Commercial development in perspective

  • by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter
  • 24 Aug, 2017
Few have a better outlook on the region’s property development and investment landscape than Simon Tothill, Property & Development Director at Robert Hitchins Ltd

Interview by Nicky Godding

If you believe that a good work environment improves the quality of the decisions you make, it’s no surprise that Robert Hitchins has been so successful.

The company’s headquarters are at Boddington Manor, a 19th century Grade II listed manor house built in the Arts & Crafts style, although its history goes back beyond the English Civil War.

Robert Hitchins is a regional strategic landowner, promoter for the residential development market and a major commercial property and development company. Its commercial arm has a portfolio of more than 1 million sq ft of income-producing properties, predominantly industrial and office space.

Simon Tothill has been the company’s Property and Development Director since 2014 and has strong views on the sector.

“Change is a difficult concept for many people but we seek to develop for the better. Development has to be in right location at the right time and of the right quality,” he says.

“Development is quite rightly challenged and tested through the planning process. We seek to extol the virtues of development and reassure that planned development will enhance and improve the status quo and provide new and further employment opportunities.

Economic growth is needed to create and retain jobs, he says. “We are in a competitive environment from other towns and cities in the UK and also, given the increasing pace of globalization, internationally.

“We recently lost one of our tenants to the USA. If we can’t attract new companies into the area while retaining and encouraging existing businesses to expand, as a region we will falter.”

Land for commercial development?

But there is a lack of development land. “As well as an ongoing housing shortage, there is also a shortage of well-located employment land close to existing centres of population, with suitable infrastructure,” says Simon.

“Quite rightly there is a focus on finding sites suitable for new housing, as the acute lack of supply is causing residential markets to become unaffordable to the local population. However, employment land is also needed for companies to invest and expand.”

The problem is compounded by many office buildings having been converted to residential or student use.

“Gloucestershire and the surrounding area has a huge number of high-tech, innovative engineering companies, from aerospace to nuclear and cyber, wanting bespoke buildings to allow growth,” added Simon

Simon develops commercial properties where they’re needed, delivers a return on current company investments and is broadening Robert Hitchins’ geographical reach across the South West, South Wales and Midlands.

Commercial rents had, until the last couple of years, risen little since 2008, but with construction costs rising and with a greater level of occupier demand chasing dwindling supplies of industrial and office stock, the market is now experiencing significant pressure on rents, he says.

A significant proportion of the Robert Hitchins development portfolio is in the office and industrial sectors: the company owns properties from Tewkesbury to Bristol and across South Wales. A particularly interesting site owned jointly with Redrow Homes PLC is the 300-acre site known as Westgate, next to the M49 and opposite Severnside on the outskirts of Bristol.

The company has been working with Redrow and others to secure a decision by Highways England to locate a new M49 motorway junction adjacent to the site which will provide a much-needed connection into the Avonmouth and Severnside Enterprise area, and unlock a major employment site.

Elsewhere, development opportunities are starting to crystallise for Robert Hitchins. In Oxfordshire, the company is building a 20,000 sq ft office building for Air Tanker, a major employer in Carterton which delivers aircraft, infrastructure, service, training and expertise in support of Voyager, the RAF’s new generation tanker transport aircraft.

A soft spot for retail

Simon has a soft spot for retail, having undertaken some big retail projects across the South West.
That expertise will come in handy as the company progresses a major development project at Tewkesbury, after Tewkesbury Borough Council backed a £60 million designer outlet centre at Junction 9 of the M5.

The proposed 180,000 sq ft outlet village should create around 1,000 jobs. The location is as good as it gets: in easy reach of Birmingham, Bristol and immediately accessible to Tewkesbury, Gloucester and Cheltenham.

“We are not trying to be a Bicester Village,” says Simon. (Bicester Village is the epitome of luxury outlet shopping and attracts millions of overseas visitors).

“Tewkesbury will offer more accessible outlet shopping, and we have been delighted with the response from retailers interested in committing to the scheme.”

Designs are being worked up for consultation, which include plans to develop an 80,000 sq ft garden centre alongside.

