It’s widely known that Leeds represents one of the best, if not the best (as we’ll see later), places to invest in UK property in 2019.
Considered the cultural, financial and commercial heart of the West Yorkshire Urban Area, Leeds is a thriving modern city, central to the economy of northern England and the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ initiative. In this guide we’re going to look at why people choose to invest in Leeds now, and what measures are being taken to make sure the city maintains its place among the biggest powers in the UK economy.
Leeds at a glance
Situated in the middle of the United Kingdom, though distinctly in the North of England, Leeds is the 3rd largest city in the UK by area and the one of the biggest by population – 789,194.
Residents find themselves living in a vibrant, youthful city with a strong identity. An industrial and artistic history is mirrored in the many cultural highlights the city has on offer, from museums and galleries to opera, theatre, local ruins and much, much more. One of Leeds’ biggest attractions among visitors and residents alike is its location in the stunning county of Yorkshire. This means that the urban centre of Leeds is surrounded by a wealth of countryside dotted with stately homes, villages and even the Roman city of York.
With that little picture of a prosperous and characterful city painted, let’s now have a closer look at why investors choose to invest in Leeds’ property.
Why invest in Leeds Property? A burgeoning economy
With a focus in the financial services, legal, manufacturing, health and retail sectors, Leeds is a force to be reckoned with, having the fastest growing economy in the UK, now worth £64.6 billion and predicted to grow by 21% over the next 10 years.
Leeds has the third largest jobs total going by local authority area, at a total of 480,000 in employment and self-employment at the beginning of 2015, and also had the highest increase in employment rate of any core city from 2009 – 2017.
There are more than 32,000 VAT-registered businesses and more than 6,000 small and medium-size enterprises in Leeds, and the amount of mid-size and companies and organisations is way above the national average.
For ‘scale-up’ companies – defined as those which achieve 20% growth year on year for three years (in revenue or employees), Leeds is only behind London and Cambridge.
In terms of foreign investment in the last year (2018-2019), Leeds is the fourth best performing in the UK, with an 11% rise in new projects, compared to an average 10% drop among cities outside of the UK.
Leeds itself falls in to the Leeds City Region, an area encompassing the city itself and neighboring districts. It’s certainly interesting to note that this region is the largest contributor to GDP in the Northern Powerhouse and the largest regional economy outside of the capital, with a combined workforce of more than 1.4 million. Even more impressive is that if the North of England was its own country it would be the 21st largest economy in the world.
Why invest in Leeds Property? Investment and regeneration
As we’ve just seen, Leeds’ economy is at present an outstanding force in the UK’s output. This is set to get bigger and better with a series of investment and regeneration projects, designed to cement the city and region as top performing economy.
In 2014 Leeds City Region signed the country’s largest Growth Deal worth over £1 billion, and aiming to bring an estimated 8,000 jobs, up to 1,000 homes and at least £340 million investment into the Leeds City Region economy over the following 7 years. The Leeds City Region Strategic Economic Plan aims to take that even further by creating more than 35,000 jobs and £3.7 billion of annual economic output by 2036.
The Northern Powerhouse
All of these major plans come under the umbrella of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ – a Government strategy to redress the balance between the economies of the North and the South by revolutionising the North’s industrial output. This will be done through investing in key barriers to growth, such as infrastructure, transport, and education.
The ‘Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review’ predicts an additional 850,000 jobs in Northern England by 2050, and marks out digital, health innovation, energy and advanced manufacturing as the primary areas for growth. Financial and professional services, education and logistics are identified as supporting capabilities and will help boost the North’s output by £97 billion.
We are already moving out the first phase of the plan which has been aimed at devolving power to the 11 regional authorities that make up the Northern Powerhouse. Phase 2 is about putting devolved power into action, focusing on improving Skills and employment; Enterprise, innovation and industrial strategy; Trade and investment; and housing.
What does this mean for Leeds? Greater devolved power and a focus on growth creation within the area.
