Success for council housing scheme on site unwanted by developers

Home sweet home: Buyers bought these homes 'off plan' before construction
Home sweet home: Buyers bought these homes 'off plan' before construction

New homes built by Barnsley Council on a former school site overlooked by conventional developers have been snapped up following an innovative project the authority is now looking to repeat elsewhere.

Redundant council land is usually sold off to commercial developers but the council struggled to raise any interest after the site of the former Longcar primary school was cleared.

So instead of allowing the land, off Racecommon Road, to stand vacant, the council set up its own company to oversee development of the site and the result is an estate of 32 homes – with some of them being transferred to its council housing stock.

The rest sold so quickly there was no opportunity to open the intended show-home and the first residents are expected to living in their homes before Christmas.

While final details of most sales still have to be completed, the scheme is being seen as a triumph on several levels, providing new homes for rental tenants, housing with assistance for those who might have otherwise struggled to get onto the housing ladder and some profit which can be rolled over to kickstart a similar scheme elsewhere.

After the Longcar site failed to attract interest from buyers, the council set up its own Met Homes company, with housing officers Sarah Cartwright and John Carrington working on the scheme.

In addition to providing new homes – which are in short supply – the scheme focused on supporting the local economy, with contractors Saul doing the building work with a workforce of predominantly Barnsley people.

Suppliers were also selected locally where possible, with kitchens and windows each sourced from Grimethorpe based businesses.

Sarah Cartwright, the council’s group leader for housing growth, said: “We contracted a company to build on our behalf and we project managed.”

Prices of the homes sold commercially ranged from £155,000 to £180,000, but crucially the council was able to negotiate with the national body Homes England, which provided money under the help to buy scheme, which reduces the upfront deposits needed and allows buyers who would otherwise hit a financial barrier to move forwards.

The objective of the scheme was to provide well appointed and ‘complete’ homes which will not require significant additional costs as householders move in.

“Longcar has been a positive experience so far,” said Sarah. “We have two more sites we are looking at, but it all has to stack up. We have to be sure we can get back the money we have spent.”

The Longcar site is expected to produce a surplus of a few per cent of the money put in after the land value is taken into account, meaning the homes sold are good value for buyers, while leaving a modest return to finance future work.

The scheme is a new departure for the council, which is also building new council homes at sites in Goldthorpe, Royston and Worsbrough. Those are entirely for council housing, however, with the full sites being transferred to Berneslai Homes on completion.