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.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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