01:00PM, Saturday 28 October 2017
“The perception of Slough is changing,” remarked Andy Howell, general manager of public/private development partnership Slough Urban Renewal (SUR) as we met in Wexham Green, a collection of well-styled family homes under construction.
The community of 104 two, three and four-bedroom houses in Wexham Road, a third of which will go to Slough Borough Council’s housing stock upon completion, is an example of SUR’s attempts to help the council meet its target of 900 new homes a year.
SUR is a partnership between the council and Morgan Sindall Investments Ltd, which has been driving regeneration across Slough in housing, leisure, community facilities and school buildings.
Formed in 2013, the partnership finished several large-scale projects last year, including The Curve, Chalvey’s Milestone housing project and Arbour Park Community Stadium, which saw Slough Town FC return to their home town after years in exile.
Mr Howell, 42, works in some ways as a bridge between Slough Borough Council and Morgan Sindall.
The council sets out what it wants to achieve, Mr Howell’s team designs and manages projects, and offers profitable opportunities to Morgan Sindall.
The council, a SUR shareholder, profits from some of the projects and this goes towards funding frontline services.
“It’s probably one of the best examples in the country of public-private partnership,” Mr Howell said proudly. “There are a few others in the land. This one is delivering the most.”
Other notable examples include The Croydon Urban Regeneration Vehicle and the Bournemouth Town Centre Vision Local Asset Backed Vehicle, another 50/50 partnership with Morgan Sindall.
“The council are taking an active role in being a catalyst for regeneration and we’re the vehicle they’re using to do that and it looks like it’s been very successful and it’s only going to get better over the coming years,” added Mr Howell.
Projects which are either under construction or being planned include Wexham Green, Montem Lane’s new ice arena, two new hotels and several restaurants and bars in the town centre library site, shops, Farnham Road and Langley leisure centres and the Salt Hill family activity centre.
Once the Farnham Road Leisure Centre is built and Montem Leisure Centre has outlived its usefulness, Mr Howell says the site is likely to be used for new family homes.
In March, the council announced it had bought the old Thames Valley University site on the corner of Bath Road and Stoke Road, which it wants to turn into 1,400 homes, 45,000 square feet of retail and 250,000 square feet of office space – a SUR project expected to reel in £550m worth of investment.
SUR is also expecting to reveal more concrete plans on Stoke Wharf, a project expected to bring 250 homes and other community facilities at the end of the Slough Arm of the Grand Union Canal.
It is working on the project with Waterside Place, a partnership between the Canal and Rivers Trust and Muse Developments.
SUR has also worked with Slough Borough Council on its initiative to develop more houses and buildings on small plots of land to become council properties.
“I think the council had a view where there were situations where landlords hadn’t maintained their properties properly,” said Mr Howell, who added the small sites scheme is one example of the council stepping in and asking SUR to manage practicalities.
SUR also recently completed Lydia Court, a block of 11 council flats, named after Lydia Simmons, a former mayor of Slough and the UK’s first female black mayor.
Mr Howell says, while it is hard to land on any concrete figure, SUR expects to build 2,000 homes over the next few years.
While some of the town’s hunger for housing is driven by people fleeing westward from London’s eye-watering living costs, Mr Howell says 48 per cent of Milestone’s buyers were from the Slough area and that 22 per cent were from London.
He said SUR gives priority to owner-occupiers and wants newcomers to stay and become a part of the town’s fabric.
To a casual observer, seeing SUR’s stamp on countless building projects may hint at favouritism and lack of competition, but Mr Howell insists this is not the case.
“The council are doing projects with other contractors directly. There have been projects where for various reasons we’re not doing them,” he said.
The father-of-three says SUR gets three quotes from market providers for ‘every detail’ of a project and that a minimum of 80 per cent of each contract has been market tested, with an average of 95 per cent.
“We have a quantity surveyor who independently will review the contract sum and they will produce a value for money report which says yes or no, this is value for money,” he added.
“We can’t afford to mess up and just move to another town.”
Visit www.slough-thinkingforward.co.uk for more information.
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