The UK's second world trade centre (WTC) was officially launched in Hull earlier this month. The city's stakeholders hope that it will be a catalyst for a £1.5 billion investment plan to regenerate the area.
John Holmes, Hull Citybuild's new chief executive, thinks that he has picked the right moment to join the urban regeneration company (URC). Sitting in the centre's sizeable ground floor, he insists that Hull's fortunes are waxing. "It has the potential to really take off," he says.
"Hull will be a vibrant driver for the whole of the northern economy," he predicts. "Launching the WTC, only the second in the UK after Belfast, will be so important in terms of attracting trade from key overseas countries to the Humber area and appealing to investors."
Mix of projects comes forward
The building forms part of a business park overlooking Humber Quays, one of a range of projects in a city masterplan to create mixed communities. A developer is being sought to regenerate the fruit market site across the water from the park, while an extension to the Princess Quay shopping mall is among a clutch of city centre projects in the pipeline.
Holmes's main remit at the URC is to boost Hull's image and attract investment. This means acting as a spokesman for key stakeholders such as Hull City Council, Yorkshire Forward and English Partnerships and working with unitary authorities and the private sector. "My job is adding value to the good job that other organisations do," he says.
This is made easier by the fact that investors and financiers have finally wised up to the returns to be had from regeneration schemes, he notes. "They are certainly receiving as much if not more attention than conventional greenfield developments. There is real buy-in from national and international investors."
In his view, one advantage for Hull is that it has not turned its back on the riverside. "You can draw quite an uplift in values from waterfront locations," he points out. "The city really presents a great opportunity in terms of the River Hull and the Humber." But he admits that reeling in first-time investors to an area seen as out on a limb geographically will be a different matter.
"We have about a million people coming into the passenger terminal annually. A lot just pass through, but once you have them here they realise that we have some fantastic tourist attractions such as The Deep, which continues to bring in half a million people a year. I see all Hull's advantages and I really enjoy banging on as many doors as possible," he says.
It is not the first time that Holmes has worked on rebranding an area. As regeneration director at One NorthEast, he was jointly responsible for establishing a £15 million national marketing campaign to boost the region's image. He also helped launch the Buildings for Business joint venture with UK Land Estates to secure extra resources for the agency.
His 20-year involvement in regeneration stems from a secondment to the Department of the Environment in the late 1980s. "The government was setting up more urban development corporations," he recalls. "It was looking at how to get private and public sector partners to work together. That took me out of chartered surveying into the world of urban regeneration and I learnt how to lever in private sector money."
Since then he has turned his hand to dozens of other high-profile schemes. He was project director on the Newcastle Great Park development and was also responsible for transforming 81ha of contaminated land in North Tyneside into a mixed-use scheme that now features the Royal Quays shopping centre, a 500-berth marina and 1,000 homes.
Over the past three years Holmes has been involved in some of One NorthEast's most ambitious projects, including the Gateshead town centre regeneration scheme and the 100ha Middlehaven project in Middlesbrough. He took on a range of other responsibilities as a board member of Sunderland Arc and Tees Valley Regeneration and chaired the Durham 2020 Vision partnership board to help promote his native city.
His wealth of experience will stand him in good stead. Hull felt the full force of this summer's floods but none of the city centre regeneration areas were affected. Everything is still on track, he insists: "We are beginning to see development spring up around us. There is a real sense of vibrancy about the exciting opportunities it presents."
Family: Married with two children
Education: BSc in quantity surveying, Northumbria University, 1977
Interests: Cycling, promoting the Cry in the Dark charity to build a
hospice for children in Romania
2007: Chief executive, Hull Citybuild
2004: Director of regeneration, One NorthEast
2002: Project director, Newcastle Great Park
1999: Managing director, Paramount Homes Ltd
1998: Northern regional director, National House Building Council
1990: Project director and executive director, Tyne and Wear Development
1989 Urban regeneration consultant, KPMG