Scale: reversing the benefits of large

Sutton Housing Society is a (very) small, independent registered provider (RP) that owns and manages 485 socially rented homes within the London Borough of Sutton (for reference the largest RP is Clarion with 130,000 homes).
Taking an innovative and unique approach, we are using our ‘scale’ (in a different way) to create a sustainable development pipeline. We achieved this by creating at risk, a pipeline of opportunities that enables us to develop the equivalent of 16% of our housing stock. This is an exemplary example of how a small RP can innovate and make a difference. Without an in-house development team and / or development staff, we led on and submitted five major planning applications for 79 homes (16% of our stock) all on the same day! If Clarion did the same, it would be the equivalent of 21,000 homes!

Our approach was to group five initial sites together, realising the following benefits:
• Securing a greater profile and influence, which would not be achieved if we worked on a single site at a time (especially in London)
• Genuine economies of scale; consultants ‘offering’ discounts if all appointments were made at once
• Creating a pipeline to ensure there is a seamless programme; projects can run consecutively, learning lessons from each
• We can accelerate / slow down our programme to suit the market or funding opportunities
• Undertaking informal and formal consultations concurrently
• A collective approach to planning pre-app meetings; agreeing principles across all sites
• Submitting planning applications on the same day, demonstrating our statement of intent
• Signalling to existing residents that ‘we believe in their scheme’, with planned reinvestment in their homes alongside development plans
• Creating opportunities to update and modernise 50-year old blocks. Where we are building more than one floor, external envelopes will be added, improving the façade, ‘lifting’ the scheme and improving the fabric of the building
• The designs have wherever possible, adopted the 10 HAPPI (Housing our Ageing Population Panel for Innovation) principles.

Did it work – yes; all five sites will be approved under delegated powers (in March 2020).

We achieved this by unlocking potential in the airspace development of our existing sites. We optimised density, while improving the quality of accommodation; achieving an average increase in units of 50% for each location.
Our approach is strategic and inclusive; the work undertaken was an inclusive project, ensuring all staff were involved and communicated with every step of the way.

Supporting the above, as a client, we work with our supply chain in a collaborative way: we let all new contracts without retentions, we omit damages and invoices are paid quickly. This approach sets us apart from other organisations and ensures we secure quality outcomes – we wish to recognise and reward quality.
We successfully gained partnership status with the Greater London Assembly; enabling access to the Mayor’s affordable housing programme.
Working with local architects that have not been previously involved in social housing has been a positive experience; they are creating innovative design with fresh eyes, whilst learning about government expectations for social housing.

Key achievements

  • Five major planning applications submitted on the same day (equivalent to 16% of our stock)
  • Using our (lack) of ‘scale’ to our advantage
  • Maximising our airspace developments, working in tandem with our long-term investment decision making