Alte Weberei, Tübingen
KEY LEARNING POINTS
- The use of a small, nimble and proactive council-owned private development company to organise and manage the whole process was cost effective and quick
- Provided there is a good master plan, it is possible to create a cohesive whole – even with more than 20 different building groups. The quality of urban design and placemaking is exceptional – mainly because of the diversity of the design, and the quality of the materials used
- The community’s involvement in the process is vital – local people wanted this to happen (so there were no objections, and no delays)
- If you use a well-proven process to market, select and manage building groups it is possible to deliver a sizeable development faster than an equivalent project built by one major housebuilder
- Be willing to accommodate the odd ‘wildcard’ submission; that way innovative new ideas get a chance to be trialed
Over the last 20 years the city planning team at Tübingen has become recognised as one of the most innovative in Germany. The city lies 40km from Stuttgart and has a population of around 86,000 – many of them working at the university or in research.
The centre of the city is quite high density. There is strong demand for land for new homes, but the city is largely ringed by a protected green belt.
This site was occupied by a redundant textile mill. The council’s own development company acquired the land, organised a master plan and then marketed the larger plots to locally formed building cooperatives. Some individual self build plots were also provided. Collectively it now provides homes for around 700 people and has also created about 100 new jobs.
Demand was strong with around 140 groups pitching for the various fixed priced parcels of land. The range of homes that have been built is wide – from high value riverside apartments to a mixture of intermediate and affordable housing too. The clear processes the city has developed enabled the work to be done quickly – from the start of marketing to completion took around four years. Most of the residents moved in during 2015, and the project is seen as one of the most innovative and attractive community-led projects of its type in Europe
Site area 6 hectares
Number of Units around 300
Income from land sales €13m (a surplus of €1.3m)
For the purposes of this Toolkit we have made the following definitions:
- ‘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.
Mindful of this the latest project – Alte Weberei – has taken the concept on a stage, and has delivered a very wide mix of residential units, typically 10 to 20 per cent cheaper than equivalent homes delivered by the private sector.
The site is about two miles east of the centre, on the northern side of the River Neckar (in a district called Lustnau). It was formerly a big textile mill operated by Egeria. The company got into financial difficulties in the 1990s and production stopped in 2003. The council owned development company (WIT) bought it for €4.5m in 2008.
THE MASTER PLAN
Once the council had control of the site the team from its development company, WIT, undertook extensive consultations with the local community to understand what they wanted from the regeneration. It then organised an urban design competition – won by a local office of architects called Hähnig and Gemmeke.
Invest in a viable master plan
Spend lots of time up-front getting the master plan and urban design framework right, and ensuring the financial viability of the various blocks; if the plots are over-priced people will not be able to bid for them
The master plan revolves around some of the older buildings, which now form a focal point in a new urban square. This is also where the local commercial/retail uses are concentrated (the grey blocks in the plan).
Along the river front are about 25 blocks of apartments arranged in three main clusters. These range in size and can accommodate between about 10 and 30 homes each.
The individual self build plots (and the ones for groups of two or three homes) are located on the northern side of the site. Parking is provided in two large shared underground car parks, and at surface level by the river (this area is prone to flooding and could not be built on).
Include opportunities for diverse smaller blocks
A diverse range of mostly small-scale blocks and terraces is preferable to fewer larger blocks or parcels
THE BIDDING PROCESS
The council’s development company, WIT, then drew up the brief for the project and set out each of the plots, calculated the prices for each and marketed the opportunity. The plan below shows the prices per sq m – the plots nearer the riverfront were more expensive – up to €850 per sq m; those around the square started at €200 per sq m.
The individual building plots, to the north, ranged in size from 123 sq m to 342 sq m, and cost between €52,000 and €182,000.
WIT set the price for the various plots, so that the selection of the preferred organisations to build was based on the quality of their proposals – not price. The company’s aim is to cover its cost, not seek to make a profit.
