KEY LEARNING POINTS
- In urban locations compact plots (6m x 15m) mean the cost of the land for each home is more affordable, so a typical plot here costs around £70,000
- By pedestrianising the streets in front of the homes attractive public spaces are created that effectively compensate for the lack of individual gardens to the properties
- Keeping the cars away from the front of the homes, and hiding them in a shared garage, results in a very safe and attractive streetscape
- All 18 neighbours in each block worked collectively to commission the construction of the shared garage and the basic structural shell for each home, so significant cost savings were generated
Around 700 homes have been built on a redundant central site in the heart of Leiden, in the Netherlands. The compact plots, and the collective construction of the basic structural shells, means that the cost of a 150 sq m home (including the plot and two shared garage spaces) was around £220,000 each.
The innovative layout hides all the parking and creates car free streets that also function as shared garden space.
The approach used here delivered the homes quickly (typically two years from start to finish for the purchasers), and generated a good return for the special ‘public private partnership’ that was set up to manage the project.
The project is located about 500m north of the centre of Leiden, Holland’s fifth largest city. It has a population of around 120,000, and is located 25 miles south of Amsterdam.
Around 700 homes have been built on a redundant central site in the heart of Leiden, in the Netherlands. The project was delivered by a successful partnership between the city council and a housing association. The new homes were built quickly and generated a good return for the partnership
Public Sector and Housing Provider
Individual and Collective
Terraced and Apartments
Total Floor Area
The development was mainly built on the site of a redundant abattoir (the land to the west, in the plan above). Some additional land was available (the portion to the east) which was owned by Portaal, a large Dutch housing association. This was occupied by social housing that was in poor condition. Collectively this created a site of around 15 hectares.
NUMBER AND TYPE OF HOMES
Just over 700 homes have been delivered on the site – 350 as apartments, and 360 as terraced houses. This case study focuses mainly on the terraced homes. Around 200 of these were built by individuals (who worked together to help keep costs down), and 157 were delivered by a housing association.
The 350 apartments were mainly built by a housing association, though two blocks were also organised by individuals working as an informal group.
The homes range in size from compact studio apartments to spacious four storey terraced properties of around 250 sq m. In one of the collectively built apartment blocks one or two of the apartments are even bigger.
The city municipality and the housing association set up a new ‘public private partnership’ organisation (Nieuw Leyden CV) to plan and manage the delivery of the entire project.
The two equal shareholders forged a cooperation agreement, which recorded all the substantive and procedural rules. This set out the proposed construction programme and the financial returns and housing targets the parties expected.
Nieuw Leyden CV then set up Nieuw Leyden BV (a small results-oriented delivery unit that could operate independently of the municipality and the housing association, but within the framework of the cooperation agreement), and the two partners gave the unit a reasonably free hand to make most of the key day to day decisions. It took a year to get the structure agreed and the new unit established. Provided the Nieuw Leyden BV team operated ‘within’ the agreement it could make its own decisions, and it only had to consult its two shareholders if something outside the agreement needed their sign off.
Nieuw Leyden BV’s brief was to deliver an appropriate mix of social and private housing on the site. Both the partners required a financial return (though they were not aiming for a big profit), and this led to a reasonably high-density development. Both partners had a desire for the residents to have a big say in the design of their own homes and the public spaces. And they also wanted as much traffic as possible kept out of the streets.
The delivery unit hired a small team (two full time people, plus a handful of other part time or freelancers) to plan and manage the overall project.
In 2004 the master plan for the area was agreed and demolition and site remediation work began. An information centre was set up in 2005 and marketing then began.
The entire development took eight years to complete, and was built out in phases as the plots were sold. It was officially completed in 2014.
Information centre set up and marketing begins
Development is officially complete
WHAT’S CLEVER ABOUT THE CONCEPT?
The overall master plan split the site into a series of terraced streets. These consist of a row of nine homes, arranged North/South and back to back with another nine properties. The ‘fronts’ of both terraces face onto a traffic free street. At ground level, between the two rows, there is a shared garage, with access for vehicles from the ends – off one of the East/West streets.
Each plot is therefore quite small – 6m wide and 15 m deep – and there are no private gardens.
A simple Design Code was drawn up for the plots, which sets some basic rules – homes could not be more than 11m high, and there had to be a set back at roof level at the front and rear. The homes also had to broadly line up along the street frontages. But beyond this there was lots of freedom – purchasers could design more or less what they liked within the approved envelope, using just about any materials. Typically a three to four storey town house could be provided within the envelope, offering about 250 sq m of usable floor space.
For the purposes of this Toolkit we have made the following definitions:
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A simple Design Code sets out the main limitations on the size of the homes
- ‘self and custom built homes’ as properties commissioned by people from a builder, contractor or package company (this is known as ‘custom build’ housing). When people physically build themselves, sometimes with help from sub-contractors, this is known as ‘self build’ housing. We call all these people ‘private homebuilders’.
- ‘serviced building plots’ are shovel-ready parcels of land with planning permission, laid out and ready for construction with access and utilities/services provided to the plot boundary. Some private homebuilders just purchase a plot; others opt for a ‘shell’ home (that they then finish off), or they select from an extensive menu of options offered by developers/builders.
