Repton Gardens, the latest residential phase of Wembley Park, the expansive Build to Rent-led project developed by Quintain and operated by Quintain Living, offers three contemporary apartment blocks linked by landscape to satisfy a range of customer needs. James Parker spoke to the multi-disciplinary developer.
Build to Rent (BTR) specialist developer Quintain and its “lifestyle focused” rental company Quintain Living is dominating play at London’s Wembley Park. It manages a total of 10 distinct housing developments for its customers, with the latest to complete being a three-building scheme called Repton Gardens. In total, this high-profile 85-acre development surrounding Wembley Stadium now contains around 5,000 new dwellings, with a further 3,500 having outline planning permission in the master plan. Once Wembley Park is complete, Quintain will have 6,044 rental homes under management, serving strong demand for rental homes as buying continues to be an elusive dream for many.
The impressive statistics keep coming: Repton Gardens is only a relatively small part of the overall project, providing 396 homes, but offers an array of different layouts to renters (40 in fact), as well as 1,000 m2 of ground floor retail space, and a 1,200 m2 area earmarked for a new GP surgery. The newly launched development has “outperformed leasing expectations,” says Quintain Living, with a significant proportion being rented pre-completion.
The project is very accessible to the centre of London, being two stops from Baker Street on the Metropolitan Line, and the overall Wembley Park development has already been used by film directors for various location shoots, explains Julian Tollast, head of masterplanning and design at Quintain, adding “We’ve made a film about sustainable travel but on TV at the moment you can spot Wembley Park in adverts and the new series of Black Mirror and Not Going Out.” Repton Gardens itself includes apartments at discount market rent (29%) part of an affordable housing provision across Wembley Park of a similar percentage.
Quintain has been involved with this project alongside Brent Council for over 20 years, since 2022 in fact, with the initial project being the refurbishment of what is now the OVO Arena Wembley (formerly Wembley Arena). The developer has owned the land since 2002, which historically was a brownfield mix of former car parks and retail parks.
The early stages of the development were for private sale, and flats were picked up by investors as buy to let properties, some of which remain managed by Quintain. However, when private equity firm Lone Star bought Quintain in 2015, the developer made a strategic move to focus on the BTR sector.
Quintain is now around “three quarters through the consented masterplan for the 85-acre site at Wembley Park,” Tollast tells Housebuilder and Developer. Developments are still in the pipeline to the immediate north of the three new buildings at Repton Gardens, as well as an area to the north east of the project site.
The Repton Gardens apartments are chiefly in two tall blocks – Birch House with 209 and Cherry House with 161, and there is also a lower-rise called Aspen House with just 26 apartments. Many are intended for families and sharers, and have been designed to provide for this key demographic in the BTR sector. The mix is a variety of spacious three- and four-bedroom apartments, studios and one- and two-bedroom homes, all in a range of layouts. The cohort who have taken the properties, ranges from single twenty somethings to families with young children, through to much older people who have downsized.
Repton Gardens is named after famous 18th century landscape gardener Humphry Repton, who was hired by the Page family in 1792 to landscape their estate, renamed Wembley Park on Repton’s advice. The developer has attempted to respect the legacy of his designs by placing a strong emphasis on landscaping, to the benefit of residents, in this project in particular.
The site was previously occupied by one of the buildings left behind by the 1924 British Empire Exhibition held at Wembley Park, which had been demolished, and it had become an overspill car park for major events at the stadium.
PROCUREMENT & SITING
In terms of sequencing, over 2015, 2016 and 2017 the developers “worked our way clockwise around the civic centre of the park,” which was built by Brent Council in 2013 after Quintain sold the central parcel of land to the municipality. The developer shifted its focus then to two buildings on the eastern edge (Alameda and Beton), on Wembley Park Boulevard itself. Julian Tollast says that “there had been a logical sequence to the plots we were building out, and then the focus shifted back to build on the Repton Gardens plot to complete that north west part of the site.”
He explains that this approach demonstrates the firm’s strategy of “incremental growth and providing a sense of place; and that by growing it from the heart of the site up towards Wembley Park tube station, it foreshortened that distance you walk down Olympic Way.” The Repton Gardens site sits one block to the west of this main thoroughfare which sports and entertainment fans use to approach the stadium.