A major aspect of the Northern Powerhouse strategy is the effort to revitalise connectivity in the area by re-engineering the transport infrastructure and creating new routes. There are two huge projects underway to do just this: Northern Powerhouse Rail and High Speed Rail 2. Importantly it’s not just the individual projects which will bring growth to Leeds and the Northern Regions, but it’s the interconnection between the two which really matters – in short NPR offers more and better connections throughout the north and HS2 creates better connections from the north to the south. Joined together, this means that areas of the north previously poorly connected are now able to access the south and other areas.
We’ve previously written an article explaining the differences between these two initiatives that you can read here. The main takeaway is that major economic growth will be unlocked from creating these better connections. As an example Leeds region predicts that HS2 will lead to about 40,000 new jobs and a £54 billion boost to the regional economy by 2050.
Doubling the size of the city centre
Office take-up in Leeds has passed the 1m sq ft mark in 2017 – more than twice the amount the 2016 figures and 88% ahead of the 10-year annual average for the city. Clearly, to allow for economic growth the city needs to grow physically too.
Leeds’ regeneration plans focus on 7 key districts:
- The Innovation District – Proposals for £1bn investment in areas of enterprise and research.
- Mabgate – Focus on independent business, food and beverage and residential growth.
- The Cultural District – Includes a £14 million investment in the West Yorkshire Playhouse, as well as new residential, office and leisure space.
- The Retail District – Leeds is already the third largest shopping destination in the UK, but further invest in Victoria Gate will see the city expand even further in this regard.
- East Side – 2,000 new homes to be built by 2028.
- West End – The new Government Hub is to accommodate 6,000 civil service workers.
- South Bank – Doubles the size of the city centre and regenerates no longer used industrial space.
For the purposes of this article we’re going to focus on the biggest one of these: the incredible South Bank project aimed at creating over 35,000 jobs and over 8,000 new homes.
A case study: Leeds South Bank
South Bank Leeds is an area of 253 hectares situated just south of the River Aire, and the scene of a huge development project intended to regenerate the space and recast the identity of the entire city.
The area is the size of 350 football pitches and will be transformed into a ‘globally distinctive’ destination for living, learning, creativity, leisure and investment. According to the South Bank Leeds Regeneration Framework Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), there will be more than 8,000 new homes and 35,000 new jobs as part of this landmark regeneration project.
South Bank Leeds has long been home to multinational companies, including ASDA Walmart’s European headquarters and SKY. There are also more than 3,000 people currently living in the area, and a sector comprising more than 250 businesses – but now the area will become even more prosperous thanks to over £500m of announced investment which includes:
- The acquisition of the Holbeck Portfolio Sites by the Commercial Estate Group, along with major proposals for a mixed-use development at this key strategic location
- Work to repair Hunslet Mill and Victoria Works progressing on site
- Vastint’s mixed use development proposals for the 22 acre Tetley Brewery Site including a City Park, their second investment in the UK and the first outside London
- Planning permission granted for over 1,000 new homes at Tower Works, Iron Works and Dandara with an increase in applications for 3 bedroom plus units
- City’s proposals for a £125m Climate Innovation District
- A further phase of development for Leeds College of Building in the area.
- The new HS2 station will be combined with Leeds train station and is set to welcome more passengers than Gatwick airport.
This landmark development also seeks to create a link from the past to the present. This once industrial place boasted a strong, enduring sense of community, especially in the Holbeck area. The South Bank Leeds project aims to reconnect these historic suburbs with Leeds City Centre once again, adapting these old buildings and giving them a new life in the 21st century.
At the heart of the development, a brand-new skyscraper will transform the city’s skyline. Forty storeys high and 142 metres tall, it will take the mantel of tallest building in Leeds from Bridgewater Place.
Plans have also been submitted to build 928 new residential properties in a sub-project called X1. The houses will be built on the old Evans Halshaw site off the A61, at a cost of more than £200 million. Comprising five separate buildings, each equipped with individual gyms and gardens, the development will also boast cafes, restaurants, offices and shops.
City living will be more in demand than ever, thanks to various developments within the South Bank Leeds area. For example, Arthur’s Fold boasts 101 brand-new apartments, with a mix of high-spec one and two bedroom units. It also has the added extras that are a prerequisite for urban living – a gym, lounge and cinema for residents. Prices for the apartments start at £122,500, a clear indication of the sheer value for money investors can expect.