- ‘group projects’ mean homes built by private homebuilders who work as a collective.
Because the total plot sizes were very compact (90 sq m) the cost was reasonable, even though it was priced at €1,000 per sq m. So a typical plot could be purchased for around £65,000. Then, by facilitating all 18 purchasers in each block to work together to commission a contractor to build the shared garage and the construction of the basic structural shells of all the properties, the purchasers were able to offer a cost effective delivery model. The other benefit of this approach is that it ensured all 18 homes were started (so there are no ‘gaps’), and it gets everyone off to a flying start.
Be clear about the rules and stick to them
It is important to be really clear from the start about the ‘rules’ for private homebuilders (for example the Design Code, and the deadlines that purchasers have to meet), and then to stick to them
The 18 households that buy the properties in the two back-to-back terraces work together to hire one contractor to build the basic structure of their homes and the shared garage between the two terraces. This saves them money and speeds up delivery
Each house has two parking spaces in the shared garage
The plot purchasers have a clear set of deadlines to meet. Within two months of signing up they have to have a preliminary design, and a final design has to be submitted 10 weeks later. All permits and approvals have to be secured so that construction can begin within one year.
The delivery unit helps the 18 owners form an association to procure the shared garage and basic structural shells. The owners usually met weekly to plan this, and they jointly hire the consultants and contractors. This process worked well, as all the owners could see the benefits.
They also met to work out how to resolve any tricky ‘connections’ between the different homes, and to decide how they would landscape/manage the pedestrian street.
However, there were lots of questions from the owners, and much ‘hand-holding’ was needed from the delivery unit in the early stages. On later blocks the process was streamlined by requiring the owners to use only proven/approved contractors and consultants. An in-house technical supervisor was also recruited to handle the many queries that purchasers raised.
Once the common garage and shell structures for their properties had been completed the home owners hired their own small builders to fit out and complete the works. This helped boost economic activity among Leiden’s small builders and local construction consultants. Some of the owners did a little of the finishing off work; but the majority opted for a builder to do everything for them.
Many of the homes were constructed for an all-up budget (including the plot and the garage) of around £220,000 to 250,000. A few of the more elaborate ones had higher budgets.
The delivery team also identified a number of reliable building contractors and proven house designs/architects and offered a ‘self build made simple’ option. Purchasers could choose the design they liked, and the specification, and the team organised construction contracts and provided a guaranteed price.
Some of the plots were also made available for social and market rent via the housing association that originally owned part of the land. Here a fairly standard shell was offered, though the occupants could make the property larger (if they were prepared to pay the additional rent). They were also offered a range of external finishes, and internal layout options.
The tenants of the social housing units could select from a menu of options, that provided different layouts and elevation treatments
Typical streetscape for some of the social housing homes (above, left). The social housing is integrated with private housing (below – social on the right and private homes on the left)
The resulting homes are not as diverse as the private homebuilders’, but the costs were much more tightly constrained. The homes have been interspersed throughout the development – often facing the private homes across the street.
The social rented homes were typically of 115 sq m, and these cost around £90,000 each to build. With the land and garage/parking cost included the total was £140,000. These homes are rented at about £440 per month (approximately £3.60 per sq m per month)
The market rented properties were typically a little larger (125 sq m) and the all-up cost was £205,000, so the monthly rent is around £720 (approximately £5.75 per sq m per month).
The range of innovative designs displayed by the privately built properties is impressive, with every street looking different yet harmonized by the adherence to a design code.
The resulting streetscape
The resulting streetscape
The only place where cars park next to the homes is on the edge of the overall development
Diversity is a good thing
Streets that have a range of individually designed homes generally look more attractive than the developer designed properties. Diversity is a good thing; don’t insist on everyone building homes that look the same
Urban planning is vital
The master plan developed for the whole project played a big part in the initial marketing and the overall look and distinctiveness of the area
A private developer took on one terrace of homes, but the result was disappointing – with very little variety/diversity of design.
Developer built homes on the left; private homebuilders on the right
Private homebuilders have also built two blocks of apartments, as part of the overall development. These followed the same principles with the owners co-operating to get the shell and garage built, and then hiring their own contractors to fit out their individual space within. In these blocks purchasers could (within reason) buy as much, or as little floor space as they required.
Apartment block built by private homebuilders
THE GARAGES AND STREETS
By hiding the cars in a shared garage at the back of the homes the overall development has a very attractive feel to it. Most properties have two parking spaces that they access from the rear of their ground floor.
The cost of the two spaces typically works out at around £14,500 per home.
The garages underneath the homes. The length of each block of homes is determined by the maximum length over which it is possible to naturally ventilate the car park underneath, avoiding costly mechanical ventilation systems
Access to the garages is from one of the East/West roads that run along the end of each terrace
Residents were offered a range of options for the layout of their car free streets, and many were prepared to pay extra to provide additional features
Hiding the car parking between the blocks has created a vibrant, safe public realm on the pedestrianised streets
MARKETING AND SALES
The approximate marketing budget across the development was €4,000 per home. The team found that the most effective marketing techniques were those that involved direct contact with potential buyers.
