I’m writing this during one of the busiest handover periods I’ve experienced in years. Over the past year, the development team, of the recently formed Torus housing group, has successfully planned, executed and delivered some 172 new homes across five different sites in Merseyside and Cheshire. It’s been a year of mud, sweat and tears but at the end of it we’re handing over keys with smiles as wide as the doors we’re throwing open to our customers.
These new homes – a mix of affordable rent and shared ownership – make a solid foundation to Torus’ aspiration to develop 2,300 homes over the next ten years. But there’s so much more to do. In fact our next tranche of 394 homes is already underway.
We all know about the housing crisis, so I won’t labour the point. Equally familiar are the obstacles housing associations face that can hinder our new build ambitions. Cost issues not withstanding, we’re faced with a scarcity of land, questionable land quality where it is available, the red tape stranglehold that accompanies grant funding around milestones, value for money, standards…and that’s before we break ground.
To achieve our aspirations as housing associations it’s obvious something has to change. So what do we do about it?
Well, at Torus, amongst other things, we’ve been involved in piloting a new concept home – Haus60. Developed in partnership with North West contractor, Paragon Construction Group, our objectives were to reduce build costs without affecting quality and enhance design innovation. Fundamental to the brief was the need to produce something that could be replicated. We weren’t after a once only solution but a design and build that could be rolled out in the future.
The result was Haus60. A two bedroom home – aligned to local need – and available for affordable rent. With a build cost of just £75,000, it was conceived as a non-grant funded product. However, following HCA interest, our 24 unit pilot received partial funding and, thankfully, more relaxed red tape.
Is this a model we intend to build on? Almost certainly, yes. Feedback from our Haus60 customers is very positive. So now we’re in the process of adapting the model from a two bedroom three person home to a two bedroom four person home. A design flexible enough to accommodate changing market needs was another prerequisite for us and we haven’t been disappointed.
Would we recommend it to other housing associations? Again, yes. In fact, an OJEU compliant framework is being prepared with Ark Consultants.
As handovers continue, we’re looking to future developments and how we can evolve our new build supply, control costs and exceed targets. Partnering for results is an important part of the Torus ethos and something we’re keen to do more of, not just in development but in every area of our business.
Our Haus60 collaboration has been a valuable exercise. It met our aim to reduce build costs and increased our appetite to embrace new opportunities. It’s early days, but in many ways it already feels like Torus is building something very special for the future.