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How a Sheffield development hopes to solve the housing shortage with cheaper flats in a fashionable spot

Nick Riley at Dun Works in Kelham Island, Sheffield. Picture: Steve Ellis
Nick Riley at Dun Works in Kelham Island, Sheffield. Picture: Steve Ellis

"Want to live in Kelham but think you can't afford it?" reads the bright orange hoarding covering the site of the new Dun Works apartments in Sheffield.

Evidently those behind the £25 million venture believe the answer from passers-by is, increasingly, yes. As private rents have risen and Kelham Island has transformed from a place of traditional manufacturing to an 'urban village' populated with modern flats, fashionable cafés and bars, the people who made the neighbourhood 'great in the first place' are at risk of being priced out, the marketing blurb suggests.

The site of Dun Works in Kelham Island, Sheffield. Picture: Steve Ellis

The site of Dun Works in Kelham Island, Sheffield. Picture: Steve Ellis

So Dun Works, at the heart of the area, is being viewed as a blueprint that could help to meet Britain's acute housing shortage - 225 new studio, one and two-bedroom flats, developed through a partnership between a private investor and a housing association. The first rental homes are available from October, with completion of the full eight blocks expected by early 2019.

Crucially, more than a third of the properties are being offered below the market rate to tenants earning less than £25,000 per year - giving young professionals on an average wage a chance to reside in a sought-after location listed by The Sunday Times as one of the UK's best places to live.

"Proving this can work is really important," says Nick Riley, board director at Whittam Cox Architects which has drawn up the designs.

Nick is executive leader of the Sheffield Property Association, established in 2017. The Star is focusing on the mission of the SPA – which aims to be the ‘collective voice of property in Sheffield’ – through a series of features looking at major schemes. In each case, members – a diverse group including developers, both city universities, planning consultants, solicitors and commercial agents – are making a contribution in a professional capacity.

An artist's impression showing how Dun Works will look once completed. Picture: Whittam Cox Architects

An artist's impression showing how Dun Works will look once completed. Picture: Whittam Cox Architects

The 1.3 acre site of Dun Works, named after the pre-Celtic term for the river Don (the ‘Dun’) that runs through Kelham, was previously occupied by low-rise industrial buildings. These have been cleared away but parts of the old heritage have been preserved, including a crucible kiln which is one of only a few left in Sheffield.

Planning permission to use the land for apartments was approved in 2006, but the backer went into administration and the banks took control. In 2016 Cheyne Capital Management, a London-based concern, bought the unbuilt project having formed the Social Property Impact Fund, a pot of money intended to assist groups working with affordable housing and supported living.

Contractor Engie - formerly Keepmoat - is handling construction at Dun Works and South Yorkshire Housing Association has taken on a long-term management lease. Cheyne, Whittam Cox, Engie and SYHA are all members of the SPA.

In March Sir Edward Lister, the chairman of government agency Homes England, visited and said it demonstrated low-cost properties could be provided without taxpayers footing the bill. "Others should follow this example," Sir Edward said, while pointing out the flats are 'tenure blind'. "People won't actually know who is paying full rent or a discounted rate."

Monthly rents start at £470 per month. Cheyne will get a financial return, but Nick says: "This is about doing their bit and giving something back to society."

The homes are not aimed at students, he emphasises. "Not many people are fortunate enough to buy and have a deposit, so this is a route onto the property ladder."

Whittam Cox stuck 'broadly' to the original plans, he says, but did 'a huge amount of work to try and bring it up to a more contemporary standard.'

"Everything this is about is what the property association is trying to promote," adds Nick. "The fact this is a blueprint - not just for Sheffield, but for the UK - is really significant."

A mix of red brick with pitched roofs has been used, incorporating metal cladding to suit Kelham's industrial feel. Four commercial units, each covering around 1,000 sq ft, sit on the ground floor along Green Lane, the area's main thoroughfare. These would be ideal for food businesses, says Nick.

"I spend a lot of time in London and Kelham Island has been anecdotally referred to as the Shoreditch of the North. That's a very olde worlde place that's been made more contemporary - this is very similar, I think. These places are important because they bring culture and character."

Near to Dun Works is Little Kelham - eco-friendly homes at the former Eagle Works and Green Lane Works, where the stunning clock tower has been restored - and Krynkl, the business centre made from recycling shipping containers.

"It's a brilliant place, it can be different to the main city centre but a draw in its own right," says Nick.

There is little space left to redevelop in Kelham now, but the land between it and the city centre - around Shalesmoor and Scotland Street - is the next location to watch, he thinks. Schemes, mainly flats, worth well over £100 million are planned on some of the prime spots already.

"There's so much potential there. We're going to see a natural linking of Kelham Island to the city centre," says Nick.