Work to start on phase two of £2m rural park

AN entrepreneur who decided to transform a dilapidated farm into a four-acre business park during the property downturn is about to start the second phase of his £2m project.

White Rose Office Park in Leeds.

Chris Bingham, who bought the site in Hebden Bridge in 2011 after looking for a base for his new heating oil company, will convert 130,000 sq ft of semi-derelict farm buildings as part of the second and final phase.

He has already converted the same amount of space as part of the first phase of Craggs Country Business Park and plans to complete the next stage in 2015.

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Mr Bingham said: “I decided to invest in commercial property and build the oil business at the same time. The oil business is one of 15 companies based there.”

The business park is a mix of industrial units and serviced office space.

Current tenants include a purpose built swimming pool, which houses Swim Stars a swim teaching facility, and organic skincare factory Greenwood Organics, as well as a self-storage business, engineers unit and a range of businesses in its office suites.

Mr Bingham currently oversees a number of property and business interests following a 20-year IT career.

He sold his Hebden Bridge-based software company Aspire to US firm Concentrix, the global business outsourcing division of SYNNEX Corporation, in November 2010.

“I had spent 20 years in the IT industry and I wanted to do something different,” he said. “The IT company needed to raise cash so I thought it was the right time to sell.”

Mr Bingham decided to set up fuel distributor Craggs Energy, selling heating oil to rural homes, farms and commercial enterprises.

He added: “I was looking around for areas in which to create a new business. We use heating oil at home and I thought the general pricing models and service levels from suppliers weren’t what I wanted.

“It may have been a rash decision but I decided to set up a new business.”

Mr Bingham said his initial ambition for Craggs Energy was to build a business that could service the local area where he lived but it has exceeded expectations after growing to a £20m turnover in less than four years.

Initially Craggs Energy was set up as one of the tenants in the business park and never intended to grow but now the company has more than 5,000 customers and is growing at a rate of 50-100 new customers a week.

The company, which was launched with two tankers and a base in Hebden Bridge, now has four sites across Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria employing 37 staff. It also has 11 vehicles.

“It’s not a straightforward industry to get involved in but my background in IT and sales and marketing has helped,” said Mr Bingham.

One of the key drivers behind the company’s fast expansion was the acquisition of the former Samuel Cooke depot in Burnley in 2012.

It bought the site and four tankers after Samuel Cook went into administration and set up the depot using the local knowledge of two of its former employees.

It also has sites in Sheffield and Kirkby Lonsdale.

“We wanted a number of smaller depots because it’s expensive to carry oil as it’s heavy so we need it to be close to where we sell it,” said Mr Bingham.

The firm’s latest development is the launch of a fixed price tariff for oil in what it claims is an industry first.

Mr Bingham said the new tariff would stop people being “at the mercy of a fragmented market” and “unpredictable pricing” from suppliers.

Most of the 1.5m customers which need heating oil tend to be in rural areas but the home heating oil market is unregulated and prices are set on the day the oil is bought.

Mr Bingham said: “The big request from customers was for fixed prices so last year we ran a pilot in Yorkshire of 40 customers and the feedback was positive so we have spent the last six months building a system to enable us to roll it out to the rest of our customers.

He added: “The industry has always offered fixed prices on a large commercial level but this is the first time we have been able to do it at our level.”