Bembridge, Isle of Wight – working with a Housing Association to develop affordable housing

Since the development of the Bembridge Neighbourhood Plan, by working with developers the local community have managed to secure and approve 21 affordable homes. Of the 21 dwellings, 13 are on Sycamore Drive – a small-scale development of affordable housing, which is made up of four discounted market sales and nine social rentals.

Background

In 2012, the local Parish Council brought together a working group to develop a Neighbourhood Development Plan in the beautiful village of Bembridge, on the Isle of Wight.

Home to 4,000 people, Bembridge is a small and vibrant village. Surrounded by beaches, it embodies an idyllic community feel, which many aspired to be a part of, yet in reality, was not within their reach. It is known as an affluent area, and so paradoxically, the affordable housing the community so desperately needed, was unheard of.

The community wanted to change this and ensure the future of Bembridge was placed firmly in the hands of the people who know it best, the residents themselves. They did this by introducing a neighbourhood plan.

It was two and a half years in development and with a passionate working group who ensured the neighbourhood plan served the community it went to referendum in July 2014.

It secured a 92% ‘yes’ vote. Take a look at the full documentation on the plan here.

The Power of Neighbourhood Planning: working as one

Bembridge is one of the many communities that have seen first-hand the power of Neighbourhood Planning. A key policy of the plan was to include a provision of small scale, sustainable developments and support for the development of affordable homes.

The village has 2,062 homes, 3,632 electors and a population of just over 4,000 people. It is known for its wonderful community spirit and natural beauty.

With Culver cliff, a harbour and a windmill, it is very much on many islanders ‘wish list’ of places to live. With this in mind, a mission statement was created which would underpin the plan:

“To maintain and enhance the unique self contained character of Bembridge village whilst permitting small-scale sustainable growth that is in line with the needs and wishes of the community” taken from Bembridge Neighbourhood Plan.”

The results of a housing needs survey were published in 2013. It became clear that the need of more affordable housing was very much a key factor because it would allow more people to own properties in the village.

The provision of small-scale sustainable developments to meet this local need therefore became integral to the neighbourhood development plan. Small-scale developments would give the people of Bembridge affordable housing options, ensuring larger scale developments and luxury flats, which wouldn’t serve the community, were kept at bay.

Since the development of the neighbourhood plan, 21 affordable homes have been secured and approved. Of the 21 dwellings, 13 are on Sycamore Drive – a small-scale development of affordable homes.

Funding for the plan came from two main sources, Locality (£6,794) and Isle of Wight Council (£4,000). This allowed a dedicated working group to be brought together to work with the community of Bembridge.

Sycamore Drive houses
Sycamore Drive houses

Sycamore Drive: Working with developers

In 2012, the Isle of Wight changed school systems, going from a three-tier to a two-tier process. When the schools went through full reorganisation, the site of the old primary school in Bembridge became vacant.

Questions were raised as to how this site would be developed; with an emphasis on ensuring it remained of benefit to the local community.

Initially, a planning application was submitted bidding for eight, four-bed luxury detached properties to be built. However, it did not meet the criteria determined from the findings of the housing needs survey, and was refused.

Lobbying from Bembridge Parish Council resulted in allocation of £216,663 of Sec 106 funding via the Local Planning Authority. With this funding, Bembridge were able to ensure a small-scale affordable housing development, which would meet the needs of the community.

Until this time, affordable housing in the village did not exist.

How did it work?

Vectis Housing Association, a local independent business on the Isle of Wight, purchased the site. They pride themselves on using contractors and builders from the Isle of Wight, with the hired builders for Sycamore Drive being based just yards away from the Parish buildings.

Once the disposal of the site to Vectis Housing Association (VHA) was confirmed, their first action was to meet with Bembridge Parish Council. Supportive of the neighbourhood plan, Vectis Housing were clear that their approach to the development was to be open, transparent and accountable from day one.  They wanted the development to be termed a ‘Community Asset’, rather than a development that the local community may have felt resentful towards.

Bembridge Parish Council and Vectis’ careful engagement with the community ensured a professional collaboration.

