At first glance Four Hundred Caledonian Road in Islington, North London, looks a bit of a challenge. Firstly, the £10m new build and refurbishment scheme of 25 homes plus 4,500 sq ft of office and retail space is being developed on a constrained site with over 20 party walls, Network Rail alongside and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) beneath. Add to that an engaged community that took on Eurotunnel and won when Caledonian Road was set to be dug up for CTRL’s construction and this site doesn’t look like a developer’s dream. But developer Igloo’s Footprint sustainability policy, a six-month rethink and some simple cups of coffee have left the company’s development director John Long sounding pretty happy. Here, he tells why.
How did this scheme get off the ground and where did the Footprint policy come in?
This was an existing scheme, which we bought with planning consent and it had been quite controversial. We have always applied Footprint to new schemes so we were pleased to have the opportunity to apply it to an existing scheme, to see what impact it would have.
We went to Islington planners and told them we wanted to make amendments but that our purpose wasn’t to squeeze the scheme but to make it better. We took the planners the two schemes – the one with planning consent and a version with the amendments that we wanted to make.
How did the design, by project architect Brady Mallalieu, change?
It still had the same number of units, the same height, and overall square footage. It would’ve been a standard good new development, but we saw the opportunity to take a good scheme and add value through design quality and sustainability.
The main changes are that the flats were single aspect before, but we’ve changed the configuration to give dual aspect. Lighting levels have been raised to best practice. We’ve also added sustainability features: there are green roofs, photovoltaics, gas fired combined heat and power (CHP), rainwater harvesting, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR), and high levels of insulation and airtightness – we believe on spending on the parts of a building that will be there in 100 years.
What was the reception to the changes?
Islington Council was delighted. I wrote to all the site’s neighbours and said that we were changing the
scheme but would do something better than planned originally. I offered to have a coffee with people. I had meetings with two community representative groups – Team Cally and Cally Rail, met with three neighbours and had telephone conversations with six more. When we put the scheme back into planning as a minor material amendment it was accepted without a single objection. A case officer thought this was the only large scheme where that had been the case. So the cups of coffee proved to be the best investments on the site.
What was the cost of that…and the benefit?
It took us an extra six months to go through that process. But we got the agents to run the numbers and the returns are set to be 13% higher than the existing, on an absolutely comparable basis. The changes have increased the costs by 4-5%. Homes go on sale this month, with construction due to complete next year.
Would you have done anything differently?
If we’d been building this from scratch I think we would have done something very similar.
We go back to all of our schemes post occupation. We’re not alone in trying to do schemes that are kinder to the environment, but one of the big challenges is the gap between what we’re trying to do and what actually happens. In general in the UK, schemes tested in use aren’t coming close to design and that is either due to the gap between what is designed and what is built, or because of occupier behaviour. We’re giving people a proper handover, with explanations on how to purge overnight in summer for example, and going back afterwards to learn from experience.