Over the last ten years, student accommodation has become a global asset class much sought after by everyone from Far Eastern sovereign wealth funds to Dutch healthcare workers’ pension schemes, fuelling development in the UK at a furious pace. But with some markets approaching saturation, development funding and sites increasingly hard to come by, and the – as yet unknown – impact of higher tuition fees, can it sustain this level of growth? And how is this influx of foreign capital affecting local housing markets in the UK’s key student cities? Optimists predict a flood of family-sized homes coming back on to the market, but in this piece for Modus, the magazine of the RICS, I found that the reality in key student cities like Leeds is rather different. Local experts apply the “trampoline test”: if there’s a garden big enough for a kid’s trampoline, a family might move in. If not, forget it. So far, the prospects for Leeds’ student heartlands don’t look good.
Stand by for a new housing buzzword: “custom build” is the government’s latest solution for restarting the UK’s failed housing market, and fulfilling its pledge to turn Britain into “a nation of homebuilders”. It’s like self-build but without the difficult bits – homeowners are more likely to be choosing from a set of pre-approved designs than creating their dream home, and they can leave the whole thing to an “enabling developer” if they’d prefer not to get their hands dirty. I investigated its chances of becoming the new mainstream in this piece for Construction Manager. Even though councils must now assess demand for custom build and set aside sites to cater for it, and there’s no shortage of contractors gearing up to serve a potentially enormous untapped market, the stumbling block remains the cost of the land – no amount of choice will deliver much-needed family homes while the only people who can afford to do it are equity-rich empty-nesters.
In the UK, self-build has always been the preserve of a courageous minority, accounting for around 10% of homes. Now the government wants to make it a genuine option for many more people, following the example of countries such as Germany and Sweden where self-builders are responsible for more than 60% of all new homes. A year on from my article for Construction Manager on the government’s self-build housing strategy, I assessed how it’s doing for Modus, the magazine of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. And given that self-builders’ two biggest concerns are still – and likely to remain – land and money, I found that surveyors are well placed to offer them advice.
On a Wednesday afternoon in early August, Julie Fadden was walking around the streets of Speke and Garston with her staff, talking to her tenants and resolving issues on her estates. The chief executive of South Liverpool Housing was doing what she does on the first Wednesday afternoon of every month – even though her father had died early that morning. This is an extreme example of what sets the chief executive in a housing organisation apart from their staff, but it does shed some light on why the chief executives in Inside Housing’s salary survey are paid so much more than their employees. I spoke to them to find out how they earn their six-figure salaries.
Leo Miller’s flash of inspiration came when he nearly burnt down his student house. For Isaac Teece, it was the realisation that if he found changing a light bulb difficult at 21, it was going to be considerably harder in 50 years’ time. They’re the winners of a competition which challenged industrial design students at Northumbria University to come up with ‘inclusive designs’ that would enable elderly or disabled people to live independently. It might seem odd that experiences of life in a student house should influence the design of extra care schemes, but that was the point – the competition’s organisers wanted products that anyone would be happy to have in their homes, and that wouldn’t give them “that sinking feeling that you’re entering older people’s housing”. In this article for Inside Housing, I found out what they came up with.
The government told social landlords to bring 3000 empty properties back into use and gave them a £100m fund to do it. Even so, The Willows in Llangolen was not the most obvious place to start. This Grade II-listed mansion had been derelict for 30 years before Denbighshire Council bought it for £1 and then spent £429,000 refurbishing it. It was just after the builders took the roof off that empty homes officer Wendy Dearden wondered if her pet project was such a good idea after all: ‘Someone put their foot on one of the walls and the whole wall, three storeys down, wobbled.’ But a year, and much shoring up of those walls later, The Willows has been converted into three unique, two-bedroom flats right in the city centre – social housing gold dust. I found out how, in this piece for Inside Housing’s construction special.
Admit it: you would secretly love to build your own home. But even though many people will have probably considered it at some time or another, very few of us will ever take the plunge. This is the Grand Designs paradox: the ubiquity of property programmes on TV encourages us all to dream of designing the perfect home, while simultaneously presenting a hellish vision of construction nightmares and financial ruin that ensures only the bravest will ever attempt it. But that could all change if housing minister Grant Shapps achieves his ambition to make self-build a more realistic option. In this article for Construction Manager magazine, I assessed his chances of transforming the UK into a nation of housebuilders.