• City centre sanctuary

Liverpool’s city centre sanctuary

Liverpool’s city centre sanctuary

Words by Natasha Young

Liverpool city centre is renowned for its world-famous waterfront and numerous landmarks, a celebrated cultural offering and a thriving selection of retailers, bars and restaurants. From giant puppetry to colossal cruise ships, it’s also a frequent stage for headline-grabbing large-scale events. Seemingly more so than ever though, it’s a popular area to live in and a hotspot for new residential development.

So how has the city centre grown as a residential destination, who is being enticed to swap the suburbs for the hustle and bustle, and how is the demand being driven?

Whether you’re venturing through Liverpool’s creative Baltic Triangle, the character-filled Ropewalks, surroundings of the Lime Street gateway or the commercial district; these days you won’t be far from some new homes in progress.

Transformations of former office spaces and redevelopments of vacant buildings are taking place alongside a range of brand new schemes, whilst recently completed residential properties are being snapped up by keen city dwellers.

According to Liverpool City Council’s most recent data on homes being created across the city – November 2015’s Residential Development Update report – last year was proving to be an “outstanding” year for construction as the whole of Liverpool saw

£243 million of residential projects reach completion between January and October.

Throughout the city this equated to some 1,144 new homes and 2,522 student bedrooms and, according to the research, the city centre accounted for a healthy share of the stock.

“The city centre in particular has seen a welcome return to pre-recession levels, with 243 units completed this year so far,” the report highlighted when it was released towards the end of last year.

“A further 1,419 are currently on site, with 180 possibly completing by the end of the year; the remainder finishing during 2016 and 2017.”

It’s not just the volume of central homes and student rooms that appears to be on the rise but also the quality, as “high spec fixtures and fittings” are said to be a sign of the improving accommodation which is being created.

Whilst central Liverpool’s number of homes may be reaching new highs, its population of residents has been growing over time alongside the area’s ongoing regeneration and expansion into now thriving communities such as the Baltic Triangle.

“Over the last couple of decades the number of people living in Liverpool city centre has more than trebled to approaching 40,000 due to a combination of the resurgence in the city’s economy, extensive regeneration of retail and leisure facilities, expansion of the three universities and the policies of local bodies,” explains Professor Richard Evans, acting director and professor of urban and regional policy at Liverpool John Moores University’s (LJMU) European Institute for Urban Affairs.

“Extensive provision of new apartments and conversions has augmented an already attractive city centre residential offer owing to its number of attractive Georgian and Edwardian properties.

“The influx of professionals and students lured by the convenience and buzz of city centre facilities and nightlife has both boosted the local economy in terms of retail and services and also added to the city’s skills base.”

Such is the demand from young professionals to be in amongst the city’s main hive of activity that developers seem to be targeting them specifically with new developments.

The Residential Development Update suggests a “current trend” of studio apartments being built in large projects such as the Baltic Triangle’s Norfolk Street and Bridgewater House, as well as 2 Moorfields and North Point in Pall Mall around the commercial district – an area of the city centre which is also seeing residential conversions of former vacant office spaces become more frequent after measures allowing such transitions to go ahead without planning permission were made permanent by the government.

The long-term relaxation of the rules, which was initially intended to expire this month, has previously been welcomed by some local experts who expect it to positively impact on the city’s employers looking to recruit from a local talent pool and also see it as a means of providing more properties in the area which will attract first-time buyers.

“The influx of professionals and students lured by the convenience and buzz of city centre facilities and nightlife has both boosted the local economy in terms of retail and services and also added to the city’s skills base.”

In recent weeks further lifelines have also been announced nationally for buyers looking to get a foot on the property ladder with help from the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ which could provide potential for the influx of young professionals setting up home in the city centre to continue.

For instance, Barclays Mortgages is introducing 100% mortgages to remove the “significant burden” high deposits place on first-time buyers and their parents.

Through the initiative, ‘family helpers’ will need to pay in savings equal to 10% of the property price, which will then be paid back to them three years later with interest rather than the money having to be ‘gifted’ to their relatives.

Meanwhile, Liverpool city centre accommodation has also been upping its game for renters, with Private Rented Sector (PRS) schemes which see whole complexes of apartments developed to be managed and well-maintained by one company as opposed to numerous individual private landlords buying into the sites.

Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson has previously credited such schemes with lifting the quality of central homes for those renting properties.

“The arrival of major investment funds backing the Private Rental Sector in city centre apartments is improving the residential offer,” he says in the Residential Development Update.

“The majority of what was built in the city centre (as with many other northern cities) during the last boom of 2002-2007 was not of particularly great quality and was often designed for the buy-to-let investor/speculator.

I am encouraged that this emerging new sector, where investor/developers will retain ownership of their properties will bring forward higher quality design and larger units in well managed developments.”

So far the waterfront has seen prominent PRS developments get underway, with Queens Dock’s completed The Keel – the result of a residential conversion of the former HMRC office building – prove so successful in attracting tenants that its developers Glenbrook Property and Moorfield have this year submitted plans to build an entirely new block of 257 apartments on adjacent vacant land.

Construction is still underway on Promenade Estates’ fellow PRS scheme Baltic Village, which overlooks the waterfront and neighbours the Baltic Triangle and will include features such as a hotel-style concierge for tenants. The scheme, however, attracted the attention of investors early on and has already been sold to Vista Fund and Hermes Investment Management for more than £50m in what was one of the largest PRS transactions outside of London at the time.

Further PRS schemes are expected to act as a magnet for renters in Liverpool as City Residential managing director, Alan Bevan kicked off 2016 with an outlook that suggested £150m worth of such developments were in the pipeline and still to be announced in the city.

Alan welcomed the new developments amid a call for further residential stock which isn’t being purpose-built solely for students, who are seemingly increasing their demand for central accommodation which will position them amongst city centre activity as well as being a stone’s throw from the ‘Knowledge Quarter’, where universities which currently attract more than 50,000 students to Liverpool are continuing to grow their presence.

The level of student development in the city shows little sign of slowing down, with planning applications being submitted and large-scale schemes like Bevington Developments’ 1,019 new student homes across four new blocks near to LJMU’s Byrom Street campus being given the go-ahead.

This comes despite previous questions over whether the city centre’s student accommodation provisions have reached their peak, as an independent review into the demand, supply and impact concluded that there doesn’t need to be a moratorium on further projects.

Student numbers are expected to “remain stable” in Liverpool with some older accommodation reaching the end of its life.

About Author: Natasha Young

Natasha Young is our Editor. She can be contacted by email natasha@movepublishing.co.uk or by phone on 0151 709 3871.