The Property Cycle

June 3rd, 2014 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Simon Gawthorpe


Last week, myself and three other Urban Splash colleagues (Nathan CornishJonathan Falkingham and Ian Bull), committed to cycling an 82 mile course as part of the ‘Yorkshire Pedalthon’.

Aside from the inevitable ’saddle sores’ it was a great day and we were fortunate enough to ride part of the Tour de France Yorkshire route - the one the pros are going to be taking on in July.

The event was arranged by property consultancy Carter Jonas in aid of both the Yorkshire Air Ambulance and Sustrans - a charity enabling people to travel by foot, bike or public transport - so was all for a good cause. I look forward to sharing more information about the money raised (and the ongoing pains we’ve all endured!) in due course.

Filed under: Leeds, Park Hill, Saxton, Sheffield, Urban Splash No comments

Turning offices into homes

May 29th, 2014 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Tom Bloxham MBE


This week I gave my thoughts to The Times newspaper, who featured an article on using disused office spaces and turning them into homes.

You can read an excerpt of the article below or the full piece here.

“It’s not exactly ‘taking your work home’, but converting commercial blocks is one way to tackle the housing crisis.

“Done well, the office-to-home process can revitalise cities and towns: Tom Bloxham, the co-founder of Urban Splash, spent the 1980s and 1990s buying up offices and disused factories in Manchester city centre and connverting them into homes. “It brought people back to live in the centre of Manchester,” he says. “It created vibrancy. Nobody used to live in the centre of Manchester back then.”

“Bloxham says the qualities people want from a home — good location, big windows and high ceilings —are often present in former commercial buildings. “There’s a generosity of proportions and character with this type of property,” says Bloxham. One of his company’s best-known projects is the Rotunda, formerly an ugly circular office block next to the new Birmingham Selfridges, now 232 slick “citypads”.

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More awards for the Staircase to Devon

May 28th, 2014 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Tom Bloxham MBE


Our staircase at Royal William Yard has won two new awards; a RIBA South West Award 2014 and the RIBA Small Project of the Year Award. Well done to our architects Gillespie Yunnie who submitted the designs.

Sharing his love for the staircase, RIBA South West Awards chairman John Pardey said: “If staircases offer ascent to a better place, then this one certainly does. While the conversion to cafes and apartments of many of the former administration and barrack blocks is surely one of the best examples of its kind in the UK, the new staircase, at the far end of the yard, provides a moment of joy.

“Cutting through the top of the wall with a crisp steel liner, it snakes down the massive stone wall, held away and cantilevered to a half landing with tall glass balustrading that for a brief moment makes you feel like a diver about to drop into the ocean.” Read more of his views on the Plymouth Herald.

And, you might have seen the colourful staircase in one of its many hues, but now we’d like to know which is your favourite? Tell us by commenting below…

PS: You may have noticed we like a nice staircase here at Urban Splash so, as they used to say on Blue Peter, ‘here are a few more we made earlier…’

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Saving a piece of architectural history

May 21st, 2014 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Tom Bloxham MBE


This week I attended the 2014 PROPS - an annual charity property awards lunch. In the programme, I was given the opportunity to write an article about Urban Splash’s role in restoration and regeneration - focusing on saving the Maison Bulle in France. Have a read of the full article below…


We are very fortunate to work in the property industry; an industry perhaps more than any has the ability to make an impact on the world around us. Many of you play a very significant role in doing that.

The PROPS Awards is a clear example of this, raising millions year after year through the hard work and dedication of the committee and the support of all of those who attend. We also have, perhaps an even more important role in the way we have restored the nation’s buildings, villages, towns and cities.

Unfortunately, the role played by the property industry, developers and estate agents in particular is very much underrated and demeaned, particularly by the tabloid press. There’s probably a hierarchy of professions with doctors, teachers, nurses, entrepreneurs at the top, going down through industrialists, lawyers then surveyors and developers at the bottom, often being looked upon as a problem rather than a solution.  It’s perhaps only recently that bankers and journalists have overtaken us in the public’s distaste!

