Abrahams: my £1bn gift to the north east
The Newcastle property tycoon caught up in a Labour donations scandal in 2007 says he won’t let the furore tarnish his plan to transform his region.
David Abrahams’s 20-year project could provide 8,000 new jobs
David Abrahams is known to many as the businessman at the centre of a Labour Party donations scandal in 2007. But if the property entrepreneur - who reportedly gave £650,000 to Labour in other people's names so as to remain anonymous - pulls off his current property scheme, he will be remembered in far a more positive light: for having transformed the economy of the north east.
Mr Abrahams, 65, is developing his Durham Green Business Park, a
£1 billion, 540-acre development which could create 8,000 new jobs. Mr Abrahams is investing all his own money in the site. Located close to the A1, Durham Green will accommodate up to 92,000 sq ft of business space. He says he intends to give away all profits from the project, either investing them back into the region or donating to charitable causes. Mr Abrahams says his interest lies solely in boosting the north east.
The millionaire's reputation took a battering when it was suggested that he funded the Labour Party in order to push through planning applications for his business park. But Mr Abrahams is keen to stress that his conscience is clear. He says: "There was no controversy over the park at all because the park got planning on merit from a Liberal Democrat authority. I don't need to give money at the back door to get permission.
"I wasn't even dealing with the planners, it was all my consultants. The technicalities of a planning application for a scheme of this magnitude are way above my head. I mean, no way. Everything I have done has been in an exemplary manner. I don't work on a local authority because it would be a conflict of interest.
"Journalists were digging around planning authorities in the north east, but the only thing they found was the planning application for the front porch for my house.
"I wouldn't dream of doing anything untoward because it would only wreck my scheme."
Mr Abrahams was granted planning permission last May for the first 75-acre phase of the development. Once this is complete, he will start work on the rest of the project, which, he says, will take 20 years to complete.
Last weekend, reports surfaced that Mr Abrahams had plans to sell the site because he feared that his reputation would stand in the way of attracting tenants for the business park.
While Mr Abrahams admitted that he had been in talks with First Industrial Developments about a potential sale, he said no final or formal arrangements had been made.
"I hope it won't come to a sale, but if necessary I will sell to ensure that the north east is not affected by my involvement. I don't want to stand in the way of creating jobs for the region. Should I be the obstacle to the success of the site, then it's a matter that will be considered." If the site is put up for sale, he says First Industrial Development will have "first bite of the cherry".
Born in Whitley Bay, Northumberland, Mr Abrahams has strong ties to the north east. He lives in Newcastle and has served on public authorities there. "I was bought up in the north east. I understand the mechanisms for this large-scale planning. I like to create things and thought this was an ideal opportunity." He hopes the development will raise the international profile of the area, which he says is cut-off from the rest of the country.
"It's an area of high youth unemployment. We want to provide training and jobs for them." He adds: "I saw the potential a long time ago. It's the only part of the motorway junction between the A1 and the north east that wasn't in overcapacity."
Mr Abrahams made his fortune in property. He is vague when asked what he owns, but says his portfolio includes hotels, shops and residential property.
He has appointed leading property firm Jones Lang LaSalle as joint leasing agents and strategic advisers on the project, and says he is in talks with a number of interested parties, including representatives from the film, clean and high-tech sectors, about the space. "It's a mega-scheme and will need everybody working together."
Outside of property, Mr Abrahams takes an active interest in the Middle East peace process. He is working to introduce the Warwick Symposium for Israel/Palestine Conflict Resolution - a series of international conferences looking at security and conflict resolution in the Middle East.
He supports more than 70 charitable and voluntary organisations, including male cancer research charity Every Man Alive.