Exclusive interview: Swan Housing’s Geoff Pearce

Geoff Pearce, executive director of regeneration and development at Swan Housing Association, tells BaSE about the transformation of the borough in the last 20 years, the Laindon Shopping Centre redevelopment and the vision for the future.

 

Can you give us an overview of Swan’s projects in Basildon?

Over the last 20 years Swan has carried out a number of successful projects in the Basildon area including the regeneration of the Blue House, Five Links, Church View and Noak Bridge estates.  This work helped Swan grow from 2,000 homes in 1994 to over 5,000 homes in 2005.  Today, through continued work on projects in the borough – and our work in east London – we have more than 11,000 homes.

We also, almost uniquely, have our own in-house contractor, NU living, enabling us to ensure optimum efficiency throughout the design process. NU has already delivered more than 800 homes and helped contribute over £54 million in gift aid back to Swan which we then invest in new social and affordable housing and services for residents.

We were recently granted planning permission for the remaining phases of our regeneration of the Craylands Estate, a project we are working on in partnership with Basildon Borough Council and the Homes and Communities Agency. 

And we are focused on finally bringing about the long awaited regeneration of Laindon Shopping Centre.

 

Let’s talk about this last project: can you give us more details on it?

We acquired the Laindon Shopping Centre in May 2015, the sixth in a line of owners.  The previous owners had tried and failed to come up with a viable plan to regenerate it.

At Swan we had bid for the Laindon Centre previously and been unsuccessful, but were determined to acquire it as we have more than 1,500 homes surrounding it and we know how the dilapidated centre was having a negative impact on the local community.

After almost 18 months of detailed consultation work and testing many different schemes to deal with the challenges the site presents (for example, it changes over four levels and contains major utilities infrastructure) last week we submitted our planning application.

Our proposal for the Laindon Shopping Centre includes designs for a modern high street lay-out; new retail space and parking; a re-provided health centre to be delivered in partnership with the NHS; new landscaped public realm enhancing the existing war memorial; a new office for Swan and 86 houses and 138 flats comprising a mix of one, two, three and four-bedroom homes.

 

Within Swan's portfolio, where does this project rank?

This is a major priority for Swan, not just because of the scale of the project. As a key local stakeholder we are fully committed to bringing the long awaited regeneration of the shopping centre to fruition. This is why at Swan we have made this investment, because we want our residents to be proud again of the area surrounding their homes.

 

Why did you decide to open a new office there?

Our plan is to move our office from Billericay to Laindon. We have a large customer base there, we are committed to investing in Basildon and we will still have great links into East London where we are also very active. We also wanted to send a clear signal that we are committed to making sure the new place we are creating is successful and viable for the long term.

 

What are the main challenges of working in Basildon?

The challenge of working with any large-scale regeneration scheme is engaging with the local people and bringing them along with you.  Our aim is always to engage with as much of the local community as possible, as demonstrated by our Laindon project where we held 11 consultation events and reached over 1,200 people.

 

How have your schemes changed the local area and what is your vision for the future?

We have a track record of bringing about transformative change in Basildon and then delivering an excellent standard of customer service to our residents. We are very proud of the work we have carried out, particularly with our partners including Basildon Borough Council and the Homes and Communities Agency, to create exemplary homes and communities. Our future vision includes investment in a factory to deliver off-site manufactured homes as part of our regeneration projects. At Beechwood, more than 560 of these modular homes (400 having first been custom designed by the buyers) will be constructed under our NU build brand and then installed on site. Projections on time and cost savings are significant while delivering a quality and consistent product.

 

Is Basildon Council an easy or challenging council to work with compared to others?

All organisations and places have challenges when working together. But what sets Basildon apart is their commitment to partnership working, coming up with solutions when challenges are to be faced.  Basildon Council clearly has an 'open for business' attitude which, in turn, engenders an ambition for Swan to invest in Basildon. All this aligns with what Swan is about, that is working with our partners to deliver large scale regeneration to really change places for good.  We therefore feel we have a strong working partnership where we are both committed to delivering growth and success for the borough. Together we can deliver more.

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