Quintain ran a Request for Proposal (RFP) process to select the architects for Repton Gardens, with the successful practice being Grid. This was followed by a tender process with its framework contractors, as has been the case across the Wembley Park development. Tollast says that the design RFP amounted to a “very short, three week limited design response,” 10 pages maximum, which is a “qualitative assessment first, then the fee.” He says that the developer has been running this approach successfully since 2008.
The developer did change the plot configuration slightly before beginning on Repton Gardens, via a Section 73, which “made it work better” particularly regarding the adjacent BOXPARK food and beverage scheme, says Tollast. He says they “changed the parameters slightly,” principally around the volumetric aspects and followed up the Section 73 with a reserved matters application.
Tollast says that with a multi-building site “you’re not allowed to have favourite children,” but that Repton Gardens “is the epitome of all the best lessons we have learned from the previous buildings.” He adds “because there were so many buildings finishing so close to each other from 2019 through to 2022, you couldn’t necessarily change what was onsite.”
Michael Fitzgerald, project director at Quintain agrees, saying that as the operator as well as developer, the Quintain team learned a lot from the design, build and operation of the previous nine BTR developments at Wembley Park and this fed into the BTR brief for Repton Gardens. “You’re watching the cost of any defects, and you end up checking and checking again, and we had the lessons learned for Repton Gardens, whereas because of the speed of progress, we were learning at the same time as the others.”
Tollast says that the business has learned that there’s a misconception about BTR, that it’s a short-term endeavour from the developer’s point of view, with an attendant lack of quality. However, he says that “what’s interesting from the design and placemaking point of the view is that it’s had almost completely the opposite effect; with the rental market you have to make sure that the dwellings, social spaces, amenity and public realm are the best-in-class, because somebody can say ‘okay we’ll go and rent somewhere else.’”
Tollast adds: “With the for sale market you could cynically say that as long as you did enough for the person to put their deposit down, you’ve kind of done the job.”
Here, by contrast, Tollast says that a quarter of the 85-acre site is “publicly accessible open space” at ground floor level, and if you look at Wembley Park from a satellite image when it’s finished, “you’d see that a further quarter of it was rooftop gardens and terraces.” He says that this shows that despite the feverish London market, this is not an “exceptionally dense” development, accommodating around 100 dwellings per acre.
Cherry House is where the main entrance to Repton Gardens is located plus 10 work-from-home offices and a meeting room on the first floor – the largest work from home provision yet for Quintain Living residents at Wembley Park. Other amenities include a club room, TV area and bar, and a 1,150 ft2 gym overlooking the podium garden. The latter has four covered, hireable BBQ areas, two play areas and a lawn. Cherry House and Birch House also feature roof terraces, including paved areas, artificial grass, sun loungers and seating.
Tollast explains that the main concierge entrance to the development, which leads to all three buildings on the plot, “was positioned in the north east corner, so that you naturally arrive at it first when approaching from the tube station, and it also fronts onto the main road. Between Repton Gardens and Olympic Way is BOXPARK Wembley, the largest BOXPARK in London, accommodating food and beverage outlets and entertainment. Despite the nearby hustle and bustle however, Tollast asserts that “even on a match day it’s relatively quiet.” As part of the overall masterplan’s section 106 agreement, the developers will be providing a GP surgery on the ground floor of Birch House, meaning its entrance faces the community centre, ‘The Yellow.’
Fitzgerald pays tribute to Tollast’s handle on the overall development as head of masterplanning and design. He emphasises that through Tollast’s vigilant overview of the buildings, public realm and placemaking “Wembley Park really feels like one place, and you move seamlessly between one part and the next – achieving that is not as easy as it looks.”
He gives the example of standardised lighting, signage and wayfinding across the project as ways this is achieved. This is one of the many processes shaping Wembley’s vibrant personality, tying it together neatly and developing a vital sense of place for residents.
Fitzgerald mentions that this is no easy feat, “with numerous projects progressing at pace and project teams working simultaneously, coordinating works and sharing the learnings, is a
In terms of avoiding homogeneity while providing a unity across the site, Tollast explains the approach via a metaphor – “it’s an architectural aquarium with different ‘tanks’, not a zoo.” The team also charged its designers with 10 key principles, including that “it’s space positive: it’s as much about the spaces between the buildings as the buildings,” and to think about design “from district to doorknob,” i.e. at all scales of how people relate to the buildings, from trees and landscaping down to the quality of the fittings. Also, focusing on the five senses, bearing in mind that “it’s easier to add more stuff in than it is to calm things down a bit.”
