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Paul McCarthy on redeveloping Cardiff

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Paul McCarthy of Rightacres Property, on why Cardiff is a challenging market

What is Rightacres’ vision for Central Square in Cardiff?
Place-making will be the determining factor of the success of Central Square, a mixed use scheme totalling 1.4m sq ft on 12 acres, which lies between the Millennium Stadium and the Central Train Station. First and foremost it is a regeneration project but it is also one of the key gateways to Wales and must function as the capital city’s transport interchange, incorporating the bus and train stations, as well as cope with major event day crowds when upto 200,000 people descend on the city and the Millennium Stadium, which has a capacity of 80,000.  

What other key schemes are you currently working on?
Central Square comprises 14 separate plots which will be delivered in five phases, but most of which will run concurrently over a five year period or so. The first phase is on site which is a 135,000 sq ft speculative office scheme, designed by Cardiff based Rio Architects scheduled for completion in December 2015. Subject to planning and final legal details Phase II will start with the proposed new BBC Cymru Wales HQ totalling 170,000 sq ft which should be on site in July this year.  The architect is Foster + Partners.  Other Rightacres projects include 174,000 sq ft for Cardiff & Vale College, to the South of Central Station in Cardiff, which will be completed in June, where BDP are the architects.  

What do you want from an architect?
Flexibility and the ability to listen. Cardiff is a challenging market and we need to build at circa £130-140 per sq ft in order to offer a market office rent which currently stands at a headline £23 per sq ft. The practices we are working with can take standard building products and through great design create great buildings.

How do you recruit architects and what further opportunities will there be for architects?
We have strong relationships with local architects and there are a number in Cardiff that have delivered high profile developments all over the world. The scale of Central Square has required a slightly different approach and I believe Foster + Partners’ involvement in the Rightacres’ pitch was a key factor in securing Central Square as the preferred location for BBC Cymru Wales. We are currently running a design competition for Phase III totalling 450,000 sq ft, to include the new bus station and transport interchange and we are appraising submissions from five first class architects. There do remain other opportunities for later phases but we have enough to think about right now.

What do you think about the current government’s attempts to drive development?
The situation in Wales is slightly different with a devolved Welsh Government (WG). It has decided to intervene directly in the office market in Cardiff and has brought forward its own scheme at Callaghan Square in the city centre.  This has coincided with the economic upturn and speculative schemes such as Central Square and Capital Quarter, both privately funded, have been quick to get out of the ground as the economy has improved. We have always been clear that if WG’s intention is to develop buildings with the purpose of securing inward investment which wouldn’t otherwise come to Wales, then it should go ahead. However, if the intention is to compete with the private sector and schemes such as ours, JR Smart’s at Capital Quarter or Aviva Investor’s in Cardiff Bay, then I am concerned that their involvement could interfere with the open market both in rental and investment terms. Their drivers for success are potentially different to ours.  

What would you most like the government to do for you?
I see Welsh Government’s role as stimulating inward investment and providing financial support and incentives directly to employers, to persuade them to locate and grow in Wales and they have been very successful in doing this in the past. Central Square is within the Financial and Professional Services Enterprise Zone and is now a Tier Two Assisted Area which should improve the prospects of attracting new companies to Cardiff.

Which of your projects is your favourite and why?
We’re very much a hands on developer and enjoy developing every scheme. If we had to choose a favourite though it would be our 165 bedroom Cardiff Hotel – nothing will ever quite beat the St Patricks day opening party.

Who has given you the best advice and what was it?
My father, founder of Rightacres says “You can’t pick up until you’ve put down” - I often remind him of that as we pay our architects fees.

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