Why invest in Leeds Property? The Property Market
Of course none of the above guarantees a property market worth investing in. London, for example, is a dubious proposition for property investors in spite of its enormous economy and local wealth – prices are high and yields are low. Would be investors need to ask how Leeds compares to other areas. The answer? Extremely favourably.
Leeds is rated as the number one forecast for residential price and rental growth in the UK by the independent property advisors JLL, with an expected growth of 16% by 2023 – overtaking Manchester after several years. The report claims that low prices combined with a ‘fundamental lack of new development in the city centre since the financial crisis’ means that value is forecast to grow 1.1% above the UK average and rental growth to increase by 0.8% above average.
JLL go on to identify 29 sites that would be able to deliver over 10,000 apartments – doubling the existing number of units in the city centre. Only 45% of these developments have obtained planning permission meaning delivery will be at a steady rate over years, reducing over-supply. All in all demand in the city is extremely strong thanks to the shortage of supply. The average house price in Leeds is £204,766, that’s £15,234 below the national average, meaning Leeds presently offers excellent value for money.
It’s worth mentioning here that Leeds’ population to grow by 6% to reach 826,000 by 2026, which between the years 2016-2026 is 1.8% above the national average. That’s 47,000 people who will need to be accommodated.
Why invest in Leeds Property? Life and Culture
Although Leeds has a noted and fascinating past as an historic wool mill town, these days it is more widely known for its modern cultural attributes, although many museums and exhibits honour the city’s industrial past.
Over time, Leeds has become well known for its talented artists, with the likes of Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Kenneth Armitage and Damien Hirst having studied at the Leeds Arts College. Consequently, there’s plenty of art galleries and museums to visit, ranging from modern to classical art and everything in between.
The city also hosts the Leeds International Film Festival, England’s largest film festival outside London. 40,000 eager cinema-goers view over 300 shorts and feature-length films over the course of the festival, with the winning short films eligible to enter the industry’s most prestigious awards ceremony, the Academy Awards.
Leeds is heavily invested in its cultural footprint, and has designed the Leeds Cultural Strategy 2017-2030. There are many objectives to this strategy, but the main focus is for the city to value and prioritise cultural activity such that Leeds will become nationally and internationally recognised as a thriving, internationally connected cultural hub. Leeds will be at the forefront of cultural innovation, and the strategy intends to grow the cultural sector to increase its contribution to the local economy.
Long term cultural commitment and a strong additional reason why investors should consider investment in Leeds – this kind of plan ensures the city remains an attractive place to live and visit, and becomes more and more notable in the scope of UK culture.
Leeds has become the principal shopping centre for the entire Yorkshire and the Humber region. This is thanks, in part, to the many indoor shopping centres within the city, including St John’s Centre, the Merrion Centre, The Core, The Light, the Victoria Quarter, Trinity Leeds and the Corn Exchange. These centres feature a combined floor-space of 2,264,100 square feet (210,340 m2), that houses over 1,000 retail stores.
But not content with the proliferation of shopping malls, the city has a large pedestrian zone where many UK and global high street brands can be found. Briggate is the main street where the likes of House of Fraser, Debenhams, Harvey Nichols and Marks & Spencer can be found. If you’re looking for something a little more high-end, head to the Victoria Quarter. Luxury retailers including Paul Smith, Vivienne Westwood and Louis Vuitton make themselves at home in this area, amongst some truly incredible architecture.
Not only is this attractive to tourists but a strong retail centre means that residents can feel secure in the knowledge they have all their potential shopping options on the doorstep.
So why invest in Leeds? As we’ve seen, Leeds is the number 1 location for value growth and rental growth, and is well below the average in terms of price. If this isn’t enough to entice investors, the huge regeneration project aimed at doubling the size of the city centre is an extraordinary and attractive aspect of the Leeds’ future. HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail only further represent the city’s growth potential. There is very little doubt that Leeds will go from strength to strength and reaffirm itself as the major city in the Northern Powerhouse.