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The rising build-to-rent property sector is driving investment in cleaner energy.

That was one of the key
takeaways from a seminar attended by more than 100 property professionals and
hosted by engineering partnership IN2 at the historic Screen on the Green
cinema in London’s Islington.

James Redmond, a Director
at IN2, spoke alongside Andrew Bradley of construction cost consultancy Core
Five and architects Graham Hickson-Smith and Richard Fairhead, both from

James contrasted trends in
the private rented sector in Dublin with those in London. IN2, has offices in
both cities and is working on build-to-rent projects in both locations.

Planning and environmental
requirements in Dublin have seen a rapid rise in the use of centralised air
source heat pumps, which are taking over from CHP. “These are achieving great
energy figures and allowing investors to meet their renewable obligations under
Irish legislation,” James told the audience.

The scale of the energy
savings and growing consumer demand for energy-efficient living could stimulate
a growth in the use of the technology in London as well, he said.

Richard and Graham
highlighted how members of project teams must work together to make Build to
Rent assets as efficient as possible. Richard explained: “The fundamental
difference with BTR is that the operator has to deliver amenity, which costs
money. If you can be more efficient in the design, you can afford to invest
more in amenity.”

Graham pointed out some of
the key issues to consider when designing BTR developments, particularly
adaptability and future proofing. “If a BTR development is going to be around
for 25 years, what’s going to change?” he asked.  “It needs to be a
flexible product. What if you need to change the floorplate in future?”

He said allowing for a
changing future meant developers would have to ask themselves whether or not a
modular building approach was right for this kind of project. The answer could
be ‘no’ if taking an uncompromising modular approach limited their ability to
adapt the development to suit changing lifestyles and occupancy profiles over
the lifetime of the building.

Andrew set out the key cost
drivers involved in ensuring a return on investment in BTR. “These kinds of
developments have to be some of the most cost-efficient buildings out there,”
he pointed out. He urged investors to take advantage of the fact that there is
now a vast amount of data on existing BTR developments to draw on, against
which they can benchmark any proposed project.

Andrew said before
embarking on a BTR project, developers had to ask themselves how many buildings
would be optimal in a particular project, what kind of buildings they should be
and whether towers had a useful role to play.

“Repetition in design is
fundamental,” he said. “Stacking is important, and regular shapes and apartment
sizes are key. Developers need to recognise that some design possibilities,
such as basements and inset balconies, are cost prohibitive in BTR.”