01 Feb Station development in Bracknell: On the right tracks
The government may be currently preoccupied with the aftermath of a certain referendum, but when the dust finally settles whichever politician is left standing will still have to meet the country’s housing needs. But while many look to new projects like Crossrail 2 to support house building, there is plenty of untapped potential in existing infrastructure.
This is especially true in regional towns and cities, which typically miss out on the massive waves of investment into transport that London enjoys. But with the capital bursting at the seams, commuter hubs will be the next place many look to live. Key settlements in the Home Counties will need to embrace their proximity to London and ramp up their house building efforts.
This doesn’t have to involve paving over every single greenfield site. From hospitals and schools to train stations, there are plenty of opportunities where new homes could be easily integrated. If we are serious about solving the housing crisis, we need to start thinking creatively around using what we already have.
One of our first schemes to launch this summer will be in Bracknell, immediately above the town’s train station. Specifically designed for renting, we hope to appeal to time-poor workers let down by the local rental market by offering quality apartments in a central location right on top of a direct line to Waterloo.
PLATFORM_, Westrock’s build to rent vehicle, is not alone in realising the benefits of building above rail. Essential Living’s flagship scheme Vantage Point sits above Archway tube station, while the Rehearsal Rooms, delivered by mid-market house-builder HUB for M&G Real Estate, overlooks North Acton tube stop.
Connectivity will be central to the success of build to rent. In an age where convenience is king, being close to transport links will be vital to attracting and retaining tenants.
Given the current London-centric focus of build to rent, there’s been a lot of excitement around Transport for London opening up its estate for development. But a far bigger opportunity lies in Network Rail, whose estate spans the length and breadth of the country. Some progress has already been made, but we need to see more if the property industry, Network Rail and the public are to fully reap the rewards.
In April Network Rail set up its first dedicated propco to drive rail network upgrades through the disposal of £1.8bn of assets across stations, depots, freight sites and arches. This has set out in part a forward-thinking plan to boost house-building numbers while improving the transport network.
Whereas many, blinded by the dream of mass homeownership, would like to see Network Rail’s property portfolio turned over for market-sale housing, the build to rent sector in many ways would prove a better partner.
Build to rent can offer public bodies like Network a long-term steady income streams as opposed to one-off capital receipts. Build to rent developers also have an interest in bringing homes to market more quickly than build for sale, meaning they’re able to start earning earlier on.
But building around transport hubs isn’t just appealing to developers and the public sector, it has real benefits for people looking to live in well-connected locations and for businesses in the area to profit from higher levels of footfall. There is also a clear and pressing demand for quality rental homes that currently isn’t being met.
Network Rail also has an important role to play in urban renewal with much of their estate located in central parts of major towns and cities. Station development offers a golden opportunity to deliver new facilities for local communities and creating places where people actually want to live and work. Stations can change from being only places of transit to hubs of activity in their own right – if we let them.
Matt Willock is head of development at Westrock, the investor and developer behind PLATFORM_