However, I believe we should shout more about the role we play, particularly in restoring old buildings. The industry invests millions, indeed billions, of pounds restoring historic buildings, creating wealth, jobs and employment. I’ve certainly found huge personal satisfaction in taking old unloved wrecks and redundant ruins and bringing them back to life – whether it’s industrial buildings like Fort Dunlop in Birmingham , old Naval dockyards like the Royal William Yard in Plymouth, art deco hotels like the Midland in Morecambe, textile mills like Lister Mills in Bradford, sixties concrete buildings like the Rotunda in Birmingham, Lakeshore in Bristol – or ex-council estates like Park Hill in Sheffield. The images below illustrate the transformations of these buildings…

fort_beforeafterFort Dunlop, Birmingham

midl_beforeafterThe Midland Hotel, Morecambe

rwy_beforeafterRoyal William Yard, Plymouth

list_beforeafterLister Mills, Bradford

rotu_beforeafterRotunda, Birmingham

lake_beforeafterLakeshore, Bristol

park_beforeafterPark Hill, Sheffield

But perhaps, the biggest joy of my life was discovering Maison Bulle (the Bubble House) – a property near to Nice in the south of France. I discovered it as a half-built ruin; construction had started in 1969 and I bought it in 2006. From then it was a great joy to restore the house working with the original architect Antti Lovag who’s now 94-years of age and still lives in his own mini bubble; a prototype within the grounds.

During the construction, every time I asked him a question about whether I could do things to the property, he would think deeply, come back after a minute, an hour, a day or a month and answer ‘Tout est possible, tout est permit’ (everything is possible, everything is allowed).

Antti only ever built three houses and when I asked him why he had never found anymore clients, he explained to me that when he met a client he could never explain to anybody what the house might look like, how much it would cost or how long it would take. I think I was the only person he could find stupid enough to take on the task of finishing his masterpiece of work.

It was originally started in 1969 and eventually finished in 2009, 40 years to finish a single-dwelling makes even most of us builders look like fast-workers! But not only was it a personal joy for me to finish, but I feel pleased that I’ve managed to finish a piece of modern French history.

I know so many others in this room have restored and completed old buildings or just as importantly built amazing new buildings with great architecture. I think we should all be very proud of the achievements of our industry, of this generosity not only in raising money for charity but in improving our cities and I hope that most – if not all of us – here today can swear the oath of the citizens of ancient Athens would have to swear before they were granted citizenship “that we will leave this city, not less, but greater, better and more beautiful, than we found it…”

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In their conservation bulletin this month, English Heritage used Park Hill as an example of a successful historic building conversion. In it, they analysed how developers can create sensitively designed new homes while conserving and enhancing heritage.

As part of the feature, I was given the opportunity to write a more in-depth article about the general Urban Splash approach to redevelopment; I focussed on Park Hill, a scheme I called our ‘poster-boy of regeneration’.

We’ve worked closely with English Heritage on many occasions - but the relationship’s grown especially strong at Park Hill. There, they’ve proved crucial consultants on the preservation of the building - especially the intricacies of matching the original concrete facade and panels.


You can read the full article here, or there’s an excerpt below. Enjoy!

“Park Hill in Sheffield is our current poster-boy Grade II* listed regeneration project. Unapologeti­cally projecting its Brutalist facades towards the city, it is currently being redeveloped into a mixed-use scheme of over 900 homes. We released the first phase in 2012 to critical acclaim – it was shortlisted for the Stirling prize – and was a commercial success.

In a sea of housing mediocrity, the symbolism of an established landmark building can provide an opportunity to create something unique. Historic refurbishments were initially driven by the demand for loft-style apartments. Decades later, people view these buildings as being warm, characterful and full of monetary and social value.

It’s fair to say that where there is demand in a property market, there is value. Urban Splash has been able to deliver this on a variety of projects by creating a product that is contemporary in design terms – and thus palatable to the requirements of the modern marketplace – but that avoids pastiche.


One of our guiding principles is to be respectful of the original building fabric – not just the ele­ments of architectural interest but also the textures, materials and sheer volume that combine to por­tray the history of these buildings.Working with the grain of the building is another priority, not forcing it to do things it doesn’t want to do. We always seek to retain the original structure when­ ever we can, but there at the same time not be afraid to change it where there is good reason.We strive to achieve a clear architectural language to articulate and express the building inside and out. While concentrating on creating spacious, well- planned light and airy homes we also pay attention to the quality of common parts and the interaction of an historic building with its local surroundings at ground level.

Historic buildings are not just attractive develop­ ment proposals. They also retain their value over time, have the ability to leverage viability-gap or grant-funding subsidies and can contribute to wider regeneration efforts. Local authority master plans, development plans and economic strategies can target historic buildings for development with demonstrable results in terms of planning gain.

Alongside the economic rewards there is also the gain to conservation. By transforming redundant buildings into homes and giving them a new day- to-day use we are ensuring their preservation and ongoing maintenance for many generations to come.”

Filed under: Park Hill, Urban Splash No comments

A best ‘cellar’ at Royal William Yard

April 29th, 2014 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Yannick Loue


I am Yannick, founder of Le Vignoble, we are a wine merchant and lounge. We’ve been at the Royal William Yard in Plymouth for a couple of years now and are delighted to see how quickly our wines, classes and other products have become best ‘cellars’!

