A buzzing room of Build to Rent (BtR) industry professionals was the backdrop for Bisnow’s inaugural Annual BtR Conference last week, set amongst the fitting backdrop of Quintain’s flagship Wembley Park mixed use regeneration scheme surrounding Wembley Stadium. Once complete, the scheme it is set to become the largest BtR scheme in the UK, delivering 5,000 private rented homes over the next seven years.
But why is there so much excitement about BtR?
BtR is at tipping point. The sector has shown strong growth with the number of BtR units complete, under construction or in planning in the UK having increased by 30% over the past year. The housing crisis in the UK is significant – with the Government’s drive to ensure that 300,000 new homes a year are being constructed by the mid 2020’s – it is not surprising that there is so much excitement about new ways in which the housing industry can positively respond to the country’s increasingly diverse and evolving housing needs, driving forward innovation in housing products, construction techniques and standards of design. BtR has responded accordingly, providing housing solutions to meet the needs of those who wish to privately rent within a purpose built high quality and service rich environment, within accessible locations and in the knowledge of more secure longer-term tenancies.
Personal highlights from the inaugural conference included an inspirational speech from entrepreneur Simon Woodroffe (founder of Yo! Sushi) where he set out his ambitious plans under his new Yo! Homes brand – including the forthcoming development of 50 studio apartments in Manchester containing moveable walls and high levels of customisation – all built around a modular construction concept which has the potential to be rolled out globally; and Reza Merchant (founder of The Collective) outlining the key successes and lessons learnt since the delivery of the Collective’s first scheme in Camden in 2012. The Collective’s ‘subscription living’ concept, where customers sign up not only to housing but a lifestyle product containing housing, social spaces, facilities and building services all under one roof was particularly inspiring – emphasising the underlying need for a service driven and customer focussed ethos as part of a successful BtR and co-living living schemes.
Whilst it is clear that the BtR sector has principally developed in response to the needs of the millennial generation, it became apparent during the Conference that there is sector interest in delivering BtR schemes that respond to the rental needs of family living and later living; both of which could benefit from the shared living and service driven benefits that BtR has to offer.
There was an underlying acknowledgement that society is rapidly changing, and that BtR embraces the changes in technology and living expectations, creating opportunities for social interaction and wellbeing. There is recognition of the opportunity and benefits that BtR housing schemes can provide within mixed used inner-city regeneration, responding to the changing landscape of retail and the desire to encourage active uses back into the city centre to create vibrant and attractive places. The Conference highlighted the huge potential for modular and off-site construction to play a key part in the construction of BtR schemes, ensuring consistent and high-quality buildings, as well as reliability, cost assurance and the timely delivery of schemes.
Whilst it is hugely positive that BTR has been recognised as a distinct asset within the emerging NPPF for the first time – both for increasing exposure to the sector and for clarifying the way that BtR developments will be treated within the national planning system – there was clear acknowledgement that the sector still faces some considerable challenges. For me, the Conference emphasised the need for the BtR sector to come together to educate the wider public and crucially local authorities on the benefits of BtR housing, alongside highlighting that it is a real positive step in addressing our housing crisis.
Events such as the Annual BtR Conference are not only informative, but also provide a key tool to increase exposure of the sector and share the experiences of the excellent work that is emerging through schemes now on the ground.
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