Build to rent - a Leeds revolution?

by Gary Whittaker

Leeds is a city that is clearly on the up. Like Manchester, it has the prospect of HS2 to look forward to, with Northern Powerhouse Rail - effectively an HS3 - set to follow. This will ensure high-speed connections with London, Birmingham and Manchester.

With the city also established as one of the largest centres for finance outside London, Leeds has gone a long way to reinventing itself after suffering the same kind of economic decline as other northern cities during the late 20th century period of de-industrialisation.

Leeds today shows plenty of signs of that renaissance, including lots of new apartment blocks. But it also displays many scars of the decline in the textile industry on which it was built. This is particularly apparent just south of the city centre across the River Aire, where districts like Holbeck and Hunslet are strewn with empty mills and dereliction. 

It is right there, however, that the next phase of transforming Leeds is chiefly focused - and the private rental residential sector is set to play a key role. 

Get Living, the company behind the development of the Athlete's Village for the London 2012 Olympics, has acquired a five-acre site in Holbeck, which it has re-christened 'South Bank'. Just before Easter, the firm announced plans for the construction of 756 apartments on a build-to-rent basis. 

Chair of the company Rick de Blaby said the development of Leeds has opened up plenty of opportunities for those who would like to live and work there, and to whom a new residential district of attractive homes close to the city centre will help. 

He explained: "We know from our own research that there is a demand for high quality and professionally-managed rental homes in safe, well-maintained neighbourhoods.

"This area to the south of the River Aire and the canal could be totally transformed with the introduction of modern, mid-market accommodation that offers comfortable, safe homes in an attractive waterfront location."

It is not just Get Living that is planning new developments in Holbeck, and its growth will effectively extend the city centre southwards in an area within easy reach of the existing railway station and the forthcoming HS2 terminus.

The redevelopment of the area south of the river certainly isn't the start of build-to-rent in Leeds. Among the schemes under construction or planned for the city centre itself are 744 flats in Dandara's Sweet Street West scheme and 242 flats being built by Grainger on the former site of the Yorkshire Post newspaper offices. 

All this might create the impression that developers in Leeds are following the example of those in other cities in focusing new rental apartment schemes in the city centres. However, others are targeting the suburbs, such as Headingley, like Leeds-based firm Pickards. 

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post last month, the family firm's boss Miles Pickard outlined the way it is seeking to fill a niche in the market on a site in Far Headingley, based around a village green. Instead of large blocks populated mainly by young professionals, this will be a "mix of people from young professionals and families to older people," he noted, with 13 townhouses and two detached homes as well as a 31-unit apartment building.

Mr Pickard argued that these homes will appeal to younger people, who, he suggested, "don't want to compromise on area" and thus seek fashionable places to rent either before, or instead of, buying. 

Such an approach contrasts with the kind of 'gentrification' that has seen the rise of new neighbourhoods full of professionals dominating efforts at regenerating decayed inner city areas. The message for landlords and agents appears to be that the rental market emerging in big cities like Leeds may be more diverse than is necessarily appreciated. 

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05-April-18General Lettings News