Stockley a landmark in UK real estate history

Copyright: David Lawson 1996

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A handful of buildings jump to mind as  landmarks in property history. Centre Point, Canary Wharf, the Metro Centre, Broadgate - each representing a new chapter. Yet the tenth anniversary of an equally significant milestone passed almost unnoticed this month.

 A decade ago Prince Charles picked his way through massive earth movers over a former rubbish dump to launch what became the first genuine out-of-town business centre in the UK.

 Stockley Park created waves that are still lapping through the industry. Some of its biggest names - Stuart Lipton, Elliot Bernard, Tony Clegg -  have been involved. But the buildings and surroundings are the real stars. These were the first  to cater for a tidal  wave of high-technology offices. They proved that city-centre tenants could be drawn outwards. They showed that quality buildings and landscaping could win rent levels beyond developers' wildest dreams.

  Now the cycle is set to start again. Speculative development has restarted on  a remarkable block which could spawn another  generation of duplicates, this time  appealing to a 'green' generation. Ideas are also floating around about 'total' services, where tenants are not just provided with property but the complete range of services such as power, cleaning, security and data processing.

  Yet it all seemed so unpromising at the start. An ordinary little seven-acre industrial site off Dawley Road, Hayes, a mile north of the M4 was being looked at  by  Trust Securities, a small company run by a developer called Peter Jones.  The late Philip Roberts of Jones Lang Wootton was unimpressed when asked to check it out.

 'But one look over the fence made him realise the potential of a 350 acre wasteland behind,' says Chris Penn, who has kept the JLW connection going through the years. Near Heathrow, near the new M"% and near the M4. As current Stockley Park chief executive Andrew Vander Meersch point out: 'It was an incredible location waiting to be discovered.'

 Hillingdon Council, which owned most of it, was keen; so was potential backer USS Pension fund. But there were one or two problems.

  'Firstly, it was 30ft deep in festering rubbish,' says Penn. London's bricks had been made here for generations, and the barges that took them into town brought back garbage for landfill. There were also 37 other landowners - including  an old lady making fairground equipment. And it was all classed as green belt.

  But USS was keen to put up £50m - and money can move mountains, let alone rubbish tips. 'The chairman, Sir Kenneth Berrill was a bit different,' says Penn. 'He was keen to get into property and desperately wanted this scheme.'

 The obstacles gradually fell. Jones won approval from the Greater London Council for 1.5m sq ft of development - despite rejecting advice about  wearing his customary pinstripe and fob watch when addressing the notoriously left-wing group. Elliot Bernerd, now a major stokeholes but then with agents Michael Laurie, was brought in to charm a reluctant Leslie Melville at Costain into parting with its two acres. And the fairground lady, who still lives next door, was among those bought out by the council.

  But the cost was enormous: more than £40m alone to scrape away the garbage and create a 300acre country park and golf course with the spoil. All too much for a small outfit like Trust Securities. So back came Bernard along with Stuart Lipton and Jacob Rothschild to take over the scheme. And that is when history started to be made.

 'You must remember Stockley was going to be a warehousing scheme,' says Penn. 'But this high-powered team had its own ideas and, with new planning controls merging industry and offices under B1, the whole picture changed.'

  Few outsiders grasp the fact that all the glossy buildings put up since then are classed as mixed use rather than  offices. But that did not stop them becoming a pattern widely copied as business parks proliferated across not just the UK but mainland Europe.

  'Stuart Lipton and I went to the US and found tenants did not want high bays and big doors,' says Michael Broke, chairman of Stockley plc. 'We were told the largest vehicle on their parks were the catering vans. Demand from international companies was for high quality buildings in good locations. This was the first development which did not compromise.'

 Projected rents in 1984 for the first 500,000sq ft of buildings backed by USS were £8.50 a sq ft when Windsor levels were £17 a sq ft. The first letting, to Fujitsu, two years later was made at £13.50, says. Chris Hiatt at JLW remembers that there was so much interest, they had to double up potential tenants in presentations.

 Lettings  soared in the boom to £30 and are around £26 today. 'We have always been around £2 a sq ft ahead of surrounding centres and ridden the recession without major cuts,' says Andrew Vander Meersch, Stockley chief executive.

  The in-between years have traumatic, however. Mountleigh grabbed the company in a £365m takeover only 18 months after the official launch of the park. Chairman Tony Clegg did his usual quick turn, selling the park back to a consortium involving  Bernerd's Chelsfield, Lipton's Stanhope, the Japanese giant Kajima (and the Prudential. When British Land took over Stanhope recently, Kajima took the company's stake, although Lipton remains a consultant.



