The Service Lead – Place, Assets and Commercialisation gave an update on a working group meeting with Exeter City Living. The working group comprised of Councillors Ledger, Armstrong, Pook and Moulding, the Service Lead – Place, Assets and Commercialisation, the Housing Service Lead, the Strategic Lead – Housing, Health and Environment and the Strategic Lead – Finance. Representatives from Exeter City Living were the CEO, Development Director and an external architect consultant.
Exeter City Living were set up as a development company so they could build on the open market, delivering housing in volume in Exeter, with an emphasis on passivhaus as a design. As an organisation it had delivered 100 passivhaus schemes, including an extra care facility and a new leisure centre, with 650 units in the pipeline. There was an availability of land in Exeter (infill sites owned by Exeter City Council (ECC)) and land could also be acquired on the open market. Funding was from the Public Works Loans Board (PWLB) through ECC. Exeter City Living had two employees and all other services were procured through contractors. They were happy to work with other authorities.
The model was to build to passivhaus standard which produced highly energy efficient buildings and showed the benefit of design. Passivhuas had 5-6% above average build costs and therefore needed to be let as affordable units through the Housing Revenue Account rather than social rent. However as the running costs of these properties were less the overall outgoings including rent were comparable. Advantages of passivhaus included 60 year warranties on windows, render and other key components, so ongoing maintenance costs were likely to be lower. Members were reminded that passivhaus standard was not the only method of constructing carbon neutral buildings. Advantage South West was looking at creating a framework of developers who used low carbon methods.
The main themes were:
· Definition of affordable – overall running costs and rent.
· The development model was complex but at the same time straightforward with clear arrangements with ECC and governance, with a very clear business model and objectives.
· The need for strong, informed and educated leadership – building strong relationships with trust and experience.
· Climate change.
· Three ‘C’s – control, change and commercialisation.
The Strategic Lead – Finance explained that the Exeter City Living was not significantly different to the Council’s original model, East Devon Homes. The big difference was that their business plan assumed losses for at least five years. It was funded from Exeter City Council who helped run the company and used it for development.
The Strategic Lead – Housing, Health, Environment stated that there was a clear link between Exeter City Living and TorVista Homes delivered through Torbay Development Agency. Both companies had taken the brave step to invest a lot of money, provide staffing and allow its housing company to be loss making for the first five years. It was noted that EDDC did not have the same landholdings to make available for housing development as ECC, but a review of corporate assets could identify opportunities.
The TaFF were advised to endorse the report and members thanked the officers for the interesting update.