A modular regeneration company has integrated its new house design within a burgeoning project to revitalise a deprived part of Manchester. Chris Shaw, director of delivery at Urban Splash, describes the factory-built offerings to Jack Wooler.
In Stubbs Mews, New Islington – a new district of central Manchester retaining its historic name in a regeneration scheme – 18 modular homes have been constructed. These will create a major contribution to an important new zone of the city.
The homes are the latest addition from the housing arm of regeneration company Urban Splash, which has spent the past 20 years among a vast assembly of companies transforming the zone from a run-down area into one which has been named one of the ‘20 hippest places to live in Britain’ by The Sunday Times and “A hidden oasis worth venturing out to discover” by Manchester Evening News.
The ‘Town House’ properties being integrated into this new zone feature 139 m2 of space over three floors. Each offers high ceilings, large doors, and “oversized” windows to maximise natural light. All the homes were constructed entirely offsite at the Urban Splash factory in Alfreton, and come with a choice of three, four, or five rooms – for a new home office, or space for bedrooms, playrooms or snug.
Set to complete in Autumn 2021, Stubbs Mews sees Urban Splash hoping to make a “small development feel big,” with each home featuring a private elevated garden terrace overlooking Ashton Canal.
A notorious estate
According to Urban Splash, New Islington and Ancoats were once Manchester’s most run-down areas, with the former being a “notorious estate where taxis refused to stop,” and once featured as a backdrop for the ‘Shameless’ TV series.
“Life’s very different here now,” explains Chris Shaw, director of delivery at Urban Splash, who tells Housebuilder & Developer that the area has just undergone its third regeneration.
In the early 20th century, New Islington was “the world’s first industrial suburb,” with Victorian terraces filled with workers from the surrounding mills. Then, during the 1960s ‘slum clearances,’ many Victorian homes were demolished, signalling an end to the working mills and making way for the Cardroom Estate – an estate which, through ongoing antisocial behaviour, eventually lost its pubs, shops and school.
“Fast-forward to 2021,” says Shaw, “and the area is being described by the press as ‘the best place in Manchester.’” Over those two decades, Urban Splash (and more recently House by Urban Splash, the housebuilding arm of the regeneration company launched in 2016), has “transformed New Islington into one of the city’s most vibrant neighbourhoods.”
This regeneration was achieved through “considered and strategic placemaking,” says Shaw, with the area’s mixed-use, mixed-tenure communities “held up by the necessary infrastructure to ensure long term economic sustainability.”
“Although just a stone’s throw from Manchester city centre,” says Shaw, “it has already earned its special reputation as a buzzy independent commercial area, offering an eclectic range of food, entertainment and workspaces.”
Development & planning
Manchester City Council, House by Urban Splash and other partners including contractor Artez and architects Shedkm have been working together over the past 20 years to redevelop the wider estate.
In June 2020, House by Urban Splash was given the go-ahead to complete its plans for Stubbs Mews, securing the latest undeveloped site from the council itself and submitting its newly designed Town House home prototypes developed in 2016.
“This acceptance helped set the precedent for subsequent planning approvals not only at New Islington, but at sites around the country including from Salford City Council at Irwell Riverside, Port Loop in Birmingham, Inholm Northstowe in Cambridgeshire and Smith’s Dock in North Shields,” adds Shaw.
The masterplan was conceived by the late architect Will Alsop, who originally envisioned an inner-city village connecting the Ashton and Rochdale canals, extending Manchester’s city centre boundary north.
“Now in its final phases, House by Urban Splash has transformed the fortunes of this ‘no-go’ area into somewhere residents, Mancunians and visitors are proud to live, work and play,” says Shaw.
The project has been well received so far, with Cllr Suzanne Richards, Manchester City Council’s executive member for housing and regeneration, recently saying that Urban Splash has been “a major part” of the Ancoats and New Islington renaissance over the last two decades, with their approach to regeneration “setting a blueprint for urban renewal, and leaving a “legacy of striking residential developments that have international renown.”
She continues: “New Islington in particular should be considered a true regeneration success story, transforming a fringe area of the city centre into one of the most exciting places to live and work in the country – and the part Urban Splash has played in this transformation story cannot be underestimated.”
As well as offering space and copious natural light, says Shaw, the large three-storey Town House homes at Stubbs Mews in a flexible home layout that allows the homeowner “to live exactly how they like.”
