Niche London developer Pocket Living – a specialist in building affordable “microflats” sold to young professionals – is eyeing opportunities in other university cities, the company’s co-founder and director Paul Harbard told Construction Manager.
The company, which has benefited from a £21.7m loan from the Greater London Authority, is already looking at sites in Bristol’s docks area, close to the city centre.
“Local authorities in university towns want to keep students after they graduate and affordable housing close to the city centre is one way,” said Harbard.
The one-bedroom flats are small, at around 37 sq m but, importantly, are sold with a covenant on price. In London, combined household income has to be less than £66,000, the Greater London Authority’s Affordable Housing Income Threshold. Subsequent buyers must also meet this criteria, meaning the units are priced at around £231,000, about 20% less than a flat on the open private market.
The one-bedroom flats are around 37 sq m each in size
Pocket Living has 14 other schemes totalling between 400 and 450 units at various stages in London: seven in the design phase, three awaiting planning permission, site preparation has started at two and construction is ongoing at two other sites.
It seeks “partnerships” or long-term relationships with its contractors, and has so far worked with half-a-dozen. “The units are not that difficult to build and we offer a 10-year pipeline of work. We want a relationship with contractors who are not too big, not too small, but not where we are their only client,” said Harbard.
Its second major development, at Marcon Place in Hackney, is due to be occupied next spring. Pocket Living worked with architect Waugh Thistleton and contractor HG Construction for the project.
"The flats are for people who work in London, keep London ticking and who don’t want to have to move to the outskirts and face a long commute. Otherwise, these economically active people might leave London to work in a more affordable city."
Paul Harbard, Pocket Living
Another development, of 28 units, at Star Road in Hammersmith & Fulham has been fully sold, Harbard said. Partners for the project were Linden Homes in a joint venture with Wates Group.
“Our market is people aged between 25 and 35,” he explained. “The flats are for people who work in London, keep London ticking and who don’t want to have to move to the outskirts and face a long commute. Otherwise, these economically active people might leave London to work in a more affordable city.”
Pocket Living seeks sites costing from £500,000 to £3m, although more expensive sites will be considered. The sites are often less than an acre, too small for many developers to earn a return, Harbard says. But the sites are close to public transport in London’s transportation zones 2 and 3.
Harbard, a chartered accountant, started the company in 2002 with his partner Marc Vlessing, but the firm has only been actively buying sites and developing them in the past eight years.
In July last year, mayor Boris Johnson’s Greater London Authority awarded Pocket Living an interest-free £21.7m loan to develop up to 4,000 units across London over the next decade. The company already had sold around 200 units before the award, which will allow it to develop more sites.
“They don”t give it to you all in one go,” said Harbard. “They drip feed it as you buy new sites.”
Pocket living has also worked with architect HKR and contractor Primus Build at its Wynne Road project in Lambeth, and with architect HTA and contractor Huttons on the Oak Grove development in Camden.