Though employment rates have faced challenges since the start of the pandemic – decreasing by 2.6 per cent among young people, according to ONS figures – opportunities are mounting in the north-west of England.
Recent reports have noted that a number of well-known brands, ranging from Matalan and Beelivery to Virgin Media and TalkTalk, are collectively creating thousands of jobs in north-west cities including Liverpool and Manchester. NatWest’s Purchasing Managers’ Index Survey tells a similar story, highlighting a rise in output and employment in the past month – marking out these cities as places to watch for property investors.
Liverpool and Manchester, then, clearly have exciting prospects. However, buyers and investors should reflect on one of the enduring lessons of the pandemic – you don’t need to live in such cities to take advantage of their opportunities.
According to a survey by real estate consultancy Knight Frank, the easing of lockdown restrictions tends to be followed by increased demand from city dwellers who want to move away from metropolitan environments: a much-reported trend that has characterised COVID’s impact on living habits.
As such, canny buyers and investors should reflect on the advantages of smaller areas that lie within commutable distance of places like Liverpool and Manchester, offering the employment opportunities of a city while catering to a new-found desire for space, natural beauty, and a chance to raise a family beyond the confines of urban regions.
Such investors will naturally be drawn to places like Runcorn: a town in Cheshire that lies roughly equidistant between Liverpool and Manchester.
Any assessment of the investment potential in towns like Runcorn needs to consider, as mentioned above, the new urgency that buyers are attaching to quality of life.
As such, it’s worth reflecting on guides such as the Sunday Times Best Places To Live 2021: Northwest of England, in which two of the top eight contenders were towns in Cheshire, including the winning entrant. The judges used metrics including broadband speeds, green spaces, and the health of the high street – all key qualities for a new generation of internet-based remote workers tired of heavily built-up areas.
This doesn’t mean that investors should disregard economic factors, of course: a strong economy is the backbone of a reliable investment.
On inspection, Cheshire performs well in this department too. Its pre-COVID outlook gives some indication of the region’s potential – the ONS reports that, just prior to the pandemic, Cheshire and Warrington had a £30.9 billion economy, which was 40 per cent higher than the north-west average and 21 per cent higher than the UK average.
Looking to the horizon, Cheshire’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has created robust economic recovery plans to return the region to its position of pre-pandemic strength, including an application for government support that would allow for the delivery of the HyNet Project: the UK’s first hydrogen production and carbon capture facility.
As Clare Hayward, chair of Cheshire and Warrington LEP, has said: “Cheshire and Warrington has been a stand-out performer in the UK and we have a strong platform to build on.”
Clearly, then, when placed in a broader economic landscape and in the context of the region’s high quality of life, towns like Runcorn are brimming with investment potential just waiting to be realised.
Looking to broader contexts also reveals a favourable situation for property values – a factor which is, in many ways, the bottom line for prospective investors.
As a town in the north-west of England, Runcorn benefits from the trends towards growth that are currently being enjoyed by the region as a whole.
According to recent and much-reported figures from real estate services provider Savills, the north-west is going to see a 6 per cent rise in property value in 2022. Similar increases are expected for the next four years, in fact, culminating – by 2025 – in an increase of property value by a remarkable 28.8 per cent.
Runcorn itself, at the local level, has certainly seen growth in past years: even with the disruptions associated with the pandemic, Zoopla figures indicate that the town has seen a value change of £18,406 over the last five years.
Ultimately, however, the value of Runcorn and towns like it is defined by its position. At a time of change in the way we live and work, Runcorn finds itself within commutable distance – but still at arm’s length – of cities that workers want to visit without living in. It’s surrounded by localities known for their high quality of life and abundant natural beauty, and – the feather on top – its larger region is projected to see enormous increases in property value over the next four years.
Drawing together these disparate factors is key to canny investment, and prospective investors would be wise to consider the possibilities that the Runcorns of the country have in store.
Editorial By Reece Mennie, CEO of HJ Collection