Heaton Group: Hitting the heights

By Ged Henderson

24 Jul 2023

John Heaton

Coming from a mining town John Heaton has a saying: “Manchester is a diamond but there’s money in coal.”

That’s why, while many development businesses look to the big city to make their fortune, he has found his market in smaller North West communities such as his native Wigan. Preston is proving another rich seam for The Heaton Group.

The company is currently working to deliver Preston’s tallest residential block – tangible evidence of the gathering momentum of its city living strategy.

Once completed The Exchange, a 16-storey apartment block, near the Stoneygate development area, will have 200 high specification one, two and three bedroom units spread over three separate blocks.

There will also be a host of on-site amenities for residents to enjoy including a gym, concierge service and a fabulous roof top garden. The Exchange will also have retail and office space available.

It is not the family-run development and construction business’ first Preston city centre scheme. The completed Bishopgate Garden, near Preston’s markets, is a development of 130 residential apartments with features such as a concierge service, coffee shop, shared work space and onsite retail units.

John says: “The Exchange is part of our four-year Preston masterplan. Preston is undergoing such a transformation at the moment and going from strength to strength, it really is the city to be in, and we’re excited to be part of it.”

Some may say The Heaton Group is actually leading it. In June it submitted plans to transform the historic and long empty Park Hotel near the city’s railway station into a 65-bedroom aparthotel, along with another 360 apartments overlooking Miller Park.

John likes to talk about place making. He says: “Place, communities and people are important to us. We don’t see buildings just as units where people live or work. To us it’s where people create their homes and their communities.

“It’s where they live and work and socialise and it’s vital that we create and provide the best developments we can for people to be able to do this.”

Those development projects, spread across the North West, have also included an apartment scheme in the centre of Chorley.

Heaton Group has also delivered schemes in Bolton and Warrington and is currently developing in Salford, in Trafford and in its home town, where it is embarking on an impressive £200m transformation of Eckersley Mills, near the iconic Wigan Pier.

Close to Wigan town centre, the 17-acre site is one of the largest undeveloped brownfield sites in the North West. Eckersley Mills was once the largest cotton-producing site in the region, and contains a group of buildings which were built between 1883 and 1920 .The first phase will see the creation of a food hall and offices.

The group has an impressive portfolio of projects either in planning, development or completed and under its management. The business, founded by John’s builder great grandfather, also has sales teams in global cities including Hong Kong and Dubai.

Its approach to doing business is simple. Everything is carried out in-house, which gives it efficiencies and its projects are at the high-end of the market. John says: “We see an opportunity, we go in and we create the market.

“We are usually the first into an area and have the toughest job and other people then follow after us. When it came to The Exchange we knew that if we got planning it would be a catalyst for that part of Preston and that is exactly what has happened.”

He adds that being in control of all aspects of a project, from planning and design to building, completion and property management helps de-risk development. “I’ve got good people around me and we have a good team. The more development we do the more efficient we get.”

The group has also managed to get the interest of the banks, persuading them to venture out from inside the M25 and head north, not just into Manchester but its hinterland and to Lancashire.

They are interested, John says, because the business is delivering, though he adds that it is still “a tough sell”. Then there are the challenges of project viability. He explains: “It is not easy. You have the same build costs as Manchester but half the value. Projects have to stack up.”

In common with the rest of the sector the group is also facing the challenges the current economic climate, including rising costs and interest rates. John says: “We’ve gone through every recession and the pandemic and if you can navigate through those you can get through anything.

“It’s not easy, development and contracting. It’s a tough gig. But look at what we’re doing, we are creating communities and it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Enjoyed this? Read more from Ged Henderson

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