Q&A with Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s Head of Design & Construction

BTR New spoke with Keith Whitmore, Head of Design & Construction at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield UK.

Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield UK's Coppermaker Square development, Westfield Avenue | BTR News
Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield UK's Coppermaker Square development, Westfield Avenue.

BTR New spoke with Keith Whitmore, Head of Design & Construction at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield about its latest plans in the Build to Rent sector, its mixed-use urbanisation / regeneration strategy, what to consider when designing developments, and the impact of Build to Rent on local communities.

What are Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s latest plans in the Build to Rent sector?  

We recently announced that our 1,225-apartment development, Coppermaker Square, will welcome its first residents in January 2023. Located next to Westfield Stratford City and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the site has been developed in partnership with PSP Investments and QuadReal Property Group. Once open, Coppermaker Square will be operated by international property development and management company, Greystar.

Coppermaker Square will be the most exciting new address in the neighbourhood and has been the culmination of more than a decade of investment into Stratford by Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield. During that time, we have invested more than £2bn and seen Stratford transform into one of London’s most vibrant and exciting districts, while generating thousands of retail and construction jobs.

At Westfield London we have recently submitted plans for 1,700 apartments. Our aim is to deliver affordable homes in a sustainable location along with providing increased benefit to the local community with improved residential layouts, enhanced connections and accessible open space such as the provision of a publicly accessible park of 1.4 acres. We want to create a vibrant mixed-use destination that everyone in the community can enjoy.

We are also currently revising our plans for Croydon, but we are looking at integrating more residential as well as leisure and workspace to create a vibrant destination with community at the core.

Can you tell us more about Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s mixed-use urbanisation / regeneration strategy?  

The rise of people-centric destinations has changed the game over the last few years especially as urban populations continue to seek integrated, mixed-use destinations that meet their various needs – whether that’s to live, work, shop or play.

In the UK, we have invested more than £4bn in our London destinations since 2008 and have a further £2bn+ planned. The wider benefits are not limited to the sites of our destinations themselves but reach way beyond the boundaries.

All three of Unibail- Rodamco-Westfield’s centres – Westfield London, Westfield Stratford City and our future development in Croydon – are in London’s Opportunity Areas: the capital’s major source of brownfield land with significant capacity for development. There is currently over £32bn worth of inward investment surrounding these three London sites which bring new jobs, homes, offices and retail, and places as part of urban and mixed-use town centre development, along with cultural and learning institutions. Our past, present, and future investments are synonymous with substantial socio-economic benefits and supporting regeneration within our communities.  

Since 2018 we have been working on revised designs for the remaining part of the development at Westfield London, and this next step in the wider Westfield London masterplan is an example of Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s strategy to increase mixed use destinations with exceptional and highly connected retail destinations, by adding offices, residential and other uses.

This includes investing over £177m on local transport and other infrastructure to better serve our communities, and creating 20,000 local jobs with over 50% of those going to people form the six West London Boroughs. Investment also carries through to public realm and placemaking – such as creating vibrant spaces where our neighbours, visitors and residents can mix, experience and enjoy safe outdoor spaces.

Meanwhile at Westfield Stratford City, in addition to Coppermaker Square, we have the planned East Bank development featuring iconic cultural and learning institutions – including the V&A, the Smithsonian Institution, Sadler’s Wells, BBC Music, UAL and London College of Fashion.

Again, with community at the heart of our developments, Westfield has invested £10m into the East Bank to support jobs and training for the local area.

What are the key things to consider when designing Build to Rent developments?

When considering Build to Rent developments, especially in urban areas, it’s important to start with the local area and community, to identify how the scheme fits within the wider socio-economic space. It’s all about taking a wide-lens view and planning for the scheme to integrate seamlessly into the space, whilst offering improved benefits that contribute to and further advance the existing community.

Build to Rent schemes are so important from a community perspective, as they create new communities that work in their own right but also blend with existing ones. Build to Rent developments aren’t just for the people living there – they will sit at the heart of a community so there needs to be a benefit for the local residents too.

It’s key to understand what your USP is versus your competition and keep that front of mind throughout the process. Part of this is also understanding your audience; for example, knowing what their needs are and the reasons why – that’s something we’ve researched extensively through upfront focus groups and market research, and the feedback from our customers has fed into the design and specifications of our residential developments.

Building and operating new developments also needs to be done with a sustainable mindset front of mind, to serve the local community and surrounding areas. At Unibail- Rodamco-Westfield, our Better Places 2030 program provides the guidelines for overseeing our sustainable transition. Through these efforts we’re able to reduce our impact on the environment while contributing to the wider community’s sustainability goals.

Coppermaker Square has been built in a way to minimise environmental impact. 90% of waste arising from demolition works will be re-used or recycled, while 3,000 prefabricated bathroom and shower room pods have been built offsite before being installed, to reduce waste generated on-site. In addition, the development’s heating and cooling system is being provided from a low-carbon EQUANS District Heating Network, and electric car charging points have been installed in the building’s car park.

What is the impact of Build to Rent developments on local communities?

As outlined in the British Property Foundation’s ‘Who lives in Build-to-Rent?’ study, Build to Rent schemes offer greater flexibility to tenants from affordability to amenities. In particular, Build to Rent schemes typically offer greater housing choices; from four-bed apartments suited to families, to studios for individuals, there are a variety of options to suit a range of needs. This also expands laterally with amenities and features such as pet-friendly apartments, on-site nurseries or work-from-home spaces, providing tenants with much-needed flexibility. Build to Rent schemes like ours also offer professional management with on-demand customer service, meaning residents can take confidence that issues will be quickly and efficiently resolved.

The target market for Build to Rent schemes versus Built to Buy, especially in London and in communities such as Stratford, want even more from their amenities than just a place to live. They want to have everything on their doorstep and have shared facilities to help create that community feel. That’s what puts us in a unique position with the likes of Coppermaker Square, where residents will have a range of amenities, a shopping centre with a huge mix of retailers, experiences and services, and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park all within walking range.

At the end of the day, Build to Rent schemes rely on generating long-term income which leads to the incentive to create and sustain top-quality places to ensure their reputation and strength of their brand remains high.