Viewpoint: Ben Hunter

November 5, 2019

North East Times’ property writer Chris Dobson talks to Ben Hunter, director at Silverstone Building Consultancy, about the first ten years of the business and the way ahead

You and your co-director Richard Farrey celebrated your tenth anniversary this year. How would you describe reaching this landmark?

In one word – fast! The last ten years have passed very quickly, and the business has matured considerably during this time. We set out to create a small business that is run like a larger corporate. In most areas of our business we have succeeded in doing this with organised systems of working and a strong commitment to ‘continuous improvement’ as per the Kaizen approach.

Building consultancy covers a broad range of services to the built environment sector. Is it a case of a typical client using all services on a particular project or do they cherry pick using, perhaps, just dilapidations, for example?

One of Silverstone’s unique selling points is that we specialise in building consultancy and do not have a conflict of interest with agents or valuers when working on a particular property transaction or project. The majority of our turnover comes from the core service lines of building surveys, project management, dilapidations and contract administration. Some clients know us for only one of the service lines as this is what they regularly turn to us for. As a commercially-minded team, we regularly discuss having empathy for the wider business issues facing our clients and try to work out how our skills can assist them in making key business decisions. Most businesses operate from premises that require investment to buy, maintain, adapt, refurbish or sell. So while we may initially be approached for a building survey, once we understand the client’s business, we can often also assist them with other issues relating to their property.

I see you first established an office in Milburn House, Dean Street, but two years later you leased four floors at 19 Grey Street. This seems meteoritic growth in such a short timescale. How has this been achieved?

Our growth has been relatively conservative and planned over the last ten years. We have grown our turnover and then invested this into creating new jobs, which has, in turn, led to further growth as the new members of the team learned the Silverstone way and developed their own capabilities. By the time we left Milburn House, we were rather cosy. Grey Street has provided a great opportunity for us to grow, creating space for meeting rooms, a library/research room and better facilities for the team, which include a part-time gym on the fourth floor.

Tell me more about the Grey Street offices. I understand you first saw the space when acting as contract administrator to design and comprehensively and sympathetically restore the listed premises to a very good standard?

Our client, St Cuthbert Estates, owns the freehold of 19 Grey Street. We were instructed to review the condition of the property following the departure of the previous tenant. At that moment we saw an opportunity to consider the space for Silverstone’s own use. The building was in a poor state of repair internally and externally. It has proven to be a good case study for us showing how we can restore an existing building, which is listed with the associated restrictions, into a building that is fit for purpose for a modern occupier. The building has great character and we receive many compliments from visitors.

I take it these offices are your headquarters. Does this mean your focus is restricted just to the North East?

Two years ago we anticipated we would benefit from having a larger geographical presence. We live here, work here and have good commercial and business networks here. We wanted to attract clients from London, Edinburgh and potentially abroad who want to invest and work with property in the North of England. We therefore felt a presence in Leeds would benefit us in attracting clients who are based outside of the region. I was very familiar with Leeds, having worked there for six years of my early career, and it is very accessible. We have appointed Ben Rennocks as a director of the business and opened an office in Park Square. Ben is a director of the whole business and the ethos of the company is to work as a team helping one another. We have also recently appointed a non-executive director, David Nurser. David lives in London and used to run a larger but similar business to Silverstone. David has brought experience at board level and is constantly encouraging, while keeping us on our toes.

Are you just focused on commercial property?

Silverstone Building Consultancy is focused on commercial property and this is our core business. Over two years ago we established a subsidiary company called Silverstone Residential Surveys Limited. This was in response to regular requests to undertake residential surveys. We built a business model with the benefit of IT platforms and employed a dedicated residential surveyor.

I am sure readers would be interested in your current instructions. Could you take me through some of your larger contracts and timescale associated with them?

Last year we undertook inspections for Aldi supermarkets. This included 76 stores in Scotland and approaching 100 stores around the Midlands area. Aldi wanted confirmation of condition of certain elements of their properties and needed an independent view on this from suitably qualified chartered surveyors. We recently project managed the construction of a new purpose-built automotive facility for a French company called SNOP, which is a tier one supply company to Nissan. The project value was £15 million, and the building extends to 194,000 sq ft. The scheme was designed, tendered and a contractor appointed within a short six-month timeframe, with the project commencing in June 2018 and completing in July 2019. We are also working on a contract administration project for the Alan Shearer Centre, a new build student accommodation scheme in Newcastle city centre, a major industrial refurbishment for Chinese car parts manufacturer Minth Group, and a second warehouse refurbishment project for a high-end retailer.

Silverstone Building Consultancy

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