Developers build wellbeing into UK living

More new residential developments are incorporating elements that reflect and promote wellbeing.

August 14, 2019

Health and wellbeing are playing a bigger part in the thinking of developers and investors in the UK’s residential sector.

New schemes – whether in the city centre or the suburbs – are incorporating amenities ranging from water gardens to fitness studios for residents.

It comes at a time that new wellbeing certification is making strides into the global residential sector, explains Lora Brill, JLL Upstream Sustainability Services director.

“Investors in office property, for instance, have been early adopters of wellbeing building certification criteria to improve employee productivity,” Brill says. “Equally, there is evidence that home owners are willing to pay more for a healthy home.”

Global Wellness Institute last year found that there’s a price premium for healthy homes.

The WELL Building Standard has helped in the global drive to improve human health and wellness, while in the UK, the Home Quality Mark (HQM), part of the BREEAM quality and sustainability standards, assesses the quality of home development, taking the impact of factors such as air quality and open space on the occupant's health and wellbeing into account.

The first scheme to be certified under HQM, in Hertfordshire and built by Crest Nicholson, was announced in July 2018. Communal green spaces, play areas, cycle paths and footpaths form part of the 100-unit development.

Meanwhile, the UK government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful commission, launched last November, is focusing more on wellbeing to ensure new developments meet the needs and expectations of communities.

“The key to the growth and success of health and wellbeing is with developers – it needs to be integrated from the beginning,” says Brill. “For that to happen on a greater scale, then certification will be critical.”

Build to Rent possibilities

The UK’s burgeoning Build to Rent (BTR) industry could accelerate the focus on health and wellbeing, with hundreds of professionally-managed schemes under construction across the country’s bigger cities.

“BTR – as well as the student housing and senior home sectors – offers a real opportunity to enhance wellbeing through the presence of long-term managers who can assume responsibility for maintaining amenities, something that the build-to-sell market cannot provide in the same way,” says Brill.

Now, more BTR developers are incorporating more features into their projects. 

Listed UK property company Grainger has integrated resident wellbeing into its specifications for private rented sector assets and is piloting health and wellbeing ratings from U.S. certification body Fitwel on a new development.

Meanwhile, Moda Living last year partnered with wellness company Hero to create the UK's “healthiest rental communities”. The partnership's first project will see a training club built at Moda's 466-unit Angel Gardens build-to-rent scheme in Manchester.

Health drive

Fitness is just one way to improve wellbeing for private rental sector residents.

“What works in an urban location may not of course be applicable in a less centrally-located scheme,” says Brill. “Developers have a range of options on the table when planning new schemes, from greenery to cycle paths to indoor air quality control.

“But they need to know their market and pay careful attention to what strategically fits and works best where. An allotment on a roof may improve the sense of community, but is it what tenants really want?”

Having an idea of existing health and wellbeing issues, such as obesity or air quality, in a certain area is also important early in the decision-making process – especially as the health sector becomes more closely entwined with the world of housebuilding.

NHS England’s Healthy New Towns Network brings together the health service with Public Health England, housing developers and housing associations to create communities that promote health and wellbeing.

Developments across 10 sites will build tens of thousands of new homes in schemes that encourage healthy lifestyles from providing plenty of green space to free bike initiatives and fast food-free zones near schools.

Planning ahead

In the drive to create healthier places to live, longer term thinking from developers and investors – as well as consistency – matters.

“It’s key to make sure ambitious blueprints for wellbeing initiatives don’t diminish over time or stray too far from the initial plan,” says Brill. “Setting up a trust to manage spaces for the long haul is one option.”

She believes there’s still some way to go before UK homebuilders are fully on board with their commitment to wellbeing and can rival the U.S., where certification for multifamily such as the WELL Building Standard and Fitwel are more established.

“But there’s a slow realisation that unless wellbeing is factored in to today’s schemes, they risk - as newer units come onstream - being obsolete in the coming decades,” she concludes.

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