This week’s exclusive interview takes a slight tangent to talk to Matthew Shefras, managing director of specialist advisory and development company Forty: Asset Management (Forty AM), which works with a variety of developers and councils to provide new mixed-use schemes combining new homes and other retail and leisure facilities.
Hi Matthew. Developers often talk about placemaking and how important it is to have non-residential space in a mixed-use development in helping to create a community and developing a sense of place – is this the case?
The non-residential element of larger mixed-use schemes is often the gateway to the scheme and important contributor to the overall viability and success of the development. Afterall, boarded-up, vacant commercial space does nothing to enhance or assist with creating places people want to live.
The non-residential is an essential part of delivering a cohesive mixed-use scheme that will stand the test of time. Isolated communities without the benefit of non-residential services such as convenience shopping, nurseries, cafés and pharmacies, leads to residents having no connection with their local environment. People like having amenities on their doorstep, and feel more at home when their neighbourhood is thriving.
There has been a lot of talk in the press over recent years on the decline of retail; however our approach at Forty: Asset Management is a cohesive balanced offer within a mixed-use scheme, which offers essential services for the immediate community to enjoy.
When you talk about non-residential uses, what is included within that?
Non-residential uses covers commercial and community uses often at ground or first floor level, and may include things such as gyms, convenience stores, pharmacies, dentists, doctors, nurseries, cafés and associated retail services. In more prime locations, this may well see an element of lifestyle retailing or offices and leisure uses too. We see these as real selling points for potential residents, knowing that they have access to some brand new facilities in the immediate area.
For the developer, delivering the residential side of the project is understandably the key driver, but what are the common problems resulting when developers overlook the commercial/non-residential space until the end of the project?
The residential is very much the key driver and often the focus of registered providers, housing associations and developers, understandably so. However, as we often advise our clients, the danger of not appropriately considering the non-residential assets at the early stage results in commercial space that is not viable or suited to location or market due to issues with configuration, space, layout, use class and such things as servicing – this can have a knock-on effect when it comes to selling the new homes too.
This is why Forty AM works in partnership with housing associations and developers to ensure that there is a focal point for the commercial matters throughout the process, from day one, assisting with design and planning, all the way through to occupation, to create a viable development for residents and the surrounding community to enjoy.
What can developers gain by considering the commercial space at early stages of the development?
The most important gain is a balanced and well-thought out commercial place that offers vital services to the on-site community and often the wider neighbourhood – something we have achieved time and again with our clients. There has been much research into the positive effects of viable commercial elements within mixed use schemes, and there is certainly longer-term benefits in terms of retention and creating a legacy.
With the dominance of online shopping, do people really care about having local retailing on their doorstep?
I think the answer to that is a resounding yes. As we have seen in many town centres across the UK, the struggling fringe locations have often been taken over by lifestyle retailing - cafés, boutiques, and restaurants, but only when rents have come down to an affordable level. Looking at a new housing development in a predominantly residential location, there is always a requirement for a convenience store, a pharmacy, a café, a dry cleaners and possibly a hair and beauty salon.
Online shopping has certainly had a massive effect on many areas of the retail environment, however this has forced people to evolve and understand how to assist and complement the growth of these online retailers, through providing affordable environments and low rates of entry in order that both new and small business can grow alongside the new residential community.
Which developers and housing association authorities are you working with?
Forty AM is currently working with Genesis Housing Association, overseeing the delivery of new non-residential assets along with the asset management and its existing portfolio. In addition, we are providing development consultancy to L&Q, overseeing two of its larger regeneration schemes - Barking Riverside, and a recent appointment to deliver the commercial assets at the Purfleet regeneration scheme. This is an externely exciting scheme that will see around 2,500 homes along with exciting creative industries and a state-of-the-art, first-of-its-kind TV & film production studio.
In addition, we are also working with the likes of A2Dominion, Viridian, East Thames, Affinity Sutton, Pocket Living and Hadley Homes, as well as Thurrock Council, Brent Council and Barnet Council through partnership developments.
Can you give us an example of developments you have been involved with where the commercial space is managed and benefits residents and schemes as a whole?
There are a couple of examples that we have directly been involved in, and one that, although we were not involved in, is a classic example of why we do what we do.
Recently, we worked in partnership with Mount Anvil to deliver the award-winning Eagle Building in City Road, where we were responsible for bringing in a Sainsburys Fresh store, along with Pret a Manger, a large restaurant, and 26,000 sq ft of new office space. Our involvement led to early lettings and a forward sale of the investment at a price that was substantially in excess of the client’s aspirations. It was this early stage involvement that was essential in the successful delivery of the entire scheme.
We are also currently working with Genesis at the Grahame Park regeneration scheme, where we have seen the additions of Barnet College, a Sainsburys convenience store, local pharmacy and an office element with further phases to provide a nursery, café, retail and associated spaces. The development will see 3,500 homes over several phases and Genesis are at the forefront of integration of mixed-use space, and the delivery of local services was an essential prt of the evolution of this scheme
Finally, a very pertinent scheme that unfortunately we were not involved in, but we still herald as an exemplar scheme is Poundbury in Dorchester, builit on Duchy of Cornwall land. The scheme adopted a street-based development whereby developers were able to intensify the number of homes in order to provide affordable commercial space at ground floor level, given over to cafés, restaurants, and lifestyle retailing boutiques. Whilst the location of the scheme is essentially very isolated, the commercial thrives due to the affordable rents, ample parking and a beneficial retail environment.