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Birmingham BTR: There Is A Limit To 1-Bed Flats, Like It Or Not

Moderator Graham Sibley with panelists Lesley Lawson, Waheed Nazir, Roger Holbeche, Simon Scrase and Nick Payne

Birmingham BTR developers, listen up: You can’t just build one-bed flats, whatever your sales team tells you about their popularity.

That was the clear message from a discussion on the way planning policy and commercial design meet at the Bisnow Birmingham BTR Update event on 11 September.

Nikal Managing Director Nick Payne and Galliard Homes Head of Design Co-Ordination Lesley Lawson explained the rationale for building a high proportion of one-bed flats.

“We are very numerically driven, and the focus for us is on net-to-gross ratios when we look at the size of our apartments," Payne said. "Because the funds analyse these ratios, they look at the rents for a 650 SF one-bed flat as against a 550 SF one-bed flat, and they find the figures are about the same, except in one case you’ve built 100 SF too much.”

Lawson agreed. “We sell off plan and the smaller flats attract investors, the bigger flats don’t, so a scheme with larger units is harder for us to promote,” she said.

Regal founder Roger Holbeche put it simply: “One-bed flats sell fastest, three-bed flats sell slower.”

But Birmingham City Council Director of Economy Waheed Nazir said the criteria that was at the front of planners’ minds was housing need.

“We have got to create places people can live in, and what we are saying to developers is, are your developments meeting the housing need? So we are not going to give consent for schemes of just one-bed flats, because to meet the need of the city we need a variety of sizes. And that’s not just our policy, it is national planning policy.”

Etex Regional Specification Manager Simon Scrase said that longer-term trends needed to be part of the decision-making process.

“Developers must make sure there is flexibility in design to cater for a changing demographic. It is just not true that one size fits all,” he said.

Payne also looked to the future, predicting that the rise of one-bed flats would not be stopped.

“I think this debate is changing," he said. "At Exchange Square we found it a slight struggle to let the two-bed flats, compared to the one-bed, because many occupiers were looking at the two-bed, then looking at all the amenity we’d put in the scheme, and saying they didn’t need the extra bedroom. So I think we’ll find more amenity in a BTR scheme means more demand for one-bed apartments.”