The Board is responsible for the governance of the Group's corporate and social responsibilities. Our sustainability strategy is an inherent part of the Group's overall business strategy.
Our activities can be split into the following three areas:
Ensuring customers have a positive experience throughout their interaction with us increases the likelihood of us securing project partnerships with developers and repeat custom or recommendations from homeowners.
Our customer service procedures ensure that in the unlikely event a customer is dissatisfied, we are able to quickly respond and deal with the issue. We operate a dedicated Customer Service mailbox for each development. This enables our Customer Service team to log all reported issues and enquiries on dedicated trackers to monitor progress in addressing issues and to keep the customer informed. Our process means that whether the development is self-delivery or contractor- led, we can ensure that the issue or enquiry is forwarded directly to the correct personnel where it will be acknowledged and steps will be taken to resolve it. Our Customer Service Managers will attend face-to-face meetings with customers, where appropriate, to discuss, inspect and investigate reported issues first-hand and make immediate determinations as to how to resolve these issues. In the case of residential sales, our relationship with the homeowner also continues after the sale of a house, with close monitoring and support being provided, and customer feedback being sought with a view to improving our performance on future projects.
The Government's recent White Paper on the reform of the housing market and boosting of supply of new homes in England highlighted that, in the current market place, affordability is often a barrier to people wanting to either take their first step on the property ladder or to upsize as their circumstances change. We recognise that supporting the affordability of new homes is vital to the continuing success of our business and our wide range of houses and apartments enables our customers to select the right property for their needs and budget. Our average selling price this year was £293,000 (2017: £306,000). The Government's Help to Buy schemes have been an important mechanism to support home ownership and of the 275 homes sold this year (2017: 188), 58% were purchased using these schemes.
Our people are our greatest resource. Without the knowledge, skills and experience of our staff we would not be able to deliver our strategy and value to our shareholders. As our housebuilding operations have expanded, our staff levels have grown accordingly. Over the past two years, we have grown from 33 to 105 employees at 30 June 2018. This level of growth can create communication challenges and to alleviate this potential issue we have introduced an intranet portal for all personnel during the last year. We believe in treating all of our employees and sub-contractors fairly and responsibly. We offer competitive salary and benefit packages, including pensions, life assurance and an interest-free loan share purchase scheme. We also support the Government's Cycle to Work scheme.
The bringing of new talent into the Company is hugely important, especially as there is a general shortage of labour across all roles within the property industry. We are passionate about developing the next generation of workers, whether they be in our offices or on-site, working with our sub-contractors. We hire graduates and apprentices and we offer work experience to students where there is a potential of a permanent employment position at the end. We employed four new apprentices during the year.
The Group provides extensive training for all our staff and achieved an average of 8.5 days of training per employee during the year ended 30 June 2018. We support all staff with training that is specific to their role. All site-based staff undertake mandatory training in site safety and first aid at work and are expected to have the relevant CSCS card. We also provide bi-monthly management training workshops to upskill our managers and during the year we instigated e-learning programmes for DSE and for the new GDPR policies referred to above (see "Customers" section).
A full suite of human resources (HR) policies has been formalised and implemented during the year and in January 2018, we introduced an HR information system which has the benefit of a self-service module, helping to streamline our processes and procedures. New and revised policies adopted during the year include maternity/paternity leave, adoption leave and whistleblowing.
Board of Directors
Close collaboration with planning authorities and engagement with local communities enables us to refine our developments so as to reflect local demands within each locality that we serve.
We understand that the process of development and the consequences of investment decisions have a lasting effect upon local communities. The delivery of new homes comes with the responsibility of ensuring that the impact upon the lives of new and existing residents is understood and mitigated. We recognise that whilst we aim to have a positive effect on the communities in which we operate, existing and future residents may have concerns about perceived negative impacts of our construction and the future life of our developments. We appreciate that the local community has a right to enjoy their homes and working environment without nuisance caused by our works. Our sites have stringent procedures in place to reduce noise, dust and nuisance which may be caused by additional vehicular traffic both during and after the construction period. Our partnership sites are registered for the Considerate Constructors Scheme and in the year to 30 June 2018 our average score across the Group was 39 out of 50, well above the national average of 36/50.
"The children have not stopped talking about their visit to Lily's Walk and were so impressed by the different skills and machinery."
Lily's Walk, High Wycombe
In May 2018, the Lily's Walk project team arranged for a local primary school to visit Lily's Walk.
"I wanted to write to you to personally thank you for all the hard work and effort you have put into organising such a wonderful and memorable trip for our Nursery children today. The planning of the trip, from the moment I met you to start discussing it to the moment our bus left the site today has been so thorough and thoughtful. Your team has gone above and beyond to accommodate the children safely and ensure such an educational and beneficial visit.
Since arriving back to Nursery the children have not stopped talking about their visit to Lily's Walk and were so impressed by the different skills and machinery. The digger that you had moved into the safe zone for them to be able to actually sit on was a wonderful touch and a real highlight for the children. The packs and hats you have also thoughtfully given to the children were very well received and the children could not wait to share them with their parents at pick up time this morning. Many parents asked me to personally pass on their thanks to you too. It has been a real opportunity to build a link in the community and we do hope that in the future we may be able to bring the children back to see the progress of the work. It was already staggering to see what had changed since we last visited to do the risk assessment.
Once again, I would like to thank you for providing the opportunity for our young children to learn so much in the real building world. The set up you had provided meant that the children could have the best possible hands-on learning experience with ultimate safety too."
Hannah Smart, Head of Nursery, Godstowe Preparatory School
We support local and national charities, as well as the communities in which we operate. We continue to support The British Institute of Brain Injured Children (BIBIC), the National Autistic Society and the London Taxi Drivers' Fund for Underprivileged Children as well as sponsoring local football and cricket teams.
