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Housing Association Follows Award Wins with Ambitious Plans 

Posted 25 April 2018 by Keith Osborne

We speak to Geoff Pearce of Swan/NU living about the thousands of new homes the housing association is building and planning...

Multi-award-winning Swan Housing Association and its developer division, NU living, are busy building thousands of new homes in East London and Essex, and we speak to executive director of regeneration and development, Geoff Pearce, about current and future schemes, what house-hunters can find there, and his thoughts on the property market right now.

Please tell us a little about yourself and Swan Housing/NU living.

I have worked in social housing for almost 33 years, first in a local authority in the mid-80s then moving on to the housing association sector.

I’ve worked for Swan before; from 2002 to 2006, after which I moved to East Thames Group as group director of development and asset management delivering some notable projects including the development of the former Athletes Village in Stratford and the regeneration of the Ocean Estate in Tower Hamlets.

I returned to Swan as executive director of regeneration and development at the beginning of 2014 and have overseen the growth of our secured development pipeline to over 6,500 homes, the majority being built by NU living, our in-house developer and many homes being delivered offsite, through our new modular housing factory. 

I am a chartered surveyor and passionate about housing – I grew up in social housing and saw first-hand what an impact high-quality housing can make but also what a negative impact poorly designed homes can have on a community. What I saw inspired me to get involved and make a difference and providing great homes and communities remains my motivation today.

What developments is the company working on at present? 

With a number of sites coming on over the next few months we will then have over 1,200 homes on site across Essex and East London, in a secured development pipeline of 6,500 homes.  Our schemes include:

Blackwall Reach. This £300m scheme we are delivering in partnership with LBTH and GLA will transform a key area of Poplar by 2024. Housing gain is an additional 1,248 homes in a borough with acute housing need. Critically, these homes are high quality, built to London Design Guide and over 50% will be affordable tenure (including large family homes) and 80% of these homes are for social rent. As well as ensuring new community facilities, improved transport and great public space, the partners are creating a new “Blackwall Trust” funded by an endowment and ground rents from Swan to support the community. 98 homes have already been completed and the scheme won the Mayor’s Award for Planning Gain 2015. The Mayor of London chose to launch his new Housing Strategy here last year, because it is such an exemplar scheme.

Laindon Place360 Barking. At 360, the NU living team are building four iconic, award-winning, cylindrical towers designed by Studio Egret West. Partnership working with London Borough of Barking and Dagenham brought two stalled sites together and using our in-house construction expertise and our excellent relationship with the borough, we were able to add in additional floors to the buildings whilst saving significant costs, increasing the number of affordable homes and bringing the total homes to 291. Support from the Mayor of London in the form of £29m of housing zone funding has accelerated the scheme. This development, completing in 2019, is sold over 70% off-plan, setting a new standard of design and achieving new highs in sales values for the area. The building will incorporate a creative industry space to be delivered in partnership with the council.

Laindon Place. Demonstrating our ambition and social purpose, following 17 months of extensive stakeholder consultation, we secured unanimous planning permission for a transformative regeneration to create a new retail led, high street, a new health centre, public realm and Swan office. Six previous owners have tried to bring about this regeneration. By using our in-house contractor, modular methods of construction and investing all profits back into social housing, our programme will finally enable us to deliver a viable scheme that meets local aspirations. This scheme has already won a range of awards including Best Regeneration Scheme at the National Housing Awards 2017 and was Commended in the Future Projects category in the MIPIM 2018 awards. You can watch the Laindon film here.

Looking to the future, we have some fantastic schemes coming forward including:

Blackhorse Yard, Waltham Forest. In 2016, the Mayor of London instructed the GLA to buy the former Webbs Industrial Estate – a plot of land which had stood derelict for seven years – with the intention of finding a development partner to build more affordable homes for Londoners. We are working with Catalyst Housing, to regenerate this site in Waltham Forest to include circa 330 homes, all of which will be affordable. The site, now known as Blackhorse Yard, will also become a creative hub providing more than 3,000 square metres of new affordable workspace and artist studios for London’s new Borough of Culture. Blackhorse Yard will also deliver retail space in the heart of the Blackhorse Road area and a green link which will provide easy access to Blackhorse Road station.

Purfleet on Thames. Working in partnership with Urban Catalyst as Purfleet Centre Regeneration Limited, we will work with Thurrock Council to bring about the £1bn regeneration of Purfleet on Thames delivering a new town centre, with retail and leisure space and up to 2,850 new homes, an integrated medical centre, improved transport infrastructure and new primary school and plans for over one million square feet of film and TV production studios and a new university campus with a focus on health and the creative arts.

Do you have a current favourite site?

No, they are all fabulous! However, what I really like about what we do is the scale of change that we achieve – we are building thousands of new social, affordable and private homes, but also making a huge impact on the places we work in by building fantastic public realm, new community spaces, commercial, retail and office spaces, to ensure we are creating sustainable communities that people really want to live in.

