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Updated: Jun 27

In conversation with Rob Lane, director of Premcor Estates, who talks about the journey he and business partner, Simon Hawkins, have been on since they set up the business.

Robert Lane & Simon Hawkins - Premcor Directors

(L-R) Robert Lane & Simon Hawkins - Premcor Directors

What prompted you to start your own commercial property development business?

Establishing Premcor was a long-held ambition that gathered momentum for me in 2012.

Like Simon, we had both worked at Terrace Hill.  It had become known as Urban & Civic by the time I left and went to work at Citygrove, another property development company in West London.

It was 2015.  I had kept in contact with Simon who was development director at Urban & Civic, working out of the Teesdale office in Stockton.  Talking to Simon, I could tell he was ready for a new challenge.    

He had always been good at finding sites and securing planning consents and by Easter 2016, he had just completed a large mixed use leisure development in Darlington, the Feethams leisure development. It included a nine-screen Vue cinema and 80-bed Premier Inn and restaurants including Nando's, The Chinese Buffet, Prezzo and The Woollen Mill –  run by the national Hungry Horse chain.

Simon believed the Feethams development would ‘bring something to Darlington that the town lacked’  and in terms of quality of finish and operator line-up, I think it would have been hard to find a better mixed use leisure scheme in the UK at that time. 

It is so important to have faith in the scheme you are bringing forward and Simon’s belief in this site was well-founded.

However, by 2018, although I had enjoyed my time at Citygrove, I was starting to think that it was time to pursue my own goals, not those of someone else.  My initial plan was to leave, take some time out to do a twelve-month intensive MBA and then turbo charge the new business.

I ended up doing everything at once.

It was already clear that the commercial development market in London and the South East had become increasingly competitive, both in terms of securing sites (which would require the commitment of significantly more equity to achieve a balanced risk portfolio of deals) and to get the business up and running.  Had we pursued only that regional focus, the business may not have been viable.

I decided to ask Simon to join me at this point.  He didn’t need much encouragement.  So, while I live in London, our head office is in County Durham at the Aycliffe Business Park, and we operate nationally.  We describe ourselves as a private, UK-based property development company, which works on projects up and down the country.

The last five years have been pretty challenging all round,  so what are the factors that have led to your success?


We were both well-known and well-respected (I think!) in the industry as well as being highly experienced at finding sites and putting deals together. 


And there is no substitute for experience.  


We take a realistic and balanced whole market view of commercial development born out of our combined 50 years of working in the industry.


I have sourced and developed over twenty schemes with a £2 billion end value and Simon has successfully secured planning consents, funding, and delivery on more than one million square feet of retail and leisure space, so we managed to get some projects on our books, quite early on, even if we are still working on some of them now!


We enjoy access to a variety of funding options including working with private family offices and trusted financial partners for larger projects. We are well versed in operating at the highest level across the full development cycle. Our experience leads us to work, often intuitively, in sourcing and delivering opportunistic proposals which match product with occupational needs.


I would say that securing the confidence of private family offices is possibly the most important thing we have achieved as a relatively recent newcomer to the industry.


What was the first project you completed?


Our first major scheme – the North Durham Retail Park at Pity Me, Durham - demonstrates all these points perfectly. It has now been fully operational for 18 months.


Located  adjacent to Durham’s largest out of town retail destination, the Arnison Centre, it was a  five-acre site off Old Pit Lane (formerly known as Elddis Business Park). 


Simon specialises in industrial and occupier-led retail and leisure developments and closed the initial deal with Elddis who owned the site, which had become surplus to requirements.  At the time it was in use as an ancillary depot with five multi-let buildings, all of which were demolished to make way for the development.


We submitted plans to Durham County Council in 2019 for the redevelopment of the site and once given the green light, construction commenced in July 2021 with GMI Construction. Aldi was opened November 2022, in time for Christmas trading.


With 45,000 sq ft of lettable space, this modern retailing park has now become home to leading retailers such as Home Bargains, Aldi, Iceland’s ‘The food WAREHOUSE’ concept and a Starbucks drive-thru.


As our first scheme, the North Durham Retail Park was a really special one for us and we are delighted with the calibre of retailers we secured as tenants. 

North Durham Retail Park

North Durham Retail Park


Why was the North Durham scheme so successful?


