May was a good month for Argent executives David Partridge and Robert Evans, culminating in a High Court victory that should put their £2bn redevelopment of London’s King’s Cross area back on track after a costly hiatus.
Less than six months after Partridge’s appointment as Argent’s joint chief executive in September last year, workmen were forced to down tools on the eight million sq ft King’s Cross Central project, one of London’s largest-ever property developments, when campaign group the King’s Cross Railway Lands Group launched a judicial review claiming that members of the planning committee at the London Borough of Camden, which hosts the development, were wrongly advised that they had to vote in favour of it (www.thelawyer.com, 30 May).
Assisted by David Forsdick of Landmark Chambers and Keith Lindblom QC of Francis Taylor Building, Argent’s legal adviser in the row was Lovells, which has advised Argent throughout the King’s Cross project.
The Lovells link, which stretches back several years, was born out of Lovells partner Andrew Sanders’ college days with DJ Freeman founder David Freeman – the father of Argent founders Peter and Michael Freeman.
Sanders remains Lovells’ key relationship partner for Argent along with partner Michael Gallimore, while the Freeman brothers remain non-executive directors and investors in the company.
But as Evans explains, it comes down to more than just a cosy family tie. “For us, personalities are just vital. You’ve got to like the people you’re working with, because life’s too short not to,” he says.
“When it comes to deals, we look to get from A to B as quickly as possible, and we’re impressed by lawyers who can come in and make that happen.”
Partridge agrees, saying: “The days of the prima donna are over. Regulation is getting more and more complicated and we need someone who’s able to integrate with the architect, the archaeologist, the planner and so on without a fuss.
“On the purely property side, a lot of it is also simply down to experience – people who understand what we do and how we do it.”
The DJ Freeman link also extends to the use of Olswang for corporate work, after the firm swallowed most of DJ Freeman’s real estate team, as well as a handful of corporate lawyers, in 2003.
Yet, as Evans says, the business is “a little bit promiscuous” and has also used firms including Berwin Leighton Paisner, Birmingham-based Wragge & Co for projects in the Midlands, including the £400m Brindley Place development in that city, and Manchester’s Pannone for work in the North West, including the £225m redevelopment of Manchester Piccadilly railway station.
And as those projects and King’s Cross Central mature, Evans says, “we’re going to put it about a bit”.
“The sheer number of deals and buildings in the scheme means it is going to be very difficult not to,” explains Partridge.
This should lead to a raft of opportunities for smaller firms to get in on the action. “There are 170 units being built in Manchester, 2,000 in King’s Cross, and the thought of having a senior partner at Lovells selling individual flats is an odd one,” Partridge adds.
Looking to the future, Partridge says that the business missed a trick by focusing too much on commercially led mixed-use developments, and he would like to increase its focus on residential property, grabbing a slice of the pie being enjoyed by rivals such as Candy & Candy, which is currently behind schemes such as the redevelopment of London’s Chelsea Barracks, Middlesex Hospital and 1 Hyde Park.
“We read The Economist too much and just didn’t think that property price rises of 25 per cent per annum could carry on – even though they have for five years,” admits Partridge.
Davis Partridge and Robert Evans
Chief Executive and Technical Director
|Turnover:||£10m to £70m (depending on projects)|
|Total number of employees:||40|
|Legal capability:||One secondee|
|Annual legal spend :||£2m|
|Joint chief executive:||David Partridge|
|Technical director:||Robert Evans|
|Main law firms:||Berwin Leighton -Paisner, Eversheds, Maxwell Batley, Nabarro, Olswang, Pannone, Wragge & Co|
|David Partridge’s CV||
|Robert Evans’ CV||