This article first appeared in EG (25/06/2020)
It was 2008 when Argent started infrastructure works on King’s Cross. The world was just emerging from the global financial crisis and Argent was beginning work to transform one of London’s most unloved, rundown but uniquely connected areas into the commercial hotspot it is today – an area of London now loved by many.
In 2020, as the world starts to emerge from the coronavirus crisis but potentially slips into one the deepest recessions since the Great Depression, the developer is again preparing to transform an area of London into something different. But this time it is definitely not King’s Cross.
This time, Argent Related is hoping to completely change people’s opinions of north London’s Brent Cross.
“Brent Cross will be nothing like King’s Cross,” says Nick Searl, Argent Related partner and joint lead on the Brent Cross South development. “We’re not trying to copy what we did there. It is a completely different place. Brent Cross has a very different existing perception. And it’s something that we are going to have to work really hard to shift.”
He’s not lying. Google “Brent Cross” and you are not greeted with pages and pages of rave reviews, of blogs fawning over the community, the amenities or the Happiness Index. You are greeted with images of a rather depressing shopping centre and not much else.
The developer has been involved in the £4.5bn, 180-acre town centre development project for around five years. It had hoped to be further down the line with the project today, but evolving the existing outline planning permission it inherited while dealing with the combined headwinds of Brexit and now Covid-19, meant it didn’t quite get to this point as quickly as it originally would have hoped, says Searl.
“But now we are becoming increasingly confident in where we are and what we’ve got to offer,” he says.
What Brent Cross has to offer, reckon Searl and fellow partner and joint lead on the project André Gibbs, is exactly what people want today: space and the ability to create connections.
The pair believe that Brent Cross’s “natural assets” are its abundance of green open space – the developer has 50 acres of parks and playing fields to play with – and its connectivity to some of the most exciting and innovative tech and knowledge hubs in the country.
A consent earlier this month for a new Brent Cross West Thameslink station means that by 2022 there will be a direct line into King’s Cross that takes just 12 minutes, the area already boasts an existing Tube station on the Northern Line taking people into (or out of) Old Street and the City, it sits at the foot of the M1 giving easy access to the Oxford Cambridge arc, and within an hour you can be at any one of five airports.
The connectivity sounds great on paper, but it is still Brent Cross and Argent Related has some several million sq ft of offices to create and 6,700 homes to deliver. The first offices are scheduled to complete in 2024.
“One of the reasons we were particularly excited about this was that the planning permission comes with 3m sq ft of office space,” says Searl. “Many people would have seen that as a challenge and don’t get me wrong, it is, but we have a history of making office markets. We’ve done it in Birmingham, we significantly did it in Manchester and we did it at King’s Cross. And we feel increasingly confident that not only do we have a great location and connectivity for offices here, but we are also going to be able to position a really broad variety of types of office space and types of working offer that will have all of this local amenity close by.
“The offices are a massive opportunity for us,” he says, “and an area where we are focusing increasingly on how we bring that forward as a significant early part of the development.”
Gibbs says the enormity of the site and the amount of flexibility the developer has as a result of that means it would be easy for him to list a range sectors it could attract to the offices. But ultimately, he says, the sector doesn’t really matter. To him, it’s the human that will make Brent Cross a success.
“We are designing a town centre for human beings and whether that person works for government, a science company, a technology company, whatever, there are still some basic things that most human beings are attracted to,” says Gibbs. “The key to letting that amount of space is to make sure that we don’t focus on one individual sector, but that we actually focus on making places people want to be in, people want to work in. That people enjoy the amenities that we create.”
“It’s really important that we have an attitude and we have a sense of purpose and that we demonstrate that what we are trying to do is create an environment, an ecosystem, whereby like-minded organisations can come and buy into that,” adds Searl. “Not just with us, but with each other. That’s something that we experienced at King’s Cross. That wasn’t about any particular sector coming together, it was about buying into a big vision of what a new kind of place can be.”
He adds: “One of the great pleasures for me working on King’s Cross was that we made a fundamental change to the London office market. I think we have a real opportunity at Brent Cross to fundamentally shift the way we think about how an urban centre within a city can function and how we can facilitate connections that generate a genuine opportunity for communities to thrive. I genuinely hope we can create a new model for that.”
Brent Cross South
- Total investment: £4.5bn
- Green space: 50 acres of playing fields and parks
- Office space: 3m sq ft
- Residential: 6,700 homes
- Time scale: 15-plus years
- Masterplan architects: Allies & Morrison and Makower Architects
- Agents: Cushman & Wakefield (offices) and Savills (residential)
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