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How London’s new homes are adapting to changing buyer demands for life after the Covid pandemic

·6-min read
Back to nature: Garden suburb  Kidbrooke Village near Blackheath in south-east London (Kidbrooke Village)
Back to nature: Garden suburb Kidbrooke Village near Blackheath in south-east London (Kidbrooke Village)

The countdown has begun to this year’s Evening Standard New Homes Awards.

Judges are busy shortlisting entries ahead of the winning developers being announced at a glamorous ceremony in September at The Dorchester hotel.

Our renowned awards celebrate excellence in the new homes market and come at a time of enormous change and unprecedented challenges triggered by the pandemic. Yet, despite coming to a grinding halt during the first lockdown, the property market has staged a spectacular rebound.

While partly due to a release of pent-up demand and the effect of the stamp duty holiday, many home buyers are reappraising their lives and property preferences and making life-changing decisions.

Demand for private outside space has surged, while working from home has brought into sharp focus the design of inside space. The shift to home working is changing commuting patterns and perceptions about that traditional property maxim: location, location, location.

Buyers and renters want homes that are healthier to live in and actively promote wellbeing; homes that chime with nature and dovetail with their low-carbon, fast-fibre lifestyle and family needs.

Suburbia is back in fashion. Indeed, the Government has set up a Suburban Taskforce to revitalise edge-of-city areas and high streets.

Fairview New  Homes’ Regency Heights in Park  Royal was named  First-Time Buyer Home of the Year. (Fairview New  Homes)
Fairview New Homes’ Regency Heights in Park Royal was named First-Time Buyer Home of the Year. (Fairview New Homes)

Yet London is too great and too resilient a city to be killed by Covid. Already developers and architects are responding to the challenges. The more forward-thinking are finding design solutions, embracing “biophilic” architecture that incorporates nature into buildings, and weaving more green space into the fabric of the city.

ARCHITECTURALLY BOLD

Even before Covid, modern lifestyles were shaping the design of a new generation of houses, marking a decisive shift away from the conventional idea of the house as a box with rigidly defined rooms for sleeping, eating and relaxing.

Architecturally bold houses with versatile layouts and exciting design elements are the number one choice of a swelling number of young couples moving out of flats because of Covid-induced lifestyle changes or the patter of tiny feet. Growing families, too, are bypassing gentrified terraces in favour of wow-factor new-build homes that chime with the way they live.

Joseph Homes won Best Apartment, for its Tramyard development in  Balham (Joseph  Homes)
Joseph Homes won Best Apartment, for its Tramyard development in Balham (Joseph Homes)

Often this means homes with glass-walled, light-filled, open-plan interiors, low-maintenance gardens, bedrooms with sumptuous en suite bathrooms, modern creature comforts such as a home cinema, and “green” features – perhaps solar heating or rainwater collection.

Home working has also sparked demand for better lighting and air quality, low-noise appliances plus shared amenity spaces.

SMART THINKING

Developers are also showing their fibre, with so-called “smart homes” with superfast broadband. These days, that is as crucial as hot running water – not just for Ocado deliveries and for streaming films and music, but for Zoom meetings, virtual learning and home automation systems that control heating, security and lighting.

Inspired by nature: the eye-catching leaf-motif recycled panels on the façade of  The Compton in NW8, winner of last year’s New Homes Award for Architectural Merit (MATT LIVEY)
Inspired by nature: the eye-catching leaf-motif recycled panels on the façade of The Compton in NW8, winner of last year’s New Homes Award for Architectural Merit (MATT LIVEY)

Barratt has teamed up with Open Reach and other leading Internet Service Providers to bring superfast gigabit broadband direct to the home rather than from a central distribution point. Hyperoptic, one of the providers, has partnerships with over 250 developers and says fast-fibre dependency is influencing the design of homes and developments.

A TRANSFORMING LANDSCAPE

For generations, home has been a place to return to, a sanctuary separate from the outside world.

Covid has transformed that sanctuary into something else, or even several things – office, gym, classroom, crèche, playground – challenging the traditional definition of what a home or housing development should be.

Some town planners advocate live-work homes as a community-based “green” solution to Covid-19 and climate change. Such clusters could boost neighbourhoods and reduce reliance on polluting transport.