With a career spanning 30 years, what project is Simon most proud of? The answer is unexpected: A B&Q in Torquay.

“This project had it all. We had to assemble five land interests including part of a private road and achieve planning for an out-of-centre retail development. Having pre-let the building to B&Q and started on site, we were hit by an 11th hour High Court legal challenge in respect of alleged access rights over the road. After many sleepless nights we won. It’s not necessarily the best architectural project that I’ve been involved in but it involved many facets of development.”

And the project with the most potential? “Junction 9 on the M5,” he says. Expect a little retail therapy from Robert Hitchins over the new few years.

Simon Tothill on town centre retail

“High street retail will never fail because people are inherently sociable. We like meeting and talking to each other. Online retailing makes life easier but you can’t stroll around a website and stop for a cup of coffee with friends. Retail is a fashion business and although the provision of space within the high street may reduce there will always be a demand for it.”

Where does Gloucestershire do retail well? “Cirencester is beautiful, with a wealthy catchment, attractive environment and plenty of independent shops.”

And Cheltenham’s coup in securing a new John Lewis store shouldn’t be underestimated, he says. “Cheltenham had to provide John Lewis with enough certainty that it could deliver, before the retailer agreed to invest a huge sum in a new store. The council had to pull out all the stops and they did. With the work at The Brewery and on The Promenade, Cheltenham is on the up.”

QUICK FACTS

  • Robert Hitchins Group was established more than 50 years ago. 
  • Still a family-owned business, it has developed more than 17,000 houses and more than three million square feet of commercial property. 
  • It has extensive land interests across Gloucestershire, to the edge of Birmingham, into Oxfordshire and down to Bristol and South Wales. 
  • Originally a highly successful housebuilder, Robert Hitchins Ltd no longer builds houses itself, but has become one of the region’s predominant strategic landowners and promoters for the residential development market, and a major commercial property and development company.

LATEST NEWS

Business & Innovation Magazine

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 15 Jan, 2018
With the introduction of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) are now mapping out how they will meet these ambitious plans.

The five pillars of the industrial strategy being identified as:

  • Ideas: the world’s most innovative economy
  • People: good jobs and greater earning power for all
  • Infrastructure : a major upgrade to the UK’s infrastructure
  • Business environment: the best place to start and grow a business
  • Places: prosperous communities across the UK

One prominent and serious issue in the region’s educational landscape, and which will compromise hitting these targets, is a lack of the staff to deliver the training to the future generation, be that in the classroom or in Apprenticeships.

The bottom line is that without teachers and trainers in place, there can be no more training of new industry recruits to the standards businesses are looking for.

To begin addressing this issue, a consortium of colleges, comprising SGS, City of Bristol and City of Bath Colleges, in partnership with the Western Training Provider Network (WTPN) and Business West, are working collaboratively to deliver a joint recruitment event to encourage new entrants into the world of training and skills development.

The event is being held on Friday 9th February from 1.30pm at the SGS WISE Campus in Stoke Gifford, Bristol. The event aims to attract a cross section of attendees including those who are retired or coming to retirement age and who want to share their vast knowledge, skilled employees who are interested in flexible employment options to supplement their existing salaries, women looking to return to the workplace, those looking to move from industry into the classroom and anyone at the start of their career path.

SGS College, like many educational institutions in the region, is currently facing major issues recruiting qualified, industry experienced staff in several key sectors including, but not exclusively, Construction, Engineering, Digital and High Tech. Currently the College has over 90 hard to fill vacancies. This is a situation mirrored across the sector within the West of England and in the main is due to the buoyancy of the economy and skilled trainers being able to earn far more in industry than within the skills delivery sector.

One person who is aware of the impact skills shortages are having on the region’s businesses and how those with vast knowledge and experience can make a difference is Ian Mean, Director of Business West, who commented: “Skills and upskilling our workforce in the region is perhaps the greatest challenge for business.

“So, we need to recruit great teachers and trainers for the digital age. A lot of retired people or those nearing retirement with specialist skills could really make a difference to help our young people into the world of work and this event provides an ideal platform to find out more”.

