John Seager, CEO of Siglion
Siglion chief John Seager is leading one of the most significant transformation programmes in Sunderland’s recent history – a major part of the £1.3bn of public and private sector investment going into Sunderland right now. He explains to BQ why the job means so much to him…
When John Seager was offered the chance to become chief executive of Siglion in January 2015, he jumped at the opportunity.
Having studied and cut his teeth in the property sector in London, he moved north to the region almost two decades ago after meeting someone from South Shields.
Falling in love with the football club, the people, and the city, when the chance to lead a £1.3bn regeneration of Sunderland on behalf of Siglion popped up, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
He told BQ: “Prior to taking up the role I worked at UK Land Estates in Gateshead for 13 years, eventually becoming a director.
“I was involved in developments in Team Valley, Newburn Riverside and a number of other projects across the North East.
“It was a fantastic job. It wasn’t one I was exactly looking to leave unless there was an amazing opportunity such as this, which was too good to turn down.
“My ex-father in law is a lifelong Sunderland fan and he had introduced me to the football team when I was living in London. Something hooked me and I became a fan of the team.
“When we moved up here, we were living just outside of the city but Sunderland as a city was always the one I had an affinity for in the North East. I’d been in and out of the city ever since I moved up here so I knew it reasonably well.
“I’ve also been involved in the property side of things and have experienced the impact that development can have on its immediate environment.
“The right investment can bring critical mass into a city centre or a business park and the transformational effect that can have on the economy is huge.”
Siglion was formed as a joint venture company between Carillion and Sunderland City Council with Igloo Regeneration providing development and asset management services.
The company was launched in a bid to redevelop five key areas across Sunderland over a 20-year period, wich feed into a combined public and private sector investment pot of more than £1.3bn – being ploughed into the city between now and 2024.
So, as an experienced property developer with a determination to nurture and accelerate what he saw as an emerging economic renaissance in the city, it’s clear to see why he took up the role.
Looking out from his office overlooking the banks of the River Wear in the heart of the city centre, he said: “This opportunity was kind of everything rolled into one.
“My heartfelt feelings for the city, the football team and my interest in property development, as well as having the opportunity to have such an incredible impact on the future of the city.
“And of course, everyone is aware of the history of the Vaux site and to be able to be part of a team which is delivering development on that is really exciting.”
John’s first task when he joined Siglion was to pull together a team of experts who could help him shape his plans and begin placemaking. Once his team started to take shape, it was time to pull the architects in and get down to business.
The first development to come to fruition is set to be the iconic Vaux site, which had been stood empty for over a decade. Seager was aware of just how frustrated the public were at the lack of development on the site over this time and was determined to get to work.
Seager adds: “Vaux is the driver at the moment and is exactly what the people of the city want to see. You don’t have to delve very far into the minds of the people of the city to understand the heartfelt sentiment of Vaux breweries and what it meant to people.
“The brewery had a huge impact on people’s lives from its support of the football team, cricket teams, the scout group that was based there, even the smell of the hops in the city centre and the brewery tap.
“I understand that and understand the loss of that, and that’s very much part of my sentiment, delivering something back that is for the city. Delivering something for the city which everyone can be involved in. It’s not a glossy development just for white collar workers, it’s for everyone. It’s placemaking.”
Siglion alongside Carillion and the council broke ground on the first phase of the site back in December, which includes a 60,000 sq ft office building, along with infrastructure work to continue the Keel Line and landscaping work.
The site will also be used as a venue for events and activities, attracting people into the city as work continues. It is the first of five areas of the city to be developed as part of Siglion’s regeneration scheme.
As well as Siglion’s activities in the city, which include plans to regenerate the seafront at Seaburn, there are a number of major infrastructure projects planned for Sunderland, including the construction of some 15,000 new homes across the city and a new major manufacturing park adjacent to Nissan.
“I think the International Advanced Manufacturing Park, which is being led by Sunderland City Council and South Tyneside Council, has the potential to have a huge impact on the city, just from an employment base,” he adds.
“In the longer-term however it could also ensure the region remains a success in terms of being an industry leader for the UK.
“We’re the only region in the UK with a positive export balance which is born out of Nissan and all of the other manufacturers based here, we should be regarded as the capital of industry.”
Also helping increase this export surplus and entice more businesses to invest in the region is a series of heavy investment into transport links from the council.
The council has ploughed millions into the new Wear Crossing, which is now dominating the city’s skyline, and the surrounding roads which it hopes will improve access to the Port of Sunderland.
Seager said: “Huge credit has to go to the leadership and ambition of Sunderland Council in setting up the Siglion Partnership, it’s an extremely innovative approach to instigating regeneration and, along with all of their other efforts, we can already see it bearing fruit.
“The new bridge will provide direct access for goods to get from the IAMP and Nissan to the Port and the city centre with ease.
“It’ll make it easier for articulated vehicles that’re coming down to the port, and the speed in which they get there will be considerably improved by the new crossing.
“The proposals see the new routes come down past the riverside and the Vaux site down to the port. It could help turn the port into a thriving economic base for the city.”
Seager was also keen to reiterate the importance of not only investing in places to work but also in places to live and visit, which is another key part of Siglion’s remit.
Although the city has a rich talent pool of staff, Seager and his team are aware of the skills shortage that would arise if there was a sudden surge in inward investment and have moved quick to counter any potential brain drain.
He says: “We’re also working on a number of housing developments such as the Chapelgarth site which forms part of the South Sunderland growth area. We have some in Seaburn as well, there are a number of attractive locations.
“I think what is important is we are trying to create housing that is attractive for people to come and live in the city, as people have historically left the city to find better places to live or to be closer to work.
“The more people that live in the city, the more it boosts the economy, it’s as simple as that. You have a greater diversity of people living in the city, a wider base of economy and a much better offer.
“We should be positively encouraging people to come and live in the city and to do that you have to use the best assets and the best places to develop on, to create the locations where people say, ‘that’s where I want my family to grow up.’”
Now, with the new bridge erect and close to completion and the Vaux site starting to take shape, the future looks increasingly bright for the city and Seager is eagerly anticipating what that brings. He concluded: “My hope is that we do all we can to encourage companies to come to the city.
“The starting point is to build locations that are special enough to encourage enterprises to move to as without that, people won’t come. Part of what we’re building at Vaux are buildings that are to what we call a well-building standard. It’s important that they’re happy and healthy places to work and live in and that goes for the whole city.
“We have a beautiful coast line, fantastic topography in terms of spaces and places you can enjoy the outdoors, go cycling, running, swimming of course and any sorts of activities that are healthy things to do.
“I have an incredible enthusiasm for what we’re doing and I believe we can transform ourselves into a location where people immediately think ‘do you know what, if we live here, we’ll be happy’, and that’s the uniqueness of where we are as a city.”