Why Leeds city centre offers apartment living at its best
PUBLISHED: 00:00 27 March 2019
Quality not quantity is the key to successful apartment living in Leeds, reports Heather Dixon
It was a decade like no other in the history of Leeds. The distinctive city centre skyline morphed into a loft-living paradise, shimmering with glass and steel, rife with renovated brick and timber, buzzing with the promise of lucrative investments. But in 2007 the property party came to an abrupt and undignified end: banks pulled the plug, the buy-to-let boom went bust and high profile property investors and developers went out of business.
For a while it looked as though Leeds would struggle to recover but, within three years, the city was rapidly repairing itself and emerging, post recession, leaner and fitter than before. The brakes were put on building, prices were lowered and new buyers regained confidence in the market. The focus shifted from quantity to quality. Developers, agents and purchasers started thinking in the long term rather than ill-considered short-term gain.
And today that foresight is paying dividends.
In the words of Jonathan Morgan, MD of Morgans city living agency, who has seen the rise, fall and rise again of apartment living and has now moved into his own central accommodation, Leeds is one of the UK’s leading locations for this kind of lifestyle, attracting young professionals and, increasingly, older down-sizers.
And with areas such as the Northern Quarter and South Bank following in the development footsteps of its Wharf, Quay and Dockside fore-bearers, Leeds city centre is an exhilarating example of apartment living at its best, as buyers invest in a lifestyle which is evolving alongside the changing face of the High Street.
Instead of city workers moving into rural areas to live, for many the reverse is happening, with people choosing to live in the city centre for the eateries, entertainment, pubs and bars on their doorstep.
One of its biggest fans is former Asda director George McKerracher, who lives in Brewery Wharf. He bought an apartment 20 years ago for work reasons and has never looked back. As well as the excellent – and ever-improving - transport links, he is an advocate of the social facilities, namely its ‘variety of taste, budget, culture and activity’ which are, he says, unrecognisable from 20 years ago.
‘There is something for every taste and every budget, which is great planning, as the city takes its growth and reputation from a variety of sectors - business, student, weekend travellers and party goers and so on,’ he says. ‘Sometimes the city may feel a bit crowded at weekends, but this is surely a sign of success and the business this brings in for all sectors is a huge reason why Leeds is the fastest growing city in Europe.’
Christine Yorath is also optimistic about the future of city centre apartment living. As a high profile consultant liaising closely with developers, she works at the cutting edge of prestigious new schemes, from initial build design to interior layout, and has seen many changes over the years. ‘There is certainly an increasing demand for quality apartments,’ she says. ‘Some of the most sought after are those with a concierge or caretaker service which maintain, and usually increase, their value because they are well looked after. Leeds offers something for everyone and is a thriving, exciting city. It wins over other city centres hands down so it’s no surprise that good apartments are in big demand.’
Rachael Unsworth is a freelance urban geographer who, in 2015, correctly predicted a rosy future for city living. ‘In the middle of the 20th century there was almost nobody living in the city centre then a few pioneering waterfront developments proved successful in the late 1980s and from the turn of the millennium it all took off,’ she says.’ In 2003 there were an estimated 1,800 completed apartments and a population of about 2,800. By 2007 there were 5,700 completed apartments and another 3,800 under construction and by 2015 there were an estimated 18,000 city centre residents (excluding those living in dedicated student blocks and local authority housing).
One of these residents is businessman Phil Grayson who says the ‘buzz and convenience’ of city life convinced him to buy an apartment in the centre, even though he commutes daily to Rotherham.
‘A lot of people would assume living in the city centre is constantly full on, hectic and noisy which probably puts people off but in actual fact in can be just as cosy and calm as living in the suburbs,’ he says. ‘One thing that was important to me was outdoor space, whether that is a balcony or a terrace, so I didn’t feel trapped in. Secondly I wanted to walk to bars and restaurants yet still have good access to major road networks for work.’ But top of his wish-list was quality. ‘I’ve gone from living in a block of mainly students to a block with working professionals. Instead of pizza boxes left in the lift there is now a cleaner in seven days a week to keep everything looking its best.’
Tobias Duczenko, managing director of Zenko Properties, believes buyers are looking for good strong living spaces, not the characterless ‘rabbit hutches’ that became synonymous with off-plan sales and quantity-led schemes of the pre-2007 boom.
‘Spacious living is more important than bedrooms, and where there are two bedrooms, most buyers are looking for two bathrooms so they can rent a second room out.’
The cost of city living doesn’t always come cheap. A two-bed penthouse apartment with rooftop terrace and an underground parking space could set you back around £1,695 a month in rent, while the glass wrap-around balconied apartments of K2 will set you back £2,200 a month. Those looking to buy can expect to pay upwards of £450,000 for 1,500 sq ft of high rise accommodation. But for most city dwellers the price tags are worth every penny. Lisa Dyson, finance director of a skip-hire and waste management company, is delighted with her boutique-style Clarence Dock apartment and her enthusiasm sums up the optimism of a city centre which has, at last, recovered from its fall from grace. ‘Leeds is an amazing city,’ she says. ‘Everything is on your doorstep. I walk everywhere so I keep fit, I’m surrounded by a network of like-minded people, and the city centre is very trendy and confident - which gives you confidence in yourself. It’s a brilliant way to live.