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About Little Ships

Greenfield ? Brownfield ? . . . . try "Greyfield"

I coined the term "Greyfield" as a post-grad student in the 1990's when studying ecological building design in 1993, later developing the idea into a major project for a diploma in architecture in 1999.

Researching the ecological impacts of building on Brownfield and Greenfield land suggested a third category was being largely ignored by the property and construction industries: Under-utilised land in our cities, towns and villages, or "Greyfield sites".

Youthful dreams often fade in the harsh light of day. However in the 20 years since I finished my studies and set up in business the conviction that a solution to the housing crisis is all around us in our towns and cities has grown. It's not complicated, it is also not obvious and it is definitely not easy. Whilst many have noticed these sites, no-one else has yet suggested that hundreds of thousands of homes could be built on them.

Little Ships hopes to build out as many sites as we can, but more importantly, we want to encourage others to do the same, to help end the housing crisis. Scroll down, or click here for more...

Hugh Dennis, MA

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CIC people

Not for profit and independent

Little Ships is a Community Interest Company (CIC). Our mission statement is to increase the quality and diversity of new homes for everyone.

We will buy under-utilised publicly owned land and build three types of housing on it

  1. Market housing (for shared ownership sale and rent at normal prices)
  2. Affordable housing (for people on the council housing waiting list)
  3. Tied housing (as payment to the land-owning public body for their staff to live in).

As a CIC we are not for profit and politically neutral. Little Ships will launch its initial pilot projects in Brighton.

Identifying unused space

We are focused on three categories of unused space for building new housing, all of which is on publicly owned land in our cities, towns and villages. None of it means building on our beautiful countryside or on our valuable public open spaces. Little Ships will also buy normal development sites which think we can make a success of.


SMALL: 1-4 homes

Little Ships will discover. All towns and cities contain many small hidden opportunities where a good architect or designer could find room for a home or two. Exploiting these could bring forth lots of unusual, inspiring or simply very clever homes in the centre of cities, towns and villages, which is where lots of us want to live anyway.


MEDIUM: 5-19 homes

Little Ships will intensify. Typically, this involves utilising the space above underused land or buildings which cannot be completely re-developed for practical, cost or operational reasons. Professionals refer to this development opportunity as "air rights". It may require structural gymnastics, or simply the addition of an extra storey and any resulting disruption must be carefully managed.


LARGE: 20 homes or more

Little Ships will assemble. Bringing together adjacent pieces of publicly owned land to create a bigger site that can be fully developed to achieve the optimum number of new homes makes sense. It's about creating synergy between plots of land that are not being used as efficiently as they could be, and often can't be developed on their own.

Some of the projects we identify may not fit into the Small / Medium / Large category. They might be Extra Small where for example we help an existing residential occupier to extend their property when a normal small expansion (for example a roof extension) isn't possible and a more creative solution is required. Other projects might be Extra Large, for example some landowners of important sites can't see the wood for the trees especially on very large projects. We will help bring their sites forward for residential led re-development.

decision time

Engaging with the owners and users

Little Ships will ask the public body who owns the land to sell the freehold or leasehold interest in their site on the open market. We will offer the going rate in the form of Tied Housing, or pay with cash if they insist.

Sometimes the land-owner will want to build out the development opportunity themselves. If we think they can do it competently, compassionately and quickly (for example a local council housing team who simply hadn't seen the opportunity that we identify), we will step aside.

Sometimes, under used publicly owned land cannot be developed, for example the under used space we've spotted might form part of a bigger plan for a new hospital or school. If they're planning to sell it on the open market for redevelopment anyway even better, as long as they get on with it.


Who decides what gets built?

Once we have support from the land owners / users, there are three critical groups of people who will decide how these unused spaces move forward:

The Proposers: The UK has some of the best architectural and design businesses in the world. Every UK town and city has talented architects and designers who can find sites in all of our categories. Bringing the sites forward will also need engineers, surveyors, lawyers and other consultants. Little Ships will employ anyone we need to get the job done properly and safely.

The Planners: Architects and designers can get carried away sometimes, and the UK planning system can assess objectively whether a new project is the right solution. Is it too big? Does it overshadow anyone? Does it provide the right kind of homes?  Impartial, trained planning professionals already provide this essential service. Little Ships will seek planning permissions for its proposed projects.

The Public: If members of the public get involved and make their support or opposition heard, then those in charge will take notice. With the help of both social and traditional media, an inclusive and representative debate can take place on these projects.  The average size of one of our developments will be 10 homes (apartments); big enough to be viable, but not so big that it becomes difficult to know who your neighbours are or that it causes problems for the neighbourhood.

