Green future for inner-city regeneration and property investment

A groundbreaking £250m eco-friendly development near the heart of Leeds gives a fascinating insight into the green future of inner-city regeneration and property investment.

Sustainable urban developer Citu is behind the Climate Innovation District – the UK’s first low-carbon urban neighbourhood.

It forms part of the city’s major South Bank Leeds regeneration plans and is drawing on international best practice and the latest technology to deliver 800 new low carbon homes alongside manufacturing, leisure, offices and climate resilient public realm.

These are the first family homes being developed in Leeds City Centre for more than 90 years.

It is an ambitious and innovative ‘placemaking’ scheme. Once completed, the district will feature more than seven acres of public realm and green space.

Its timber-framed homes, manufactured using modern methods of construction, are energy efficient; they use renewable energy; the development is close to the city centre so people can walk or cycle to work.

Future plans include a low carbon “intergenerational” building that is thought to be one of the first developments in the world to house a primary school, care home and residential apartments under one roof.

Chris Thompson, managing director of Citu, says the first release of homes has been “hugely successful”.

He adds: “Some residents have moved here because they specifically want to live in a low-carbon home.

“Others have chosen to move simply because they love the design of the homes and want to live in a community close to the city centre, but it also happens that the development is sustainable.

“We make it easy for residents to adapt a more climate conscious way of life. But it not just about the homes, it’s about thoughtful design that prioritises outside space as much as indoor, inviting a change of behaviour to help the environment that is embraced, not forced.”

Thompson adds: “We’ve drawn on lessons from around the world and found the best communities share three key characteristics: they’re not dominated by cars, allowing them to be walkable; they’re of a density that is human in scale and they have an identity and cohesion that makes them a place in their own right.

“That’s why we only build on brownfield sites in urban areas. For those who do still need a car, we install electric charging infrastructure in our car parking spaces so it’s easy to switch to an electric vehicle.”

Thompson says Citu has developed a ‘Vertical Integration Model’; which means it delivers the full project from inception to completion.

He says: “We employ our own in-house architects, digital coders, plumbers, electricians and joiners, and together we’re learning and innovating as we go, creating a skilled workforce in low-carbon construction.

“The Climate Innovation District is still in its early stages and there may be further challenges ahead, but we want to lead by example and set the standard for a sustainable approach to place-making for generations to come.

“The housing industry is very good at burying its head in the sand and ignoring the data that sets out the changes that need to take place to help tackle climate control.

“I think the industry is starting to react, and there’s certainly been an explosion in off-site construction over the last two years. But is it happening fast enough? No.

“The construction industry in the UK has fallen behind other sectors in terms of innovation and productivity.

“More house buyers are asking questions about the environmental footprint of their next home, and it is crucial the industry delivers not only the homes its customers are demanding but play their part in combating climate change.

“New housing schemes must be developed in the right places; building in and around city centres dramatically reduces the number of cars on the roads.”

Matthew Dalzell

Matthew Dalzell, who leads Squire Patton Boggs’ European Real Estate Practice Group, believes the changing face of cities is one of the challenges the sector faces.

He believes those changes will be driven by the way people are looking to live their lives in the future and by growing “environmental consciousness”.

He adds: “There are huge challenges coming over the next 10 to 20 years in terms of what our towns look like and how we travel. Towns and cities are changing dramatically.”