March 5, 2019
Like a proud father introducing his talented family, Neil Robson enthusiastically presents Lesley Fairclough and Robin Atkin as the past, present and future of Ward Hadaway’s ambitious and engaging property team. Collectively, the trusted trio are the face of experience and progress: responsible, in part, for shaping many of the North East’s most recognisable landmarks and key to shaping the region’s fast-changing urban and rural landscape.
And Neil is right to feel proud as his former charges pour forth their expert knowledge and reveal a longstanding passion for the region they call home. Both Lesley and Robin learnt their trade under the careful stewardship of a property expert synonymous with Ward Hadaway’s evolution during the last three decades. Indeed, Neil talks about their transition from protégés to partners with genuine affection and freely admits their valued contribution to the firm’s sector-leading senior property team has helped to shape a department in demand.
“In the 1990s I started specialising, particularly in planning and development,” he explains. “Ward Hadaway set up a property team and that team was made up of a number of lawyers and chartered town planners which was a little bit different for a law firm.
“Robin joined in 1996 and Lesley had been part of the team since 1990. All three of us are what you might describe as homegrown talent and, as Ward Hadaway celebrates its 30th anniversary, we’re all still here!”
From the outset Ward Hadaway demonstrated a propensity for cutting through the haze of property law and that skill saw Neil’s department turn over in excess of £10 million during the course of the last financial year.
“It was one of the main reasons Ward Hadaway was formed way back in 1988,” he explains. “The firm was an amalgamation of two local firms and one of those firms worked closely with Barratt Homes. The merger created an opportunity to provide a broader legal service to Barratt and we remain proud of our relationship with Barratt to this day.
“Planning is a major part of house building and development in general. Alongside town planners we felt we were able to take sites from cradle to grave – we would take a greenfield site and see what the opportunities were for development.
“We would put in a planning application and if that planning application was granted, then fine. If not, then the planning team could take on the appeal to the next stage and, if necessary, to the High Court.
“This is a people business. People instruct people. People will instruct people if they rate them, they like them, they trust them and they want to work with them. It’s always been a relationship business for us here at Ward Hadaway.”
“We offered the full gamut of planning advice and resources and it was something a little bit different at that stage. It remains the case today – planning is a major part of our larger property practice and it’s still growing.”
Long and loyal service is common to all three partners heading up Ward Hadaway’s property department. Listen to the trio wax lyrical about the various high profile projects that they and colleagues have helped to helm, or hear them chat excitedly about the firm’s growth plans, and it’s clear why none have felt the need to move on. Pooling their resources, three of the North East’s foremost property experts make for a powerful proposition.
“It was obvious from the start that the firm was on a massive growth trajectory,” adds Lesley. “And, in fact, that’s one of the pictures that was painted to me when I was interviewed. That’s what appealed to me enormously – the chance to be part of something young, growing and exciting. We really were the new kids on the block.
“I jumped at the chance to join the property department knowing that it was a very, very exciting place to be. People were watching us closely because we were gaining new clients all of the time.
“And from little acorns grow big oaks. With each growth spurt the firm has given me the next set of challenges I feel I’ve needed in order to progress my career. It’s been exciting and inspiring to be part of something so successful.
“We’ve added a range of weapons to our war chest and we are now able, as a property team, to service most of the key sectors operating within the wider property sector.”
During his 23 years with Ward Hadaway, Robin, a Teessider, who now lives in the Tyne Valley and divides his down time between his two daughters and sport, has watched the firm’s property department adapt to the changing needs of clients and expand its footprint across northern England. Like Lesley and Neil, he remains fully committed to what promises to be an exciting future.
“I was very fortunate that we moved to the ‘new’ premises on Newcastle’s Quayside after just three or four months with the firm,” adds Robin. “It was a really exciting time to join and you could see how the firm was developing. To see how it’s grown over the years with the opening of offices in Leeds and Manchester has been wonderful.
“For me, one of the biggest positives has been the way we have adapted to provide our legal services to clients as their needs have changed.
“It’s also really pleasing to see that a lot of the clients that we had within the firm when I was a trainee are still clients today. That has allowed us to develop positive, personal relationships with individuals and organisations across the North East. That’s certainly one of the most rewarding parts of the job.”
Relationship building is a theme revisited by all three partners. That killer combination of experience and expertise counts for so much but add a personal touch and it’s clear to see why Ward Hadaway continues to act for many of the region’s leading players in property development.
“I always remember what I was taught early in my career,” adds Lesley. “This is a people business. People instruct people. People will instruct people if they rate them, they like them, they trust them and they want to work with them. It’s always
been a relationship business for us here at Ward Hadaway.
“There is a whole plethora of clients that we have watched grow and we have grown with them. Why? Because we’ve listened and we’ve gone
out of our way to have those more commercial, wider business conversations rather than focusing solely on getting the legal job done. As a result, our clients feel as though they are instructing people who truly understand them and ‘get’ their businesses.”
Neil agrees. “Our whole ethos is built around the phrase ‘clients come first’,” he adds. “We like to get to know our clients and get to know what they’re doing. We’re a big commercial firm but we don’t always concentrate on the big ticket work. As my granny used to say – little fish are sweet. If it’s important to our client then we’ll take on any job, however big or small. That’s the way we’ve always worked.”
Nevertheless, it’s the so-called ‘big ticket’ contracts that have forged Ward Hadaway’s steely reputation as property law specialists. The redevelopment of Scotswood, in the west end of Newcastle, the construction of Sunderland’s Beacon Of Light and the development of The Sill – the UK’s National Landscape Discovery Centre – in Northumberland all bear the hallmark of the firm’s expert instruction.
“At the time the Scotswood scheme was the largest housing-led regeneration project in the UK,” explains Lesley. “In that case the council entered into a joint venture with two of our housebuilder clients and the area was transformed. It’s become a very pleasant place to live and it’s emerged as a perfect corridor to populate with housing and retail.
“The Beacon Of Light project came about as a result of our relationship with Sir Bob Murray and The Foundation of Light. There was an opportunity to develop facilities that Sir Bob and the foundation felt were needed by the population of Sunderland and we worked very hard to see that job through to fruition. We were involved right from the planning stage through to the delivery of a complex scheme in terms of the multi-faceted use of the building.”
Equally complex was Ward Hadaway’s role in The Sill. Neil takes up the story. “It’s a multi- million pound development in a very sensitive rural location right next to the Roman Wall,” he adds. “So from day one it was always going to be a complicated project. Our clients were the National Park, who doubled up as the planning authority, and so they had to apply to themselves for planning consent.
“We acted for the National Park Authority as developer, at the planning stage, to secure a planning consent for that development. But following on from that, we were able to help with a lot of property work because there was an arrangement to be done with the Youth Hostel Association, who have a facility there, and various commercial and construction agreements to iron out.
“We were able to offer the full range of our services to ensure an important facility within a World Heritage Site could be developed. It took a lot of care and a lot of judgment, in legal terms, to guide the client properly through the whole process.”
Care and judgement could be buzzwords where Ward Hadaway is concerned. From their impressive vantage point on the banks of the Tyne – looking across to Sage Gateshead and the Baltic – three North Easterners born and bred care deeply about their work and their environment and judge their advice accordingly.
Thirty years down the line and it feels as if this is simply the end of the beginning for Ward Hadaway’s property department – a team that’s still laying down the foundations for a long and celebrated legacy.