Creating sustainable communities - the new build-to-rent

Vickie Cheung

Contact Vickie Cheung, Associate Director
vickie.cheung@benoy.com

ST 170821 N77 webview

Contact Stefano Sedda, Senior Associate Director
stefano.sedda@benoy.com

Build-to-Rent (BtR) is a fast-emerging sector in the UK. Already well established in Europe and the US, BtR has experienced substantial growth in recent years and now accounts for nearly 20% of all UK households. In addition, build-to-rent schemes perfectly support the trend towards decentralised living and localism we’re seeing as a result of COVID-19 - people can now get everything they need from their local area or town centre.

Here, Benoy’s Vickie Cheung and Stefano Sedda from our London studio reflect on the significance of this dynamic new development model.

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What do you think has driven the emergence of BtR in the UK?

Essentially, the growth of BtR in the UK is a response to rising demand for quality rental property. There’s a lack of affordable options in the built-for-sale’ housing stock, and the average age of people who can afford to buy a first home is around 31 – 33, and as high as 37 in London and other areas. So, for young people, the cheaper rental model offered by BtR, along with the amenities included in these schemes, is very attractive. It’s also an appealing option for older people looking to downsize into well maintained serviced apartments.

Benoy’s recent Woking project, where our BtR scheme aims to reactivate a town centre and draw people back to urban living, is an example of where BtR could really make a difference. It’s clear, from the interest shown in these kinds of developments, that BtR is here to stay. 

'If a development is out of town, access to green space and city centres will likely be key criteria for prospective tenants, ..It’s all about ensuring a scheme is unique and relevant to its catchment and locality.'

What would you say are the key features of BtR developments?

BtR schemes always offer some level of amenity provision. There’s a strong focus on service, with professional on-site management and concierge teams, as well as communal areas, co-working and multi-use spaces. These services help to foster a sense of community within the development, which in turn leads to higher retention rates.

More often than not, the amenities are included in the rental costs, which also cover building cleaning and maintenance. Some BtR buildings even have gyms and fitness centres, but that will depend on the size of the development and the operational budget. 

In your view, what makes for a successful BtR scheme?

BtR schemes have to be tailored to location and target demographic. You really have to know your market and who you’re designing for. For example, developments in quieter areas are more likely to attract older tenants, while town-centre schemes with good transport links, bars and cafés will probably appeal to younger renters. You can then determine expectations for amenities, services and furnishings.

Student populations, for example, will place less value on high-end interiors and more value on things like bike storage, communal space and fitness facilities. Are you targeting empty nesters’, for whom convenience and ease-of-access is key, or house-sharers, who will need a balance of communal and private space? 

If a development is out of town, access to greenspace and city centres will likely be key criteria for prospective tenants, so you need to think about how you can ensure your development successfully targets those aspirations? It’s all about ensuring a scheme is unique and relevant to its catchment and locality. 

Careful consideration of building design and management is also critical. From apartment layout to the lifecycle of materials, there’s a whole range of design elements that will determine the success of a scheme. Off-site modular construction, for example, allows for high-quality development and reduces maintenance costs over the long term. 

'Successful build-to-rent schemes perfectly support the trend towards decentralised living and localism we’re seeing as a result of COVID-19. Through mixed-use BtR developments, people can now get everything they need from their local area or town centre, which again helps to stimulate local regeneration.'

Would you say BtR uses and reinforces the classic mixed-use development model?

Mixed-use is integral to BtR schemes, which in essence are all about helping to create thriving and diverse urban environments. At Benoy’s Woking site, for example, our BtR residential development sits above a retail podium, which provides a rich mix of uses and dimensions for the local community.

BtR provides a great opportunity to activate the ground level and introduce tenure mixes, like retail, F&B and commercial. This in turn adds value to the surrounding area, particularly if a scheme incorporates public amenities such as medical centres or community space which give back to the local community. And if it’s a standalone development, BtR amenities can be located on the lower levels, which again helps to activate the point at which a building meets the ground. 

By leveraging mixed-use, BtR schemes support the live-work-innovate’ model we promote at Benoy. Through this model, we design buildings that support flexible patterns of living, and create neighbourhoods that reflect the blurring of boundaries in modern life – providing the foundations for real community. 

What’s more, this approach supports the trend towards decentralised living and localism we’re seeing as a result of COVID-19. Through mixed-use BtR developments, people can now get everything they need from their local area or town centre, which again helps to stimulate local regeneration. 

What have your learned through working on BtR schemes at Benoy?

The main lesson has been how to create dynamic environments through a rich mix of tenures and typologies. Also, we’ve come to understand the importance of creating places and spaces that are both human-centric, built entirely around the needs of the end-user, as well as commercially viable. To this end, we’ve seen how balancing the interests of local authorities and private operators is key.

We’ve also learned how we can leverage insights we’ve gained through our work in global markets – particular Asia, where the mixed-use model of residential tower above a retail podium and car parking is already well advanced. This knowledge and experience can influence our design thinking and open up new possibilities for clients.

In addition, this work has really underscored the importance of environmental design principles. Wherever we can, it’s crucial we help local authorities in their efforts to enable eco-mobility, expand access to greenspace, and minimise local emissions. We also need to help operators meet stringent environmental targets by supporting energy efficiency and waste separation schemes. But above all, we’ve learned how through BtR and other mixed-use urban developments, we can deliver sustainable, long-term value for all involved. 

'By leveraging mixed-use, BtR schemes support the ‘live-work-innovate’ model we promote at Benoy. Through this model, we design buildings that support flexible patterns of living, and create neighbourhoods that reflect the blurring of boundaries in modern life – providing the foundations for real community.'