Recycled homes: Derelict to des-res

Disused car parks and empty shops might not sound like ideal homes, but a new scheme is making use of empty council space. Jenny Knight reports
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The Independent Online

A dank, sinister car park which residents had shunned for fear of vandalism and encounters with unsavoury characters, has now been transformed into ten new flats.

The metamorphosis has delighted residents on the small council estate in Putney, west London, and thrilled the people who are buying the one-bedroom flats through a shared ownership scheme.

The flats are the latest homes created through Wandsworth Council's 'hidden homes' project, which has seen old boiler and laundry rooms and dustbin shelters converted into a total of 156 new homes, in places you wouldn't necessarily expect to find them. And the latest flats, previouly a carpark, in Cambalt Road are the first to go on sale.

Rosaleen Jones, 41, was chosen for one of the new flats, out 49 people who registered to buy, because she is unable to afford to buy on the open market on her salary of under £30,000, as an administrator. She had also previously signed up to Wandsworth's home ownership waiting list, which helped to boost her claims over the other applicants.

"Even though prices have fallen, they are still nowhere near the level I can afford. Lenders also now want 20 per cent deposits, which is far more than I can save on my income," she says.

"I realised I'd have to consider shared-ownership, so I went to look at these flats on the open day and couldn't believe how lovely they are. I was bowled over.

"My dad asked why I'm bothering when I won't own the whole flat, but he bought in the days when homes were cheap and he just doesn't understand how difficult buying a home in London is nowadays. The flat is triple glazed and has good storage. It's got a bedroom, a sitting room, a kitchen and a bathroom and a terrace."

Her new flat now means that Jones now has a social space for her extended family. "As soon as I looked out over the gardens I immediately fantasised about having somewhere my nephew and niece can visit and be able to run around."

The ground slopes so that from the road the new flats – built under the existing block in an old car park – are at basement level, but at the back they are on ground level and face onto the extensive communal gardens.

The flat Rosaleen chose costs £215,000 of which she is buying a 25 per cent share initially, and will pay a subsidised rent for the other 75 per cent to Notting Hill Housing Association. Her combined rent and mortgage come to about £750 a month, more than a hundred pounds less than the rent she was paying on a one bedroom flat nearby. And she is spared paying stamp duty because her £53,750 share is under the tax threshold.

"As a single person saving more than a hundred pounds in monthly outgoings will make a big difference. This flat gives me stability, compared with the insecurity of a rented flat. It's carpeted and equipped with fridge, freezer and washing machine so apart from my deposit and solicitor's fees it will cost very little to move in," she adds.

Some mortgage lenders are wary of shared ownership however. Rosaleen initially approached Abbey for a mortgage and was told she needed a 20 per cent deposit, which they later upped to 30 per cent. She eventually found a deal with Halifax for a repayment tracker mortgage with a 20 per cent deposit of her £53,000 share.

Shared ownership buyers can buy from 25 per cent to 75 per cent of the property initially and further shares when they can afford it. Typically buyers remain in the property for an average of five years. Some move into another shared ownership property but most use the opportunity to build up some equity to use as a deposit to buy a property on the open market. Some 50 per cent buy further shares before moving on while 10 per cent end up owning the whole property.

If buyers become ill or are made redundant they can normally revert to being full tenants and remain in the property.

Mark Vaughan from Notting Hill Housing Group, who provided the funding for the programe with the Homes and Community Agency, says: "If prices have further to fall, the bottom of the market represents a buying opportunity for people in shared ownership.

"Wandsworth are very proactive on home ownership and we looked at a couple of sites in Wandsworth that might be suitable for shared ownership housing. Cambalt Road is a lovely tree lined road, but the disused car park was a place where people might hang around to cause trouble. It was damp and miserable and it took some imagination to see what the architects planned, but the result is fabulous.

"Wandsworth Council still retain ownership of the land and are generally seen as good landlords. We are looking for another site in the borough and also talking to Hammersmith and Fulham. This scheme should be rolled out nationally. Youths hanging around or even drug dealing can cause a lot of grief to residents so by developing nasty corners or unused spaces everyone wins and pressure to use green spaces for housing is relieved."

It is estimated that if all London boroughs took up the hidden homes scheme another 10,000 new homes could be built. Harrow and Southwark have both adopted their own versions.

"Because most of the infrastructure is already in place the construction time is much shorter. We had a full consultation with the existing 30 residents, half of whom had taken the opportunity to gain ownership of their flats under the right to buy legislation, and they were overwhelmingly in favour. We didn't have to build a roof and utilities were already connected to the site so the flats were completed in nine months. Construction costs were probably about 10 per cent cheaper than if we'd started from scratch," adds Vaughan.

Hidden homes

* The Wandsworth scheme transforms vacant and disused areas on council property, including storerooms, sheds and car parks (right) into new hidden homes.

* The Cambalt Road development is a result of a partnership between Wandsworth Council, Notting Hill Housing, one of the largest housing associations in the country, and the Homes and Communities Agency.

* Also calling for local communities to work together to make more efficient use of disused space within neighbourhoods is the Empty Homes Agency, an independent charity (www.emptyhomes.com).

* The development on Cambalt Road, as well as forthcoming developments in other London boroughs, have been built under the New Build HomeBuy scheme

* Mortgages available on the New Build HomeBuy scheme include HSBS and Abbey.

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