Small but central: The UK moves to city center apartments

Whether it's down to a shorter commute or wanting more amenities close by, there are many different reasons why more people are opting to live in city centres in the UK.

July 19, 2018

High-rise living in city centers around the UK is in high demand, particularly among young professionals and the growing numbers of people choosing to live alone.

New residential developments are springing up to accommodate those who want to live close to work and leisure facilities – and they’re playing an important role in making city centers vibrant places to be, day and night.

In Manchester, for example, planning consent has been granted for a 556-home build-to-rent scheme which is part of the regeneration of the former Boddingtons Brewery site. Liverpool, meanwhile, is gearing up for a £5 billion regeneration project called Liverpool Waters, consisting of around 9,000 apartments as well as leisure facilities and office space.

“Major residential developments in regional UK cities were not a common feature pre-2000, but in the majority of city centers there are currently several schemes now underway,” says Nick Whitten, Director – UK Research at JLL. “We’re seeing regeneration projects based around a key feature of the city, such as the waterfront, and dense tower block schemes that are breaking previous height records.”

The schemes are in response to a huge increase in the number of people choosing to live in city centers over the past decade. Liverpool’s city center population rose by 181 percent to 25,600 between 2002 and 2015, according to an analysis of figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Birmingham’s city center population has increased by 163 percent over the same period, Leeds by 150 percent, Manchester by 149 percent and Bradford by 146 percent.

“The trend has predominantly been driven by young people and especially the growing student population, who once they’ve graduated want to stay near work and leisure facilities,” says Whitten. “But we’re also seeing a wider spread of people attracted to the urban lifestyle, such as elderly people who want to be within walking distance of local amenities.”

Changing demographics

The rise in city center living goes hand-in-hand with the demographic changes that have taken place since the mid-1970s. ONS figures show the average UK household size has fallen from 2.9 people to 2.4 people, couples are getting married and having children later, and the population of over 65s has risen from 14.2 percent to 18 percent.

Young, single people and seniors generally have fewer possessions than families to furnish the smaller-than-average sized accommodation that is a feature of urban living. The number of micro homes – those smaller than 37 square metres – is on the rise, with around 7,800 homes built in 2016 compared with 3,000 in 2014, according to research from Which?.

“City center living is inextricably linked to the rise of micro homes. There is far more demand for homes than is available and this has driven up prices in cities where space comes at a premium,” Whitten says. “But there is also an acceptance that if you’re living in a city center you have access to services on your doorstep and so don’t need them in your own home.”

A new way of living

Unlike the tower blocks of the 1970s, today’s residential developments are built around services and lifestyle. “Most new developments include a concierge or building manager who undertakes day-to-day tasks to improve the lives of occupiers such as collecting post. Modern developments also provide amenities such as a gym, swimming pool or cinema room, which reflect the lifestyle desired by residents,” explains Whitten.

New city center housing tends to be in areas that already have a range of restaurants, bars and shops nearby, or which include them as part of the overall development project. There are some, however, which are encouraging new facilities to spring up in the vicinity. The 2one2 tower in Birmingham, which will be the tallest residential building in the city, is expected to lead to several new shops being opened on Broad Street.

“It might be that a new housing development has great transport amenities but lacks leisure concepts, and this can encourage local businesses to open, further adding to the city’s appeal,” Whitten says.

While demand for city center living remains high, developments also need to be designed as part of the wider city growth planning to ensure their longer-term sustainability – and avoid overloading local infrastructure, whether transport hubs, parking or facilities like doctor’s surgeries. The rise of technology will go some way to helping alleviate concerns, Whitten suggests, with more automation in the way cities connect with residents, for example apps that help people to get around and encourage them to travel off-peak or down alternative routes, thereby easing congestion.

“Being mindful of pollution is also important, and we’re seeing more buildings incorporating green energy systems in response to sustainability concerns,” he adds.

And these types of well-planned developments can create successful long-term communities. “Overall, the rise in city center living in transforming the look and feel of cities to the benefit of residents, young and old,” Whitten concludes.

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