Silver bullet: James Silver interview

It is rare for the development director of a property company to admit to “over-speccing” offices, but Landid’s James Silver does just that when we meet at the developer’s HQ off Carnaby Street to discuss its joint venture with Brockton Capital in the Thames Valley.

It may be a riskier strategy, but it appears to be working for James and his dad Trevor, the company’s managing director. Just last week, the JV put Coca-Cola GB’s former HQ at One Queen Caroline Street in Hammersmith under offer to a Middle Eastern investor for more than £75m.

By the end of the year, it will have completed three speculative office developments: one from scratch and the other two comprehensive refurbishments and extensions of existing buildings.

Totalling some 500,000 sq ft, they account for 25% of the speculative development pipeline in the Thames Valley. It’s not bad for a JV that is only four years old and there is more to come from Landid, says Silver in an exclusive interview with Property Week - not just in partnership with Brockton.

Landid joined forces with Brockton in 2013 for a £100m investment drive in offices in the South East of England and takes the lead as development manager while Brockton’s role is “active funder”. To date, the JV has embarked on six projects - all of which have either been completed or are under construction - while Landid recently won planning permission for a seventh.

Rather than build the cookie-cutter, corporate offices that are the safest option for the institutional investors funding them, the JV’s approach is to ensure that even in markets where there is a glut of grade-A space, its buildings stand out from the crowd.

They definitely do that - and in more ways than one. At 240,000 sq ft, The Charter Building in Uxbridge, which launched in January, is the largest new office building in the town and one of the largest in London and the South East. Another scheme with scale on its side is the 14-storey Thames Tower in Reading, which opened earlier this month.

Silver is keen to flag two other differentiators that he believes elevate the JV’s offices above the competition’s. Construction is under way on The Porter Building in Slough - due to open in the third quarter of this year ahead of the arrival of Crossrail - where sustainability and wellness will be major considerations.

The JV’s quest “is to make every building better”, says Silver. He is particularly proud of the Charter Building, which has borrowed key features from the One Queen Caroline Street office, particularly the terrace - or “roof deck” as Silver calls it, using lingo he adopted on a reconnaissance trip to San Francisco.

“We knew that the old roof [at One Queen Caroline Street] was covered in plant and we debated long and hard about whether we should create more office space up on the top or whether we should create a space up there that would allow us to lease the floors below it more quickly,” he says.

A place for space

A terrace won out over additional office floorspace and Landid created the Club Room, shared and managed by a committee of occupiers’ employees and members of the concierge team. Together they have so far organised choir practices, fitness classes, quiz nights, cocktail parties and a rooftop cinema.

“We’ve learnt that as a landlord we need to do things like that,” says Silver.

The Charter Building, which by coincidence was formerly the HQ of Coca-Cola European Partners, also has a terrace that wraps around the building, but the communal space doesn’t begin and end there. There was space to play with.

“We are super proud of this building,” says Silver. “When we bought it in 2013, it was a 145,000 sq ft office building. At 25 years old, it was of its time but it wasn’t a bad building. At the point of buying these assets, one of the tricks you play is to explore how much more space you can create to add value and Uxbridge felt like a market that could take a decent-sized building with huge flexibility.”

At the point of buying these assets, one of the tricks you play is to explore how much more space you can create to add value

The JV went about creating a new building around the bones of the old one.

The plan was to give it a boutique hotel feel and the scheme boasts a concierge service that operates under the strapline, ‘As long as it’s legal, we’ll find a way to fix it for you’, as well as an entrance designed to feel like a public space rather than an office, so employees and visitors walk past a café before they get to the reception desk.

Meanwhile, the internal ‘street’ is designed to double up as a breakout area and to encourage serendipitous encounters between employees. “We wanted to make sure this building had energy about it and we wanted it to feel open as staff arrived, so that people could walk, say 50m, without being challenged,” explains Silver. “We wanted to make the space really special.”

