Sowing Social Infrastructure
Four part Q&A with Hugo Llewlyn, CEO, Newcore
1. What is social infrastructure, and why is it important to the growth of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc?
Social infrastructure is the definition given to the essential physical assets that UK society needs to function, often without us even thinking about them. These include real estate linked to education, healthcare, waste management, civil uses (such as judiciary, prisons and other security uses); and for some include residential asset classes, though in Newcore’s view it is those that provide accommodation linked to some of the uses above that qualify.
The provision of social infrastructure is incredibly important to the growth of the Arc, as without it society can not function. It also needs planning carefully at outset in masterplanning of towns and cities, as often it is forgotten or not properly catered for, and this puts pressure on existing provision. Whilst councils and planners do get to grips with the more day to day uses, such as primary and secondary schools and care homes, other important but less well-known uses like special educational needs settings, life sciences, data centres, waste management facilities and (a rarer example) drug rehabilitation centres can come as afterthoughts, albeit demand for these increases proportionally when populations grow, particularly in urban settings.
2. What are the opportunities for further social infrastructure provision, and what are the barriers to its development?
As the needs of UK society change, so its property needs - both essential and non-essential - change. In the area of social infrastructure, emerging opportunities include food security - onshore fish farms, vertical farms etc, battery storage (moderating grid demand and supply), the return of cottage hospitals as rehabilitation centres taking pressure of the NHS, delivery vehicle storage and the like.
Obviously a number of these are untested venture capital businesses, which create hurdles to entry, but with decent structuring and apportionment of capital responsibilities, they can become interesting areas for real estate investors (for example the ground lease of a vertical farm, where the tenant puts in all the structures and equipment).
3. What do you see as being the biggest need emerging within the Arc from a social infrastructure perspective, and are some areas lagging behind while others meet local needs?
The biggest area of need in my view in the Arc is the provision of good quality modern educational facilities (councils do understand this, but often s106 contributions get whittled away), which are set up to educate children of the 21st century, having in mind rapidly changing curricula. These will facilitate the growing demand, be attractive to high quality employees who are also parents potentially moving to the area and also attract a great workforce of teachers. Everything else in the long-term flows from this realistically, including health and living outcomes. From a Newcore perspective and where society is lagging the need from an environmental perspective, we would also love to be at the forefront of the food security revolution with our real estate capital.
4. How does social infrastructure benefit people living, working and studying in the Arc?
Without good quality social infrastructure, society cannot function, full stop, as you will gather from the explanations above, whether in the Arc or elsewhere. This is why this sector has never been “alternative” as an asset class, but, as it emerged in investible terms, might be described as a new core area, albeit very specialist in its delivery, operation and capital management.