Places for London: why working together is key to build the homes London needs

Places for London’s Head of Property Development reflects on the necessity to create more sustainable and affordable rental homes in the city.

Build to Rent development at Nine Elms | Places for London | Grainger | UKREiiF | BTR News
Build to Rent development at Nine Elms.

London is, without doubt, one of the world’s most iconic cities. Known for its culture, history and its famous transport network, it’s a place that people love to spend time in, whether that’s as a visitor, worker or resident – something we understand at Places for London.

By Ben Tate, Head of Property Development at Places for London (Transport for London’s property company).

As Transport for London’s (TfL) wholly owned commercial property company, we have a unique perspective and can appreciate the importance of legacy while looking forward to the future. We want to build the homes (including affordable housing), offices and places that will enable our capital city to continue to thrive and maintain its renown for being the place to be, while respecting its rich heritage. However, in order to do so, we need to recognise that London is facing many challenges, and we need to work with partners and other organisations to tackle them head-on.

It is no understatement that the shortage of housing is one of the biggest challenges facing London. The lack of homes – especially affordable homes – is a longstanding issue that presents a real risk to the capital’s growth. We need to make sure that Londoners can always call the capital their home, while ensuring that those who want to move here can find a place for themselves too.

This, however, is not something that can be solved alone and requires all of us to work together in partnership – a topic that Places for London will focus on at The UK’s Real Estate Investment and Infrastructure Forum (UKREiiF) in May. In 2019, we selected Grainger plc as our Build to Rent partner, and, as Connected Living London (CLL), we aim to build thousands of new homes specifically for those looking to rent. Together, we will ensure that our schemes are both quality and fit for purpose for the rental market – providing excellent service in a place where residents feel secure and at home.

There are a variety of people who are looking to rent – rather than buy – their own homes in the capital, but many of the options that are available haven’t been designed with that purpose in mind.

However, this doesn’t mean that we’re applying a one-size-fits-all approach. With a range of schemes across the breadth of the capital, it’s important to acknowledge that each area will have its own history and the local community will have their own needs. This is why meaningful engagement is an integral part of our approach to scheme design.

Across our CLL portfolio, we’ve undertaken extensive consultation with local communities – receiving more than 2,000 pieces of feedback, spending more than 110 hours talking to the local community at exhibition events, pop-ups and public consultations with more than 1,000 attendees, and sending updates to more than 50,000 people. We’ve adapted our schemes, which also include affordable housing, throughout the consultation processes after reflecting on the feedback we’ve received to make sure they can valuably serve the local communities as well as new residents.

Sustainability is also a core focus throughout all of our plans, driven both by the feedback we receive, but also our belief that it should be an integral part of any scheme. There is a real opportunity to create positive impacts for the local area and for those who live and work there, especially when you consider that we are all facing the climate crisis together. We aspire to make a difference in improving sustainability across London, while still delivering new homes and commercial spaces.

For example, all our developments will have solar panels included to ensure that we can take advantage of the benefits of renewable energy. We are also including biodiverse roofs, bird boxes and greenery, such as hedges and trees, across our schemes to help improve biodiversity and support natural wildlife.

Sustainability is not just about ensuring our buildings meet the latest environmental standards, but also about their surroundings as well. Most of our schemes are in the immediate vicinity of Tube stations and other parts of the transport network – with our development at Nine Elms deliberately designed to be above and around the newly delivered station – meaning that residents are encouraged to use more sustainable modes of transport.

Building on this, we are also utilising land that has previously been used for car parking while consistently looking for new ways to improve the existing transport provisions, such as creating new cycle spaces at Arnos Grove and more space for walking in Southall alongside a new pedestrian crossing. Our plans at Cockfosters will also enable a vast amount of new publicly accessible open space, with new trees, and enhanced access to Trent Park and the London Outer Orbital Path.

Working together as part of this partnership, we are hoping to demonstrate how the Build to Rent sector can help solve not just the housing crisis, but the other challenges facing both London, as well as more generally, in towns and cities across the UK. By recognising the value of our pooled knowledge and experience, we can leverage our collective ability to make sure that London remains the iconic and welcoming city that it is today.