Case Study

Pioneer Fields

Setting the Scene

A planning committee meeting in Rochdale sees a controversial application for development on a greenfield site, unanimously approved by its members.

“Smith & Love really understood the social hurt that not having this housing would bring. They committed to getting it done and conveyed its importance.”

Phil Shanks, Head of UK Real Estate, Auxilia

Our Client

Wigan-based Auxilia Homes provide specialist mid-range housing for the over 55s. This includes extra care facilities for people with complex needs. Latin for ‘helping hand’, Auxilia is a registered social landlord for profit, soon to be overseen by the Regulator of Social Housing. It is owned by the Dubai-registered Phoenix Investment Fund, which has sought to create housing of social importance in areas where Government funding has ceased. 

They use their housing projects to demonstrate the flexibility of their approach, where assisted living housing projects can provide a sustainable yield for investors.

The Project

It had taken Auxilia Homes almost two years to find the right site for their flagship £6.2m project. And when it finally did so in 2017, they called on Smith & Love to project manage the planning process. From that moment forward, approved planning permission was just 13 weeks away. 

Pioneer Fields was a former farm on Greenbelt land on the edge of Rochdale. Auxilia wanted to build just 15 homes on the site, for adults with Autism, in a very low-density arrangement and with a very high material specification. 

Once planning permission was granted, there were multiple challenges that required project management: No onsite water or electrics, poor drainage and the depth of topsoil meant it had to be piled on site. For Phil Shanks, Auxilia’s Director in charge of the project, this made the financials hard to stack up: 

“The requirements were stringent. We had a group of people with very specific needs and there were no alternatives. A panel of 16 parents set out the specifications for the site: accommodation, layout, and construction standard. They did this in tandem with the Local Authority, the architect and Auxilia. It was a balancing act to provide all parties with the best outcome – it’s a housing need that has defeated most organisations, but we succeeded.” 

Our Approach

Smith & Love Director, Deborah Smith, believes this flagship scheme is a first, not just for Rochdale, but for the UK: Low density specialist housing in a semi-rural setting. For Auxilia, too, it’s a project that showcases the breadth of their investment and management approaches. It involved Smith & Love stepping into the world of their clients and the parents of the people for whom this housing is being built, to make the best possible case for planning.

In researching the case, Deborah met with planning officers and the Local Authority’s Adult & Social Care unit. She also met the parents of the people who would eventually live at Pioneer Fields, and heard about the struggles they’d had to find accommodation for their children. She found that this development would provide a lifeline for their families as it would enable their adult children to remain in Rochdale with 24-hour care in a purpose-designed home. The key obstacle was therefore ensuring that the case for the project was robust enough to justify the grant of planning permission, with her Planning Statement concluding that.

“Nearly all development is regarded as inappropriate in the Greenbelt. In order to develop this site, we had to demonstrate that there were no alternative sites in the urban area that were either suitable or available to accommodate the proposal. We then had to develop a robust case to justify the proposal.” 

Deborah Smith, Director, Smith & Love

“When it came to the planning application, Smith & Love were magnificent. They took great care with the development and the wider elements. They’re willing to put in the work. And they’re nimble on their feet as things adjust. They advised us properly and responded comprehensively.”

Phil Shanks Head of UK Real Estate, Auxilia Homes