We have at long last officially received planning consent for the Transition Homes scheme at Clay Park, Dartington. Some of you may be under the impression we already had it – but although we knew it had been approved by South Hams Council in February, it has taken this long to sort out the planning conditions and get all the paperwork signed off. It's a huge relief and many thanks to everyone who played a part in getting us to this stage, including the nearly 100 people who wrote letters of support for our planning application.
What's being built?
As a reminder, the consent is to build 27 houses to a very high eco standard with low running costs, using local natural materials (straw and wood) as far as possible, and providing some much needed good quality affordable housing for local people. The houses will be a much better standard than most, on a site which is quite challenging to access and service, so it is going to cost a bit more than average to build. So 8 of the houses will be sold on the open market to help cross subsidise the others, which will be a mixture of social rented and shared ownership. To reduce water consumption, all the houses will have compost loos and we'll produce our own electricity on site from the solar PV arrays. Also to save water and energy, there will be a shared laundry so people do not need their own washing machines.
Not just houses...
Living a decent life is not just about a warm comfortable house, it is also about feeling part of the place and sharing activities with neighbours. Inspired by co-housing 'common houses' Clay Park will also have a community hub – a space for meetings, parties and so on with a kitchen, office and loos. The development will occupy about two thirds of the seven acre field with the rest used for an orchard, wild flower meadow and vegetable growing. With a grant from the Postcode Lottery Trust we have already started work on improving the hedges and the biodiversity of the site.
We haven't been twiddling our thumbs waiting for the planning consent! We have been working closely with our architect Barry Jobson, project manager Oliver Del Mar and other consultants (lots of engineers!) to sort out all the fine details.
- choosing the best and most affordable foundations given we are not using concrete which releases a huge amount of carbon dioxide in manufacture
- detailing the timber frame design
- tweaking the house design to provide the best layouts
- choosing an efficient heating and ventilation system, given that the houses won't actually need much heating
- agreeing the road layout and materials used for the adopted and unadopted roads with DCC (a condition of the planning application)
- balancing the street lighting requirements of the bats foraging along the hedges with the highways department requirements (we think the bats will win)
- the detailed design for the community building having consulted on what potential users would like
What about paying for it all?
South Hams District Council have contributed £190,000 towards the costs which we are spending on the detailed design work and extra surveys before we start building (unexploded ordinance anyone?).
The Big Potential, a grant pot that is part of the National Lottery, has funded consultants from Triodos Corporate Finance to help us raise the funding to build the scheme. We need funding in two stages.
The first is development finance, i.e. a loan to cover all the costs of building the development. At the end of the development we will be able to pay back a lot of that from the sales of the open market houses and the equity we sell in the shared ownership houses.
The second stage of finance is to cover the gap between costs and sales. This will be converted into a long term loan that we will pay back from the rents that we collect. Obviously we are committed to keeping the rents as affordable as we can so the amount of long term loan we can service is limited. At the moment we have a gap between the total likely cost and what we can afford to pay back from sales and long term loan. Hence we are busy applying for grants from the Homes & Communities Agency and eyeing up the new fund the government has announced for community led housing. Demand for these pots of money always far exceeds supply so we have to keep our fingers firmly crossed.
When will the building start?
We need to have raised all the finance, met the (pre-commencement) planning conditions and selected the builders before we can actually start. The first step will be to create a new access to the site onto the main road. While we are doing that one lane of the main road will have to be closed – and that cannot happen during the summer holidays. We now know it's unlikely we can do everything we need to in time to have completed the access before June – so all being well – we will start in September. We have not selected the builders yet but we're starting to talk to local firms who are excited by the prospect of a different style of build, and with the capacity to take on what is quite a big scheme.
Have a very happy festive season and we are all looking forward to making real progress in 2018!