Fit for Kings

Higgins Homes is on site with Kings Crescent, a large estate regeneration scheme in Hackney, London, which includes private homes, refurbished properties and new council homes for social rent. Suzie Mayes pays a visit to find out more about this council and resident-led development

(Pictured) Once complete, Kings Crescent will provide 765 homes in a mix of new and refurbished properties in different tenures

With its solid background in estate regeneration, Higgins Homes is showing its skills at Kings Crescent in Stoke Newington, Hackney. This is a large estate regeneration project with a price tag of £64 million.

The housebuilder, part of Higgins Construction, is currently on site with phase one of the scheme. In this vibrant area of London, the development’s five-year masterplan will yield a blend of new private sale homes, refurbished homes for social renting and new council homes for social rent and shared ownership. Kings Crescent is reportedly the only council and resident-led regeneration project in London to combine these three tenures, with the sale of the private homes funding the other elements. (For more on the project’s funding structure, see Higgins Construction box).

765 homes
When complete, phase one will deliver 765 homes (in total for phases ones and two). There are set to be 490 new build properties for shared ownership and private sale, 79 new social rent council homes, and 195 abodes refurbished to beyond the Decent Homes standard. A variety of sizes and style will weave throughout, catering for a broad clientele.

All will be built in blocks with a straightforward design sympathetic to their surroundings, and in heights ranging from five to 12 storeys. One design feature in the new buildings is front door access to the ground floor units. At ground floor level, space has been assigned for a community centre and retail units.

(Pictured) Phase one of Kings Crescent – Clissold Quarter – includes 158 apartments, depluxes and penthouses

Higgins Homes has recently launched the first phase - Clissold Quarter. Overlooking Clissold Park with some homes fronting a conservation area, this is a collection of 158 private one to three bedroom apartments, duplexes and penthouses. Each home, Higgins says, provides generous living space with many of the apartments boasting en suites to bedroom areas. Most of the homes are dual aspect, inviting in plenty of sunlight (when it comes) and aiding natural ventilation. The properties sport contemporary interiors including integrated appliances and hotel- style bathrooms.

Mingling with the private units are the social rent council homes and 36 new shared ownership homes, sold directly by Hackney Council. When Housebuilder visited the site, the communal foyers of the three blocks were very much in the throes of construction. But once complete these will offer a spacious clean- lined entrance to each of the three “cores”.

The existing estate Higgins is rejuvenating has historically struggled with anti-social behaviour, as well as leaky roofs. Under the proposed transformation some poor quality public spaces are being swept away and a once isolated, inward-looking area reopened.

(Pictured) Clissold Quarter overlooks the pleasant green space of Clissold Park

Hackney council has maintained its high aspirations for the estate, seeking quality design. Its desires have been tested over the years with previous, cancelled development plans leading to much of the estate being demolished, only serving to enhance the sense of disconnection from the surrounding community. Eventually, Karakusevic Carson Architects and Henley Halebrown Rorrison Architects were selected to reintegrate the estate with the neighbouring vernacular of Victorian streets and public spaces. Higgins Homes entered the frame after joint partner Hackney Homes devised the scheme, putting it out to tender. Higgins was appointed in September 2014, and took to the site in January 2015.

At the time of Housebuilder’s comprehensive tour, the site was abuzz with cranes, earth and materials piled high. Phase one is slated for completion in the summer and - judging by all of the intense activity - seems on course.

Knowing the site well, Daniel Barker, project director for Higgins Construction, happily points out each detail of the developing scheme to this magazine including the shells of former garages that are now being converted.

“We’re converting some of the existing space into apartments for intermediate rent,” he says. “The challenge here is the people living above the space.” Another challenge has been the complex elevations, requiring a lot of support structure. “It’s all a bit like Meccano.”

Existing residents
Higgins has been mindful of the potential impact of construction on existing residents. Thoughtfully it is offering a unit complete with bedroom, lounge and kitchen areas to provide respite (and sleep) to those affected at any given time. When not being used to escape, the local residents association holds coffee mornings and other activities in the space.

(Pictured) Paul Cooke, Higgins Construction's new business director – "Currently 24% of our labour on site comes from the local area"

Indeed, the community is very central to the project. Residents were extensively consulted from the outset on their aspirations for the new neighbourhood. Higgins is also a keen generator of local labour; a long-term resident of the estate is now working on the scheme as site administrator. She was a member of the Kings Crescent tenants’ association for a number of years. And a Turkish speaking estate dweller has been picked as a local resident liaison officer, invaluable for stakeholders conversing with the area’s significant Turkish population. “Currently 24% of our labour on site comes from the local area, ranging from labourers, traffic marshals, data co-ordinators and site administration,” says Paul Cooke, new business director of Higgins Construction.

