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Alex Hurn

Alex Hurn on building progressively

By Alex Hurn

Founder, Sillence Hurn Building Consultancy

It was perhaps predestined that Alex Hurn, who has a natural instinct for entrepreneurship combined with an ardent interest in buildings stemming from childhood, would start his own business in the property industry.

The acceleration at which this has happened however is unorthodox; Alex has streamlined his way up the professional property ladder through hard work within the industry during and following his time studying building surveying at university.

His business ownership journey began when he formed a partnership with David Sillence to create Sillence Hurn Building Consultancy. As it enters its third successful year, the firm has its eyes on expansion into the Thames Valley, where Alex grew up and from where his interest in building began from his father’s building site at a young age.

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You’ve been interested in running your own business since a young age. What are your entrepreneurial motivations?

I think it's the idea of having something that you can create and call yours. When you grow something from the ground up, you take everything so emotively. Having that sense of ownership and achievement is important to me; you're solely in control of what you're doing, and you can do things your own way. I try to challenge everything and be a challenger; I think that's when you learn the most.

Do you have a project you have worked on that you are particularly proud of?

It's always the ones that don't go to plan that you remember. I had a really challenging project with my previous employer for a pharmaceuticals company. We had to fit out 8000 square foot of office and laboratory space. We had a lot of contractual issues and challenges with the building, construction, and what they wanted to put in. We had to coordinate the whole design team to meet their requirements and get the project over the line to meet their timescales. Looking back, it was hard work, but it was worth it.

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"With the news of the Freeport, the Bargate scheme getting approval, and the Leisure World site gaining momentum, it's a very exciting 18-24 months ahead for the city."

What would be a dream project for you?

I’d like to work on a tower block; a big new build. There’s a lot of legislation and issues around those kinds of buildings at the moment off the back of Grenfell regarding fire safety etc. To be involved with a landmark scheme would be a major challenge but a great achievement.

What’s happening in the property sector in Southampton, there seems to be some exciting developments on the horizon?

I’m having this conversation a lot at the moment with clients. With the news of the Freeport, the Bargate scheme getting approval, and the Leisure World site gaining momentum, it’s a very exciting 18-24 months ahead for the city.

COVID is driving more home and regional working, rather than commuting up into London every day, and Southampton provides a good hub for this. There’s a good spread across all sectors from port and cruise services to a lot of tech, professional services and financial companies.

What do you foresee to be the property trends of the future?

Obviously, there’s been a big shake up with the office market. Office values have dropped massively because of uncertainty and a lot of big employers have been saying that everyone’s going to be home based for the foreseeable future. Companies are investing heavily in tech and hardware to enable this. There’s going to be a lot of redundant office space around which needs an alternative use, whether that’s residential, or something else.

I think the high streets are going to become much more cultural or experience led, with lots more pop-ups, restaurants and bars.

How do you stay ahead of the game in your sector?

I’m part of the London Proxy Network Group and a couple of local ones where we have disruptive discussions about what is happening in the industry and pick the brains of planning consultants, architects and industry professionals, which does really help with knowing what’s going on.

Personally, I’m quite interested in prop-tech and how that is going to make us much more efficient. I think there’s going to be quite a big shake up especially for traditional property developers over the next few years on how things can be streamlined with getting mortgages and finance applications, which has historically been a massively admin heavy operation.

"I try to challenge everything and be a challenger; I think that's when you learn the most."

Founder, Sillence Hurn Building Consultancy

What is a really important issue in your industry which isn’t being talked about as much as it should be?

Sustainability, it’s now at the forefront of everyone’s mind in relation to construction and on a lot of developer’s minds. This includes building renewables into projects, allowing for low PV installations and looking to use materials which create a lot less waste, or are sustainably sourced. It’s a key area where I’m keen to get some of our surveyors trained up in and have a really good working knowledge.

The litigious nature of construction is also an issue; because of the large sums of money involved in property development and construction. There’s scope for that to be improved massively and for there to be a much more collaborative approach to construction; levelling the playing field for smaller firms to get involved with bigger projects.

Who do you admire?

Someone I always like to listen to is Elon Musk. I think how he goes about things is interesting; pioneering Tesla and electric vehicles. He’s been a big disruptor in that market and I’ve found his journey interesting.