Whilst Sara-Jane Watkins, Principal SGS College comments ‘The inability to recruit and retain high calibre teaching staff is a significant concern to the Colleges within the West of England, and to other Training Providers locally, as without the ability to recruit high-calibre teaching staff with the relevant industry expertise, the Colleges are unable to deliver the West of England's vision for a skilled and qualified workforce - let alone support the Government's delivery of their recently unveiled Industrial Strategy’.

The joint recruitment event will include a key note address on the buoyancy of the economy, the immense opportunities and benefits available within the training sector and the range of flexible posts, both full and part-time.

Full training, development and support will also be provided to those who wish to pursue a career in the areas listed with options to sign up being available on the day.

To register to attend this free event visit: www.sgsrecruitmentevent.eventbrite.co.uk
by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 15 Jan, 2018

Vaccitech, an Oxford University spinout company developing a universal flu vaccine, among other vaccine-related products, has secured £20m ($27.1m) in Series A financing.

 

The round was co-led by new investors GV, Sequoia China, and existing backer Oxford Sciences Innovation, which manages a £600m fund aimed at Oxford University spinouts. Neptune Ventures joined in participation. In total, Vaccitech has now raised £30m since inception in 2016.

Vaccitech is currently a clinical stage company, with six total products that are based on inducing cellular immune responses using non-replicating viral vectors for treatment or prophylaxis against diseases at various stages. The CD8+ T-cell responses induced by the proprietary platform are among the highest reported in any human trials.

 

The portfolio of the company includes:

·       A universal influenza vaccine in evaluation in a Phase 2b efficacy trial, in which 862 people are enrolled in the first year of a two-year study. At present, there are currently between three to five million new cases of influenza each year, resulting in 250,000 to 500,000 deaths per annum, mostly in the elderly population. Vaccitech’s universal vaccine recognises the conserved proteins of the virus and is active against all influenza A strains, including avian ones.

·       Vaccitech’s prostate cancer therapeutic is current at Phase I, and has shown high level immune T cell responses to the self-antigen 5T4, indicating strong potential applicability of the vaccine platform to cancer in general. A Phase 2 study combining the vaccine platform with a checkpoint inhibitor will begin in metastatic prostate disease in early 2018.

·       A Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) prophylactic is currently beginning Phase 1 studies at Oxford University.

·       A Human Papillomavirus (HPV) therapeutic, a Hepatitis B (HBV) therapeutic, and another infectious disease asset are in late preclinical development

The company, spun out by Oxford University Innovation in 2016, is commercialising the research of vaccine development specialists Adrian Hill and Sarah Gilbert, who developed the underpinning technology at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute. The work of Hill and Gilbert attracted Thomas Evans as its CEO, who relocated from the US to the UK for the role. Evans is a vaccine veteran bringing with him over a 15 years’ experience at Vical, as Global Head of Infectious Diseases Research at Novartis, and as CSO and CEO at the tuberculosis vaccine-focused biotech Aeras. Vaccitech has also added vaccine veteran Pierre Morgon to its Board of Directors.

 

Currently based at the Oxford Science Park, Vaccitech will use the funding to expand its business, develop its lab structure, and to push its influenza and prostate cancer programmes through Phase II by the end of 2019, and move three other programs into the clinic.

 

Tom Evans, Chief Executive Officer at Vaccitech, said:

 

“When you look at the 250 million people chronically infected with hepatitis B globally, or the number of people killed by the flu each year, it becomes clear just how much potential impact Vaccitech’s portfolio of vaccine products could have on the world. You add Oxford into the mix, where you have unprecedented ability to do advance products through outstanding vaccine science and tremendous translational medicine capability, and Vaccitech is clearly well positioned to have an important impact on global health.”

 

Tom Hulme, General Partner at GV, added:

“Vaccitech's world class team have achieved an incredible amount with relatively little funding to date - the T-cell responses to the company's viral vector platform are among the highest that have been achieved in man - we look forward to it being applied to tackle multiple human diseases.”

