Case study: Kersey Crescent (Sovereign Housing Association)

Working closely with the local authority and a private developer, and without additional grant funding, Sovereign enabled the successful regeneration of an area that meets local needs.

Kersey Crescent, an estate in the Speen area of Newbury, consisted of five blocks of social rented stock. The estate had a poor reputation within the town and social problems were rife which required intensive housing management.

Constructed in the 1960s, the flats at Kersey Crescent had come to the end of their build life. They were inefficient to heat, becoming uneconomic to repair, and had a lack of quality, safe outdoor space. The flats were being used by West Berkshire Council to provide temporary accommodation for families at risk of homelessness prior to redevelopment but were becoming increasingly expensive to maintain. 

What has been done?

Meeting local needs

Working closely with West Berkshire Council’s housing team, all of the temporary residents were rehoused in more suitable homes, and Sovereign drew up a plan to demolish the flats and replace them with 78 new homes. The new mixed community – Castle View – is designed to better meet housing demand in the local area and includes much-needed opportunities for affordable home ownership and properties for social rent.

The scheme includes a range of different house types from one-bedroom flats to four-bedroom houses. As well as matching different price points, this has helped to attract a mixture of single people, couples and families, ensuring a more sustainable community and helping to revitalise the area.

Quality homes

The provision of high quality homes was a key objective for Sovereign at Castle View. The development has been designed with the principles of Building for Life 12, which focuses not just on buildings but also features like permeability, connectivity, the public realm, public transport, character, existing features, car parking and landscaping.

All the new homes are energy efficient – built to Level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes, with solar panels producing electricity. Water-saving taps, toilets and showers also help to reduce water usage. The new scheme has a Sustainable Urban Drainage system (SUDS) in the form of underground cellular storage which restricts surface water runoff, and a renewed storm sewer along the front of the site, which have reduced the risk of flooding.

Partnerships for delivery 

A new joint venture

With no grant funding available for this regeneration scheme and a desire to meet a wide range of housing needs, Sovereign was driven to look for alternative ways to deliver the project. The association approached developer and builder David Wilson Homes, with whom they have a long-standing working relationship, to set up a new joint venture. Sharing planning and build costs in this way and utilising Sovereign’s share of the profits from the sale of private units enabled the association to build the affordable housing needed on the site and additional affordable homes in the wider area.

With two experienced local organisations working together, the venture has been able to tap into a detailed knowledge of the town and the local housing market. As a result, Castle View is a scheme that works for both partners. The finished scheme includes a mix of three different tenure types – in addition to homes for outright sale, seven properties were allocated for shared ownership, and 16 for social housing, meeting West Berkshire Council’s minimum requirement of 30% affordable homes.

Trust between the two partners has been key to this successful joint venture. Alongside this, a clear understanding of roles and of the needs of both organisations has been essential to developing a company that generates value for both partners.

Early engagement with the local authority

This approach to cross subsidy of social rented housing has become prevalent in recent years as the Affordable Homes Programme has shifted away from social rent towards affordable rent and home ownership products. This has meant a learning curve for housing providers that have had to adapt to new ways of working to make social housing stack up. It has also been a challenge for local authorities that still see an urgent local need for a range of affordable and social rented homes. This is particularly relevant for LSVT organisations like Sovereign that have taken over control of council-owned housing stock.

Sovereign has worked closely with West Berkshire Council on the regeneration of Kersey Crescent, both to develop the understanding of this new approach and to build a vision of a sustainable mixed tenure community that meets local needs. This engagement has resulted in a stronger relationship between the two organisations and enabled them to identify more opportunities to work together in the future.

As well as the internal knowledge of Sovereign’s home ownership and social housing teams, the association worked with the local authority to establish who was on the waiting list for social housing and to understand their requirements, providing a complete picture of local needs and helping to shape ambitions for the Castle View development. This detailed assessment led to the inclusion of a number of one-bedroom flats which were underrepresented in the local stock, despite the high need for such properties as a result of the spare room subsidy (‘Bedroom Tax’).

This early engagement provided a range of other benefits to the regeneration project, particularly in relation to planning. Newbury Town Council raised no objections to the scheme and West Berkshire Council approved the proposals under planning officer delegated authority, which meant it didn’t need to go to a full planning committee. This was a significant achievement, and testament to the amount and quality of stakeholder consultation that took place before the application was submitted, which helped to get the project off the ground smoothly.

Working with residents

The design of the scheme was steered by the community through a design panel, allowing Sovereign to engage and listen to residents, discuss plans with them and incorporate their feedback. For local people it was often relatively minor things that mattered most – including retaining the hedging along the A4 and a number of footpaths going through the estate that provided natural surveillance. As a result of the comprehensive consultation the plans received no opposition from local residents.

The project team worked with the local primary school located just 150m from the development site. The children chose the name Castle View because of the views from the site. David Wilson Homes funded a storytelling event with local authors, and a site safety visit was held, where the children even had a go at bricklaying.

What can we learn from this project?

Close working between Sovereign, the local authority and the private developer has enabled the successful regeneration of an area that meets local needs and is welcomed by existing residents. Building strategic local relationships like this is key to delivering regeneration – drawing in investment and expertise from a range of public and private partners alongside the active involvement of communities.

This project was made to work without any grant funding and has resulted in a sustainable, mixed tenure development. However, this took time to achieve and required extensive engagement with the local authority. Regeneration is an important part of Sovereign’s and other housing associations work in boosting the nation’s housing supply and improving lives with quality affordable housing.

As businesses with a social purpose, housing associations can play a critical role in estate regeneration because they are able to make the long-term commitment and financial investment that these projects require. A more flexible approach from the Government to housing investment would improve the viability of regeneration projects like this, ensuring that housing associations can deliver successful developments that meet varied local needs and affordability.