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Tim Heatley: 'Every site will have its day'

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Tim Heatley of north west-based Capital & Centric about the importance of ‘timing’, why he likes small, artisan practices and his fear of bland Noddy-box houses

What kind of schemes are you currently working on?
Job creation is the theme that unites our current developments. In the last two years we’ve speculatively built over 32,515m2 of employment-creating space across 13 buildings. 
Of those, each one has built to BREEAM Excellent standards. And they all look great. That has not been easy, some of the buildings we developed are warehousing and industrial uses, these aren’t sexy at the best of times so to make them eco-friendly, great looking and build them speculatively is even harder. 

The Littlewoods project [by ShedKM] is 13,935m2 overhaul of various 1930’s buildings. We’re starting phase one this year which will be the £4million conversion of a derelict building known as ‘the bunker’ into mini-office studios. Our approach is to keep as much of the buildings as possible, we see value in them. Knocking them down is a waste of an opportunity to retain and create an interesting space. Our idea is to approach each building as an entirely new project to ensure that the masterplan isn’t a strait jacket to progress.

How have the last few years been for you?
It’s been fairly hectic. In 2009 I set up on my own and a year later I merged my business with Adam Higgins’ of Capital Properties. Through a series of further mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures we’ve grown into a property business that will spend £30million on construction by the end of this year.

Businesses go bust when a market changes quickly in either direction

Our business model has been created during a recession but that doesn’t mean Capital & Centric, or anyone else that has successfully navigated the last few years, isn’t vulnerable. Businesses go bust when a market changes quickly in either direction.
Have you witnessed any money from overseas coming into the region – and would you consider working in London?
Yes, a number of tenants and buyers are businesses that, for various reasons, want to relocate to the UK and the North West. We’ve recently developed a business park in south Liverpool next to the airport (Estuary Banks), we sold a 4,090m² research and production facility to an insecticide business based in West Africa and civil unrest in the region had prompted the move to the UK. We have also agreed to build a new 5,575m2 building for a textile manufacturer the North West. Switching manufacturing to the UK away from China will vastly reduce the delivery time and improve product quality.

What do you want from an architect? 
I like an architect that is prepared to consider something different, without being prompted. I suppose architects can assume that there is no point presenting something a bit off the wall because over the years they’ve been repeatedly knocked back by clients that want to value engineer before they’ve even started.

I’m put off by big architecture practices

I’m a bit put off by big architecture practices, rightly or wrongly I think they can become a too much like a big process driven design machine rather than a small artisan practice.

Are you currently looking for new talent and how do you find your architects? 
We’ve recently discovered a couple of new and smaller (in number) architects that have spun out of other larger practices such a company called sixtwo in Manchester. We’re always keeping our eyes open for clever design and new design talent, the easiest way we do this looking out for innovative buildings that look fantastic, haven’t cost a fortune to build and will stand the test of time. 

Which of your projects is your favourite and why?
The most recent one - the design process is the most exciting bit for me and a new project means another design. We’ve just acquired an eight storey derelict office in Liverpool City Centre. It was built in the 1970s and it’s not to everyone’s taste. The building has got elements of Brutalism - the way it gets wider at the top reminds me of the Torre Velasca in Milan or the former Home Office building in London.

3D_Vis_Ltd-Churchill_House tithebarn street aew capita centric

3D_Vis_Ltd-Churchill_House tithebarn street aew capita centric

Some would prefer we knock it down but these buildings will have their day again, in the same way that old red brick mills found favour having been unloved since the 1960s, knocking it down would be a wasted opportunity to deliver something different to the rest of the offices in Liverpool, something unique. AEW in Manchester are working with us to make it suitable for the modern occupier while enhancing all of the building’s 1970s features.

Which regeneration scheme most inspires you and why? 
Growing up in my home city of Salford, I was always aware it was the slightly deprived neighbour of Manchester city centre. But over the past 25 years, Salford has changed dramatically, especially around the Salford Quays area. The BBC’s move to Salford has cemented it as a regeneration success story. Peel has been a big driving factor around those changes - it shows that if you’ve got the patience, vision and determination it will get there in the end. 

What do you think about the current government’s attempts to drive development and the announcements in the budget? 
Our GDP has been reduced by the ever slowing construction sector in the North. They know it needs to be addressed and so, just as a housing boom dug us out of recession in the 1930s and 40s they’re putting a big focus in on housing, I fear that this will just translate into lots of bland three bed semi-detached houses. It will work, eventually, but it would be nice if they encouraged house builders to build better looking housing estates that might stimulate the demand just as much.

Who has given you the best advice and what was it? 

My old boss, when I had just started out in the property industry, taught me that every site will have its day, it’s all about timing and whether you happen to be in the driving seat when its day comes around. 

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