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Increasing the quality and diversity of new homes

Little Ships will be there to lead or help the proposers, to listen to the planners and the public and to help maximise the number of good quality affordable, decent and secure homes for everyone without adversely affecting the communities that we will be building in.

If others wish to copy our not-for-profit property development model and help increase the quantity and quality of affordable, decent and secure homes, that can only be a good thing.

The Little Ships idea is not complicated. It is also not obvious and it is definitely not easy. But it is the right thing to do and eventually, we hope people will realise that the answer to the housing crisis has been all around us, all along.


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Hugh Dennis

Founder and Managing Director

Acquisition and Strategy. Hugh has run architecture practices and property development companies for the past 20 years (he is currently also a director of Add Architects Ltd. and of Rosefield Group Ltd.).

Hugh brings together his background in construction, property and design to disrupt the failing status quo that has brought about the housing crisis. His background in construction and ecological building design, along with his architectural training and property development experience informs how Little Ships can maximise the social, aesthetic and financial benefit of their target sites.


Tom Atherton

Non-Executive Director

Strategic Finance. The President and Chief Operating Officer for a major UK PLC on the FTSE 250 index, Tom is helping us choose the right investment strategy and financial partners.

Tom is a chartered accountant who has worked for Dairy Crest Group plc since 2005, his latest promotion following the acquisition of Dairy Crest by Saputo in April 2019. He is a member of the Board of Dairy UK and a member of Business in the Community’s Finance and Risk Committee. He has previously held senior finance positions in Logica plc and Thorn plc.

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Vanessa Charles

Non-Executive Director

Housing Management. Currently Operations Manager for a public sector organisation leading bid writing and managing funding. Vanessa will advise us on which homes to build and how to run them.

Vanessa has a post-graduate diploma in Housing Studies and has worked for two leading Housing Associations in the South East. She has been involved in a number of high profile projects including the Rough Sleepers Initiative and the Private Sector Leasing Scheme for homeless families. She has managed housing in London, Kent and Brighton and so knows the challenges intimately.


Richard Hoile

Non-Executive Director

Projects and Construction. A working partner at a leading project management and surveying practice, responsible for large infrastructure  projects, Richard will help us organise and build our projects efficiently.

Richard has recently completed the enabling works for over 1,000 apartments to be built above an active post office in central London. He is a collaborative team player, an effective mediator and a dynamic negotiator when faced with complex and difficult construction problems.

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Brent Taggart

Non-Executive Director

Operations and Growth. A seasoned, international C-level executive for technology sector start-ups as well as established businesses, Brent is helping us develop and maintain a viable business model.

Brent has been the Financial Director for a $250m pan-European business unit, Head of Strategy and Planning through two IPOs (Equant 1998, Promethean World 2010), a PwC management consultant, and interim Cheif Operating Officer for a €20m run-rate EdTech company growing at 60% per annum.

Friends and Advisers

Little Ships only needs a small team of our own people for the first three target projects. We will grow carefully and pay all our staff, advisers and consultants fairly. We are being helped by friends and advisers who provide the specialist skills and experience necessary for Little Ships to grow.

Development Consultancy. An established commercial property consultancy, specialising inthe investment and development sector is ensuring we make the best returns and do not pay too much for sites. They will also help us run our initial projects efficiently.

Human Resource.  An experienced and dedicated Senior HR Director with a wide array of experience. She is advising us on finding the right talent and employing the right staff.

Law and Ethics. A Barrister (QC) specialising in public and human rights law, Recorder (fee paid Crown Court judge), and Visiting Professor of Law at a major UK university is counselling us when we need advice and guidance.

Marketing. Wise heads are making sure we get our message across loud and clear. A tiny two-woman company punching well above its weight in a cut-throat and competitive world.

Negotiation. A professional arbiter and expert negotiator with many years' experience dealing with commercial negotiations of all sizes. He is helping us secure the best deals.

Operational Finance. The ex-Financial Director for a national UK charity and an international NGO, is helping us choose the right investors and put the right financial management systems in place.

Planning Law. A Barrister (QC) specialising in planning work, judicial reviews and compulsory purchase orders will counsel us when we need help on very important or large projects.

Public Affairs. An experienced and effective Political consultant will help us engage with central government and the world of politics.

Public Relations. An international PR guru and her brilliant colleagues will help us get our message across in the traditional media.

Social Media. An experienced social media consultant will help us get our message across on line. She knows how critically important this is to our success.

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