The Heartlands is a new neighbourhood in the village of Pool in west Cornwall. This is in the former tin and copper mining heart of the county. The site is in the middle of the World Heritage Site, with a local facilities visitors and visitors centre that commemorate this history. The development will consist solely of custom-built housing. This is the second pilot of developers Igloo, who are working with the UK Government and the National Custom and Self Build Association to accelerate the production of custom build housing in the UK.
In Heartlands, house buyers can choose from six different house designs that have been created by six architecture firms. All have all been granted planning approval from the local planning authority. Once the buyer has chosen the design, they are then paired up with the designer of their choice who takes them through the process of building their home. The Heartlands project is part of a long-term regeneration programme for the area’s industrial mining past.
The development is made up of 50 terraced homes plus four detached homes - the developers estimate that they will be 10% larger than comparable new builds in the area (1). Residents will become owners of the resident owned Management Company after completion. This will manage the maintenance of the Village Green and other spaces, work closely with Heartlands Trust on its management plans for the wider park area and organise community events.
According to a correspondent at Igloo, the site location and viability are the essential factors that need to be in place in order to do custom build at scale. The appraisal must generate a positive residual land value, and to succeed it is dependent on the role of the custom build enabler. The enabler will need to have access to an established panel of home manufacturers and mortgage lenders together with a suite of tailored legal documents.
The custom build homes are part of the wider Heartlands development of 144 mixed tenure houses and flats that are situated across two areas overlooking Heartlands Park. The Heartlands development falls within Homes England’s regeneration programme for Pool’s industrial mining legacy.
The developers Igloo, working with HTA Architects, submitted a hybrid planning application for Custom Build housing and a detailed application for affordable mixed tenure development in July 2014. The process of setting up a custom build development is described on the architect’s website;
“The Custom Build Enabler buys the site, gets planning permission (including design codes for each plot), puts in the streets and services, makes mortgages available and trains a group of Home Manufacturers (whose house-types comply with the agreed planning parameters whilst offering a range of choice). The Custom Builder picks the plot they want. These are sold on a first-come, first-served basis, at a fixed price for plots. Then, the Custom Builder selects a Home Manufacturer, chooses the size of home they want and customises it to meet their requirements working with the Home Manufacturer’s architect. Once the design is agreed the Home Manufacturer does the rest - secures reserved matters planning consent, building regulation approval and then builds the home. For houses this takes between 12 and 24 weeks”. (2)
At Heartlands, the Masterplan and design code for the Heartlands Custom Build site defined the parameters for the new homes through a ‘plot passport’. Six home manufactures with their architects developed a range of fully costed houses to suit the plot parameters. Purchasers can choose internal layouts and specification, and external materials from a selection set out in the design code. HTA also developed the detailed design for boundaries and streets, and worked with home manufacturers to define party wall junctions and abutments, roofs drainage and gable completion, as one plot may be developed ahead of an adjoining plot, by different home manufacturers.
Places for People (PfP) Igloo are a responsible real estate company with investment from PfP Capital. Igloo Regeneration Limited manages this development for PfP Igloo.
A series of local consultation events were held in Pool building up to planning submission to invite interest in the project through educational and family orientated activities. This included local children making and decorating their own Assemble & Join bird boxes.
Management: "This development will be your home for years to come. Creating a friendly well managed neighbourhood is a priority for igloo on all of our developments.” (1)
It is proposed that the village green at the heart of the development will be designed together with the new community.
The benefit will be for the individual buyers who will acquire a well-designed property which they will have substantial control over. It is hoped that the investment owners make in designing their homes will mean that they put effort into the local neighbourhood and community activities, however this is not quantified. The residents management company gives residents a stake and a voice in the management of common spaces and running community events.
What are the risks and challenges for initiating and also maintaining this initiative?
This is a complex financing and management structure and needs specialist input. One of the initial partners - Carillion - went into liquidation early in 2018. However the Heartlands development stayed on track because it was underwritten by Igloo.
According to a correspondent at Igloo, “the complexity of VAT regulations and 'golden brick'* stage has necessitated the creation of a complex contract structure that deters potential plot purchasers. Also, there is uncertainty around 'Help to Buy' eligibility.”
This model accommodates flexibility and choice within a set of specific parameters. By having a set of designs that house buyers can choose from and adapt, they are given space to tailor it to their specific needs. At the same time, the design is replicable which is better for working at scale. The team learnt from the experience of the Netherlands, particularly the large Almere custom build development, and specified the detail of shared spaces and facilities, as well as how different properties sit side by side.
*Note: Golden brick is a term of art and means that, where the conditions are satisfied, the house builder can sell housing developments to RSLs that have progressed beyond the golden brick stage, at the zero rate of VAT.