Building homes has always been a key part of our identity. Over 50 years Hightown has developed ambitiously for its size and delivered thousands of homes across the Three Counties, many through our own land-led projects.
It was for the purpose of building new homes that Hightown originally came into being in 1967. Throughout Hightown’s history, the demand for affordable housing in our region has always outstripped the supply. Today, with house prices up to 16 times the average salary in many areas of operation, we remain committed to the principle that increasing the supply of affordable housing is fundamental to alleviating the housing crisis.
In 1970, a £50,000 government loan that gave life to the plans of our founding members. With this funding, Hightown’s first properties were constructed at The Cornfields, an estate of 73 flats in Hemel Hempstead.
The 1974 Housing Act and its associated grant provisions further animated the development activities of the local housing associations that would go on to form Hightown as it is today. The wave of grassroots action in mid-1970s saw Praetorian open its first development at Russell Court, St Albans, SADCHA convert large houses into affordable flats and Hightown itself complete further projects in Hemel Hempstead, Bovingdon and Kings Langley.
Our founding volunteers had to overcome a myriad of obstacles; legal, planning, financial and, often, NIMBYism. But their efforts laid the groundwork for what has become an impressive development programme. In recognition of our ambition, Hightown was named in the Top 25 Developing Housing Associations in 2013 and later the Number 1 Growing Housing Association in 2016 by Inside Housing.
Although our earliest projects could not have been built without government support, Hightown has since been successful in sourcing alternative funding to fully expand our development potential.
Hightown first moved into private financing in 1994 with a £1.68million loan from Norwich and Peterborough Building Society. From then we have grown to the point where we now deliver an average of 300 new homes per year.
Hightown has shown strength when exploring new avenues of funding: we celebrated the launch of our innovative Retail Charity Bond in 2015, which closed early having secured £27million. In 2017 our first Private Placement brought in £45million funding for new homes.
A far cry from the experience of our founders, who began with a mere £50 capital loan and £9 shareholder investment, last year Hightown was able to invest £80million into a development programme that will deliver 1,200 homes in the next two years.
Hightown’s unique vision
Establishing Hightown as a desirable investment has been important to shelter our development programme from political or economic storms; but it also given Hightown the freedom to shape our development according to our unique vision.
Since 1983 we have established excellent relationships with local and national housebuilders but at Hightown we feel it is important to seek and nurture our own opportunities to further supplement the construction of new housing. Of the 2,600 new homes we developed in the last decade, over 35% (almost 1,000 homes) were from Hightown’s land-led projects.
It is important that we deliver to meet local needs. Despite the growing trend towards commercialisation, we remain committed to our social purpose of providing for those excluded by the private market.
2016 saw Hightown deliver 80% of new homes for rent and we were able to convert two of our flagship land-led projects under construction (Heart of Maylands and Elmshall Place) from sale to rental tenures.
Since the early sites in the 1970s, our development portfolio expanded in scope as well as scale. From the outset, Hightown’s founders recognised that new housing needed to serve a range of people with a variety of needs.
Hightown has an extensive history of constructing purpose-built accommodation for vulnerable people. This began in the 1980s with specialist housing for older people (first schemes were at Fishery Cottages, Hemel Hempstead in 1983 for Hightown and at Perrycoste Court, St Albans in 1980 for SADCHA) and then diversified into care and supported housing in 1991 with the construction of the St Barnabas learning disability service.
Despite the challenging climate that has deterred many other organisations from developing these much-needed properties, Hightown continues to build supported housing. Our latest scheme, Fletcher Way opened in 2016, custom-designed to enable individuals with severe physical and learning disabilities to live independently.
Hightown is a proactive developer and has sought opportunities in new areas. We have delivered large city-centre developments (notably in the conversions of Oaklands College, St Albans and the Kodak Tower development in Hemel Hempstead) but also small garage ‘infill’ redevelopments and a Rural Housing Programme (with homes built in Flamsted and Chipperfield in 1999, later in Sleapshyde in 2008) to ensure that all communities have access to affordable housing.
Over the years Hightown’s activities stretched outside of Hertfordshire, and now we build homes across the Three Counties, recently moving into Luton (120 homes in pipeline) and Newport Pagnell (22 homes in pipeline).
However, we have not lost sight of the need for regeneration on our doorstep. Where our founders were keen to alleviate the pressure the New Towns movement placed on the Hemel Hempstead’s housing supply, today we recognise that affordable housing must be available for the town to continue to thrive.
Since our involvement with the renovation of local landmark the Kodak Tower (2009) Hightown has developed over 580 new homes in Dacorum, with still more to come (275 currently under construction and 148 in the pipeline).
This 900 home programme includes our largest land-led project: the Heart of Maylands, a new community hub that will provide 130 new homes alongside new shops, a public square and church/community centre.