The design concept for Repton Gardens, following the attention paid to landscaping overall, has focused on “natural, earthy colours and the use of natural products.” A concept of ‘botanical living’ is taken through the whole development meaning a big focus on bringing the outside in, internal plants improving air quality and giving connection with nature throughout the buildings, as well as externally. With the overall range of measures included, Quintain Living is claiming these are its “most sustainable homes to date.”
Two of the architects bidding for the scheme both came up with a similar concept, interestingly, which the project ended up adopting. Aspen House is an additional low-rise building “like a little pavilion” on the front of the garden, overlooking the public square to the south. Tollast adds that it “helps the garden feel more protected from the civic centre,” without losing the space’s generosity.
The main residents’ amenity spaces are located at first floor level in the blocks, and therefore look over the garden, plus there are rooftop terraces, providing a further differentiator for residents. Tollast says this means there are social spaces “at the bottom, middle and top of our buildings.” He says it’s not “hairshirt” sustainable architecture, it’s “sustainable for the right reasons.” Along with thermal mass, there’s low carbon concrete, hand-built brick, movement sensors, and the scheme links into the site-wide district heating (gas-fired CHP due to being specified in 2014) and waste recycling systems. Last but not least, the corridors are naturally ventilated with louvres, and the balconies are generally stacked to provide shading to them and other rooms.
As well as many other key disciplines, Quintain took care of the landscaping design. Communal areas and the gardens connecting the buildings have been a key focus, inspired by the legacy of designer Humphry Repton.
In the podium garden for example, the developer created mounded groundworks which allowed for the planting of large trees and shrubs. The tree species in the gardens mirror the buildings’ names (albeit apple trees are included, not aspen!).
The split of apartments across the three buildings is 51% one bed, 23% two beds, 12% three beds, 7% four beds and 7% studios.
The Discount Market Rent dwellings are ‘pepper-potted’ through the development, to encourage a tenure-blind feeling at Repton Gardens, as they are in several other Quintain developments. The varied apartment designs in the three buildings comprising Repton Gardens encompass useful features such as ‘half bedrooms’ for guests, studios with separate bedrooms, and study areas designed for working from home. There’s also recessed shelving, breakfast bars, a choice of U-shaped and L-shaped kitchens, and all bathrooms are pods (like all other schemes built by Quintain in Wembley Park). In terms of lessons learned from other schemes, Tollast explains that they have managed to give the illusion of more space without adding to the height. “Repton Gardens has the same floor-to-floor heights as the other buildings, but everything we have learned about exposed soffits, and floor build-ups, and how to deal with bulkheads and sprinklers has been done so beautifully, that you just feel like there is much more volume in them.”
He continues by saying that the residents’ experience has been enhanced by “scrupulous attention to detail” by the designers, such as around the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, “which means that when you open up your hall cupboard, there is a lot of space to store things, it’s not full of mechanical ventilation systems.” Tollast adds that the hotel-style riser design means that heat exchangers do not need to be in the flats themselves; a factor which is also a product of the building being built for renters.
The design offers a different aesthetic generally to the other schemes around the park, such as Alameda, which is “more white ceilings and white plasterboard,” whereas Repton Gardens has ‘industrial’ exposed concrete ceilings in the bedrooms and other parts of the apartments. This helps thermal mass, gives a more spacious feel, and offers an increasingly in-demand look for many urban dwellers. Tollast puts the approach simply, as offering “different things appeal to different people.”
Flexibility has been thought about – in some of the single room apartments, there’s an extra internal room, which can be used as a dressing room (as in the show flat), or in another configuration it can become a playroom or home working space. In bedrooms, the glazing does not descend to the floor, with the belief that it can compromise interior design and furniture.
Fitzgerald mentions that in addition to standardisation of external lighting to help unify the overall scheme, standardisation has also come into play in other areas such as ICT networking, security, access control and fire safety systems, all based on learnings from other schemes.
As well as offering what Quintain Living believes is a new standard of communal, high-quality living in the BTR sector, based around careful design and landscaping, Repton Gardens also offers a fresh proposition. Being able to attend a show or match at Wembley, and have a short walk home afterwards is just one reason in other areas the apartments have proven so popular.
While such a prominent and iconic site might provide its challenges during construction, as the project director Michael Fitzgerald attests, the rewards are substantial.