New housing stock is at the centre of plans to regenerate parts of the Birmingham and the wider West Midlands region.
In Birmingham alone, the city's population is projected to grow by 156,000 by 2031 and Birmingham City Council has a target to deliver around 51,000 housing units inside the city boundary within that timeframe, 35% of which must be social and affordable.
The West Midlands Combined Authority (WCMA) meanwhile has said it needs to build 215,000 new homes by 2031 to keep pace with a growing economy and population.
While local authorities are under pressure to meet urgent housing needs, lessons from previous housing developments have reinforced the importance of creating places, rather than just building houses.
Proposed schemes are therefore being judged on their capacity to foster sustainable, culturally diverse communities in flourishing safe neighbourhoods.
Some of the notable regenerative residential developments underway in Birmingham include:
- The Perry Barr residential scheme in the north of the city, set to deliver more than 1,400 homes as part of the 2022 Commonwealth Games regeneration project (although the athletes' village has had to be scrapped due to Covid-19 delays);
- The Port Loop regeneration project in the west of Birmingham, a 43-acre waterside neighbourhood including more than 1,000 homes;
- The Birmingham Smithfield regeneration of a 42-acre inner city site, including 2,000 new homes and public space; and
- The Solo Wharf development of more than 750 homes as part of the newly designated 'Canal Quarter' in northwest Birmingham.
Many areas have suffered from the decline of local manufacturing and industrial activity, causing social and economic deprivation and the deterioration of housing, creating a case for regeneration with clear affordability requirements.
A desire to preserve local character and heritage also means that developers do not start with a blank slate, and are encouraged to engage local expertise to help sensitively reshape existing communities.
On the other hand, many features of Birmingham's ex-industrial landscape, including its network of Canal Navigations, wharves and historic factory, mill and warehouse buildings, provide a captivating backdrop for desirable urban development.
Quality through transformation
Delivering affordability is a challenge for developers as minimum quality standards and construction costs continue to rise faster than incomes.
Historically, the attractiveness of cities to developers has been partly linked to how firm local authorities have been about meeting their affordable housing obligations, but this requirement is now largely non-negotiable.
With economic prosperity in the West Midlands expected to rise due to a combination of political and societal factors, developers must be mindful of their obligation not to increase inequality through housing provision.
Residential schemes also need to include supporting infrastructure and services, requiring more joined-up thinking than may have previously been factored into some development proposals – particularly in the context of sustainability objectives involving low- or no-carbon forms of travel.
Sustainability is therefore a design challenge – one often involving higher upfront costs that need to be absorbed to reap longer-term cost benefits in terms of efficiency and maintenance, particularly in the construction of buildings.
The government's Future Homes Standard consultation, published on 1 October 2020, intends to collate feedback on its headline goal to reduce the carbon intensity of new builds by 75% by 2025 (through measures such as triple glazing, low-carbon heating systems, onsite renewable generation and energy-efficient building fabrics).
Supplementing this, five Building Regulations relating to Part L and Part F (covering energy efficiency and ventilation) and overheating regulations are due to come into force before the end of 2020.
Such necessary improvements to the sustainability of residential buildings potentially add tens of thousands of pounds to the cost of constructing individual homes.
In Birmingham, developers face additional challenges in that the majority of sites earmarked for development are brownfield and many of these are former industrial sites that require decontamination.
It is however generally agreed that developers start from a position that all homes are good quality (something which is now being formally monitored by the new Homes Quality Board launched in May) and sustainable, and make every effort to ensure these are affordable.
This article was written by Sue Simpson, real estate partner; Helen Andrews, construction partner; and Dinah Patel, planning director at Fieldfisher Birmingham.
For more information on development and regeneration, please see our previous articles:
Developing the West Midlands' future
When is building on the green belt the most sustainable option?
UK government pledges to protect 30% of UK land for biodiversity boost
Affordable housing prospectus published
Out with the old buildings: In with the new houses?
Major changes afoot for UK high street use classes
New Homes Ombudsman promises closer scrutiny of UK housebuilding sector
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