Andrew Southern: Why the developer behind £35m student scheme in Sheffield thinks his home city is 'at saturation point' for more accommodation
Property developer Andrew Southern is behind residential schemes worth millions, but despite being born and raised in Sheffield he hasn't launched a single project in the city - until now.
The £35 million student accommodation complex Steel City is opening soon and will offer 350 units complete with a rooftop 'sky lounge' on a cluster of sites at Hollis Croft, close to West Bar.
Led by Future Generation, part of Andrew's Soho-based group Southern Grove, it has sprung up next to several other student ventures from the likes of Unite - the largest operator in the university accommodation market - and Watkin Jones.
"There's thousands of units there," he says. "You've got all the major players there. We've got the last piece of the jigsaw, if you like. We don't mind having competition nearby, it creates a critical mass."
But he has a warning for anyone considering more of the same.
"There's something like 70,000 students in Sheffield and 27,000 purpose-built beds," he says. "There's still some demand there but I do think Sheffield's at saturation point. I wouldn't be buying sites in Sheffield for student accommodation now. Other providers are having to reduce their rent."
He says it proves the need to 'do your market research'.
"The next thing for Sheffield is probably build-to-rent. Even I'm renting in London - a lot of people do now. The likelihood of buying a house and it going up in value are gone, certainly in the short term. I prefer to keep myself liquid. I make a return by putting my money through my business."
Andrew's childhood home was on Bowood Road, Sharrow Vale, and he was brought up by his mother Carolyn, a teacher at Hunters Bar Junior School.
"She was an institution, she taught lots of children," he says. "I didn't start with a lot but my mum gave me everything. I was always very arty."
He went to Tapton School then studied architectural engineering at Leeds University after gaining experience in the field at firms such as Arup and Balfour Beatty. At Leeds he won a scholarship to study for a year at Penn State University in the USA, and shortly after graduating he joined Mace Group, where he was part of the team responsible for successfully delivering the London Eye.
Southern Grove was founded in 2013; its first big deal was on the former office block Black Lion House, in Tower Hamlets.
"I got a development management fee, which was like a salary, so I lived off that," he says. "I got planning permission very quickly, got an architect from New York City - I cleared a few million out of it, then reinvested and we've moved on from there, really."
The company, he says, is now active across the globe - a plan for a 'zero carbon fitness hotel' on Saint Lucia in the Caribbean is on the agenda.
"We're doing stuff all over the world and London's a good springboard for that," says Andrew, who is Southern Grove's chairman. "But believe me, if I want to get some quiet time and some proper sleep, I go up to my mum's house and turn my phone off for a few days. I could live and breathe work. My kids are saying 'Daddy, you're always on the phone'."
Steel City came about after he met Sheffield property consultant Tan Khan at the MIPIM conference in Cannes.
"It turned out his twin children were in my mum's class at school in Hunters Bar. From that initial chat in a hotel in the South of France he found a piece of land on Hollis Croft, I went to see it, I did a subject-to-planning deal with the owner and that started it off."
Andrew, 44, lives in Highgate, which he says reminds him of Sheffield. "It's very leafy and green."
He has 'toyed' with moving back, he admits. "I love people from Sheffield, they give so much more. In London it's a bit more of a rat race. But I love London as well, it is my home now. For me, because I'm so ambitious, it is tricky to leave."
And his interests are starting to expand into other areas - he's sponsored the Sheffield Steelers FC under-12's team, and invested in two acclaimed documentaries, the Oasis film Supersonic and football picture Maradona.
"They're very similar, property and film - having an idea and creating it," he says. "You give it your all and your legacy is either the building or the film itself."