Town and city regeneration isn’t a new topic, by any means, but recent events in the UK have left us thinking about renewal – and this interest in increasing the economic growth of local areas should be of real interest to property investors.
January 26th saw the end of the UK’s “Plan B” social restrictions – and, with it, the opening up of new conversations about various kinds of pandemic recovery.
It’s worth pointing out that the language surrounding pandemic recovery often sounds familiar to those of us in the world of property and development. As early as May of 2020, the government set out a COVID recovery scheme titled “Our plan to rebuild,” while – more recently – the government has adopted the slogan “Build Back Better.”
The “Build Back Better” project has, as its title suggests, a focus on regeneration, as highlighted in the Chancellor’s foreword which – sure enough – describes the “important mission” of “supporting struggling towns to regenerate.”
This is being achieved, as the report explains, through huge injections of local growth funding schemes consolidated into the Levelling Up Fund (worth around £4.8 billion) and the Towns Fund, which is designed specifically for “supporting the regeneration of towns across England.”
As we start learning to “live with COVID,” property investors would be well advised to pay attention to the city regeneration projects prompted by the pandemic – after all, stimulating local growth and adding value to overlooked areas are projects that hold all the hallmarks of increased property values a strong return on investment.
Barnsley: a case study in promising regeneration
Of course, as the above suggests, regeneration is occurring up and down the country.
According to the Institute for Government, the abovementioned Towns Fund was already worth over £3 billion in July 2019 – some months prior to the additional incentives to regenerate brought on by the pandemic.
As such, while regeneration might be seen as a useful clue for investors looking for lucrative properties, it’s still necessary – and useful – to narrow down the many areas currently benefitting from such funding.
Take Barnsley, for example, which has been in the news recently for its £9.7m Market Gate Bridge – a regeneration project which will not only be useful for football fans looking for an easy way to watch Barnsley FC on matchday, but will also be – in the words of cabinet spokesman Tim Cheetham – “an impressive addition to the skyline.”
The Market Gate Bridge project will complement the broader £190m redevelopment currently underway in Barnsley’s town centre – a leisure hub which won the Regeneration Award at last year’s Planning Awards, and which is set to include features like a new cinema, a bowling complex, and improved multi-storey parking.
And, while property investors might not have much interest in the latest bowling venues, this kind of regeneration in Barnsley is exactly the kind of development worth taking seriously as an indicator of strong potential.
Councillor Tim Cheetham gave voice to that strong potential when listing the positive impacts of the development:
“An investment like this not only stimulates inward investment and economic growth, it creates more and better jobs; our initial estimates suggest that the scheme will generate approximately 1100 jobs by 2025.”
While this is obviously great news for Barnsley locals, these factors should equally have property investors sitting up and taking notice.
Nobody needs reminding that increased employment opportunities, strong economic growth, and the ingredients for inward investment are all key building blocks for a lucrative environment for property investment – we would expect values in Barnsley to reflect the variety of promising elements mentioned by the councillor.
In fact, we don’t need to speculate at all – just a glance at recent figures supports the idea that Barnsley properties are on the up.
Although we’ve seen notable property value rises in Yorkshire and the North-East more broadly in recent times, a 2021 report found that Barnsley (alongside Sheffield) saw the biggest house price rises in Yorkshire over the previous five years – around the same time that its Glass Works regeneration project began.
Of course, Barnsley’s redeveloping town centre is only one example of the form regeneration can take.
Researchers from Birmingham, Sheffield, and Nottingham Universities have recently found that similar acts of regeneration – like converting offices into residential housing – are another way to improve the prospects of local areas hit hard by the pandemic.
Crucially, however regeneration is achieved, the result has every chance of benefitting everyone involved, whether they’re locals who enjoy improved amenities and a higher quality of life, or investors looking for new and exciting avenues for substantial returns.
*Reece Mennie is the chief executive officer of HJ Collection