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Argent eyes housing expansion, while Derwent and GPE to 'dabble'

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Major commercial developer Argent has said that housing will be a ‘significant’ part of its future pipeline, according to its partner Nick Searl

Searl, who was speaking at the Construction News Summit 2014, said the team was looking at several residential-led projects, including the 1,500-home development at East Wick and Sweetwater on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

He was talking on a panel chaired by outgoing British Property Federation chief executive Liz Peace, with Great Portland Estates (GPE) head of projects James Pellatt, Derwent London executive director Paul Williams and Hammerson chief investment officer Peter Cole.

Peace said that with an increase of mixed-use development, all clients were increasingly becoming housebuilders, but asked whether commercial developers were good at building homes.

Pellatt argued that commercial developers did not make good housebuilders, while Searl said the commercial sector did not have the ‘baggage’ that came with some residential developers, allowing room for them to be more innovative in the sector than traditional housebuilders.

Derwent’s Williams said his team would remain focused on commercial and would only ‘dabble’ in residential development.

Hammerson’s Cole said the team had begun development construction again, including at its Les Terrasses du Port project in Marseille, France, as well as its major £1billion UK retail-led scheme in Croydon, in partnership with Westfield.

Searl said Argent would be “upping the ante” on the work that is taking place at King’s Cross, with more than six years of construction left on site.

Derwent is progressing on its commercial-led scheme in Shoreditch, White Collar Factory, and Williams said work on Saatchi and Saatchi’s new headquarters in Fitzrovia designed by Make would begin next year.

Pellatt said GPE was ‘halfway through an ambitious speculative development programme’, with development focused on the West End and the East end of Oxford Street.

He added that the team would continue to speculatively develop because of good demand and competition in the market.

Argent’s Searl echoed the GPE head of projects’ faith in spec development and added the landscape had changed over the five years since his team has been developing King’s Cross, with people from across sectors interested in the office space in the area.

Williams said London was adapting ‘massively’ to this shift in demand and added that it was interesting to see how ‘footloose’ people have become, with a rise in pre-lets.

On attracting people to the sector, the panel members agreed that it was important to engage people from a young age.

Pellatt said children aged 12 or 13 could be showed around construction sites to engage them in the practical side of development.

Williams said his team encouraged people to come on tours on site but noted the challenges around health and safety doing this on busy central London schemes.

They were responding to a question from a Balfour Beatty employee who asked whether sites should be more transparent.

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