Affordable Housing: Challenges associated with Garage Infill Strategy

Luke Hazell
As the demand for affordable housing continues to grow and the availability of suitable land continues to be an issue, garage infill sites remain a solution to these problems. This article sets out five of the key challenges associated with garage infill sites and mitigating action to overcome these.

The conversion of old garage sites into useable affordable housing is a growing solution to the lack of availability of suitable land currently faced by Local Authorities up and down the country, but this is not without challenges. Local Authorities commonly have old disused garage sites, neglected, falling to disrepair and often creating a haven for anti-social behaviour. Discussed below are just five of the key challenges identified associated with this strategy, along with suggestions of how to overcome these.

Logistics

Garage sites are often a logistical nightmare due to limited access, restricted free space and close proximity to neighbouring properties. Before any works commence, clients should ensure discussions have taken place to review access, storage and how the site will be successfully maintained by the contractor. We recommend as part of the tender submission the contractor is required to return proposed method statements, site layout plans and suggest how they intend to manage the site, to demonstrate that they fully understand the complex nature of an infill site.

Hazardous materials

The risk that oil or fuel has leaked from cars onto the ground is inherent with any garage site. As many garages were constructed prior to the banned use of asbestos, there is also a high risk that the existing buildings contain asbestos in some form or another. A refurbishment & demolition survey must be undertaken by an approved asbestos surveyor prior to any works being undertaken and if possible prior to contractor procurement. 

If drug use has been a particular issue in the area, then a needle sweep may also be required. Before any works commences the client shall ensure that a full survey has been undertaken, externally and internally, and an appropriate solution is in place before the works are tendered. This will help avoid unexpected costs once the contractor is on site.

The conversion of garage sites into new homes is a great way of rejuvenating redundant land in the ownership of the council or local authority. As with any site, there are quite a few obstacles or challenges to look out for and overcome. The best way to manage these risks / challenges is to proactively find, manage and mitigate where possible.

Party Wall Issues

It is not uncommon for garage sites to be landlocked by neighbouring properties. If the properties are in the ownership of the Council  or a local authority, the risk of party wall issues is reduced. However, if the neighbouring properties are privately owned then a party wall surveyor will need to be appointed to ensure it is clear what works are to be undertaken and how.

Clear method statements will need to be drawn up by the client’s  party wall surveyor to allow your contractor to adequately price for the party wall element of works and to ensure the work is correctly undertaken. This can be an expensive process but will save you money in the long run and ultimately avoids nasty disputes with neighbouring properties. If the rear wall of the garage forms the neighbour’s boundary wall, then the cost to retain this wall can be costly; the demolition will be more technically challenging and the existing foundations may not be adequate. It may be more cost effective to demolish and rebuild. This should be reviewed in the early stages of the project and you need to ensure the boundary treatments are clear from the outset.

Neighbours

Due to the proximity of the works to the adjacent properties, during the course of the project, the contractor and local authorities will need to continue communications with neighbours. 

Neighbours should be kept in form of deliveries, site working hours and any changes to this, parking restrictions and who the key contacts are if they have any concerns. During the tender selection process it is worth considering a contractor with experience working on constricted sites and inquire how they have successfully liaised with neighbours on previous projects.

Utilities

From as early as possible it is crucial for the projects viability to understand how the site will be serviced.

One of the first things to undertake is a services search and get an existing services plan prepared. Providing services to the site can involve lengthy liaisons between clients, contractors and the statutory authorities and legal input is required resulting in a time consuming and costly process. Do not underestimate the cost of servicing the site. It should be noted the cost of services per dwelling can be far greater on a small infill garage site compared to a more traditional scheme.

 In summary, this approach and the end product has the potential to enhance the local area and provide quality new homes to those in need. Faithful+Gould has worked with a number of local Councils and Housing Associations converting their garage sites into new affordable homes. To find out more about this type of approach and other similar strategies, please get in touch.

Written by