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Neil Barker, Mackellar Architecture

The man at the helm of the 133-year-old firm reveals the latest stage of the company's plot for world domination.

Neil Barker
Neil Barker

FROM the bustling streets of New Delhi to the gleaming skyscrapers of Taiwan, Mackellar Architecture has made its mark in the furthest flung corners of the planet.

The Tyneside firm is currently a consultant to the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation for the architectural and landscape design on New Delhi’s £600m metro project.

The company has also worked on a number of projects in other parts of the world including Greece and Turkey.

Back at home, Mackellar provided design consultancy and services to Railtrack and Nexus on the development of the Tyne and Wear Metro extension and played a major role in the regeneration of Leeds Central Station.

As well as transport, the company is heavily involved in developing educational and residential properties across the North-East.

The group’s educational portfolio includes Portland School and Springwell Dene School in Sunderland and Talbot House School in Newcastle.

Taking a rare break from his role as director of Mackellar, Neil Barker spoke to nebusiness about what the future holds for the 133-year-old company.

You’ve been involved in a number of projects across the world. Are there any other international projects in the pipeline?
“We are looking at a lot of rail and underground systems where we are bidding as part of a consortium in Eastern Europe and India, in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai. We are currently bidding for a master planned settlement project on the outskirts of Delhi that would be worth several hundred thousand pounds to us.”

You seem to be heavily focused on the Indian market. What’s it like doing business there?
“It’s very convoluted and there’s a lot of red tape. The advantage of doing business there is everyone uses English which favours us but it’s an economy that relies on a high level of employment. It’s relatively economic doing business there. The cost of living is rising [but] still low compared to the UK.”

What are the main opportunities for North-East businesses in India?
“There are numerous opportunities including outsourcing elements of service delivery, such as technical drawing that can benefit from the skills base and time differential. In our sector, the rapidly developing Indian economy requires a variety of new infrastructure including light rail and underground systems, healthcare facilities and commercial space.”
 
Have you considered entering the Chinese market?
“We made a conscious decision not to enter it because we don’t have the expertise in that particular part of the world.”

What about the Middle East?
“Actually the company is putting a package together to bid for periphery work on the Dubai Metro project in the United Arab Emirates. There are quite a few opportunities in that part of the world.”

What do you think of plans to bring a high speed rail network to the UK?
“I think something has to be done. In France they have just introduced the new TGV train which halves journey times. “We are not in that league at the moment. It’s something we could make a contribution to as we have already done quite a lot of work on the Tyne and Wear Metro.”

Is there increasing pressure from various quarters to be more environmentally friendly as a developer?
“The environment is a major part of our ethos. We practice design that’s as environmentally friendly as possible using locally produced and recycled materials.
“We are keen to move forward with the zero carbon generating housing which the government wants to bring in by 2016.”

How have you been involved in the project so far?
“Originally we entered a competition as the lead designers for a consortium of housing associations, under the title of Northern Edge. Our designs were among the nine schemes selected from more than 100 national entries. It is expected that the designs will be developed when there are appropriate sites in the region.
“Since then, the next stage of the competition has been launched – to design carbon neutral housing in line with the requirement for all new housing to be ‘zero carbon’ by 2016. We expect to submit an entry for this competition.”

You are also involved in the refurbishment of local buildings. Is this quite a lucrative sector in the North-East?
“There is a substantial amount of conservation, restoration and conversion work to existing structures but, equally important, there is a demand for high quality contemporary design in sensitive locations such as conservation areas and adjacent to listed structures.

“We are currently working on the £2m restoration of the Grade One-listed church of St. Michael and All Angels at Newburn which suffered serious fire damage recently.

“This involves significant structural work but also new bells and repairs to stained glass and the organ. Refurbishment and restoration work is also ongoing at St. Andrews Roker.”

As an architect, do you think the ‘Get Carter’ car park in Gateshead should be pulled down?
“I’m not an admirer of brutalist architecture but the car park is an established visual icon on the Gateshead skyline. I would be happy for it to remain, provided a realistic and appropriate use could be identified which integrated it with the necessary revitalisation of the whole town centre.”

Looking forward, what targets have you set for the business?
“Currently our annual turnover is £1m and we’ll be increasing that by 15 to 20% over the next four years.”

 

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