I think that the local community is drawn to our varied product range; we stock more than 300 wines, 36 of which are available by the glass. We also offer rating events and wine education classes which residents and visitors love!

I am also a huge advocate of the Yard and believe in what the area has already become and what it will become in the future, there’s no way we’d have considered opening Le Vignoble anywhere else. The redevelopment of these rustic buildings really ties in with our concept, where we link old world and new world wines with our bare wood features and the modern technology of enomatic wine serving systems.


So if you would like to join us in raising a (filled!) glass to the Yard then come and see us for a drink. You might also want to time your visit to take advantage of our monthly offers; this month we’ve got the beautiful Brunello di Montalcino Casa di Baldassi 2005 at just £13 per bottle and 20% discount on 2 bottles. We’ve beaten the supermarkets to stocking that one!

Filed under: Plymouth, Royal William Yard, Urban Splash No comments

Gastro delights at the Yard

April 22nd, 2014 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Emily Handslip


I was delighted to read this month’s Sainsbury’s Magazine which features a rundown of the best eateries here at Royal William Yard. A journalist from the magazine visited Plymouth to explore ‘what goodies were on offer’ in the city.

It’s been a long and exciting journey turning the Yard into what it is today; a formal Naval supplies yard, it was left to deteriorate before Urban Splash began creating homes, workspaces and restaurants and shops there a few years ago. We’ve now got an amazing mix on offer; highlights include Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Canteen and Deli, the Royal William Bakery - which the Sainsbury’s journalist calls “the antithesis of chintzy tea room where hipster bakers knead dough in an open kitchen”, Prezzo, Wagamama and more…

Sainsbury’s Magazine called the gastro mix at the Yard ‘cutting edge’ and you can read more about the eatieres they singled out in the May edition on shelves now. It’s the second article of its sorts we’ve had in just a couple of months after Devon Life ran a similar foodie feature which you can read here.

If you’ve not yet visited what’s on offer at the Yard, the summer’s the perfect time to do so!


Filed under: Mills Bakery, Plymouth, Royal William Yard, Urban Splash No comments

The Steve Jobs of Regeneration? I wish..!

April 15th, 2014 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Tom Bloxham MBE

Ahead of a trip to Dublin to give a talk to Property Industry Ireland, I gave an interview to the Irish Independent newspaper’s property editor.

The generous article focusses on Chimney Pot Park saying the development “is likely responsible for saving tens of thousands of similar rundown Victorian terraces from the wrecking ball…”


The feature also rather kindly called me ‘the Steve Jobs of urban regeneration’ (I wish!) and outlined some of our best work, citing how we have: “…proven to be a masters of turning “useless” buildings and even entire “useless” streets into desirable family homes…”

tb_blog2It’s a flattering read and one that’s also peppered with comments from Peter Stafford - the Mancunian who’s now tasked with ‘rebuilding Ireland’s economy’ in his role with Property Industry Ireland. It’s nice to see him draw those parallels and use Manchester and other UK cities as the barometer.

You can read the full article here.

Filed under: Tom Bloxham MBE, Urban Splash - tags:
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182 new homes at Park Hill..!

April 7th, 2014 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Simon Gawthorpe


It’s been a busy week as we announced that work is underway on the second phase of homes at Park Hill in Sheffield, a £17 million investment that’s being delivered by Urban Splash in joint venture with Places for People. The new works will bring 182 new homes to the building; the first of which will be ready mid-2015.


The regional press took a lot of interest in the new phase and you can read the best bits below:

BBC Online

The Star, Sheffield

The Sheffield Telegraph

The Business Desk

Yorkshire Business Insider

What House

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Warren Buffett is one of my heroes and one of the world’s all-time great investors. It may sound strange, but the Berkshire Hathaway annual reports are some of my favourite reads. Interesting, incisive and amusing.

Here are a few of his great tips on business:

Look for three key attributes when you’re hiring people:“Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”

About socks and stocks: “Long ago, Ben Graham taught me that ‘Price is what you pay; value is what you get.’ Whether we’re talking about socks or stocks, I like buying quality merchandise when it is marked down.”

Time is ticking away: “Time is the friend of the wonderful business, the enemy of the mediocre.”
Be patient: “No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take time. You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”

Work with people you respect: “I have turned down business deals that were otherwise decent deals because I didn’t like the people I would have to work with. I didn’t see any sense in pretending.”

Bad things aren’t obvious when times are good: “After all, you only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.”

Filed under: Tom Bloxham MBE, Urban Splash No comments