Residents' views of CASPAR developments (City-centre Apartments for Single People at Affordable Rents)

Pam Brown

This survey of residents’ experiences of living in two demonstration city-centre apartment buildings reveals high levels of satisfaction with the arrangements.

Summary

Summary

CASPAR developments offer inner-city homes designed to a high standard at affordable rents for middle-income households. The CASPAR concept aims to attract people with the spending power, energy and creativity to live in and to help revitalise the city centre. The first two developments in Leeds and Birmingham are a living demonstration of what works and are intended to enthuse others, for example, investors who want a good return and a socially desirable large-scale investment and local authorities who want to accelerate urban regeneration and renaissance. Research carried out by Pam Brown Associates examined residents' views of the experience of living in CASPAR developments in Birmingham and Leeds. Extensive interviews revealed the following views:

  • A city-centre location is ideal.
  • Living in the city centre is having a positive impact on residents' lifestyles, encouraging them to concentrate their social activity, consumer spending and other interests in the city centre.
  • Individual car use has declined. Living in the city-centre encourages residents to make greater use of public transport, although a significant number still wished to retain ownership of a car. Secure parking was therefore a high priority.
  • Contemporary interior design and external appearance are extremely popular.
  • Part-furnished accommodation is preferred. Extras such as carpets, curtains and kitchen equipment are highly valued.
  • Good sound and heat insulation (well above that required by Building Regulations) is crucial.
  • Good quality on-site management arrangements when residents move in and ongoing effective management services are essential.

Profile of the market for CASPAR developments

Residents are mainly male, single and relatively young - 84 per cent are under 40 years old. Most residents earn between £15-30k; 12 per cent earn over 30k. They have a broad range of professional, technical and managerial positions and the field of employment is wide-ranging (see Figure 1).

Location

Pre-development market research undertaken by Oates and McKee found that living in the city centre is popular with certain groups of people. Important considerations are convenience for the main commercial, cultural and leisure areas. Easy access for public transport, major roads and motorways also make the developments attractive. The decision to locate CASPAR developments in particular parts of the centres of Birmingham and Leeds bore out the market research predictions, with 94 per cent of residents in Birmingham and 97 per cent in Leeds saying the location is either good or very good.

Living in the city centre

While easy access to work was important, residents said that their social life was enhanced because of the 'buzz' the city provides and the chance for a more cosmopolitan way of life. For example, 67 per cent of CASPAR residents in Birmingham and 69 per cent in Leeds say they are socialising more (see Figure 2).

There is also a strong 'feel good' factor amongst residents because they are contributing to the environment. Many are pleased that they are helping to reduce traffic congestion and pollution by using their cars less (see Figure 2).

From a more personal point of view, many are happy that they are saving on travel-to-work costs, and are enjoying the hassle-free daily commuting that comes with living close to work. All the residents in both developments were willing to recommend city-centre living to others:

"I have so much spare time, it used to take me 40 minutes to get to and from work, it takes me 5 minutes now. I've got more time and energy to go out during the week whereas before I would come home and vegetate in front of the television." (Resident, Leeds)

Design and appearance

The survey justified the decision to employ architects who used contemporary award-winning designs. It also confirmed the view that the look and feel of buildings, as well as location, matter to people and affect their decision to move in and then stay.

Residents are pleased with the design and appearance of both CASPAR developments. They particularly like a number of interesting features, such as artistic external lighting at Leeds and a glass atrium at Birmingham, which give a modern 'artistic' feel.

This results in very high satisfaction levels amongst residents in Birmingham and Leeds, with 97 per cent and 100 per cent respectively being able to recommend living in a CASPAR type development.

"It's very modern and light, it's a bit like stepping onto a boat with the wooden decking all around you. I really like it and my friends love to come over." (Resident, Birmingham)

The apartments

Each one-bedroom apartment is light and contemporary and flexible in its potential use of the space. The design and spaciousness of the apartments are popular. Residents in Leeds particularly appreciate being able to separate the living room for dining or study or space for guests. Space standards are generous and the developments meet 'Lifetime Homes' criteria for accessibility and adaptability (making them suitable for a large proportion of disabled people).

Noise, often a source of dissatisfaction in some developments, does not appear to be a big problem. The majority of residents are very satisfied with high levels of soundproofing. The survey found that just over half of the residents in Birmingham and just under three-quarters in Leeds feel that the sound insulation is good or very good. In Leeds, residents particularly like the triple glazing, which gives protection from traffic noise on the nearby major roads.

Extras

Previous market research highlighted the desire of potential residents for part-furnished accommodation. This is borne out by the research with actual residents. The new residents are happy to buy furniture, but are very pleased that carpets, curtains, a cooker, fridge and washer/dryer were provided because of the convenience of having these essential items at the start.

Communal areas and services

There is lift access to all apartments and both developments have a cleaning and maintenance service.

While some residents in Leeds value such features as the balcony and communal seating areas, the general communal areas did not warrant much comment. This may be because they were very clean and well-serviced, thereby removing a source of contention that can exist in such developments.

Car-ownership and parking

Each CASPAR development provides one car-parking space per apartment. Those who do not have a car pay a lower rent.

While many residents welcome not having to use their car on a daily basis, they still want to own one for specific purposes, such as bulk shopping and holidays. The continuing value they place on their vehicle is demonstrated by the strong desire for a secure car park. They appear to happily accept charging for parking if this minimises vandalism, theft or use by non-residents.

Management arrangements

CASPAR residents want easy access to management staff who can provide accurate information, and they want repairs carried out to a good standard by reliable workers.

Residents in Birmingham, the first to be surveyed, complained about a lack of access to staff when they moved in and a lack of information about how to use the heating system and appliances. The provision of an on-site caretaker at Leeds proved a positive move and is reflected in the satisfaction levels: 64 per cent of residents in Birmingham and 82 per cent in Leeds are happy with the management service.

"The caretaker is brilliant, he has helped me out with plumbing and helped me to understand the heating system. It's good to have someone on hand especially when you first move in because you don't have time when you're working to sort things out." (Resident, Leeds)

About this study

This study draws upon the following:

  • Survey information collected from interviews with CASPAR residents in Birmingham (80 per cent survey completed);
  • Survey information collected from interviews with CASPAR residents in Leeds (88.6 per cent survey completed);
  • Feedback from residents' meetings.
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