In June 2020, Sutton Council awarded Sutton Housing Society planning
permission for 71 new homes across five developments, increasing its housing stock by 16%. Sutton’s Chief Executive Robin Roberts and lead architect Gary Hoban tell the story.

Ambitious plans
Sutton Housing Society is a small housing association managing around 500 homes for mostly older residents in the Greater London Borough of Sutton.
In mid-2019, the social landlord announced it was seeking to increase its
housing stock by an anticipated 10%, by seeking planning permission to
develop five locations.
This would be achieved by unlocking the potential of rooftop or ‘airspace’
developments (building new flats on top of existing dwellings), and would
require the submission of five simultaneous planning applications for five sites. Sutton Housing Society’s Chief Executive Robin Roberts explains: “Although we are a smaller social landlord, we work hard to unlock the development potential of our existing schemes and establish an ongoing development pipeline.
“Design would be crucial on these projects, as we wanted to secure as high-aunit density as was sensible, with the support of our existing residents.”
Robin approached Hoban Design Architects and invited them to pitch for the project: “I was impressed by their passion and enthusiasm for the project. They clearly wanted this opportunity, and I wanted fresh, bespoke thinking, rather than someone working from a more formulaic template.”
Director Gary Hoban was delighted to win Sutton’s competitive tender:
“Although Hoban Design has built its reputation as an award winning architect in the luxury London property market, we’ve always felt our bespoke approach to design could transfer well to the social housing market. “Sutton Housing Society gave us the opportunity to show what we could do on an affordable project, so we grabbed it with both hands.”

The project – design
Robin Roberts continues: “Hoban Design soon lived up to my expectations.
They did their homework, immersing themselves in the Greater London
Authorities’ requirements, and introduced planner Michael Wood of WSP
Indigo, who proved to be an excellent addition to the team.
“Working as a team, we focused on how we could achieve maximum density from each of the five sites, whilst exceeding the expectations of our residents.” Gary explains: “Firstly we completed some early stage design and feasibility studies, before delivering two rounds of pre-application consultancy with the Sutton Council case and housing officers. This feedback really proved
invaluable to our designs and had a significant influence on our thinking.
“We understood that the overall success of the project would be judged on
achieving the client’s ambitions for the five sites, and we had to carefully
balance unit density with aesthetics and the approval of local residents.
“The majority of the new homes would be achieved through creative, airspace development, along with the required building extensions and improved communal facilities.”
Gary concludes: “It was a demanding brief, but this is where Hoban Design’s
luxury background and design skills come into play, because listening and
adapting to a client’s exacting standards is second nature to us”.
Robin agrees: “I was struck by Hoban Design’s willingness to take on feedback, they enjoy the process of listening and responding quickly with adaptations to the plans. They weren’t burdened with a conventional design mind-set, freeing them to buck the status-quo and strive to exceed our initial ambitions.”

The results
All five planning applications were approved by Sutton Council by June 2020, securing consent for 71 new homes across the five sites. Robin was pleased with the outcome: “First and foremost, you have to look at the results. To help secure planning approval for 71 new flats, a full 16% increase in our overall stock, is a real achievement.”
The density of the new homes is also impressive: “On one site, Norman House, we secured planning permission for a 68% increase in site density, a testament to good quality design and planning.”
Gary concurs: “I’m always delighted when we exceed a client’s expectations, so to achieve 100% planning approval on five sites simultaneously, at a higher than anticipated unit density, is a really pleasing outcome for everyone involved.”
What next for Hoban Design? “Moving forward, we’re really keen to work on more social projects, and continue to use our skills and enthusiasm to seek out all those marginal design gains that can make all the difference for landlords and communities.”
Sutton Housing Society was awarded Client of the Year by Construction Excellence for its strategic and creative approach to development.

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