November 18, 2018

Angus Housing Association – Getting back to development

It’s testament to Angus Housing Association’s commitment to creating new homes that it has progressed from carrying out virtually no housing development just a few years ago to a point where it now has several ongoing schemes involving a number of units.

To help the process the organisation has teamed up with a number of leading housing developers to ensure that the quality of the properties is of the required standard. As a consequence, Angus HA has a 71-house scheme taking shape with Persimmon Homes in Arbroath and is also developing 35 houses with Taylor Wimpey and 30 units with Cruden Hart, along with a few smaller developments including two sites with local builders, Guild Homes, ten houses with Inveraldie Properties, and six houses in Carnoustie with DJ Laing. In addition to these schemes that are currently onsite, a number of others are on the drawing board.

“The 71-house Persimmon Homes development has been ongoing for a year and there will be a few handovers between now and Christmas,” explains Ron McArthur, Asset Manager. “We are doing a joint venture with Cairn Housing Association, who will receive 36 of the 71 houses, with ourselves managing the remaining 35. The 35 houses with Taylor Wimpey have only been onsite for a month, while the 30 units with Cruden Hart have been onsite for about four months.

“The development of the ten houses with Inveraldie and the two sites with Guild Homes, meanwhile, have only just started. These sites are Section 75 agreements, whereby the developer owns the land and has a planning obligation to provide a certain percentage of affordable homes. The housing developers therefore usually approach us and we will agree to do a percentage that is affordable, after which they will build out that percentage on our behalf. This is an arrangement that is working very well for us, particularly as we have been able to establish such good relationships with local developers.

“It is a requirement of the planning permission process that the developer provides affordable housing in some shape or form. As the developers are geared towards selling it does not play to their strengths or their business plan to carry out affordable housing, which is why they approach us. They build out that percentage of housing as affordable for us and we buy it out. The percentage in this area is 25 per cent, so a quarter of the development is affordable. We have strong relationships with all local developers, while we are also working well with the national operators, such as Taylor Wimpey, Cruden Hart and Persimmon Homes.”

Having ramped up development so successfully in recent years, what has been the key to the rate of progress that Angus HA has helped to generate? “Four or five years ago there was literally no development is this area or elsewhere in Scotland and the pick up within the market has been driven partly by the increasing subsidy level provided by the Scottish Government, which has encouraged many RSLs and Local Authorities to take on a development programme,” outlines Mr McArthur. “Many private developments were put on the shelf so it’s great that local authorities and housing associations have been able to step up instead.”

From its own point of view, in order to better manage the growing demands that its new housing development strategy has placed on Angus HA, the organisation has bolstered its internal team, as Mr McArthur points out: “Four years ago there was only one person within the organisation that had the responsibility for looking after new developments, and that was myself. We now have two clerk of works, a dedicated development officer, and are continuing to build up the team to support the increasing level of activity that we’re seeing. This is encouraging, although bringing through staff with the relevant qualifications and experience is proving challenging because there was a period when developments simply weren’t taking place to allow people to learn the necessary skills.

“From our perspective we have a very positive relationship with the local councils, particularly Angus Council. We now share experience with local authorities, which wasn’t the case a few years ago, and this is making things so much easier as the barriers to achieving successful development schemes are removed.”

Whilst Angus HA is making excellent inroads into adding to its housing portfolio, it hasn’t been neglecting its existing properties either, as it continues to operate a proactive maintenance programme. “We have a very healthy improvement programme over the next few years supported by relationships with 60 or 70 small contractors that we utilise for daily repairs. All housing associations and local authorities in this area have an eye on 2020 as we all have higher energy efficiency standards to achieve by March of that year. This will involve challenges with some elements of our housing stock so we are exploring different solutions to ensure that we meet the benchmark laid down by the Scottish Government.”

With the ongoing general maintenance work that is taking place and the improvements that are being made regarding energy efficiency, in addition to its new housing development programme it is clear that Angus HA has plenty to keep it occupied in the months ahead. “We are fully committed to fulfilling all of our requirements as an organisation, both in terms of our existing housing as well as developing new homes,” says Mr McArthur. “It’s just as important, however, that as well as getting the numbers up we also ensure that the new homes are of the necessary quality. We are certainly not a housing association that is prepared to just take whatever a developer or contractor gives us; instead we are very proactive in making sure that each property is of a very high standard before handover. We have the best part of 100 houses due for completion in the next 12 months, while we also have a number of other sites that we’re keen to get proposals for in the longer term.”

Thanks to the hard work of Ron McArthur and the rest of the team at Angus HA, the organisation looks well set to play an important role in helping the Scottish Government achieve its target of developing 35,000 affordable homes by 2020. Hopefully other housing associations will follow its example.