Keeping up standards pays off for city centre developer
Quality and design saved the Granary Wharf development from the jaws of recession. Sharon Dale talks to its development director Mike Finkill.
THE bulging trophy cabinet in the Granary Wharf sales office is something to be proud of. There are 10 top architecture awards along with a clutch of highly commended certificates.
The most impressive accolade is the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors International Regeneration Award and, in this case, it’s the developers’ equivalent of the George Cross.
The construction contract for the site behind Leeds Railway Station was signed the day before the credit crunch bit. Funding for developers dried up and getting a mortgage for a city centre apartment was almost impossible without a substantial amount of equity.
“The timing couldn’t have been worse but no-one knew what was about to happen,” says Mike Finkill, regeneration director of Isis Waterside Regeneration.
The company, a partnership between British Waterways, Muse and Igloo could have done what hundreds of others did and let the site lie fallow until the property market picked up. Instead, they opted to battle on knowing there would probably be little or no profit in it.
“The concept started in 2005 and it was a different world for developers then, but we decided to continue with the three blocks and do the scheme as planned and luckily the bank and our shareholders backed that decision,” says Mike.
Although Isis had to lose staff, they decided that cutting costs on the project would be disastrous.
Instead, they reasoned that the central, waterside location – next to the canal and riverside – along with good design and high quality would see them through.
They stuck to a plan to make the 282 apartments in two blocks more spacious and they added a few three-bedroom flats with 1,227 sq ft of space. Rather than having penthouses, they decided to use the top of the circular Candle House as a communal roof terrace for all the residents. With its beach hut-style sheds, seating and glazed ballustrading, it certainly adds wow factor.
“It would have been easy to cut costs and do some value engineering. That would have been the obvious thing, but I really believe that quality and design saved this scheme. Sales held up because of that,” says Mike.
The plan was to appeal to owner occupiers. Though they were few and far between, there were certainly more of them than the buy-to-let investors who had fuelled the city centre boom.
“The investors buying off plan were a thing of the past. We knew we wanted owner occupiers and that’s where the design came in. We thought long and hard and we set up focus groups.
“People told us that they wanted more space, so we made the apartments between five and 10 per cent bigger. They wanted storage space, so we let them choose whether they wanted an en-suite or a closet. Nothing was trimmed off the spec, so the quality of the doors and other fittings remained first class,” says Mike. “We went ahead with the roof garden, which is all about creating a community and getting residents to interact. Plus, from a financial point of view, it added value to all the apartments.
“Basically we learned a lot of lessons from what had gone before. Those tiny flats in tedious schemes designed for investors were exactly what we didn’t want to do.”
The apartments are not cheap, but they do offer value for money. A studio costs £95,000, a one-bedroom from £125,000 and a two-bedroom from £179,000.
The mixed use development is now complete and there are 94 flats left to sell.
Those who have bought already are a mixed bag of young professionals and downsizers who liked the three-bed flats.
The commercial spaces on the ground floor are occupied by independent traders and the area around the Granary Wharf buildings is public realm.
“We wanted to create an interesting, vibrant place rather than somewhere full of chains – and we’ve done that. All in all, we may not have achieved the profit margins we intended but we have created a flagship development and something we are very proud of,” says Mike.
The final step is to create a thoroughfare from the station directly onto Granary Wharf, which is set to open in 2014.
This will make Granary Wharf even more accessible, boosting its appeal and when the property market picks up those who have bought may see a good return on their investment.
City Living specialists Morgans, which deals in sales and lettings, predicts that there will be a shortage of flats for sale in Leeds city centre thanks to the lack of recent development.
Mike, who is working on a new scheme in Brentford, agrees.
“I am very positive about our regeneration schemes in city centres. I think there will be a big flight to the cities as fuel and transport costs rise. People will want to live close to work and the cultural offering.”
He is a country dweller himself with a rural home in his native Wensleydale, and adds:
“The riskiest place in terms of development is suburbia.” THE saying “no pain, no gain” applies to this stunning barn conversion and adjacent holiday let.
Owners Emma and Steve Hagues and their three children were forced to move into what was effectively a building site after a bad winter delayed the project and the lease on their rental property ran out.
“I had just had my son, Keiron, when we moved in. We had one toilet, no bath or shower and no heating,” says Emma. “We didn’t have any interior doors either.
THE GOOD LIFE: The conversion turned a derelict barn into a stunning family home that makes the most of the fantastic views.
OUTLOOK: Candle House in Granary Wharf, boasts a roof garden with spectacular 360 degree views.