David Woolman, Director of Woolbro Group, shares his thoughts with the Evening Standard.


The Chancellor unveiled a new mortgage guarantee scheme to help homeowners get onto the property ladder. Although it will not be replacing the current initiatives in place, such as the Help-to-Buy scheme, it will be a welcome addition of support for the residential sector. Even more so in London, where average house prices are higher and much larger deposits are needed for first-time buyers. The new initiative will increase affordability across the whole market for many potential homebuyers.

mortgage guarantee scheme budget 2021


Before the pandemic, first-time buyers had huge sway on the property market and accounted for more than half of the homes purchased with a mortgage. The pandemic has meant there have been fewer lower deposit options available for first-time buyers, with banks withdrawing their 5% deposit mortgage offers in early 2020.

With this new scheme, there will be additional support for all buyers and more favourable mortgage offers. In addition, it should in theory speed up and simplify the mortgage application process. Traditionally, with HTB, homebuyers need to seek approval from both mortgage lenders and the government to qualify. However, with the mortgage guarantee scheme, the government will provide lenders with incentives to bring back 95% mortgages, taking on more of the risk, and ultimately, simplifying the application process.


Our Beresford Avenue, Alperton site, is gathering attention from the industry press, with announcements by Property Week, Building Products and UK Property Forums.

Playing a key role in the wider regeneration of the iconic Wembley area of London, our proposal includes both the demolition and redevelopment of an existing warehouse to transform the site into 100 one, two and three-bedroom residential units set across seven floors, 50% of which will be affordable. This major development will also include 12,000 sq ft of commercial units offering a mixture of flexible modern workspaces.

The scheme is in the heart of the Alperton Growth Area, reflects the London Borough of Brent’s goal of mixed-use regeneration along the Grand Union Canal, and is part of meeting the borough’s ambitious housing targets by 2026.

Planning permission granted for Beresford Road development in Alperton
Beresford Avenue, Alperton


Designed by HWO Architects in partnership with Evolution Estate Developments, plans include thoughtfully designed landscaped gardens with additional cycle parking facilities to accommodate the growing demand for sustainable commuting options. In accordance with the Alperton Masterplan, plans also include improved pedestrian routes to the Grand Union Canal with continuous access to the towpath.

As we seek to provide innovative solutions that benefit the neighbourhood, this scheme will embrace the concept of ‘maker spaces’, allowing the local community to thrive and work in the area.

With planning permission now granted, work on-site is due to start in the summer of 2021 with completion expected in 2023.

An opportunity for first time buyers to invest in previously unaffordable areas.

We may be biased, however, there are some very good reasons for buying a new build, unless of course you adore period properties and all their charms, in which case a new build is probably not for you. In the bid to boost the number of new builds available, new homes are being built all the time, meaning there is a much wider pool of properties to choose from. A property’s location is a key consideration, and many new build developments give buyers an opportunity to invest in areas which would previously have been unaffordable.

New builds are energy efficient. Reducing your carbon footprint, and low energy bills is surely a good thing. At Woolbro Homes, all our homes include Smart Meters, triple glazing, good insulation and solar panelling.

A new build in Putney


There is a certain peace of mind which comes from knowing that all appliances and fixtures are new, reducing money spent on repairs in the first few years. This plug and play approach to moving in, allows you to settle into your new home far quicker, which works well for those who don’t want to take on a renovation project. Often, fixtures and fittings can be customised, so apartments can still be made to feel personal, rather than the characterless features which can too often be associated with new builds.

Most new builds come with government incentives, such as HTB, Shared Ownership and the new Mortgage Guarantee Scheme, giving first time buyers a real chance to jump quickly onto the property ladder, instead of having to save for years and years.

So, is buying a new build a good idea? If the above reasons feel right for your situation, then a new build is probably a good way to go.

Mortgage wait times have soared.

Before the pandemic it took two weeks to get a mortgage offer. It is now taking up to six weeks, much to the frustration of potential homebuyers and brokers. We can of course blame Covid, the go-to excuse for 2020, and partly it has been brought about by increased home working and the desire for more space, but the main reason is simply that buyers are keen to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday, hence demand has surged.

Can the lenders do anything more to speed it up?

Well, yes. There are few things which could be reviewed in order to better handle the situation:

• Make it less of a national box ticking exercise and take more of a personal approach when looking at the buyer’s financial situation.

• Assign more case managers to help guide buyers through the application process.

• Have an underwriter check the initial application to make sure the required documents are all there and in order, reducing the risk of delays at a later stage.

• If the lender is unable to process the application within a reasonable timeframe, they should perhaps restrict lending or be extremely clear with the borrower in the first instance. The borrower can then make a decision call as to whether to proceed or look for another lender and not risk losing their home.

