Page last updated at 10:10 GMT, Friday, 13 February 2009

High-rise living 'losing its appeal'

By Tom Warren
BBC News

Artist's impression of the Lumiere Towers in Leeds
The Lumiere project in Leeds is on hold because of the downturn

Many apartment developments have stalled thanks to the credit crunch while thousands of existing flats lie empty.

So what is going to regenerate England's industrial towns and cities if the lure of high-rise living no longer appeals?

Apartment blocks have been the driving force of regeneration in cities such as Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester.

In many cases money from the sale of the properties has paid for adjoining office and retail complexes and allowed rundown areas to be revamped.

But there is growing evidence this is no longer sustainable.

In Leeds the 225m Lumiere project to build Europe's tallest residential buildings is on hold, while plans for a pair of skyscrapers known as the "Kissing Towers" have been scrapped altogether.

It's ridiculous to build lots of flats which then just sit there empty. We know something is wrong
Peter Bolton King, National Association of Estate Agents

However, there is some evidence suggesting the trend is being bucked.

Back in Birmingham, for example, construction of the Cube, a major development containing apartments, office space and a restaurant, is continuing apace.

More than half of its 244 apartments have already been sold, although the rest are not currently being marketed.

But many flats just a stone's throw away lie empty and unsold.

A survey in October found canal-side properties in England's second city had lost more value from the preceding 12 months than homes anywhere else in the UK.

And in Gateshead, Tyneside, developers are struggling to sell much-publicised "flat-pack" apartments despite incentives worth thousands of pounds.

Is a lack of credit stopping people purchasing these flats or is that buyers now want more property for their money?

Peter Bolton King, chief executive of the National Association of Estate Agents, believes it is the start of a long-term trend which will last far beyond the current downturn.

"For years I've been concerned that these big redevelopment sites have flats and not a mixture of property," he said.

BoKlok homes
Developers are struggling to sell "flat-pack" homes in Tyneside

"I warn clients, the dinner-party landlords with a small number of buy-to-let properties, about this.

"Compared to a lot of other European cities, it's amazing the number of people who simply disappear from [English] cities when they want to have families.

"The way to get city centres really vibrant again is to get [a wider range] of people living there.

"It's ridiculous to build lots of flats which then just sit there empty. We know something is wrong."

Steve Turner, from the Home Builders Federation, said councils should stop relying so much on developers to regenerate areas.

He said tough eco-targets, including moves to make all new homes carbon-zero by 2016, would deter companies from building apartments on rundown sites.

"We're going to have to have a fundamental look at how housing in this country is delivered and what we're expecting developments to pay for," he said.

"The actual building of flats in city centres has played a significant part in regeneration, but we've got to have a mixture of accommodation.

"I think a lot of experts all say there's probably been an over-supply in certain types of housing."

Benjamin Bury
Benjamin Bury has paid an 8,000 deposit for a flat not yet built

Glyn Roberts, from the Royal Town Planning Institute, said there was an opportunity in the "second wave" development of smaller cities and large towns for better quality and bigger flats to be built.

He said firms should concentrate on these kind of properties to ensure sales.

"Developers are going to have to do something different to attract buyers," he explained.

The warning however, might be of little comfort to the thousands of potential buyers who have put down deposits on flats but are still waiting for the builders to finish them.

Benjamin Bury, a teacher from Birmingham, paid 8,000 as a deposit and reservation fee for an apartment in the Selly Oak area of the city.

It was meant to be completed last July but is still not ready. And now the company building it has gone into liquidation.

Mr Bury does not know what will happen to his money or whether the development will be completed.

"My concern now is I have got no control whatsoever over this," he said.

"I'm just waiting for someone to tell me what's going on and hopefully give me my money back as well."

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