BTR News spoke to Paul Sambrook, Partner and Head of Residential at consultancy, Rider Levett Bucknall about the firm’s work in Build To Rent and his views on where the market is going.
When did Rider Levett Bucknall first get involved in the BTR market?
I think because there has been so much growth in BTR we sometimes forget the concept was still very much in its infancy in the UK a decade ago. It was the development work around London 2012 that was the catalyst for it really gaining traction. At RLB we were fortunate to be involved in one of the very first purpose-built developments, delivering Linkcity and Grainger a BTR product in Barking East London, as part of their development platform. The market has grown exponentially since then.
How do you support clients?
We are in the privileged position of supporting clients in developing schemes from high rise luxury BTR apartments to affordable housing, student accommodation and later living. We are currently supporting a range of schemes nationally which will add 8,000 homes when built out. We work with local authorities, Homes England, housing associations, house builders, regeneration specialists, developers and funders to provide services from cost management and building surveying to master-planning and fund monitoring. One of our specialisms is tall towers. We have recently completed work on the tallest residential tower in Bristol and are currently on-site working on what will be Cardiff’s tallest apartment block as well as a 65 storey tower in London. These are great examples of urban regeneration and placemaking as well as providing much needed housing stock. I am personally really proud of the long-term relationships we have built with our clients which is a real credit to our team.
What are the main changes you have seen over the last 10 years?
Aside from the phenomenal growth we have seen in the last ten years and the spread out to the regions from London, we have seen some pretty fundamental changes in BTR which I hope will accelerate. First, a focus on quality. With the long-awaited Building Safety Act getting into gear, we are seeing continued progress in this area. As an industry, we have learned a lot and there’s still a lot more we can do to ensure we focus on quality and get it right as well as address legacy concerns.
Secondly, it is good to see that sustainability is integral to a build rather than being seen as a bolt on. The urgency to ensure we are producing net carbon zero homes has ramped up over the last few years and it is encouraging that as an industry we are now focused on some of the critical issues that we need to tackle, such as decarbonising our existing housing stock.
The third change we have seen, particularly in recent years, is the rise of digital and the continuing adoption of MMC – though some may say we could be moving faster. Through increased offsite manufacturing and working smarter we can drive efficiencies, cut programme time and reduce cost and risk. We all know that investors are increasingly considering Environmental, Social and Governance metrics in their decision making so hopefully this will stimulate further adoption of digitalisation and the drive for more sustainable practices
Working across the UK, where do you see the hotspots for BTR emerging?
The once predominantly London centric market continues to shift its focus to cities such as Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Bristol and Cardiff with developers and funders looking for more reasonable land opportunities with scale. We are also seeing a strong ripple effect out from these city locations with other areas becoming of interest. For example, in the South-West we are seeing more activity in Exeter and in Yorkshire, Bradford and Wakefield – both within easy commuter distance of Leeds and with significant populations – are also now firmly on the radar. Clearly, the anticipation of HS2 continues to drive activity. There are huge swathes of old industrial brown field locations in the Midlands around city centre locations such as Digbeth and Warwick Bar where we are seeing enabling works underway, with the expectation that large scale developments will begin to appear around the new HS2 Curzon Street Station.
What do you see as the key issues over the next six months?
There is no doubt that this is a really interesting time for BTR and the residential sector as a whole. We have continuing huge demand for growth and new housing stock whilst we are grappling with fluctuating build costs, shortages of labour and very competitive land costs. In addition, the ‘cost of living’ crisis impacting on affordability of rents and the knock-on effect on investment values is going to be a key challenge. The next six months will be all about navigating this uncertainty and we are working with clients by advising them to be open to different solutions to help meet design, procurement and build requirements.