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Circle Housing: Looking for new architects and sites in London

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Mike Ward, executive director of property for developer Circle Housing, talks about delivering super-green energy-efficient homes

What kinds of scheme are you working on?
A range across the country to deliver our pipeline of 3,517 homes. In Walthamstow we are developing 400 homes, including a self-build scheme and projects where we are renovating disused spaces and garages to create new, affordable homes. We are also entering the final phases of our award-winning Orchard Village regeneration project in Rainham by PRP, where we are transforming a sink estate into a modern development. Also in Rainham, we are working with Climate Energy Homes and Maccreanor Lavington to provide 51 new homes to Passivhaus standards.

How have the past few years been for you?
Housing associations fulfil a unique role in meeting the country’s housing needs, as we have the skills and experience to unlock difficult sites that commercial developers shy away from.

We’d welcome discussions with architects regarding potential sites

We’re pleased to have developed over 1,500 homes over the past two-and-a half years and we are keen to identify more development opportunities to provide more much-needed homes of all tenures. As part of this we are looking to invest in land in the London area and would welcome discussions with architects regarding potential sites. The next few years will open up new opportunities, as we all seek to find new ways to deliver much-needed housing.

Do eco-homes have to look like eco-homes?
Energy-efficient homes can be built to look like any other modern, tasteful, development. There is no one type of home that falls into the category. With today’s materials and technologies it is easy to design and build something that will meet the expectations of most people looking for a home.

Do you think the amount it costs to heat and power a home is important to buyers?
In the past few weeks we have seen three energy companies raise their bills on average by 10 per cent, adding an extra £130 to the average household bill. At Circle we are acutely aware of the pressures energy bills place on all of our customers and so we do all we can to provide energy-efficient properties and advice on how to save energy.

What do you want from your architects?
What everyone wants: excellent quality, buildable design that works for the occupiers. Delivering super-green schemes is a team effort. We are increasingly looking for our partners to deliver social value through apprenticeships.

How do you find your architects?
We are about to renew our architects’ framework and we anticipate the first advertisements will appear before the end of this year.

What would you most like the government to do for you?
To build the homes and provide the services that will enhance our residents’ life chances and meet families’ aspirations, housing associations will need flexibility and security. Flexibility in setting rents and selling and buying properties will allow us to manage assets and build the largest number of homes possible for the minimum public investment. But this also depends on associations having the security of a stable housing benefit system, government clarity on future plans for investment and maintaining a sound reputation for private investors.

Which of your projects is your favourite and why?
I am particularly proud of our Pomarri scheme in Lower Sydenham, south London. This £16million project saw us transform a disused Bell Green Gas Works into 156 brand new, eco-friendly 1- and 2-bedroom residential flats.  It won the Best Architectural Design category at the First Time Buyer Awards 2013, which was a great achievement. It is designed to encourage a reduction in energy usage and save money for residents, but it’s also a very striking scheme.

Which regeneration scheme most inspires you and why?
I’d say Orchard Village in the London Borough of Havering. Five years ago nobody wanted to move to the old Mardyke Estate, originally built in the 1960s to house people who worked at the Ford factory– made famous in the films Made in Dagenham and Fishtank. As employment opportunities at the factory decreased, the estate slowly developed a bad reputation for high crime levels and experienced some of the highest levels of deprivation in London. But since its regeneration, people are queuing up for properties. This regeneration has been driven by residents determined to make a difference to their community.

An incredible 80 per cent of residents voted in the stock transfer ballot, with 80 per cent choosing to transfer to our partner Old Ford, who took over the management of approximately 500 homes on the estate in March 2008. All proposals have been developed with the close involvement of residents and customers are now moving into new homes recently completed in phase two. Environmentally, the development includes an energy centre which uses a combined heat and power engine, together with gas boilers, to provide heat and hot water across the new development. We are already seeing the positive impact this regeneration is having on resident’s lives, and Planning Minister, Nick Boles recently named Orchard Village as one of his top five developments in the country.

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