Viewpoint: Erin Peart

April 2, 2019

North East Times’ property writer Chris Dobson talks with Erin Peart, head of property at Newcastle-based Hanro, about the changing property market and the opportunities that await the property development and investment company

I am aware of a number of buildings where the Hanro brand is evident, 71 Grey Street being one of them. Is your focus just on development within the Greater Newcastle area?

We are really proud to have established our heritage and roots in Newcastle but our investment portfolio is nationally based. Following our strategic portfolio review in 2015 we have funds to invest in new opportunities and are always looking to take our expertise and experience into new sectors and markets.

In order to allow the necessary time and use our local skills and knowledge, refurbishments and developments are usually closer to home for us in the North East.

This is more comprehensive than I expected. What is the driving force behind this across all sectors approach?

Hanro is committed to the North East. It is important we continue to be agile, diversification not only secures a sustainable steady growth for Hanro, but also adds value to our tenants by being able to support them as their commercial requirements change and evolve.

I referred to 71 Grey Street earlier. The redevelopment is stunning to say the least. Tell me more about the approach to delivering workspace fit for leading-edge businesses yet retaining the listed features in such an outstanding way.

It’s about listening. Firstly, to fully understand the challenges, requirements and sensitivities of the building, but secondly and more importantly to provide space that is useable and what the market wants.

The North East is reported to have the fastest growing Tech cluster outside of London and as landlords, we have to be forward thinking and accept shorter more flexible lease terms. The days of the institutional 20 years leases are long gone and smaller flexible offices, with lease flexibility are going to be, if there aren’t already, the norm.

Designing space to meet this need doesn’t mean erasing the parts of the building which make it individual, beautiful or memorable – instead it breathes fresh life into the space for regeneration, restoration and repurpose. The focal point of 71 Grey Street is the original and stunning central staircase, which we believe dates back to the 1800s. By installing modern lighting and carpets and replacing heavy wooden doors with glass doorsets, the refurb doesn’t try to eradicate the old, it blends the old and the new.

If it’s true that Newcastle has the second most listed buildings of any English city after Bath, does this mean we have an Aladdin’s cave in Newcastle’s Grainger Town with much yet to uncover and bring back to life?

That’s a fact I didn’t know, but if true we should be shouting about it. The core of the city centre is historically made up of smaller units. These individual properties, such as those in Grainger Town, create opportunities to house SMEs and start-up businesses. Refurbishment costs are always tricky on these smaller spaces, but by committing to the building and the region long-term we can make them stack up.

What are the issues when tackling an Historic England building, not just in relation to retaining features but upgrading to environmental standards for example?

It may initially seem like the owners of buildings and organisations such as Historic England, and Local Conservation Officers have different goals but really we are working to the same purpose, to sensitively restore a listed building to ensure it benefits the users and the North East for years to come. Working and building relationships is really important and was key in refurbishing 71 Grey Street.

Modern day services, such as air conditioning and raised floors are expensive to accommodate in older buildings. Refurbishing an older building is per sq ft more expensive than a new-build, but by using local architects and contractors who know the building, and more importantly the environment, we are able to bring these undervalued buildings back to life.

Cooper’s Studios on Westgate Road is another great example of how we worked closely with Historic England to restore a highly prominent and historical building for a completely new purpose. With help from the architects the original features and character of the building were preserved, but a functioning building which has fitted the tenant’s purpose for the last ten years has been created.

The focus quite naturally is on the provision of office space. Do you think there are wider opportunities to develop hotels and more residential units to bring life back not just into buildings but the city centre overall?

Recent initiatives including the Great Exhibition of the North and ambitious future plans such as the Whey Aye Wheel have really pushed Newcastle onto the map as a centre for tourism, leisure and innovation. Hanro has a role to play in supporting the region’s vision, sustainability and evolution through creating and developing new commercial opportunities which work for local businesses, attract new organisations, visitors and talent to the area and define the region on the UK map for the years to come. Whether there is any further market for hotel or student accommodation in the city is to be seen, and like many others, I believe these markets are probably saturated. But city centre living definitely plays a part in creating a vibrant core and is something that we are keen to develop in the city centre.