Ranjeet Gill and Gursh Kahlon are on a journey to play their part in the ongoing regeneration of their hometown of Seaham which they helped start. Today, their investment in commercial and residential property can be seen in all corners of the town and they have no plans to stop…
Seaham is one of the region’s most popular destinations, home to a vibrant cafes and restaurants, thriving business parks and bustling residential hubs. Not to mention Seaham Food Festival, which attracts many of the country’s top chefs and foodies, and Tommy, the formidable statue of a First World War soldier who sits proudly close to the town’s war memorial. But it wasn’t always this way and even as recently as 12 years ago, few people saw the town’s potential.
Except two men, who, being from the local area, decided to utilise their vast experience within the commercial property sector to develop a vision for the town and inject much-needed investment which would transform its landscape and help make it what it is today. Ranj Gill and Gursh Kahlon were both working in London when they decided to join forces to purchase a property.
It was 2011 and this was the first of several acquisitions to come in Seaham and Sunderland. The duo bought a former care home on the seafront, The Haven, and applied for planning permission to convert it into commercial units.
With the creation of their new property company. Clearwater Developments, Ranj and Gursh were taking their first steps on a journey which would see them build up a multi-million-pound portfolio of dozens of commercial and residential developments. Ranj, whose background is in project management said, “When Gursh and I got together in London, it was clear that we saw a vision for the seafront in Seaham, and we knew there was real untapped potential to regenerate it so that it stood proud in the region, somewhere that people would travel to visit.
“Our first acquisition was a risk, but we also knew there was a gap in the market for high quality commercial property and felt this could be the first of many developments in Seaham. We split the building up into several units and quickly secured tenants, including a bar, a sweet shop, a hairdressers, a café/bistro and an estate agent. I think it’s testament to what we achieved with this first development that all of these tenants remain with us today.”
Gursh, whose background is in property surveying, added: “We really had to sell the vision of what the seafront could become, as back then it was nowhere near what it is today. We also had to give businesses the confidence to come here, that Seaham and the seafront was the right fit for them. It wasn’t easy – the seafront needed a lot of sprucing up – and we knew the development was a risk, but we fully believed in what we were doing.”
Ranj and Gursh are keen to point out that their USP is that they convert run down dilapidated space, giving it a new lease of life rather than creating new builds, which is the route that many developers choose to go down. Clearwater Developments looks for space that is in a state of rack and ruin, but has real potential to be transformed into its former glory, and that’s something Ranj and Gursh believe has been essential in helping regenerate Seaham and the town becoming a tourism hot spot in the North East. Following the success of the Haven development, Ranj and Gursh focussed on a number of residential projects on Tempest Road and in the Ashbrooke area of Sunderland. These developments saw buildings transformed into luxury homes, all of which were quickly snapped up.
Gursh said: “By this time there was a real change in the property landscape, as more and more people were wanting to live by the coast, or within buildings which were historic but with a very modern feel. This gave us the confidence to pursue further residential projects, and in 2016 we committed around £2.5m of investment into the purchase and development of two buildings that were part of the old Sunderland High School. We created 24 luxury apartments which were all snapped up within four weeks of completion. We believe this was due to another of our USPs, to fit out every property with high quality fixtures and fittings. By spending a bit more it really does pay off.”
Ranj and Gursh aren’t just passionate about regenerating their local area, they are also committed to employing local people and using local contractors wherever possible. Following the completion of the Tempest Road developments. Clearwater Developments took on schemes at 21 North Terrace, which saw a disused building converted into three commercial and three residential units; the conversion of the former Co-op building at Castlereagh Road, which became five luxury townhouses; and the former Marlborough Surgery, which was redeveloped and split into two commercial units which are now occupied by Mortons Solicitors and the Bella Marie Training Academy. Last year saw Ranj and Gursh take on their most ambitious project to date, the purchase of Lighthouse View, one of two buildings at Lighthouse Business Park, located on the same site as Spectrum Business Park.
Lighthouse View was built in 2001 but for 22 years stood empty, never having been occupied. The result was that the building was targeted by vandals and thieves who caused extensive damage and stripped the floors of their piping and electrics. Gursh said: “When we acquired the building it was a risky move from us and there was so much competition in the area. However, our niche on this project is that if we can keep the costs down, we can offer a better rent per square feet, which has attracted tenants. So now, downstairs we have the Fit 24 gym whilst on the other side a new café will open its doors in the coming weeks, and upstairs will be occupied by a regional charity and a super salon. Together these tenants are bringing with them 60 jobs, which is remarkable when you consider that for over two decades the building has been vacant.”
Lighthouse View can also boast that it has the best vistas of any property in the area, with the top floor offering stunning panoramic views of the North East coastline – they’re worth the rent alone!
Most recently, the businessmen have acquired another unoccupied site at Spectrum Business Park. The three-story Spectrum 5 property had previously housed Northumbrian Water, however after the Covid pandemic they decided to vacate the building so the development company behind Spectrum Business Park put it up for sale through auction.
Ranj said: “The success of Lighthouse View gave us the confidence to purchase Spectrum 5, which has six wings across the three floors. So far, we have one tenant confirmed and a second keen to agree terms for one of the wings, which is great. We re also going to move our offices there as well. We see Spectrum 5 and Lighthouse View as important steps in our vision for this site, which we hope will eventually house a mix of commercial, leisure and retail facilities.”
Ranj and Gursh are also keen to acknowledge the support they’ve had from Business Durham and Durham County Council, who have both helped progress the developments through planning. Ranj added: “We wouldn’t have been able to do what we’ve done with Lighthouse View without the support of Business Durham and the council. They’ve been a big help since we first expressed an interest in the building, so we would like to thank them to making the process that bit smoother.”
So, what does the future hold for Clearwater Developments? “We are looking for similar developments in the area, both commercial and residential, and our focus remains on properties that need new life breathing into them, which will support the ongoing regeneration of Seaham as a commercial, cultural and tourism destination. We have also recently launched Clearwater Utilities, which will enable us to offer discounted utilities services to our tenants. We’ll be revealing more about that venture in the coming weeks. It’s an exciting time for our business, but it’s also an exciting time for Seaham and we are proud to be playing a part in the town’s regeneration,” concluded Gursh.