Chinese investment powering regeneration of the North

It's been several years now since the then chancellor George Osborne coined the phrase 'Northern Powerhouse', and in that time a lot of focus has fallen on Manchester.

That’s understandable; it’s one of the UK’s biggest and most well-connected cities, and a cultural touchstone. However, if the North is to be turned into an economic powerhouse to compete with the likes of London and the South East, there are a number of other northern cities that could easily contribute following a boost to the region. 

One city that is often overlooked is Sheffield. There are already encouraging signs that Sheffield is a city on the up, however, and a big part of that is down to Chinese investment.

Last year it was announced that Chinese company Sichuan Guodong Construction had tied up a 60-year partnership with Sheffield City Council, with an initial commitment to spend £220m on up to five projects in the city centre over the next three years. It’s the largest Chinese investment deal in a UK city outside of London. 

Sheffield is an old industrial city, with a proud history, and a frontrunner for an injection of funding. This Chinese investment will make an enormous difference in terms of regeneration, bringing businesses and employment to the area. Local councillors have talked about these projects bringing not just hundreds, but thousands of jobs to the area. That all serves to boost the housing market in the area, and we are already seeing the first signs of that in the residential property developments springing up across the city. The brokers in the area that I speak to are excited; they can see the city changing and improving.

Sheffield is already an interesting market for landlords, with a strong rental market in place. In our most recent LendInvest Buy-To-Let Index, we found that landlords enjoyed a healthy 5.12% yield in the city, with respectable capital gains of almost 3% and rental growth of 2.5%. 

As is common with many of the big cities in the UK, the base of that rental market comes from students; Sheffield has two well-established universities. However, the city has also become home to a high proportion of people who remain beyond graduation. In fact, last year Sheffield was named the top city in the UK for graduates in a study by 

Coupling that strong student and graduate base with an influx of young professionals following the regeneration of the city will only make it more attractive to investors. I think we’re at the start of a very virtuous circle.

Transport links play an enormous part in the attractiveness of any region to investors, and there are good signs on this front, too. Just last week it was confirmed that HS2 will stop within the centre of the city, delivering high-speed rail access to London and other cities across the North. It’s no secret that up till now, transport routes between Sheffield and other major northern hubs have not been good enough, so this news is a positive step in the right direction. 

Of course, if the North is to be turned into a genuine powerhouse, then there will need to be a significant increase in housebuilding, far beyond the improving levels we have already seen. There is still far too much reliance on the big housebuilders, and not enough emphasis on what entrepreneurial small- and medium-sized builders can do. Even this is changing, though, with the government recognising that the only way we will build the homes the nation needs is through a more diverse range of housebuilders.

Much like Sheffield, small builders have been overlooked for too long, with the attention focused on the same old big names. But for Sheffield and small builders alike, things are on the up.

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