The redevelopment of a vacant Keynsham office block into 95 apartments is already providing income to protect frontline services in Bath & North East Somerset.

The redevelopment is the first major project by the council’s new property company, Aequus, which aims to deliver sustainable homes that meet local demand and set the standard for the industry.

From left: Gregory’s Estate Agents founder, Matt Gregory, WECA Chief Executive, Patricia Greer, Aequus Chair, Councillor Charles Gerrish and B&NES Council Leader, Cllr Tim Warren.

Previously occupied by the authority, the renovated Temple Street property will provide a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom flats, dubbed Riverside View.

Aequus Chair, Councillor Charles Gerrish, said: “Bath & North East Somerset Council has already recouped all its money and more from this development. That’s the principle behind Aequus – generating income for general council services.

“Aequus is looking to generate £400,000 a year to the council. Going forward it will be in excess of £600,000.

“I want Aequus to be generating a permanent income for the council and to act as an exemplar to the industry – to develop sites at a highly sustainable standard as quickly as possible. We want each site built out within two years.

“We’re aiming to meet the housing need and reduce pressure on the Green Belt. We’re also in conversation with North Somerset Council, South Gloucestershire Council and Mendip District Council about joint ventures.”

Describing the Riverside View project as a “win win”, he said it will provide three sources of income to the council:

Firstly, it can borrow money at a low rate that it then lends to Aequus at a commercial rate – so is not competing unfairly with the private sector.

Secondly, the authority owned the Riverside building, so it got a capital receipt when Aequus bought it. Thirdly, the profits generated from the project will go to the council.

Cllr Gerrish said: “There are always risks but we look to mitigate the risks. I’m a retired bank manager. Other directors have backgrounds in construction and project management. We have a reasonable degree of expertise.

“We are never exposing to risk ourselves on any given site beyond our abilities.”

Aequus has submitted plans for its first new build project, for 37 homes on a site in Englishcombe Lane that previous developers have found “difficult”. At least thirty per cent of the properties will be affordable.

Previous Aequus developments have focused on bringing spaces above Bath shops into use as accommodation.

The projects are all subject to a “double lock” – they have to be agreed by the Aequus board and signed off by B&NES Council Leader, Tim Warren, after he takes independent professional advice.

Speaking of Riverside, Cllr Warren said: “This development delivers fantastic opportunities to support Keynsham’s regeneration, alongside Market Place, the Chocolate Quarter and other local developments in the town.

“As well as providing much-needed housing by redeveloping this empty building – and reducing the need to further encroach on the green belt – all the profits will go straight back into supporting and protecting the council’s front-line services.

“I’m also pleased to say that Aequus, the council and one of our housing association partners are in discussions around the delivery of some shared ownership apartments, and Aequus are considering what other housing options there may be to support local residents at Riverside.”

The first phase of apartments will be released for sale in the new year, with the first units set to be completed in the spring.

West of England Metro Mayor, Tim Bowles, said: “This is a great example of how, by working together and being innovative, we can provide more homes for our residents.

“We know that we need more homes, to buy and rent – homes where they are needed, at prices people can afford.

“The West of England Combined Authority has already secured millions in additional Government funding to speed up building new homes across the region. We’re working with B&NES Council, our other constituent councils and our housing associations, to deliver more affordable homes in particular.”

B&NES Council enlisted the help of Bath start-up Whiley & Blake to give a virtual reality tour of a show property at the Riverside View development.

Co-founder Steven Blake, who previously worked at Aardman, said: “We’ve been running for a year. Our background is in engineering and architecture. We’re trying to find practical applications for VR. We’re also working on a VR for prisons project to train prisoners to be HGV drivers. We can simulate the pre-drive checks you need to do in the vehicle.”

The VR tour can now be viewed at Gregory’s Estate Agents.