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Peabody director: ‘If I can’t build it, it’s no use’

Jeremy Stibbe, Peabody’s new executive director for development and regeneration, sets out what he wants from architects as it ramps up its output

What have you been asked to achieve at Peabody?
I have been asked to lead Peabody’s growth plans, delivering a substantial existing pipeline and a future programme of around 1,000 new homes a year.  

I join Peabody at an incredibly exciting time. Claire Bennie and the team are already delivering some of London’s best developments. My job will be helping them turn up the volume - bigger programme, more sale homes, new housing products and, most importantly, strong investment returns.

What do you want from an architect?
Three asks.
First, a home that a resident will love: 
Good design mirrors lifestyle and creates a home that is loved. Sometimes this is one of the missed aspects of sustainability because an unloved home isn’t looked after and quickly falls into disrepair.

Wayne Hemingway successfully changed volume house builders’ view of design in the early noughties. We now have the London design standard. All architect practices care about this. Some excel. Working with Alison Brooks (along with Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands) at South Kilburn has created delightful homes with a focus on usability.

Second, imagination:
Sometimes a design team can get stuck because viability, planning, local opposition or infrastructure creates a seemingly impossible problem. Over the years I have enjoyed working with many architects who have created a ‘eureka’ moment.

A recent example is a wonderful but controversial 22 storey block on the edge of the Stockwell park conservation area designed by Richard Harvey at PRP architects that secured planning approval last year against all the odds.

Third, a practical approach:
If I can’t build it, it’s no use to me! Clients need careful navigation of problems without grandstanding on ideological points. I recently had a great experience working with Peter Leiper at CZWG architects who value engineered an unviable planning permission. Together we created a genuinely improved development within the existing planning consent with better homes that are significantly cheaper to build and now on site.

A shout for small practices who can lose out in a competitive market. With small firms, senior partners can personally commit to projects from beginning to end. An example for me is Judith Tranter at TM architects who has the ability to secure and implement the permission you want without any grief. 

Are you currently looking for new talent and how do you find your architects?
Yes – in the autumn we will be advertising in the architectural press for a new architect framework including a particular ‘lot’ for smaller practices including a design competition on an exciting site.

What do you think about the current government’s attempts to drive development and the Mortgage Guarantee schemes?
CSR brings much needed investment into London which is good news. Of course there are challenges because money is tight and public investment per home remains very low. More than ever creative partnerships are needed to maintain supply of the homes London needs and Peabody is already immersed in this creative challenge. 

There is mixed reporting on demand side initiatives like ‘help to buy’. Helping households locked out of the market to access a mortgage is a good thing. Simplicity is key to access the widest range (and therefore cheapest) deals. Of course, the outcome must be a supply side increase. Empirical evidence over the next period will determine whether these initiatives should continue

Which regeneration scheme most inspires you and why?
There are so many excellent examples of regeneration like Hammarby in Stockholm and Vauban in Freiburg. However, I am going to choose a London project. This is the regeneration of Stockwell Park by Community Trust Housing and Network and is my choice because the spirit of Jane Jacobs lives on at Stockwell Park. This is genuinely grass roots. Community control, £160m inward investment, exemplar design, skateboard park, one of the world’s best graffiti walls, community shops and most of all, a safe place to live.

PRP's Stockwell Park scheme in Lambeth

PRP’s Stockwell park scheme in Lambeth for Community Trust Housing / Network Housing Group

What are the biggest challenges currently facing the organisation?
Peabody operates exclusively in London and the London market seems to be quickly forgetting 2007, cashing in on new overseas markets. This creates a dilemma for Peabody. Private sale cross subsidy now features in our development plans. However, at the same time Londoners are being priced out of the market. 

George Peabody vision was quality homes for London’s working poor. And our future plans maintain this vision with a range of housing options that help new households get a foot onto the London housing ladder.

To do this we will continue to work with our partners to create new development opportunities. Good examples include our new partnership with GLA and Mace in Elephant and Castle that will deliver a mix of 400 market rent, intermediate sale and affordable rent homes and reinvigorated plans for Thamesmead which benefits from Cross Rail bringing it closer to central London and an affordable housing option for the increasing number of people working in the capital.

Various reports show that somewhere between 50 and 75 per cent of new homes built in central London are sold overseas. The industry challenge is to not let the market overheat locking out more working Londoners, which it is in danger of doing.

How has the developer landscape/housing association changed during the recession?
Probably the only good thing to come out of the recession is a better relationship between private and HA sectors. This includes HA’s using their cash more imaginatively and getting a better deal from the supply chain. This has to be the future because low grant and sales cross subsidy is the only way to stay in the game. Get it right and everyone wins!

What would you most like the government to do for you? And what one thing could improve the quality of what is being delivered?
Government ask:
Most HA’s working in London are operating rent policies that link back to welfare reform so that families can continue to live in London. This creates an investment environment that is producing less family sized homes. This an incredibly difficult problem and continued focus on reviewing the balance between capital grant vs rent level with an eye on supporting London’s living wage is required. Not easy!

Improving quality:
About 10 years ago, quite by chance I came across a draughtsman who had previously worked for Berkeley Homes adding value to detailed design layouts. Ever since then I have used him to look at our sales homes layouts (particularly the difficult bookend plots) and, without fail, he has either reduced cost or improved GDV or both. His manner is such that design teams never feel threatened by him. A secret weapon of sorts.

Which of your projects is your favourite and why?
I am going to give you three projects which stand out for me.
First, Newquay house which was my first ever development at L&Q in 1989 and which formed part of the Kennington Duchy of Cornwall estate transfer to L&Q. The architect was Ben Derbyshire at HTA. Here we turned a Louis De Soisson designed 1930’s block of flats into a multi generation urban courtyard block, whilst maintaining the beauty of the original building and its exquisite fixtures & fittings. The result was ground floor family homes with their own front door and garden, older persons apartments with balconies over looking a secure central community courtyard and smaller apartments for singles and couples above the family homes. Urban, dense and high quality. 24 years on it is still a fantastic place to live.

Second, Peabody’s Plaistow hospital development which is currently on site. Here a design competition was held last year as part of the Peabody 150 years celebration and PCKO was selected to design homes around some attractive Victorian buildings. We worked alongside Newham to develop the design and achieved a great planning consent for 168 homes including a large number of family houses which, in the current funding environment, is an excellent outcome. The landscape design (by Farrer Huxley) is an integral part of the development focussed on enabling the new community to integrate and thrive.

PCKO Peabody

Peabody’s Plaistow hospital development, currently on site, by PCKO

Finally, My own house which we renovated over the last year. This has turned an average Victorian house in a Kennington conservation area into a wonderful home that has maintained the conservation aspects of the house, brought the living space into the garden, created a home cinema, improved our carbon footprint and a glazed roof in the bathroom which means I can lie in the bath, watch the stars and think about housing policy. It was great to be a resident client (possibly not for our very patient architect, Steve Cox, Cox architecture) and exploring first hand how important lifestyle choice is in design. Also, we had to move out for 7 months and it was great to experience living high rise on the 33rd floor of Strata. 

 

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