Always looking to the future

HBD Director and Head of Region, JUSTIN SHELDON, took a keen interest in property from an early age. Today, he’s looking forward to overseeing some important and exciting developments in the Midlands.

My father was an Architect and I’d often be out on site with him holding the end of a tape measure, so I guess I always thought I’d end up in the property industry in some shape or form.

I soon realised however I was going to need some artistic ability to make architecture a career, as it was before the days when everything was designed on CAD. Unfortunately, that counted me out! I started a civil and structural engineering degree instead initially, before taking the decision to migrate into surveying – a discipline which seemed to bring everything together for me.

After gaining valuable experience in the sector, I joined Henry Boot seven years ago. This was the first national developer I’d worked for and I very much like the fact that we benefit from being a PLC and a corporate, while still having a family feel.  Not just in the literal sense, but also in the ethos here and the way we work together collaboratively.

I opened the Birmingham office in 2017 to grow the business in the Midlands, once we knew that the volume of projects in the pipeline warranted a permanent presence in the region. It’s not just for practical reasons. We’re asking other people to invest in the region, so we need to demonstrate that we believe in it too.

The last 12 months have certainly been interesting. We’ve had to look very carefully at our strategy, of course, and it’s evolved into two main strands. On the one hand, we’re focused on Industrial and Logistics, while on the other, it’s Urban Regeneration – both commercial and residential.

New Horizon in Nottingham is the 48-acre former Imperial Tobacco site, acquired in 2017. It’s going to be developed focusing on urban logistics, which represents a real gear shift. There’s more online ordering than ever and it pays to be on the doorstep of your customers. Not to mention the ease with which you’re able to recruit staff in the heart of a city.

Another important project is Phoenix 10 in Walsall – a 40-acre site between Junctions 9 and 10 of the M6. It’s empty and derelict, so the plan is to remediate first and then regenerate it into employment units – focused again on the industrial sector.

In terms of residential, we’ve acquired Cornwall House in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, which was bought unconditionally in a matter of weeks thanks to our strong cash position. We’re awaiting a planning decision on the site that will feature around 100 units.

Of course, there’s a commercial side to urban regeneration too. Town centre schemes can involve offices, retail and leisure – perhaps complementing residential elements. We’re open minded about the opportunities that lie ahead.

We’ve worked very effectively remotely during the pandemic, by embracing technology. I think it’s fair to say we’re all keen to get back to the office in due course, but we have made the past year work seamlessly. It’s just as well, because it’s a very active market.

People need somewhere to live and housing numbers mean new units are required. Is there a flight to the suburbs as some are suggesting? I wonder if actually we’ll see a flight back to the city centres, with people craving interaction and the ease of meeting other people that brings. They may value living close to where they work and where they can access leisure facilities that they have been missing these past 12 months.

Brexit has probably given something of a boost to the industrial and logistics market, as companies need more storage space in the UK. There’s more onshoring and – in the aftermath of the coronavirus particularly – more online shopping, of course. Capital markets are certainly interested in I&L and urban logistics right now helping to fuel speculative development.

With funds available, we can be flexible in the type of opportunities we look at – taking strategic land without planning, funding the process ourselves all the way through, to oven- ready development sites. We also work closely in partnership on a number of our schemes, across both the public and private sectors, using our expertise and funding to unlock sites to generate revenue to match our partners’ regeneration objectives of attracting investment and creating jobs. We are also actively growing our investment portfolio.

Flexibility will be a hallmark of our success in the years ahead.

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