In short, the lenders need to up their game. From the borrower’s side, get your credit report in shape and prepare well before applying and hopefully you will sail through with no errors.


Here are a few things you can do to help make the process a bit easier.


1) Start gathering a deposit
The very first step is to work out your financial situation. Buying a home (particularly for the first time) will most likely require a mortgage. How much you can borrow will depend on several factors, from your earnings and your overall credit score to the area in which you would like to live. Ideally, you will need 20% of the house price, but if you don’t have that don’t worry. The governments Shared Ownership and Help To Buy schemes are in place to support a lower down payment. To calculate your borrowing capacity, check out our HTB calculator here: https://woolbrogroup.com/homes/. We recommend finding a good mortgage broker to help guide you towards the best product on the current market.


2) Searching for your new home
Find a decent estate agent and start looking on @rightmove to get a feel as to what is out there and what you can get for your money. Since the number of new homes listed can be overwhelming, it is a good idea to set up some filters on your search. Viewing properties is time consuming, so it is important that you tell the estate agents clearly what you want and don’t want, to avoid wasted viewings.

3) Make an offer! 
When you see a home you love and you can imagine living there, then the next logical step is to make an offer. We highly recommend being financially qualified (via the sales financial team) before making any offer, so you don’t get your hopes up about a property, to then find that it is slightly out of reach.

4) The legals
Picking the right solicitor is actually one of the most important aspects to ensure the process runs as smoothly as possible. As part of the conveyance process, your solicitor will raise any queries once the draft contract has been received and request searches to provide you with more in depth information about your new home and check that everything is compliant. If your solicitor is not on the ball, this process can drag on for months and it can cause frustration for all parties involved. Once the searches and valuation have been performed, contracts can be exchanged and steps will be made to move towards completion. If you are using Help To Buy, it is also worth keeping them on your radar and double checking all the documents before submitting them, as one wrong detail on a form, can really slow the whole process down.

5) Completion and moving in
Completion is the day you officially get your keys! All of the necessary transactions from all parties involved will have gone through and you  will receive a message to say that the keys can now be released. This an exciting moment, and means you can now finally think about moving in and starting life in your new home! Now all you have to do is pack your boxes and it’s  at this point we realise that we don’t need half of the things that we carry around with us, but that’s for another post!

Director, Ben Woolman shares his thoughts on the practicality of virtual planning meetings in a recent issue of Property Week.

The government shut down many industries in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but not all of the construction industry. This stance has had huge implications, not just for developers and contractors but also planning authorities.

Legislative changes were made back in March, allowing planning committees to meet virtually and since then have become vital in helping to maintain the progression of planning applications.

So to what extent are local authorities using VPCs and could they be here to stay?

Developers report that applications are being processed more quickly as a result of the move to VPCs. “We’re finding that some local authorities are working quicker”, says Ben Woolman, director of Woolbro Group. “The response rate from planning officers in some examples has improved as offices have adapted well to remote working”.

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The capital’s Green Belt extends to over half a million hectares

There are many social, environmental and economic benefits of having Green Belt around our cities and in particular around London, all of which are highlighted in the report; A positive vision for London’s Green Belt by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for London’s Green Belt. The APPG was set up in 2017 with the aim of protecting the Green Belt from Inappropriate development.

London’s Green Belt is often in the news and was in the spotlight following the release of the London Plan examination report in October 2019.

The report included a recommendation that the Mayor commits to a Green Belt review, in order to close the gap between housing need and supply in London. Despite this, within his December 2019 response he did not accept the recommendation to commit to a review and instead will focus on higher densities across London and existing brownfield sites.

London’s Green Belt extends to over half a million hectares and is the largest of England’s 14 Green Belts. A large proportion of London’s Green Belt is designated as either Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (24%), Priority Habitat (13%), Site of Special Scientific Interest (5%) or Woodland (18%).

Extent of Green Belt surrounding London

The designations above all offer varying levels of protection against harmful development. With regards to Green Belt release, it’s clearly set out within the NPPF 2019 that the aim of the Green Belt is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open unless Exceptional Circumstances can be demonstrated.

The London Plan Examination report questions the level of protection attributed to the entirety of the Green Belt and boldly states that ‘it is implausible to insist that the Green Belt is entirely sacrosanct without considering what it comprises’.

Around 8% of the Green Belt is developed with many recreational uses included, there are also a large number of neglected and derelict brownfield sites which provide limited contribution to the purpose of the Green Belt. If these sites are not serving a Green Belt purpose and could accommodate Sustainable Development then should Local Authorities not identify these sites for releases?

