Six years on from the property crash, Quartermile managing director Paul Curran can see light at the end of the tunnel as he surveys progress at the massive urban regeneration programme on the site of the former Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.
“We’ve had a massive year and created a lot of momentum across the development,” he says from an office at the heart of the project, which was bought by property investor Moorfield in a multi-million pound deal a year ago.
Development at Quartermile, previously owned by Lloyds-backed builder Gladedale Capital, largely ground to a halt when the financial crisis struck in 2008, but Curran is confident that work on the site will be complete in less than four years’ time.
He says: “With Moorfield coming in, that freed us up to do an awful lot more and the improvement in the market means everything is working with us. On the residential front, we had our best ever sales last year, with 100 completions, and at the moment we don’t have any stock to sell.”
The latest block on the site, which takes its name from the diagonal distance from one corner to another, is due to be finished before the end of this year and is already 85 per cent sold. Designed by Foster & Partners, the ten- storey Meadow Heights will be joined next year by City Meadows, of which only 40 per cent remains available.
“The next big thing will be to commence construction on the final two blocks along the Meadows,” says Curran, who worked with project management consultant Turner & Townsend before joining Gladedale in 2005.
“That will be another 130 units, and we’ll look to be on site at the start of next year. And that will be the Meadows phase complete.”
Apartments at the site range in price from £250,000 for a one-bedroom flat to £1.8 million for what Curran describes as a “very big house on top of a tower”, but Quartermile is also home to a growing business community.
Tenants include asset manager Investec, law firms Maclay Murray & Spens and Morton Fraser, along with flight search engine Skyscanner, one of the stars of Scotland’s technology sector.
With the nearby CodeBase incubator expanding rapidly, Edinburgh is building its reputation for nurturing and retaining technological know-how and Curran believes this vibrant sector could present a major opportunity for Quartermile, which lies just a stone’s throw away from the University of Edinburgh.
“Five years ago Skyscanner would not have featured on the radar but it is now the biggest occupier on the development and looking to grow. With the university and School of Informatics nearby this is a huge growth area that will – fingers crossed – generate a lot of demand, not just at Quartermile but across the city.”
Away from the cutting-edge tech scene, the development has also been successful in attracting retailers and eateries, including Looking Glass Books, Sainsbury’s and Starbucks. Newest arrival Enzo, an Italian bar and restaurant, is already generating positive reviews and means the project’s retail units are now 100 per cent let.
For those wanting to linger a little longer after a meal and a drink, Marriott Residence Inn offers an “extended stay” option for guests, but plans to convert two B-listed medical pavilions at the centre of the 19-acre site into a boutique hotel have been dropped.
“There’s lots of interest in the hotel market for that location, but the difficulty with all these things is the funding, and using a hotel management agreement is more difficult to fund,” Curran explains.
The firm is now seeking permission to transform the buildings, designed in the 1890s by Sydney Mitchell, into more luxury apartments.
“We’re waiting on that consent any day now – we’ve been through it with planners and Historic Scotland and they all seem very happy with it,” he adds, hopeful of avoiding the controversy currently engulfing the proposed transformation of the former Napier University campus at Craighouse.
“We’re probably one of the biggest listed building developers in Edinburgh, having done five Grade B ones already. They’re as important as the new build, as they add character and give us something different to sell.”
Quartermile, scheduled for completion by 2018, was originally due to have about 900 flats, but the change in plans means this could now rise to as many as 960, and work on the buildings could begin before the end of this year.
Once the final brick is in place, Curran insists he will not be putting up his feet to enjoy the fruits of his labours, and will instead look for more projects with the backing of Moorfield, which last week bought the Aberdeen Energy & Innovation Parks from Buccleuch Property and Scottish Enterprise for almost £35.5 million.
“Because we’ve got a hugely experienced team, we now have an excellent opportunity to push the business on by acquiring other sites across the UK. We probably won’t do it under the Quartermile brand, as each site will have its own identity.”
Although the initial focus will be on Scotland – most likely in Aberdeen and Glasgow – the team will also be casting its net south of the Border, but Curran glances at a scale model of the Quartermile project and says: “We’ve still got to make this happen.”
Job: Managing director, Quartermile
Born: Livingston, 1972
Education: Degree in surveying from Reading College of Estate Management; MBA from Edinburgh Business School
Ambition while at school: Probably to be a footballer, but I lacked the talent and ability
Car: BMW M3
Favourite mode of transport: Plane, because you get peace and quiet while the phone is off
Can’t live without: Family
Favourite place: Hong Kong – it has such a clash of different nationalities
What makes you angry? Negativity
What inspires you? Creating places that will outlive me
Best thing about your job? Diversity – dealing with so many types of people