Few property developments have endured as difficult a birth as Platform, a 120,000 sq ft office block that sits on top of Leeds train station.
The previous owner of the building, known formerly as City House, went into administration and current owner Bruntwood went through numerous contractors before completing the comprehensive refurbishment of the property earlier this year.
Of those who have worked on bringing Platform to market, few have been as involved as Craig Burrow, director of Bruntwood’s Leeds operation, who did the last office letting at City House in 2003 while working as an agent for Sanderson Weatherall.
Property Week catches up with Burrow to talk about the scheme’s turbulent recent history and find out his hopes for its future.
When City House was built in the early 1960s, many locals considered the office block - which was designed by disgraced architect John Poulson - a blot on the landscape.
For years, it was home to the railway station’s main signal box, but after this function was moved to York it was bought by private developer Kenmore in 2006.
At the time, Burrow was still working as an agent, but in 2007 he moved to Bruntwood to help the North West-based serviced office provider deliver its 3 Sovereign Square office development, construction of which completed in November last year.
While the delivery of Sovereign Square was smooth sailing, the redevelopment of City House was anything but.
“Kenmore stripped the building out, took it through planning and they were going to do a major reinvention, but then they went into administration in 2010,” recalls Burrow. “We bought it out of administration and got planning for our scheme in October 2011.”
That is when the hard slog began. Bruntwood envisaged a full overhaul of the building, which involved taking it right back to the frame.
“People said: ‘Why not knock it down and start again?’ But the structure is so integrated into the station that knocking it down would have been a bigger job than we’ve done,” says Burrow.
The first delay was caused by the need to renegotiate the leasehold on the building with Network Rail. The lease had only about 85 years left, but this was eventually bumped up to 150 years.
Initially, Bruntwood weighed up plans to convert the building to hotel or residential use. However, it seemed the more viable approach was to stick to the building’s original office use.
The structure is so integrated into the station that knocking it down would have been a bigger job - Craig Burrow, Bruntwood
Having selected a contractor in 2011, work on the refurbishment stalled until early 2014, at which point the contractor said the job would cost more money and take longer to deliver than projected. As a result, Bruntwood decided to seek out a new partner.
In early 2015, a new contractor was appointed and enabling works started on site. However, in 2016 this contractor entered administration just over half way through the works programme.
Bruntwood ended up recruiting some of the workers whose jobs were made redundant by the contractor and eventually finished the project in September this year using its own company, Bruntwood Construction.
“It was a long journey, but the result is excellent,” says Burrow. “It’s changed the skyline and we’ve had a significant amount of positive feedback.”
Bruntwood has already let nearly 10,000 sq ft of space to law firm Shoosmiths. Burrow says there are three further lettings in the pipeline that should complete in the next few weeks and will gobble up another floor and a half of space.
Across the first three floors, the company has created serviced office space that has provisionally been named ‘tech hub’. Bruntwood secured funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport to create the space, which comprises co-working space for start-ups, conventional serviced office space and grow-on space for businesses.
The city has a burgeoning tech start-up scene and some businesses have already started moving into the hub, which will launch officially by the end of the year - the company is creating an equivalent space in one of its buildings in Manchester. This leaves Bruntwood around 55,000 sq ft of space to lease.
It also has around 25,000 sq ft of office space to let at 3 Sovereign Square - a joint venture development with Kier Property. Bruntwood started spec building the 92,000 sq ft scheme towards the end of 2014 and secured a deal for around 60,000 sq ft to Addleshaw Goddard in April 2015.
Although Bruntwood has been retained to manage the building, it sold the development to Leeds City Council. “We exchanged on the Monday after Brexit, so the timing was pretty good,” says Burrow.
He says the company is close to sealing deals for a significant portion of the remaining office space and there is also strong interest in the scheme’s 4,000 sq ft or so of leisure and retail space.
While the company still has plenty of work to do on its existing schemes in Leeds, Burrow says it is constantly on the lookout for new opportunities.
“Bruntwood has the desire and ambition to continue to grow in Leeds,” he says. “We’re looking at some other opportunities, whether that be central business district refurbishment or new-build sites. We’re very committed to Leeds and now that [Platform] is almost off my desk, I need to find my next project.”