The Best Family Home award went to Peabody for Stonelea Gardens in Leyton (Peabody Stonelea Gardens)
The Best Family Home award went to Peabody for Stonelea Gardens in Leyton (Peabody Stonelea Gardens)

And with remote working here to stay, planning restrictions are being loosened to allow more offices to be converted into homes. This could transform the landscape of business districts such as Canary Wharf and the Square Mile. Advocating a post-pandemic reshaping of cities, Norman Foster, architect of some of the world’s best known buildings, including the Gherkin, argues that vacant office towers should become high-rise apartments, while the spaces between buildings should be plugged by urban farms.

Factory-built modular homes are also on the rise, with developers combining precision engineering and low-carbon technology to deliver super energy-efficient properties with customised interiors. Berkeley Modular, an offshoot of Berkeley Group, plans to build 1,000 homes a year, while giant. L&G is investing millions of pounds in modular construction for its pipeline of 5,500 homes across the UK.

Simmering away in the background are issues such as the cladding fire-safety crisis and demands for the scrapping of the leasehold system. Meanwhile, the Government’s 95 per cent mortgage scheme and changes to shared ownership rules, should make it easier for buyers to get on to the property ladder.

EYE ON THE FUTURE

All these changing requirements provide food for thought for developers, and will loom large in our 2021 awards. Nimble-footed developers are setting their sights on next year’s awards, too.

Back to nature: Garden suburb  Kidbrooke Village shows how an area can be  transformed by clever planning (Kidbrooke Village North Cator Park)
Back to nature: Garden suburb Kidbrooke Village shows how an area can be transformed by clever planning (Kidbrooke Village North Cator Park)

The 16 categories of the Evening Standard New Homes Awards range across the housing spectrum, giving developers, big and niche, the chance to show how they are innovating and to get deserved recognition for building fabulous homes that people want and can afford.

Thoughtful design is a criterion for all categories, but there is also a separate award for home or development of outstanding Architectural Merit. Last year’s winner – The Compton, an Art Deco-style apartment block in St John’s Wood – received plaudits for its exterior of curvy bays, clad in recycled cast aluminium and decorated with intricate leaf-motif embossed panels, that provide a striking visual identity.

GREEN HOMES

Concern for the environment underpins all award categories, and the best examples will compete for our Eco-living award.

About 20 per cent of UK carbon emissions come from our homes, though on average new homes are six times more energy-efficient than older ones. But green housing is not just about energy-efficient materials and construction, it is about how homes fit into the local environment and promote ecology.

Green setting: the new homes at Kidbrooke Village near Blackheath in south-east London (Kidbrooke Village)
Green setting: the new homes at Kidbrooke Village near Blackheath in south-east London (Kidbrooke Village)

Developers are being forced to set aside land for tree planting and allotments, and build green walls that are habitats for birds and insects. Many of these elements are on show close to the leafy slopes of Blackheath in south-east London, where there is no trace of the former Ferrier council estate.

The asbestos-ridden tower blocks and houses have been bulldozed to make way for Kidbrooke Village, a “new garden suburb”. It is a surprisingly green setting, bordered by attractive Sutcliffe Park, which has a lake and wetlands, while newly landscaped areas across the 276-acre neighbourhood form a series of “outdoor rooms”, with grassland and meadows rich in plant and wildlife.

‘A new garden suburb’ near Kidbrooke Station which has 16-minute trains to London Bridge (Kidbrooke Village)
‘A new garden suburb’ near Kidbrooke Station which has 16-minute trains to London Bridge (Kidbrooke Village)

Handsome apartment blocks and terrace townhouses overlook this green expanse, and now that the new architecture is maturing, home buyers are looking at this once-blighted area with fresh eyes. Up to 5,250 homes are being built.

Properties are a step up for the postcode with smart, space-efficient interiors that would not be out of place in trendy parts of Islington or Bermondsey.

Factory-designed “Urban Houses” with a 360-degree roof terrace and electric car charging points are part of the mix, priced from £925,000.

A new transport interchange at Kidbrooke station offers 16-minute commutes to London Bridge.

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