Chartered architect Scott Black is Group Executive Director for Developments at Places for People. This week, he celebrates 12 months in his role, a time in which he’s helped the company review the designs of its homes; here, he talks about key learnings from his first year in post and how it’s helped shape a new blueprint for future homes and communities.
When I arrived at Places for People, I took a good look at the business, our development strategy and the market in which we operate. Taking all the learnings from my first three months we rationalised and rebuilt the developments function to ensure it is fit for purpose for our future growth strategy. Affordable homes are at the heart of what we do and we will have multiple routes to market including private for sale, share ownership and PRS homes, so we have the ability to flex our strategy to match the changing market conditions in the future.
In my tenure so far, I’ve witnessed just how strong the group is at doing all of this – being a great housebuilder and great placemaker, and creating communities that work for everyone. These places continue to make a positive social impact and in the past year we have generated £280m in social value.
While all this is encouraging, it is imperative that we continue to put our work under scrutiny – especially in the context of the pandemic. This past year has really reinforced the value of well-designed homes and neighbourhoods – places which must accommodate areas to live, work, play, exercise, and entertain.
A new blueprint for future homes
But how do we achieve this and create great places in which people actually want to live? The answer for us was listening to customers. Another big project this year, and something which fed into our design manifesto, was gauging what customers actually want – and over the past year we surveyed 10,000 people to hear what they expected from their homes and communities.
We’ve listened to every comment from those customers – the result being a new, three-step plan which will help us meet create new homes.
Sharing best practice
The first step is collaboration, and working with other organisations who share our values and can help us deliver even better living experiences for customers.
Fortunately we have a track record for this and in recent years have established many successful partnerships – from the modular sector’s biggest deal with Ilke Homes in 2019, to large-scale regeneration at Port Loop in Birmingham with Urban Splash, to academic research with the University of Cambridge and Arup.
In practical terms, collaboration means we can create better homes, faster, and in line with the ever-growing demand. Our new blueprint means we’ll be delivering up to 2,500 to 3,000 new homes per year; we’ll do that by building two thirds of these ourselves, through a main contractor or sub contractor, and with the remainder delivered either in partnership with other housebuilders or developers.
Homes for all
Secondly, we’ll ensure that the homes we create are attainable, offering a third of them for open market sale, and the remainder through social or affordable rent.
It’s true to say that any successful community will have homes for everyone –; what we are keen to do is make sure that we create a balanced community as we are already undertaking at places like Gilston Park in East Herts, or at Brooklands in Milton Keynes.
Thirdly, and perhaps most important of all, is the choice we’ll be offering to customers – something that developers have to commit to post-pandemic. Based on the learnings of the past year we will adopt a model advocated by the car industry. We’ll have a single house type which fundamentally meets the needs of modern customers, but this house type can be adapted with the resident’s needs.
You can draw parallels from a manufacturer such as Volkswagen; the company has a single chassis on which it can create a 4X4, an SUV and a hatchback – and while there’s the same kit underneath the cars look totally different.
Our layout for future homes is the same and comes from the feedback of those 10,000 customers who put an emphasis on flexible space and work from home spaces; we have a new design which features clever areas built into the fabric of the home – an alcove at the back of the living room which can have doors on it and can be used as an office or for storage. We have a ‘broken plan’ layout too which offers a kitchen, dining and living room, but they all link to each other.
Our house type can be built using a suite of sustainable materials – there is a timber frame version, and a brick version; this allows you to value engineer as you can use the same boiler, bricks, or tiles in every house. It’s a move which means we can buy at scale with real confidence.
These homes will then be surrounded by everything modern occupiers need in terms of supporting services and infrastructure; our strategy allows for the investment into new schools, facilities, shops, doctors surgery, dentists, play areas etc in parallel so that the facilities are there before people move in. And we have our Places Impact foundation via which we generate social value through supporting community groups and initiatives.
This approach will help lay the foundation for social cohesion, economic prosperity, and environmental sustainability in the areas in which we work. By committing to this, I believe that we can create brilliantly designed homes in places are genuinely inclusive and have a range of facilities for the benefit of local communities to help them thrive.