This isn’t a new idea. Almost 20 years ago CABE’s 2003 research demonstrated that: “As towns increasingly compete with one another to attract investment, the presence of good parks, squares, gardens and other public spaces becomes a vital business and marketing tool: companies are attracted to locations that offer well-designed, well-managed public places and these in turn attract customers, employees and services. (CABE, in The value of Public Space, 2003).

Reflecting on the recent successes of our colleagues at the Heart of the City site in Sheffield, it is clear that the scheme won success in great part due its being a ‘heritage-led’ scheme – the heritage buildings became the focus for creating a sense of identity and attracting investment opportunities from commercial occupiers, building on the momentum of the successful public realm interventions made by the Council and the University over the last few years. 

How do we encourage more of this sort of investment? Local authorities as long term custodians of place are keen (and bound by statute) to encourage the preservation and where possible the enhancement of our historic environment to reinforce local character, but what does this mean for our clients and investors in place? 

Realistically it does require more time getting to understand the place and the benefits that can be tailored to a location, a longer planning process and higher build costs. When done properly however, these investments can drive property values through transformative change, ensuring the returns make commercial sense. 

The study carried out by CBRE in collaboration with Gehl People in 2017, identified ‘Public realm intervention can consequently bring about an improvement in human experience and real estate value through a change of image that attracts prosperous and dynamic new tenants.’ They use Argent’s investment at King’s Cross as a case study, alongside Liverpool One, to demonstrate that destination planning around public realm and heritage is effective at changing that image – or in the case of working with heritage to re-establish that image – that subsequently drives competition for occupiers and income from tenants and visitors.  

If you look at the most successful spaces these are well designed and curated – London has some excellent examples on the Southbank and at Kings Cross of formerly ‘no-go’ areas which now outperform the wider market. Population growth and urbanisation are still the macro trends, and if we are to give confidence to the users of our urban spaces then the quality of environment is increasingly important – for long term sustainability, well being and the bottom line. 

We’ll be putting some more thoughts out there on this topic with input from our clients over the next few weeks.