Homeownership in London is tough, even for those on a median salary. That means developers will have to look at rental models – and have to work out how to make transient renters into long-term tenants. Angus Dodd tells The Developer what turns a great developer into a great landlord
We meet Angus Dodd, CEO of Quintain, at Wembley Park, for an interview and recorded podcast, where he discusses their ambition for this emerging mixed-use place surrounding Wembley stadium and shows us around some of the completed projects.
Tell me about Wembley Park and the scope of this project.
We’re 12 minutes from Baker Street, that’s the most important thing: we’re not in the depths of north-west London – we’re close to central London.
Wembley Park is known as the home of England’s national stadium, where England famously won the World Cup in 1966. That old stadium was replaced with the stadium that we have now with its iconic architecture.
Also, on site we have the SSE Arena, which is a legacy of the empire exhibition in the 1920s and the site of the world’s first wave machine in a pool as the home of the 1948 London Olympic swimming events. It’s our one listed building on site. The arena and the stadium provide a lot of what Wembley’s known for: sport and music.
Quintain bought its first piece of land in 2002 and the site now comprises 85 acres of contiguous freehold land in London. It’s extremely rare to own that much land – to give you some idea, Canary Wharf is about 97 acres and Battersea is 40-odd acres. Wembley is a colossal site, big in anyone’s books.
Moving from for sale to for rent has triggered a lot of the way we think about the place and the community we’re building for.
When Lone Star bought Quintain, the big decision that it made with regards to Wembley Park was to switch from a largely for-sale model to a largely for-rent model. In 2015, that looked like a good idea but it was still quite a big bet. Roll forward to now and if we were building homes for sale rather than for rent, the story would’ve been a disaster.
Moving from for sale to for rent has triggered a lot of the way we think about the place and the community we’re building for. The proportion of rentals is increasing: homeownership is tough in London – and in the UK generally – but particularly tough in London because of affordability, so there’s a real market for an age group, older than one might imagine, but certainly 40 and below. So we have to create a place which is attractive to that demographic.
What was here before?
Much of it was car park or low-grade property. It’s not a residential estate renewal project, it’s almost built from the ground up. In 2002, I think just one person lived on site. There was no atmosphere – the typical thing if you were coming to a match was to go to a pub in the West End, because there was nothing to do at Wembley.
That’s something we are changing: we’re making this a place where people want to live, work and shop. Boxpark opened at the end of last year; the LDO (London Designer Outlet), which was until recently the only outlet centre inside the M25, has been open since 2013. We’re creating that new piece of city we’ve always aspired to build.
Brent Civic Centre is on site and includes a library, community hall and council offices
How does building for rent change the nature of a place?
Renters, by their nature, are transient. They could be there for six months and people can move relatively quickly out of a rental home if what they’ve been offered isn’t up to scratch.
So creating a place that is continually attractive and interesting for residents, a place where they want to stay, is important.
As the owner of Wembley Park, we have a long-term contract with the place, so we’re motivated to retain residential tenants and indeed attract more as we go on. Typical tenants are in their early 30s and earning within 10% of the London median salary, but that average salary disguises a huge range: from students whose parents are clearly funding them to live here, through families, to a not insignificant older generation of renters, in some cases downsizing, some from the local area, some from further afield.
We’ve tried to match our buildings to the different segments of the market we’re looking to attract. We have 10 new buildings either under construction or planned, each of which has a segment or multiple segments tied to it. We use marketing speak: ‘savvy families’, ‘plug and play’…
You’re not going to let the flat that opens up onto a pirate ship to a millennial couple who don’t have any kids.
Each segment has a name and each building is designed with that segment in mind. For example, Canada Gardens has a 1.5 acre podium with a pirate ship play area. It’s definitely a product aimed at families. You’re not going to let the flat that opens up onto a pirate ship to a millennial couple who don’t have any kids.
What do you imagine this place will be like once it’s complete?
