Published: 06:00, 14 November 2020
| Updated: 18:34, 14 November 2020
Mark Quinn has built thousands of new homes across Kent over the past decade. The 46-year-old has also been threatened, spat on and told to "get cancer".
To his bewilderment, the property tycoon has been bestowed with a reputation as an unscrupulous developer, solely motivated by his bottom line.
“Do I feel bad about what I do, creating homes for someone like you to buy?” the married dad-of-two asks, his eyes unwavering. “No, I don’t. I give people their homes, their safe place.
“When I show you what I’ve done, you’ll go ‘Jesus Christ, why didn’t he take the money?’ I couldn’t give a damn about being rich; I want to do something I’m proud of. If I’m not proud of it, I won’t do it.
“I’ve got a four-year-old Audi RS7 out the back. It’s probably worth about 35 grand. If I was really into money, I’d be in a Bentley looking like a prat.”
We’re in Quinn Estates’ base in Highland Court Farm, Canterbury. Mark is wearing a dark-coloured gilet and a white long-sleeved t-shirt.
Behind me a shelf is adorned with signed rugby and cricket memorabilia. On the floor below, a team of his staff work quietly as the tapping of fingers on keyboards pervades the room.
“I've been spat at coming out of a planning meeting by an objector before. I’m accused of absolute rubbish, constantly,” he continues. “The facts speak for themselves. Look at what I’ve done.
“I had somebody move in today into their new home. Their face–” he smiles broadly, "– I built it. I went round there yesterday saying ‘I don’t like that. Sort that out. What’s the paint doing on the light fitting?’ because I want them knowing I’ve been in there.
“I’m the luckiest person ever. Who else gets to do this? It’s great fun. I got here with a bit of graft, but I’m not some super-clever person who went to Eton – I went to a grammar school. That’s it. I don’t come from some wealthy background. What I got, I created.”
Born in London, Mark moved to Sandwich after his parents bought a derelict nursing home in 1978. The plan was for his father, a carpenter by trade, to overhaul the property, before his mother, a nurse, ran the operation.
“They took a huge risk. The nursing home cost £24,000 and was really rundown,” he says. “Money was very tight, so we lived in a caravan for two years. We didn’t have any money; I never felt like we ever had any until I was 18.”
Despite passing the Kent Test, Mark was diagnosed with dyslexia after he arrived at Sir Roger Manwood’s School in Sandwich. He required one-to-one lessons after classes three times a week to, he says, be taught how to read and write.
But it was during a trip to France organised by the school that he discovered his first passion: skiing. Upon his return to England, the 13-year-old started washing ski boots at an indoor centre, a duty that allowed him to practise for free. He later raced for Britain and was ranked among the top 50 in the country.
Resigned to the fact he had reached his ceiling, he became an instructor in Courchevel in the French Alps after completing his studies. He was paid by wealthy clients to give them private lessons in the winter; while during the summer, he would travel back to the UK to promote musicians.
“We gave a gig to Jamiroquai - it cost £800. He was unknown then, but between the time we booked him and when he played, he became a superstar,” Mark remembers. “My deal was that in the summer I would run that and then in the winter my partner would.
“When I was 23, I had saved £60,000. I did it quite easily; I didn’t have any food or accommodation to pay for as a ski instructor, and I was earning pretty good money.”
With the help of a loan, Mark used his savings to bankroll the purchase of a building in Charing for £120,000. He renovated it himself, before launching Green Health Club. After dabbling with being a gym owner for about four years, he sold the business for a seven-figure sum and rented the site for £120,000 a year.
The experience – as well as the success of the project – created the spark that lit his property-building flame. With this, Mark’s earnings rocketed, becoming a millionaire in his 20s. “It didn’t really change me," he said. "If it did, I wouldn’t be here now.”
Working out of a million-pound house at the end of a tree-lined driveway, Mark and his business partner Huw Evans formed Quinn Estates. Now, the Bridge-based company employs about 400 people, has 46 sites and is currently building on half-a-dozen plots.
However, Mark stresses that he continues to select developments himself. He does this by considering the twice-daily approaches he receives from individuals and companies across the county.
“Where it’s located is massive; it can’t just be in the middle of nowhere. It has to have a logic,” he opines. “Then you think of who’s affected by it and how you can mitigate that effect. The next is problems, and how you solve them.
