Local authorities housing companies have ambitious goals. Bhavna Brooker visited a new development by Sixty Bricks to find out more.
Local authority housing companies are shaping new approaches to developing homes across London and beyond. Members of our Local Authority Housing Company Network went to see a recently completed scheme by Sixty Bricks in Walthamstow.
The Jazz Yard is a mixed-use housing development completed in December 2022 by network member, Sixty Bricks, which was set up by LB Waltham Forest in 2016. The development comprises 83 homes, of which 20 are for social rent and 17 for shared ownership.
This 12-storey building is an important marker in the revitalisation of a former light industrial neighbourhood. The Jazz Yard is a tenure-blind scheme, a key achievement of which Sixty Bricks are rightly proud.
The Jazz Yard will also house an NHS health centre beside a new public square. The site is very well connected to public transport, with St James Street Overground station just a few minutes’ walk away. The provision of cycle storage facilities highlights LB Waltham Forest’s strong commitment to active travel.
Sixty Bricks’ Assistant Director for Delivery, Adunni Adams, gave us the full tour. We heard additional insights from Development Director Steve Skuse, and Melissa Dowler and Richard Brindle from award-winning architect Bell Phillips.
Creative design can be cost-effective for maintenance
The building uses a distinctive colour scheme and brick and tile material palette, which reference the local area’s history and character. The lobby areas, stairwells and corridors have been painted in bold colours of red, green, pink and mint. (Private and social rented communal areas are identical.)
The stairwells have painted rather than plastered concrete and minimal finishes for durability. This is an important consideration for ongoing maintenance and upkeep, especially wear and tear of walls and floors.
Physical design features that respond to the challenge of keeping costs down while adding character include:
- only two window types
- aluminium window surrounds
- standard, mass-produced red brick used in distinctive patterns
- an ‘L’ shaped design which addresses overlooking concerns while maximising dual aspect with corner windows.
Encouraging walking and cycling
As well as the communal areas and a one-bedroom show flat, we viewed one of the two spacious and well-used cycle stores in the building. These are CCTV-monitored and fob-controlled with a single entrance.
Network member Deb Heenan of Populo Living suggested an idea she had seen in bike stores in other cities: the provision of cycle maintenance facilities such as pumps for tyres, so residents don’t have to take bikes up to their flat.
Members also discussed the increasingly prevalent use of electric bikes (including cargo bikes) and how they need to be stored safely, as batteries are a fire risk. Adunni explained how Sixty Bricks is learning from each phase of its housebuilding and is looking at a slightly different strategy for cycle storage in phase two.
Challenges of viability for local authority housing companies
Some of the key challenges have been around viability, and the need to constantly adapt through the development process to external changes such as the ending of the Help to Buy scheme. As well as these design approaches, similar specification between the private and shared ownership homes helped viability.
Sixty Bricks wants to increase affordability, particularly for single earners, and some of the private sale units have been flipped to shared ownership. This issue was of particular interest to the other network members, who face similar challenges.
Early collaboration is vital for effective handover
Adunni explained that Sixty Bricks is currently evaluating the project but some of the key lessons learned so far are:
- Building control: Be clear on building control requirements, particularly around fire safety regulation changes: an issue with installing sprinkler systems extended the handover time.
- Different user needs: Anticipate the needs of other people who will use the building, especially if there is a public facility included. While the client and architects wanted to ensure that the outside space is safe and inviting for walking and cycling, a small number of car parking spaces had to be included for the health centre’s medical staff, who regularly travel to other healthcare facilities.
- Early collaboration: Start the handover to the parent authority’s housing management team early on, so that colleagues know how the building works well before residents move in.
Melissa Dowler and Richard Brindle reinforced the importance of bringing the contractor into discussions at an early stage. They also highlighted the need to be clear about strict outcomes for building performance, especially when seeking to achieve Passivhaus principles or certification. This is a key ambition for the next phase of Sixty Bricks’ pipeline.
More affordable housing in the pipeline
The Jazz Yard marks the last part of Sixty Bricks’ phase one pipeline. This has delivered 299 new homes, of which more than 70% are an affordable tenure. Overall, the company is aiming to build at least 20% of the 27,000 homes that LB Waltham Forest is targeting in its local plan, with at least half the homes in phases one and two being affordable.
This scheme demonstrates how local authority housing companies are delivering exemplar, energy-efficient homes in a challenging economic environment, while also making significant contributions to addressing the affordable housing crisis. It offers much to learn to others working across the housing sector.
The Local Authority Housing Company Network provides an informal platform and confidential space for CEOs and MDs to share best practice and their experience in running these unique organisations. If you’d like more information, please contact Sarah Yates.
Bhavna Brooker is Senior GLA Group Collaboration Manager and a Future of London Alumni Rep.