Doncaster was suffering from an image problem but now it’s up-and-coming, according to property developer Paul Rothwell. Sharon Dale reports.
Depressed, down-at-heel and decidedly not des-res, Doncaster was in desperate need of therapy.
The death of the coal industry led to economic decline and a series of scandals, including council corruption in the early noughties, followed by a government report labelling the local authority “dysfunctional and failing”, damaged “Donny’s” reputation and wrecked its self-esteem.
Now the town looks all set for a revival thanks to a series of multi-million pound investments that are improving its appearance, boosting employment and giving the property market a lift.
Doncaster has always had fantastic rail links with a journey time to London of just over 90 minutes. It also has an airport, a great racecourse and attractive satellite villages but the heart of the town was ugly and unappealing.
The local authority, now headed by two dynamic women – chief executive Jo Miller and Mayor Ros Jones – is working hard to improve the area and has helped create a new and contemporary Civic and Cultural Quarter with EU funding. There are further regeneration plans, including the transformation of Doncaster Market and a new library and museum.
Along with new council offices, a performance venue and a public square, the new quarter includes The Gables, a housing development by Muse. The second phase of properties has just been released with prices starting at £106,000.
Meanwhile, Doncaster-based Empire Property Concepts, founded by Paul Rothwell, is putting the finishing touches to Danum House. The upper floors of the grade II listed Art Deco building are being converted from offices into luxury apartments, complete with rooftop cinema and a concierge service. Prices start at £83,000. Paul is certain it will be a big success both with owner occupiers and with investors.
“Buy-to-let investors are becoming more interested in Doncaster because, compared to places like Manchester, prices are extremely low, which means higher rental yields,” he says. “There’s also room for sustained capital growth because the town is undergoing regeneration and employment is rising.” The new £400m, six million sq ft iPort logistics centre on the edge of town will create hundreds of jobs. It is set on 337 acres and includes a huge warehouse and distribution centre for Amazon, The National College for High Speed Rail also opened in Doncaster late last year.
“The only way is up for Doncaster. It’s had its time in the doldrums. There is so much going for the town. It is brilliantly well connected by road, rail and air. Big name companies are recognising that, jobs are being created and people are moving here for work so demand for housing will grow,” says Paul. “The town centre is getting better but, like many other places, it has suffered a downturn because shopping habits have changed. The council is trying to improve it and town centre living schemes, like Danum House, will help because they create a captive audience for cafes, shops and hairdressers.
“Doncaster isn’t going to be another Harrogate or York but it is improving and I think we’ll see big changes for the better over the next few years.”
He has put his money where his mouth is and has completed four commercial to residential property conversions in the town centre. Danum House will take him to six and he is planning another 51 apartments at St Peter’s House.
“We have seen huge demand for the studio flats we converted for rent, mainly from young, working people who can see the benefit of living in the town centre,” says Paul, 35.
Considered a boy wonder in the world of property investment with an estimated fortune of £33m, his bricks and mortar career began when he was a student at Nottingham University. He borrowed £15,000 from his dad to buy a house. He converted the basement into a bedroom for himself and let out the other rooms to fellow students.
When he came to sell it, the value of the property had risen from £88,000 to £140,000 and, after moving back home to Pontefract, he built a portfolio of HMOs in Doncaster before moving into commercial to residential property conversions.
*www.empirepropertyconcepts.co.uk. Properties at Danum House are for sale through www.propertiesoftheworld.co.uk.
*Doncaster is affordable. Homes there start at about £50,000 for a two-bedroom terraced house.
*The town is up-and-coming thanks to an economic boost and investment into improving the look of the town centre. It is also very well connected with easy access to the A1 and M1. It has an airport and its rail links are excellent. The train takes one hour and 40 minutes from Doncaster to London and it’s half an hour to Leeds.
*The racecourse is fantastic and hosts one Britain’s most prestigious race weeks, the St Leger Festival.
*Doncaster is surrounded by some of the prettiest villages in Yorkshire.