St Paul’s Developments moves out of dark and into the future

FACED with empty property rates bills from newly-built commercial buildings and falling rental values, in 2008 St Paul’s Developments embarked on one of the darkest periods in its 18-year history.

The Barnsley-based firm, which had a portfolio of over 500 acres of land and gained an enviable reputation for the successful regeneration of brownfield sites, was forced to make 20 per cent of its workforce redundant when demand plummeted and costs rose.

But now the developer has announced plans to drive forward a number of new projects in South and West Yorkshire after experiencing an increase in occupier demand across its sites over the last 12 months.

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Managing director David Newton said: “People realise that life goes on and you can’t stop altogether. It was very black in the late part of 2008 but we have improved from that and the outlook is more positive.”

Current projects include building an 83,000 sq ft factory for caravan equipment manufacturer Thetford at Brookfields Park in Rotherham, which is due to be completed by the end of the year.

In addition, the company is building phase four of Cortonwood Retail Park in Rotherham with the construction of a 15,000 sq ft store for Smyths Toys alongside a 10,000 sq ft store for Dreams. St Paul’s is also building an extra 7,500 sq ft store to let.

Development at both sites was accelerated earlier this year to take advantage of the tax benefits from the previous round of enterprise zones, which came to an end in April. St Paul’s sold the investments for the buildings in April for a total of £21m.

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Mr Newton said: “The way construction works it would be very difficult to go back and build at a later date but we think with Dreams and Smyths trading, the empty unit will prove quite attractive.”

A lack of occupiers at a number of schemes led to the developer paying out thousands of pounds in empty property rates during the recession.

One of the developer’s biggest headaches was Smithy Wood Business Park near Sheffield. Phase one of the scheme, which included six offices and two industrial buildings, was built just before the recession, boosted by £3m of Objective One European funding.

But over the past 12 months, it has attracted a number of businesses from the medical, specialist engineering and metals sectors, leaving only one office and one industrial building unoccupied.

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In addition, Cutting and Wear, which manufactures coatings for oil and gas exploration equipment, is in the middle of building a new 45,000 sq ft manufacturing base on the site.

“We originally built the park because we had some Objective One funding from the European Regional Development Fund,” said Mr Newton. “We ended up having to pay empty rates and deals we were doing weren’t as good as we thought they would be. However, we have managed to fill up Smithy Wood over the last 12 months, which is good given that 18 months ago it didn’t look like we were going to do that.”

Meanwhile, the developer was also left with empty offices at Phoenix Riverside in Rotherham and industrial space at Premier Park in Doncaster, which have now attracted tenants including 50,000 sq ft to BJS Storage at Premier Park and 6,500 sq ft to BT at Phoenix Riverside.

Future projects include a 250 unit residential scheme at Cortonwood for which detailed planning consent has been secured, a mixed-use scheme at a 100-acre former chemical works in Knottingley, West Yorkshire, which it bought in 2008 and recently decommissioned. In addition, Whitbread is hoping to build an 80-bed Premier Inn at Phoenix Park.

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Mr Newton said: “It is very quiet but, despite that, we have got a couple of next phase of inquiries which, if they come off, will take us through the next 12 months quite comfortably.”

He added: “We are cautiously moving forward. The speculative funding market is still some way away but we have got a good relationship with a number of banks and that has improved.”

specialist in brownfield sites

ST Paul’s Developments was launched in 1990 and has a portfolio of projects amounting to over 500 acres of business, office and retail parks.

The Barnsley-based company, which employs seven staff, specialises in regenerating and developing brownfield sites.

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The regeneration of the Cortonwood Colliery in Rotherham was the company’s first major project and is now in phase four of its development.

Another major project includes Smithy Wood, a 50-acre former opencast site a couple hundred yards from Junction 35 of the M1. It gained planning consent to turn the site into a major new business park with around one million sq ft of offices, warehouses and industrial units.

The first phase of the project – six offices and two industrial buildings – has been completed and is currently 75 per cent let.