One-on-one interview: Joe Cook of Aldwyck Housing Group

Posted 5 May 2016 by Keith Osborne

This week's exclusive interview looks at the role of this affordable homes provider and what it is doing to help people find the new home they want...

We continue our ongoing series of interview with senior figures from the UK housing industry by posing the questions this week to Joe Cook, who is the executive director of sales and development for affordable housing provider Aldwyck Housing Group.

Please tell us a little about yourself and Aldwyck Housing Group.

I joined Aldwyck in July 2011 as commercial manager and then took up my current role as executive director of sales and development in May 2013. I previously held the post of commercial director for R&D Construction Group Limited and have a wealth of knowledge and commercial experience spanning 33 years, which has enabled me to grow and develop our residential sales portfolio to support our affordable housing programme.

Established in Harpenden in 1968, Aldwyck has a long track record of delivering affordable homes to rent or buy and providing supported housing and care services to our customers in communities across the south-east and east of England.

We provide over 11,000 homes and management services for around 25,000 people in a variety of tenures, from rented and part-owned homes to owner-occupiers. We offer specialist support and accommodation for young people, those with disabilities and older people. Our supported housing and care services range from 24-hour-a-day care, to on-call support as and when needed.

What is the property market currently like in your region?

Aldwyck traditionally builds new homes in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, and the demand for property is unsurprisingly high across the region. This means we are always looking to increase our housing stock and provide more homes to aspiring house buyers.

What does Aldwyck specifically do to help people struggling to buy a new home on the open market?

Aldwyck has new build properties and re-sales of Shared Ownership properties which help first-time buyers get on to the property ladder. Shared Ownership provides those looking for a helping hand onto the property ladder, a great opportunity to purchase a home in an affordable manner. Shares available can range from 25% to 75%, but typically 50%, there is then rent to pay on the unsold equity and a service charge.

What kind of homes are you building at the moment and are you adapting your output to local demand?

We are building a mix of homes available for Shared Ownership from one-bed apartments to four-bedroom family homes, demand is strong across the region and  there is no let-up in the demand for new homes so we are continually trying to provide Shared Ownership new builds across the Home Counties.

What sort of specification can buyers expect?

We aim to provide homes you just have to move your furniture into, so buyers can expect a high level of specification throughout all of our new build properties, including high-gloss kitchens, flooring throughout, turf gardens and a shed.

Do you have a "typical" buyer or do you meet a range of people aspiring to homeownership?

When dealing with Shared Ownership properties we are primarily helping first-time buyers, however we’re providing one-bed flats for professionals looking for an easy commute into London, right up to four- or five-bedroom homes for larger families looking for local schools and amenities, so it’s difficult to say what our typical sort of buyer would be.

In terms of borrowing and monthly affordability, what are the limitations with which you can help people?

We don’t offer Shared Ownership inside London where the house hold income cap is £90,000 per annum, however the income cap for the rest of England is £80,000 per annum. Each individual customer’s circumstances are different and our customers are assessed using the government’s affordability/sustainability calculator. It is very much dependent on house prices for the location, this sets the affordability.

Will you be involved with acting upon recently announced government policies, for example, the Starter Homes Initiative and the commitment to 135,000 more Shared Ownership homes? What plans are in place with Aldwyck regarding new homes building in the coming few years?

Aldwyck’s forward build programme sets out plans to build 1,200 units over the next four years. As a response to government policies, and the impact on the business, Aldwyck’s strategy has moved more towards a focus on homeownership. Our forward programme is based on a mix of 45% Shared Ownership properties, 30% market sale properties and 25% affordable rent properties.

Our current programme does not include any Starter Homes, but this is purely a reflection of how many unknowns there are surrounding this product. Our focus is very clear, we will secure our own land development rather than rely on the Section 106 units available through housebuilders, simply because this allows us to have more control over the specification, quality and timings of the developments. 

Do you find any differences between building "social housing" as a separate development and pepperpotting within private sale homes? 

We find there are greater management issues with pepperpotting units as well as the perceived struggle which brings a detrimental impact to the sale value of the properties on the market for outright sale.

Is there anything you would like to see government do to get more new homes built?

The biggest issue remaining is the planning process and the length of time applications take to progress, along with the spurious grounds for refusal. A route to central government intervention would provide developers with leverage should applications fall out of the statutory period without having to resort to appeal, which invariably takes a minimum of 12 months.

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