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Finding innovative solutions for new council homes

Finding innovative solutions for new council homes

An innovative scheme which would see 14 new council homes built in Knowle West using land not usually available for development is being proposed by Bristol City Council.

9 December 2021

In collaboration with ‘We Can Make’ (WCM), a not for profit project developed by Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC), the council has identified microsites where council housing could be built. The scheme will be considered by Bristol’s Cabinet next week (14 December).

We Can Make then would build affordable homes for rent to local people and ensure the houses remain affordable forever. Owned by a community land trust – the ‘We Can Make’ Community Interest Company (CIC) – rents are fixed at no more than a third of the average household income in Knowle West.

Of the two homes currently under construction as part of the early pilot of the scheme; one is being built for a young woman and her daughter in the garden of her parents’ council home, where she currently lives. This will enable her to stay close to her parents, who help with childcare, while giving her space to call her own.

The other will provide a new home for someone living in temporary accommodation, while reducing the size of a garden that the existing tenant has found unmanageable. Both new homes are due to be completed in Spring 2022.

The scheme works through extensive consultation with the local community.

Existing council tenants volunteer parts of their garden for the project, which are then transferred to We Can Make on a long lease. By working so closely with the community, WCM ensures that the new homes are in the right locations to meet specific local needs.

The modern and sustainable new homes are built using factory-produced prefabricated panels that are made in Knowle West, benefiting the community by creating local jobs and developing skills. Designs can also make space for nature by including green roofs, a roof garden, bike storage and planting that encourages biodiversity.

Next week, (14 December), Cabinet will be asked to approve the future disposal of council land at a discount so that the pilot can be expanded. A valuation report determined that building much-needed affordable homes on micro-plots in back gardens was unlikely to be possible without the council transferring the land below market value.

If Cabinet approves the request, We Can Make will work with the community to identify the next 14 potential sites for new housing on land that is currently part of the back gardens of council-tenanted homes.

Cllr Tom Renhard, Cabinet Member for Housing Delivery and New Homes, said: “We Can Make is a really exciting, innovative way to support our ambitions to deliver more affordable homes and tackle Bristol’s housing crisis. By working collaboratively with Knowle West Media Centre and the local community, we can make sure that the right homes are built in the right places for the right people.

“This scheme makes good use of land available to the council and enables people to stay within their local area. By disposing of this land to a not-for-profit organisation rooted in the community, we can make sure that the homes remain available to those that need them most in Knowle West now and in future.”

Melissa Mean, Director of We Can Make, said: “We Can Make is a new community-led way to make affordable homes for local people. In low-density neighbourhoods like Knowle West, there are often spaces hidden in between buildings and in large back gardens where new homes could be added. We call this gentle densification “urban acupuncture”- adding homes precisely where people need them most.

“We Can Make has three essential ingredients. One, is opt-in densification. For example, a family experiencing over-crowding can opt-in to use part of their garden to create space for a new home for their adult child to live in, and which is guaranteed to be affordable forever. Two, the community helps set the rules for what gets built through a Community Design Code. Three, we localize and de-carbonise the production of the homes using a timber modular construction system. The parts are made in our community factory, growing local jobs and community wealth.

“Our aim is that other communities will be able to learn from what we are doing in Knowle West, and use the approach to help better meet their own housing needs."

Under the scheme, the existing council tenant, in whose garden the home will be built, will have the first nomination right over the newly built micro home in accordance with the BCC HomeChoice allocations scheme. The front garden of the existing property will also be improved as part of the works.

The new homes will be allocated through the council’s HomeChoice lettings system. By operating under a Local Lettings Plan, We Can Make enables people in Knowle West to stay in their local area and secure housing while maintaining their support networks.

Following the 16-unit pilot, an assessment of satisfaction with the scheme in the local community and with the tenants, as well as the long-term sustainability of the project, will be carried out before a decision on making further council land disposals to extend the scheme.

You can watch a short video on affordable housing delivery in Bristol, including the We Can Make project.

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