The demand for affordable homes has led a Gloucestershire housing association to extend its traditional boundaries to help people living in one of the most expensive parts of the country. LABM finds out more.
Two Rivers Housing has previously focused its efforts on the Forest of Dean in the west of the county, but now it has started building in the east, helping to make low-cost homes more accessible to people living in higher-priced areas such as the Cotswolds.
Two Rivers currently has 13 schemes at various stages of progression, two of which are in the Cotswolds. The remainder are in the Forest of Dean, Stroud, Gloucester and Tewkesbury areas. This two-year construction programme of nearly 300 properties represents an investment by the Newent-based social housing provider of more than £30m, and is part of its on-going commitment to build at least 100 new affordable homes every year, for the next decade.
Schemes range from a seven-unit site at Stonehouse near Stroud, to 104 units phased over three years in Tewkesbury, another new location for Two Rivers Housing that sits comfortably within the M5 development corridor.
The majority of projects, however, offer between 10 and 20 new homes and most of them have a mixture of affordable rent and Shared Ownership, capped at the Local Housing Allowance. Some schemes are Section 106 or developer/house-builder-led, and Two Rivers works closely with them all to make sure the affordable properties appropriately meet the needs of its customers.
Housing affordability challenge
The average cost of buying a home in Gloucestershire is approximately £280,000, soaring to almost £400,000 in the Cotswolds. Wages are below the national average, unemployment is high, there is a shortage of lower-priced properties and, when coupled with increasing food and energy prices, it’s not surprising many people struggle to buy their own home.
The county also has a large number of properties kept as second homes, standing empty for many months each year, when people are desperate for somewhere to live. In 2016, research commissioned by Gloucestershire Homes and Communities Partnership2 showed the county needs an extra 50,000 homes by 2030 to meet demand, making it clear that housing associations and local authorities must work together to fill that gap.
After being approached by several potential partners, Two Rivers Housing decided to make the natural move into new areas of Gloucestershire, and play its part in achieving this target.
“There is a desperate need for affordable homes right across Gloucestershire, and we are working with local councils and developers to build homes in areas where that need is greatest,” explains Angharad Hodge, Development Team Leader at Two Rivers Housing.
“Many of the schemes have homes for low-cost rent sitting alongside properties offered for Shared Ownership, giving people a choice of how they can and want to live. It is exciting for us to be working with new partners to deliver these much-needed homes and to play our part in helping many communities to thrive.”
Respected rural housing provider
With 4,000 properties to manage, Two Rivers may be a relatively small housing association in these days of mergers, but it is a well-established and respected rural housing provider with a 15-year portfolio of successful building projects under its belt, and strong connections with local councils, agencies, developers and suppliers.
Early discussion with parish and district councils has paid dividends in terms of achieving co-operation and engagement, making sure schemes accurately address local needs. For example, councillors in the rural parish of Churcham were keen to be involved with the project to build their first new homes for more than 50 years, and even designed certain elements of the seven homes, while close liaison with Stroud District Council helped to achieve strong support from officials and councillors for a scheme in Stonehouse.
A development delivered in partnership with Forest of Dean District Council turned the site of a redundant abattoir into vital housing for Cinderford, and this particular scheme recently scooped an award from the Campaign to Protect Rural England for ‘its outstanding contribution to the environment and local communities’.
Similarly, a current development in Wotton-under-Edge will transform disused land on a former pub site, and offer 10 two and three-bedroom homes in this attractive and popular town on the edge of the Cotswolds.
Keeping communities alive
Regeneration also comes in the form of building homes to help keep whole communities alive and prosperous. Attracting young and old, single people and families supports local amenities, such as schools, shops and businesses, and many of the schemes are ring-fenced for people with existing connections to the area, which keeps families together, friendships strong and people in employment.
Two Rivers is currently building properties across rural areas of vastly differing characters, from the small harbour town of Lydney on the banks of the River Severn to the historic Abbey community of Tewkesbury and the Cotswold town of Tetbury. Each has its own style and personality, which is reflected in the design and scheme layout.
1Home Truths 2017/18, published by the National Housing Federation March 2018.
2Strategic Research Project for Gloucestershire Homes and Communities Partnership, August 2016.