Congratulations on winning Best Small Housebuilder GOLD at the 2023 WhatHouse? Awards. What was this experience like and why did you choose Manor Gardens?
“I entered because I believed the design of our lateral-living homes is so different that it deserves to be recognised. The judging itself was a very detail-oriented process, focusing on the quality of the build itself as well as on levels of customer service. The judge came to visit for an hour and half and was completely blown away by what she saw.
“You don’t actually know whether you’ve won until the day of the awards ceremony. So we were sitting there on through through all the other awards and didn’t win anything, and then suddenly came the announcement that the gold winner was Horgan Homes, which I absolutely wasn’t expecting! It was such a brilliant feeling, to have all that hard work recognised in this way.”
What do you look for from land in the planning process?
“It always starts from the moment we first look at potential land. When considering whether to build on a piece of land, I first think to myself – can I see myself living here? If the answer is yes, that’s the first stage completed. I need to believe in the area. It’s even more personal for me as it’s my name above the door, so it needs to really be a project that I’m inspired by and directly involved with from inception all the way through to the build process.”
“We’re not a developer who will build a type A, B, C, or D – I want us to be known for our individuality. I want what sets us apart from every other housebuilder to be that we create beautiful houses with the vision to ultimately become beautiful homes.”
Do you feel the planning system is working at the moment? If not, how would you fix it?
“The short answer is a resounding no. The problem with our planning system is that it dates back to shortly after the Second World War, and it has had so many layers added to it over the decades since then that it has become incredibly contrived, complex and political.
“For one thing, there are far too many policies, with one policy directly contradicting another policy, so that you end up tying yourself in knots. And there is far too much room for human caprice to throw a spanner in the works, which makes the system fundamentally unfair. It takes huge amounts of resources to appeal these decisions and get them overturned. As a result, we lose years of progress in the middle of a housing crisis.”
What are your views on greenbelt vs brownfield?
“We need to have a balanced and sensible approach – and that not all greenbelt and brownfield sites are the same! There are thousands of perfectly fit-for-purpose, re-usable brownfield sites across the country. Yes, they probably need to be cleared and decontaminated, and will need infrastructure putting in place to uplift them and make them more desirable.
“But what is the alternative? We need to be unlocking and developing these sites. It’s in everybody's interests to do so – and yet the Government provides no incentives; nor do they do anything to make this an easier task for developers.
“This may sound quite radical, but I think the system needs a fundamental shake-up and root-and-branch reform. In essence, I think the whole thing needs to be scrapped and a blank-canvas approach adopted.”
Look out for our full profile of Sophie to find out what she feels needs to happen to attract more women into the industry, and to learn about her admirable philosophy to house-building.