 The last few years have been tough enough to dampen Stockley's progress. It took a year before   Reebok took  1 The Square in 1993 and last year was enlivened only by BP's relocation - the only big tenant to have left - and the sub-letting of the 180,000 sq ft to BT at rents understood to be around £21/sq ft.

  Small deals in the multi-let buildings were still hitting £26 however, while the opposition in Bath Road, Heathrow, has fallen to £15, says Chris Hiatt at Jones Lang Wootton. 'Now is the time to build again because supply in the area has almost disappeared.'

  Vander Meersch has 'interesting ideas' for a new 30,000 sq ft building. Green designs are the way ahead but he will not commit himself much further. 'The next big jump will come from new legislation,' he says.

 There is  certainly  elbow room, with  outline permission for 400,000 sq ft  and a further 80 acres of land with potential for 1.3m sq ft - enough for 10 years, according to Broke. The unanswered question is whether Stockley will go beyond these boundaries.  Others have been left to attempt copies around Europe. Could a Stockley Mark Two, or Three, or more emerge elsewhere?

  But the way the industry is moving towards shorter leases and flexible space, Vander Meersch speculates whether Stockley may be offering more than property by the end of the next decade. This may revolve around the idea that buildings offer cash flow rather than rental growth. That could see landlords offering a whole range of services for businesses to pick and choose.



One of the most remarkable things about the buildings on Stockley Park is not that they are spectacular glass and steel showpieces, but that they were built so cheaply and with standard components.

 'They had to be low-cost to pay for the landscaping,' says James Burland of architect Arup Associates. Cheap does not  mean cheapjack. Up to 10  years on they still look pristine, and design awards have flooded in over the years.

 The trick was to combine the plant necessary to produce 24-hour climate control with the structure of the buildings. Arup was responsible for the first half dozen, setting the pattern for cool, high-tech  cloisters in rich landscaping.

 'They are actually the same basic formula of deep space and atriums as Broadgate,' says Stockley chief executive Andrew Vander Meersch. That is not surprising, considering Stuart Lipton played such an important role in both.

 He was also influential in bringing in big names like Sir Norman Foster, who designed the BP buildings - now let to BT. Skidmore Owings & Merrill, the US designer which also contributed to Broadgate, produced the three pavilions sold to Glaxo. Ian Ritchie and Peter Foggo also produced buildings.

 The other remarkable fact is that they are all business-class buildings rather than pure offices. In practice, that simply meant extra height on the ground floor for the industrial processes implied by the planning permission.

 The block now being built, unpretentiously called 3 The Square, breaks the mould. This is pure office.  Burland is also back on the case and has been asked to add a little warmth this time, using  black stone and timber.

 But the real revolution is the way the 8,600m2 (92,700 sq ft) block has literally turned previous ideas inside out.  The cruciform block is deep-spaced but has no atrium. Occupiers are still close to windows, however, because it has been  enclosed in a glass cocoon.

 'We have separated the weather protection from the insulation,' says Burland. This  is another first; an air-conditioned building which space planners DEGW will be 88% efficient in use. But it is also 'green' enough to meet modern demands.

 Occupiers can  open windows - always a niggling problem with modern buildings - as these face onto the conservatories between them and the glass outside wall. It also means natural ventilation which can allow outer-zone  air-conditioning to be turned off.


Quality pays. That is the single most important lesson brought to the property industry by Stockley Park, according to its  two central  figures.

 'We did enormous amounts of research and refused to compromise on standards we found international companies wanted,' says Stuart Lipton. That was not easy, according to partner Elliot Bernerd. 'It was a huge logistical exercise. We had to invent as we went along,' he says.

 New kinds of construction were developed - swift, economical enough to cope with huge infrastructure costs, but as good as the best city-centre space. Lipton went on to practise similar principles at Broadgate, another property landmark, before being eased out when his company Stanhope  was absorbed by British Land. The Stockley stake was sold to Kajima, but he remains a consultant.

 Lipton is quick to credit others such as James Burland of Arup Associates for designs which integrated with the landscape. USS pension fund's enthusiasm also provided early income as buildings went up while heavy earth-moving was still happening. Support by local people was crucial, he says, another lesson for other developers that they must involve communities.

