Q&A with Rider Levett Bucknall’s Partner and Head of Residential

BTR News spoke to Paul Sambrook, Head of Residential at consultancy, Rider Levett Bucknall about the firm’s work in Build to Rent and his views on where the market is going.

Paul Sambrook, Partner and Head of Residential at consultancy, Rider Levett Bucknall | BTR News
Paul Sambrook, Partner and Head of Residential at consultancy, Rider Levett Bucknall.

We spoke to Paul Sambrook, Head of Residential at consultancy company Rider Levett Bucknall about its work within the Build to Rent sector, client support, changes in the industry, Build to Rent hotspots and what the next six months hold.

When did Rider Levett Bucknall first get involved in the Build to Rent market?

I think because there has been so much growth in Build to Rent, we sometimes forget the concept was still very much in its infancy in the UK a decade ago. It was the development work around London 2012 that was the catalyst for it really gaining traction. At Rider Levett Bucknall we were fortunate to be involved in one of the very first purpose-built developments, delivering Linkcity and Grainger a Build to Rent product in Barking, East London, as part of their development platform. The market has grown exponentially since then.

How do you support clients?

We are in the privileged position of supporting clients in developing schemes from high rise luxury Build to Rent apartments to affordable housing, student accommodation and later living. We are currently supporting a range of schemes nationally, which will add 8,000 homes when built out. We work with local authorities, Homes England, housing associations, house builders, regeneration specialists and developers and funders, providing services from cost management and building surveying to master-planning and fund monitoring.

One of our specialisms is tall towers. We have recently completed work on the tallest resi tower in Bristol, and are currently onsite working on what will be Cardiff’s tallest apartment block – as well as a 65 storey tower in London. These are great examples of urban regeneration and placemaking as well as providing much needed housing stock. I am personally really proud of the long-term relationships we have built with our clients, which is a real credit to our team.

What are the main changes in Build to Rent that you’ve seen over the last ten years?

Aside from the phenomenal growth we have seen in the last ten years and the spread out to the regions from London, we have seen some pretty fundamental changes in Build to Rent which I hope will accelerate. First, a focus on quality. With the long-awaited Building Safety Act getting into gear, we are seeing continued progress in this area. As an industry we have learned a lot, and there’s still a lot more we can do to ensure we focus on quality and get it right – as well as address legacy concerns.

Second, it is good to see that sustainability is integral to a build rather than being seen as a bolt on. The urgency to ensure we are producing net carbon zero homes has ramped up over the last few years and it is encouraging that, as an industry, we are now focused on some of the critical issues that we need to tackle, such as decarbonising our existing housing stock.

The third change we have seen, particularly in recent years, is the rise of digital and the continuing adoption of modern methods of construction (MMC) – though some may say we could be moving faster. Through increased offsite manufacturing and working smarter, we can drive efficiencies, cut programme time and reduce cost and risk. We all know that investors are increasingly considering Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) metrics in their decision making, so hopefully this will stimulate further adoption of digitalisation and the drive for more sustainable practices

Working across the UK, where do you see the hotspots for Build to Rent emerging?

The once predominantly London centric market continues to shift its focus to cities such as Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Bristol and Cardiff, with developers and funders looking for more reasonable land opportunities with scale. But we are also seeing a strong ripple effect out from these city locations with other areas becoming of interest. For example, in the South West we are seeing more activity in Exeter and Yorkshire, Bradford and Wakefield – both within easy commuter distance of Leeds and with significant populations – are also now firmly on the radar. Clearly, the anticipation of HS2 continues to drive activity. There are huge swathes of old industrial brownfield locations in the Midlands – around city centre locations such as Digbeth and Warwick Bar where we are seeing enabling works underway, with the expectation that large scale developments will begin to appear around the new HS2 Curzon Street Station. 

What do you see as the key issues over the next six months?

There is no doubt that this is a really interesting time for Build to Rent and the residential sector as a whole – particularly as we now have a new Prime Minister and administration who, as well as cutting stamp duty, are pledging ‘to get out of the way to get Britain building’. We have continuing huge demand for growth and new housing stock whilst we are grappling with fluctuating build costs, shortages of labour and very competitive land costs.

In addition, the cost of living crisis impacting on affordability of rents and the knock-on effect on investment values is going to be a key challenge. The next six months will be all about navigating this uncertainty, and we are working with clients advising them to be open to different solutions to help meet design, procurement and build requirements.

For more information, visit: Residential – RLB | Europe, email Paul Sambrook.