Business Live Feature: Paul Morris, Development Director, St James Securities Ltd
Firstly, could you explain a bit about SJS and yourself, please?
St James Securities was founded in 1982 and is an owner-managed commercial property development company based in Leeds. Over the years we have delivered a number of ambitious developments across the North of England, including St Paul’s Place in Sheffield and the award-winning Round Foundry in Leeds.
The company was the subject of a management buy-out in 2013 and our current focus is the identification, acquisition and delivery of urban regeneration and retail warehouse schemes.
Our work has been recognised nationally and internationally, including the RICS International Project of the Year award for our work at The Round Foundry in Leeds.
I am a Chartered Surveyor and have more than 30 years’ experience in the commercial property sector. I have worked in the development field since 2007. Prior to that I was director and head of agency for Lambert Smith Hampton in Leeds
Whilst I’m involved in the entire development process, my focus is predominantly on the sourcing and negotiating of land acquisitions, design development and tenant pre-lets. I have particular expertise in funding and deal structuring.
When did the company first become involved in the Becketwell scheme?
We first became involved in the Becketwell scheme in early 2017, just after Derby City Council had purchased the Debenhams site on Victoria Street from intu. We had already worked with Russell Rigby from Rigby & Co on a previous development in Derbyshire. He firmly believed in the untapped potential of Derby city centre and encouraged us to come down and take a look.
We spent a full day in the city centre with Russell and began to understand the full potential of the Becketwell area. This was at the time when Derby City Council had plans to develop an ice rink on the Duckworth Square site.
We returned to Leeds and discussed the Becketwell area in detail. We came to the conclusion that to look at the former Debenhams site in isolation would not do the city justice. There was clearly potential for a much bigger transformational offer which would achieve a full regeneration of the area.
As a result, we started to look more widely and consider the potential of the Duckworth Square area and worked with our design team to formulate a vision and masterplan.
In a nutshell, what is the Becketwell scheme and what does it hope to deliver?
The scheme will comprise of a £200m regeneration of the Becketwell area. Phase one of the scheme comprises of plans for 342 Build to Rent apartments on the site of the former Debenhams store on Victoria Street and a new public square on the site of the current United Reformed Church.
The residential development will comprise of two buildings, the tallest of which will extend up to 19 storeys in height. This building will contain 246 apartments over a ground floor café and restaurant overlooking the new square.
The smaller building will house 96 apartments with a convenience store at ground floor fronting Victoria Street. In response to local feedback, the building has been carefully designed to retain the curve of the existing buildings to the Victoria Street frontage.
The outline planning application is supported by a request to include a range of other complementary uses of the site, including up to 25,000m2 of new grade A offices, innovation centre and leisure to complement the residential and a planned multi-storey car park, with a smaller courtyard public square called Summerhill Yard to reflect that part of the site’s historic street name.
It has been quite a lengthy and complicated process of putting together the jigsaw of land and properties to form the development site. Where are we at with that jigsaw puzzle?
As schemes of this size goes, this project hasn’t really been a lengthy one. We have developed a number of schemes of this scale and they normally follow a similar time frame.
Derby City Council have been instrumental in unlocking the potential of this key site. They had the forethought to acquire the Duckworth Square site and saw the opportunity to buy Debenhams and the Colyear Street sites.
One of the main reasons why the site has failed in the past is because of the previously fragmented ownerships. Derby City Council’s purchase of the Debenhams and Colyear Street sites has unlocked the final piece of the jigsaw which has made the whole scheme a lot more viable.
St James Securities have now purchased some properties and options over others and our contracts with the Council were exchanged in August and will complete once we secure a satisfactory planning consent.
Clearly, the scheme still hinges on the Debenhams site – this site was always needed before any additional plans could be made.
Sometimes it needs a third-party view to bring a vision to life. St James Securities has experience of coming into a new city and seeing things afresh. We have been able to give an ‘out-of-Derby’ perspective to this project.
What has been the reaction to the plans locally?
The reaction to date from neighbours, local businesses, the city’s key stakeholders and the general public has been extremely heartening.
A consultation event, which was staged at the intu centre in March was extremely positive, with more than 95% positive responses to the scheme.
Since then, Derby City Council has been welcoming comments on its planning portal. To date, more than twice as many letters of support have been received in favour of the revitalisation of an area which has long been derelict, attracting crime and anti-social behaviour.
While there has been positive reactions to the scheme, what would you say to its detractors?
We acknowledged from the very beginning that the Derby Civic Society and those with an interest in conservation matters would show considerable interest in what we are putting forward.
We have listened to what they have said and respect their viewpoint, but we won’t always agree.
When you attempt to bring such a transformational scheme together, sometimes you need to shift perceptions; you need to create something of scale and unfortunately you can’t always do this with a light touch.
We are always aware of the huge burden of responsibility we have to the public and their city to make sure what we deliver both respects conservation areas and the historic buildings, but does truly transform an area which ultimately makes a positive contribution to the lives of the people of Derby.
We have already addressed concerns by amending the height of the building from Victoria Street and moving the lift housing on the roof to introduce a brand-new view of the Cathedral.
What stage are we at in terms of planning and what timescales are you working to (I appreciate these can change!)?
We are well into the planning phase and hope to secure planning permission in the New Year.
Work on the demolition of the former Debenhams building started in September and is set to be completed in May 2020. Construction work on the first phase of development set to commence in 2020.
How confident are you of attracting the necessary funding for such a large scheme? Do you see Brexit playing a part?
I would be lying if I didn’t say that Brexit is currently playing a part in every investment decision in every city in the UK at present. The sooner there is a resolution one way or another it will provide clarity for all. Notwithstanding this, we are confident about securing funding and are currently in discussions with a number of funders.
Clearly, this is a golden opportunity for the city to finally do something with Becketwell after so many false starts (health centre/ice rink etc). What is the thinking behind the mixed-use approach and how do you see the development overall having an impact on the surrounding area (Cathedral Quarter and St Peters Quarter) and the city as a whole?
This mixed-used approach makes the whole scheme sustainable and we hope it will turn around the fortunes of the surrounding area and the wider city centre.
The success of the intu Centre has changed where people shop and shifted the city centre to the west, to the detriment of this side of the city centre.
Diminishing footfall and pressure from online retailers has changed the face of the high street and changed the type of experience that shoppers want.
Housing, commerce and leisure creates a vibrant city centre, where people can live, shop, work and dine.
The Becketwell scheme is a microcosm of what makes a successful city centre. It creates a ripple effect and provides confidence in a city centre.
People who already own property in the area may also benefit from our £200m investment as it will encourage other businesses and residents to move into the area.
Also, it will attract other investors looking for further opportunities. We hope to create a city centre office base once again, which we hope will give other developers the confidence to build more new offices.
This site has suffered from a number of false dawns over the years; we are confident that we can create a scheme that the city can be proud of.