Peak Performer

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London-based Berkeley Group moves into the UK'S second city.以倫敦為基地的Berkeley Group, 投資英國第二大城市。

Once perceived as grey and unappealing, Birmingham marches on with its under-the-radar image make-over, posting better numbers than either London or Manchester over the last few quarters and starting to earn some respect. Rather than targeted districts or zones, Birmingham is embracing its industrial history, its geography—with more canals than Venice—and its economic numbers. With a £25 billion economy, over 12,000 new businesses in 2017, its status as the preferred destination for relocating Londoners, and a young, educated population, there's more to Brum than a shiny new downtown and ‘Peaky Blinders'. “It's not just a little area of regeneration,” says Mei Wong, Knight Frank's executive director, head of international residential sales. “It's a big transformation.”

Relative Value

She's not kidding. While London, unsurprisingly, has taken the lion's share of press regarding UK investment and the impact of Brexit, regional hubs are starting to gain traction, particularly with institutional investors whose focus for industrial properties is often outside London. Urban regeneration across the city, new businesses (many from London taking advantage of more reasonable office rents) and students from the city's five universities choosing to remain are underpinning population growth, and in turn housing demand.

“In terms of house price growth [Birmingham] ranks fourth, behind Edinburgh, Leicester and Manchester, with 6.9% in year-onyear growth over 2017,” notes Knight Frank's head of research and consultancy, Greater China, David Ji. “At the same time London grew -0.4%—it's peaked. From an investment point of view, there's a housing shortage, there's a young population driving up demand, and growth. All these together make a healthy residential market.”

Even with Manchester widely thought of as the UK'S so-called second city, and the assumption Manchester is the sole recipient of infrastructure improvements and government businesses, Birmingham is still at an advantage. Residential prices currently average between £300 and £450 per square foot (HK$3,100 to $4,600), compared to London's £1,000. “The transformation is still happening; buyers looking at Birmingham right now [realise] it's still at the beginning of the cycle. It's early stages and it needs an investor that has a vision to really consider it,” continues Wong. “Councils and the government hadn't really created anything to help overseas investors and buyers ‘understand' Birmingham—but they [have] now. So it's not just about outside money going in, it's about locals and councils coming together to build what Birmingham is going to be. It can't be just private money for it to grow, and now it has both.”

Playing Favourites?

Birmingham's emergence as a solid investment location started with a concerted effort in 2017 to rebrand it as part of the Midlands Engine, akin to Manchester's Northern Powerhouse. It was a commitment by the government to stimulate economic growth founded on a modern industrial strategy similar to the City of London's reinvention of the formerly rundown Shoreditch as a trendy tech hub—as well as Elephant and Castle, Old Street, King's 萊坊大中華區研究及諮詢部主管紀言迅表示:「[伯明翰]租金增長幅度全英排第四,在愛丁堡、萊斯特城和曼徹斯特之後,較2017年同期上升6.9%。同期,倫敦增幅為-0.4%,已開始從高位下滑。從投資角度看,年青人口推高需求,令住房短缺,增長加快。這一切構成了一個健康的住宅市場。」

縱使目前部份人認為曼徹斯特是英國的第二城市,會有較好的基建設施,以及得到政府企業支持,伯明翰仍有其優勢。目前該市租金每平方呎平均為300至450鎊( 3,100至4,600港元)之間,倫敦則為1,000英鎊。王美嫻表示:「轉型工程進行得如火如荼;現時伯明翰買家明白到現階段只是發展周期的開端,只有具遠見的投資者才會考慮。過往,議會和政府並沒有任何協助海外投資者和買家『了解』伯明翰的方案,但現在已有,這不僅是吸納外來資金,而是當地人和議會合力建造一個全新的伯明翰,所以不單是私人資金,而是兼具公私營資金。」

理想條件

在2017年,各方努力把伯明翰列入中部引擎計劃(一如以曼城為首的北部引擎計劃)的一部份,令該市成為新興投資點。政府承諾以創新工業政策為基礎刺激經濟增長,有關政策與倫敦市的的活化計劃類同,把破落的肖迪奇(Shoreditch)

Cross, Battersea and so on. Admittedly Birmingham isn't for everyone; it is somewhat unfamiliar, but as an investment for first-time buyers or those looking to diversify it makes a strong case for itself. The forthcoming high-speed rail link (London in 45 minutes) is another factor recommending the city, and the politicking that ended with Brexit is a non-issue for most. “A lot of investors see Brexit as an opportunity. They don't necessarily see the politics as anything negative,” Wong continues. “They just want to make sure they'll continually get tenants, a reasonable rent, a good price and so on.”