The quality of the submissions was assessed by a jury and took into account the contribution the block would make to the whole neighbourhood, the social diversity it would bring/offer, the calibre of the design and its eco credentials, and the level of innovation it displayed. The jury also assessed how realistic/viable the group and its submission was.
Some councils in Germany prefer to publish a set of criteria that they formally score each submission on; in Tübingen they don’t think this is the best way, arguing that some of the criteria will be subjective, so it prefers to assemble a respected jury (with community representatives, local politicians and independent experts), it gives them some pointers, and lets them decide who will get each plot. It says it is happy to accept the odd ‘wildcard’ submission (perhaps one in 15), as it wants to encourage new approaches/solutions.
On this project those pitching for blocks had to identify their preferred location, and also a second and third choice option. They also had to identify how ‘wide’ a section of the blocks they ideally wanted. This enabled the jury to adjust the blocks to fit in different groups in their second preference location if someone else had excelled with their concept for their first choice location.
Be very clear about the selection criteria
Councils need to be very clear at the outset about the bidding process, so groups know what is required and the selection criteria. Don’t require groups to formally submit detailed designs – two thirds of the bidders will not be selected, so this could lead to lots of abortive costs. Simply get the groups to fill in a form about their members and ‘pitch’ their concept/objectives in writing (over just a few pages)
The site was acquired in 2008 and an urban design competition staged in 2010. A Bebaungsplan (or master plan) for the area was agreed in 2011.
Marketing of the blocks began in 2012, and successful groups were selected in mid-2013. Those selected then had six months to formalise their group, design the building and get their finances in place. After four months they had to pay one per cent of the land price as a non-refundable deposit. All the groups then had to collaborate to work out how they were going to build and finance their share of the communal underground car park, and how they would create and manage the shared gardens. The six anchor groups – one for each of the main blocks – have responsibility for pulling this together and were required to drive this part of the process.
All of the blocks were complete by mid-2015.
Site acquired by Tübingen city council
Urban design competition staged
Bebaungsplan (master plan) confirmed
Marketing of the blocks begins
Successful bidding groups are selected; they then had six months to formalise their group, design the building and arrange finances. After four months, one per cent of the land price is required as a non-refundable deposit
Flood protection work begins
Construction begins on the first homes
Meet the groups face to face
It is helpful to meet each group that pitches, so that you have a clearer idea of their proposals and their likelihood of being able to deliver
There was good demand with 140 groups bidding for the 40 to 50 opportunities that were available.
The land cost €4.2m and the ground remediation cost €3.4m. The decontamination work was paid by WIT, though €2.1m of the cost was recovered from a grant.
The receipts from the land sales were €13m. Although the development company does not have a remit to make a profit it has generated a surplus of around €1.5m on this project.
WIT incurred higher costs than originally expected for the construction of the streets and the land remediation work. However it also generated a little more income from the sale of the plots, so this helped to balance the budget.
The council’s own team that worked on the development consisted of two planners, a technician and an administrative assistant. Their time was not allocated to the development’s costs. WIT has one full time member of staff and a part time assistant and their costs did form part of the project budget.
WIT says that the main challenge it experienced was the overall management of so many diverse building projects that were underway at the same time across the larger site. One or two of the groups were also delayed when individual members left, or in one case, when a member could not raise the finance needed.
The plots were launched with a large public meeting, attending by individuals and partially formed groups (and their potential professional advisers attended). Around 800 people turned up. At this the team from the development company explained the process for bidding for the plots, and distributed a range of simple documents that set out the plot prices for each parcel of land, the selection criteria, the deadlines and FAQs.
There was no formal advertising done; the team relied on the PR department at the council to promote it via the local media.
The master plan for the whole site also included a Bebaungsplan (B-Plan). This set out clear guidelines for each block, including maximum heights, building lines, development ratios etc.
The selected groups and their architects all complied with this (except for one or two minor details) so planning permissions were granted very straightforwardly.
This case study was compiled with reference to the following sources:
Uwe Wulfrath – Department of Project Development, Tübingen city council
Spreefeld Genossenschaft, Berlin
Elf Freunde, Berlin
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