A successful drop-in session was held in early 2016 for residents to discover more about the scheme. It provided a great way for any neighbours of the site to share concerns and for the community to learn more about how the process would be carried out. This was invaluable as it gave people a chance to understand the process, ask questions, meet the developers and essentially ensure that the development was in line with that they had voted for during the neighbourhood planning referendum.

The drop-in session was well received and the local community engaged in the vision for the site. Another session was arranged for October 2016. Present at this session were local estate agents and the community team from Vectis Housing Association. It had a real community feel, with Bembridge Parish Council and the purchasers working with school children to name the new close.

Regrowth for Bembridge was underway in a way that the community had never seen before. Named by local children and built on the former site of Bembridge Primary School, Sycamore Drive has 13 affordable dwellings. The key driver of Sycamore Drive is the way the community and the developers have worked together to ensure these dwellings are in line with the neighbourhood plan. It is one example of how the future of Bembridge has been kept in the hands of the community.

To ensure the affordable housing would first and foremost benefit the local community, those interested in the dwellings needed to meet a local connection criteria. It was laid out as follows:

  • Living in the Parish and needing to downsize
  • Living in the Parish and needing a bigger property
  • Living in the Parish and needing a similar size property
  • Living in the Parish and subject to a planned move on medical or welfare grounds
  • Worked within the Parish for five years or more or have accepted an unconditional offer of employment within the Parish.

This meant people not only currently living in the village, but those who lived outside of Bembridge, but worked in the village would be able to look at an affordable housing option to live near where they worked.

Vectis Housing Association instructed ERMC Ltd to develop the design of the dwellings. Key to the development was creating housing that would ‘grow and adapt’ alongside the needs of the residents and the needs to the local area.

The Bembridge Neighbourhood Plan, with the emphasis being on small-scale affordable homes has achieved so much more than answering a housing need. New homes are the foundation for life, to improve family’s health and wellbeing, offering stability, affordability and preventing Bembridge becoming a ‘second home’ paradise, which has happened in other villages on the Isle of Wight.

Bembridge Parish Council remain committed to the neighbourhood planning process and believes that new groups coming forward can learn a lot from those who have already gone through the process.

Although it hasn’t been without its challenges, Bembridge is a community fully committed to the process and is now seeing the benefits of all the hard work undertaken to make the plan a reality.

Community activities involved distributing a wildlife friendly growing kit consisting of pots, compost, gardening tools, insect friendly plants, information about attracting insects into the garden and a watering can to each household. A communal planting event for the final aspects of landscaping is planned for the autumn half term. Residents also fed in to the design aspects of the dwellings, ensuring the properties would grow with residents needs.

Allocations and sales have been almost exclusively to households with a local connection and there is a real feeling of community ownership to the scheme.

A grand opening took place in July 2017 where all stakeholders, partners, local dignitaries, school children and their families were invited to see the development and cut the ribbon to officially open ‘Sycamore Drive’ to Bembridge.

Sycamore Drive meeting
Sycamore Drive meeting

Quotes

From BPC/local residents:

“I didn’t live in Bembridge, I lived in Newport which is a 30 minute drive away and this is/was the problem. Younger people generally have to live in larger towns such as Sandown, Ryde and Newport because they can’t afford to purchase or rent properties in Bembridge due to the inflated market prices. Sycamore Drive has given people like me with a Bembridge connection the opportunity to move to the village in which I work.”

“We have made a real difference to people’s lives. Before the housing needs survey and Bembridge Neighbourhood Development Plan, affordable housing in Bembridge was unheard of.”

“The benefit of delivering small-scale developments is that this is an acceptable approach to the community and this demonstrates that we do deliver and helps to prevent large scale developments being imposed.”

From ERMC Ltd, architects and designers:

Care was taken to ensure the site offered residents space and flexibility comparable to homes of the surrounding area, therefore careful landscaping and level-access facilities were employed, achieving a harmony with the local vernacular and providing a comparable plot density.”

“The result was a huge success, with many praising the balance between affordability and design, and with most of the dwellings occupied before the grand opening, it is already providing substantial benefit to the local community.”

From Vectis Housing Association, purchasers of the site:

“The community was involved throughout the process. Consultation events were held and members of the community were invited to comment on and review plans.”

“The local primary school helped to choose the name of the scheme through a whole school ballot. Fourteen pupils from the local primary school attended the opening event.”