 Stockley was  Bernerd's first big scheme and won   his spurs as a developer. His company, Chelsfield,  now handles massive projects  such as Merry Hill and the proposed White City centre with consumate ease.

 But he has kept a substantial stake in Stockley. 'I still have an enormous affection for it. We set standards which have been copied right across Europe,' he says.


Peter Jones ought to be a bitter man. Imagine Columbus had jumped ship a few miles off America and left the glory to a couple of friends he had just picked up. Jones did this with Stockley Park.

 'But I have no regrets,' he says. 'In fact, I'm desperately proud that it has been such a success. I'm an enabler. All the rest is bricklaying.'

  He  discovered the site on the day his company, Trust Securities, became the first property firm listed on the USM back in 1980. Hillingdon council wanted a small industrial scheme redeveloped.  'I said they should bring in the landfill site next door to give it the right size and address. I remember ruining a pair of Gucci shoes that day exploring the waste tip.'

 Jones picked out Elliot Bernerd, then senior partner of Michael Laurie, to investigate the possibility of  a high technology park, then the leading edge of development. By coincidence he  also lunched with an old friend looking for new projects, and recommended him to contact Bernerd. That was Stuart Lipton.

 As planning consultants Montague Evans put together the scheme, the figures began to look frightening. And that was Jones went over the side. 'I figured it would require investment of £140m. Trust was a £25m company.' So he sold Trust to Bernerd and Lipton.

  Still involved in development, he went back to see the place a few years ago. ' Everything I thought would happen has happened. The layout is exactly as we had planned,' he says.

 He remembers the date - 25 November 1993 -  by coincidence exactly 10 years to the day that he sold out. 'It was my birthday, and it was a wonderful present.'



The first time Charlie Worcester met Stuart Lipton, he told the developer to sod off. They have been friends ever since.

 Lipton is a big man. He also happened to be visiting his own buildings. Charlie is not big. But he had been a bodyguard for almost 20 years before standing in that weekend as emergency  receptionist. And Lipton would not sign the book.

 'I didn't know who he was,'says Charlie, still clearly embarrassed after more than a decade.  But such grit made an impression. He was immediately installed  as full-time guardian  - and became a legend. He also still has the pencil

 Among all the big names - developers, architects and tenants - Charlie's is the one every visitor meets and remembers. He is Stockley's walking encyclopedia. He knows  how much rubbish was  shifted (enough to dwarf Snowdon), who built what, which lake holds a solitary 10lb trout ('It must have flown in') and the name of the startling lady in pink tights in the fitness centre.

  He even knows  where the skeletons are buried. 'There's  an elephant and gorilla over in the corner. They died on a flight into Heathrow and were chucked into the rubbish, according to locals. But we never found anything.'

 This unreconstructed East-Ender has found heaven in the west. He lives, eats and breathes the place,  running the security force, the gardeners, the front office.

 Charlie is a living example of how developers can cement relations with tenants and local people. He is at the beck and call of occupiers, and  still finds time to trundle visitors around in his Land-Rover, reeling off the history of each building, its architect, the tenant - even the jaw-cracking name of the artist who did the sculpture outside. Passing locals stop to chat.  'We'll have more than 5,000 in here next week for the open day,' he says proudly.  'They think of it as their park. Kids I took around at the  start  now work here.'

  Big things like the accessible golf course and leisure centre helped. But so did little ones such as rigging up pipes spraying perfume  when the rubbish tip was being scoured all those years ago. 'We even changed it every week,' he says.  Charlie is  bigger nowadays - around the middle, at least. 'That's the price of getting married,' he smiles.  And no-one is surprised that his wife is called Di.  Prince Charlie of Stockley? Hmmm...



1980 - Trust Securities buys small industrial estate, potential

       uncovered  to link with 300 acres of rubbish tip.

1980-82 - USS pension fund brought in. Trust accumulates more land.

          Outline planning permission for 1.5m sq ft of space plus

          golf course and park.

1982 - Stuart Lipton and Eliot Bernerd take over.

1984 - Detailed planning permission. Switch from warehousing to B1.

1986 - Official opening by Prince Charles. First let (Fujitsu).

1986-90 - 1.2m sq ft of space built.

1987 - Mountleigh takeover

1988 - Stockley bought back by Stanhope, Kajima, Chelsfield and Pru

1990 - Final USS building - total of 20 on the park

1990-93 - development lags

1995 - Kajima buys out Stanhope

1995 - Speculative development restarts


Kajima       58%

Prudential   25%

Chelsfield   17%