Keyworker housing: Making it happen

As the NHS comes under pressure to deliver affordable housing for its staff, Partnerships Bulletin talks to a company that has been evolving into just this area

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Last month, the UK government announced plans to establish a new taskforce designed to spearhead the development of affordable housing for NHS staff. The group’s creation followed a White Paper from NHS Homes Alliance, which suggested more effort should be made to use surplus NHS land to deliver housing for NHS staff.

During its deliberations, the taskforce may want to draw from experience from Roger Alexander, managing director of Cubic3, which specialises in the delivery of complex infrastructure and accommodation projects, injecting investment. Most recently Cubic was bid commercial & operational lead on the Irish Social Housing Bundle 1 (Macquarie/Sisk/Choice) & Ireland’s Community Nursing Units (Equitix/Sisk) PPPs, as well as restructuring operational transactions, such as Ipswich Hospital PFI (Garrett Anderson Centre).

Over the past few years, the company has been evolving to increasingly focus on providing a sustainable investment model for affordable homes, with a particular interest in Net Zero living for NHS and support staff close to acute hospitals.

“We find sites close to hospitals, usually with outline planning permission for housing, then do a lot of the preparatory work, and developing plans to make the homes Net Zero,” Alexander tells Partnerships Bulletin.

As a previous non-executive on a major UK health trust, Alexander knows the pressures facing many in the health service when it comes to resourcing and retaining quality staff, and believes that the firm’s approach can provide a win for hospitals at the same time as supporting local authorities’ own housing goals.

“Cubic has spent the past three years in developing an investment and delivery model which creates a unified approach between local authorities’ housing need, housing association asset investment priorities, government ability to enable affordable homes, [and] long-term investment by institutions/equity,” he explains, “all framed by a Cubic product that fulfils future sustainable objectives and maximising supply chain ability to deliver Net Zero Modern Methods of Construction living.”

Rather than simply waiting for public authorities to tender projects, Cubic’s approach is to be more proactive. “Part of the rationale for us is that we can be in control of our own destiny,” he explains.

The firm  works with mid-tier housing associations, as well as local authorities, to understand their housing needs. One of its three current schemes, in Chertsey, saw the firm change its approach in response to what the local authority wanted. As a result, Cubic is now working on the development of one of the biggest Net Zero developments in the UK.

Under the plans for that scheme, Cubic has been the originator of 172 units for 100% affordable housing, acting as the development/investment director leading it through the commercial process and will oversee delivery to completion. It is anticipated to commence on site early Autumn 2023, delivering much needed affordable housing adjacent to St Peter's Hospital in Chertsey.

The development will be of significant benefit to Ashford & St Peters Trust, by providing affordable housing adjacent to its St Peter’s Hospital site.

As the demand for this type of scheme has grown, Cubic has begun to evolve its own model to respond to the need. Over the next decade, Alexander suggests that this approach to affordable housing “can cross-fertilise other areas such as general residential, healthcare, etc where the private sector can innovate in meeting community needs and sustainable investment”.

He adds: “We have now seen a decade of under investment in public sector assets and services with little pipeline, ambition or planning evident. With challenging market conditions and government funding withering, we need to promote infrastructure leadership and create the necessary momentum effect.

“By originating and developing alternative structures, necessary investment can occur with the private sector continuing to use expertise to deliver social infrastructure and maintaining an investment pulse.”

The joint ministerial taskforce is aimed at building housing on surplus NHS land. However, Alexander suggests this may not always be appropriate. Trusts can often want to hold onto their land, for the good reason that as clinical needs change, they may want to develop more services to respond. The Covid-19 pandemic may be a prime example of this, where changes such as social distancing meant that spaces had to be significantly reconfigured.

Temporary facilities were also brought in to some hospital sites - whether for treating patients or providing the vaccine rollout - and therefore trust chiefs may well earmark their existing surplus land for such provision in the future.

As a result, an approach that looks at the holistic needs of a community - rather than simply relying on the NHS estate - may prove to be a more appropriate and effective way of dealing not only with a lack of keyworker homes, but a general lack of affordable housing for the local population.

Cubic’s approach offers one potential solution to this. “This new chapter now evolves Cubic further into origination, creativity and innovation in social accommodation, with sustainability as core objective, partnering with funders to deliver necessary investment,” Alexander concludes.