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UKREiiF 2024 – Housing, alternative assets and ESG dominate

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Article posted by Maria Sinclair on Jun 04, 2024

At this year’s UKREiiF, we saw a focus on the development of three key areas: housing, alternative assets, and ESG as a trait running through all areas of the built environment.

With the consensus of many investors, developers, and operators at the event being ‘next year we hope to say what we’ve done, rather than what we want to do’, we look below at the areas anticipated to have the biggest growth over the next year or so – areas of growth possibly accelerated by the mid-event announcement of a general election.

Housing a hot topic

When hasn’t it been in recent years? Affordable housing dominated the conversation at UKREiiF, with many local MPs and developers present, and the Royal Town Planning Institute using the conference as a strong platform to garner support from the politicians. Whilst a planning backlog has an impact on many areas of affordable housing, specific areas have seen strong growth on the horizon.

Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) is a growing space with a global market worth £85b in 2023, forecast to grow to £104b by 2028, but the UK is currently not on track to see as much of this growth as it might, Global Student Accommodation Groupexplained, whilst planning restrictions and a pending security bill stifle new builds.

This overall growth though, is down to soaring student numbers, with UCAS acceptances 24% higher than pre-pandemic levels and ONS research highlighting domestic student numbers forecast to increase by 5% in 2024. Interestingly, what students want is changing, and this is affecting the way developers and agencies need to approach PBSA projects and acquisitions. At a PBSA-focused panel with Harris Associates, Moda Living, and Caddick Developments, a recent survey of students suggested that 52% pick their first-year accommodation based on its branding, and that many are feeling that their wellbeing is below what they’d expect it to be. This therefore means that organisations in this space need to focus on not only the tangible elements of a building, but the soft support services they can offer as well, and how well these and the amenities are marketed.

The continuing growth of BTR and the Later Living sector (home to the fastest growing and wealthiest generation in the UK but with only 3% of new housing being built for it at the moment) were also popular themes throughout the exhibition.

Credible Alternatives

We’re witnessing a shift from investors from traditional assets like offices into other areas for their portfolios, with data centres, life sciences, and leisure, as well as a move into other business areas.

This demand has seen a shift toward the repurposing of existing assets, and the development of more mixed-use facilities, with skills in repurposing being highly valued by employers at the moment to cope with the demand. Going further than this, the real estate landscape is changing, with many new organisations at UKREiiF focusing on the decarbonisation of assets and renewables, something our sister-brand Comanos, is focusing on as the space develops.

Social at the heart of ESG

What was apparent at UKREiiF was that ESG has gone from being a ‘buzz acronym’, to a fundamental part of organisations and their future plans across different roles in their business. The aforementioned focus on the environmental aspect of ESG ran through the exhibition, as buildings look to adhere to new restrictions. However, the ‘S’ in ESG, the social aspect of the built environment, is what proved to be the most talked about area in our opinion. 

We learnt in one panel hosted by Muse Developments about urban regeneration projects they’ve completed in both Stevenage and Stockport, which have seen the development of new housing and leisure complexes transform the reputations and communities of the respective towns.

This was echoed by the impact the hospitality sector can have on urban regeneration, as Travelodge’s Director of Development, Tony O’Brien, suggested that one 80-bed site was responsible for driving an extra £1m for the local community it was in, notably also employing more women and people of colour than other sectors may.

The potential of these urban regeneration projects means that the vision and ability of candidates to complete these projects, from investment appraisals to the planning, building, and operational management of them has never been more important. 

The impact on recruitment in these spaces 

Building on the last point, the growth in the ‘S’ and its importance, is having a profound influence on all areas of the built environment. This needs to be focused on both from an employer’s point of view in their own Employer Value Proposition (EVP) and job descriptions. Likewise, candidates will need to be able to showcase their understanding of the ‘S’ capabilities in their CVs, across a variety of roles.

Whilst there were talks at UKREiiF on the skills gap in certain areas of the built environment, and what more we can do as a sector to get more students and apprentices into property, quite simply, skills gap exist in some areas because these more ‘niche’ areas are seeing more growth than they ever have previously, so are unlikely to have many specialists who have been in these spaces for a long time before.

There therefore needs to be a focus on transferrable skills between experiences to secure the employees that can develop with the ‘niches’ mentioned as they grow. Life sciences organisations can employ those with a background in office assets, or those in residential-focused roles can learn the specifics in PBSA if they have a strong understanding of the softer side of working on student accommodation, or the perhaps more stringent side when it comes to Health & Safety regulations in Later Living. 

Cobalt specialise in the recruitment of professionals across the built environment. Get in touch with me to find out more about how we can assist your organisation with its hiring requirements, or work with you on the development of your career.

Maria Sinclair, Director at Cobalt.


Phone: +44(0)161 7111 507