back of the house via the skylight.

“We are going to invite would-be buyers round here and gather feedback,” says Jonathan. “I can’t wait for criticism as that’s about understanding how you can do better.”

Citu houses cost from £355,000 and apartments are due to be released in the second phase of development. www.citu.co.uk

*Editor’s note: first and foremost - and rarely have I written down these words with more sincerity - I hope this finds you well. Almost certainly you are here because you value the quality and the integrity of the journalism produced by The Yorkshire Post’s journalists - almost all of which live alongside you in Yorkshire, spending the wages they earn with Yorkshire businesses - who last year took this title to the industry watchdog’s Most Trusted Newspaper in Britain accolade.

The bedroom with bath and views over the river

And that is why I must make an urgent request of you: as advertising revenue declines, your support becomes evermore crucial to the maintenance of the journalistic standards expected of The Yorkshire Post. If you can, safely, please buy a paper or take up a subscription. We want to continue to make you proud of Yorkshire’s National Newspaper but we are going to need your help.

Postal subscription copies can be ordered by calling 0330 4030066 or by emailing [email protected] Vouchers, to be exchanged at retail sales outlets - our newsagents need you, too - can be subscribed to by contacting subscriptions on 0330 1235950 or by visiting www.localsubsplus.co.uk where you should select The Yorkshire Post from the list of titles available.

If you want to help right now, download our tablet app from the App / Play Stores. Every contribution you make helps to provide this county with the best regional journalism in the country.

Sincerely. Thank you. James Mitchinson, Editor