In the field of urban regeneration there are discussions about sustainable future uses for some city-centre apartment schemes. In the last five years the growth in student renting as a niche market has been helpful, and this note is to suggest that a similar niche market could be developed for older active people, with some outline thoughts as follows, using the Castlefield area in Manchester as a Case Study to explore ideas.
Castlefield is often used as a film set, being an urban quarter with sensitive, historic and strategic features including Roman and industrial revolution connections. It has a complex canal waterfront, monumental transport viaducts, a YHA café, YMCA fitness centre and pool, a major museum nearby plus the city centre core within walking distance. Nearby there are the Concert Hall, the Art Gallery, the Royal Exchange and other theatres, plus Deansgate and King Street for premier shopping and the usual range of ‘metro’ supermarkets, as well as the whole range of city centre activities.
There could well be an opportunity in locations such as this to be re-marketed with developments aimed at aspirational retired professionals looking to downsize, to let go of the car or drive less often (cars can be hired by the hour now), and to relocate their home in order to easily maintain their access to the prime leisure and cultural offers of the city centre while living in a quieter urban quarter with a waterfront or similar advantages. The fact that some developments are currently stalled or only built to shell allows for a re-thinking of some of the internal features. People with retirement income can be less affected by a recession, with their purchasing power no longer dependent on their (previous) employment.
The internal fit-out could well be informed by the Lifetime Homes standards, and all apartments with two or more bedrooms. This might involve costs in changed designs and drawings, but the marketability will be worth the effort, as well as keeping a work flow for in-house design teams. Some planners suggest that more amenity space would also be attractive to older purchasers. There is sometimes adjacent underused land (such as empty light industrial and former car showrooms) which might make well-designed public and/or private open space.
The benefits of active frontages at the ground level are well documented, and with goo design a mix of small general retail plus health care could be attractive and viable. Many city centres still need to build up the social infrastructure of GP or nurse-lead health services, and a mix of commercial and non-commercial income may make such frontages more viable.
Important features for prospective purchasers could include:
- covenanted limits on occupation, use and transfer
- visible, proactive and reassuring property management with a concierge service
- acceptance of usual non-threatening companion pets even though apartments.
Since first circulating a version of this note in October 2009, feedback from a private sector letting perspective has identified a current barrier in the inability currently for home-owners to sell their existing properties in order to finance such a move.
Therefore, there may be a need to include with the discussions people from a financing background. The requirement would be for one or more financing organisations which has a trusted and ethical brand to be included, in order to provide a wrap-around service which could include the following options:
- Immediate open-market sale of suburban property and purchase or rental of city centre property, with (if needed) post-employment residual mortgages based on retirement income
- Delayed open-market sale of suburban property (achieved by an immediate sale to a financial institution for a fair price as an ethical equity release) and purchase or rental of city centre property
- Managed rental of suburban property and income used for rental (or purchase) of city centre property, based on guaranteed minimum payments, with the asset retained
- Lifetime-of-couple rental and service charges of city centre property paid in a lump sum on moving in, based on actuarial tables
- Renting funded from retirement state benefits (but being aware of proposed changes to Housing Benefit limits).
First published: 09 August 2010