City centre living, just a trend or a new way of life?
It would appear that city centres are now amongst some of the most desirable places to live, especially as the regional cities in the West Midlands and North West continue their huge regeneration. This, in turn, attracts a new younger generation of homebuyers, in addition to the traditional older buyers that have made the decision to move back from the suburbs and enjoy all that city centre living has to offer. A generation or two ago, city centres were empty, with little to attract people to live there. Aside from the more desirable parts of London, many city centres would resemble a ghost town at night.
Fast forward to today and the likes of cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham host a supply of new builds and conversions of old industrial sites, creating a new vibe amongst these cities. Most of the new builds that these developers are building incorporate commercial units at street level, with smart new restaurants, shops and gymnasiums all adding to the area and complementing the now diverse and vibrant city scene. This transformation sees no sign of abating, as we expect the lead set by these cities to be the blueprint going forward of most city councils in the future, striving to breathe life back into their centres.
As far as statistics go, 30 years ago, the city centre population dwindled as people opted for the suburbs. Now, this trend has reversed, as it is more noticeable in the North West and Midlands, where, since the start of the 21st century, the city population has doubled. It is also worth noting that this was during a period when the population of the UK grew just 10%. (See below, Source: Centre for Cities)
So, what has changed? A lot of the new drive comes from the younger generation, in addition to an increase in those seeking university education over the last two decades. For example, the student population in Sheffield city centre grew by more than 300% between 2001 and 2011, according to Census Data. By 2011, there were 18,500 students, accounting for half of the population. Similarly, Liverpool’s city centre student population grew by 208% (6,300 more people), and Leeds 151% (7,700 more people). The popularity of big city centres among young, single professionals is the main factor. The number of 20-29-year-olds in the centre of large cities (those with 550,000 people or more) tripled in the first decade of the 21st century, to a point where they made up half of the population. There is no reason to think that this trend has eased since the census. So, it looks like this drive to populate the city centres is here to stay, and the need for new properties to house them will continue for the foreseeable future.
A big draw to these new cities has been the investment seen in the last decade, highlighted by schemes such as the Northern Powerhouse and High-Speed Rail link. Both have encouraged new industries to these areas, bringing with them higher paid and higher skilled jobs, particularly in sectors like the media, financial services and legal professions. With these, there has also been an influx of bars, restaurants and gymnasiums popping up throughout the city centres, creating yet another draw. Of course, the main consideration is also the commute, and it would appear that the younger generation are now conscious of time wasted travelling. Given the now affordable choice of living in a city centre, many would rather walk or ride a bike to work. If would appear that the convenience of city living is winning the fight against smaller size accommodation and more pollution.
The main challenge now faced by city planners is how to accommodate this new demand for central living, as has been seen of late in the likes of Manchester. The number of available sites for redevelopment throughout Manchester is close to exhaustion, alternative options or more ingenious methods of creating space and providing homes is required. So, for those that are worried that the likes of Manchester and Liverpool are going to suffer from the oversupply of property, there is no need. Demand will continue to increase year on year, with high retention of university students from these cities and a booming local economy drawing in young people to these cities, demand is likely to outstrip supply for some time to come.