Biodiversity and ecology
We continue to carry out biodiversity and ecology risk assessments as part of the site planning process, ensuring that the full impact of the development is fully understood and associated mitigation measures implemented if necessary.
Brownfield sites make up 60% of the owned and controlled plots in our land bank and this strategy will continue to be important in our future plans.
The majority of our sites are "brownfield" meaning they have been previously used or built upon. These sites often present environmental issues which, whilst generally of a relatively minor nature, can on occasions be more complex and challenging. The Group has experience and expertise in dealing with these issues.
As an example, we are developing the former gas holders' site at Lily's Walk next to the town centre at High Wycombe. The site was a gas works for over a century, and inevitably the ground below the site contains various levels of contamination. To minimise the potential disturbance to the ground, we are constructing the buildings on sleeved concrete piles using methodology agreed with the Environment Agency and Thames Water to prevent any contamination leaching into the aquifer below the site. Additionally, Chapel Riverside in Southampton provided several environmental challenges and these are discussed in more detail here. Projects such as these highlight our technical skills and ability to resolve issues using innovative solutions, enabling us to pursue projects which would be unattractive to developers who lack our expertise and experience.
The Group is committed to reducing waste, arising from its construction activities and to recycling waste wherever possible. Our methodology can be summarised as "reuse, recycle, recover". Disposal at landfill is regarded as a last resort, to be used only when none of these options are possible.
Planning and regulation
As part of the planning process for each development, our consultation process involves engaging with a range of stakeholders from the existing communities, including local authorities, property owners, businesses, schools and residents' associations. Where possible we incorporate feedback received from our engagement with stakeholders into our project plans.
We contribute to local communities over and above the employment opportunities we offer and the new homes we create. We invest in local communities in many forms, such as parks and public open space; education provision, community buildings and roads and other infrastructure. During the year we paid £2.4m via section 106, legal agreements and CIL payments (2017: £1.5m).
Following the Government's requirement for housebuilders to review the fire strategy of their buildings, all apartment buildings constructed by the Group have been independently surveyed by a third party fire consultant and signed off as fully compliant with all relevant fire regulations.
We strive to work with suppliers and sub-contractors who share our values and who can support our business in a manner that is safe and efficient which reduces adverse environmental impact from operations. We intend that, so far as possible, our relationships with our suppliers are more in the nature of partnerships than one-sided arrangements and we are keen to support our supply chain, appreciating the differences in the ways that people work and offering flexibility where appropriate. We are committed to paying our suppliers and sub-contractors within agreed terms. To improve the collaborative process with our sub-contractors we hosted our first Supply Chain Conference in November 2017 which was attended by over 50 sub-contractors. We used the conference to set out our requirements and expectations and to provide sub-contractors with an opportunity to outline their key aspirations in relation to securing a contract and working for their developer client. We are holding our second conference in November 2018 to continue our dialogue and to further improve our relationships.
As mentioned previously, we actively encourage apprenticeships within the business. During the year we employed three apprentices in construction management.
39 out of 50
score from Considerate Constructors Scheme
of the owned and controlled plots in our land bank are made up of brownfield sites
First supply chain conference
As we now predominantly self-deliver our homes, we have gained greater control over developments. At all of our self-delivery homes, we avoid using mixed use skips so that we can segregate waste. This means that it is easier for the waste to be recycled, reducing the amount that goes to landfill (see waste management section). We are also trying to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions through a number of initiatives, such as having eco-friendly site accommodation and ensuring that we are always using electricity from the main grid supply, rather than using less efficient generators.
Planning the sustainability of developments begins at the earliest stages of a project, when potential sites are assessed - for example, considering what materials are present on the site and if these could be reused in the construction. Throughout the planning of the infrastructure, buildings, and construction strategies, sustainability is a core focus, and decisions are taken which make both financial and ecological sense. On larger projects we have the scope to undertake ambitious sustainability projects, such as installing energy centres, and all of our projects use a range of environmentally friendly materials and construction methods. All of our timber suppliers and manufacturers are registered with either the PEFC or FSC (when every tree is cut down they plant three and all trees cut are from regulated forests in Scandinavia or Canada).
The principles of lifetime homes are incorporated into all of our developments, which means that our homes are designed to be easily adaptable for use by most occupants at all stages of life without the necessity for substantial alterations.
Health and safety
Occupational health and safety is integral to our culture. The Group appointed to a new post a head of Health and Safety in May 2017. The role of the appointee is to advise and assist managers of self-delivery projects on the effective implementation of these projects in a manner which minimises the role of injury or ill-health to those engaged in their delivery.
A steering group comprising all project managers and regional directors meets quarterly to review recent performance and to offer suggestions for further improvement. The steering group also reviews all proposed changes to the management system prior to their implementation.
We believe that our emphasis on high standards of safety from the commencement of each project filters down through our supply chain and encourages good performance from sub-contractors, teams and individuals. The benefits of this approach not only enable us to achieve low accident rates but also contribute to the success and profitability of the business.
As evidence of the benefits of our focus on health and safety, the self-delivery business has completed the last one million man hours worked with no reportable accidents – a zero Accident Frequency Rate (AFR). Our minor injury rate has also reduced significantly. This achievement is due primarily to the commitment, professionalism and competence of our staff.
High levels of safety and quality sit side by side and we will continue our focus on the management of these complementary areas in our future planning.
for last one million man hours
Thames Valley Housebuilder of the Year, Thames Valley Property Awards
Identified as one of London Stock Exchange Group's 1,000 Companies to Inspire Britain