With HS2 in the news and some questioning the government’s commitment to levelling up, towns and cities across the UK are now positively benefiting from regional investment in build to rent (BTR).

Helen Gordon

Helen Gordon

Good rental homes are a good foundation for higher productivity, graduate retention and economic migration, all essential for levelling up.

In February 2020, immediately prior to the pandemic, aligned with the government’s levelling-up agenda, Grainger raised £246m of equity to support our regional growth, with our shareholders extremely supportive of our plans. Having carried on building throughout the pandemic, fast-forward three years and the results of that fundraise are now being seen, with new regional schemes completed this year in Derby, Sheffield, Nottingham and Guildford, with Cardiff still to come.

While there is unquestionably strong demand across the board in the rental market currently, the accelerated rate at which all these schemes are leasing up, the volume of demand and high conversions from viewings show that quality speaks, and in some of these locations renters are experiencing the benefits of BTR for the first time.

In Derby, a city with very few existing homes in the city centre, the scheme secured around 20% lettings during a phase of pre-leasing and, less than two months in, is already 55% leased. Part of a wider regeneration of an area that had fallen on difficult times owing to a shift in the city centre, alongside a new arena, public square and hotel, the scheme, The Condor, is one of the catalysts for change.

The Condor, located on the site of a former Debenhams store, is now home to 259 new rental homes within easy reach of everything the city centre has to offer. Since launching in the summer, new hospitality and commercial outlets have followed, reaping the benefits of a captive audience of customers right on their doorstep.

The residents, made up of young professionals (Rolls-Royce graduates and Siemens Rail, as examples), doctors, lecturers and families, are enjoying city centre living with the added benefits that come with a brand-new BTR home – high-quality, energy-efficient homes, excellent service, superfast wifi, resident amenity spaces and a strong community and events programme.

Local politicians, local and national businesses and organisations such as Marketing Derby have all shown great support for this investment into the city. This support demonstrates that people understand how intrinsically linked housing is to productivity and how it is a key component of the infrastructure required to build and grow a location.

In a recent meeting with trade minister Lord Dominic Johnson, BTR industry leaders discussed with him the important role the sector had to play in productivity but in addition to the obvious benefits of the workforce being able to find a good home, he acknowledged that good housing also added to the wider appeal of a destination, supporting levelling up.

Good housing also provides a stimulus for inward investment and serves as a signal to investors, with quality of workforce often a priority for companies looking to relocate. Manchester, one of the early adopters of BTR, is a city that has attracted a huge amount of inward investment, spurred by one of the UK’s highest graduate retention rates of 44%. The city’s housing stock provides a smooth transition for graduates looking to grow and develop a career in a city that offers a wealth of opportunities, great lifestyle and hospitality and, ultimately, a good environment to settle and put down roots.

With a general election looming and swing voters needed, it’s clear that with interest rates affecting buyers and supply challenges affecting renters, housing will be a key issue for all parties.

Rather than looking at housing in isolation, there needs to be a higher-level thinking and greater consideration of housing as the key ingredient that not only helps support rebuilding the economy and supports businesses in attracting and retaining good workers and customers, but also delivers what everyone should have the right to in the UK – a safe, secure and well-maintained home.

Helen Gordon is chief executive of Grainger