How we created the UK’s first Passivhaus-compliant leisure center

The complex is expected to achieve annual energy savings of up to 70% when complete, writes Jon-Paul Hedge, director of Exeter City Council.

St Sidwell Point


UK’s first ultra-low carbon Passivhaus-compliant leisure center

Time scale

Construction January 2019 to spring 2022

Cost to authority

£ 42million

Number of employees working on the project

On construction, there are five directly employed city council employees, five consultants, 2,496 on-site integrations


The highest quality health and leisure equipment for residents

Agent contact email address

[email protected]

In a few months, doors will open at St Sidwell’s Point, the UK’s first Passivhaus leisure center in Exeter city center, fully funded by City Council.

Jon-Paul Hedge, Director, Exeter City Council

It will mark the end of a very long journey – and the start of a new one – in which the municipality’s environmental ambitions and commitment to health and well-being were put into practice in the way the most extraordinary.

Exeter’s low-carbon journey began over a decade ago. Although common practice now, the council was one of the first to launch an ambitious program to reduce carbon emissions and significantly reduce our substantial energy costs.

Large solar panels, electric charging points, the switch to an electric fleet and even our own urban solar farm and battery storage facility were all planned and delivered as Exeter aimed to become one of the most trusted boards. more ecological in the country.

The approach has extended to housing. With a forward-thinking, knowledgeable and dedicated housing development team, Exeter was among the first local authorities in the country to build new communal houses to the Passivhaus standard: warm and healthy new homes that significantly reduced emissions of carbon while helping residents get out of fuel poverty. .

The advantages of Passivhaus

Passivhaus buildings have a very low heating requirement, achieved through mainly passive measures – excellent insulation, triple-glazed windows, airtight spaces, no thermal bridges, ventilation and heat recovery.

The council’s wholly-owned development company is now building Passivhaus homes for the private sector, using the profits to help fund the council’s building program

By improving the build quality, Passivhaus achieves excellent indoor comfort without drafts, condensation or mold, and pleasant temperatures in summer and winter.

The political leadership of the council embraced the benefits of Passivhaus despite the fact that it was still largely new and little used in the UK, and also required a greater initial investment outlay.

But the new homes proved popular with residents, many of whom didn’t even need to turn on their heat even in winter – the heat generated and retained just by living in the property providing enough heat to heat the entire house.

In the years that followed, Exeter became nationally and internationally recognized as a center of excellence for Passivhaus construction. The council’s wholly-owned development company is now building Passivhaus homes for the private sector, using the profits to help fund the council’s building program.

70% energy saving

Housing construction was a challenge, but the delivery of a large new Passivhaus leisure center to a prime location in the city center was on a whole different scale.

This was the challenge the city faced, replacing an aging pool and gym that were at the end of its life with a remarkable building that matched the council’s environmental ambition while being of the highest quality to launch. a larger regeneration program at a key downtown location.

Pointe St Sidwell, Exeter

The project was to be something very special, a new building designed to withstand climate change, a healthy and energy efficient building that the city and its residents could be extremely proud of.

Quite simply, a Passivhaus leisure center had never been built in the UK, although examples did exist in Germany, where site visits took place among agents and advisers.

With a tremendous amount of energy required to heat swimming pools and run a recreation center, the expected annual energy savings of up to 70% were significant and would help offset the additional construction costs associated with Passivhaus within a short span of time. relatively short time.

The initial bidding process proved difficult, but after a revised budget was put in place, a prime contractor was selected and work began on the site in 2019.

The budget was created mainly with money the authority had saved and set aside – income from bonuses for new housing, the community infrastructure tax, Section 106 agreements, capital revenues and some limited long-term borrowing.

The initial bidding process proved difficult, but after a revised budget was put in place, a prime contractor was selected and work began on site in 2019, providing a major stimulus for the company. local economy through its supply chains throughout the pandemic.

An emblematic building in the city center

In 2020, the council leadership made the decision not to bid for another outside vendor to run the city’s recreation department and take it over instead.

This meant that the council was able to dictate the culture of recreation services, placing health and wellness at the top of its strategic priorities, alongside its commitment to create a net zero carbon city by 2030.

The construction of St Sidwell’s Point has faced major challenges, including the pandemic and supply chain difficulties, which are all too familiar.

Despite this, something very special has emerged here in Exeter.

Pointe St Sidwell, Exeter

Swimmers will notice the exceptional quality of the water. Thanks to a sophisticated ultrafiltration process, the pools will have minimal chemical content, which will greatly improve the swimmers’ experience.

There are three pools – an eight-lane main pool and a four-lane learner pool, both with movable floors, and a trust pool. There will be a 100-seat area for spectators.

The new complex will have first-class spa facilities and a gym, sauna and therapy beds. Visitors can use the rooftop terrace with stunning views and a private bar.

The center also has a café offering a meeting place in a unique environment for the public and members. It will include a nursery, allowing parents to relax while using the swimming pool or the gym, and parents can also accompany the children to the soft and colorful playground.

The iconic building in the heart of downtown is a grand design, modeled to withstand predicted changes in weather conditions through 2080.

It took leadership, bold thinking and courage to develop a vision and bring it to fruition in difficult times as a UK premiere. When the doors open in the spring and the first residents use the facilities, it will be a testament both to the political leadership that demanded the best for the residents of this city and to the dedication and perseverance of a team of officers. dedicated people who saw this project from concept to delivery.

They created something very special.