In conversation with … Richard Grocott, Acquisitions & Public Affairs at Grainger

In conversation with … Richard Grocott, Acquisitions & Public Affairs at Grainger, whose spell working in an MP’s Westminster office reaffirmed his passions for property and the regeneration of the north


Tell us a bit about yourself

I came to property via a different route to most people although I had always been interested in it, grew up around it and had a lot of family connections working in the industry. My grandad was an architect, my dad was a Buy-to-Let investor for a while, I have an uncle who’s a surveyor and two of my siblings have careers in property.

I actually did a degree in biology but although I enjoyed it, I wasn’t going to pursue it into a career. Before coming into the property industry I also spent four years working in politics in Westminster, which was really by chance. After chatting with my local MP at the rugby club, he offered me an internship and then a job working in his office, which was fantastic.

My MP was a member for the north-west during a pretty interesting period – two general elections, withdrawal negotiations from the EU and then Covid. But I also got involved in a lot of projects which mattered to local people, funding bids – especially in the north – and tried to help promote their voice.

I’ve always been a strong advocate of the north – it has got a lot to offer – but my time around Westminster and parliament sort of cemented that view and gave me even more passion for the regeneration of northern towns and cities.

So, when my time in Westminster was up and I actually came to leave, I decided to pursue my original thought which was, of course, a career in property.

I did a master’s degree in real estate and got my first job working for a regeneration and development consultancy in Liverpool. I found that a really good place to start because I was involved in a range of projects and it gave me a strong understanding across a broad base, especially large regeneration projects, town centre plans and the factors that affect town centres – the factors of decline and success.

Above all, I got to grips with development viability and all the different factors which influence what goes into a scheme – and that’s where I first came across the concept of Build to Rent and the intrinsic role it can have in regeneration projects around raising values and enabling the wider development of a scheme.

I feel it’s a force for good, a positive thing, so I then joined Grainger, who are obviously a market leader in UK BTR.


What’s top of your in-tray, what dominates your day at the moment?

My main role is acquisitions, in the investment team, regularly meeting developers and agents, looking for opportunities for where we can invest next.

I think, at the moment, there’s a really strong opportunity to develop public sector land and create homes in areas they are really needed. This also creates a private, long-term income stream for the public body in question, so it seems like a really big opportunity. I spend a lot of time working on that, which isn’t always so easy because there’s a lot of economic headwinds at the moment.

We are also having this chat halfway through an election, so I am keeping a close eye on things there and staying well on top of any housing-related policies that are announced.

The polls suggest we are going to be dealing with a lot of fresh faces after July 4th so it will be key that we make sure there’s sufficient understanding of the property sector by the new MPs on the back benches.

They need to understand how to address the issues faced by everyone in the sector – homeowners, renters, developers, landlords – basically, right across the spectrum.

There’s a misconception that the Build to Rent sector is just for affluent, young professionals but that can be far from the truth as we have a wide range of residents in our schemes from families, healthcare workers, downsizers and obviously other professionals as well. So, it’s important we make sure the policymakers are aware of that, and the range of benefits BTR can bring.


Do you see a change of government as being more beneficial to the development of the north?

There’s a lot of rhetoric around. The last government had ‘levelling up’ and I can’t remember what Labour’s exact phraseology is, but they are promoting very similar ideas around policies to spread wealth, promote towns and hopefully see better economic futures over the next couple of decades. But it’s a lot easier said than done.

There’s a lot of opportunity out there, but you’ve got to be bold and make decisions to take the steps that are needed; it’s going to take more than a few tweaks to the planning system to make things really happen.

When you look at the Build to Rent sector, it’s got a track record of really quick delivery and occupation of new development schemes.

Our Clippers Quay development, where I’m sat now in Salford, contains over 500 homes and it’s something that would have taken the for-sale market a long time to bring forward. But we had it built and occupied, I think three years after starting on site.

If you want to look at actually delivering, Labour’s manifesto includes new towns and it’s got 1.5 million homes by the end of the parliament so there is a good opportunity to contribute to those objectives.

