Following the recent Insider PRS conference in Manchester, Calderpeel director Mark Massey shares his thoughts on the main discussion points.
There’s still confusion over what constitutes a true PRS scheme
One thing that was clear from the discussions was that the term Private Rented Sector has become a misnomer.
For many in the property world, PRS is still just a blanket term for developments that are primarily developed as rental or buy-to-let properties. The main distinction is of course that a true PRS scheme is owned by a single landlord, such as an institutional investor.
There are other features of PRS of course, such as a floor plate that works every single millimetre of space, but also provides for spacious communal areas. Then there’s the focus is on creating a living experience where such things as dining, laundry and even transport services can be provided through a high-quality concierge offering. However, the primary difference for me in defining PRS is that it’s owned by a single landlord.
Some people prefer the term build to rent, but this is also ambiguous. If we’re to stop the PRS label being bandied around to describe schemes that don’t meet true PRS standards, then is it time for a new name for PRS altogether?
Better defined PRS requirements rule out many sites
It was good to hear the site agents’ view on PRS and the consensus was that true PRS schemes can only be successful if they are in places that are in walking distance of city and town centres, have good public transport connectivity, and a thriving night-time economy.
One issue here is that there can be a chicken and egg scenario. Local authorities want to use Community Interest Levy contributions to fund infrastructure schemes in areas that currently lack that connectivity, but developers won’t build in areas that have a dearth of said infrastructure in the first place.
PRS is capable of moving out to the suburbs
The vast majority of PRS development in the North West to date has been in central Manchester (and some in Liverpool), but there are signs that is beginning to change, providing suitable sites can be found. Again, the key is the quality of the leisure offering, transport links and the proximity of amenities and other infrastructure.
Chester has PRS schemes coming forward and well-connected commuter towns like Altrincham and Sale are also looking closely at the build to rent model.
In my opinion, the built to rent market has to look to spread its wings and take suitable opportunities wherever they might be, rather than risk one or two locations becoming saturated with PRS schemes.
In the right locations, the demand is clearly there and there appears to be no shortage of appetite from funders. We will await further developments with interest.
Mark Massey is a director of Calderpeel Architects and heads up the practice’s Manchester office.