Professionals working in residential development discussed the challenges facing their industry now, as well as how the nation’s shifting housing preferences post-Covid are informing their work.
Co-living, place-shaping and the increasingly difficult task of ensuring viability, affordability and sustainability were discussed over two panels at the latest Place North West event, sponsored by Trowers & Hamlins, Close Brothers Property Finance, WSP, BECG, ClearFibre and Oppidan Life. Place RESI was hosted by Julia Hatmaker, deputy editor at Place North West.
Scroll down to see photos from the event.
Hilary Brett-Parr, project director of Far East Consortium, gave an update on the progress FEC has made since forming a partnership with Manchester City Council on the Victoria North regeneration project, which aims to create 15,000 homes over the next 20 years.
During its first phase, FEC has been focusing on revitalising existing communities and creating a mix of housing and desirable places, Brett-Parr said. It has secured £51m of housing infrastructure funding to unlock 5,000 homes in the Collyhurst area, which will help resolve flooding and contamination issues.
Brett-Parr also gave an update on Red Bank, another component of the scheme that will include 4,000 new homes, more than 10 areas of green space and City River Park.
The focus is on “bringing nature to the city and bringing the city into this emerging neighbourhood,” she said.
“It’s important that the development focuses on the environment, healthy living and prioritising active lifestyles; all the things people had time to reflect on in the pandemic.”
Brett-Parr hopes that the development can achieve carbon zero, but said she needs input from others to understand and achieve this.
Another important facet is having a mix of tenure, including affordable, private and built to rent, she added.
“It’s important we have a cross-section of society in this neighbourhood. Our aspiration is to have a range of family housing and more focus on family living.”
Phase one of Victoria North will deliver around 26% affordable housing.
“We’re often we’re asked, ‘Is it really affordable?’ But that, as a private developer, isn’t something I can answer. I work within the constraints of the definition of affordable housing, but we do recognise its important to have a mix of affordable housing.”
Trying to make homes affordable, while also achieving zero carbon, puts huge pressures on the viability of schemes, Brett-Parr said.
“There’s a long way for us to go but we want to step forward and embrace these challenges.”
Panel one – The issues facing affordable housing
- Hilary Brett-Parr, project director, FEC
- Doug Hann, director, WSP
- Nicola Rigby, principal, Avison Young
In this panel, speakers discussed the challenges of providing social housing, what they want to see from the new housing secretary, and the importance of integrating family homes into high-rise developments.
“The challenge of affordable housing is multifaceted and there’s no easy answer,” Doug Hann said.
“There are lots of demands in terms of policy requirements for social infrastructure, design quality and mitigating carbon. When you add these all together, it squeezes viability, and affordable housing contributions get squeezed down, and in some cases, out.”
Nicola Rigby said some of these challenges can be alleviated by building in viability at the start of the process.
“There’s a disconnect within the market to how close we are to registered providers,” she said. “Now is the time to get to grips with how they operate, to access funding and model viability.”
“We’ve got to get to the heart of the lettings policies that registered providers operate in and work with them as an industry to create trust, and deliver in partnership – where the market can have a role and relationship in setting policies and procedures.”
If there continues to be a sweeping narrative that we need to build more council houses, Rigby adds, we’ll end up with more big, government-run housing estates, which are “fake housing markets that aren’t allowed to fail, that are protected but not sustainable”.Part of creating a tenure mix is attracting families to high rise developments, Hilary Brett-Parr said.
“I want to change the perception of what it means to live in family homes. It’s not going to be easy but there needs to be a shift towards living in more sustainable communities.”
The panel also discussed the changes they’d like to see following the appointment of Michael Gove to the position of secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities.
“Each minister comes up with new reforms that take a long time to come through, are watered down and changed,” Hann said. “It’s about taking the current planning reforms that are in place and driving forward the good parts in them.”
The focus should be moving local plans forward, Hann added, “to provide some certainty to the market”.
Brett-Parr and Rigby agreed that there needs to be stability and confidence in the market and consistency in regulations and policies.
“The planning system can play a key role in leading and setting that certainty,” Hann said. “And there are lots of tools in the planning kit bag that can be used to drive affordable housing.”
Presentation – Liverpool City Region Combined Authority
Tracy Gordon, lead officer of housing partnerships, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, talked about listening to what people want and need post-pandemic.
In talking to stakeholders for the authority’s spatial development strategy, which is looking at policy context for the city region, it’s become apparent that climate change is what people find most important, she said.
It also became clear that many higher earners aren’t living within the city.
“They should be living in the city region – we want to work with planners and developers to make sure we’re attracting these people,” she said.
“The other thing we’re not getting is the right level of older people’s housing. We want to empower people about how they could deliver housing and look at custom-build.
“We want to look at the rental market, too, and are looking to work with external partners to build the right quality of rental product that will attract a mix of people into the city region.”
Research has also highlighted that, during the pandemic, a lot of people moved out to the edges of Liverpool, Gordon said. She questioned whether the pandemic has driven people to want to live in homes with more separate rooms, rather than open plans.
“Combined authorities have soft powers, we have some funding, but we also have power together and influence into government policy,” Gordon said.
“We need to work together to ensure we’re delivering the right housing for an area in the right manner and tackling some of the difficult problems we have.”
Panel two – The future of resi
- Colin Shenton, chief executive, Oppidan Life, part of the Shenton Group
- Shannon Conway, residential director, Glenbrook
- Kieran McLaughlin, senior director, CBRE
- Dan Butler, partner, Trowers & Hamlins
- Tracy Gordon, lead officer housing partnerships, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority
The panel discussed the impacts of Covid-19 on the residential market, brownfield funding and Green Belt release.
Dan Butler is concerned about the end of furlough and the deferred rent that has built up over the pandemic.
“It’s a perfect storm where there’s a huge amount of debt on the balance sheet for these businesses and no obvious way of repaying it. It will inevitably lead to a changing environment, in terms of bricks and mortar,” he said.
But the pandemic also taught the market that everyone has different needs, Shannon Conway said.
“You need to have a variety of unit choices,” she said. “You want to cater to as many different needs and tastes as you can,” she said.
Colin Shenton said co-living is also part of the solution, as it offers variation.
“As they go through life, people want changes, and the more choice we have, the more people can be in the right place for them at the right time,” he said.
“It all boils down to community,” Kieran McLaughlin said, responding to how differently people are now working and commuting post-pandemic, and how they’re redesigning their working week.
The panel also talked about the potential of Green Belt release. Tracy Gordon used Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’s work with Wirral Council to illustrate why this isn’t always a suitable option.
“People want to move to the Wirral because it has beautiful green infrastructure, so by releasing the Green Belt you’d start to eat at the green infrastructure we need to keep in place.
“We’ve got to appreciate that land is a limited resource and we’ve got look very carefully at what we’re doing with it,” she said.
Place RESI also hosted an exhibition from Finnish construction tech platform GBuilder, which showcased to guests its BIM-based Customer Journey Management Platform for property developers. Listen to our sister publication PlaceTech’s interview with GBuilder founder Harri Majala.
The next Place North West event is in-person on 14 October: Offices + Workspace Update. Tickets are currently on sale. Digital livestream tickets are also available.
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Article by Jessica Brown