Launching Britain’s industrial strategy on the day of the royal engagement was the kind of misstep we have come to expect from today’s politicians.
While the media fanfare predictably favoured Prince Harry and Meghan Markle over Greg Clark, one further oversight was the failure to explore how housing needs to play a leading role in revving the UK’s economic motor.
Clark spoke eloquently about supporting robotics and AI with a grand plan for attracting the best talent globally. Yet while Prince Harry’s powers of attraction succeeded, many of our UK cities are failing to attract global talent because of their housing stock - or lack thereof.
Our economy needs to compete with New York, Paris and Hong Kong. English tech clusters in east London, Birmingham and Manchester increasingly rival anything in Silicon Valley. But where will all this great talent live? Converted Victorian bedsits aren’t the most inspiring prospect, especially for those living in an AvalonBay apartment in sunny California.
Political leaders in regional cities – like those in Manchester and the West Midlands – are vocal about the need to retain skilled young people. They believe the basis for their future success will be predicated on delivering quality homes. And these homes are being delivered through build-to-rent (BTR), not private for-sale. Not only can BTR meet this need more quickly, it can do so while providing a standard of living well above the existing PRS market, and even at times the for-sale market. The speed with which the sector can deliver is also key, with a commercial imperative to act on planning consents and lease buildings quickly.
For cities wanting to attract investment and cater for firms that need international talent, BTR is a win-win. Manchester has been one of the first cities to acknowledge the link between quality housing and graduate retention – creating immense value for the local economy. And through my participation in the Newcastle Business Leaders’ Group, I hear first hand the desire of other local authorities to do the same.
Cambridge faces a similar challenge. A great pool of talent is developed each year but then lost. Wouldn’t it be great if they stayed and worked in the growing tech and biotech sector locally? At the moment the reality is that they can’t afford to or, if they can, they do not want to live there. Cambridge house prices are too high, and the local offering of rental homes is not up to standard.
If we do not prioritise a housing market suited to the needs, desires and wallets of people we want to work here, cities like Cambridge, Bristol and Sheffield will not grow as they should. Catering for different age groups with quality, well-serviced homes at accessible price points is vital.
“[In Cambridge] a great pool of talent is developed each year but then lost”
That’s why our new Argo Apartments scheme in Canning Town can house a graduate earning £25,000, sharing with a friend. Generously sized flats (800 sq ft-plus for a two-bed) alongside a raft of amenities offer a new benchmark of quality for the east London market. Because Grainger is committed to providing homes at prices that work for most Londoners, we’re confident of attracting an exciting blend of people.
With Brexit on the horizon and housing established as the prime minister’s number-one priority, the key ingredient for the success of Clark’s industrial strategy is to stimulate the delivery of quality homes through BTR. Underpinning the UK economy and ensuring we maintain our competitive advantage is crucial.
Worldwide adoration of our royal family will always attract visitors to the UK but to attract those willing to stay and contribute to Britain’s growth, we need good-quality homes for rent.