Goldsmith Street in Norwich represents what has become a rare breed: streets of terraced homes built directly by the council, rented with secure tenancies at fixed social rents. The street of 105 homes can be hailed as high-quality architecture in its most environmentally and socially conscious form. It’s the largest Passivhaus scheme in the UK.
Goldsmith Street, a new development of around 100 homes, built by Norwich city council, without a profit-hungry developer in sight. They are not homes that fit into the murky class of “affordable”, or the multitude of “intermediate” tenures. This is proper social housing, rented from the council with secure tenancies at fixed rents. Not only that, it is some of the most energy-efficient housing ever built in the UK, meeting the exacting German Passivhaus standards – which translates into a 70% reduction in fuel bills for tenants. And it almost didn’t happen. The council’s intention had been to sell the site to a local housing provider, but these plans were scuppered by the financial crisis. In 2012, the city took the brave step of deciding to develop the site itself. It was a big risk: it hadn’t built homes for decades. The city has lost around 500 council homes over the last three years through the damaging policy, which has seen a wholesale transfer of public assets into private pockets, with many of the homes now rented out on the private market. “We’re only allowed to spend 30% of the right to buy receipts on building new housing,” she adds, “and we only have three years to spend it – or else it goes to the government, with interest. How can that be right?” But, like a growing number of local authorities, Norwich found a way, using a mix of borrowing, funds from its housing revenue account, some right-to-buy receipts and council reserves.Hence, the City has decided to develop the site itself, without a housing association or development partner.