Driving Urban Regeneration Through Build-to-Rent


Contact Jamie Webb, Head of Benoy EMEA

Mark Priskv2

Contact Mark Prisk

In March, industry experts gathered at our London studio for a roundtable discussion jointly facilitated by Mark Prisk, strategic adviser to Benoy and ex-Housing Minister, and Jamie Webb, Head of EMEA Benoy, on the future of BTR. Here are some of the event’s key highlights and insights.

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Designing and developing beyond the red line

Kicking off the session, Jamie Webb, Head of EMEA at Benoy, explained how, three-to-four years ago, BTR played only a minor role in Benoy’s urban development projects. Now,” he said, pretty much everything we do has a build-to-rent component” – a shift that is generating all sorts of conversations around public space uses”. So how,” asked Webb, is BTR driving regeneration in our town and city centres?” 

Several participants suggested that the very concept of BTR is rooted in regeneration. As John Percy, Partner at Montague Evans, explained, if you’re redeveloping and building at scale…there has to be something attractive to bring those residents in”. The success of a BTR development depends upon the creation of a whole environment around it”, an ecosystem of greenspace, public realm and amenities that leads to increased footfall and lettings. 

For Rob Bentley, Director at Benoy, BTR is all about creating a better place” to drive up value on multiple fronts. The best BTR schemes, said Bentley, aim to enhance the resident experience beyond the red line”, ensuring that regenerative efforts are focused on the surrounding area as well as on the project site. If we can improve what people are looking at when they exit their residence”, said Bentley, the end result is better for them individually and for the community as a whole”. In turn, BTR schemes act as a catalyst for further regeneration – as seen with the Victoria Place development in Woking, which has stimulated a raft of town centre planning applications.

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'Driving regeneration through BTR depends upon “getting the ground floor right”. By creating relevant public spaces, and by carefully selecting the right retail and leisure tenants, developers can create schemes that are tailored to the needs and aspirations of the end-user.'

Will Robinson, Development Director at Areli

Activating the ground floor

In the words of Will Robinson, Development Director at Areli, driving regeneration through BTR depends upon getting the ground floor right”. By creating relevant public spaces, and by carefully selecting the right retail and leisure tenants, developers can create schemes that are tailored to the needs and aspirations of the end-user. Furthermore, get it right downstairs,” said Robinson, and you add value upstairs”, with successful ground floor activation a key factor in rental unit occupancy.

Rob Bentley concurred, explaining that while urban BTR schemes often comprise high residential towers, the most crucial elements are located on the ground plane”. As residents come in through the front door,” he added, developers need to provide the right level of activity, not a dead-end concierge experience”. By investing in gateway elements and the front door experience, such as entrance, façade public realm and active adjacent use,” as well as amenities residents truly want, developers can control that vital point of entry and interaction.

Achieving integration

But in order to succeed, all BTR elements, uses and services have to be carefully managed and integrated. Everybody’s got different objectives,” said Will Robinson, and the whole rationale and ethos of creating [a] place” can be undermined by a lack of alignment. So curation and integration are essential.

On this subject, Jamie Webb stated: We’ve got to get all those components – workplace, residential, retail – working together; and to get planners to understand the benefits that a truly integrated BTR experience” can bring. One of the key challenges is addressing the division between what commercial and residential developers want to achieve, with these key stakeholders not yet quite meeting in the middle”. Resolving this disconnect, participants agreed, could be the key to unlocking value from both sides”.

Flexibility of uses is also important. As Olaide Oboh from Socius Development observed, places and people evolve over time, so you’ve got to build a lot of flexibility” into these schemes. With people’s needs shifting as their circumstances change, Oboh cautioned against setting everything on day one”. We need to see how the community uses those spaces,” she said, and how we might need to tweak and change them” to meet those evolving requirements.

Asked if the integration of workplace and BTR residential presents a particular challenge, Oboh said that, on the contrary, it makes good commercial sense. On its own, she said, large-scale residential can create dormitories, where people leave for work and nothing else happens”. By integrating workplace alongside residential and public realm, we begin to create a proper place” with a functioning daytime economy.

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