I have always maintained that it is the responsibility of house builders not just to construct houses for people to live in, but to create new communities, writes Tony Abel.
That duty can manifest itself in all sorts of ways: designing new homes which will nurture sociable family living; incorporating the latest environmental technology to ensure the impact of those new homes will be minimised; including public open spaces in our developments, so that the people living there have somewhere to meet each other, and for their children to play.
But however well designed our new homes and our sites are, there is no getting away from the fact that building new homes has an impact on the wider community as well. That impact can be positive; for many villages, for example, bringing in new families can help preserve the existence of small schools, village shops and the local pub.
It is widely recognised that each new home that is built supports the equivalent of two local jobs for a year; we will build about 100 homes this year, so that means we are responsible for the livelihoods of 100 local families. That is a responsibility we take seriously; our activity makes a big contribution to local economies.
But inevitably, building new homes can also stretch local facilities. Perhaps you are surprised to hear that statement coming from the pen of a house builder, but as a local business, we are very aware of how what we do impacts on communities and local services – not least because we live and work in those very communities.
We have been thinking about this a lot lately. As Abel Homes has grown from developing small-scale sites to bringing forward larger developments (although we are still far from being a volume house builder), we are increasingly aware that we need to look at new ways of creating those new communities.
You may have read this week that we have launched a consultation about our plans for a new site on the south side of Swaffham.
Aware that we are just one of several house builders constructing new homes on this side of town, and that both major supermarkets and many of Swaffham’s services are situated to the north of its centre, we have come up with a radical new type of development.
Yes, it will include new homes, but also services such as a care home, a retirement village, a new medical centre, and a local centre with a small supermarket and a number of small shops.
These facilities will not be an afterthought. If the scheme goes ahead, we are undertaking to build them before we put up the new homes, ensuring that right from the moment the first residents move in, that new community will already exist.
There is no getting away from the fact that solving the UK’s housing crisis will mean building many more new homes; only if we simultaneously create new communities around those homes will we be doing the job properly.