Property developer’s attack on ‘anti-social’ landowners

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THE property developer who invested £100m in the regeneration of Holbeck in Leeds has lambasted “anti-social” landowners who leave derelict land in a “horrendous” condition.

Chris Brown, chief executive of Igloo, transformed the former industrial wasteland into an urban village with landmark developments Granary Wharf, Marshalls Mill and the Round Foundry Media Centre.

Speaking at an event to mark the 10th anniversary of his company’s work in Leeds, he condemned the state of some neighbouring sites.

He told the Yorkshire Post: “As a minimum people need to keep their sites clean and tidy and that involves a bit of effort.

“You would not want your neighbours’ garden looking like some of the sites in Holbeck.

“A number of them are owned by banks. They inherited these through their lending binge and they need to become much more attuned to the communities in which they find themselves.”

Holbeck is home to 85 businesses from a range of technology sectors employing 1,800 people.

Despite the progress of the last decade, Mr Brown said he is “frustrated sometimes at the pace of change” and singled out the long-awaited project to improve access between Holbeck and the city centre via the train station.

“It’s great to see the southern entrance finally looking like it might start on site some time before I die,” he said.

“We are incredibly well connected to the rest of the world in Holbeck through the pipes under the ground but it’s quite a hassle to get to the city centre, particularly at night.”

Speaking at the event, Tom Riordan, chief executive of Leeds City Council, admitted that the train station is “not fit for purpose”, but said work on the new entrance should be complete in two to three years.

“We have transformed our relationship with Network Rail,” the station owner, he said. “It was like a tennis match, back and forth the whole time. Now we are playing doubles on the same side.”

Holbeck businesses include Flashtalking, a £11.7m turnover company which develops online advertising technology and has offices in London, Germany and the United States.

Dan Freeman, co-founder and technical director, said a software developer costs £35,000 in Leeds compared to £60,000 in London and £120,000 in San Francisco.

Mr Brown said: “The Government thinks tech is something that happens around Silicon Roundabout in London. We need to explain to them that these kinds of businesses are growing really quickly here in Leeds.”

Also speaking at yesterday’s event, Ajaz Ahmed, the co-founder of pioneering internet provider Freeserve, said: “We don’t call ourselves Silicon anything, but we have an awful lot of technology companies here. Because of the legacy of things like Freeserve the infrastructure is in the ground.”

Igloo, which invests in regeneration projects on behalf of pension funds, insurance companies and a charity, continued investing in Holbeck throughout the recession. It has total assets worth around £200m.

Paul Simmons, a company director, said: “Investing in quality has brought quality businesses here. Occupation at Marshalls Mill leapt from 16 per cent in June 2011 to about 60 per cent now... at a time when everything else in Holbeck has come to a standstill because of the economic conditions.

“We have some of the highest growth technology businesses based in this area.”

He compared regeneration to slow cooking: “It’s a long game, you have to stay in and be patient.”

Holbeck is a great example of attracting people to a place by creating the right environment, added Mr Simmons.

Mr Riordan said: “If you look ahead 10, 20, 50 or 100 years, this area is going to be the future of Leeds.

“Despite the worst financial climes that any of us can remember, investment is happening south of the railway line.

“If you put Marshalls Mill together with the Round Foundry, Tower Works and Temple Works, you have got fantastic heritage and history that has stood the test of time – industrial development and industrial heritage taken into the 21st century.”

He told the audience of plans to improve the city’s digital infrastructure by developing data centres at the former site of Yorkshire Chemical Works. This kind of development will help give Leeds an advantage over other cities, he said.

Mr Ahmed told how a former boss rejected his idea for Freeserve 16 years ago. “People who come up with ideas often face obstacles and it’s very difficult but you have to overcome these,” he said.

“Places like Marshalls Mill and Round Foundry are great places.

“You see and hear great examples of companies which have overcome these obstacles and are succeeding.”