A holistic approach to housing

Philip Browne, Director of Development for Circle

Philip Browne, Director of Development for Circle Housing
The acute shortage of housing in London is well documented and - as an affordable housing provider - we are well aware of the impact this is having on the thousands of families who are stuck in cramped bedsits or even find themselves homeless.

Shelter estimates that a minimum of around 62,000 extra homes are required each year, yet in 2014-15 less than half that number was achieved in the capital. As many will be aware Circle Housing is currently proposing to merge with Affinity Sutton. Should the merger go ahead, the new group would deliver 5,000 new homes annually, completing 50,000 properties in the ten years from 2019, making it one of the largest house builders in England. 

It is clear that the well documented skills shortage is still holding back construction in the capital. A recent survey by Lloyds Bank of more than 100 businesses in the housing supply chain found that there is a lack of suitable applicants across a whole range of areas including electricians, site and project managers, quantity surveyors and architects.

A separate study found that the scarcity of concrete, brickwork and joinery is driving up construction prices by around 10% compared to a year ago. We are hearing examples of where labour shortages are driving up costs so much that contractors are putting up prices and turning down from clients they consider to be vulnerable or risky.

As a large housing provider, we believe it is important that we create new jobs and training opportunities for people of all ages living in our communitiesMuch of the work we do involves working with young residents by giving them increased access to work and training opportunities. We also support the construction industry to tackle the skills shortage by working in partnership to help more young people access new training, work experience, job and apprenticeship opportunities.

Another key issue in London is the availability of land for residential development. So it is important we make the best use of our existing assets and land we purchase. Circle Housing has an active programme to identify and acquire land where we can build more homes, particularly in outer London. For example, in Spring we completed our latest deal worth around £17m for the purchase the former Somerfield depot on New Road, in the borough of Havering. 

Rainham and Beam Park together form one of the last locations in London where truly affordable houses can be built for Londoners looking to settle and raise their families, alongside apartments and starter homes. The New Road site is located within the newly designated Rainham and Beam Park Housing Zone, which aims to create up to 3,500 new homes along an A1306 and adjacent industrial sites. Residents in the borough will also benefit from a suite of new facilities, including a train station, pedestrian and cycle routes, a long linear park, as well as additional school and health provisions.

The Borough’s Housing Zone also forms part of the Mayor’s London Riverside Opportunity Area which could create 26,500 new homes and up to 16,000 jobs across the boroughs of Barking and Dagenham and Havering.

There are certainly clear benefits of being part of a Housing Zone. It is clear the zones can act as a catalyst in bringing forward more comprehensive and meaningful schemes by virtue of having pre-agreed funding. This approach leads to more coherent and collaborative mixed use and residential schemes coming forward rather than piece-meal and stand-alone developments.  

Specifically in Rainham and Beam Park, Havering Council is working with the Environment Agency to address possible barriers at a number of development sites. For example, they will be assessing flood mitigation measures and producing a robust strategy, which will give greater confidence to developers. The local authority is also assembling land into deliverable housing plots – through voluntary or compulsory means. By establishing a dedicated team made up of planners, highway engineers and lawyers, they will be able to process and support planning applications, while ensuring planning performance is met.

New Road comes with planning permission for 497 homes, a community centre, commercial premises and an energy centre. However, we will work collaboratively with the borough to acquire adjacent sites in order to create a new neighbourhood, rather than deliver an inward-facing ‘island’ of new residential homes which may struggle to embed itself within the wider community. 

The new approach will seek to capitalise on the considerable Housing Zone investment in new ‘grey’ and ‘green’ infrastructure, and maximise the opportunities arising for both the existing local community and the prospective residents of the new neighbourhood. 

Circle Housing has a strong track record of providing social value initiatives, which help to support residents into work.  At New Road, we will also look at programmes to encourage sustainable healthier lifestyles, as well as associated entrepreneurial opportunities that may arise from that. 

We aim to work with local schools to develop partnerships with local businesses to help build students’ aspirations and enable them to develop the practical skills and experience for a working lifetime. 

Circle Housing is also looking at a wide range of initiatives to help build a sense of community engagement, using community ‘self-management models’. This could include volunteering and mentoring as a way for more experienced residents to share valuable life skills, and for some to help create a route back into employment.

We intend to bring forward around half the site immediately as a mix affordable rented and low cost home ownership homes. We are looking forward over the coming months to discussing these plans with the community and we will be working with the local authority to develop a revised masterplan for the remaining part of the site, with proposals intended to benefit from upcoming infrastructure investment. We hope to submit a planning application  later in 2016.
Philip Browne, Director of Development for Circle Housing

Housing by numbers

  • 62,000 extra homes needed every year in the capital
  • 3,500 new homes built in Rainham and Beam Park Housing Zone,
  • 26,500 new homes to be developed in Mayor’s London Riverside Opportunity Area
  • Up to 500 new homes built by Circle Housing at New Road, Havering
  • 5,000 new homes to be developed annually should Circle Housing and Affinity Sutton merger go ahead