The development company started by ex-Argent and Kier man James Nicholson, backed by Palmer Capital, is now open for business in the city.
Nicholson is based at That Space, the co-working element of Watch This Space’s 31 Princess Street. He told Place North West: “I’ve had a really good time with Kier, and it was great to work on such a diverse range of projects, having worked primarily in offices before.
“Over the last 12 months I’d been thinking of going my own way, and was approached by a couple of funds, then I was introduced to Ray Palmer and from there it went pretty quickly.”
Palmer’s business model is to back a developer in a distinct geographic area of the UK, taking a one-third stake in each business – the North West had been the most noticeable gap in its coverage and it had been rumoured to be looking for the right partner for some time.
While with Argent, Nicholson took forward the One St Peter’s Square project, structuring its funding with Greater Manchester Property Venture Fund. At Kier, projects included 81 Fountain Street, industrial schemes in Cheshire and a leisure project in the Midlands.
Companies Palmer already backs include Opus Land in the Midlands and Cubex Land, regarded as Bristol’s most capable developer. At present, Palmer-managed vehicles have £500m to invest in UK property.
The aim for Harlex is to have a £200m portfolio within three to five years and be one of the region’s top three developers inside three years. Ray Palmer will chair Harlex, with chief executive Alex Price also sitting on the board.
Nicholson said: “Palmer Capital’s such a strong name in the industry, and is a great addition to the North West – they’ve bought investment property here before, but not done any development work.
“Aiming to be in the top three is ambitious, and from my point of view it’s great to hear – the support is there and the cash is there. With my contacts and experience locally and their strength, I think we’ve got a good combination.”
For now, Nicholson will operate alone, but seek to build a team as investments are made: “Right now I’ll be spending time finding the right product. It could be industrial, or a ‘last mile’ scheme, or a residential planning play, so it will depend on how it goes as to who we bring in. We want to grow the business, so we’ll be looking to bring people of the right calibre in as the direction of that growth emerges.”