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UKREiiF 2024: What I’m looking out for this year

It might only be three years old, but the UK’s Real Estate Investment and Infrastructure Forum has proven itself to be an industry lynchpin, writes Thomas Pearson of JMW.

There are numerous opportunities and challenges facing everyone in real estate, as well as in those sectors with which we share many touchpoints.

That’s why one of the biggest attractions of UKREiiF is the exchange of knowledge and expertise between thousands of key stakeholders – both public and private sector – as we talk with investors, constructors, developers, local authorities, funders, and planners, build lasting business relationships, and discuss key projects critical to the future of the North West and beyond.

I’m looking forward to discussions around the following topics:

Delivering sustainability within an economically sound framework

Commercial real estate can, and does, play a significant role in delivering an economically sound, sustainable future for our towns and cities. UKREiiF will demonstrate just how the industry has taken up the challenge of working towards a more environmentally conscious future, showcasing how sustainable practices have tangible financial benefits for both investors and occupiers.

Our recent work on the £11.5m redevelopment of M&G Real Estate’s 112,000 sq ft 58 Mosley Street, rebranded as Aviary, is an excellent example of one of the most current issues in the industry: redevelop, repurpose, or retrofit?

The Aviary project will focus on sustainability: the decision to refurbish, rather than demolish and rebuild, will produce around 69% less carbon emissions. The project is dubbed a “brown to green” conversion: something that will be a hot topic at UKREiiF.

The Build-to-Rent and PBSA momentum

This shows no sign of stopping, given the build-to-rent sector had a strong finish in 2023 with £1.9bn transacted in the final quarter, up 126% from Q4 2022. A recent BTR investor survey revealed that investors have the ability to deploy £8.1bn of capital into the sector this year, a figure that is an impressive 90% higher than last year.

According to Knight Frank’s Q1 BTR market update, UK BTR investment hit £1.3bn in the first quarter of 2024, up 21% year-on-year: the highest figure recorded for a first quarter. Operational deals accounted for 35% of investment flowing into the sector, the highest proportion since Q1 2021.

Such robust figures are more than encouraging and there are several sessions on the BTR market at this year’s UKREiiF likely to be popular with developers, investors, operators, and others.

I’m also looking forward to taking part in the conversation around the progression of the purpose-built student accommodation market, which across the country is robust, albeit suffering from a supply and demand imbalance. Only 12,000 new beds came to the market in 2023 compared with 36,000 in 2019. Will others at UKREiiF be encouraged by the sector’s high occupancy and strong rent growth forecasts?

The flight to quality

We are seeing an increased willingness demonstrated by corporate tenants in the office market to pay higher rents for premium accommodation; well-located buildings with – of course – strong sustainability credentials are in considerable demand.

This is the result of many employers placing a strong emphasis on employees maintaining an office presence and encouraging them to do so by offering significantly upgraded spaces with premium features.

We’ve seen a lot of activity in the high-end office market over the past 12 months, working with businesses keen to establish smaller footprints and redeploy the extra funds saved in square footage cuts elsewhere in their operations.

I expect to hear more about the rise in popularity of certain trophy class buildings too.

Making connections

I am a firm believer in the power of making worthwhile connections and seeking to understand how best to help people establish mutually beneficial links to create opportunities for them. UKREiiF is one of the best ways to accomplish this, and its Leeds location makes it particularly attractive to those of us living in the North of England.

Deals will be done, business relationships cemented, and investments will be made, ensuring that commercial real estate continues to have a positive impact on the North West and the UK as a whole.

  • Thomas Pearson is head of the real estate commercial team at JMW Solicitors

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