Consequently the team organised many events – usually at weekends – such as speed dating sessions between potential buyers and architects, launch functions for the various phases, receptions, site tours and information days.
Big signs were also set up across the city, and a local newspaper – which had a regular page for local government related issues – carried regular stories about families that had bought a plot and were building their own home.
There was very little paid for advertising undertaken – the team found that editorial (or advertorial) coverage was the best way to raise awareness.
In 2004 the team kick-started the marketing of the project by organising an architectural competition to showcase inspiring ideas for the plots. This attracted 250 entries and the team ran an exhibition of the best entrants. Each of the designs also had a guide construction price attached to it. This display helped people to visualise what they could build and roughly what the costs would be.
The team found that the architects that were involved helped to market the development too, telling people they knew about the opportunities that were going to be available on the site. This ‘word of mouth’ marketing was very effective.
In 2005 a permanent Information Centre was opened in a redundant building on the site. The Centre was open during normal business hours throughout the week, with a late night session on Wednesdays (until 8pm). Here prospective buyers could get much more detail about the plots that were becoming available and ask questions. The Centre also housed the project team, and its meeting rooms were used for the gatherings of the 18 residents in each block.
All the groups met regularly, but in the early days they sometimes went around in circles and found it difficult to make decisions. To ‘encourage’ the owners to progress things in a more businesslike way a member of the Niuew Leyden project team was drafted in to ‘chair’ the sessions. This approach also helped the team identify potential problems early.
In 2005 the project’s website was established, and large sales information/display boards were posted around the site.
Two detailed Manual’s were also produced – one to explain the process for the purchasers, and another for them to give to their building contractors, so they also understood the processes and the rules they would have to comply with.
A wide cross section of people now live at the development – from traditional families to retirees and singles.
Roughly 70 per cent of the residents are couples or young families. They were mostly city dwellers who would traditionally have moved to suburbia to raise their families in larger homes. The modest cost of building a family home on the Nieuw Leyden site was a big attraction for them. The other 30 per cent were mainly retirees. They liked the idea of being in the city close to public transport, healthcare and other services. Two of the homes have been built for multi-generational households.
A high proportion of the people work at least part time from home – around 80 per cent included a small office or workshop to facilitate this.
The ‘failure rate’ was low, as those that signed up were very passionate about creating their own home, and even if there were challenges they usually resolved them. Seven out of 250 families could not complete their homes (usually due to divorce, deaths or the loss of their jobs). All of these homes were completed by the delivery team (using a proven design, if construction had not started) and then sold privately.
There is a strong community feel to each block of 18 homes. As part of the development the 18 households had to work together to get the structural elements of their homes built under one contract, and they also had to decide how to landscape the pedestrian street in front of their homes. As a consequence they all their local neighbours, and they often work together at weekends to maintain the landscaped areas.
The earliest residents moved in five years ago, and hardly any have sold or moved on.
Be prepared for the opportunity to be popular
The team that managed the project say that they were surprised by the level of enthusiasm there was from people who wanted to participate in private homebuilding. There was also a low ‘failure rate’ at Nieuw Leyden and any plots affected were quickly built out and sold
Encourage people to work together
At Nieuw Leyden, this enabled private homebuilders to save costs by sharing the construction of the shared car parking and superstructures
Hire a technical coach
Many of those that took part needed ‘hand holding’; it makes sense to hire a technical coach who can answer their many questions
It takes about a year for people to design and secure all their permissions for a new home
Private homebuilding can achieve higher returns
The team at Nieuw Leyden achieved a good land price – the master plan produced a high density development, and they charged twice the normal rate per sq m for the compact plots that were sold. The financial returns were higher than would have been achieved if the land had been sold to a private developer
The development was supported by an urban renewal grant of around £6.6m. This paid for the site remediation works and supported the establishment the team that organised the project.
The going rate for residential land in this area is roughly €500 per sq m. Here the plots were sold at €1,000 per sq m (but because the plots were compact purchasers were happy to pay this premium). The development team also argued that purchasers were buying more than the land, as they had the support of the team’s technical advisor too.
In total the plot sales raised around £20m.
In the end the total receipts, after all costs were paid, resulted in a surplus of £2m, which the shareholders were happy with as a reasonable return on the value of the land.
This case study was compiled with reference to the following sources: –
Jetta Polvliet – Development Manager, Nieuw Leyden
Alexander De Vries – Director, Nieuw Leyden
Delivering a profit
Even though this development was undertaken during the depths of the economic crisis, there was lots of demand, the project delivered a good profit (£2m), and it was built faster than initially expected
This web link will take you to a site that has more information about the project, including a toolkit that is open to other councils:
The NaCSBA Research & Development Programme is funded by the Nationwide Foundation and aims to promote the self-build and custom build sector as an affordable route into housing for a greater number of people in the UK.
For further information, please visit:www.nacsba.org.uk or www.selfbuildportal.org.uk