Accent on success

Accent on success

Tim Evans assesses the North East’s changing face over 20 years and gives a property expert’s view on prospects now.

Tim Evans is the Welshman who’s made the big wide world appreciate the North East of England accent as a thing of beauty.

His work in the region over two decades in commercial property has also helped ensure the North East gets global consideration by inward investors. He it was, with Mark Swallow (now managing director of the Newcastle property group Hanro) who planted the Knight Frank flag in Newcastle. That has given the North East presence among 335 offices (in 52 countries of six continents) – the total making Knight Frank, together with its US partner Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, the world’s biggest privately owned real estate operator.

Evans had hardly set to work here 20 years ago when a BBC interviewer asked him on screen about filling Doxford International Business Park in Sunderland, one of his earliest challenges. “I gave lots of facts about Doxford’s North East advantages,” he  recalls. “Low cost employment. Quality buildings. Then I said people were attracted to our region for call centres because of our accent. People like it, trust it.”

That local interview through newspapers went across the nation and overseas. Call centres, where voice is all important, sprang up in Doxford. “Only about 10% of what I said was about the accent but that’s what caught the headlines,” Evans marvels. “People today still say that about our accent. They mention the interview to me.”

Knight FrankKnight Frank has since made big contributions also to the region’s visual transformation on its Tyne, Wear and Tees waterfronts, working with the development corporations of their time. It has found occupiers for other Enterprise Zone business parks besides Doxford, such
as Quorum and Cobalt on Tyneside.

Knight Frank’s North East opening two decades ago gave it close to 30 offices in the UK, which has grown to more than 70, with Newcastle one of its largest regional businesses. Three employees have become 74, including 11 partners, all led by Evans as proprietary partner, and covering deals and consultancy across all commercial property assets.

And how the region has progressed in that time. Initially it was development corporations – Teesside and Tyne & Wear – replacing expanses of idle properties and lifeless land with developments far-sighted in concept and standing the test of time, as Evans describes.

“Who’ll forget Margaret Thatcher standing on industrial wasteland of Teesside? Today that’s the thriving Teesdale Business Park. Other investments included Hartlepool Marina and the Tees barrage. More than 12,000 jobs were created, also infrastructure and more besides.

“On Tyne and Wear, the flagship developments were East Quayside in Newcastle, Royal Quays in North Tyneside and St Peter’s area of Sunderland. Jobs were created there too. Improvements in infrastructure included the launch of the Metro rail system. All this boosted the region’s property sector, and in city centres today development transforming our region continues, despite recent recession.

“Development along the river banks have included St Peter’s in Sunderland, and in Newcastle the Newcastle Business Park, the Copthorne hotel, and St Peter’s Basin which became a large housing development. Without the opening up of river banks 20 years ago I doubt we’d be seeing the level of regeneration there is now on Gateshead Quays.”

He notes too in Newcastle the city’s uplifted historic Grainger Town, Discovery Quarter and Stephenson Quarter initiatives – “bringing people back into the city centre to live, and improving the fabric of the city centre, where the third highest number of Grade A listed buildings outside London and Bath sit.”

He concludes: “Those initiatives continue to change our skyline. Sunderland has its superb university campus. Newcastle has similar landmark universities, and the  St James Boulevard landscape of hotels, offices and high-rise student accommodation, plus a new business quarter off Gallowgate.

“And there are other great developments like Wynyard, NETPark, Durham Gate at Spennymoor, and Walkergate in Durham City.”

Even when the regional development agency One North East closed, Evans notes, its industrial portfolio was transferred safely to UK Land Estates. “And it has implemented an impressive asset management programme for its star land holding, Team Valley.”

He says the regional economy is “moving in the right direction” – making the North East a better place in which to do business, employ and be employed.

He believes the North East has one of the most competitive offers and one of the best lifestyles in the UK. The one weakness, insufficient self-belief in the region, is now being addressed, helped by a “50 Great Reasons to do business in the North East” campaign by the North East Chamber of Commerce.

Evans’s wish-list for inward investment

Tim Evns02

What advances would improve the North East’s attraction to inward investors, in Evans’s view?

  • A national conference centre at Gateshead. “A hotel infrastructure to support even the biggest conferences already exists,” he suggests.
  • The A1 dualled throughout Northumberland – “critical, that”.
  • Closer working relations between the North East and Aberdeen, “given the common bond existing through the offshore industry.”
  • Regular scheduled flights to and from New York. “The current gateway service to America that Aer Lingus provides from the North East via Ireland is brilliantly easy. But a direct service too would be good.”  
  • Recognition by those in power at Westminster that commercial buildings ready and available do deliver jobs. “A 100,000sq ft office building can deliver up to 1,400 new jobs. We need more industrial buildings too.”
  • Better speed and comfort on rail services between the North East and the North West, and revival of lines that can feed into the Metro to ease commuting for workers in Washington, County Durham and South East Northumberland.