It's five years ago this week since work began on some unusual homes in part of Epping Forest.

Work on houses made of straw bales is underway as the key building material is being harvested from a nearby field.

The four houses in High Ongar are being built by Hastoe Housing Association and Epping Forest District Council and construction started this week.

The homes, half of which will be two-bedroom and half three-bedroom, are being built in Millfield using timber frames to be filled in with the bales and covered with traditional lime render.

It is claimed that heating bills in the homes will be up to 85 per cent lower than those for brick-built houses.

The crops being grown for the project at J&D Williams farm in Willingale, near Ongar, were affected by this year’s bad weather, but are now being harvested and the bales are expected to be in place in September.

Neighbours have voiced concerns over the strain the development could put on the area’s drains, the type of housing being built and the new homes overlooking existing ones.

Danielle Chandler, 35, of Millfield said: “What we need around here is studio flats so young adults who grew up in High Ongar can stay in High Ongar. There’s nowhere for them to go.”

Her husband, James Chandler, 40, said: “We were a bit dubious about the drains issue as well. We’re not far from where the drainage is being pumped down and they’re Victorian drains in need of updating.

“A lot of people have drains in their extensions.”

Caroline Dew, 43, whose Millfield home backs onto the development, said: “There was concern that trees would be gone. They (Hastoe) told us they were going to put in a bit for wildlife.”

She added that the new houses would be on a slope, so would overlook her garden and she would no longer be able to see the trees beyond the development.

Sue Chalkley, chief executive of Hastoe, said: “We have been through an extensive design and planning process to ensure that the new homes will be a real benefit to the community.

“Hastoe is committed to providing affordable housing in rural areas for the benefit of local people.”

The homes have been funded with the help of a £92,000 grant from the government’s Homes and Communities Agency and are the first of their kind in the UK to be built by a housing association.