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Paul McCarthy looks down from his eighth-floor office as work progresses on Central Square, one of Wales’s largest regeneration schemes, which his property company, Rightacres, is developing in partnership with Cardiff Council.
Asked what the city needs to do to maintain its healthy growth, he says: “Hope interest rates stay low.”
Like other UK cities, Cardiff’s commercial property market is thriving as a result of low interest rates — and Rightacres is at the heart of the growth. Mr McCarthy, a former sports journalist and producer, is chief executive of the company. His father, Michael, who founded it in 1969, is chairman.
Central Square, which lies between the city’s Principality Stadium and the Cardiff Central railway station, will eventually see up to 1m sq ft of office, residential and retail space developed with the backing of a £400m investment from Legal & General. It has room for about 10,000 workers.
The first of Central Square’s five phases was completed last year and work is progressing on phases two and three, including a new £120m headquarters for BBC Cymru Wales, designed by Norman Foster’s architecture firm, Foster + Partners.
Central Square is one of several development projects planned or under way across the city.
“We at Rightacres have let the best part of 800,000 sq feet of new space in two years,” Mr McCarthy says. “The normal take up of newly constructed office space in Cardiff is about 150,000 sq ft per annum.” He adds that, compared with other cities, Cardiff is probably undersupplied with office space — “but undersupplied means that you can fill what you build”.
Other projects in the city include Capital Quarter, where one-third of a 1m sq ft mixed-used scheme by local property developers JR Smart is already built or under way. On the other side of the railway line from Central Square, Rightacres is planning Central Quay, an even more ambitious venture in partnership with SA Brain, the regional brewer founded in Cardiff in 1882. Central Quay will involve another 2.5m sq ft of mixed-use space.
Brains brewery will move elsewhere, but its old building and chimney will remain, as the backdrop for a waterfront scheme beside the River Taff. The scheme will help to connect the city centre with Cardiff Bay, Mr McCarthy says. “Cardiff is a waterfront city but we don’t make the most of our waterfront.”
Mr McCarthy, who was born and grew up in Cardiff, broke his leg playing rugby at the age of 18. The break was complicated and it took him two years to recover fully, after several operations on the bone. As a result, he says, he did not sit his A-level exams or attend university.
Instead, he worked for the BBC as a news and sports editor before forming an independent television production company, which was eventually sold. About 20 years ago he joined his father in the family business and he became its chief executive a decade later.
He and his father have had two arguments in their working lives, he says, both over the design of penthouse suites in hotels.
“He wanted mirror balls and mirrored ceilings and I think the world has gone past that. We work well together, he enjoys what we do, and everything I have learnt, I learnt from him.”
In a notoriously cyclical industry, Mr McCarthy says Rightacres has managed not to overstretch itself financially. During market downturns, he says, the company has made sure the properties it owned were as fully occupied as possible until the good times returned.
“My father has seen interest rates of over 15 per cent,” Mr McCarthy says. “Luckily, for much of the 20 years I have been here they have been under 1 per cent, on average.”
Cardiff, he says, needs to publicise the fact that “we have a great city and incredibly talented and skilled young people coming out of well-respected universities, who have so much to offer.”
“To be able to offer them jobs, we have to encourage businesses that are considering moving out of London, or Manchester, or Birmingham to consider Cardiff as a location.”