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Cathedral Group's Martyn Evans: 'You can't innovate by staying indoors'

Martyn Evans, marketing & creative director of blossoming developer Cathedral Group talks to the AJ about what he wants from an architect, living in tents and advice from David Bowie

What kind of schemes are you currently working on?
We are specialists in mixed-use development. Our £1 billion project pipeline splits almost exactly in half between private speculative schemes and Public Private Partnerships (PPP) where we are in partnership with local authorities across London and the South East to develop complex mixed-use schemes that have some public asset at their core. We’re creating new town centre spaces in Bromley and Deptford and regenerating entire areas of Brighton and Sittingbourne. We’d like to be known as developers who make beautiful inspiring places for people to live and work in.

How have the last few years been for you and how do you foresee the coming years?
 Exciting. We came through the credit crunch with our entire portfolio of schemes intact. It was hard work, but they’re all up and running now and in the last 18 months we’ve doubled in size. We’re exhilarated about the future. We’re going to make some great places and build some pretty good buildings too.

How has the developer landscape changed during the recession?
To survive we’ve had to be smart and work very very hard. I hope that that’s been true for everyone else too. It’s not a bad thing to have to keep your schemes running by being even more cost conscious and clever with your design to squeeze out maximum land value. Maybe it’ll mean we’re all going to be better off in the long run.

What do you want from an architect?
Inspiration. Sketching (by hand!). Imagination. An understanding of the commercial reality of our schemes. Genius. Hard work. Friendship. Fun. Enthusiasm. Beautiful buildings and places that make people happy.

Are you currently looking for new talent and how do you find your architects?
I just spent a week in MIPIM meeting new architects. We’re always looking for new talent. You can’t innovate by staying indoors. You have to get out, look at other people’s schemes, go to exhibitions, knock on people’s doors and fill your boots with inspiration.

You’ve said that a number of stalled PPP are now starting to move forward. What has kickstarted them?
The HCA has been instrumental in unlocking schemes. We wouldn’t have got our Clapham scheme out of the ground in 2010 without significant loan funding from the HCA’s Kickstart scheme. Elsewhere, in a difficult debt market, our schemes have got out of the blocks because we’ve been able to work incredibly hard creating innovative funding models and through working with joint venture partners to pool risk and funding streams.

What do you think about the current government’s attempts to drive development?
The government’s encouragement of local authorities to find ‘inefficient/underused’ land and sell it to boost public spending coffers is short sighted. We’d encourage local authorities to see underused land as a valuable asset that, put into a clever PPP deal, could return exponential economic value.

What would you most like the government to do for you?
Keep stimulating the development market through innovative schemes like the Kickstart and Get Britain Building Funds and increasing SDLT thresholds.

Which of your projects is your favourite and why?
Our scheme in Clapham [by Studio Egret West], which we are just about to complete, sets out our PPP model so simply that it has to be my favourite. New library, new leisure centre, no cost to Lambeth Council, funded by private development, profit for the developer. A true mutually beneficial partnership.

Which regeneration scheme most inspires you and why?
I went to New York to see the High Line Park. There isn’t anything more brave, inspiring, beautiful, clever, ingenious and simply joyful. I also like being in my tent on holiday in Cornwall in the sunshine. It takes 15 minutes to put up and does what every great structure should do: keeps you dry and has a door to go where you should be as much as possible – outside.

Who has given you the best advice and what was it?

David Bowie: ‘Never look back, walk tall, act fine.’

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