We welcomed Michael Gove as the new secretary of state dealing with housing and communities, and now levelling up, even if the new department name, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, doesn’t trip off the tongue.
I was impressed that this government had recognised what those of us involved in regeneration, the new town movement and inward investment have known for decades: that an area’s success depends on the economic activity it attracts, and that good housing is key to attracting and retaining both companies and talent.
In the 20th century, the new towns movement persuaded companies to relocate from London on the back of a better quality of life and great rental housing stock. In the 21st century, cities like Manchester have embraced rental homes and thrived.
Levelling up requires new investment in cities and the relocation of major businesses from the capital. But for this to happen, all supporting infrastructure for those relocating, or looking to stay after graduating, has to be in place.
There is no better example of a sector that can support this than build to rent. For many, housing quality, availability and affordability are key factors in the attractiveness of a place to live. If towns and cities are to thrive, they need to attract and retain talent and businesses, and a good supply of high-quality rental housing supports this.
For example, Manchester has taken a proactive approach to building homes, particularly for rent, has a strong graduate retention rate and has enticed many national and international businesses to relocate there. Its appeal lies in the fact that people can enjoy a good lifestyle that doesn’t break the bank.
Good housing is key to attracting and retaining both companies and talent
With the likes of HMRC committing further to Newcastle and Channel 4 to Leeds, it is important that all cities can compete equally and offer a similarly attractive lifestyle.
While improving UK rental standards by providing professionally managed, high-quality homes, BTR also supports labour mobility through flexible tenancy agreements and a community ethos that gives residents easy access to meet people and socialise, accelerating the settling-in period that comes with relocating.
As the sector further matures, we will also see increased opportunities for renters to move freely from city to city with the same landlord, taking the hassle out of moving and providing surety in terms of quality and service. This all supports greater economic productivity.
Following the government’s levelling-up agenda and just before Covid hit, Grainger raised equity to fund regional growth. We deployed those funds during the pandemic in schemes in Birmingham, Nottingham and Cardiff. The government’s commitment to levelling up reinforced the opportunity that each of these locations brings.
Even if the new department name doesn’t trip off the tongue, it has the potential to join the dots on its wide brief and make a real impact on levelling up and delivering great housing and communities.
Helen Gordon is chief executive of Grainger