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Major firms continue to invest in the PRS – what’s the latest?

The UK private rented sector has become increasingly attractive to institutional, large-scale investors in recent years as returns on investment elsewhere have ebbed way. Commercial property, in particular, suffered massively during Covid-19 and is bouncing back slowly from the pandemic.

As a result, many big businesses are looking to diversify and enter the residential space, which comes with the reassurance of steady returns and relative safety compared to other investments at present.

But what is the latest state of play? Here, PIT takes a closer look.


Citra Living invests in 110 rental homes in Ashford, Kent

Last week, it was announced that Citra Living – which was established in July 2021 and is part of Lloyds Banking Group - had purchased 110 properties at the Riverside Park development in Ashford, Kent from Oxford-based housebuilder GRE Assets for an undisclosed sum.

Ashford, which has high-speed rail links to Stratford and Central London, is expected to see the highest population growth in Kent in the coming decade (up by 8% compared to the national average of 4% over the next 10 years), with more people wanting to take advantage of its ‘proximity to the coast and fast rail link into London’.

Citra, a standalone brand which focuses solely on the private rented sector, says The Riverside Park apartments will help to meet growing demand for high-quality, great-value homes in the area.

The apartments will be found in two blocks, which form part of the wider development of 246 apartments and 26 townhouses. The majority of the apartments will have parking spaces and private balconies, while both the blocks benefit from communal rooftop terraces for customers to use. 

The apartments will be professionally managed by Citra Living and available to rent from autumn 2022.

The deal marks the second GRE development in which Citra has invested, following the purchase of a residential building at Nene Wharf at Flettons Quay in Peterborough, which was announced in July 2021.

“Growing demand in Ashford, in part thanks to recent investment announcements, has resulted in a shortage of decent, good value properties for people looking to rent in the area. Within our developments, we will be providing great quality homes, which are essential to communities like Ashford where people want to put down roots,” Andy Hutchinson, managing director of Citra Living, insisted.

“Our partnership with GRE Assets was borne out of the shared goal of providing a consistently high standard of properties where they are most needed. Following our collaboration in Peterborough, this site in Ashford is another example of how we can work together with mid-sized developers to help strengthen their businesses and accelerate future projects.”

Michael El-Kassir, managing director of GRE Assets, added: “We are delighted to finalise our second deal with Citra Living. Working with Citra at both Nene Wharf, Peterborough and Riverside Park in Ashford has certainly helped accelerate our growth into the ‘Build to Rent’ market where we see an exciting opportunity to help meet the growing demand for high-quality rental homes.”

According to its website, Citra is building ‘an exciting group of property all over the UK. As we grow our business, we’ll have more homes in more locations, ranging from one-bedroom apartments to family homes’. But there are no further details about exact locations or plans.

In August 2021, Citra Living and Barratt Developments Plc announced the creation of a strategic partnership where both firms will work together, on a site-by-site basis, to gradually develop incremental housing stock for the rental market. The press release at the time said: ‘the parties are in the process of identifying, and agreeing terms for, the initial sites that would be progressed under the partnership’.

Long term, the bank - through its Citra Living arm – has plans for 50,000 homes for rental by 2030, which would make Lloyds one of Britain’s biggest private sector landlords.

An internal job advertisement for a director role in Citra Living seen by the Times last year revealed the scale of its intentions, with a target for it to make £300 million in annual profit by 2025. When it launched, it said it was targeting 400 homes by the end of 2021 and 800 by the end of 2022.

However, the 50,000 target by the end of this decade would mean the brand snapping up and renting out new properties at the rate of more than 400 a month.

John Lewis outlines first locations

Meanwhile, earlier this month, the John Lewis Partnership announced the first locations for its private rental homes, having announced last year that it would enter the PRS to protect, improve and diversify its income streams.

The three planned sites include building over Waitrose shops in Bromley and West Ealing in Greater London, as well as replacing a vacant John Lewis warehouse in Reading, which the retailer said 'would offer the trust, quality and service that people expect from John Lewis'. The firm will act as both developer and then property manager on the schemes.

“Detailed designs will not be shown until later in the year to give residents the opportunity to shape the plans at this early stage. Subject to the feedback received during these consultations, our intention would be to submit planning applications for Bromley and West Ealing next year. A period of public consultation for Mill Lane, Reading, will take place later this year,“ a statement said.

Tenants are expected to have options for short and long-term tenures, while food delivery options will exist for its tenants, from the closest Waitrose branches. John Lewis is also reported to be considering offering staff discounted rents if they take tenancies.

The three locations are the first sites to be announced in the retailer’s plans to deliver 10,000 homes over the next decade, half of which will come from schemes on the Partnership’s own property portfolio, in a sign that major retailers are looking to shore up flagging retail income – lessened by Covid, the cost-of-living crisis and various other factors – by focusing on residential instead.

In fact, moving into the rental homes market is part of John Lewis’s long-term plan for 40% of profits to come from outside of retail by 2030. 

Modular homes at Boots HQ campus

Around the time Citra Living was launched and John Lewis was announcing its plan to enter the rental market, another major retailer – Boots – revealed that had appointed modular housing specialists ilke Homes to deliver the UK’s largest low-rise modular housing development, with plans for 622 homes in the grounds of the high street giant’s headquarters in Beeston, Nottinghamshire.

That was in mid-July 2021 and by September 2021 ilke Homes announced it had successfully submitted a planning application for 622 homes on a 43-acre site in close proximity to Boots’ HQ.

All the houses will be manufactured along production lines at ilke Homes’ factory in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, with 505 houses and 117 flats proposed for the development, the first time Boots has released land for housing development at its HQ.

The homes fall under the boundaries of both Nottingham City Council and Broxtowe Borough Council, but the planning permission application was sent to the city council.

A spokesman for ilke Homes said, back in September, that subject to planning permission, work will commence on site in summer 2022, but there has been no sign that planning permission has yet been granted or work has begun.

The site has been set aside for residential development since 2014 and forms part of the wider 286-acre Nottingham Enterprise Zone.

PIT contacted ilke Homes to work out the latest state of play with the planning application, but received no reply.

TfL and Grainger

In 2019, Transport for London - which was clamouring to find new revenue streams even before Covid-19 decimated its finances further than ever - announced a joint venture partnership with Grainger plc, one of the UK's biggest residential landlords, to deliver more than 3,000 homes for rent across London in various Build to Rent schemes.

The partnership, known as Connected Living, has since been given the go-ahead on a number of schemes, but they have proved controversial in some instances.

Planning applications have been submitted or approved on four sites, in Arnos Grove, Cockfosters, Montford Place in Kennington and Nine Elms, while planning committee approval has been achieved for Southall Sidings, a 460-home development in West London.

The plan is to combine 'TfL's land and skills with Grainger’s expertise and experience in the Build to Rent sector to provide thousands of homes, with 40% affordable housing across all sites, sustainability at the fore, and secure and stable returns over the long term. The schemes are set to include a host of resident amenities and long-term, flexible tenancies.

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    How to repeat all the mistakes of the past !!


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