Two years on and the housing association has found that one of the key benefits of the partnership is the certainty it provides, enabling them to make forward commitments and secure opportunities that would not have been possible without the partnership model.
Having the certainty of grant levels and allocations has allowed Sovereign to focus on longer term opportunities with the knowledge that grant is available, so schemes are able to progress at pace, without the need for individual bids and funding decisions.
They’ve moved towards a more land-led approach and invested in creating a team to deliver this strategy. Access to a secured grant at a fixed rate over several years has also enabled them to look at larger sites, increasing their competitiveness on the open market.
Sovereign is committed to building better homes and better places, where people want to live. Their ambition is to increase delivery to about 1,900 homes per year and believe their position as a strategic partner is helping to achieve that goal.
Owen Thornton, development manager for the Bristol area, points to the organisation’s Harry Stoke development at Stoke Gifford in north Bristol as a great example. The development is delivering a new neighbourhood to meet the demand of local people in a desirable location; once the development is completed there will be close to 1,000 new homes, a new community centre, a nursery, local shops and a new school.
“Our strategic partnership with Homes England helped make this happen,” says Owen. “Sovereign entered into a joint venture with Crest Nicholson to develop the site. Part of the deal involves acquiring 244 Section 106 affordable homes, which will be a mix of social rent and shared ownership.
“Drawing on £4m of the Homes England grant funding we’re acquiring an additional 91 affordable homes with the option to acquire further homes on later phases. The rest of the homes in this large mixed-tenure development will be for open market sale.
“Our strategic partnership with Homes England gives us the certainty that we will have the grant we need to deliver the additional affordable homes which will be delivered over a number of phases. This is a real advantage. It means we can build more affordable homes in the places where people want live and for the people who need them.”
The joint venture investment secures a large number of affordable homes in Sovereign’s core area of Bristol.
Owen adds: “The joint venture and the Homes England funding mean we can have influence on delivery to implement our place making and community development objectives.”
The first affordable homes will be ready for people to move into in May 2021, with the development due for completion by 2025.
Another example is Sovereign’s Crown Yard site in Thatcham, West Berkshire, where construction work has recently started. The development will bring 33 much needed homes to the area.
Charlie Stevens, Development Manager for the East region says: “If Sovereign were not part of the Homes England strategic partnership programme, these homes would never have been built. Not by Sovereign. It’s as simple as that, without the grant funding we would not have been able to do the deal.”
“The original owner had secured outline planning permission in 2017 to build 33 homes. But these were all open market sale – there was no affordable provision. Sometime later the land came up on the open market and we wanted to buy it and try for planning permission so that we could provide the affordable homes people in Thatcham really need”.
Sovereign then secured their own Reserved Matters planning for the site with West Berkshire Council and building contractors started work in October 2020.
“Being a strategic partner provides us with a confidence and a security to bid for land deals like this,” says Charlie. “We know that we have the funds to secure the land and develop it in the lifetime of the partnership. The seller also knows that our grant funds are secured, and it removes some of the risk from the acquisition. It brings peace of mind.”
The development consists of 33 homes, 18 of which are shared ownership and 15 affordable rent. They are a mix of two, three and four-bedroom houses and one and two bed flats. In keeping with Sovereign’s ambition to deliver homes that are fit for today and tomorrow, each of the homes will have gardens and open space for the apartments.
Says Charlie: “This is a land-led deal, which is the way we want to develop. For us at Sovereign it’s an example of the real benefits of the strategic partnership with Homes England.”