 

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 15 Jan, 2018


Farming and the environment must go hand-in-hand and producing quality, home-grown food is critical to the future of the country, the NFU says

It follows publication  of the Government’s 25 year Environment Plan. Theresa May revealed details of the long-awaited and wide-ranging 150-page  strategy  during a keynote speech in south-west London. 

Farmers manage 70% of the nation’s iconic countryside and take their environmental responsibilities seriously. 10,000 football pitches worth of flower habitat, creating homes for wildlife, have been planted while more than 30,000km of hedgerows have been planted or restored by farmers.

The NFU says farming is in a unique position to deliver for the environment as long as there are productive and viable businesses – where food is at the heart.

NFU Vice President Guy Smith said: “Over the past four decades, farmers have carried out a huge amount of work to encourage wildlife, as well as benefitting the landscape, soil and water and reducing their impact on the climate.   

“Farming also offers innovative solutions to wider environmental challenges. For instance the Government’s current concern with plastics highlighted by the BBC’s brilliant Blue Planet series could be met with substituting synthetic plastics with farm produced biodegradable starch-based packaging.

“But there must be a coherent approach. British farming has a unique role in producing a safe, affordable and high quality supply of food as well as protecting, maintaining and enhancing 70% of the nation's iconic countryside.

“That only remains feasible, however, as long as farmers run sustainable and viable businesses. We provide the raw materials for a domestic food industry that employs 3.8m people and which, as the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, generates £112bn in value for the UK economy. This is why we welcomed the Secretary of State’s commitment last week to create a national food policy and his recognition that food is at the heart of viable farming businesses.

“It’s vital therefore that a holistic approach is taken and the environment plan must go hand-in-hand with a future food policy, where measures for protecting and enhancing the environment are joined up with policies to improve productivity and manage volatility to ensure that we have profitable, productive and progressive farm businesses post-Brexit.”v

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 11 Jan, 2018

The sale of Worcestershire-based Countrywide Farmers, the farming and equestrian retailer, to Mole Valley Farmers Ltd, which was expected to have been completed by the end of January, has been delayed. The sale is subject to review by the Competition and Markets Authority. A new completion date of March 16th has been set.

In the meantime, the company has sold off its Countrywide LPG business to Dublin-based DCC, an international sales, marketing and support services group. It operates in four divisions: LPG, Retail & Oil, Healthcare and Technology.

 

In a statement Countrywide said this is being progressed to ensure the business maintains sustainable value within its current going concern status.

 

DCC plc will acquire the trade and assets of the LPG business for £28.75 million, with completion targeted before the end of March 2018.

 

Countrywide LPG supplies bulk and cylinder LPG to domestic, agricultural and commercial customers in Britain. The business sells approximately 20,000 tonnes of LPG annually.

 

Countrywide Chief Executive Julie Wirth said: “We are delighted to have reached an agreement with DCC plc to acquire our LPG business. This represents an excellent opportunity for the Countrywide LPG brand to continue to grow and flourish within a leading international sales, marketing and support services group which has a strong LPG division currently operating in nine countries across Europe.”

Share trading of Countrywide remains suspended in light of the ongoing strategic developments taking place within the business.

Countrywide operates around 53 stores and runs a fully operational website. It has over 700 members of staff. The business launched in 1902 when Beckford Farmers merged with Winchcombe, Toddington & Cotswold Farmers Association to form West Midland Farmers Association Limited.

 

 

 

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 09 Jan, 2018

Oxford-based games developer and publisher Rebellion has bought Warwick-based Radiant Worlds, the development studio founded in 2013 by industry veterans Andrew Oliver, Philip Oliver and Richard Smithies, for an undisclosed sum.

Radiant Worlds' 70 employees have decades of experience across hundreds of titles, adding their industry expertise and creative excellence to Rebellion’s award-winning development teams.

