UK developer unveils project in Asia

UK developer Native Land recently launched its project on the South Bank of the River Thames, London, and unveiled it in Asia. Native Land offered NEO Bankside to buyers in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong and sold 15 units out of 20.

With a low exchange rate and competitive loan schemes, Asian buyers seem to be showing keen interest in UK property.

Native Land is a residential and mixed-used developer that has earned a reputation for coming up with innovative and sophisticated residential projects. The company was founded in 2003 by Alasdair Nicholls and Jonathan Mantovani, who were formerly the managing director and business director respectively of Taylor Woodrow Capital Developments,  a major UK-based home builder, property developer and lessor with international operations. Nicholls now helms Native Land as its CEO.

Native Land has developed properties such as 10 Montrose Place in Belgravia, London, an 18-unit luxury apartment complex completed in 2007; and Twenty Bishops Square in Spitalfields, with 14 apartments. The latter, completed in 2008, won the 2009 Grand Design “Best Housing Development of the Year” award.
The Tate Modern Museum seen from the opposite side of River Thames. In the background is an artist's illustration of NEO Bankside
Property acquisitions have been part of the company’s activities until 2007 when it pulled out of the market. However, with favourable conditions this year, the developer has returned to the fray.

In June this year, it purchased two prime freehold properties in Chelsea and Belgravia for more than £25 million (RM140 million). In Chelsea, it was reported that it had paid Warner (Music) Group £4.98 million for Waldron House, a 5-storey mixed-used building on Old Church Street. It consists of five duplex apartments on the third and fourth floors, 10,000 sq ft of office space on the first and second floors, 11 parking lots, and 10 houses. The developer has planning consent to convert the office space into nine large apartments. Native Land hopes to refurbish the entire premises to include increased security features. It aims to launch these units in 2010.

In Belgravia, Native Land acquired from Grosvenor — a privately-owned UK property group headed by the Duke of Westminster — the Chantrey House on Eccleston Street for £20.75 million. The property was redeveloped by Grosvenor in 2003 and consists of 28 private residential apartments (30,000 sq ft), five ground retail units with basement areas (15,000 sq ft) and 18 parking bays. In the medium term, Native Land will retain the property as investment but there are plans to create a show apartment, refurbish the common areas and upgrade eight vacant units for letting.

One factor in Native Land’s success is its partnership with companies such as Grosvenor, Hammerson and Land Securities, as well as a number of international private equity groups, says Nicholls.

For the NEO Bankside project, it partnered with Grosvenor, which has offices in 17 cities all over the world. As at Dec 31, 2008, Grosvenor has total assets under management of £12.6 billion. The company’s core expertise is in mixed-used urban centres, particularly in residential, retail and commercial property development and management. Its core portfolio comprises 300 acres of prime central London real estate in Mayfair and Belgravia.

Nicholls with the NEO Bankside model which showcases the external bracing system. Photo by Abdul Ghani IsmailNEO Bankside
NEO Bankside’s first of four towers should be ready by October 2010. The rest are to be completed in 2011, Nicholls said when he was in Kuala Lumpur recently. The four towers will have 197 units. There is a fifth tower block made up of 33 units of affordable housing.

The NEO Bankside land, adjacent to the world renowned art museum Tate Modern, was acquired from a major commercial company for £20 million in 2006. It took 18 months to get planning permission. “The process was a long one as London is a historical city and so, a lot of criteria had to be met,” says Nicholls. The gross development value of the project is £400 million.

Award-winning architect firm Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners was appointed to do the design. The company has won accolades for its projects such as Terminal 4, Madrid Barajas Airport and an energy-efficient housing scheme in Milton Keynes.

The design uses an external bracing system which removes the need for internal structural walls. “This provides for greater flexibility for new layouts in the future. Also, the residential towers have smaller floor plates that help maximise the amount of daylight from all sides,” says Nicholls.

Ground source heat pumps will be used for central heating in winter and cooling in summer, while water heating is solar-powered. When completed, it is estimated that NEO Bankside will receive about 10% of its energy from sustainable sources.

The first tower is 12 storeys and consists of 30 units of one, two, and three-bedroom apartments with limited duplex penthouses. All 539 sq ft one-bedroom units have been sold.  The two-bedroom units of 1,028 to 1,215 sq ft are tagged from £1 million, while the three-bedroom units, sized from 1,750 to 2,676 sq ft, start from £2 million. Rental yields are estimated to be between 5% and 6%, says Nicholls.

The development also has 11,000 sq ft of retail space that Native Land will manage and lease out. “More than five million visitors come to Tate Modern Museum,” he says, adding that a conservative estimated rent for retail units will start from £60 psf.

New infrastructure has played a part in the rising property values in the South Bank, such as a new tube station at Blackfriars, to be completed sometime in 2011. There is also the Millennium Bridge, which connects the South Bank to the financial centre of London. The many cultural attractions, like the reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Borough Market, London Eye, and Royal Festival Hall, add to the appeal of this part of the city.

Native Land’s next project is Florian Place, also on the South Bank in an area called Albert Embankment, with excellent views of the Parliament. The planning application is to be lodged soon, with work expected to commence in 2011.

This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 783, Nov 30-Dec 6, 2009.

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