Viewpoint: Gordon Hewling

February 3, 2020

In this issue of Viewpoint, North East Times’ property writer Chris Dobson talks to Gordon Hewling, managing director of Avison Young, about the contribution the latest UK office of the world’s fastest-growing commercial real estate services firm can make to the North East

Arriving at the name Avison Young has been quite a journey for a property team which has seen several rebrands over the years, from GVA Grimley onwards. What does this story of corporate change tell us about the property sector?

Similar change has been taking place for decades as property consultancies went global and niche regional practices merged with major players. Here in Newcastle, we saw it first with the GVA/ Lamb & Edge merger, and now on a larger scale. We are pleased by the revenue that has been created through immediate synergies without us having to put infrastructure in place.

You are clearly delighted to be part of the Canadian-based business described as the world’s fastest-growing commercial real estate services firm which, like GVA, has a history going back 200 years. What direction will the business now take?

We plan to make a series of acquisitions in Europe as we seek to double our global revenues over the next five years, creating a spine through the centre of Europe running from Dublin and London, through Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Warsaw, and then build beyond that into Spain, Italy and Scandinavia, to ensure we are in the main markets.

The last two years or so have seen some uncertainty in the British economy and yet there has been a noticeable high level of activity in the commercial property sector, often involving overseas investors. What have the last few years been like for you?

North East market activity has remained remarkably robust, with our investment, office and industrial teams continuing to transact a range of sales, acquisitions and lettings in these core sectors as well as, to a lesser extent, in retail, specialist properties and residential land. Volume overall was down, particularly in 2019, due to political and economic uncertainties, but there are numerous lettings and investment transactions taking place, together with a promising pipeline of work. Prime industrial locations have also reached investment levels, which support unaided development. The election result should be seen as a positive result for the UK, Europe and the real estate market and an improvement in sentiment and transactions is expected. Similarly, our consultancy-based teams, such as planning and project management, continue to work on major schemes. A key advantage for those teams is their ability to provide very commercial advice, sitting alongside their market-facing colleagues, securing long-term income for the firm. Overseas demand has historically focused on London and the South East, although over the last two years the increased level of overseas money wanting to invest has resulted in demand in the UK’s main regional centres, including Newcastle. This has recently been demonstrated by an Avison Young acquisition of Quorum Business Park, in Newcastle, on behalf of a UK/Swiss joint venture for in excess of £30 million. We have been retained to let the vacant space. In addition, we are seeing investment in regeneration from institutions such as Legal & General at Newcastle Helix, where we are joint letting agent. The scheme is an excellent advertisement for all those concerned in both the public and private sectors. It is fair to say the North East market can be challenging, with some schemes needing some form of intervention to help pump prime development, which then go on to be extremely successful.

Moving Avison Young forward, what will be the core philosophy underlying your business plan?

The major national priority is to bring the component parts of both organisations together, and beef up any weaknesses. There are real opportunities for further recruitment of key players who can help grow the business within the UK and across Europe. Locally, we already work well together as a team, combining both our market-facing knowledge and consultancy advice. We see the public sector having a big part to play in the success of the region and will continue to work closely with the local authorities and other agencies. Allied to this, is a continuation of the multi-faceted advice we are giving to developers, investors, funders and occupiers.

Looking specifically at Newcastle, which is going through an amazing development programme, what has the firm contributed to this process?

The firm is proud to have made a significant contribution to many of the major schemes currently underway in Newcastle. We provided initial consultancy advice in respect of the creation of what is now called Newcastle Helix and continue to be involved as letting agent. That is a really exciting scheme for the city and a game-changer in terms of the ability to attract inward investment. Another significant contribution is our involvement with the Pilgrim Street regeneration scheme. We have helped assemble, manage and clear the site. We are now coming to the most exciting phase, with delivery about to commence. This scheme will change the streetscape and skyline of the city for the better over the next five or more years.

What do you think are the underlying strengths of the North East overall and how best should these be promoted?

One of the key strengths is the relationship between the public and private sectors, where we see a can-do attitude. We act for most local authorities and I am constantly impressed by the dedication they have to improving our economy and environment. We are one of the main sponsors of the North East delegation at MIPIM, which is an excellent example of public and private sectors working together. I talk to my colleagues around the country and they look at the working partnership with envy.

Any final thoughts?

I am proud to manage the Avison Young office in Newcastle. We do feel we are making a difference whether this is our involvement with the major schemes or our firm-wide DAY of Giving, where locally we helped Newcastle City Council improve the environment within the West End. As a firm, we have come a long way since the days of Lamb & Edge. However, as I look around the office, I see a strong core of people – something like 25 per cent – who have been with us for 20 years or more. This forms part of the excellent cohort and it gives us continuity, together with a wealth of experience within the market, for the future.

Avison Young

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Monthly Report - February 2020