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Lumiere Leeds Interview

Lumiere is a proposed development in the heart of Leeds west end, comprising of a 32 storey mixed use and 54 storey residential glass clad pair of towers, with a connecting winter garden and piazza between the two towers. The scheme has gained approval in principle from the local planning authority, and contract negotiations are gearing up towards a start on site in early spring 2007. We spoke exclusively to Richard Dean, who is the Development Director for the project, on behalf of one partner developer KW Linfoot.

Skyscrapernews.com - When Lumiere was first presented to Leeds City Council, what was their initial reaction to the concept of a tower of over 50 storeys in the heart of the Leeds west end, and so close to the conservation area?

Richard Dean - We have to say, they were really supportive. Leeds looked across the Pennines at what was happening in Manchester with a lot of tall buildings planned and approved, this gave the image that they were forging ahead, and I think in Leeds there was similar ambition, and when they saw the quality of the architecture as it was evolving, they felt that it was something that realised their ambition and was something that could help market the city. I have to say in design terms, it was pushing an open door. We worked very closely with John Thorpe (the Leeds Civic Architect), after two hours into the initial meeting he was convinced this was the right scheme for this site, and has been supportive since.

Skyscrapernews.com - Towers of a similar size have been proposed in other UK cities, did KW Linfoot consider Lumiere for any other city?

Richard Dean - We are very keen to consider other schemes elsewhere, we already have secured a site in Salford Quays where we are proposing four 26 storey towers which is about all that site can stand. We are very keen to do another 40-50-storey scheme in other cities of a similar quality and nature. I guess to make it affordable there are only certain cities where you can make the economics stack up to build as tall as 50 storeys, you're restricted to London, you could do it in Manchester, Leeds where we would consider looking if another opportunity came up, Newcastle is supportive of tall buildings, and you may get away with Birmingham and Bristol.

Skyscrapernews.com - There have been numerous reports in the media recently stating an oversupply of residential apartments in the regional city centres, and these negative comments were capped recently by Maxwell Hutchinson's negative appraisal of the of future Leeds city centre residential developments. KW Linfoot must have a huge confidence in the city centre residential market at this time to be making the largest investment in it so far. Where is this solid base of confidence derived in such a mixed confidence environment?

Richard Dean - The thing to say about Maxwell Hutchinson's comments is that he came off a train and walked into an unfinished development and described it as soulless, which happened to be the Clarence Dock development, but by virtue of the fact that he was stood there next to a load of tower cranes shows that it isn't finished, it will evolve and become a community in its own right. We've done far more extensive research; we've now produced two reports where we've commissioned the University of Leeds to look at who lives in the city centre, why they live in the city centre and why they leave the city centre. We've done a lot of research into city centre living to back up anecdotal evidence to do with our own developments (West Point, Bridgewater Place and Manor Mills). There's about 3500 apartments in the centre of Leeds and another 3500 under construction, but there's a demand for about 24 - 25,000 many of which are not all fulfilled. A lot of proposals won't come on to the market, maybe only half will come to fruition, as some consents are just to raise land value. But we find that as long as the design is good, the price is good and it's in the right location, they always sell. Since we launched Lumiere a week ago, we've had 34 to 38 floors released and reserved, and that's in less than ten days!

Skyscrapernews.com - Is the fledgling city centre market beginning to show signs of evolving?

Richard Dean - I think Leeds, Manchester... they've got some way to run yet; I think they're still evolving. Leeds is fairly mature, but is still a maturing market, Manchester is the same. When you look further out in this region, at places like Bradford, Hull and Sheffield, they are further down the curve, they have fairly immature city centre markets, but they will in time reach where Leeds is now, and by that time Leeds and Manchester will have moved that bit further.

Skyscrapernews.com - Much of the marketing of Lumiere has focused on a portion of the apartments aimed specifically at the over 55s, what special features are included in these apartments to make them 'over 55 specific'?

Richard Dean - We anecdotally recognise that we are seeing that sort of age group moving back into the city centre. When we did our research, we found that about 40% of the residential market was in that age group. The apartments are bigger, as they are often downsizing from four-five bedroom houses in the suburbs and rather than coming a 400 sq ft one bed, they are coming into a 800-900 sq ft apartment. We are dealing with the Joseph Rowntree Trust, although we are looking more at the 55-75 group, so the concierge services etc are all within the apartment, what we're looking to do is bring in the communal areas that are solely dedicated to that age group; coffee bars, library areas, art rooms, that sort of thing, and extended services. What we're not looking for is anything like an institution which people would run a mile from, we're looking at larger more stylish apartments where people can extend their independence into their 70s.

Skyscrapernews.com - The public open space seems to form an important part of the development, particularly the impressive winter garden; how high a priority did KW Linfoot place in making Lumiere an inclusive place for the public?

