In our 2018 Responsible Property Investment Report, we outlined three aspects of real-estate investment that support the Sustainable Development Goals, and which guide our RPI approach. One such aspect is meaningful place-making.
Intrinsic to our ability to generate positive impacts through RPI is the concept of meaningful cities: urban places where people want to work and live, in which they take great civic pride, and which they want to support through social, economic, leisure and community-based activities.
A meaningful city has excellent employment and skills-training opportunities, infrastructure and areas of public realm. It benefits individuals, communities, businesses, local and regional authorities. Its inherent focus on sustainability helps preserve natural capital, and it contributes to regional economic growth. It follows that meaningful place-making and sustainable urban regeneration contribute to the establishment and growth of cities.
Hermes has purposefully taken on further property-development operations over the past six years, acquiring eight large urban-regeneration opportunities across the UK which span a combined 19m square feet and £13bn of capital value.
Leading the way for Leeds
One such example is Wellington Place in Leeds, where we have worked with developer MEPC to implement a meaningful place-making approach for the past decade.
Today, independent consultants Hatch Regeneris have published a landmark report, The Social and Economic Story of Wellington Place, which measures the effective outcomes of this approach.
The key development objectives were defined in collaboration with Leeds City Council in the mid-2000s. They aimed to:
- create an exemplary development that celebrated the city’s historic lifting tower;
- provide new high-quality public space linking the city centre with the West End; and
- encourage urban regeneration to the west of the site, reconnecting Leeds city centre with its surrounding areas.
Figure 1: West End regeneration sites
Source: MEPC and Hatch Regeneris as at April 2019.
The 20-acre site was originally part of Leeds Central railway station, which closed in 1967. Our contribution began when the site was temporarily converted into a green space in 2009, a compromise that enabled the project to be shelved instead of scrapped in the 2008 financial crisis.
Since then, we have worked in earnest with developer MEPC to ensure that the interests of people would inspire the buildings and open spaces we will create.
Figure 2: The economic, social and environmental footprint of Wellington Place
Source: Hatch Regeneris, based on MEPC collected data, as at April 2019.
The social and economic story of Wellington Place: key findings
The Hatch Regeneris report assesses the economic, social and environmental benefits of the development achieved to date. Here are some of the key findings:
- Long-term commitment to place-making: The achievements of the development so far represent “the strength of the original vision” and the long-term commitment of MEPC to delivering that vision.
- Regeneration of Leeds’ West End: The area has been transformed from a low-value retail park to a high-quality new business quarter. The report states: “Wellington Place can legitimately claim to be the major commercial development in Leeds in recent memory. By 2020 it will have accounted for 65% of new office development in Central Leeds over a ten-year period.”
- Strong commercial take-up: Since the completion of the first phases of the development, take up of commercial space at Wellington Place has been very strong. Take-up data indicates that 94% of the total development completed to date has been let, while 72% of the total floorspace currently under construction has already been pre-let. This demonstrates the strength of demand and broad appeal to forward-looking companies.
- A broad profile of occupiers: Wellington Place boasts 80,000 square metres of office space. It also hosts several bars and restaurants, a supermarket, outstanding cycling facilities, gyms and fitness clubs. The site has attracted some of the highest profile businesses in Leeds, including Equifax and Willis Towers Watson, creating employment in high-value sectors and providing professional jobs for Leeds residents.
Creating social value
In the early stages of our involvement in Wellington Place, the University of Leeds in collaboration with MEPC surveyed local residents and businesses about what they would like to see on the site.
The results showed an appetite for the development of a valuable and well-used community asset, providing attractive employment opportunities and housing in modern, high-quality properties. There was also desire for a new and secure public realm, football pitches, allotments and green spaces.
Since construction of the first office buildings began in 2013, the study shows the significant contribution the site has made to the economic and social value of Central Leeds. This is demonstrated by:
- Tower Square: Opened in 2016, it is now one of the largest public open spaces in Leeds. With landscaped trees and plants, picnic tables and outdoor terraces from the surrounding restaurants, cafes and bars, all centred around the historic lifting tower.
- Events: MEPC plans and coordinates a year-round programme of events and activities designed to improve staff wellbeing and bring businesses and their staff together. One standout event is the annual summer barbecue Lunch Fest in Tower Square, which boasts a wide range of different street-food vendors, games, activities and live music. Last year, it attracted 1,400 people.
Figure 3: Tower Square is now one of the largest public open spaces in Leeds
Source: Hatch Regeneris as at April 2019.
What’s more, a web survey of occupiers based in Wellington Place was undertaken by Hatch Regeneris. As the report documents, the survey showed that “the high quality public realm, amenities and social events had helped them to attract and retain staff, which contributes to productivity and competitiveness”.