On 19th January 2018 Gillian Harrison wrote:

Place North West PRS Conference

Jo and I attended this week’s Place North West PRS Conference where a packed house had braved the weather to hear what the PRS landscape might look like in 2018 and beyond.

First up, Ian Scott from Lambert Smith Hampton gave us the lowdown on current market figures in the rental sector, followed by Duncan Sutherland of Sigma Capital taking us through the investment model that has seen them deliver 1,700 suburban family homes for private rent, with another 700 on site and 5,000 in the pipeline. Sigma’s model of developing PRS housing in strategic locations close to schools, hospitals and key transport infrastructure delivers desirable housing that offers both flexibility and security of tenancy to families, and having begun in the North West the model is now being rolled out across the country.

In Place North West tradition, a lively panel discussion followed where Ian and Duncan were joined by Chris Findley of Salford City Council, Ed Ellerington from Grainger and James Duncan of Winckworth Sherwood. Fascinating snippets included: where the saturation point might be for Manchester, with Ian Scott expecting 15,000 units in the city centre by 2021; the need for variety within the market, with rent ranges and amenity offers to suit differing price ranges; the importance of long-term management to planning departments, so they can have certainty over the future health of the homes they are signing off.

A fellow architect asked the panel about the semantic styles used to describe this type of development – whether we refer to ‘units’ or ‘homes’. An interesting discussion on the importance of diverse populations within PRS developments, at which point I chipped in to ask how the panel saw PRS fitting into the needs of older people when considering housing choices. While anecdotes followed about older residents being the life and soul of the building, and helping ensure there is activity between 9am and 5pm, Chris Findley observed that most of the development visuals that pass his desk do show young couples drinking wine on balconies – where are the older people?

After the break, the themes of community that had begun to emerge in the panel discussion continued with a presentation from Shaun Prime of GoNative. Shaun relayed the key concerns of focus groups they had used to hone their business model: no letting agents, treat people as valued customers, offer security and flexibility of tenancy, listen to problems and get them fixed, and allow people to personalise their homes. Shaun also talked about the idea of the whole building as the ‘home’ and how popular the ‘pet friendly’ floors of their building have proved, even to those with no pet… yet.

Once again, the panel discussion that followed really delved into the key issues around the importance of design and management to the success in creating communities where people want to live. Shaun was joined by Adam Higgins of Capital & Centric, Doug Hann from Indigo Planning and our own Jo McCafferty. Snippets this time around included: getting planners on board with the need for less parking in more central areas to enable more active frontages at ground floor and better quality external spaces; the importance of a high quality design and finishes within apartments and circulation spaces; and making the most of every millimetre in the plan and section to maximise storage space. In the experience of GoNative, smaller open plan studios, with no lobbies but good natural daylight are more popular than larger one bedroom apartments with lobbied entrances. Jo also highlighted the importance of bespoke solutions for each site which were responsive to location, accessibility, market and context and the positive opportunities to integrate PRS more successfully into existing communities.

PRS is certainly a hot topic at the moment, and while the rental market is nothing new, the way people think about it and the expectations of those living within it are changing. The rights of tenants to a well-designed, secure home are paramount and it was a really interesting morning spent discussing how we can best achieve this.