Making a Splash in Urban Regeneration

Posted 19 September 2019 by Lizzie Leigh

We talk to Urban Splash’s Guy Ackernley about modular homes that allow buyers to customise their own space and adapt it again easily to suit their changing needs...

Guy Ackernley tells us how Urban Splash’s Port Loop project in Birmingham will transform a disused industrial site into a thriving community with over 1000 new homes.


Please tell us a bit about your role at Urban Splash.

I’m Guy Ackernley, residential director at Urban Splash - a role I’ve held for more than four years now.

I oversee sales across our development portfolio, promoting the great communities we’re creating for people to live, work and play. Right now we’ve got a heavy emphasis on our customisable modular homes, created in our own factory (a facility you’ll find in Alfreton in the West Midlands) using modern methods of construction. We’re selling these at Port Loop in Birmingham and New Islington in Manchester, and we’ll soon be selling them at sites in Merseyside, Milton Keynes, Cambridge and more. 

It’s an exciting time to be working in my role, as Urban Splash continues to extend its ambitions, introducing new, innovative, modular homes and creating large-scale communities across the country.

The company has been making a huge splash in the area of urban regeneration - why is this so important right now?

We’re increasingly creating large scale communities in exciting partnerships. At New Islington in Manchester we are selling our Town Houses, and Mansion House apartments - the final residential offering at the city centre neighbourhood. We’re also working in collaboration with our longstanding partner Places for People to create large scale communities at Smith’s Dock in North Shields, Campbell Park in Milton Keynes and Port Loop in Birmingham. 

Tell us about Port Loop in Birmingham which was recently described as the most ambitious regeneration project in the UK. 

This is a huge collaborative effort between Urban Splash and Places for People as joint developers, and the landowners Birmingham City Council and Canal and Rivers Trust. We are working together to transform a disused, industrial site on the outskirts of central Birmingham, turning it into a thriving modern community, with more than 1,000 homes of varying tenure, community spaces, parks and green spaces and workspaces. 

As a joint venture, we have already delivered the first phase of modular Town Houses and we’ve just launched our Brick House homes - a spacious terraced house concept which aesthetically reflects the architectural heritage of the local area. The site is rich in green space - we launched the first of many parks there this summer - and the water which surrounds the site will be a big factor for future residents.   

All in all with our partners we are creating a hugely important site and a new community for lots of different kinds of people.

Design is at the heart of everything you do. How do you think good home design impacts on people in their day-to-day lives?

Design has always been prominent in our work and we have worked across the country with some wonderful architects to bring our ideas to life. We’ve won more than 410 awards for this over the past two decades, including a Stirling Prize shortlisting of our work transforming Park Hill in Sheffield. 

More recently with our Town Houses, we’ve brought customers into the design process. Buyers are invited to create their dream home with the guidance of our team, allowing them to scope out a space which works for them and their daily needs - our three storey homes can be configured from three to seven bedrooms! And, as our Town Houses are designed so that none of the internal walls are load bearing, designs can be adapted again in the future if customers change their minds. 

As a company, Urban Splash likes to flout the rules of the housebuilding industry - how do you think this benefits your buyers?

I wouldn’t say that we flout the rules, but I would say that we like to pioneer ambitious and bold new ideas. The best example of that benefitting buyers is with the House product outlined above.

Do you offer incentives to buyers of your schemes?

Yes, wherever possible our homes are offered with Help to Buy and Shared Ownership so that the properties are opened up to more customers. We have a great, longstanding track record with housing agencies to offer an array of products - from the First Time Buyer Initiative which we offered back in the mid-2000s, to Rent to HomeBuy to the success of Help to Buy today, each initiative has opened the door to home ownership for more Urban Splash customers. 

What's the next big thing in urban regeneration?

For us it’s the increasing adoption of modern methods of construction (MMC), it means that homes can be delivered quicker and more efficiently thus accelerating the creation of new neighbourhoods. It also allows customers a greater degree of choice in the layout of their new home. We’re using MMC to create large-scale communities at places like Northstowe in Cambridge, where more than 400 homes will be delivered within a shorter timeframe, thus speeding up the delivery of this important regeneration area.

What three key pieces of advice would you offer to anybody thinking of buying a newly built home in a newly regenerated area?

The most important thing is to understand the vision of the local authority, the local community and the developer. You are potentially buying into a long term transformation and it’s important to understand what you’re going to be a part of and that you can become an advocate for it.  Get to know local community groups and understand how you can be a part of an emerging neighbourhood, and finally, make sure that you are buying a future-proofed and sustainable home.

What's next for Urban Splash?

We’ve had an exciting year, the highlight of which was signing a £90m deal with Japan’s biggest housebuilder - Sekisui House - and Homes England which will see us invest in R&D and the development of even more of our modular, MMC homes. This partnership is transformative and a milestone in our business - one which will help propel our plans to create more much needed homes for customers across the country. 

I’m also expanding our sales team across the country and will soon be recruiting new senior sales managers on our exciting new developments.


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