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Department of Land Economy

Environment, Law & Economics

Major property developer Argent plc hosted a site visit by our postgrad students, organised and led by Senior Visiting Fellow Marc Mogull (Benson Elliot). The visit provided the group, all taking the MPhil Property Development module, a fascinating insight into this major urban regeneration project.

As in years past, a group of 30 Cambridge Land Economy MPhil students in the department’s Real Estate Development (RE02) class spent an enjoyable and informative spring day in London touring one of the UK’s most important development projects, as guests of one of the country’s most respected property developers.  After previous tours of the Crown Estate’s Regent Street estate (2016) and Land Securities’ Nova development in Victoria (2015), the class this year was hosted by Argent plc, who gave the group an insight into — and a peek behind the curtain of — London’s most significant urban regeneration project:  King’s Cross.  The trip was arranged and led by Senior Departmental Fellow Marc Mogull, Managing Partner of London-based Benson Elliot and one of three lecturers for RE02.

Students were met on arrival at Argent’s offices by Managing Partner David Partridge.  David started the day by orientating the group to the 67 acre project by means of an impressive scale model in Argent’s reception.  He related the important industrial and transport history of the site, moving forward to the site’s post-war decline into the underused industrial wasteland that Argent took control of — with a group of joint venture partners — in 2001.  Still a work-in-progress today, the re-development of King’s Cross was first conceived in 1996 by then owners London & Continental Railways Limited and logistics company Excel.  After a decade-long effort to conceptualise and initiate the project, outline planning permission for King’s Cross was finally secured in 2006.  That initial approval envisioned 50 new buildings, 20 new streets, 10 new major public spaces, the refurbishment of 20 historic buildings and structures, and the creation of up to 2,000 homes.

After David’s introduction, Chris Taylor, CEO of Hermes Real Estate (a direct investor in King’s Cross, and controlling shareholder of Argent plc), provided an institutional perspective on the King’s Cross project.  In particular, Chris focused on Hermes’ financial commitments to, and objectives for, the King’s Cross project, in the context of Hermes’ Model for Responsible Property Investment.  A paper on the topic of responsible investing, authored by Chris, had been distributed to students in advance.  Two further presentations rounded out the King’s Cross tutorial:  Argent Senior Projects Director Chris Parker provided a deep dive on the feasibility, funding and risk issues surrounding the project, from 2000 to the present; another Argent Senior Projects Director, Morwenna Hall, presented a case study on the latest phase of the King’s Cross project, Coal Drops Yard.

Morwenna’s presentation served as a kick-off to the site tour, as the group donned full PPE (personal protective equipment) for a walk-around of Coal Drops Yard.  As the name implies, this collection of historic buildings, dating from the mid 1800s, were used to transfer coal from rail wagons to road carts.  The brick and cast iron structure originally carried four high-level railway tracks, from which wagons dropped coal into storage hoppers.  Long in disuse, the Coal Drops will soon become a unique retail quarter, designed by Heatherwick Studios (Thomas Heatherwick is well known, amongst other commissions, as the designer of the Olympics cauldron used for the Olympic flame at London 2012).  Students split into two groups to tour the project, with the project teams offering insights into planning, design and construction issues.  An interesting element was the challenge presented by numerous small retail units in Coal Drops Yard, an unavoidable consequence of retaining the original structure:  Argent will offer those units on short leases to small traders, with the intention of creating a more eclectic mix of shops, and with a particular focus on local merchants.

The King’s Cross visit ended with lunch at Drake & Morgan, generously funded by the Cambridge Land Economy Advisory Board (CLEAB), and well-attended by the Argent team.  In the late afternoon, the group’s trip to London wrapped up with a drinks reception at JLL’s Curzon Street offices, hosted by CLEAB Chairman and LaSalle Investment Management Global Co-Head of Client Capital, Jon Zehner.