11 September 2020

On 16 October 2019, Sutton Housing Society submitted five planning applications to the London Borough of Sutton for 79 additional one bedroom self-contained flats, to our schemes. Whilst the initial phase of applications may appear small to some, this equates to 16% of our overall estate, which for a small organisation is quite a large number!

In April/May 2020, these were all approved (under delegated powers) and we achieved permissions for 71 new homes.

The new developments unlock the potential in our untouched rooftop locations to provide new affordable housing for the over 55s. We focussed on optimising density, whilst seeking to improve the quality of our existing accommodation. Typically, we’re increasing the density by around 50% and on one site, the density increase is an impressive 68%.

‘Airspace’ or rooftop development is not new, but we believe our approach is a little different. Our strategy was to assess the potential of the entire estate, which has allowed us to be more ambitious. By grouping the phase 1 sites together, our approach has realised many benefits including:

  • Securing a greater profile and influence, which would not have been possible if we were working on a single site at a time.
  • Whilst an often-misused term, the approach genuinely benefited from real economies of scale.
  • Allowing us to create a development pipeline to ensure there is a seamless programme, where the projects will run consecutively, one after the other, learning lessons from each.
  • We will be able to accelerate and/ or slow down our programme to suit the market.
  • Undertaking informal and formal resident consultations concurrently.
  • Meeting with all local councillors as a collective group to discuss our schemes and approach.
  • A collective approach to the pre-app meetings, which enabled us to agree principles across all sites, minimising the need for separate meetings.
  • Signalling to existing residents that ‘we believe in their scheme’, with planned reinvestment in their homes to be undertaken in tandem with development plans.
  • Ensuring asset management investment decisions are not made in isolation and can be used for the benefit (through internal subsidy) of the proposed scheme e.g. imminent flat roof renewal costs.

We are considering our second phase, again in tandem with our asset management data, to ensure that we maximise our investment decisions. Initial feasibilities have been completed.

When constructing more than one additional floor, external envelopes are being added, not only allowing us to improve the façade but also ‘lift’ the scheme by improving the fabric and efficiency of the building, and its overall appearance. Additionally, larger communal lounges are being built anew to suit the increased number of residents, as well as creating a larger footprint to enable us to construct new flats above. Our designs have, wherever possible, adopted the 10 HAPPI (Housing our Ageing Population Panel for Innovation) principles.

The minimum Greater London Authority (GLA) grant is a known factor, which together with indicative assumptions around cost has given us confidence that the plans are certainly viable. It was on this basis the decision was made to minimise delay and take a risk-based approach to planning.

Importantly, the GLA recognise the contribution that London’s smaller housing associations can play in building new homes and have been hugely supportive of our plans and we were pleased to become an investment partner in 2019. Grant funding for our first scheme has been secured and this will be on site in the new year. Each scheme will run consecutively from one another. We are using some elements of off site construction primarily to minimise the impact to residents – the projects will be delivered through a traditional route to ensure control is maintained over quality.

Robin Roberts

Robin is Chief Executive of Sutton Housing Trust

Robin Roberts is chief executive of Sutton Housing Society, who specialise in providing homes for older people (over 55s). Robin has nearly 20 years affordable housing experience and before joining Sutton Housing Society in 2018, he was a property director.

Robin is a chartered architect and chartered surveyor, whilst being the only individual to be simultaneously recognised as a fellow of both institutions, holding FRIBA and FRICS. When launched in 2016, he became one of only 30 RIBA members internationally (and only 1 of 14 from the UK) to receive the new fellowship award for "exemplary and current work contributing to housing and to innovation in the use of energy in housing".

He created multi-award-winning Relish initiative, which was selected as 1 of 100 exemplary projects launched to world leaders at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20 (earth summit 2012). He has also received several other sustainability and construction related awards.

Robin is an RIBA fellowship assessor and RICS assessor.

Thinking big: an innovative approach to delivering new homes