The future of Cheshire’s Local Plans, major residential development in Warrington, and the growing prominence of mixed-use residential sites in the region were all highlighted at this Place North West event.
More than 150 people from housebuilders, consultants, local government, and architects attended the event at Chester’s Crowne Plaza Hotel.
Speakers at the half-day conference included Sebastian Tibenham, executive director, and Neil Culkin, senior planning director, Pegasus Group; Andrew Dickman, director of Tritax Symmetry; John Laverick, head of housing and development, Warrington Council; Rachael Ainscough, group managing director, Ainscough Strategic Land; Daniel Joyce, director, Close Brothers Property Finance; Paul Boyfield, managing director, Lexington Communications; Jeremy Conen, senior development manager at Inspired Villages; Joseph Daniels, chief executive and founder, Project Etopia; and Mark Howden, interim chief executive, Peaks & Plains.
The event was sponsored by Pegasus Group, Lexington Communications, Close Brothers Property Finance, and Purcell, and was chaired by Place North West editor Jessica Middleton-Pugh.
Local Plan updates
The event began with a presentation from Sebastian Tibenham and Neil Culkin from Pegasus Group, who gave an update on how both Cheshire East and Cheshire West & Chester Councils were progressing with their respective Local Plans.
- Tibenham outlined where the second phase of Cheshire East’s Local Plan would be focussed, with 13 local centres expecting housing development in the coming years
- Most of these will see more than 100 homes developed across a variety of sites
- Jodrell Bank was described as a “huge restriction” to housing growth due to the specific planning conditions that exist around the site
- “I know plenty of client which struggle to get even one or two houses away in that area,” said Tibenham
- Meanwhile, Culkin gave an update on Cheshire West & Chester’s Local Plan. He said there would be a potential reduction in housing numbers and targets as part of the council’s Local Plan Review
- He said developers should expect “more challenges to the land supply and speculative applications around the edges of villages and towns” as CWAC looks at its Local Plan
The future of Warrington
A presentation then followed from John Laverick from Warrington Council, who gave an outline of the council’s ambition as it looks to bring forward an updated Local Plan of its own.
- Warrington has suffered from declining footfall historically, with numbers dropping by 3.5m between 2011 and 2015
- But the council has made steps to attempt to reverse this with a focus on improved retail, leisure, and night time economy with an increasing drive to bring residential uses into the town centre
- He said the updated plan for the town centre would address Warrington “completely turning its back on the River Mersey” with an ambition to open up more waterfront uses
- Eight development quarters have now been cut to six under the revised Local Plan, with a mix of residential and employment sites coming forward
- Among these are around 400 homes around Bank Quay station
Cheshire’s political future
Laverick then joined a panel discussion with Tibenham and Paul Boyfield of Lexington Communications.
- Boyfield said Cheshire East faced “a big question mark” around HS2 with much of borough’s ambitions hinging on the high speed rail link being delivered, particularly around Crewe, where the council hopes to enable the delivery of housing
- He added the council had suffered from “NIMBY anti-housing groups” having places on planning committees with Cheshire East pushing back on a number of major applications
- Laverick said Warrington Council would look to get “much more directly involved” in housing delivery, with the council’s ambition to create its own housing company
- In the upcoming Local Plan, Warrington is looking at a “50-50 split” between town centre and ‘traditional’ family homes in suburban locations. Some Green Belt release should be expected, he added
- Tibenham argued that while the focus on town centre living was welcome, there would always be a demand for suburban-style family homes: “We need to make sure there’s enough land and opportunities for everyone”
- He expected housing allocations to go up in both Cheshire East and Cheshire West as their Local Plans develop
Modular homes and care villages
Following a networking break, Jeremy Conen of Inspired Villages then presented on the developer’s current projects and its ambitions moving forwards.
- He outlined the developer’s partnership with L&G, with an identified need for 55,000 care home and care village beds to be delivered
- Inspired Villages currently has six operational developments, including Gifford Lea in Cheshire
- The company is pitching for 10 new sites a year “for the foreseeable future”
- These will be around 10 acres, and can be a mix of brownfield, infill sites, and greenfield plots
Joseph Daniels, founder and chief executive of Project Etopia, then gave a presentation on the modular housebuilder’s growth strategy.
- Daniels provided an overview of the company’s strategy, with manufacturing capacity now in place to build a house in three hours
- This process, he said, was 20% cheaper than any other conventional modular housebuilder in the current market
- Project Etopia currently operates out of a facility at Ellesmere Port, but is aiming to have six production facilities across the country, as part of a wider pitch to become the UK’s biggest housebuilder
- “Being a housebuilder isn’t good enough anymore”, he said, with the company pitching to deliver homes both faster and cheaper than the majority of volume housebuilders in the market
A mixed-use future
The second panel of the conference then followed, featuring Daniel Joyce, Rachel Ainscough, Andrew Dickman, and Mark Howden
- Dickman highlighted the link between employment development and housing schemes: “Most warehouse employees don’t travel more than 15 miles to work – we need to plug those developments into places where there’s either a labour force already, or one that will be housed there”
- However, he argued the planning process had become “difficult and time-consuming” pushing developers to pitch for larger allocations and making it hard to deliver employment schemes that were relatively small
- “We need think how homes interface with infrastructure, and how industrial and employment land can work with housing development holistically,” he said
- Ainscough echoed Dickman’s view, arguing it was not traditionally looked on favourably to be “pro-growth”
- “It’s more palatable sometimes to deliver mixed-use sites together, but they’re also harder to get out the ground and take a lot longer to deliver – I think we need a mixture of larger and smaller sites,” she said
- Joyce highlighted Close Brothers’ approach to lending, with the company focussing on SME developers. But he warned these companies faced some major difficulties with getting sites away, particularly through the planning process
- “There is still an landowners having an overinflated requirement in terms of pricing. For a smaller developer to invest the equity, and how long it can take to go through the planning process, it’s just not viable”, he said
- Howden outlined Peaks and Plains approach, with the housing company investing heavily in Macclesfield
- “Macclesfield has really underplayed its hand; it can follow a similar model to Altrincham and Stockport,” he said
- He added: “There’s a temptation for registered providers to work in housebuilders’ space, but we need to get back to our traditional tenures: we’re good at what we do, and private developers are good at what they do, so we want to work in partnership
- He said there was a perception that Cheshire can “demonise” affordable housing and this needed to be addressed to build mixed-use, mixed-tenure communities
The presentation slides can be accessed below
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