Radiant Worlds will become Rebellion Warwick, joining Rebellion Liverpool as a sister studio to the company’s headquarters in Oxford. Rebellion Warwick will immediately transition on to current projects – including the 1930s co-op adventure Strange Brigade revealed last year - and in the future will contribute to projects based on Rebellion’s beloved IP such as Sniper Elite, Evil Genius, Battlezone and more. Founders Philip and Andrew Oliver will remain at Rebellion Warwick.

The acquisition completes a landmark 12 months for Rebellion which recently celebrated its 25th birthday. In 2017 the company successfully self-published Sniper Elite 4, announced its next major new IP in Strange Brigade, and released a remaster of the BAFTA-nominated classic Rogue Trooper. Its stewardship of cutting edge comic 2000 AD (also celebrating its 40th birthday) saw renewed focus, opening up the 2000 AD universe to external game developers and announcing Mega-City One – an ambitious TV series set in world of Judge Dredd.

Now employing over 300 staff, Rebellion says this acquisition cements its reputation as one of the UK’s most exciting multi-media companies.

“To bring such great people to the company, just after our 25th birthday, is quite remarkable,” said Rebellion CEO and co-founder Jason Kingsley OBE. “It’s been a great year for us and we have a lot of plans to help make 2018, 2019 and beyond bigger and even greater years for Rebellion.”

Philip Oliver, one of the founders of Radiant Worlds, said: “We’ve known the Kingsleys for many years and have always had enormous respect for them and the company they’ve built. We know that our core values of creativity, passion, and ambition are mirrored by Rebellion, and we’re excited to be part of their amazing team.”

Richard Smithies, Radiant Worlds’ outgoing Chairman and Chief Operating Officer, is also delighted at the next chapter for the developer: “We’ve managed to build one of the financially strongest and most talented development studios in the UK. I wish everyone now working with Rebellion every success for the future.”

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 05 Jan, 2018

Aston Martin sold 5,117 sports cars last year amid sell-out demand for its DB11 model and special vehicles including the Vanquish Zagato and Aston Martin Vantage GT8.

Retail sales, which saw a 58% year-on-year increase, outpaced wholesale supply (up 38%) and the Group now expects to exceed its previous full-year guidance of adjusted EBITDA of at least £180 million on revenues of more than £840 million.  

Dr Andy Palmer, Aston Martin President and Chief Executive Officer, said: “We continue to perform ahead of expectations, in  financial performance and in meeting our targets for the DB11 and special vehicles. This strong sales performance shows that our Second Century transformation plan is building momentum. Phase Two of the programme will be largely completed in 2018 with the introduction of the Vanquish replacement and production of the new Vantage, contributing to continued sustainable profitability at Aston Martin.”

In 2017, Warwickshire-headquartered Aston Martin achieved its highest full-year sales volumes in nine years, driven by rising demand in North America, the UK and China. This sales performance comes amidst continued strong orders for the DB11, the Vanquish S and for special models that more than doubled year on year to 250 vehicles.

As part of the Second Century Plan, Aston Martin is expanding its UK manufacturing footprint. The company has resumed output of special vehicles, notably the DB4GT Continuation, at its Newport Pagnell facility for the first time since 2007. And construction work is continuing at the new St Athan facility in Wales, due for completion in 2019, ahead of production of the new DBX SUV.

Aston Martin will report 2017 full-year earnings in March 2018.

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 05 Jan, 2018
  • Four businesses have secured funding from the Midlands Engine Investment Fund
  • Leicester’s BCME and Dudley’s Direct Digital Controls among the first to receive funding
  • £120 million debt finance and small business loan funds as part of more than £250 million total commitment to support the growth of region’s SMEs

The Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF), supported by the European Regional Development Fund, is officially open for business, with the first loans being awarded to growing businesses across the Midlands. The MEIF is delivered by the British Business Bank and the Fund is investing £120 million of debt finance and small business loans to eligible firms. This initial tranche of funding is part of a wider £250 million of resource targeted towards the region’s start-ups, scale-ups and SME community.

Loans have been made across the Midlands with four companies benefitting from finance to date to support their growth aspirations:

Leicester-based BCME, owner of specialist education provider Echo Factory has received finance from MEIF, which will be deployed to market its degree-level music courses, maximising student numbers and empowering the institution to become self-sustaining.