Communal space also plays a big part at the 195,000 sq ft Thames Tower in Reading, which was launched on 5 May and has attracted Austin Fraser, BDO, HSBC, Pret A Manger and Scandinavian bar and restaurant operator KuPP.

Again the roof deck is king. It is a tangible evolution from the spaces at both One Queen Caroline Street and The Charter Building. “It’s so cool; it’s indescribable,” says Silver. “It’s got a treehouse/greenhouse-style megabar feel to it. We’re having bespoke furniture made, along with furniture sourced from flea markets in Italy. It’s a real labour of love.”

Landid and Brockton have enlisted Simon Green of Moho London, who Silver describes as a creative genius, to do the fit-out. It will be only his third commercial property project as an interior designer. Green did such a good job of his own home that a friend recommended him to Bullitt Group, one of the tenants at the JV’s One Valpy office building in Reading. The JV was looking for someone to fit out its new space, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“This was a progression,” Silver says. “The fit-out at One Queen Caroline Street is what you’d expect - the Club Room feels like an office breakout area. What we’ve done here, and what Simon pointed out, was that actually what you want is the antithesis of your office, somewhere that when you first see it is a surprise; somewhere you can go to relax and zone out.”

Actually what you want is the antithesis of your office, somewhere that when you first see it is a surprise

The third of its schemes to launch this year will be the 115,000 sq ft Porter Building in Slough. Hermes owns the site and Silver says he and his team took 18 months to get a conversation with them. “Hermes loved the site because it’s so strategic, being immediately adjacent to Slough railway station, and didn’t want to sell,” recalls Silver. “Tony Edgley at Brockton suggested it keep the site and we build on it. We came to an agreement.”

The focus here is on high-spec infrastructure, sustainability and staff wellbeing, in a bid to meet the ever-evolving needs of potential tenants. As such, Landid and Brockton are seeking both WiredScore Wired Certification and the Delos WELL Building Standard. If the JV gets Delos accreditation, it will be one of the first landlords in the UK to do so.

“We’re always trying to work out what the next big thing is,” says Silver. “What we’re doing at The Porter Building is part of that approach.”

Occupier focus

The hope is that by tapping into ‘the next big thing’, the JV will attract London firms to space a little further west. “We’re working hard to target a number of London firms,” says Silver.

“Interestingly, it is the local market around all these buildings that is the driving force. There will be some [interest from London firms] but it will probably be 10% to 20% rather than significant chunks. Sometimes you can be lucky; you never can tell. It’d be great if somebody swooped in.”

Flexible rents could help and Landid can “find space for every budget”, boasts Silver. “As a team, we have 600,000 sq ft to lease up. We don’t want to be the guys [pushing] for huge rents and never letting our buildings because we were too greedy,” he explains.

“There are examples in Reading of people going out and asking for huge rents and doing deals far below those. It’s a bit daft to quote such high rents. We’ve never really worked like that.”

Flexible rents aren’t the only differentiator. Its design-led focus on occupier needs has also been key.

“Part of that journey was seeing that putting in blue carpets and suspended ceilings was cookie-cutting. We can lease our buildings quickly and potentially on better terms because they are exciting, new and different. That’s great because it offers occupiers proper choice.”

We can lease our buildings quickly and on better terms because they are exciting, new and different

The aim, he says, is to make its buildings “the best they can be” and create environments in which occupiers can thrive.

“These buildings will be fun places to work. Getting out of bed in the morning is a little easier because your office is cool and you’re proud of working there,” Silver says.

The next building Silver hopes people will be proud to work in will be in Putney, where Landid secured planning consent in November for an 80,000 sq ft new-build.

Landid’s primary focus, however, will remain the Thames Valley. The ultimate aim is to work with a number of funds and investors.

“We like working with Brockton but we aren’t wedded to them,” he says. Given the ongoing success of the JV, don’t bank on them getting divorced any time soon, though.

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