Cookson to continue heading property despite departures

Ashurst Morris Crisp’s property group is keeping Simon Cookson as its head for a further three years, after his tenure expires this spring.

The appointment comes despite the turbulence that has accompanied Cookson’s reshaping of the department to boost profitability.

It emerged last week that head of planning Michael Cunliffe is to become the latest in a string of departees from the group since Cookson took over as head of department from Laurence Rutman in May 1998. Cunliffe is joining Mayfair firm Forsters.

Last year Ashursts saw the departures of property partners Guy Wheatcroft, who set up his own property company, and Charles Leach, who later joined Rowe & Maw. Assistant retention has also suffered, with 11 departures in 2000.

But Cookson has presided over the arrival of Gary Watson, former London managing partner of Hammonds Suddards Edge. And in another positive move three members of Cookson’s team were made up to partnership this month, while former managing partner Ian Nisse returned to the property department after a sabbatical.

Cookson says that his reappointment was based on a consensus within the department rather than a formal election. He says: “I’m staying on as head of property for another three years at least, unless they boot me out. They wanted it and I agreed to do it.”

His priorities for the future include building a credible pan-European real estate practice for the firm. He also plans to refocus the planning team following Cunliffe’s departure later this year, with an emphasis on private sector work.

He says: “There are other opportunities in the private sector to eke out. We want to target that rather than local authorities. It is more interesting in many ways. We are not doing that to the exclusion of other areas but we are putting more emphasis on an area where we see more profitable growth.”

Cunliffe joined Ashursts from the London Borough of Camden in 1983. His work includes advising the Paddington Development Corporation (PDCL), a joint venture between long-standing Ashursts client Chelsfield and private investors, on its Paddington basin development.