In Plot 3, Guest Street, for example, on the ground floor, there is an open-plan kitchen with an island with Silestone Quartz worktop, a dining and living space leading out to a private terrace overlooking the water.
Upstairs there are two spacious double bedrooms (including one with a balcony) and a full-size family bathroom. And, on the top floor, there are two more double bedrooms with ensuite shower rooms. The home also features oak flooring throughout.
Each home at Stubbs Mews comes with an elevated garden terrace, which provides residents with tranquil views over the canal, in addition to vast green spaces around the site including the Cotton Field Park and Marina.
Built around the company’s Town House template, one of several that offer different options and particular benefits – each Town House comes as two or three-storey, with a choice of layouts determined by the customer.
The Town House template has now sold out at sites in Salford and North Shields as well as Manchester, and is soon to launch at Port Loop in Birmingham, Wirral Waters in Merseyside, and Inholm Northstowe in Cambridgeshire.
Behind this development was a significant £90m collaboration, between Urban Splash, Japan’s biggest housebuilder Sekisui House, and Homes England, which was formed in 2019. According to Shaw “paved the way for House by Urban Splash to create hundreds of new, affordable and accessible homes in areas that have been left untouched for years; places like New Islington.”
Each House by Urban Splash home is constructed in the company’s factory in Alfreton in the East Midlands, before being craned onto a lorry to be delivered to site.
Shaw explains that this efficient process reduces construction waste by 70-90%, while cutting site traffic, noise and pollution “considerably.” As well as being more sustainable, he says, it is also cleaner and reduces “snagging and defects as there are no muddy boots walking through the new homes on the site.”
He explains that the company is “proud to be pushing the boundaries” of offsite construction, and attributes its success to “a keen focus on a collaboration of knowledge sharing between all site teams involved.” In addition, Shaw says that recruiting and training of new personnel across all aspects of the process, including design, manufacturing, management, logics and sales, has “ensured that there is a consistent delivery of the ambitious production targets.”
Shaw summarises the approach to delivering success in offsite production: “Ongoing improvement strategies are the foundation to developing a holistic approach to refining and improving the product design, manufacturing process and affordability through feedback from all parties as well as the end-user.”
He adds: “Embracing the template used by the for car industry, and adapting it to suit the homebuilding sector, means that customers now have a realistic way to visualise a variety of specifications, and consider how different options will ultimately affect the design and cost of their home before it’s even been constructed.”
Since its inception in 1993, Urban Splash has intended to put sustainability at the core of its projects, and Stubbs Mews is a key example. As well as having a spacious and airy feel, the high energy efficiency standards ensure that residents gain short, medium and long term financial and sustainability benefits.
Taking a look at New Islington as a whole, the development is supporting the UN’s stated sustainable development goals – for example providing affordable housing, with 30% of homes available through the Help to Buy scheme at Piercy Street and Mansion House, meaning buyers only need 5% deposit and no stamp duty. It provides opportunities for economic growth through commercial development with workspaces and retail accommodation, and provides health and wellbeing amenities through the masterplanning of parks and public spaces such as the marina. It also creates a “sustainable community” through transport links in addition to the school which encourages a wider mix of people into the area.
In March 2018, Shaw explains the company also “affirmed its commitments to sustainable construction and mitigating its direct impact on climate change” by acquiring the factory to create its houses, purchasing all of the assets, trade and 68 staff from SIG Building Systems.
Positioning itself to expand its offsite construction capacity, this acquisition was done with a view to ensuring the business could vertically integrate, and therefore fully control its production of homes. The firm says its commitment to and investment in modular housing has resulted in a capacity to create 400 houses per year.
“The modular housing concept means that houses are created in controlled, efficient environments, meaning there’s no cost variance,” explains Shaw. “So, no matter which part of the country it builds in, the construction cost remains the same.”
Looking back on the challenges of the project so far, as with most projects in recent times, Covid provided a significant barrier, with the team having to take “significant steps” to mitigate the pandemic’s impact.
An example of this was during last spring, when the developer introduced virtual viewings so that customers could continue to view homes safely.
Shaw tells Housebuilder & Developer that further technological advances followed in the summer, when the company launched what it claims as an ‘industry-first’ online configurator, “allowing people to design their dream home,” to then be built offsite.
“This tool has proved popular,” says Shaw. Website traffic to housebyurbansplash.co.uk increased four-fold in the first six months of it being live with a total 327,000 page views in its first year, he adds.
The “configurator” tool is one of the innovations in what Shaw calls a “new era in the way homes are designed and bought.”