Carl Mulkern, Managing Director of Helix, looks at how best to approach redeveloping small development sites.
With the right planning and partnerships, small sites can often prove extremely worthwhile projects, providing much-needed homes in built-up areas or revitalising neglected and deteriorating parcels of land.
For the small sites we work on with our partners, our approach to developing small sites is simple. We develop them with the same level of project planning and enthusiasm as we do larger sites, using our combined knowledge gained working for larger contractors and applying our experience of developing plenty of smaller sites over the last five years or so.
But we don’t underestimate the potential difficulties of developing a smaller piece of land. So, what can housing providers do to ensure the success of their small site redevelopments?
Local engagement – early and continued
Naturally, local residents may initially look for the negative impact of any development site in their community – disruption, noise and increased traffic are valid concerns. It’s important to let people see the faces behind the development and show them the ways you will minimise the issues they are worried about.
Meeting local authorities, neighbours and councillors face-to-face and letting them know who you are and what your values are, is important.
During Covid, we couldn’t do this, and the difference in the way our plans were received was noticeable; newsletters have their place, but they are no substitute for face-to face interaction and being available to listen to people’s concerns.
You might not always win over every resident – but being present helps. And this engagement should be started early. Way before any formal consultation event, I’d recommend getting out and meeting the neighbours in whichever way works best for that site.
Combine sites where possible
If you can do it, parcelling more than one small site together has huge benefits. It allows construction teams to apply the right level of management and operational resources and offers clients better value.
It can also enable better planning and ease of logistics. On a recent site we were doing groundworks on one phase, while storing bricks on another – allowing us to order the quantity of bricks we needed for the entire site before the market shifted and prices went up.
We’ll always endeavour to get the best partnerships and deals for our clients, but a slightly larger combined site can open up the opportunity to bring in more experienced subcontractors who may not consider working on a smaller site.
Sell the benefits
On our recent Swanley garage site development, delivered for West Kent Housing Association, we worked in a very densely populated area. Residents knew that we were developing new homes for people who needed them, but that didn’t necessarily swing them in favour of the redevelopment.
By talking with them about the benefits of the scheme, which included the regeneration of an area that was beginning to be used for anti-social behaviour as well as providing much-needed extra car parking, we generated increased involvement and enthusiasm for the scheme.
And if there’s anything else you can do to encourage a positive feeling towards your development, particularly those close to other homes or in logistically tricky areas, I’d say work with your developer to do it. Can you create extra parking or a green space? Is your site aiming for net zero carbon? Or something else that helps the community?
On a recent small site redevelopment, we took the decision to schedule deliveries to avoid the local school drop off and pick up times. This seemingly small action helped local parents out and increased positivity towards the development and those involved.
If you’d like advice on incorporating any or all of these ideas into your next small site redevelopment, drop me an email at Carl@helix.limited.