I left school at 16 and started working in a draughtsman’s office for a short while. I then joined Stephenson Mills working with Roger and George. I was all set to go to Liverpool University to study architecture when I met Nick Johnson (who later founded Urban Splash with Tom Bloxham). He’d just completed his degree in Urban Land economics at Sheffield Hallam University and had planned to be a developer. I thought ‘Aha, this is what I want to be’. I had worked with developer clients as a technician, and I realised that this was an option for me. I then got my MRICS and surveying qualifications. I really liked the idea of being involved in the whole process, rather than just a part of it.
Although the Reebok and Lowry jobs are the attention-grabbing ones, I played a smaller part in those. The job I spent most time and had most involvement with was the redevelopment of the Castlefield Chapel, the space we created was almost like a piece of art. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent on that! Architecturally, it’s right up there – although it didn’t do so well financially, as this was around the time of the financial crash. At Dandara, where we acquired land and planning for hundreds of units – that was a significant achievement. I’d now put Windswood up there too.
We’re always looking to see if we can add value or explore options and opportunities that perhaps others haven’t. Windswood is a good example of this. There was existing planning permission for six apartments but I felt that wasn’t really what the market wanted. So in conjunction with OSA we redesigned the layout completely, based on my research into what I felt the Bowdon/Hale market were looking for. It became apparent that they were looking for large, lateral apartments. At 4,000 square feet they’re the largest that I’m aware of in the area and based on just a handful of conversations, it’s making them a very attractive proposition. You’ve got to do your homework, and you need to work very closely with your architects to deliver something that really differentiates you from others.
Yes, I have moved more towards high end, high value projects. I would say I’m quite opportunistic – I wouldn’t say no to anything, although I have walked away from a number of projects that have just not been right. It’s about balancing what the marketplace is looking for and seeing an opportunity that others may have missed.
I would like to create something really contemporary and modern. My experience of dealing with planners and conservation officers is that they often have more traditional, conservative taste. In many areas building design can sometimes suffer due to trying to produce something that will meet compliance – if handled badly, that can end up looking like a pastiche. I’d also like to explore sustainable and eco possibilities further.
I really enjoy the initial stages – coming up with the best solution for the site and the possibilities it offers. And balancing the architect’s creative input alongside the overall viability of the project. Architects tend to bring their own spin to the job but I like that they push it further creatively – it can always be reined back. I also enjoy working with our interior designers. They have an amazing attention to detail and source things that I would never be able to. I like bringing unexpected but thoughtful touches into play, like the heated driveway flags that mean driving in and out of Windswood on an icy day isn’t a hazard. Ditto the thumbprint recognition and refuse chute that takes your recycling straight to the basement. The last one isn’t very glamorous but we think about these things so that residents don’t have to.
My original development pipeline has changed – but there’s still some really interesting possibilities on the horizon. Like I said, I never rule anything out – George Street is a good example of that. And I’m looking forward to seeing Windswood completed – as it goes up you can really get a sense of the scale of the living space and I can’t wait to step into the completed apartments.