There is an endless debate around why a housing crisis of this scale exists in our capital, and who we should be pointing fingers at, yet the bottom line is that there are simply not enough homes being built. In the age of a housing crisis we need flexibility, innovation and bold commitments, offering fresh alternatives to the seemingly emotional attachment we, as a nation, have to home ownership.
Gavin Barwell’s speech at the RESI conference this year signalled a move in the right direction, establishing that this Government is prepared to engage in a policy agenda which targets new areas of the housing landscape such as PRS. The build-to-rent sector has the ability to change the face of the market and it is important that we create the conditions for it to flourish, with institutional investment supported by robust government policy.
The Minister for Housing and Planning’s speech, coupled with RBS bank announcing at the start of the year that it had earmarked £1 billion to provide development finance and investment for UK PRS schemes means that the PRS sector is set for tremendous growth – and I don’t see this ending anytime soon.
There has been a huge surge of interest in the build-to-rent market. Aitch Group has launched a new, dedicated PRS arm of the business that is on target to deliver 12 schemes. Seventy per cent of our portfolio is now PRS.
We realised quickly that PRS was a great solution to provide much needed homes and benefit the local area on many of the sites we acquired, which had complicated planning constraints. Over the past few years, we have been progressing planning on our sites, in close communication with local boroughs to ensure we bring forward suitable new developments. We have not held back on our schemes and are confident they will provide a much-needed contribution of quality rental homes.
Aitch Group decided that we wanted to keep hold of some of the residential schemes that we delivered. It made sense for us to retain some of our homes as investments for the long term, especially in London where land is at a premium. We are in a position with sufficient funds available to unconditionally purchase sites. This allows us to take a longer-term view in areas with development potential, based on meticulous technical and planning due diligence.
It is important to understand what customers want and we will be offering the Millennials, the demographic we see renting in our new developments, much more than just a set of keys: we are also selling an experience. Our new developments will include cinema rooms with weekly film nights, and these will be used as a lounge area during the day. We are also including coffee ‘hangouts’, bars, co-working desk spaces, superfast broadband, concierge services, communal roof terraces and winter gardens.
We will be managing the developments – and see ourselves as a landlord who will not only create fantastic modern homes for young people to live in, but also provide a boost for the areas within which we will operate.