Housing awards for the best designs to provide affordable living

Low-cost new-build homes are breathing new life into barren sites

 Judith Heywood

North London’s finest. A dusty cut-through between City Road and the Angel, it is adorned by a few nondescript offices, a concrete housing estate and some monolithic student halls.

But expect Graham Street to be enlivened soon — at least by developers, planners and estate agents flocking to find a formula that they hope will lure buyers back into unloved new-build housing. Angel Waterside — an 85-apartment scheme of private homes and social housing, the latest addition to the street, was yesterday announced as a winner of a coveted Housing Design Award.

At a time when local authorities and developers are taking stock of the small, unsellable and often unliveable apartments that blight many city- centre brownfield sites such as that on Graham Street, judges praised the City Wharf Development scheme for its ambitious new landscaped garden, which opens up the buzzy and fastregenerating City Road Basin (on the Regent’s Canal) to the public.

That the building has four separate entrances — no small financial commitment when a single lift can cost £1 million — which allows all residents more space and privacy than would be expected from the single lobby typically expected in developments of this size, was also praised.

But a week after the release of the Mayor of London’s new housing design guide, the development has also been singled out for — as it happens — meeting many of the requirements that will be enforced by Boris Johnson’s administration. The design directive for any homes with public funding has been released for consultation but in its final form will be in force as soon as early next year. Where the Mayor of London leads, many other local authorities and agencies may be expected to follow.

Johnson and his housing experts believe that a new focus — minimum space standards; flexible layouts; a range of property types in each development; better entrances and shared spaces — is the key to providing homes on brownfield sites in which buyers will be happy to live.

According to David Birkbeck, a judge in the Housing Design Awards, Angel Waterside — with its dualaspect apartments, expansive private balconies, concierge, eco-features and canalside public space — is “like the Mayor’s design guide in action”.

Developers will take note that all flats in the scheme have sold — itself a vote of confidence when demand has drained from the property market — but buyers were last year able to snap up two-bed apartments for £550,000 (they have reappeared for rent at £465 a week). Hometrack, the property data company, says that the average price for a two-bedroom property in Angel (N1) is £344,900, down 5.1 per cent in a year.

Confidence appears to be building in the London market and land agents say that developers are looking for sites again. But David Adams, head of residential at Chesterton Humberts, warns that there is as yet little sign of this resurgence extending outside the capital.

Another of this year’s award winners shows how community organisations can kick-start schemes. South Gate, the overall winner, is a Midas Homes scheme in Devon, which was shepherded to completion by South Hams District Council. The area takes in second-home hotspots such as Salcombe and Totnes, where property prices have outstripped the ability of those on local wages to pay for them. Prices have fallen, but lenders’ demands for big deposits and an unwillingness to allow buyers to borrow sums that are large in relation to their salary leave buyers no better off.

In Totnes — where big-city house prices are out of keeping with its artfully laid-back vibe — South Hams earmarked sites for low-cost homes. Birkbeck says: “Loose sites, such as old abattoirs and car parks, were assembled, so the development weaves through the streets.” The council sacrificed profit on the sites to ensure that Midas built housing that enhanced the town and provided extras for the community, such as a sculpture park and a pond, which also acts to protect against flash flooding.

The 53 homes, some available through Sovereign Housing Association, include two-bedroom apartments from £209,950 and four-bedroom terraces from £389,850. The average price for two bedrooms in Totnes is £205,300, down 11.1 per cent in a year, Hometrack says.

The Housing Design Awards have, unusually, the backing of the Communities and Local Government department, the Homes and Communities Agency, the NHBC, the Royal Institute of British Architects, and the Royal Town Planning Institute. That makes for many experts to be seen wandering down Graham Street — or around the craft shops of Totnes — in the coming months.  Judith Heywood, The Times). http://property.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/property/new_homes/article6715149.ece

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