Insurmountable pressure is put on local authorities to find solutions to social, economic and environmental issues – which they cannot achieve without support and collaboration from central government and the private sector.
There can be few challenges greater than that of addressing the UK’s current housing shortage – increasing the supply of high quality mixed tenure homes, whilst also being mindful of ever-reducing budgets, net zero carbon ambitions, and mounting pressure to build on wasteland instead of green belt, made all the more difficult by the many complexities brownfield sites often bring.
When faced with the task of unlocking a complex site, a partnership approach can often prove to be the key local authorities need to transform derelict land into neighbourhoods that people are proud to call home.
This was certainly the case for our longstanding partner Rotherham Council in its quest to regenerate three brownfield sites in Thrybergh, a former coal mining village on the outskirts of the town.
The land at Whinney Hill had been cleared of old back-to-back terraced housing in the 90s, with Chesterhill Avenue remaining derelict since 2008, when around 140 unsustainable council homes were demolished to make way for new housing, as part of a wider transformation of the area.
The previous year, Chesterhill Avenue had been identified as the most vulnerable community in Rotherham. The council implemented a year-long multi-agency intensive neighbourhood management pilot project, with the ground-breaking initiative resulting in successes including a 50% reduction in recorded crime and a 70% decrease in anti-social behaviour.
However, the missing piece of the area’s regeneration jigsaw remained the redevelopment of the now-demolished sites.
Discussions with several developers failed to come to fruition, resulting in the land standing empty for more than a decade.
ENGIE’s business model is centred on partnerships and we knew – given the complexities around this particular site – that if we were to successfully regenerate this land and invest in the local community, we had to bring a range of partners on board. We looked at demand for housing in the area and assessed exactly what was needed – and it wasn’t homes for open market sale.
Our creative solution centred on a mixed tenure proposition, which comprises 84 affordable rent homes on behalf of Great Places Housing Group, 73 new homes for Sanctuary Homes (62 for affordable rent and 11 shared ownership) and 80 homes for market rent through Wise Living. All 237 homes will be energy efficient and the scheme has been awarded a grant from Homes England, the Government’s housing agency, to support in the delivery.
Following a competitive process in 2019, ENGIE was selected as preferred bidder, with the Council enthusiastically opting for the partnership’s approach to providing a much-needed range of options for local people – as well as a shorter build period – over other private sale options.
The scheme also resulted in a land receipt for Rotherham Council, as well as contributions to local sporting facilities via a Section 111 agreement. Local support for the Thrybergh regeneration is also significant.
This – for us – is true regeneration, made possible by the power of partnerships. A derelict and run-down area will now be brought back to life; offering warm, low carbon and affordable housing. This, in turn, will provide a new community which will support in boosting the local economy.
We are wholly confident of the success of this scheme, because every partner on board – together with the local community – has a shared ambition.
The challenges ahead for local authorities are vast. But what the Thrybergh story exhibits is that collaboration and creativity will be fundamental; and ultimately – these ambitions are achievable.
Rotherham Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing, Councillor Dominic Beck, said: ‘I’m delighted that the Whinney Hill and Chesterhill Avenue sites will be developed to create much-needed homes in the borough. This development demonstrates what can be achieved through partnership working and I’d like to thank ENGIE for their investment in our community. This project marks a significant milestone in Rotherham’s 30-year housing strategy – providing high quality and energy-efficient homes for local people.’
Jake Fellows is Major Projects Director for ENGIE UK