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The Impact of Coronavirus on The City Living Market

Mark Hempshell reports

The city living market has been an expanding part of the property market in many UK cities for some years now. This market seemed certain to continue growing apace until the Covid-19 pandemic came along and changed many of the fundamentals which underpin it. So in this report we will look at how this trend for city living has been impacted and what the future prospects for it might be.

First, let us look at the size of this market pre-Covid. A report by the Centre for Cities says that between 2011-2019, of 803,000 new homes built in the cities of England and Wales, 69,000 were in city centres – a rise of 16% in eight years.

Many regional cities have seen city centre populations rise from almost nothing 30 years ago to significant numbers now. For example, Birmingham has a city centre population of around 25,800, and Manchester of around 35,600.

A number of factors have probably encouraged this growth: The rise in city centre employment and the appeal and convenience of living near work is one.
It’s fair to say that developers have played their part, with city centres offering an opportunity to reimagine redundant industrial land into prime residential areas while in the meantime supplying the investor market. The student market has exerted an influence, with students being lured from their traditional suburban hangouts into city centre PBSA. Planning policies favouring brownfield development have probably also been a factor.

However, Covid-19 has perhaps revealed some drawbacks to city living that had not previously been appreciated. Apartment living in particular does not always provide the outdoor space for homeworking that people found they valued during lockdown. The greater use of homeworking has shown that some businesses may not need so much city centre office space, which in turn reduces the benefits of living in a city centre. A further issue relates to the student market. Should universities make remote learning permanent, students may wonder if they actually need to live on or near campus at all.

Now let us move on and look at the current situation on the ground in some key city living markets by taking in the views of some agents and developers involved in it.
Firstly, unlike most regional cities, city living has been established in London for decades. Here, press reports during lockdown speculated that something of a tipping point had been reached, with those living in London actually keen to move out to more provincial locations, largely as a result of the pandemic.

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