External space
Local residents have helped shape the project’s outdoor spaces to date; Hackney council wished to emphasise the importance of external space. The community requested room to grow vegetables, Higgins says, and in response growing areas are being provided. Higgins has planned for a pocket park.“Lots of trees are being planted at the moment," Barker adds. And to give the landscaping a well-established appearance, semi-mature trees from Holland will also feature, creating a network of tree-lined streets and complementing the surrounding green spaces. For private outdoor space there are generously sized balconies. Residents of the existing homes can enjoy winter gardens on their doorstep.

The use of brick is also key to the scheme, allowing the new buildings to synch convincingly with their environs and age well over time. With two architects in effect, the scheme features two types of brick - these are showcased on a separate small building onsite. Meanwhile, solid timber is deployed in areas such as entrances and balconies. Steel and masonry feature in the duplexes.

Kings Crescent also has sustainability at its heart. Higgins has modified old, tired fabrics and installed green roofs on two of the blocks, solving the leaky roof situation. A new energy centre housing a district heating system will serve all the new properties and 14 garage conversion units. There is capacity for the plant to be upgraded, allowing the refurbished flats to join it should Hackney council choose to.

Residents’ energy usage can be kept in check with real time energy monitoring. “People’s energy use can be logged and if there’s extraneous usage, they can be advised on how to use it more wisely,” comments Barker.

With phase one well progressed, Higgins can “push on with everything bar the centre block,” Barker says. At the time of writing, phase two was passing through the council committee. Currently, 68 plots have been exchanged and 49 reserved, leaving 41 plots available for sale. “It’s mainly local people who are buying – young couples, businessmen and families,” Barker observes. This extensive regeneration scheme has even captured the interest of royalty. To the delight of some residents, the Duke of Kent paid a visit in November, enjoying a tour of each new apartment tenure.

And with its strong background in affordable housing and long term work with local authorities, Higgins is enjoying Kings Crescent.

Higgins Construction
For more than 50 years, Higgins Construction has delivered both new build and refurbishment solutions with private sale capability. It keenly focuses on estate regeneration schemes that create thriving communities.

Private sale subsidiary Higgins Homes builds and manages a wide portfolio of new build and conversion and restoration projects across London, Essex, Hertfordshire, Sussex and Kent.

(Pictured) Steve Leakey, md for Higgins Construction

With Kings Crescent and another Higgins scheme – Colville, also in Hackney – Higgins has contracted with Hackney council. The sales of the private units are fed back to the council to fund its housing. “When we get to fit out stage, we pay [the council] through leases and they keep control of the scheme,” explains Steve Leakey, Higgins Construction’s md. “As we’re not funding the schemes, we don’t have this money tied up.”

Higgins has applied this cross-subsidy model at its Aboretum scheme in Epping, Essex. “The 150 houses we have built (mixed tenure including affordable housing) have paid for a school in the area,” Leakey says. “And in Camden we funded a care home.”

The housebuilder is currently active in a number of London areas including Ealing, Hackton, Camden, Islington and Barking and Dagenham.

The mayor of Hackney
The mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville has been an “integral part” of the regeneration of Kings Crescent, Higgins says. He was elected in September 2016, becoming the borough's second directly elected mayor. Previously a Hoxton councillor for a decade, he spent three years as cabinet member for housing before becoming deputy mayor last year.

“I’ve known about the council’s ambition to regenerate Kings Crescent for over ten years, and have been directly involved since 2011 as the council moved to directly deliver the project in partnership with local residents,” Glanville comments.

“Regeneration is about more than just bricks and mortar, which is why I’m so passionate that people who live in these homes are part of a thriving local community, have a high quality public realm and it’s been great to see so many local residents getting involved in the designs.”

From next year, Hackney council has committed to doubling the number of council homes built in the area. “I’m proud that Hackney is one of the biggest builders of new social and shared ownership housing in London and is leading one of the UK’s biggest regeneration programmes,” Glanville says. “It’s not going to be easy rising to this challenge, but we are investing in the in-house teams across the council that can deliver on this commitment.”

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