A barren “island” on the edge of Leeds city centre is an unlikely place for houses but it’s the latest hotspot. Sharon Dale reports
If you were to hazard a guess as to the location of Otter Island, you might say it was a wildlife haven on the Norfolk Broads. In fact, it is a strip of land on the fringe of Leeds city centre, bounded by the canal, river and the busy Wellington Road.
There are no otters, it’s not technically an island and, until a year ago, it was a desolate and distinctly unpromising plot, even for the most voracious developers. But its hidden potential was spotted by Andrew Weaver, Chief Executive of Strata Homes, who concluded that it was just what city dwellers wanted.
While there are no trendy bars or restaurants on the doorstep and the nearest neighbours is a Royal Mail depot, it is right next to the canal. A brisk ten-minute walk down the towpath takes you into the heart of the city.
“The location looks wrong on paper but I went to see it on a cold February morning. I walked down the towpath and realised how quickly you can get into the city centre. That was the deciding factor,” says Andrew, who also decided to build something city centre buyers did not have access to: houses.
Building townhouses with their own front door and a car parking space has paid off. More than 70 of the 113 properties at the “Flaunt” development have already been sold off-plan and, now that the showhome has officially opened, there is even more interest.
The bulk of the houses have two bedrooms and start at £169,950, the equivalent of a two-bedroom city centre flat. There are also a few three-bedroom properties at £230,000. The layout includes a shower room and second bedroom on the ground floor, an open-plan living space on the first floor and a bedroom with en-suite on the second floor. Most buyers are young professionals moving from rented city centre flats.
“We thought there was a gap in the market for property aimed at people in their twenties who wanted a house, but who weren’t ready for the suburbs,” says Andrew, who runs the long-established Doncaster-based housebuilding business with his father, Irving.
“We knew there was a high concentration of affluent young people in rented accommodation in the city centre and we knew we could compete on cost. Affordability isn’t an issue, especially with the Government’s Help to Buy scheme. The monthly mortgage payments are roughly the same as the £750 rent on a flat.
The first owners move in next month and the scheme should be complete by the end of the year. Lillie Milonakis, 27, who works in insurance, and her partner Michael Jones, 31, an accountant, rent a flat in Leeds city centre and are buying a Flaunt house.
They have used the Government’s Help to Buy equity loan scheme available on new-build property, which includes an interest free loan of 20 per cent.
“We wanted to stay in the city centre and we wanted to use Help to Buy so the houses at Flaunt were ideal. They also have parking, which you don’t usually get with city centre flats,” says Lillie, who works in the city centre.
“Being able to walk into the city was important. We calculated that we would lose five hours a week travelling if we moved out to a suburb.”
The couple feel that a combination of HS2 and plans for more financial companies to move into the city, will create even more demand for the waterside houses.
“It’s not a forever home but when we come to move we think it will have increased in value and will sell or rent easily,” says Lillie.
Estate agent Jonathan Morgan, of city living specialists Morgans, says that the price per square footage at Flaunt has pushed the boundaries, but adds: “They are getting top dollar for a small home but I am not surprised because there is nothing else like it, plus it is new and that’s what buyers want.
“It was a very brave move by Strata and there is clearly a demand for what they have created.”
Although Flaunt has demonstrated a demand for houses within walking distance of the bright lights, the supply will be minimal.
“I imagine Strata got a good deal on that land but prices are rising,” says Jonathan. “That means developers will need to build high density flats rather than low density houses if they want to make a profit and get funding.”
*For details on Flaunt, Leeds, visit www.strata.co.uk or tel: 0113 350 1359.