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Tom Bloxham: ‘Good design is in demand’

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As his company returns to profit, Tom Bloxham talks about how Urban Splash has turned a corner and why good design is paramount

How has the last year been?
Challenging and exciting but fun. It’s been the period in which we have restructured all our debt, completed two major deals with the William Pears Group and Places for People, each of which allow us to explore new development opportunities and get back to what we do best.

How has Urban Splash changed in the past six years?
We have adapted the business model to accommodate the market. We had a period of asset management which allowed us to stabilise post-recession. Now we are partnering with other companies with whom we can take on new development. The latest phase of Park Hill is one example.

Does design still matter to you?
Good design is integral to everything we do and, as proven by us having weathered the recession, good design is always in demand.

What is next for Urban Splash?
Our next focus will be ‘hoUSe’ – a new kit of parts residential concept which we hope will revolutionise the UK’s attitudes to housing. Designed by Shedkm,the first site will be at New Islington in Manchester (see page 16). 

Are you still looking for architects?
We are always interested to hear about ideas from architects and to partner with creative designers which can enhance our ideas.

Is there life in the regions?
Very much so, we have chosen to develop House in Manchester because we think there is demand. In Sheffield, we have started on the next phase of Park Hill to sustain demand for future homes there. In Plymouth, we have announced that Ocean Studios community interest company is moving to Royal William Yard. There is interest across our portfolio.

How are you protecting Urban Splash from another economic downturn?
The crisis in 2008 took everyone – including Lehman Brothers and RBS – by surprise. Northern residential development was in the eye of the storm. Most of our competitors are sadly no longer with us. We now have joint-venture partners with multibillion pound balance sheets.

Have you sold off anything to People for Places that you really wish you could have kept?
In some ways I would love to keep everything, but we cannot do that. We are still managing the People for Places portfolio and have set up a joint-venture for new projects. We are looking at a number already. It is the new developments that really excite us.

Do you have a new motto?
Same as ever: ‘We will leave this city not less, but greater and better than we found it.’

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