October 21, 2011 9:59 pm

A pitch-perfect solution?

New-build housing schemes are being linked to prestigious sporting venues in England

House building in a global downturn is a challenging business. Some developers have found a new way to add selling points to their homes – by constructing residential communities within large-scale sports complexes.

The number of new homes built on housing-only sites has fallen so sharply that it is now described as a crisis. Only 105,000 homes were completed in England in 2010-11, the lowest total for 80 years.

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However, thousands of the homes that are being built are linked to high-profile sporting venues, especially in London. Pride of place, predictably, goes to the 2012 Olympic Park in the east of the capital. There will be 11,000 homes here, once sumo wrestlers and pole vaulters vacate the Athlete’s Village and the rest of the housing development is completed in 2013.

Some homes will be deemed affordable – at least by London standards – and will be part-managed by a group of housing associations under the title Triathlon Homes. After being used by competitors next summer, they will be retrofitted with conventional interiors.

The other new homes in the park will be built just after the Games are finished and then sold privately. These are likely to be houses with gardens, priced at £400,000 ($630,000) or more. With public funds used to create the nearby sporting infrastructure, these homes will have high design standards in keeping with the Olympic Park masterplan.

Marylebone Cricket Club

Marylebone Cricket Club, based at Lord’s, is in talks to develop luxury apartments

Final details will not be unveiled until closer to next summer – there will be a show home inside the park during the Olympics and Paralympics – but the design will “combine tradition and innovation in modern versions of London’s Georgian and Victorian squares and terraces”, says Baroness Margaret Ford, who chairs the 2012 Olympic Park Legacy Company.

More advanced, and funded in a more orthodox private fashion, is Wembley City, a part-sports, part-housing complex around Wembley Stadium, a few miles away from the Olympic Park. This is where sporting legends were made. The original 1923 stadium was home to national football matches and remained an iconic venue until its demolition in 2003.

Four years later the current stadium was opened and housing is being built on 85 acres of land surrounding the complex. So far developer Quintain has completed 520 homes and started work on a 360-room Hilton hotel as well as flats to house 660 students. The company also has planning permission for another 1,300 homes.

Football stadiums seem well-suited to what planners call “residential add-on”. Wolverhampton Wanderers football club, in the Midlands, has applied for consent to build 50 homes, while in London the Highbury Square scheme is built in the grounds of the stadium formerly used by Arsenal football club.

Close to Regent’s Park, Marylebone Cricket Club – based at the legendary Lord’s ground – is in talks with property investment consultancy Almacantar to develop luxury apartments. The MCC idea “fits perfectly with our experience of developing some of the largest mixed use schemes to the very highest standards,” says Mike Hussey, managing director of Almacantar.

So is this just a cute way of building prestigious new homes in a difficult market? Or can sports promoters modernise their sites only by including homes in the blueprints, with the hope that an eventual upturn will bring much-needed cash?

“It’s a bit of both. If you run a sports facility with a lot of expensive real estate in the centre of a city like London, you have terrific leverage over those who lend money to pay for such schemes. You increase that leverage by including housing in your proposals,” explains Jon Neale, a partner in the research team of property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle.

Certainly there is no shortage of venues taking this approach. As with many commercial sports spin-offs, Formula One is in the fast lane. New tracks at Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi, Marina Bay in Singapore and Jeonnam in South Korea have been built as part of complexes that include luxury homes. The same goes for Buddh International Circuit, near New Delhi, where the first Indian Grand Prix will be held on October 30. The complex includes the 5km 105,000-capacity F1 track, an 18-hole golf course, a cricket stadium for 100,000 spectators, plus no fewer than 10,000 new homes.

Now Britain’s F1 track, Silverstone, may be following suit. It is currently considering long-term proposals for development to fund future track enhancements, and this may include allocating space for homes – presumably with good sound-proofing.

In the quieter world of cricket, the long-term redevelopment of the Edgbaston Cricket Stadium in Birmingham, recently expanded to accommodate 25,000 fans for Test matches, will include apartments on one side of the site. Other cricket grounds are reported to be in discussions over similar types of development.

The UK’s largest out-of-London sports-housing development begins this winter, when the first of 1,500 homes will be built on a 45-acre site at Newbury horse racing course in Berkshire, within commuting distance of the capital. Computer images show apartment blocks and a hotel. Improvements to stabling and race offices will be built with the first 366 flats, to be constructed by 2014 in just one phase of a 12-year scheme.

So have developers found a way around today’s market downturn?

There is no guarantee of success, as the owners of St Mellion golf course found out. Based in Cornwall, 250 miles south-west of London, course chiefs worked with a developer to create eco-friendly holiday homes on their land, generating funds to host the revived English Open golf tournament, part of the PGA European Tour. But when the residential developer went bust, the course improvements did not materialise, and the English Open was abandoned. In a turbulent economy, sometimes even the best shot at building homes will end up in the rough.

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BUYING GUIDE

Pros

Modern homes with a high-profile address

Good transport facilities

Excellent infrastructure

Cons

Enormous crowds, noise and disturbance

May be a ghost town when events not being held

Premium prices charged for views of the action

Contacts

Olympic Park

www.triathlonhomes.com

www.legacycompany.co.uk

Wembley City

www.wembleycity.co.uk

Highbury Square

www.highburysquare.com

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