Everyone agrees: the UK needs more housing. But it needs housing in communities that people want to live in and that provide the services – transport, schools, recreation – that are equally important. The Letwin Review, published in October, has also rightly focused on diversity of community as a key factor for large scale sites in key growth locations.
Achieving planning for and then delivering large scale sites which make this kind of quality and differentiated housebuilding possible, with increasing levels of market absorption, is the job of a Master Developer. This year, by way of example, we have continued to push forward with this objective on our strategic sites by:
- submitting an outline application for 2,800 homes in Cambridgeshire which the Council resolved to grant in only 20 weeks;
- commencing delivery of the link road through Radio Station Rugby, supported by Homes England acceleration funding, which will see it open in 2019, seven years ahead of schedule; and
- launching Civic Living at Alconbury Weald which is our own-brand of deliberately contemporary housing to complement the existing and more traditional housing already on site.
While these large complex sites are the focus of our work, we take an equally thought-out, quality-led approach to the smaller sites we develop for commercial uses or through our Catesby business.
Delivering new housing quickly is partly about planning, and partly about the rate of absorption. We believe our model performs better on both counts. Our highly professional and innovative approach to planning, which has been continuously refined with the objective of increasing the efficiency of actual delivery, is giving local authorities real comfort and accelerating the planning process.
As mentioned earlier, at Wintringham we received approval for the proposed extension – including 2,800 new homes, two new primary schools, health facilities and 63,000 sq.m. of new employment space – just 20 weeks after submitting our application and are already on site. Our approach to planning gave our housebuilder customers the confidence to engage in pre-application discussions with the local authority even before outline consent was granted. By having discussions on Phase 1 and reserved matters applications for green and grey infrastructure alongside the outline planning consent process, we have substantially shortened the time it takes to get going once consent is received.
Once on site, we are also getting houses built more quickly. In his review of build-out rates for the Government, Oliver Letwin identified barriers to more rapid housebuilding – and picked absorption as the key inhibiting factor in increasing the speed of building on larger sites. His recommendation to package larger sites into smaller parcels and increase diversity to increase build-out rates reflects our Master Developer approach.
With several housebuilders working on our sites, we can build houses quicker and with a range of house types on offer reach a variety of customers on a single site.
In addition to our housebuilding customers, we have also launched Civic Living at Alconbury. This deliberately contemporary style of housing, which includes a number of flats, provides a complementary offer to potential homebuyers and directly addresses Letwin’s focus on differentiation. We are also in discussions with a number of alternative housing providers which are seeking to bring forward differentiated product in terms of tenure and/or design.
The Master Developer model fully supports this approach to multi-channel delivery as the serviced land parcel provides a de-risked offer for companies specialising in modern methods of construction, private rental and more supported housing products who don’t wish to compete in the land and planning markets. We also seek to accelerate infrastructure of scale wherever possible to create multiple fronts for housing delivery on the same site. This is a crucial element of diversity which is not fully focused on by the Letwin Review but is being actively addressed through Homes England acceleration funding.
|of land with outline consent or in development (2017: 78%)||Average number of years before U&C commences development on strategic sites (2017: 1.3)|
CASE STUDY - LAUNCH OF CIVIC LIVING
I just love the design and features of these homes; they are different from anything else we have been involved in and the response has been so positive. The great thing about these being Urban&Civic homes is that it brings the whole story together: the cafe, gym, play parks and school are all part of what is on offer, and that is so in tune with what modern buyers are looking for.
CASE STUDY - SPEED OF CONSENT AND DELIVERYDownload case study PDF
Civic Living homes under construction.
Supporting community development
Getting the right infrastructure in early is also about creating community. Knowing it will take two years to settle into a playable condition, we laid out the cricket pitch at Alconbury early in the development, so it will be ready to play for the 2019/20 season. Though that will still be too early for the development to have its own team, there are talks of the pitch being used as a County Ground to support cricket across Huntingdonshire. As well as a creating a sense of place, the pitch also lies on top of a sophisticated, sustainable drainage system meaning that the land is serving multiple purposes. At Waterbeach, reflecting what we did at Alconbury and Rugby, we are planning to deliver a community hub and primary school early, so they are available for the very first residents. These facilities have proved invaluable at providing the space and community magnets around which relationships are built both on and off site.
Green spaces are also vitally important. At Priors Hall, landscapers from an in-house management company look after the communal greenspace to ensure the development always looks its best and we are replanning zones 2 and 3 to maximise accessibility to greenspace for all residents. Our team has recently created a memorial garden which was opened in November. At Rugby, the ecological corridors we set out in 2014 together with Dollman Common, Normandy Hill and an adventure play area are now all open to residents and the public and we have held a number of ecology-focused events on site to help people understand what a rich habitat runs through the site.
invested in non-obligatory infrastructure, including gyms, cafes and play areas to help build communities
Building strong relationships and having open and honest communication with people near our sites is an important part of creating trust and understanding, which not only means less concern and confusion during the planning process but also supports delivery thereafter. We consult with people and communities to understand local needs and address concerns. We also work with community groups, local authorities, businesses and charities to ensure the site and what it will offer are right.
At Wintringham we are working with partners to respond to local needs early in the development. Building on the strategy set out in the St Neots masterplan, we have committed to funding a business incubator in the first phase of development.
We are also working with the local Wildlife Trust to measure and monitor the biodiversity on site to ensure our development provides a net biodiversity gain.
Catesby has worked with Kenilworth Town Council, the Neighbourhood Plan Group and over 400 local people to refine the proposed scheme there. In Warwick, as well as working closely with the local councils, Catesby has set up a website to provide regular updates to over 1,500 people. At Waterbeach we have worked extensively with community partners and have held three drop-in sessions this year building on our track record of engagement since we started promoting the barracks and airfield land.
CASE STUDY - LINK ROADDownload case study PDF
The opening of the first playground at Houlton, Rugby by Mark Pawsey MP.