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Is Build to Rent heaven sent?


“Build to Rent investment hits record for fourth consecutive year and will continue to be key target for investors in 2023” – Savills

Due to this rapid growth, most people in the built environment sector will be familiar with Build to Rent (BtR), even if it is still a relatively new concept in the UK property market.  

BtR is a product which we brought over from America 15 years ago.

American imports might conjure up images of post-Brexit chlorinated chicken, however, the expert panel at our webinar wanted to explore the positive opportunities BtR can provide and most importantly, what it takes to make it work.

The panel – chaired by Meeting Place’s London Director Jonathan Simpson – included a mix of public and private sector representatives who are experts in the delivery of BtR:  

  • Cllr Anthony Okereke – Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich
  • Cllr Shama Tatler – Cabinet Member for Regeneration & Planning at LB Brent
  • Cllr Ahsan Khan – Deputy Leader of LB Waltham Forest
  • Steve Harrington – Board Director at Regal London

The overwhelming response from the panel was that BtR absolutely does have a role to play in helping to solve London’s housing crisis – Cllr Okereke noted that since 2011, house prices in his borough have risen by 118%, with private rental costs increasingly expensive and insecure.  

What local authorities want to see  

One of the key issues for developers when dealing with any new product within the built environment is understanding what councils want to see.  

As Steve pointed out, they need clear policies to offer that guidance – a point taken on board by the panel’s political representatives, who said that councils can help give a steer as to how developers can approach BtR through their Local Plans.  

Whilst the detail may come out in the Local Plans, there were useful pointers given as to what would be expected to make sure the BtR model was appropriate for a particular site within the existing context.  

The impact on the existing community is always a consideration when bringing forward a new development and BtR is no different in that respect. Cllr Tatler spoke of the experiences in Brent, saying that existing communities need to be linked to the economic opportunities provided by the new development.  

Cllr Khan agreed – stating that masterplanning is an important factor, as it allows for the development to link to the existing community, rather than feeling segregated. This will allow for residents in the new buildings to integrate with the existing community, whilst opening new opportunities to the existing residents. Cllr Okereke supported this, saying a mix of transport links would help to link communities.  

Response to the critics  

A criticism that has been levelled at BtR developments is that it creates a transient community, whereby people move on quickly as their life circumstances change. The panel agreed that BtR can alleviate pressures elsewhere and create communities that serve the current market. As Steve Harrington suggested, BtR can do more to accommodate different needs within the housing market and take some of the pressure off other in-demand tenures.  

Cllr Khan said there was a need for BtR to provide more three- and four-bedroom homes. Cllr Tatler argues this would ensure BtR can be viewed as a realistic long-term solution to those looking to rent as you could transition within the apartments depending on your needs. Expanding on this, Cllr Okereke said BtR could offer solutions for specific groups, such as elderly living which would in turn free up more family homes across London.  

Notwithstanding some critics of the BtR model, there can be no doubt that it is one of the fastest-growing property products in London today. It was encouraging for us to see such a positive and pragmatic outlook from all our panellists in their approach to BtR.  

In summary  

From the discussion, it is clear BtR has a place within the sector and with the right masterplanning, community integration, engagement and the provision of a range of tenures, it can have a lasting and positive impact on helping to solve London’s housing crisis.

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