We have a strong track-record of successfully matching market demand with investor

requirements, which is exactly what we achieved at North Durham Retail Park where we have been able to not only provide greater consumer choice and create new jobs for local people, but with the sale proceeds, Elddis was also able to reinvest in the growth and success of its firm in the region.


It is vital before embarking on any new project to consider ‘Is it what this location needs? Will it add value to what is already there? Is the right infrastructure in place to support it? Is there passing traffic and footfall?’  In the case of this development, we could happily tick each of these boxes.


 Five years in, how are you and Simon getting along - do you have similar or complementary styles and personalities?


It works well. We are highly complementary.  We very rarely disagree on strategies and we work jointly on projects - both our names are on emails, which can be surprising for some people, but we both like to be fully abreast of what is happening across the portfolio. If one of us is not around, the other can jump onto a conversation and be fully aware of a project’s status.

When we are working on a new project, we both get a sense when we are talking about it as to which of us will be doing what, without discussing it.

Being based in London, I tend to get more involved in the funding, JV partners and finance  generally whereas Simon is more involved with agents, site finding and marketing.

Robert Lane & Simon Hawkins - Premcor Directors

(L-R) Robert Lane & Simon Hawkins - Premcor Directors

What impact did Covid or the lockdown have on the business?

If anything, Covid helped us to get things moving more quickly. Suddenly, everyone was meeting online or doing deals by phone whereas prior to Covid, in-person meetings could take some time to organise.

We were able to work on progressing planning applications throughout Covid and because of the surge in online retailing, there was an increased desire for warehousing space, so it was a good time for us.

How can you protect your business from external events beyond your control?  Is it possible to future-proof a commercial property development business like Premcor?

You need to be adaptable – not too specialised.  For example, we began with hotels and out of town retail from day one, then moved into industrial and now we are still involved with industrial developments and latterly, with self-storage.

We’re also running planning and delivery strategies on residential sites – one in Croydon for 450 apartments and the other in Hampton Court for 100 units with an 84-bed hotel. With all the increased regulation and planning oversight in this sector these proposals have become extremely complex to deliver.  

A red line for us is that we do not take on bank debt if we can avoid it.  This means we need to make sure we are dealing with reliable private investors, have strong occupier covenants in place, work with financially sound contractors and operate with excellent cashflow management.

What Simon and I do believe, with the benefit of time and hindsight and looking back at our time spent at Terrace Hill, is that its directors always operated with great integrity - the modus operandi of the business was very straightforward – and we have tried to recreate this at Premcor because elsewhere in the industry there is a degree of ruthlessness, which is not attractive.  I think retaining commercial integrity and demonstrating good ethics and honesty in the corporate world together with individuals in your day-to-day work, will create a reputable business which people want to engage with.  

Nottingham 360

Nottingham 360

What of the near future – and in particular, what has 2024 got in store?

At Premcor, we are committed to putting sustainable practices into action, exemplified by our project, Nottingham 360, which is set to achieve a BREEAM Excellent rating, so we are definitely interested in undertaking further sustainable developments. 

This JV with Barwood Capital has a keen emphasis on ESG credentials and received some very good feedback from specialist agents when they recently came to our practical completion launch in February.

We have also just invested in a new company - Yard Storage Solutions - offering open storage and container self-storage – which we see as being complementary.  


We envisage we may have as many as six Yard locations by the end of the year in Sheffield, Durham, Carlisle, Newton Aycliffe, plus the first on the outskirts of Newcastle at Cobalt Business Park, which will launch imminently.      


We have proven development experience delivering branded hotels which has built us a very good network of contacts in this sector.  This is therefore one area where we have capabilities on which we would still want to capitalise as the sector regains its feet post Covid and new entrants come forward.

Our next big development is in Rossington, Doncaster, where we have a 45-acre site for mixed use development and we will be submitting a planning application for this around the middle of June 2024.


The business would benefit from growing with the right new team members … as ever it’s an issue of finding time to focus: we have a very full hopper so recruitment always seems to get de-prioritised!

Key to our success has been working with some of the best JV partners.  We are always keen to discuss ideas and proposals with like-minded individuals, so please do get in contact if you have a project or proposition to discuss.


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