James Cooksey, head of Central London at The Crown Estate, oversees a £5 billion property portfolio. Below are extracts from a speech he made to the AJ100 breakfast event held at Claridge’s earlier this month.
Crown Estate’s commercial aims
We aim to grow our profits in a steady and sustainable fashion, trying to avoid dramatic peaks and troughs, while also seeking to maximise our long-term total return from the portfolio.
Timescales for projects
I have certainly learnt since being at The Crown, how long the gestation period is for some of these projects – 10-15 years is not unusual. It demonstrates the need to plan for the long term, particularly when taking an estate-wide approach.
Given that we can’t borrow and have no new sources of equity, our challenge is to find sufficient working capital for the continuing investment in, and development of, our portfolio. From a standing start in 2011 we are now managing more than £1.5 billion in joint ventures following the establishment of four strategic partnerships: with the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund; Ginkgo Tree, the Chinese state investor; and two Canadian Pension Funds, Oxford Group Properties and Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan. These partnerships have been key to enabling our development pipeline in the West End.
The attributes an architect needs
Clearly a track record and experience of working with Westminster in the context of our West End holdings; an understanding and belief in our vision for the portfolio; suitable depth to the team; and, of course, capacity. Above all, though, we look for people and teams that we can collaborate with to deliver great schemes. Particularly for the larger projects, we often go through a competitive process of asking architects to present their thoughts following an initial brief.
New design talent
Increasingly we are spending time with emerging practices, thinking about the future and embracing new ideas. That’s really important – you need to look to the future talent in the industry.
One New Burlington Place (pictured above) follows the hugely successful 10 New Burlington Street, both projects delivered by Mace and AHMM. It will deliver 7,400m2 of high-quality offices, surrounding new public space. The building will be launched in early 2016.
St James’s Market is set to create more than 24,000m2 of accommodation, being delivered by Make and Balfour Beatty with our partner Oxford Group properties. It is a transformational scheme of two buildings surrounding a new public square, reconnecting the area between Regent Street St James’s and Haymarket to prime St James’s.