Direct Digital Controls, in Brierley Hill, West Midlands is a business that specialises in the installation and maintenance of energy and environmental control systems. With the MEIF investment, the firm is poised to take on four new employees, train an additional apprentice and expand its growing wired and lighting controls divisions.

Nottingham-based medical devices company Olberon, has produced a cannulation device that is used in the medical industry. The funding will have a significant impact on commercial sales globally, by allowing them to develop existing links with distributors, and by helping them market more effectively.

Milton Keynes’ Renewable ON Ltd, a clean energy specialist supplies and installs quality bespoke solar powered LED outdoor and street lighting solutions to both public and private sector. Primarily the loan funds are required for cash flow including stock, wages and marketing to fulfil initial orders.

Nick Pulley, Chair of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund’s Strategic Oversight Board, said:

“It is heartening to see the first businesses tap into the opportunities presented by the Midlands Engine Investment Fund and having built a strong pipeline of deals, the fund is well set to accelerate this progress. SMEs that are in the market for external finance and have growth aspirations should check the website and seek out fund managers to find out how the MEIF could take their business to the next level.”

Patrick Magee, Chief Commercial Officer at the British Business Bank, commented:

“Our aim is to make finance markets work better for smaller businesses and address regional inequalities in funding. Through our work with the MEIF, we’re poised to support investment, growth and job creation throughout the Midlands.”

Bob Taylor, Director at Direct Digital Controls, said:

“Securing finance from MEIF is a pivotal step in the future of our business growth, giving us the backing we need to expand and reach out to new customers UK-wide. Meaningful expansion requires extra talent and an investment in new business, we’re now ready to take the next step.”

The MEIF will invest in debt finance and small business loans, ranging from £25,000 to £1.5m, through appointed Fund Managers – Enterprise Loans East Midlands, BCRS Business Loans and Maven Capital Partners. For more information on the funding available, please visit www.meif.co.uk

The Midlands Engine Investment Fund project is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 05 Jan, 2018

 Apprentice George Russell’s name will be in lights for years to come having become the first ever electrician to pass the new electrotechnical trailblazer apprenticeship standard.

Twenty-two-year-old George said he was nervous before the gruelling three-day practical assessment, especially when he realised that his assessor was also being assessed as it was the first time anyone had sat the new style end-point assessment.

But a committed period of revision and support from the team at Clarkson Evans Training, meant George was fully prepared for the assessment, passing with flying colours, and first time to boot!

The new electrotechnical apprenticeship standard was introduced in response to the Richard Review of Apprenticeships, which recommended improvements should be made to the assessment of all apprenticeships to make them more robust and to better meet the needs of industry.

Simon Kingwell, Production Director at Clarkson Evans said: “We are delighted that one of our apprentices is the first to qualify as an electrician under the new electrotechnical apprenticeship standard.

“George is a hardworking member of staff who, since qualifying, has already been trusted to mentor an apprentice and lead his own team. We’re confident he’ll have a bright future in the electrical industry,” added Mr Kingwell.

George said: “I’m not a very confident person and so I’m pleased that I didn’t let my nerves get the better of me during the assessment, especially as there were so many people in the room watching what I was doing. I’m thrilled to have qualified and I’m looking forward to further developing my skills at Clarkson Evans.”  

Carolyn Mason, Chief Executive of National Electrotechnical Training, the charity that administers the end-point assessment for all qualifying electricians said: “We were delighted to witness George pass the new-style assessment and also complete the new apprenticeship standard in the process. These are two important ‘firsts’ for the industry and we look forward to rolling out the new assessment even further in 2018.”

George is one of 116 apprentices at Clarkson Evans to have qualified as electricians in 2017.

 

Clarkson Evans has experienced significant growth since the company was established 36 years ago. Now the company has over 800 staff and takes on apprentices across its network of 17 branches.

Last year the company wired one in 10 new homes built across England and Wales for national house builders such as Taylor Wimpey, Persimmon Homes, Barratt and David Wilson.

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