Affordable housng that is cheap, but not nasty

Penny Jackson inspects an award-winning development
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The Independent Online

At the planning stage in the development of Accordia, Countryside Properties' new development in Cambridge, one local resident declared that he'd move if affordable housing was built next to his home.

Chris Crook, the subsidiary managing director of Countryside Properties, believes this reaction typifies popular misconceptions about affordable housing. "Thirty per cent of the homes at Accordia are allocated for affordable housing. And we use the same architects, the same materials and same quality of design for the affordable housing and the private-sector homes."

Accordia, situated on Brooklands Avenue in Cambridge city centre, has already won an architectural award for its progressive design, and last week it was awarded a Gold Building for Life Standard from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. Of the 379 houses and apartments, 114 are for the affordable sector.

Peter Sexton, the development manager of Circle Anglia , a national housing association, explained that 75 per cent of the affordable housing will be let to tenants nominated by Cambridge City Council. The remaining 25 per cent will be let to shared-ownership and key-worker schemes. Prices range from £195,000 for a one-bedroom flat to £215,000 for a one-bedroom maisonette and £260,000 for a two-bedroom house.

Buyers can put down an initial stake of 50 per cent and pay rent on the remainder, up to a maximum of 75 per cent with no rent on the remainder.

"This is so the properties remain within the affordable sector while giving people the chance to build up equity," adds Sexton.

Sue Simms, the council's principal housing officer, says that none of the nominated tenants have turned down the offer to live at Accordia. It's not hard to see why. More than a third of the development is open space and cycle paths link into existing city routes. Each home has storage for bikes.

"We do get comments that rents are higher but they are reasonable compared to the private sector," says Ms Simms. "We look at need, the range of ages and the balance between those in and out of work."

In Cardiff, meanwhile, those unable to afford prices in the city could find themselves in a smart location such as Admiral House, designed by Conran & Partners. City Lofts Group took what was the old HQ of an insurance company, added two storeys and turned it into 167 apartments. Twenty-seven of these are affordable housing set aside for key-worker buyers nominated by Cardiff Council.

On the open market, prices start at £140,000 for a one-bedroom apartment and £210,000 for a two-bedroom apartment. The affordable homes are being sold at an as-yet-unspecified discount. Andy Hurst, the sales and marketing director of City Lofts Group, says: "It is important for developers to consider the problems faced by young professionals when trying to get on to the housing ladder. This will help the situation."

While the ratios of affordable to private-sector housing adopted by councils up and down the country vary and often prove contentious for developers, the principle is established. But the public is proving rather slower to take it on board. When a Countryside development had complaints of bad behaviour on site, the finger was pointed at the affordable sector. "In fact, the ringleader was the offspring of a private-sector family with a yob of a son," recalls Chris Crook.