Southwark, London

BTR update – 500 new council homes and the resilience of PBSA

Southwark Council has appointed a team of architects who will design plans to transform the Currys PC World site on Old Kent Road into hundreds of new homes.

The mixed-use development will include the delivery of around 500 new homes, with half being new council homes, as part of the council’s programme to build 11,000 new council homes across the borough by 2042.

As well as new homes, the council’s scheme will include around 5,000 square metres of commercial space which could be used for a new further education facility. It will also generate new jobs for Old Kent Road, both in its construction and in future. Development of the land currently occupied by Currys PC World and the adjacent B&M store, which was acquired by Southwark Council in 2019, will be net carbon neutral to support the council’s climate emergency commitments.

Led by three architectural practices, the scheme’s design team was chosen using the council’s new Architect Design Services Framework (ADSF), which was expanded and enhanced last year to attract both established and emerging architect firms with a diverse leadership and workforce. The team – Morris + Company, Weston Williamson + Partners, and West Port – represent a
group of new and experienced designers who all have prior experience of working in Southwark and will collaborate on this major master planning project.

Cllr Johnson Situ, Cabinet Member for Climate Emergency, Planning and Transport at Southwark Council, comments: “Our vision for the Old Kent Road is to harness its unique character as London’s oldest thoroughfare to create a go-to destination, where our diverse communities can thrive, with the addition of new homes, business space, and quality open spaces.”

“As part of our wider Old Kent Road plans, this new scheme is a fantastic opportunity to build council homes and continue our work to ensure that the people who design our homes better represent the rich diversity of the people who live in them.” He adds: “I’m delighted that such a strong group of architects from different backgrounds have been appointed, bringing a new range of perspectives to this work and helping us create a legacy of new council housing that puts the local community at the forefront of designs.”

Public consultation on the Currys PC World scheme will begin next year and the first new homes could be delivered in 2024. You can find out more about the regeneration of Old Kent Road here.

PBSA letting cycle remains resilient throughout UK – study

Lettings for the 2021-22 academic year have fallen by 5% year-on-year, according to research by UK student accommodation search platform StuRents. The data, which analysed signatories between October (the beginning of the student lettings cycle) and February, revealed that in cities such as Durham and Birmingham, the number of lettings has risen by 20% and 18% respectively – providing a healthy outlook for asset owners and investors.

This year-on-year growth in signatories contrasts to locations such as Bristol and leads, with drops of 18% and 8% respectively. The previous 2020-21 lettings season was, of course, negatively impacted by the pandemic causing travel restrictions and the move to online-only teaching. This slump was particularly noticeable in the purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) sector; however, the latest figures suggest that demand is holding up relatively well nationwide.

The most popular size of property or cluster has been those containing six bedrooms which equated to almost a quarter (23.3%) of confirmed tenancy agreements. This suggests that demand for shared living as a group of friends remains a popular choice as it provides opportunities to socialise with friends, even if only in a household bubble. With foreign students yet to know their travel plans for the upcoming academic year, time will tell how this segment will hold up. Typically, foreign students book their accommodation later than domestic students, and therefore the data is incomplete. However, early indications point to PBSA capturing a smaller proportion of enquiries compared to previous years.

Therefore, PBSA investors may need to turn their attention to attracting UK students who are yet to confirm their arrangements. In locations where PBSA carries a significant premium compared to houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), incentives such as discounts for group bookings may be required to attract this demand, with some providers already taking this route.

Richard Ward, head of research at StuRents, says: “Despite an unpredictable year for the student accommodation sector, we are pleased to see students are still booking their 2021-22
accommodation. The numbers are encouraging and demonstrate that there is appetite from students to return to university for either in-person class or at home studies.” “While the fate for foreign travel remains yet to be sealed, the data from the domestic market shows that certain locations have been extremely resilient.”

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