John Lewis is considering plans to build 10,000 homes over the next decade as the high street store group looks to revive its flagging fortunes by becoming a landlord. The employee-owned group, which compromises the upmarket John Lewis department stores and the Waitrose supermarkets, is understood to have identified enough excess space on the land it owns to build at least 7,000 homes.
The properties, which will range from studio flats to four-bedroom houses, will be built on sites owned by the chain, above Waitrose supermarkets or on land next to the company's distribution centres. Tenants of a John Lewis-owned home will have the option of renting the property fully furnished with the department store's products or using their own. Some of its housing developments are expected to come with a concierge service, and many are expected to include a Waitrose convenience store as part of the development.
The first John Lewis homes are planned for south-east England but the partnership believes there are opportunities across the country, given the extent of the nationwide housing crisis as property prices spiral upwards, pushing properties out of reach of first-time buyers. If successful, it would be expanded to include further sites. John Lewis 80,000 staff, who are partners in the business, could be offered discounted rents.
It is not the chain's first foray into the housing market. John Lewis also owns most of Leckford, a village in Hampshire, where every home with a green door is a partnership property. The retailer is preparing to lodge a handful of planning applications early next year.
The move is part of the store's plan to restore its fortunes. John Lewis has had a very difficult time in recent years amid pressure on the high street from its online rivals, and tumbled to its first annual loss in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The big shopping changes caused by the crisis prompted it to close 16 of its 50 stores and commit to spending £800million to overhaul the remaining branches, as well as improve its website and shopping app.
The fallout from the pandemic meant staff did not get a bonus for the first time since 1953 with one unlikely this year.
Roof gardens could spring up across the country as ministers prepare to tear up regulations and let homeowners build terraces on top of their houses. Senior government sources said it will be easier to get planning permission to put plants, trees and furniture on roofs.
It is believed greenery above homes is good for the environment as it promotes biodiversity and helps to insulate buildings, reducing the carbon footprint.
A No 10 spokesman said: 'It is definitely something that should be taken seriously.' Ministers added that homeowners will be actively encouraged to improve their house's biodiversity. One said: 'I would strongly support planning and building regulations being relaxed in relation to biodiversity initiatives like roof gardens.'
Currently, it is difficult to get planning permission due to considerations such as neighbour privacy. Laws allows such issues to be bypassed if there is a precedent for roof gardens or terraces in the area.
Sarah Dival, of environmental charity Hubbub, said: 'roof gardens are increase biodiversity [and] absorb pollution.'
A leading property solicitor has warned that the industry must put pressure on lenders to take a more reasonable approach to ESW1 certificates, the controversial certification framework brought in during the post-Grenfell cladding crisis.
Susanna Caulfield is a senior associate in the Real Estate Group at Rosling King LLp. She says the government's External Wall Survey (EWS1) certificates, backed by RICS, were introduced with good intentions to help lenders value properties if fire risks were identified or compliance with government guidance could not be proved. These initially applied just to those with problem cladding over 18 meters tall, although those under this height were later brought into scope. But ESW1 forms have "subsequently became a source of greater confusion, with flat owners from any high rise finding themselves at risk", she says.
Last month RICS issued new, narrower guidance aimed at significantly reducing the number of buildings that require the controversial form.
"While there is now more clarity as to what the guidelines are for buildings of various sizes, the guidance is not statutory, and banks can decide for themselves whether or not to adopt it," says Caulfield. "UK lenders are being urged to support the guidance and work with their valuation providers to implement them in order to reduce the number of unnecessary requests for EWS1 forms. The guidelines provide a clear criterion for valuers to follow but there are many examples of lenders requiring EWS1 forms for buildings not included by the RICS guidance.
Housing firm Persimmon is boosting soaring profits by giving buyers no option but to sign up to its broadband service. Families moving on to new estates built by the developer found the only internet network they can choose is FibreNest - which is owned by Persimmon. in the last year, the internet provider's customer numbers have more than doubled from 6,000 to 14,000.
Critics say the move is a ploy to reap 'ongoing revenue' from buyers - and MPs said Persimmon had created its own monopoly by forcing residents to use their broadband.
Bill Esterson, Labour MP for Sefton Central, said: 'This is predatory behaviour.'
Persimmon, which made a pre-tax profit of £784million in 2020, says it provides the network to ensure homeowners do not have to wait for another firm to connect. Persimmon said it will support other providers who wish to use its cables. Firms like Openreach, BT's cable arm, could legally install their own fibre on Persimmon estates. But a spokesman said it was 'unable to make the business case work'.
Thousands of homeowners will be freed from toxic leasehold contracts in a landmark victory for campaigners.
Housing developer Persimmon has agreed to sell freeholds to leaseholders at a discounted price, while insurance and investment giant Aviva will refund up to 1,000 families whose ground rent bills doubled. Pressure is now piling on other developers that saddled homes with toxic deals and the investment firms that bought freeholds to cash in.
The competition watchdog warned last night that firms could face legal action if they do not rectify the situation. There has been a campaign calling for an end to the scandal of buyers missold homes with onerous costs buried in contracts. It left leaseholders unable to sell homes lumbered with soaring ground rent bills, or forced to pay over the odds for a freehold sold to an investor.
Around 4.5million homeowners do not own the freehold of their property. Some have been unable to sell either because the clauses are unattractive to buyers or because lenders will not grant mortgages on the property. Many buyers claim they were not properly informed about the onerous contracts. Persimmon has now agreed to cap the price of freeholds on its houses at £2,000 - a 47% discount on the £3,750 its homeowners currently pay on average. The builder, which reported a £784million pre-tax profit for last year, will also refund any families who paid more for their freehold and are still in their homes. The pledges, which come after an investigation into unfair practice by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), could help almost 10,000 homeowners and are expected to cost the firm millions.
Aviva, which bought freeholds from developers, has agreed to remove conditions that meant that some ground rents doubled every ten to fifteen years. Charges will be set to what they were at purchase and up to 1,000 homeowners will get a refund.
CMA chief Andrea Coscelli said: 'This is a real win for thousands of leaseholders. For too long people have found themselves trapped in homes they can struggle to sell or been faced with unexpectedly high prices to buy their freehold. But our work isn't done. We now expect other housing developers and investors to follow the lead of Aviva and Persimmon.'
The CMA launched enforcement action against developers Countryside, Taylor Wimpey, Persimmon, and Barret Homes in September last year. The case is still in progress , although the regulator has dropped its misselling probe into Persimmon.