Building homes to support our communities

Our Executive Director of Property, Sandy Livingstone, shares his development updates from a post-coronavirus world.

Development map

When Stephen Heverin, our Growth & Regeneration Director, and I started the development programme three years ago, Onward had just been awarded the largest grant allocation of any organisation in the North West by Homes England. We had over 1100 houses to build in little over four years, very few sites and a small development team. We also had a wee bit of regeneration to think about in Hattersley, Murdishaw, and Queen Street. Cue much head scratching, wailing and gnashing of teeth, mostly by me.

From the beginning we have set out not to build the cheapest, but quality affordable housing, in mixed tenure communities. Our aim has and always will be to build homes in locations that support our communities, to increase numbers where we had few homes and to provide choice in areas where housing is expensive and there is a strategic need. Development is fully integrated into our business – it does not stand alone.

Homes on site

The COVID-19 crisis has gifted us an even more uncertain economic climate and less predictable housing market. We could withdraw, batten down the hatches and wait for the recession that will come to end. However, the need for good quality housing to support our community remains and the need to support our key workers is in much sharper focus, as is the growing need to replace some of the poor quality housing of the past. We are unlikely to eliminate COVID, as other countries have. We were too slow off the mark and too badly organised as a country to achieve this realistically.

Housing associations invest in places for the long term, and we are going nowhere. All the money we borrow to build has to be repaid, which is why we need a surplus every year. We have the financial capacity to develop affordable housing and are much less exposed to the risk of the housing market changing. We need to keep a weather eye on this.

There will however be opportunities for us to contribute more homes. Our contractors are adapting their methods to work safely and minimise the risks we face. We need to be agile and keep going.

Over the next few years we will achieve our objective of delivering an ever-growing programme of 500 homes per year, rising to 700 per year in five years’ time. The vast majority our homes will be affordable rent or Shared Ownership; we will build for out-right sale to support our affordable housing development and to offer choice.

About to go on site

Last year we completed nearly 200 homes, and started a further 300, and are well on target to deliver the 1100 homes in the Homes England programme. We are building over the whole of our geography, as illustrated by the accompanying maps, in particular in Lancashire where we now have a programme of 300-400 homes under development, including the long awaited Goosnargh Joint Venture with Seddons.

Onward Living, our sales branch, is a year old, and in its first year we sold out – from birth to grown up in a year! We won a number of awards, including for St Bernard’s Church in Toxteth, which found the RICS (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) amongst it admirers. As a Chartered Surveyor, that counts in my book.

Spending our pound in the North and growing local businesses that think and work the way we do supports our communities. Partnership with a range of large and small developers and builders in the North West has and will be the key to success. The scale and size of our development programme is growing. We are being offered, and are taking on, larger developments. Basford East’s (Signaller’s Croft) 450 homes will start over the summer, the average size of our developments will increase to 100 homes and we will mix these with smaller developments like the Elizabethan 15 homes in Bury, due to complete shortly. Plans for a major development in Hattersley, and really ambitious masterplans for Preston Queen Street and Murdishaw, are nearing completion.

I promised the rest of my team – Stephen, Lin, Sandy and David – it wouldn’t be dull. It certainly hasn’t been. Many in development have a shiny spade that’s handed out for a photo shoot when a new site starts. I prefer, reflecting my coal miner and stone mason ancestors, a rusty hard-working shovel. I do threaten the Development team, in jest given my age, that if things don’t move fast enough I will turn up with it and start work early. They have grown in size and capability, and I thank them all.

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