Capital & Centric is close to buying three Greater Manchester sites with a view to rolling out its new housing concept NOWHAUS, with co-founders Adam Higgins and Tim Heatley telling Insider that there is a "great untapped market" for residential developers willing to try something different.
The Manchester-headquartered property developer is arguably best known for its work transforming old buildings across the North West into modern apartments, workspaces, and commercial space. For example, it is currently redeveloping five former mills – Minto & Turner and Minshull House at Manchester's Kampus scheme which is a joint venture with Henry Boot Developments, London Warehouse on Ducie Street in the Northern Quarter, Crusader near Manchester Piccadilly, and Talbot on Ellesmere Street in Castlefield.
However, the company is also progressing plans to diversify into the urban housing sector.
Higgins said: "There's a lot of apartments being built in Manchester and other cities but there's still not a huge amount of housing being developed really. That's because it's very difficult for local authorities to meet their housing targets doing traditional housing because you're building 50 here and 30 there whereas with an apartment scheme you can do 200 in one go.
"We've got three sites that we're in legals on at the moment to acquire. There'd be about 400 units in total, so if we can get them over the line we're planning to build high-density but low-rise schemes there."
Each of the three sites are brownfield plots capable of holding 100 to 150 homes each. Higgins declined to confirm their exact locations, although said that all of them involve places on the peripheries of town centres across Greater Manchester.
These sites have been earmarked for Capital & Centric's new housing concept NOWHAUS.
According to the official NOWHAUS brochure, the current housing model is broken with only a handful of large housing developers building second homes that are failing to consider what future occupiers really want. Starting with a blank sheet of paper and no preconceptions about what a home should or should not be, NOWHAUS seeks to address this problem. It argues that new houses are still being built with bay windows, chimneys and slate roofs, looking the same as those that were constructed 50 years ago.
By contrast, NOWHAUS involves building houses back to back and side to side in a modern reinterpretation of a terraced house. The concept removes the alleyways and gardens typical of traditional terraces, adds a garden to the roof, and uses an open-plan layout internally. This design doubles the amount of houses that can be built on an acre of land.
Higgins said: "I can see a situation where you've had a lot of people over the years who've lived in pretty cool apartments in the city centres and then all of a sudden they're going to have to move out and live in bay-windowed semi-detached houses from the 1930s which is something their grandma lives in…and it just doesn't appeal to them.
"So I think there's quite a new housing typology really that's starting to emerge and that's certainly what we're pushing. It gives people the opportunity to become house owners as opposed to possibly apartment owners but in a modern contemporary way of living, which I think is very important."
One notable difference between Capital & Centric's concept and other schemes being brought forward by the UK's largest housebuilders is that NOWHAUS includes some one-bedroom homes.
Heatley said: "We can do it on scale in the same way that Bellway, Barratt, Taylor Wimpey and so on do, but crucially ours have that contemporary feel that people who are moving out of the city want and we start with a one-bedroom house. People don't build one-bedroom houses.
"But if you move out of the city centre and you're a single person or you're a couple, you don't really need two bedrooms, not straight away. You might do eventually.
"Having to buy a bigger house with a second bedroom because that's the only thing available to you, well, it's an expensive place to put your skis, your snowboard or your bike."
Ultimately, Capital & Centric hope to extend the NOWHAUS model to other local authorities outside Greater Manchester. Higgins believes that there is "a great untapped market" to roll out the concept more widely.
He added: "There's clearly an undersupply of houses and it doesn't seem to be getting addressed anytime soon by central government as far as we can see so it seems a good place to get into. And actually I think we can do something that's different to the larger PLC-type housing developers who are all building a certain product and all building something fairly similar.
"There's a great opportunity."