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Holistic approach to housebuilding


You can build new homes at pace with the right plan in place, says Claire Higgins of Cross Keys Homes

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When we celebrated our 10th anniversary in 2014, we did so with a change of direction. We launched a new identity and vision, but most importantly, a renewed commitment to providing even more affordable homes.

Cross Keys Homes (CKH) was already a developing housing association. We built 1,000 homes in our first 10 years. However, the housing crisis was deepening, the council waiting list was growing, and homeownership was becoming an ever more distant dream for more and more people, so we made the decision to refresh our development strategy. This strategy is in essence a simple one – build more houses. Four hundred houses per year. Obviously, these things are never that straightforward and so began the process of building and investing in a highly skilled development team that could bring the strategy to life.

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Need for speed when building new homesNeed for speed when building new homes

The other obvious issue around a development strategy of this magnitude is how to fund it. And so in 2014 we issued what we believe to be the sector’s first environmental, social and governance (ESG) accredited bond. The bond raised £150m (with £45m retained until 2016) and gave us the finances we needed to begin building on an unprecedented scale.

CKH has always been based in Peterborough and the vast majority of our previous development had been within the city. However, in order to deliver on our commitment to build the homes the region needs, we needed to move further afield. We are now developing right across the Eastern region and Home Counties. We have 1,806 homes under construction at this very moment, and a further 2,200 in the pipeline – a real upscale of our previous approach.

Large-scale developments are currently taking shape in Milton Keynes (362 homes) and Godmanchester (264 homes), while smaller-scale developments are happening in places across the region, including Bedford, Cambridge, St Ives and Northamptonshire. From being Peterborough-centric in 2014, we are now operating across 13 local authority areas.

Maximising quality

However, we have not neglected our home city and currently have 185 homes under construction within the city alone. In Peterborough we have taken an innovative approach to our development, to provide more affordable homes in popular areas in which development land is scarce. In 2010 we took advantage of a downturn in rental income and interest in some of our garage sites and redeveloped them into affordable housing. In consultation with residents we were able to redevelop 27 garage sites to provide 82 new homes, in popular estates and villages, which would have been impossible to build without this innovative approach to problem solving.

“We have a very real responsibility to the tenants we already house and support.”

We continue to ensure we are providing safe, good quality homes for people across the whole spectrum. In 2014 we built our first scheme, Kingfisher Court, to build on our experience providing sheltered accommodation, telecare and community care to older residents. The scheme has been a massive success, transforming the lives of the tenants, enabling them to live independently, in their own apartment, and with the security and support that living in an extra care community brings. Fully equipped with state-of-the-art telecare, and with care provided by our own care service, Cross Keys Care, Kingfisher Court has gone on to win national awards.

Now we are working with a national developer to build a second extra care scheme. Despite the pressures and uncertainty facing supported housing, we decided to press on with the scheme, recognising that the need for supported housing for older people was acute in the city. The business model for the scheme has evolved somewhat, with more self-funders being targeted, but the same high quality care and sense of community will be paramount regardless.

Partnership working has always been a cornerstone of our work and we have always worked hard to select the very best developers and architects to deliver our building projects. These great relationships are now moving on to a new level as we embark on joint ventures in a dynamic new approach to our development programme.

The first joint venture was initiated when another national developer approached us to build 1,600 market sale homes. The joint venture enables us to access a land bank of 17 sites currently owned by the developer, to build homes – our profit from this will be re-invested into affordable homes. Diversifying away from the core provision of social housing is always a risk, but by working in partnership with the developer, we are able to share the risks and rewards.

Our second joint venture is with Peterborough City Council and is being created with the specific purpose of delivering affordable housing, generating profit for both businesses. The venture will enable CKH and Peterborough City Council to share resources, expertise and access to land for the benefit of the whole city. One of the first developments will see not only housing, but also the provision of a school for children with special educational needs, to replace one whose building and location are no longer fit for purpose, along with a community hydro-therapy pool. For the main housing development in the joint venture, we will be looking at using offsite manufactured modular construction, to speed up delivery, reduce costs and deliver highly energy-efficient affordable housing.

Evolution, not revolution

While I want CKH to do all we can to build houses and solve the housing crisis, we have to remember that we are first and foremost a social landlord, and we are conscious not to lose sight of that. We have a very real responsibility to the tenants we already house and support. Therefore, I like to describe our approach to our growth, innovation and diversification as ‘evolution, not revolution’. It is an approach that is determined to make a difference and grow, but not in a way that takes unnecessary risk.

We must not do anything to jeopardise the security of the almost 12,000 families we already house. This means we task ourselves to look for more innovative solutions, such as the joint ventures that enable us to share the risks and the rewards, as well as combine and maximise resources, expertise and experience in our respective fields.

The future for CKH is incredibly exciting. Standard & Poor’s recently reaffirmed our credit rating as A+ and stable, which illustrates that we are striking the right balance between growth and expansion and managing risk. While nothing is certain in the world today, I am sure of one thing – CKH will continue to deliver more great homes and services to the people who need them most, while always looking to the most innovative, creative and efficient ways to do so.

Claire Higgins, chief executive, Cross Keys Homes


This article was written independently and was commissioned as part of a package sponsored by H+H

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