But, you know, the right business conditions have got to be in place to allow the Build to Rent sector to grow and support those objectives.


So, with all that in mind, and wearing your optimistic hat, where do you see Build to Rent over the next parliament and maybe the one after that?

 Build to Rent accounts for about two per cent of the overall rental market so there is a lot of opportunity for growth there.

A lot of the political aims in general for the rental sector seem to rightly focus on improving standards, but also to professionalise the services offered to tenants. I think BTR is in a really good place to support that; it will be really important to make that happen. If the right conditions are in place, I think it will continue to grow – there’s forecasts out there suggesting it will be doubling in size in the next five years – but there needs to be the right policies and the economic situation to make that possible.

There’s certainly a really strong ambition and appetite from investors to invest in the UK residential market and BTR provides that vehicle for long-term, patient, stable capital to invest, a chance to put money into UK property when it could otherwise have gone elsewhere.

If we look at what might happen to the actual sector within that time, there’s several high-end operators, there’s also Grainger and the like, with a more mid-market offering, so we might grow in scale; but we might also see some alternative products coming through, perhaps with a smaller community offering that could be more affordable for those on the lower end of the income scale.


What keeps you awake at night?

That’s an interesting one but probably reforms to the rental sector after the election.

The potential for reforms has been rolling on for a while, and I think the main thing that’s holding back the sector is the uncertainty that’s hanging over it; it’s just making some investors hesitate slightly.

But there’s no reason for that to be the case. Reforms, as long as they’re done in the right way, will only be good for Build to Rent. And it’s right that renters get the service they need and deserve.

But we’ve seen the negative impact that the rent controls in particular can have on the supply of rental homes, and I’m glad all the major parties have ruled out bringing them in now.

Grainger wants to improve standards for renters and believes reform provides opportunities for good landlords. Those landlords who aren’t willing to abide by the regulations may choose to exit the market, that supply will have to be taken up and will therefore provide more opportunities for good landlords.

There are a lot of headwinds across the property sector at the moment, but we’re keen to press on with our growth plans and sometimes that just means finding alternative deal structures to actually get things moving.

For example, we’ve agreed a deal with Bloc and Network Rail to collaborate on a number of sites across the country to deliver up to 2,000 new homes – this follows the successful completion of The Barnum, our scheme next to Nottingham train station, which was developed by Bloc in partnership with Network Rail and forward funded and acquired by us.

We are also in a long-term partnership with TfL through Connected Living London, a profit-share joint venture delivering thousands of homes across the capital and giving TfL a long-term income stream.

These partnership are providing properties in locations people want, with good connections and local amenities. The schemes provide money for the public body and use land which was previously barren or neglected.


Do you have a call to action, or a particular passion you want to highlight?

 In terms of passions and property, probably the main one is regeneration.

There are a lot of areas out there with a lot of potential waiting to be unlocked, and where regeneration is only really possible if we are able to build, but there isn’t enough cash in the public coffers to make it happen. I think that has been recognised on the political level and housing has been an issue in the current election.

But it’s not going to be sorted out by tweaks to the planning system alone. And there’s a lot of other low hanging policy fruit for the future government to take a look at where they can, to get things moving.

Again, it’s easier said than done, as we all know.

The crux of it is that historically we’ve had a major lack of continuity in policy. We would just like government to decide on a policy and stick with it, give businesses the certainty they need to invest.

So, I guess my call to action would be for government to engage with business constructively and implement policies which can span the political cycles and provide the spur to investment that’s needed.

Industry bodies like ARL and the BPF, and the major players in BTR, are going to be really important because the policy makers don’t necessarily know the ins and outs of the property industry, especially Build to Rent, which is such a nascent sector. If they don’t know, we need to be able to tell them what’s needed.

As the people who do know what is needed, operators and their representative bodies are vital in banging the drum for BTR and the policies that are needed, disseminating the message and making sure that engagement is positive and constructive.