Cranes in skyline signal return of optimism to Leeds, says PwC

An artist impression of Central Square
An artist impression of Central Square
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LEEDS is seeing a resurgence in confidence and construction work, according to the head of PwC in Yorkshire and the North East.

The Big Four accountancy firm this week signed a deal to relocate its 700-strong team to the £100m Central Square office development in Leeds.

Richard Bland of Marrico, Arif Ahmad of PwC and Mark Barnes from Marrico

Richard Bland of Marrico, Arif Ahmad of PwC and Mark Barnes from Marrico

Ian Morrison, regional leader for PwC, said Leeds is “undoubtedly more optimistic than a couple of years ago and with cranes in the skyline there is definitely a revival in development, with Central Square kick starting development in the west of the city”.

MEPC is developing two new office blocks at the nearby Wellington Place scheme.

Global law firm Squire Patton Boggs, which has 270 staff in Leeds, has signed up for 32,000 sq ft of space.

KPMG is due to move into its new premises of its own at a 60,000 sq ft office at Sovereign Square this autumn.

Arif Ahmad, senior office partner for PwC in Leeds, said the new Central Square scheme will be “the city’s most iconic building” and will set the standard for office design in the region.

PwC has agreed to take nearly 55,000 sq ft on the seventh and eighth floors and hopes to be in place by next summer.

The Yorkshire Post revealed in 2013 that Yorkshire entrepreneurs Steve Parkin and Gurnaik Chima bought the site through their investment vehicle Roydhouse Properties.

It was previously earmarked for the Lumiere towers, an ambitious project that fell victim to the property crash.

Roydhouse is believed to have paid £5m to £6m for the site.

It is said to have made a return of four to five times through its sale in late 2014 to M&G Real Estate, one of the world’s largest property investors.

Mr Parkin said: “Gurnaik Chima and I are delighted to have led the Central Square project.

“For many years, Leeds saw very little significant city centre development and we are pleased that Central Square will create a truly iconic landmark.

“It was particularly important that we created a building that would enhance the commercial infrastructure of Leeds.”

Aaron Pope, leasing director at M&G Real Estate, said one of his firm’s investment strategies has been to fund prime assets in the regional markets.

He added: “Central Square is a prime scheme in terms of location, scale and design and with the Leeds office market undersupplied we expect to see strong asset performance through rental growth.”

The deal will cost PwC around £10m and allows the firm to move out of Benson House, its home for the last 20 years. The Big Four firm was courted by a number of developers.

Mr Ahmad said PwC has room to grow at Central Square by up to 15 per cent. He added: “That’s key to our aspirations. Across our practice we are growing double digits again.

“Our year end runs to the end of June and on the back of growing at nine per cent last year we are growing strongly and we expect that to continue.”

Pie in the sky to firm favourite

One of Arif Ahmad’s first tasks on becoming senior partner at PwC in Leeds in two years ago was to determine the firm’s office strategy.

He started speaking to a number of developers about different options when Marrico Asset Management turned up and declared it was going to create the city’s most iconic office building at the former Lumiere site and wanted PwC as the anchor tenant.

Mr Ahmad said Marrico went from rank outsider with a “pie in the sky concept” to firm favourite and the partners’ unanimous choice.

The sale of the site to M&G Real Estate provided certainty and PwC signed the contract yesterday, said Mr Ahmad who turns 40 today.