The love affair with living in the heart of Yorkshire’s largest, post-industrial cities soured during the darkest days of the pandemic with tenants complaining of feeling trapped in flats with little or no outdoor space. Some left and vowed never to return but it seems the lure of the bright lights is strong.
Leeds city living specialist Jonathan Morgan says: “The early days of lockdown were dark and testing, particularly for Leeds city centre. “Bars and restaurants were summarily shut, all transport halted and workers sent home in their thousands. A time of crisis, it’s fair to say.
“Prevented from moving by lockdown restrictions, an entire season of city renters were stuck, and when the annual summer peak in apartment availability came around, there was no influx of city workers, new recruits, graduates or overseas students to take up that space. As a consequence, hundreds of apartments were left empty. Questions were asked; is this the end of city living? Have we all fallen out of love with the city centre?”
As we begin a return to normal, the questions have been answered, according to Jonathan, who says that letting specialist Linley and Simpson with Morgans peak vacancy rate of around eight per cent of stock in September last year has been wiped and its substantial portfolio is now over 99 per cent occupied with demand for rental apartments at record levels.
He adds: “We know from our experience of the market over many years that people choose to live in the city centre for its sheer convenience, proximity to major transport hubs, walkability, independent cafe and bar scene and unrivalled culture. It is, quite simply, the most exciting and straightforward place to live. Nothing has changed. As we continue our inevitable meander back to a more recognisable world, the city centre is rediscovering it’s buzz and vitality.”
Jonathan, who was one of the first to champion the idea of city centre living in Leeds, says that the surge in Build to Rent schemes now built or under construction could not have come at a better time. “A difficult 12 months for those operators who have launched major new schemes, such as Leodis Square and Mustard Wharf, will soon be forgotten as enquiries boom.”
Over in Sheffield, Jordan Fields of Linley and Simpson’s city centre lettings office, says there was a tenant exodus when lockdowns were imposed and the usual influx of students failed to materialise in 2020 as many decided to study from their parental home. But he adds: “It is back to normal now and rents are slowly rising. We are as busy as we have ever been letting studio and one and two-bedroom flats. The big driver for the under 30s is the social life the city centre offers them.”
Bradford city centre rental flats also suffered from lack of demand during the height of the pandemic. However, a spokesperson from Whitegates estate and letting agency, says that demand is increasing, with some tenants choosing to work in Leeds and live in Bradford, where rents are less expensive and developers are upping their game.
Pennine House in Little Germany is a Grade II listed former woollen mill converted into rental apartments served by a Starbucks Coffee lounge, cinema room and residents gym.
Over at Conditioning House, a large number of the flats in the newly-converted, historic mill have been bought to let with the lure of tight security, office space, a cafe and a gym.
A one-bedroom apartment in Bradford costs between £350 and £500 per month, while in Leeds it is about £700 per month. While the rental market has bounced back, the sales markets in all the cities above are still affected by the cladding scandal.
The huge costs of extra fire safety measures and sky high insurance payments that leasehold flat owners still face are crippling and make properties effectively unsaleable.
It is a desperately sad, unjust and sorry state of affairs.
Jonathan Morgan says: “Let’s spare a thought for the significant number of city centre residents whose lives are on hold as a consequence of unresolved cladding issues. The RICS and the Government have been unable to find shared and clear ground and the debate about fire safety could well rage on for a while longer. Ultimately it will be resolved but for those currently living in unsafe buildings, the nightmare continues.”
While those who constructed poorly-built apartment blocks should hang their heads in shame, there are others who are setting a great example on how city centre flats and houses should be built. CITU, which is creating the Climate Innovation District in Leeds, is one and the Fruit Market by Wykeland Beal in Hull is another. What they have in common is the thought given to design, creating a community, energy efficiency and well-being.