Q&A with UK Land Estates’ Keith Taylor

UK Land Estates has become a heavyweight industrial player across the North East, amassing holdings that make it landlord to more than 800 businesses. We spoke with managing director Keith Taylor to see what’s happening next.

What’s the story of how the business was built up? 

In 1990, Chris Whitfield launched UK Land Estates with a single commercial property unit in Ryton. The business has since grown to 28 estates across the North East.

Our three core estates – Team Valley Trading Estate, Tyne Tunnel Industrial Estate and Teesside Estate – are among the largest and most established in the region, home to more than 800 businesses.

From local SMEs to household names, our clients include Amazon, Fedex, DPD, DHL, Greggs, WHSmith and Premier Inn. There’s a complete cross-section of business size and type.

UKLE is landlord to 800+ businesses. Credit: via Creo

From the outset, the business has sought to make our estates better and better places to work. This is a never-ending journey of upgrade and improvement. It covers the quality of our buildings, the infrastructure of our estates, the appearance and landscaping of the sites and the availability and quality of tenant services, such as food, retail, gyms etc.

As part of this approach, we have embarked upon a number of new developments in recent years, including an £8.5m investment into the construction of four speculative industrial units at Teesside Industrial Estate, all of which were let within months of being completed.

There have also been improvements at Pennywell Industrial Estate in Sunderland and Eighth Avenue East and West and Kingsway North, both at Team Valley Trading Estate.

What’s the full rundown of the estates UKLE owns and operates at this point? 

UK Land Estates owns land and properties across the North East, including Team Valley Trading Estate, Teesside Estate, Tyne Tunnel Industrial Estate and Boldon Business Park.

As well as the hundreds of units we own across our estates, we also have over 120 acres of developable land, meaning that even when we don’t have the suitable property available for a customer, we are more than likely able to quickly and efficiently build it.

Boldon Business Park is among UKLE’s assets. Credit: via Creo

What has been the highlight of the 30 years-plus story?

If we are to pick out one, it would be our joint venture with the former English Partnerships, now Homes England. The public/private partnership lasted 10 years and worked out really well for both parties – a very strong relationship still exists between us. It was this joint venture which ultimately ended with UK Land Estates owning the Team Valley and Teesside Estates and provided the framework for us to invest substantially in the two estates. This investment will continue in the years to come as we seek to deliver the very best locations in the region for our tenant base.

A partnership with Homes England’s predecessor was key to making a success of Team Valley Trading Estate. Credit: via Creo

You bought St George’s House in Gateshead in 2022. What’s the story?

St George’s House featured in the opening of Oscar-winning drama “The Kings Speech”.

It has been pre-let ahead of its £4m refurbishment, set to finish this year, and is part of a wider £32.5m investment programme by UK Land Estates into refurbishment across the portfolio between 2021 and 2025.

Since it was built in 1937, little work had been carried out on the property that sits at the heart of Gateshead’s Team Valley. However, UK Land Estates’ investment has turned the showpiece two-storey property into flexible, leading-edge office space, while retaining the integrity and distinctiveness of the original design.

Boasting 25,000 sq ft of prime office space, St. George’s House is one of the estate’s most eye-catching properties. The unique building – with distinctive curved façade matching the bend of the Kingsway roundabout – has been let to a large national business.

As owner and operator of Team Valley, UKLE could not pass up the opportunity to purchase this historic property when it came on the market. The £4m investment will achieve an EPC A-rating and see St. George’s equipped with rooftop photovoltaic panels, EV charging points and ultra-modern insulation. The building has had a new heating and cooling system installed and will also retain its current “green roof”, further reducing its carbon footprint.

One of the first buildings to be built on Team Valley, St. George’s House was officially opened by King George VI, played in an Oscar-winning performance by actor Colin Firth, who is seen opening the building at the beginning of the film.

What’s on the agenda for UKLE this year and beyond? 

We have recently submitted five planning applications to develop speculative units on estates at Teesside Industrial Estate and Team Valley, which if approved will represent an investment of over £50m. We also have an ongoing programme of refurbishment which will maintain and improve our stock and renew some of our older units.

What are the biggest headwinds for UKLE at present?

The thing businesses desire above all else, with the possible exception of an infinite healthy order book, is certainty.

We can rarely guarantee certainty, but there are elements, trends and forecasts that provide businesses with peace of mind and confidence to make investments, recruit, expand or invest in training.

Over recent years, uncertainty has dominated the nation’s property market, from ever-changing planning regulations to fluctuating environmental targets and spiralling mortgage rates.

The business continues to invest. Credit: via Creo

Granted, some of the things impacting developers – such as rising energy prices – were always going to be hard to avoid due to events unfolding across the globe, however if we are to get the nation building again and build confidence among developers, then we must do all we can to ensure certainty.

Certainty of what planning regulations we need to meet, certainty of what our environmental targets are and as much certainty as physically possible around how much finance we need to secure.

After all, our occupancy levels remain incredibly high and demand has barely budged despite the cost of trading crisis, so we know we have the customer base, we just need more certainty all around to inspire more developers to put spades in the ground and help drive the UK economy forward.

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