Blackwall Reach is a great example of this – we’ve already delivered almost 100 new social housing homes, a new multi-purpose community space, contributed to an extended school and replacement mosque and created new public realm and play space. There are many more homes to come and the completed regeneration will deliver over 1500 homes of which 50% will be affordable.

Are there any places in particular where demand has been very strong?   

There is strong demand for all our developments, Barking in particular has been a great success story with its award-winning design and central location, we have over 70% of the market sale units now sold. Additionally, we launched to the local market in Barking Theatre in 2017 and we will be launching the remaining units with Help to Buy in May which is in accordance with our ethos of helping first-time buyers in London onto the housing ladder.

As well as the apartments for market sale, we have an additional 95 apartments for Shared Ownership sale which again will enable Londoners to get onto the housing ladder in an affordable way.

What is it about your sites and homes that stands you out within a very busy new homes market?

Our model stands out! We focus on strategic projects that will make a significant difference to the local area with a core commitment of maximising the amount of social housing we can provide, which aligns with our social purpose – providing homes and services to those who need them – whilst delivering mixed-tenure, sustainable communities. For us, it’s all about creating communities that are cohesive and that’s why we, so often, work in partnership to deliver large-scale regenerations. That way we can deliver the scale and impact that we want. In addition, unlike other developers, we are in for the long term. We retain an interest in our developments, whether it is through the social or shared ownership homes or public realm, commercial or community space. That means we really care what happens long term, so we build high-quality developments that will stand the test of time, and then we manage them well too. Bow Cross is a great example of that for us – wining the Mayor’s award for regeneration five years after completion.

Who is buying at the moment? Is not qualifying for mortgages keeping out many younger potential buyers? 

We have a range of buyers from first-time buyers, to young and older families and even downsizers. We offer a range of products to enable buyers to get on to the housing ladder such as Help to Buy and Shared Ownership and also products to help those that want to move on such as assisted move and Part Exchange so we ensure those that want to move, can move and we will do our utmost to enable this. With Help to Buy and Shared Ownership this means the deposit requirement is much lower and so there is strong demand for our product. We can assist lots of buyers that wouldn’t normally be able to buy a new home.

Are assistance schemes like Help to Buy and Shared Ownership vital to would-be homebuyers?

Yes they are, to help lots of people that wouldn’t normally be in a position to buy a home, particularly first-time buyers. Within the next year we will offer over 250 homes to the market with Help to Buy and Shared Ownership on a variety of developments across East London and Essex. Without these schemes mainly first-time buyers but some movers would be stuck in unsuitable accommodation, whereas schemes such as these can put would be buyers in the position to move on with their lives.

Is the 'Bank of Mum and Dad' also a major help to some of your buyers?

‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ is still there particularly to assist with deposits, however as the requirement is much lower with Shared Ownership and Help to buy, and SDLT has become more favourable for first-time buyers, there is less of a strain on ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’.

What's in the pipeline for the company over the next few months? 

Beechwood​Over the next six weeks we have sales launches from our marketing suites at our Barking, Ilford, Blackwall Reach E14 and Beechwood Basildon (right) developments all with show homes to display our product. Beechwood is particularly exciting as we will be launching our new custom-build, modular homes. These 220 homes will be designed by the buyer using our online configurator ‘Uplan’ (much as you might see when choosing and specifying a new car) and then built to their specification in our factory using the ‘NU build’ method of offsite modular construction. 

We’re also hoping to be granted planning permission on Purfleet on Thames, our £1bn regeneration of Purfleet town centre, which we are delivering in partnership with Urban Catalyst and Thurrock Council. 

How does your NU build product fit in with your company portfolio? 

Swan have been leaders in regeneration since we were formed in 1994. We were one of the first hosing associations to build for private sale, probably one of the first to create our own in-house construction team, NU living, and are the first housing association to open our own modular housing factory which will use the NU build system to deliver up to 500 homes a year, when at full capacity. 

These homes will be precision engineered from Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), fitted out (including kitchens, bathrooms, even wine fridges) all to the buyer’s specification, and delivered to site. Our NU build system halves traditional construction time, achieves at least 10% cost savings, all the while producing stylish customisable homes that people want to live in!

We will continue to deliver our projects through a mixture of traditional construction and using the NU build system, considering every project individually to agree the appropriate method of construction. However, after around 500 homes are delivered to Beechwood using the NU build system, we will use the factory to deliver the homes for both our regeneration of Laindon Shopping Centre in Essex – which will become Laindon Place, with 224 homes, a new high street with new shops, an anchor food store and a modern health centre and Swan office. We’re using modular in London too, starting at Watts Grove in Tower Hamlets which will deliver 65 apartments for rent and Shared Ownership.

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A Guide To Part Buy Part Rent
With Home Reach you buy a share of your chosen newly built home and pay a monthly rent on the part you don’t buy. Your budget will decide the size of the share you buy, rather than the size of your home. So, you might decide to buy a bigger share of a lower priced home or a smaller share of a more expensive home.

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