Who’s who in North East property
Developers capable of delivering at scale and civic figures able to harness funding and put together complex projects feature in Place North East’s round-up of key individuals on the regional property scene in 2023.
Michelle Percy, director of place, Newcastle City Council
Percy has been with the local authority since 2016, when she joined as assistant director of commercial development, becoming director of place in 2019. Working with chief executive Pam Smith, Percy’s role at Newcastle is to deliver a major change programme, seeing through to completion a raft of projects including the Stephenson Quarter regeneration scheme close to the railway station that she worked on while at developer Clouston Group before Clouston sold the site to the council.
Ben Houchen, mayor, Tees Valley Combined Authority
Houchen was elected Conservative mayor of Tees Valley in 2017. He has certainly had an impact on both his local area and on regional governance, attracting widespread coverage with his regime’s preparedness to get on the front foot with development. Being a primary mover in prime minister Rishi Sunak’s drive to make freeports happen is one thing, but the wider Teesworks zone is also worthy of note, while the acquisition of Middlesbrough’s airport, staving off closure, has opened up a further development area.
Jonathan Ruffer, founder, Auckland Project
Could every town do with a Jonathan Ruffer? The philanthropist, who made his money from providing investment management services to pension funds, has bankrolled a succession of regeneration projects in Bishop Auckland over the past decade, including the restoration of Auckland Castle, through the Auckland Project, which in itself employs 80 people as well as fuelling a revived visitor economy. Last year, the Project opened its latest venture, the Spanish Art Gallery, repurposing a former bank building. According to estimates, The Auckland Project has invested £200m and has been instrumental in bringing in government cash through the Levelling Up Fund’s first round.
Mark Henderson, chief executive, Home Group
Along with leading Home Group, which has 55,000 homes under management in Scotland and the North, Henderson sits on the board of Homes England and is a member of the North of Tyne Combined Authority. Other roles include chairing the Live Smart @ Home brand and North Housing. He’s also a former board member of the National Housing Federation.
Cllr Graeme Miller, Leader Sunderland City Council
Like other cities, Sunderland has had to grasp the regeneration nettle itself, working with trusted backers and developing partnerships. Miller has served the council for more than a decade and has represented the city on organisations including the North East Combined Authority leadership board and North East Local Enterprise Partnerships.
Pat Ritchie, chair, Government Property Agency
Although she left the chief executive role at Newcastle City Council in 2021, Ritchie still has serious clout. She chairs the Government Property Agency, and also works with the National Leadership Council and Newcastle University Council. Ritchie, a former chief executive of the Homes & Communities Agency and deputy boss of One North East, was crucial in both the region’s devolution deal and in leveraging L&G to back the Helix life sciences development.
Peter Connolly, chief executive, Igloo
As igloo boss, Connolly leads a £1bn programme of sustainable urban development and investment across 30 national projects. In the North East, as well as award-winning work in Ouseburn, igloo is currently progressing the £450m Stephenson Works scheme in Newcastle, which includes 120 apartments and 200,000 sq ft of office space, alongside renovation of heritage buildings. Igloo is also managing delivery of the Vaux neighbourhood within Riverside Sunderland, where it won the government’s Home of 2030 design competition.
Jennifer Hartley, director, Invest Newcastle
Hartley drives Newcastle’s ambition to attract new business, investment and jobs, a role that includes a brief to support indigenous businesses to grow. She has more than 12 years’ trade and investment experience within both public and private sector, including leading on the city’s tech and digital strategy and working as deputy head and trade investment director at Tech North. She has worked on several technology-driven projects, and been a mentor on the successful accelerator programme ignite 100. She is a board member of North East IT cluster organisation, Dynamo.
David Cullingford, head of development, Citrus Group
As project lead for Integra 61, Cullingford is point man for one of the North East’s biggest developments. In 2022, £75m was secured to enable speculative development of 600,000 sq ft-plus of industrial space, around half of which will come in a single standalone building. The development will also bring 270 homes, a hotel, nursey, pub-restaurant and roadside/trade counter units to the site, four miles from the city of Durham. Image credit: johnhoulihan.com
Harry Banks, founder, Banks Group
Founded in 1976, Durham-headquartered Banks Group has shown a flair for diversification, moving from its coal extraction origins into property development and then renewables. The company’s two North East windfarms met the electricity needs of 18,700 homes in 2022, equivalent to a town Durham’s size. In property terms, January 2023 saw the group lodge plans for Eggborough West, an extension to the village south-west of Selby, which could extend to 1,500 energy-efficient homes.