Station Hill development bought outBy Alan Bunce
January 13, 2011
Reading's Station Hill development has been given “renewed impetus” after Sir John Madejski sold his controlling share in the £400 million project to a joint venture partnership.
His firm, Sackville Properties, has sold a majority share of its subsidiary Sackville Developments (Reading), which owns the site, to a joint venture between property investment fund Benson Elliot Capital Management and developer Stanhope plc.
The new partners are now reassesing the scheme but vow it will get a new lease of life from their involvement. However, Benson Elliot estimated work will not begin for another three years. It has been previously mooted work was potentially on course for next year.
Sackville development director Jon Homan said: “Obviously the last couple of years have been difficult for everybody involved, not just in property but the economy generally so this will give the scheme renewed impetus.”
Mr Homan continued: “We are very excited by the joint venture (JV). It was always our intention to bring in a JV partner.
“What will happen now is there will be a total reassessment of the current scheme and the marketplace generally to formulate a detailed strategy for the best way forward. There may be some changes to the phasing and how it is delivered.
“There is always a long way between outline planning consent and detailed consent. Everybody is a little bit more aware of the need to be flexible with the design. The heady days of the property market of 2005/2006 have gone. There will be a more cautious approach in the timing and phasing.”
He added: “It is the aim of the partnership to work with the local authority and others to bring this forward and make it happen. That will be a credit to all involved.”
Sackville Properties bought the site in 2005 and won planning approval in 2007. But the plan was called in by the-then secretary of state for communities and local government, Hazel Blears. Sackville then bought Friars Walk and drew up plans for an extended scheme, gaining consent in September 2009.
The 3.25 acre project included office space, flats, shops, restaurants, a bowling alley and a public square.
Sir John said the deal was exciting for the “epicentre of Reading” and very significant people were now involved.
He said: “It’s marvellous news. It means the project goes forward which is what everybody wants. I don’t think it will change much.
“Time will tell but if it does change I am sure the change will be for the better.”
Mr Homan added the scheme was able to attract investment despite the difficult times because it was such a good location. He said: “Outside London I don’t think you will find a better site.”
Marc Mogull, managing partner at Benson Elliot and chairman of the UK Urban Land Institute, was behind the acquisition and redevelopment of Broad Street Mall in 2001 when he was with Doughty Hanson and said he had an existing relationship with the council.
He said: “When you have a vision for urban regeneration, this is a phenominal opportunity. It has all the stakeholder involvement.”
He expects it to be between two-and-a-half to three years before work will start but that, he said will be driven by the market.
“Station Hill will be on the doorstep of everyone who walks out of Reading station. This is the front room. It will be a shame if we cannot make a real effort to push forward,” he said.
He went on: “What we are pleased about is while we may, as time goes on, contemplate bringing in additional funding structures and additional capital, because of the nature of the joint venture, we have not just a significant operational capability but we have enormous amount of funding strength. That’s different from where the plan was a few years ago.”
But he said Sir John’s involvement was essential.
“We never contemplated a solution where Sackville and Sir John were not in a central role,” he said.
Stanhope director Charles Briscoe said the deal would bring fresh impetus and its timing would fit the expected economic recovery.
He said: “This site is extremely well placed to benefit from the recovery.
“Some of the demand will be growth driven but also relocations and there will be some through obselesence of business premises.”
Council leader Cllr Andrew Cumpsty said: “It is an important milestone in this critical development project for the town.”