KPMG commits to key site for headquarters

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IN language that only an accountant could use, KPMG office senior partner Chris Hearld says his firm’s new headquarters in Yorkshire will provide “some very intangible benefits”.

In other words, news that a Big Four accountancy firm is committing to a development worth £30m in a depressed property market can be taken as a statement of confidence in both Leeds and the wider region.

KPMG has agreed terms to become anchor tenant of the Sovereign Square development, which promises to regenerate a key site linking the north and south of the city.

Mr Hearld talks of the impact that the project could have among the business community and potential investors.

“There’s a hidden benefit in people feeling a bit more confident and seeing some good news knocking around the place,” he told the Yorkshire Post.

The development adds to the pipeline of forthcoming projects including the Trinity Leeds and Eastgate Quarters shopping centres, the Leeds Arena and the Advanced Medical Park.

In his first interview since taking the top job, Mr Hearld said he sees “a lot of positivity about Leeds and the business opportunities we have all got. Leeds has changed a lot so why shouldn’t it change again? It’s probably long overdue.”

KPMG moved into its current home on The Embankment in the late 1980s, at the time when Asda House was built on the other side of the River Aire. The city has transformed itself over the intervening quarter of a century with the rise of the professional services sector.

Mr Hearld said the new development will regenerate “a problem site” in the southern half of the city, which has been a council-owned car park since the Queen’s Hall music venue was demolished in 1989.

The KPMG building, one of three planned for the development, will comprise 61,000 sq ft of grade-A office space and offers the firm 20 per cent more space than its existing HQ.

Artist impressions show a futuristic building with big glass fins. The internal office space will be open plan with a large atrium. The building, yet to be named, will feature a sun terrace overlooking green space planned for the surrounding area.

Mr Hearld described the move is as a “big deal” for the firm. “It’s good for the staff, good for the clients and it offers something for the city,” he said.

“If it hits all these three objectives it’s done its job for us. This has always been an important location for the firm. Historically it’s a significant market for us.

“The firm was born in the North. It’s always going to have a strong presence in this market.”

KPMG has between 750-800 staff in Leeds covering the Yorkshire market. Audit clients include large corporates such as Morrisons, Persimmon, R&R Ice Cream and Shepherd Group as well as newcomers like WANdisco, the newly floated Sheffield IT specialist.

“We are doing this move because we anticipate continuing to grow,” said Mr Hearld. “Strategically it is a very important location for the firm. It’s our regional home but also home to some of the most influential partners nationally. Ten partners are national leaders.”

He added: “We are a very significant employer. It’s a clear commitment by us to continue to be a significant employer in this city with highly skilled people doing very valuable and important work.”

City planners are due to make a decision on the proposals next month. Building work would begin next summer and be complete by 2014. KPMG would then be ready to move in by June 2015.

Mr Hearld, who is 41, was promoted to office senior partner in May this year, replacing Iain Moffatt who held the role from 2008.

Raised in York, Mr Hearld joined the firm after an economics degree at Durham University and worked in the financial services practice during the wave of demutualisations in the 1990s. In 2004, he became audit partner to Morrisons and held that role until 2011.

He said that some of Yorkshire’s retail businesses “can stand up against anyone” in the world. He also backed the region’s financial services industry to reinvent itself after the trauma of the financial crisis, underlining opportunities in the mutual movement, and highlighted the strengths of Yorkshire’s universities and the region’s quality of life.

bernard.ginns@ypn.co.uk