Why tenants are queuing up for these new build to rent flats at The Headline in Leeds city centre

The Headline apartment scheme on the site of the old Yorkshire Post HQ in Leeds has sparked a rush to rent

A sitting area in the vast, comunal Sky Lounge

The old Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post headquarters on Wellington Street, Leeds, regularly divided opinion thanks to its Brutalist architecture. Designed by architect John Madden and completed in 1970, it was opened by 22-year-old Prince Charles and awarded a bronze medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Its demolition began in 2014 after the building had been sold and the digital age had changed the way we work. Newspaper staff had moved to a leased office building on Whitehall Road and the printing presses to an industrial estate. Those of us who had worked in what was known as “The Bunker” were sad to see it go but, in truth, by the time the bulldozers arrived, it was a building out of time, just like the long-gone textile mill that sat there before it.

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Now, the huge corner plot has a new life as a built-to-rent apartment block, signalling another chapter in its history and another change in how we live and work. The architecture isn’t groundbreaking but it looks smart and the owner, Grainger plc, has been thoughtful in paying tribute to the site’s former use.

The Headline on Wellington Street on the site of the old Yorkshire Post building

It asked The Yorkshire Post staff and readers to suggest a name that reflected its newspaper heritage and so the new building is now known as “The Headline” and the walls on the ground floor are decorated with bespoke prints featuring typewriters and cameras. They are a talking point in the high rise, which has 242 apartments that have hit the spot with would-be tenants. Headline opened last week and is already Grainger’s most successful property to date in terms of initial take-up.

Rents start from about £900 per month for a one-bedroom flat with superfast broadband included. This compares to £700 for a conventional, private-rented city centre apartment. The extra is for the amenities, which also give residents a chance to work, relax and play while creating a sense of community.

There is also security of tenure, which private landlords cannot offer. Grainger, which manages its own buildings, is in it for the long term and has tenancies of up to three years, which can be renewed.

The Headline also has a resident services team, a handy person service and tight security, along with a hotel-style front desk. On the ground floor, there are work spaces, a gym, a wellness studio and a meeting room/office that can be booked, all are free for residents. The piece de resistance is the super-stylish Sky Lounge, which sits at the top of the building with a wraparound outdoor terrace.

One of the work spaces on the ground floor

The lounge comprises a co-working space, games area with pool table, a fire, sofas and chairs, a TV, and a kitchen with instant boiling and sparkling water tap. There’s also a dining room that runs on a booking system, allowing tenants to host dinner parties, though the fun stops at 10.30pm to preserve peace at night.

The apartments are furnished by FIKA, the brainchild of Graham Bates, entrepreneur and property investor, who was one of the first to live in Leeds city centre in the 1990s. Foreseeing the explosion of build-to-rent, he launched and later sold lettings and block management firm LIV before spotting another gap in the market. FIKA, a joint venture with Steve Dodsworth, was a solution to the problem of sourcing long-lasting furniture and appeals to Graham’s love of interior design. The company now designs its own impressive “made to last” ranges for the build-to-rent market.

How long Headline will last is open to speculation but, like its predecessors on the site, the answer appears to be “at least a good few decades and more” given tenant interest in the concept. Headline’s manager George Diamantopulos says tenants are mainly young professionals with a couple of families, a handful of students and a cohort of downsizers, which is exactly what Grainger plc predicted.

The firm, which has specialised in homes to let since 1912, is now UK’s largest listed landlord. In Yorkshire, its build-to-rent schemes include Brook Place in Sheffield, The Headline, plus Pin Yard in Leeds, which is under construction, Banks, pension funds and other institutions are also in the game and now see the amenity abundant flats as a safe place to invest for the long term.

The games area and kitchen in the Sky Lounge with boiling/sparkling water tap

While there are fears that the market could soon be overcrowded, Helen Gordon, CEO of Newcastle-based Grainger plc, dismisses the notion. “The UK has 4.5m rented homes. There are now 56,000 build-to-rent flats up and running and 36,000 under construction, which means the sector is less than five per cent of the market. Meanwhile, more private landlords are leaving the market so we are seeing a structural shift, not an oversupply.”

She adds: “Our business model is to get tenants to stay with us for as long as possible by having amenities and creating a sense of community and now more than ever, due to the pandemic, that is what people want.”

While young people are now renting for an average 10 years before climbing onto the property ladder, Helen doesn’t believe fashionable rental flats will diminish the desire for homeownership and says “In the the north, many will move out to the suburbs and buy.”

Meanwhile, she is looking for more build-to-rent sites in Leeds “Our shareholders are keen on Leeds as it is a great city to live in. www.the-headline.co.uk; FIKA, www.fikainteriors.co.uk.

The dining room and kitchen, which can be hired free of charge by residents for dinner parties

*Sam Verity, BTR investment specialist at Allsop Leeds, says: “The Yorkshire region is a hotspot for developers as the demographics of the major cities support a strong rental demand, with robust and growing employment.”

Allsop research shows that Leeds has approximately 6,150 build-to-rent homes either completed, in construction or in planning. Sheffield has 3,500 and York 850. Manchester and Salford lead the way, approaching almost 30,000 and as a result is becoming more competitive.

“There has now been a handful of schemes across Yorkshire which have completed and launched to the rental market, particularly in Leeds, with more due for delivery over the next five years, ” says Sam Verity. “Tenants have certainly seen a difference from the rental properties they have been used to. These purpose-built rental homes generally provide amenity space such as a shared resident lounge, co-working space, gyms, fitness studios, post and parcel facilities, communal dining areas and gardens, the majority are also pet friendly.”

“This has been demonstrated by L&G’s Mustard Wharf and Grainger’s The Headline which are seeing a 10-25% increase over previous, dated, rental stock in Leeds, although this accounts for the extra amenities and inclusive wifi."

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One of the built-to-rent apartments with built-to-last furniture by Yorkshire company Fika
The open plan living area in one of the apartments with furniture by Fika