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Tributes paid to housebuilding ‘Colossus’ Tony Pidgley

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Developer Tony Pidgley, the driving force behind housebuilding giant Berkeley, has died, aged 72

From a humble start – he was adopted from Barnardo’s by travellers at the age of four and spent his early life living in a disused railway carriage – the ‘super street smart’ developer famously went onto create a property company worth billions, employing more than 2,500 staff.

Started in 1976, Berkeley began building on small sites across the home counties, before moving into major urban regeneration in London, Birmingham, Manchester and other northern cities in the 1990s.

In the early 2000s, Berkeley shifted its focus to concentrate on large-scale redevelopments in and around the capital. It was during this time its joint venture company St George built the opinion-splitting St George’s Wharf scheme and tower by Broadway Malyan, once voted the AJ100’s least favourite building.

Other recent schemes in London include SimpsonHaugh’s recently completed One Blackfriars tower on the South Bank and the ongoing Kidbrooke Village development masterplanned by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands.

Urban Splash chairman and founder Tom Bloxham described Pidgley as a ‘true legend’. He told the AJ: ’Although [we as a company are] more design-focused, while Berkeley is much, much bigger, both can seen as entrepreneurial disrupters.

’He was one of the first to recognise what we were doing in early 90s – creating city-centre lofts in the north.

’He visited our Smithfield Buildings, hired [our architect] Roger Stephenson and the whole professional team and emulated the loft idea and pushed into city centres.

’This helped kick-start the regeneration of Manchester and other urban centres when other housebuilders had rejected [them].’

Pidgley was known for his skills at predicting the market, selling and buying at the right times. Bloxham added: ’In 2004 he foresaw both the 2007 crash and how London would [subsequently] boom.’

Under-fire housing minister Robert Jenrick hailed Pidgley, who was awarded a CBE for services to the housing sector and the community in 2013, as a ‘Colossus of the property world’.

Former CABE chair Paul Finch said: ‘After a first encounter over a critical CABE design review, Tony Pidgley recognised the value of genuine constructive design advice, and told ministers more than once that CABE was a good thing.

’Design quality in his developments strengthened over the years and his contribution to housebuilding will be long remembered, as will his no-nonsense contributions on the London stand at MIPIM.’

Barbara Weiss, writing in the AJ about her unlikely friendship with Pidgley, said: ’Tony’s quicksilver mind reduced decision-making to a matter of seconds; his over-arching love for nature meant that, in all design proposals, landscape was an essential component; and his strong empathy for the younger generation, and for those who struggled financially, made him a generous proponent of quality housing that would also be affordable for a range of stretched households.’

Rob Perrins, chief executive of Berkeley, said: ‘[Pidgley] was a brilliant man who I have been fortunate to work closely with for 20 years. He started Berkeley by building one house and his vision grew into a FTSE 100 company.

’He knew he would never retire, so he ensured that his culture was embedded in the company for when this sad day came.’

Pidgley died on Friday (26 June) after suffering a stroke. 

Tributes

Richard Simmons, former chief executive of CABE

Tony Pidgely was passionate about good housing design and great placemaking. Some said it was easy for him at the top end of the market - but how many of them brought designs to their board meetings and questioned every aspect to make sure the place and homes were as good as they could be? Tony’s point was that there wasn’t a level playing field. Planners let housebuilders get away with rubbish. If everyone built as well as him the market would level up. He was right. We still await that day. Affable, opinionated, a friend to CABE and everyone who wants our cities to be better. He will be missed.

Chris Churchman, director of Churchman Thornhill Finch

It may seem a little odd for me as a landscape architect to be suggesting honouring a housing developer, but Tony Pidgely probably did more for landscape than most landscape architects will ever do. Twenty years ago he changed the model in terms of residential development and the importance of quality landscape was no small part of his vision.

I am not motivated by any direct sense of gratitude, to this day our practice has never managed to work for the Berkeley Group, but I know that Tony’s recognition of the importance of good quality landscape influenced many of his competitors, and we in turn benefited from the work that they passed on to us. I never knew the man either, he was not a personal friend, he was just a bloke I used to see at MIPIM. You have to remember that at the time his company started to expand the standard housing typology was still focused around two-storey suburban developments. The move to high-rise, high-density, city centre living was in no small part down to Tony’s companies, their developments at Chelsea Bridge and then at Woolwich shifted the mind set of the developers and their residents, the skyline of our cities has been transformed in the last two decades and he played no small part in that.

His approach to landscape was always simple - he did like his geraniums - but he knew that quality paving and semi-mature trees would yield immediate returns and that approach is now so embedded that no one would suggest doing anything else.

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