September 2019


Keith Stone, director of KEyStone Retail Property, is one of the best-known names in development leasing. From a degree in town planning and cutting his teeth with local authorities, he went on to work on flagship projects, including Grand Central Birmingham, Touchwood in Solihull, Cabot Circus Bristol and Bluewater. He reflects on a rich and varied career.

What has been your greatest achievement during your career?

It has to be working on Bluewater. It was such a fantastic project and set new standards not only in terms of retail development but tenant mix and innovative design. With its three streets, separately anchored, we were able to differentiate the offer and create a destination that continues to pull from an extensive catchment area. Twenty years after opening, Bluewater is still in my opinion, the most successfully differentiated of all the regional centres.

 What are your favourite business mantras?

Do unto others as you’d have done unto you and practise what you preach. Property is still very much a people business and how you conduct yourself is so important.

 Which of the projects you’ve worked on has had the most significant impact?

Grand Central is already having a massive impact on Birmingham and has played a major part in helping to reposition the city. The Council, working with Network Rail, had a strong vision for what they wanted to achieve and were very proactive. They had a clear objective. To deliver a new station alongside a new John Lewis which would anchor a premium retail and F&B offer.

It was a very challenging development from a construction point of view, yet it demonstrated just what these major transport hubs can deliver.

 Who is your property idol?

Australian Stuart Hornery, previously chairman of Lend Lease. Sadly no longer with us, he was an extraordinary leader and when I worked on Bluewater, he was a visionary who instilled absolute confidence that we could deliver a retail destination unlike any other.

Stuart would fly over from Australia every couple of weeks to galvanise the team with really strong leadership. Beyond property, he founded the Lend Lease charity that now bears his name.

 What would your advice be for someone starting out in the sector?

There is a lot of negative press about the future of our high streets, but I see this being a time when there is opportunity to create significant change. KEyStone has recently been appointed by Queensbury as a consultant leasing director on two projects in Sheffield and in Barnsley. Both are great examples of how proactive local authorities can work with experienced development advisors to deliver new districts within town and city centres. ‘Mixed use’ is the name of the game and place making is high up on the agenda.

The accepted view seems to be that 30% of retail sales will eventually come via the internet. Yet much of that will be assisted by bricks and mortar retail and the remaining 70% will still come from physical stores. Retail will continue to play a key role in the future of our town centres and as it integrates with a mix of other uses, it’s an exciting time for those embarking on a career in the sector.

Consultants like GCW, working collaboratively with local authorities, will see many of our town and city centres regenerated. It will be the proactive local authorities that succeed

 Tell us something unusual about yourself?

I’m a life-long Wimbledon football fan and have supported the club for more than 50 years. For the last few years I’ve volunteered as one of the guys who runs on the pitch with a stretcher if someone gets injured.