Placemaking and build to rent (BTR) are two of the industry’s most talked-about trends, but are we really doing enough to recognise the natural bedfellows these two can make?

Sophie White Homes England

There’s been a lot of discussion about how to create strong communities in BTR buildings, whether through the provision of inviting communal areas, workspaces, amenities, or active residents’ organisations. But to focus on BTR schemes in isolation would be to miss the wider role that this fast-developing asset class can play in community-making, both for BTR residents but also within larger developments. The opportunity of BTR is not just about a new product, it is about its use as a new lever to unlock complex brownfield sites for housing.

It’s no secret that delivering brownfield urban regeneration is costly and time-consuming. Land assembly, tackling contamination and delivering necessary infrastructure are among the key barriers to providing homes in cities and towns at the scale and pace we need. However, brownfield development is integral to helping us tackle the housing shortage.

As part of a mixed-use scheme, BTR can play an important role in speeding up delivery on these sites.

First, there’s growing evidence of the appetite for BTR assets from new investors. Long-term, institutional investors are often ready to commit to high-quality BTR schemes at an early stage. What has perhaps been underappreciated to date is that their commitment means that development teams can get on site quicker, with greater certainty, and can recycle capital faster to support other parts of a scheme, thereby speeding up delivery of the whole masterplan.

It’s an approach that The English Cities Fund – the joint venture between Homes England, Legal & General and Muse Developments – has put to good use at Salford Central, where we are delivering a £650m mixed-use scheme with Salford City Council. Here, our commitment to 225-unit BTR scheme called The Slate Yard played a key role in allowing us to progress residential and commercial phases more quickly.

Slate Yard

The Slate Yard

Slate Yard combines BTR alongside residential and commercial phases

Second, BTR speeds up the rate at which a development is occupied by residents. While private sales for residential may take place at a rate of say five units a month, a BTR scheme like The Slate Yard can see 25 lettings or more in the same period. Getting residents in quicker starts to generate the footfall, activity and personality that make a community. It brings visitors to cafés, shops and public spaces – attracting commercial occupiers – and helps to create the overall sense of place that makes a development unique and successful.

Importantly, different products attract different people. Combined with homes for private sale, shared ownership and affordable rent, BTR plays a key role in attracting a mix of people to our towns and cities. This diversity of tenures spreads risk, diversifies the type of resident we attract, and, above all, means we’re creating genuinely mixed communities for people of all ages and backgrounds. It ensures we’re creating places that are vibrant not only on completion, but in the many years to come.

BTR is coming of age as an asset class, no longer the new kid on the block. Its value in providing a new rental product for consumers and an attractive asset class for investors is well established, but we can also use it to drive complex urban regeneration, delivering homes and unlocking new places in the heart of our towns and cities.

Sophie White is on the board of The English Cities Fund