COVID-19 has fuelled a suburban resurgence, which has impacted the housing sector and in particular, the Build to Rent market. Partner Nick Mumby speaks about the importance of community planning and creating green communities for a sustainable future, along with West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street; Partner at Allsop & President of the UKAA, Lesley Roberts and Marketing Strategy Director at Cordia Blackswan, Simone Griffiths.


Narrator: We're building bigger and bigger cities but are we considering the societies we want to create and how property and infrastructure can support this aim? In the wake of COVID, much has changed already, but how must planners and developers adapt to meet the changing needs of the consumer?

Lesley Roberts: We have seen a shift in the weighting of what's important for our occupants and a lot of that is around a sense of belonging, of community, of feeling safe, feeling secure, feeling like things are accessible to them and a strong drive around optionality, what do they want to be involved with and what do they not.

Simone Griffiths: As a developer, I don't think you can go into an area and say this is what I think needs to be built here, you have to look at the wider context. A big part of that wider context is the residents, community groups, wider stakeholders. Not only does it build a sense of collaboration, but it gives a sense of ownership as well and it helps developers to understand what a community wants or needs.

Nick Mumby: A good development is about the people and it's about creating spaces which people will love as their own, you can't achieve that without engaging with the people who are going to live in it.

Narrator: With the role of the community now even more prominent in our everyday lives, as people search for more than just a home, it is clear that wider considerations must be taken by planners and developers in the future, but how do you address a shift in consumer priorities?

Nick Mumby: The longer term success of any development is always going to be built around the idea that there will be a community, that it will generate a community spirit and it will be somewhere that people will actually really want to live and can get a lot out of. The way in which developers are approaching this now is to work backwards, we work out what people want, what people are really going to get out of the space, what is going to attract people to the space and what are the main ingredients for a long lasting development.

Simone Griffiths: As a city, as developers, you can't just build homes, homes in particular because of that personal feeling, you can't do that without considering the wider community or neighbourhood impact of those developments and design is such a huge part of that.

Narrator: The pandemic has also highlighted the impact and role of green spaces within the community environment, with research showing that the value of parks and green spaces was widely recognised for the physical health and mental wellbeing benefits they contribute. With this recognition, it is clear that planners need to shape their designs to respond to shifting consumer and market demands.

Andy Street: We've given a commitment to carbon neutrality by 2041 and there are three big contributors to this; transport, industry and housing, so the housing sector has a critical role to play in this challenge. One of the things we've learnt over the past 18 months is that green spaces are really important to people's physical health and mental health, so how that green space is provided in the future is really, really critical. We have got some lovely early thinking on this so we talked about having pocket parks in some of our big developments, perhaps the best example of that would be at Coventry at Abbotts Lane, we've talked about protecting green spaces in urban areas and bringing green space back. But perhaps more generally, we've talked in our design charter about how each development can have the right balance of sustainability and green within it, so really important in all work coming forward that we manage to achieve that.

Narrator: Achieving this balance is critical and collaboration between planners, developers, councils and wider stakeholders is key to the successful delivery of initiatives such as these.

Narrator: Whilst is expected that the importance of community and the green spaces are trends that are here to stay, what other trends can we look forward to in the near future?

Nick Mumby: I think we have seen a trend towards BTR being a much bigger part of the residential and wider property sector. It provides a new and more easily packaged investment opportunity from a market perspective but it also provides a much better asset for the consumer and I think that will lead to more and more developments in that area, both from the top down and occupier perspective

Lesley Roberts: ESG is obviously a hot-topic and it comes up more and more in conversation. We are responsible, all of us and collectively for a sustainable planet and we're seeing that right from the investors side right to the consumer, the consumer has a much higher awareness of their impact. I see that as a huge driver as a trend of the sector but also in terms of our behaviours and our decision making metrics and where we place the importance of that.

Simone Griffiths; I do think one of the main things that needs to happen moving forward for businesses, developers, planners, everyone that has a touch point with the built environment, so much of it is going to be about flexibility and variety. Without that we're not going to get the vitality back into our streets and our cities.

Andy Street: This whole piece about sociability and cities being a place where people come to meet, it's been so for 250 years, I actually think that will come back really strongly and you sense that in the community at the moment that people want to get back. We will see a trend toward the requirement of green spaces in our cities, in our living accommodation, I think we're going to see much more imaginative developments coming forward.

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