Chief Exec blog: The role of affordable homes in meeting local housing need

Mark Howden, CEO of Peaks & Plains Housing Trust and its development arm, Chalk, shares his insight on the role of affordable housing and regeneration needs.

[First published May 2022 in Housing Executive magazine]

Last month saw the annual growth in house prices rise at its fastest rate in 18 years, hitting an eye-watering 14.3%, pushing the price of a typical UK home to a record high of £265,312.

Home ownership has become a real challenge right across the UK. In an area like Macclesfield, we typically see the younger demographic of first-time buyers move away from the area and the community they know to stand a chance of purchasing their own home.  

This is something we wanted to address in Macclesfield, which has so much to offer the first-time buyer market – a market we need to support the town’s wider regeneration ambitions. We saw the opportunity to take a derelict brownfield site that had become an eyesore in the town to develop Crossings – a mixed tenure development of 67 apartments offering Shared Ownership, private rent and Rent to Buy properties 

As developers, we need to think differently about the homes we build to meet the needs of today’s market. The rising cost of living is making it harder for many people to save towards a large deposit. Rent to Buy and Shared Ownership are two initiatives that offer flexibility and choice. Through Chalk, residents will have a professional landlord that’s properly regulated and is working to help more people move on to the property ladder. We wanted to show people what’s possible and achievable in this space to challenge current perceptions and create high-quality, affordable homes for the local community alike. 

Crossings is the cornerstone of our aspirations for the ongoing regeneration of Sunderland Street and Macclesfield town centre, in partnership with Cheshire East Council, and is a proof of concept for residential space of this quality in Macclesfield, which is proving to be the catalyst to unlocking further development across the town centre 

We’re already seeing genuine commercial investment from more independent businesses, driven by the visible increase in footfall in these areas, and other developers that are showing interest in potential sites. Part of the government’s own Build Back Better High Streets Strategy sets out a long-term plan to support the evolution of high streets into thriving places to work, visit and live as we emerge from the pandemic, and Macclesfield is well on its way to being a prime example of town centre regeneration.

People’s way of life has also been drastically altered in the last two years. For many first-time buyers, the nature of the hybrid working model is driving a trend for them to look further afield because they don’t need to live so close to their workplace. Good transport links are essential as part of any regeneration programme, but it’s also about creating a different mindset. From an environmental perspective, we’ve limited the number of parking spaces in Crossings’ development and installed secure bike storage as we don’t see car ownership as a necessity for people living in the town centre, and good town centre regeneration should support a reduction in the need for cars to reduce congestion and improve air quality, as well as promote public transport and bicycle routes. 

A key differentiator of Macclesfield’s regeneration is that it’s residential-led, which has the potential to be a game-changer for the local area. Typically with town centres it’s commercially-led, but with the demand for high quality, affordable homes only increasing – it’s proof that people want and need to live this way.  

Our Rent to Buy homes were reserved almost instantly, which was a measure of success for us and has given us confidence because we can see the market is there. We’ve secured two further sites on Sunderland Street which we can look at developing with similar offerings to meet more of the local housing need long term. 

The challenge in developing affordable homes as a registered provider is seeing fair and balanced legislation against private developers bidding on the same sites. Through regulation we're committed to decarbonising all of our stock by 2030, and we're ensuring any new developments meet that standard from now to avoid future retrofitting. Unfortunately, private developers aren't held to the same standards as registered providers. 

To enable RPs to develop more affordable homes in local communities, the initial costs of construction need to be recognised and reflected in the residual land values. Otherwise, we’ll end up with the wrong product in the wrong place that’s not designed to meet local housing need in an affordable and sustainable way.  

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