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Greystar's Greenford BTR Scheme Has Huge Ambitions

Greenford Quay

Greystar’s Greenford Quay scheme in North West London is a blank canvass when it comes to building large-scale rented residential schemes from scratch in the UK.

There are bigger rented resi schemes, like East Village in Stratford. But Greenford Quay is one of the largest schemes designed as a build-to-rent development from the off that is actually coming out of the ground, along with Quiantain's Wembley Park development. With 2,000 homes being built across seven buildings on a 20-acre site in an area of London with little to no rental accommodation of any sort, it will need to attract residents from across the capital.

Greystar is looking to do that by creating a scheme that incorporates amenities like workspace, gyms, restaurants and cafés as well as facilities like a primary school and health centre which can all be used by the local community as well as its residents. Greystar is building a bridge over the Grand Union Canal, which runs along one edge of the site, to improve the ability of people to come and go.

And its ambitions are big. Bisnow toured the site with Greystar Managing Director of Customer Strategy and Brand Neil Burton, who explained how the company is looking to change the way London lives and works.

“As a regeneration of a previously commercial site, Greenford didn't have much existing rental housing in the area," Burton said. "What there is comes from the single family homes market, often people just renting a room in someone’s house. Greenford Quay is all about placemaking. There are going to be 2,000-plus new homes here and we’re creating a place that’s going to attract people from other parts of London to live. Direct access to the canal and 100 hectares of woodland will create a real alternative to what’s on offer in London."

Greystar bought the 20-acre former GlaxoSmithKline and Sunblest Bakery sites in 2016, and received planning consent from Ealing Council in 2017. The company will build around 1,700 rental homes, ranging from studios to three-bed units, with Telford Homes building 194 homes for sale and another 84 shared ownership homes.

Greystar's Neil Burton

Construction began in June, and the entire scheme will be built using modular and off-site methods. Greystar is working with modular construction firm Tide Construction. That method will roughly halve the potential construction time, the firm estimated. The first building is scheduled to be completed by the end of Q1 2020, and the entire scheme will be finished by the end of 2020.

(As an aside on modular design, the modular rooms at Greenford feature skirting boards, even though the factory-built units don’t need them. This is so the rooms aren’t perfect boxes with no visible joints, which would look wrong to the human eye used to being able to see how a building has been put together.)

Burton said the scheme always being intended for BTR means it can be tailored to the needs of renters rather than owners, and can nudge people toward building relationships with their neighbours.

Some of the two-bed units have one en-suite and one stand-alone bathroom, ideal for a family, while others have two rooms each with an en-suite, which would suit two friends sharing.

The buildings have only one or two cores and lift shafts, and long corridors, rather than many cores and shorter corridors as is the norm in large blocks. This will allow people to easily move around buildings to see friends or access amenities rather than have to go down in one lift and exit the building before re-entering. Those corridors will be wider than average to allow people to stop and talk.

“We’ve included workspace and fitness amenities for residents and a thoughtful retail mix around all of the buildings, to encourage the socialisation of residents and local people," Burton said. "We want people to move around the scheme, grab a coffee, go and visit friends or work with someone they know in other buildings. The activation of the project is as important as its physical structure; it really is about people."

Greenford Quay

The ability to work at the scheme as well as live there was vital, and not just for Greystar and its residents, Burton said. Large residential schemes need to do their bit to take pressure off major urban transport systems.

“I'm passionate about how BTR can profoundly impact the way people live and work, given the forecast growth of population and the pressure on the transport network in London," Burton said. "For example, on-site workspaces can play a role in reducing the impact on the public transport system. We know people and businesses are reassessing the traditional five office days per week with elements of flexible working being introduced. These types of schemes with space designated for people to work with other residents or colleagues can have a positive social impact.”

More broadly, Burton points to the way that BTR developers need to look to consumer-facing companies outside of real estate to create places where people want to live. Housing will never be a sector where owners and operators face competition in the way that manufacturers of shampoo or shoes do: the supply and demand dynamic will never allow it.

But developers of large schemes in particular do need to pay attention to consumer behaviour in order to see their schemes flourish. It is something UK real estate has not always done well.

“I take inspiration from those sectors that obsess about the customer," he said. "If this were Procter & Gamble delivering a new shampoo, the process would be informed by rigorous testing of people’s expressed and implied needs in all elements of product, packaging and experience. We take a similar long-term approach to BTR. People are starting to realise that there are different ways to rent and the most successful developments in future will reflect the changing ways people are living and working. This will ultimately inform the design standards for how housing should be delivered at scale in this country”.

With Greenford Quay, Greystar has an entirely clean slate. What it creates there could shape the way the BTR sector evolves in the UK, and in turn, the way London works as a city.