“If you look at our 10,000-home plans in Sittingbourne, Highsted Park [proposals due to be submitted in the spring], you have 300 people dying a year because of air quality issues. Our scheme completely changes it – we can prove that we’d save more than 60 people every year from dying.
“Never be so arrogant as to use your own money. I’m better with investors; I treat the job with more respect then and I’m more scared. We’ve only got a few investors, but not many of our schemes go wrong so they want to keep giving me their money.”
One of the projects Mark is most eager to extoll the virtues of is the sports hub development in Herne Bay. Located on the site of the town’s former golf club, the complex consists of a clubhouse, cricket, rugby and hockey pitches, and a tennis pavilion and six courts. It will act as the base for Herne Bay’s hockey, youth football, cricket and tennis clubs – which paid just 25p each for their 125-year lease.
He smooths out a sheet of paper as he places it in front of me, pointing. “Here’s what the sports hub cost me,” he says. Underneath his finger is the figure £6.8 million. “I was legally obliged, with the terms agreed by Canterbury City Council, to spend £2.5 million on it.
“If something was going to cost you four million quid more, would you do it? Other developers would have left that half-finished – I could give you 15 examples like that. If money was my driver, would I have done that? No. I could have retired on that. But I did it because I gave the sports clubs my word, and I delivered it. Without that, no one would believe me.
“I drove up to the sports hub last week, and there were probably 400 people in that place using it. If you look at the truancy levels among people who play sports: they’re lower. If you look at the numeracy levels: they’re higher. It’s mind-blowing the difference this will make.”
Permission for the sports hub was secured when Mark received consent to also construct 580 homes – which he signed over to firm Redrow – on the former golf course. The businessman labels his investments in Herne Bay as the trigger for the town’s recent rise. And he is hoping to replicate this model in one of the few developments he has outside the Garden of England, in North Weald.
Recent headlines surrounding the businessman have largely focused on his ongoing makeover of the Newtown railway works in Ashford. Diggers moved onto the 12-acre strip of land in July – three months after the project was given the green light by councillors. Netflix, Amazon and HBO could take on the studios once it is completed in 2022.
The scheme of his that carries the greatest significance to residents, though, is the planned “super hospital” in Canterbury. First tabled in 2017, the proposals show that Mark would build the shell of the infirmary as part of a bid to erect 2,000 homes in the south of the city. The structure would accelerate plans to centralise east Kent hospital care with a sole A&E centre in Canterbury.
But despite much conjecture surrounding the project – and even a pledge from Boris Johnson during the last General Election campaign to build the hospital – the property magnate believes it could take longer than five years for it to open.
“That’ll be my last job because it’ll take so bloody long,” he says. “I think the hospital will be it. I can see myself stepping back from an executive chairman role where I work six days a week to one where I work three days a week.
“It’ll take five years, maybe longer than that, for it to open. I’ve turned down a job for 4,500 houses in Tunbridge Wells, which I would have made unbelievable telephone numbers from, to make it happen.”
Mark regards his schemes as catalysts for improvement. But critics view his projects as acts of single-minded greed, regularly pointing to his political donations to evidence their points. Since 2016, he has handed £101,190 to the Tories and £12,000 to Labour.
And in July the multi-millionaire was entangled in Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick’s second “cash for favours” row of the summer. In the wake of a report in The Mail On Sunday, Quinn Estates denied it had ever approached the Cabinet member about a 675-home application in Sittingbourne.
“It was a load of rubbish. They thought they had a story on Richard Desmond and then decided to do one on me. I’m very, very comfortable with everything I’ve done,” he says.
"If I was really into money, I’d be in a Bentley looking like a prat..."
“I’ve donated to both Labour and Conservatives. Sometimes I believe in the MP and sometimes I believe in the party. I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of, everything I’ve done is transparent. I’m no different to any other company.
“Fourteen people decide what happens at a council planning committee. I’m not allowed to talk to them or do anything, but they have to read the evidence that comes to them and decide whether that’s good for the area. That’s all that happens.”
Since the outbreak of coronavirus, Mark has been keen to highlight the impact the pandemic will have on his industry for years to come. He believes the demand for office space will plummet as companies adjust to remote working. Meanwhile, he has predicted that the number of new pubs will fall. It is unsurprising, therefore, that he ends our interview on a portentous note.
“I’m squirreling away my nuts at the moment ready for the winter, which I think will be horrific,” he muses. “We’ll keep on going, but I’ve got to keep being very, very careful. We aren’t losing any money – we’re really good at the moment – but I don’t think it will last.”