Feb 2016

Steffani Asquith tells us why her clients, Connolly and Callaghan, are the most exciting, pioneering housing providers in Bristol at the moment. Welcome to a world of straw homes, low rents, and a carbon footprint we can all get behind.

Carbon Thinking met with Carbon’s sustainable property specialist on a clear, fresh morning in Stokes Croft, Bristol – our country’s Green Capital 2015. We talked about the future of property law in an evolving world. Why are fast-growing, switched-on professional practices now supporting housing projects that have minimal environmental impact?


Connolly and Callaghan are social and private housing providers with a difference. Alongside award winning architects White Design and straw housing engineers ModCell, they incorporate sustainable development techniques into their beautiful new homes.

Our Bristol based double-act, Stephanie Asquith and Neville Catton, provide commercial advice in relation to sustainable development. They have been working with Connolly and Callaghan for years. At its helm is Martin Connolly, the natural social entrepreneur with a proven track record of ‘no compromise’ when it comes to delivering a negative (not just neutral) carbon footprint. As Steff explains, “Connolly and Callaghan have built an efficient and enterprising development team with sound financial and ethical foundations. It’s truly about making a difference to the environment and changing perceptions of the construction industry.”


Steffani supports the Connolly and Callaghan team to make decisions and meet deadlines from pre-planning through to sales. When she’s working on a project with them, it’s her job to solve any legal problems that arise, including with funding the development. Like Steff, the team at Connolly and Callaghan are hard working and approachable.

“Working so closely together means that I really understand their needs. I know what motivates them and what holds them back. This adds extra value when I’m delivering advice or moving a project towards to completion. Making that final phone call to confirm the keys have been released is always a good feeling. With Connolly and Callaghan, I can soon see the proceeds reinvested in another exciting value driven and community led scheme. It’s heart warming.”

There’s one project in particular that brings a light to Steff’s eyes. “We’re delighted to be involved in the sale of a new development on St Bernards Road, Shirehampton, in conjunction with ModCell. The project is bringing 7 straw bale houses to the street. This is a real turning point, because it’s the first straw bale development to be sold on the open market in the UK!”

Let’s explain why. Constructing houses using straw bales is a tried and tested method – but now it has been recognised as a commercially viable option. Exciting new research from the University of Bath’s department of Architecture & Civil Engineering means that ModCell’s new factory-built straw panel design has received BM Trada’s Q mark certification. Developers, builders and buyers can now insure and secure mortgages against properties using this sustainable construction method. Put simply, this means straw panels are the future.

Because why would you not choose this technology? Steff explains how sustainable developers like Connolly and Callaghan are helping to pull people out of fuel poverty. “It’s super energy efficient – it can reduce your heating costs by up to 90%. Plus it’s carbon negative – the construction method reduces its carbon footprint by using a surplus supply of straw. Did you know the UK generates almost 4 million tonnes of leftover straw? And straw naturally absorbs and locks in carbon dioxide as it grows.”

All this amounts to one exciting truth: straw homes have one of the lowest carbon footprints on the market – whilst being marketable and affordable. But there must be a catch, surely? Don’t the homes take ages to build? “Actually, no!” Steff laughs. “In fact, the use of ModCell prefabricated structures could mean that soon properties will be erected and completed within weeks. It’s a better vision for the future. These homes are affordable, and they look and feel great! What’s not to like?”


Steff tells us why she is so excited about the future for sustainable property development – especially in Bristol. For a start, living and working sustainably is very important to her. “I love recycling and hate waste – but I’m no ethereal eco type. Like Connolly & Callaghan’s CEO Martin, I’m serious about sustainable technology. To survive and prosper in the long term, the mainstream property market must accept that sustainable construction methods aren’t just some kind of quaint alternative idea. In fact, they are defining the new mainstream.”

The recent development at St Bernards Road, Shirehampton, proves that we don’t have to look too far for products that are ecological, safe and affordable. Living and working sustainably no longer goes hand in hand with being wealthy. Basic materials like straw can be obtained locally at a reasonable price, is long lasting, does not take up excessive space and will not deteriorate into harmful substances. This is the kind of change that local authorities can really get behind – particularly in cities like Bristol, with a high population of ethically-motivated individuals and organisations.

And now for crucial question: why is this so close to home for property lawyers? “We work in a constantly evolving field that is very susceptible to the changing marketplace,” Steff replies. “Law firms have two roles to play. One is to embrace sustainable development into our own office spaces and to think about the impact of our decisions on the environment. The second step is acknowledging that sustainable housing is the future of property. So to survive in this market we must understand innovative development ideas and work with clients to conquer any legal or commercial issues.”

There will always be unprecedented problems that crop up in a fast-growing, relatively new field – so lawyers must be as pioneering and in-tune as their clients. It’s our job to support clients so that their ideas can become a reality. As our Chief Executive, Michael Burne, puts it, law firms like Carbon help makers to make.

So let’s all play our part in building a future that’s not just doom and gloom. For ethically-driven commercial law firms, that means supporting makers like Connolly and Callaghan to do what they do best – sustainably.