Richard Dean - It is very important how tall buildings hit the ground, and how they interface at ground level, it's all well having beautiful architecture that looks great on the skyline, but if it's soulless at ground level it really fails as a development, so we are very keen to have an outside piazza with the garden, to be a 24 hour destination where people can come to bars, restaurants, and for workers in the offices whether they in or around the periphery of the buildings we want people to come, enjoy their evening, or just to quietly sit in the winter garden to read a paper. We'd like to see that if you buy an apartment in the tower, your home is the whole development so you can meet your friends in the lounge area, have a coffee at the ground floor or have a meal in the restaurant. So it is very important for the retail space and garden space to be a vibrant part of the building where people want to spend time. This is something that Phillipe Starke who is doing the interior design is very keen to make that a very special area.

Skyscrapernews.com - The concept of a two tower development of around 50 and 30 stories designed by Ian Simpson is clearly very similar to another proposal in the city less than a mile away. This must be more than just coincidence; was there a brief from KW Linfoot, the City Council or Ian Simpson's themselves to tie the two schemes to a similar format / appearance?

Richard Dean - There was no brief from the council. How it actually evolved if you look at the planning application drawings, you can see that Ian's done about twenty different iterations of the massing and form that the buildings are set out on site. As it is a joint venture partnership; the Linfoot area is focused on the residential, and Scarborough looks mainly to the commercial office, so we gave Ian the challenge that we said we wanted about 375-400,000 sq ft of apartments, about 100,000 sq ft of offices and around 100,000 sq ft of serviced apartments. How it evolved was quite an organic thing. There was no desire initially for it to be 54 storeys in one or 32 in the other, that's how it evolved and has ended up. There was no intention to mimic what was going on at Criterion Place. We are a little ahead of Criterion Place with obtaining planning, getting a contractor on board and getting sales underway, and hopefully we'll be away on site six months before Criterion Place even gets through planning.

Skyscrapernews.com - It could be quite a unique look for Leeds.

Richard Dean - I think on the skyline it will be excellent. With all the models we've produced, we've actually put on the consents for Criterion Place, Bridgewater Place and our towers and you're starting to get quite a nice little cluster of high rises towards the city centre. Architecturally, I think the city will benefit from both schemes going ahead, and I'm sure they will.

Skyscrapernews.com - It was reported that Carillion have been selected to become the main contractor

Richard Dean - They are our preferred contractor, they've won the first stage tender process, and we're now in a pre-construction period where we'll be working with them and the design team to get a fixed price lump sum.

Skyscrapernews.com - Did the fact of Carillion's good track record with the very similar Beetham tower in Manchester influence this decision?

Richard Dean - Heavily. When you look at the team at the Hilton (Beetham Tower) in Manchester, it was Ian Simpson Architects, it was WSP Engineering and it was Carillion Building, we've effectively got the same team and brought them across to Leeds, and I have to say that Ian Simpson and WSP have worked fantastically together over the 18 months of real intensive design, and since Carillion joined the party a few weeks ago, they've dovetailed in very nicely. So at the moment, everything's working great.

Skyscrapernews.com - Are KW Linfoot and The Scarborough Development Group confident that the contract will be negotiated successfully in time for a Spring 2007 start on site bearing in mind the complexity of negotiations at this stage of thrashing out the contract?

Richard Dean - We've set out an ambitious programme, in the first 12 weeks we'll know how close we're going to get to our target figure, and we'll set a target 18 weeks later to get to the fixed price lump sum. All the indicators are good at the minute, and time will tell after the next six months or so.

Skyscrapernews.com - I know how difficult this part of the negotiations can be.

Richard Dean - It's not just with the contractor, it's agreeing conditions with the supply chain as well that they are comfortable with accepting.

Skyscrapernews.com - There has been much made in the marketing of Lumiere being the tallest residential building in Western Europe and the tallest UK building outside London, however it seems possible that the Eastgate Tower in Manchester will also start construction around Spring 2007. If so Lumiere will not hold the title for long, are KW Linfoot determined to try to hold this title for a least a short time by completing first ?

Richard Dean - It's one of those things, it's transient. We never set out to be the tallest residential building in Europe, it came from the topping out of the Beetham tower in Manchester when they were advertising themselves as the tallest residential building in Europe, and we literally looked at the height of their building and looked at the height of ours and we were a couple of metres taller, and we thought if they can market that way we can as well. But we always realised it's going to be a transient thing.

Skyscrapernews.com - Looking beyond Lumiere, are there any hints of any future major projects by KW Linfoot in Leeds or elsewhere ?

Richard Dean - We've got a real appetite to do some further high rise buildings, we're actively seeking sites for another 45, 50, 55 or even taller building, we've learnt an awful lot from Bridgewater Place and Lumiere so far, and what we're doing in Salford Quays, and we're keen to do another. So it's a case of watch this space and I hope we announce something in the not too distant future.

Skyscrapernews.com - Thank you for your time, and we wish you best of luck with the development of the Lumiere project.

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