Well, they are starting to and over the coming years we’re likely to see London Boroughs actively looking to revise Green Belt boundaries due to increasing pressures on housing supply. This is crucial to meeting the capitals housing crisis and although it’s evident that London’s Green Belt does play an important role in preventing urban sprawl, I think it is possible to release a relatively small amount of Green Belt land without jeopardising its functioning role now or in the future.
With the APPG for London’s Green Belt and the Mayor seemingly not looking to support a high level Green Belt review, I think the next 10 years will see a greater disconnect between the Government/Greater London Authority and individual London Authorities.

What’s the point?

The Scottish government has vowed to make all new homes more environmentally-friendly by 2025 to help tackle climate change. Part of this directive is looking at the use of low carbon heating systems with a move away from gas boiler central heating.

While the rest of the UK has not yet followed suit, a similar commitment was made from the then English counterpart, Philip Hammond, back in the spring of 2019.

How realistic is removing gas boilers? Is the technology available? Who’s going to pay for this? What’s the point? 

How realistic is this?
If the UK was to stop using gas to heat our homes, the only real alternative would be electricity. While great strides are being made to decarbonise our national grid, and renewables are slowly overtaking fossil fuels, half of the UKs electricity is still coming from fossil fuel sources (gas and coal). So by stopping Gas at one point, are we just pushing the problem back to the grid.

The cost of electricity is at least four times the price of gas. Homes with electric heating – even those with heat pumps – would still be paying more than the same house with a gas boiler. It just doesn’t make financial sense.

There are still articles with titles like “Americas Light bulb revolution” in 2019! What chance do we have of bringing in a fundamental change to the way we think about heating, one which impacts every facet of the built environment when America have only just caught onto LED!

Is the technology available?
After a trip to the Homes & Renovation Show in Excel last November, I met Ross from NIBE.  Never heard of them? They are a small Swedish heating pump manufacturer with a turnover of over 20 Billion SEK. It turns out Sweden have being doing it right for years and are on their 4/5th generation heat pump.

Exhaust Air Heat Pumps (EAHP) was a new technology to me. Heat pumps in general are just using refrigeration technology that exists in every single home, so it is a tried and tested formula which exists in a wide range of current appliances. The advantage of EAHP over Air source heat pumps, is that it combines mechanical ventilation and air source technology to provide low energy heating, hot water and ventilation from within the internal space, so no noisy external units. The simplicity of the EAHP and the removal of flues provide flexibility when designing them for smaller self-contained apartments. The EAHP units are 300% more efficient with no drop in performance over its expected 20 year lifespan (assuming it is maintained and serviced).

Who’s going to pay for this, developer or buyer?
On the face of it the cost of installing all these new systems in each apartment in place of a single combi-boiler and radiators looks huge. However, it’s important to consider the entire development. Woolbro Homes already provide underfloor heating in our apartments, there would be no gas connections or headaches associated with metering or routing pipe work, no gas companies to deal with, no flues, no boilers, not to mention the SAP benefits and reduction in carbon footprint.

Yes the units cost a little more, and there is the additional cost of providing ducting. However, do the benefits of cheaper clean energy, providing uniformed heating, clean fresh air with no pollutants and no stale air, no moisture or mould build up, all with a 20 year serviced life, not present a potential uplift in the end value? Does the simplification of design and removal of an additional utility from the developments not balance the costs?

What’s the point?
Is going gas free easy? Maybe. Will it cost the developer some money? Possibly. Will I get my return in the sales? Hopefully. Should we go gas free by 2025? No… we should do it now! 

Tucked away on an unassuming side road in East London is Calverts.

One of only two design and print cooperatives in the UK. Specialising in high quality graphic design and sustainable print, Calverts were one of the first printers to use vegetable-based inks before they were industry standard. Their green credentials have evolved over the last 40 years and they are committed to helping their clients create more eco-friendly products.

Woolbro Group mark 85 years in business in 2020, an important milestone. It has been a family business all this time and continues to be so. Reflecting on these past years, Woolbro Group has been exploring the core of what we feel we stand for; consolidating our aims and vision for the future.  Calvert’s responsible approach to printed marketing, feels like a solid fit.

The decision to switch to greener printing methods comes at a cost. Calverts commit to using sustainable materials and methods, which are still more expensive than standard printing. Aluminium printing plates are recycled and re-used; 100% of their electricity is generated from hydroelectric and wind power; vegetable oil-based inks are used which have less impact on the environment during production and; they are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, which guarantees that the papers used can be traced back to responsible forestry.

It’s no secret that the construction industry has a significant impact on the environment. As the effects of climate change and other environmental issues become more pronounced, it’s more important than ever to find ways to protect the environment. Greener construction practices are beginning to be used, but we are a long way off delivering a process which fully supports sustainable building.

High end marketing material needn’t be full of glue and plastic, and sustainable print should not be seen as second best. Calvert’s ethical standards should be viewed as an inspiration to businesses across all sectors, and whilst the building industry struggles to implement much needed change, one eco-friendly change ALL developers can do is print green.