The middle ground
16 July 2001
31 May 2013
22 October 2013
28 February 2014
12 December 2013
22 October 2013
So, which firm is top dog for property in the Midlands? Wragge & Co is obviously a good bet; with 19 partners it is now boasting one of the largest property groups in the UK and it has shown a departmental profit increase of 51 per cent this year.
The group, which counts MEPC and Castlemore Securities among its clients, is particularly rated for property litigation. It also continues to handle a lot of residential development and local authority work. It successfully bid for the 'Heart of Slough' regeneration project in May this year, led by property partner Andrew Galla. Wragges also bagged its first major instruction from BT in the same month. The five-year deal, worth between £500m-£600m to the client, involves the management of 8,500 properties.
The firm's principal rival for property work in Birmingham is Eversheds. Last month, Eversheds announced it was shaking up its 74-partner property practice, in the latest of a long line of internal restructurings. The firm has often been criticised for struggling to coordinate itself across its national network. A new sector-focused approach will be implemented, which it hopes will streamline work and provide more strength nationally. Head of property Cornelius Medvei says: "There's always been a problem with geographical distance and this system was specifically designed to overcome that."
The changes are a pat on the back for the Midland offices, with three of the five new practice groups being coordinated by partners in the region. Birmingham senior executive Gerald Relph will be responsible for leading house-builders, Nottingham's head of property Nigel Sharpe will cover end-users, and partner Judith Gershon will head property finance from Birmingham.
But in the middle of all this change there have also been losses. Commercial property partner Karen Brooks has moved to join Hammond Suddards Edge in Manchester, while fellow property partner Nigel Watkins has left for Reed Smith Warner Cranston.
Pinsent Curtis Biddle and Hammonds claim to be reaping the benefits of merger. Pinsents, while not a property powerhouse, does count Wilson Bowden among its clients, while Hammonds continues to advise on the £113m Millennium Point project in Birmingham. But Hammonds also suffered a loss with property partner and head of the firm's retail team Simon Boss moving to Eversheds in January.
Lee Crowder property partner Joel Kordan believes that the market is steady. "I think there is a perceived change, not a marked one, but it is certainly quieter. Whether this is cyclical because it's the summer, or because we've enjoyed a good period, we'll just have to wait and see," he says.
Freethcartwright is another strong local firm, providing offices across the region, in Leicester, Birmingham and Nottingham. Its property team works for a number of residential developers, while also being one of just two firms in England to act for the Millennium Commission.
And one to look out for is the freshly-merged office of Reed Smith Warner Cranston. As well as scooping Watkins from Eversheds, it has brought former Shoosmiths partner Mary Anderson on board.
The new BullRing is a 40-acre, 2 million sq ft regeneration project in the centre of Birmingham valued at £163;430m. Eversheds (property partners Parmjit Singh and Gary O'Brien) is advising a consortium of firms named the Birmingham Alliance. The partnership involves Hammerson, Henderson Global Investors and Land Securities. The range of work has also extended to strategic advice and lettings.
|Dealsfocus: The Mailbox|
One project that's indicative of the Midlands renaissance is the redevelopment of a 1.5 million sq ft Royal Mail sorting office. The Mailbox is a 1960's building in the heart of Birmingham. The task was to convert it into a modern residential, leisure and retail centre - a job that turned out to be far bigger than expected.