If we keep going at this rate and we don’t buy any more land, then in 2026 or 2027, I’d like to find bits that you didn’t expect to see, some nice open spaces, some good-quality architecture. It doesn’t feel like a gated community – it feels as if you can visit, live, shop or work.
I’d also like beyond that an intersection between people working here and living here. I’d like to see residents setting up little businesses here or going to work in Boxpark or for Brent Council. It won’t become a transient place if that happens. People will have bought into it for the longer term.
What’s your approach for the site’s edge?
Making sure the boundaries of the buildings facing outwards don’t look like walls. It comes down a lot to ground-floor levels. The easy thing to do would be to face all our interesting ground-floor retail units inwards, but if we make them face outwards, that starts to pull people in. It’s small things – like at the junctions, you make sure people get good visibility, and it’s a sense of intrigue, wanting to walk down those routes.
It’s not, for example, discouraging skateboarders and scooters on site. We should invite those sorts of uses onto the site. There’s an area down at the bottom here which will be called White Horse Square, close to Wembley Stadium Station, and we are just specifying architects at the moment to redesign and redevelop that. Part of the brief is to design areas that appeal to teenagers. There’s lots of stuff for toddlers to do, there are play spaces, but people grow up. It’s a small thing, but it should invite in teenagers, kids from around here who perhaps normally wouldn’t come into the site, but there’s something interesting for them to do.
Lots of people would say that’s radical
I want people to stay. I want people to feel like they can have a house or flat for the long term here. If they have kids, kids grow into teenagers, so you can’t emasculate the teenagers, you can’t ban the teenagers, you have to encourage them in – that’s number one. Number two: look out from the top of our buildings and you see the endless suburbs of north-west London.
Kids grow into teenagers, so you can’t emasculate the teenagers, you can’t ban the teenagers, you have to encourage them in
This should be a development that meshes with those suburbs, not somewhere exclusive to people who can afford to live here. I don’t see that as radical, it’s just normal. What we want to move from is “I only come to Wembley to have fun or for something that I bought a ticket for”, to “it’s somewhere I can come 365 days a year”.
Angus Dodd’s Quintain is investing more than £1bn in Wembley Park, the UK’s largest build-to-rent development
How will you build social cohesion here?
There is social housing and affordable housing on site… There’s the full gamut of tenures: discounted market sale, discounted housing rent, some of it has been sold off to housing associations. But the model that we’ve been trying to move to on future plots is Tipi [Quintain’s management company] managing the social housing. I’m sure people will guess, but you shouldn’t really know whether your neighbour is in a discounted flat or a full-price flat, because the management will say it’s the same. If you talk to Brent Council, they are very keen on mixing affordable tenants. Our Tipi tenants know this is a good thing.
Do you run events for tenants?
At the moment, we run quiz nights, film nights, firework parties, cooking nights, those sorts of things. We’re very happy to do it.
My aspiration, however, is for that to get taken over by the tenants themselves. Ultimately, it’s not a school. One of the things I want is a site app, a subset of which is a Tipi app that allows residents to form their own book clubs, running clubs, knitting clubs, whatever. As we build population here, I’m sure that will happen.
You shouldn’t really know whether your neighbour is in a discounted flat or a full-price flat
I think people want things to be authentic and not organised too much, but maybe I’m wrong, because people love going to these events. With the stadium and arena, we can give out tickets or run competitions and people like that – it works well.
Do you think Section 106 is working?
The way affordable housing is delivered results in big conflicts in London. Currently, private sector developers are responsible for building the affordable housing. But private sector developers are required by their economic model to make as much money as possible – providing affordable housing is a drain on that model. It would be much better if local authorities were empowered and financed to build affordable housing themselves. I’d pay for that.
Angus Dodd is the CEO of Quintain, and the former senior MD of Lone Star Europe Acquisitions and MD of JER Partners
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Plus, you might also like to check out this bonus episode, where we go on a walking tour of the site with Dodd, for a deeper dive into the spaces between the buildings at Wembley Park: