Q&A with Vertus’ Alastair Mullens

BTR News talks to Vertus’ Alastair Mullens about London Build to Rent, Covid impact, challenges and opportunities, sustainability and 2022.

View of Vertus' 10 George Street Build to Rent scheme in Canary Wharf | BTR News
View of Vertus' 10 George Street Build to Rent scheme in Canary Wharf.

BTR News spoke to Vertus’ Alastair Mullens about the London Build to Rent market, the Covid-19 impact, the sectors challenges and opportunities, the sustainability agenda affecting the industry, and Vertus’ focus for 2022.

What does Vertus bring to the London Build to Rent market and what sets it apart from other providers?

Vertus is the first and only Build to Rent operator to establish a presence on the Canary Wharf Estate – an increasingly sought-after destination not only to work, but also to live and experience. A prime example of a 15-minute neighbourhood, Canary Wharf offers a host of restaurants, health clubs, bars, a cinema, and shops all within 15 minutes’ walk of our developments.

There are three developments within our portfolio, including the award-winning 10 George Street and Newfoundland, the tallest Build to Rent building in the UK (220 metres high, which is equivalent to 50 double-decker buses), as well as 8 Water Street, a rare example of a pet-friendly residence.

All of the buildings in our portfolio feature high-specification apartments with comfort cooling and high-quality furniture and finishes. Vertus’ residents benefit from state-of-the-art amenities, including a self-service bar with free to vend bean-to-cup coffee machines, wine dispensers, a private dining room, a lounge area, coworking areas, and private outdoor space. In addition, dry cleaning and laundry drop off services are available. Both Newfoundland and 10 George Street also benefit from 24/7 gym spaces. 

The quality of our service has been recognised across several of our developments – in 2020, 10 George Street claimed the title of Best London Build to Rent Development in the HomeViews Awards, while 8 Water Street received the same accolade last year.

What are the core demographics you cater to?

Canary Wharf attracts a wide and varied demographic, including domestic and international tenants across all ages and occupations – from mature professionals working in the area and further afield to international students keen to experience the best of London living, with plenty of restaurants and the UK’s largest free-to-use public art exhibition on their doorstep.

How has the pandemic affected the Build to Rent market?

The Build to Rent market has proven very robust. Covid has highlighted the importance of amenities within easy reach as well as community, a core element of our offering. Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen strong appetite from Londoners (working in various locations across the capital, not just Canary Wharf), and we expect this trend to continue, boosted by the opening of the Elizabeth line. The perception of Canary Wharf has definitely evolved, with greater numbers of people viewing it as an attractive destination to live and not just work.

The pandemic has allowed us to foster stronger relationships with our residents and show them our commitment to their wellbeing. It has also brought the importance of high-quality outdoor spaces to the forefront – for many, the roof terrace of their apartment building was the only place in the whole city where they could relax and get away from the madness of the pandemic.

This emphasis on the outdoors will hopefully translate into higher quality designs and more imaginative layouts. Our buildings at Wood Wharf, for example, already benefit from considerate landscaping, surrounded by water, with a boardwalk and gardens on their doorstep – a mini oasis in this bustling part of the city. 

What challenges/opportunities is the Build to Rent sector currently facing?

The UK Build to Rent sector is still in its infancy, and the big task for Vertus and the wider industry is to effectively communicate the benefits of our offering. Many people view home ownership as the default option and aspire to it when in fact, it may not suit their lifestyle, social needs and long-term plans.

From a microeconomic perspective, the supply chain crisis is having a big impact on the whole of the property sector, making construction, repairs, and maintenance more complex and expensive due to shortages of materials and staff, forcing developers to re-think their arrangements and look for alternative routes.

Despite these temporary difficulties, Build to Rent continues to attract high volumes of institutional capital, with £4.1bn invested into this market segment in 2021 alone, with many new players entering the sector. We see healthy competition as highly beneficial, pushing providers to innovate and bring new ideas to the market in a bid to win over residents.

How is the sustainability agenda affecting Build to Rent?

Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important consideration for many residents, who now pay greater attention to a building’s energy efficiency and the use of alternative/renewable energy sources, the durability of materials, cycle storage facilities, and its interaction with the wider ecosystem.

The properties within our portfolio have been designed with sustainability principles embedded into them from day one. Responsible waste management has been a big priority for us, so we’ve been providing residents with coloured bin bags to encourage recycling using tri-separated waste chutes.

All of our buildings run from 100% renewable electricity, and we have the largest installation of green roofs, which appeals to prospective tenants seeking to reduce their environmental footprint.

Newfoundland is a great example of such a development – thanks to the PV solar panels on its roof, we’re able to save over 8,000kg of CO2 emissions.

What’s going to be the key focus for the Vertus team in 2022?

We’re gearing up for the launch of the UK’s highest Build to Rent apartments at Newfoundland and look forward to unveiling nine apartments on the 35th floor of 10 George Street. The Vertus team is very excited about the upcoming launches of several new restaurants on the estate, which include MMY Wood Wharf by Mercato Metropolitano, which will occupy two levels of 10 George Street, and Emilia’s Crafted Pasta, due to open within the same building – a fantastic addition to Canary Wharf’s thriving dining scene.