Given the worldwide political climate, it's reasonable to wonder if the Birmingham push is simply the government finally taking its eyes off London and paying attention to the disgruntled Midlands. But Ji sees it more as a long time coming. “From an outside point of view, that's correct in a way … Many major towns in the Midlands haven't been promoted as hubs. For some strange reason they've been left aside, and not promoted the way they could.” As crucial economic balance seeps throughout the UK it will be up to individual cities to distinguish themselves for their culture and lifestyle, but “If you're looking at what's next in the UK, in the city, the opportunity is [in Birmingham],” Ji says.”

Let it Snow

Joining the citywide makeover is Snow Hill Wharf by London-based St Joseph Berkeley Group, the developer's first project in Birmingham. Sitting canal-side, the luxury project is also within the city's emerging 17th century Gun Quarter, near New Street and Snow Hill stations and the future highspeed rail link. The historic district was the centre for manufacturing handmade military arms, and is currently one of the city centre's untapped hidden gems. Snow Hill Wharf sits fewer than 20 minutes from Birmingham's key transit, retail (The Bullring), dining and business hubs, with the University of Birmingham, Birmingham City University, Aston University, Newman University and University College Birmingham not much farther beyond. The city is forecasting nearly 38,000 new jobs between now and 2020, and with it new tenants.

Snow Hill Wharf will be made up of five midrise buildings altogether: The Barker and The Lancaster in the first phases, followed by The Colmore, The Belmont and The Fazeley adjacent to Shadwell and Lower Loveday Streets—right on Fazeley Canal. The development will ultimately comprise of 404 one- to three-bedroom apartments ranging from 442 to 1,634 square feet. Among the facilities and amenities are a gym, sauna and steam room, resident's lounge and cinema, as well as 24-hour concierge. Outdoor features include three podium gardens overlooking a revitalised waterway. Snow Hill Wharf is scheduled for completion in mid-2021. Prices begin at £189,995 (HK$2 million). For details refer to berkeleygroup.co.uk or contact Knight Frank in Hong Kong at knightfrank.com.hk. 打造為時尚科技中心,然後到象堡、Old Street、king's Cross、battersea等等。伯明翰不一定適合所有人,大部份人對這城市仍然陌生,但對首次買家,或有意建構投資組合的人士,伯明翰是個很好的選擇。未來落成的高鐵項目(45分鐘到倫敦)是令這個城市值得推薦的原因,政治活動亦隨脫歐事件結束而變得溫和。王美嫻續說:「不少投資者視脫歐為一個機會,他們不一定認為政治是負面的,只想一直有租客承接,收取合理租金,一個好價等等。」

在這樣的全球政治氣候下,有理由相信英國政府終於將注意力由倫敦轉到中部,因而大力發展伯明翰,但紀言迅相信這是長遠的部署。「外人看來,這是正確做法,許多中部主要城市還未發展成經濟重鎮,不知是甚麼原因,這些城市被人冷待,並沒按照其潛力發展。」平衡經濟滲透整個英國,個別城市可藉著其獨有的文化及生活方式脫穎而出。但紀言迅認為:「如果你正在尋找英國下一個值得投資的城市,非伯明翰莫屬。」

簇新大計

最新加入伯明翰轉型規劃的是由倫敦St Joseph Berkeley Group發展的snow Hill Wharf項目,是發展商在伯明翰的首個項目,落於運河旁,位於市內17世紀的Gun Quarter,毗連new Street和snow Hill站,還有未來落成的高鐵站。這個歷史城區,昔日是製造手工軍用武器的中心,目前是城內鮮為人知的瑰寶之一。Snow Hill Wharf離伯明翰主要交通樞紐、零售(the Building)、餐飲和商業中心只是20分鐘路程,附近是伯明翰大學、伯明翰城市大學、阿斯頓大學、紐曼大學和伯明翰大學學院。預計由現時至2020年,伯明翰有接近38,000個新增職位,帶來新的租客。

Snow Hill Wharf由五幢中層建築組成:第一期是The Barker和the Lancaster,緊接其後是毗鄰Shadwell及lower Loveday Streets、位處Fazeley運河的the Colmore、The Belmont及the Fazeley。整個項目共有404個一至三房單位,面積由442至1,634平方呎;設施包括健身室、桑拿及蒸氣浴室、住客休息室、電影院,以及24小時管家服務。戶外設施包括三個平台花園,可俯瞰活化後的河道。Snow Hill Wharf預計於2021年中落成,價格由189,995英鎊起(200萬港元)。詳情請瀏覽berkeleygroup.co.uk或聯絡香港萊坊knightfrank.com.hk

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