Plymouth’s book of wonder

July 8th, 2014 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Nathan Cornish


I was delighted to read online this week Plymouth’s new ‘Book of Wonder‘, which features 100 facts about Plymouth and some stunning photographs that’ll help people outside the City see what all the fuss is about.

Did you know for example that Plymouth is the greenest city in the UK with 40 per cent of the city green space? Or that Houdini challenged carpenters from Devonport naval base to make a box from which he could not escape. He was nailed inside the box at his show at the Palace Theatre and escaped in 12 minutes! Or that Laurel & Hardy (my childhood favourites) and Charlie Chaplin were just some of the global stars to frequent the City’s Palace Theatre?

The book also tells the story of Plymouth’s thriving businesses and the role some of the industries here have played; for example Kawasaki‘s Plymouth factory supplied the hydraulic motors that were used to bore the Channel Tunnel and Wrigley’s Plymouth factory produces over three million packets of chewing gum… in a day! That’s a lot of chewing!


Plymouth has provided Urban Splash with a special place that we feel privileged to be part of at the Royal William Yard, a place the book calls a ‘cultural hotspot’. We’ve transformed a disused Naval supplies yard and created a destination that attracts residents and visitors alike. I’m delighted its considered one of the wonders of Plymouth and I’d urge anyone who hasn’t yet been to see why and head on over...

Filed under: Urban Splash No comments


This week, I was delighted to announce the results of our annual accounts which show a £99m increase in turnover and a return to profit (I wish we could have worked a bit harder to make it to £100m!).  Below you can read the full Chairman’s Statement from the accounts as well as some of the press coverage we’ve received about them in the past few days…

Property Week

The Architects’ Journal

Building Design

Manchester Evening News

Manchester Gazette


Liverpool Echo

Birmingham Post

The Business Desk

Plymouth Herald

Yorkshire Post

Full Chairman’s Statement:

Even for an eternal optimist like me, in recent years writing my statement in these accounts has at times been difficult, due the problems suffered by the business as a result of the financial crisis which seemed never ending.  It is therefore very pleasing to say that the last 18 months has been one of the most important in the group’s recent history, and one which has hopefully put the group on a sound platform for future growth as well as finding a solution to the problems associated with the large debt burden which has beset us since the onset of the financial crisis in late 2008.

In July 2013 and after 18 months of hard work with our banks, the Homes and Communities Agency and the team of advisers, we successfully concluded a fundamental restructure and refinance of the group which has addressed the legacy debt position of the group and created a new corporate structure enabling the business to grow, start new development projects and form new joint venture relationships which we believe will be key to the future success of the business.

At the same time we completed the sale of £77.7 million of residential property to Places for People retaining the ongoing management of the portfolio. This enabled the group to repay the majority of its facilities with the Homes and Communities Agency and a substantial amount of bilateral bank facilities. This sale was the start of a long term successful partnership with Places for People, one of the country’s biggest property management, development and regeneration companies. In February this year, we established a joint venture with Places for People to develop property across the UK. We are delighted that our first project together, the construction of 182 apartments in the second phase of Park Hill, Sheffield is currently on site with other schemes hopefully starting in the near future.


The restructure in the summer of 2013 did not at the time address our remaining legacy debt facilities, our syndicated £113m commercial property loan. The final piece of the restructuring jigsaw was put into place when in April of this year, we cancelled our swap arrangements and working in partnership with The Pears Group reached agreement with our banking syndicate to refinance the debt.  We have also formed another joint venture with Pears which we look forward to developing over the coming years.

Perhaps even more pleasing and despite the restructure and refinance absorbing a huge amount of management time, much has been achieved across the business in a number of areas. We have continued to deliver award-winning buildings, we were nominated for the prestigious Stirling Prize for our Park Hill development and we have won 46 more awards, taking our total to 363.

I am also delighted to report that during the last 18 months, we completed construction of our schemes at Lakeshore in Bristol, the first phase of Park Hill in Sheffield, one of the country’s most ambitious regeneration projects and New Cooperage at the Royal William Yard in Plymouth. All of these schemes are either fully let or sold and each scheme has already won several awards.


We continue to spend much time and hard work developing our commercial investment portfolio and the residential portfolios that we manage for Places for People and others. This has allowed us to increase our annualised investment income overall to £14.7 million (£22.1 million for the 18 months to 30 September 2013), up £0.8 million. We believe our buildings are exceptionally well designed and both residential and commercial tenants appreciate the quality design and service Urban Splash is able to offer. We believe this sets us apart from the competition.

Turning to the figures, turnover has increased to £132.6 million from £33.7 million, principally as a result of the residential sale to Places for People of £77.7m. However, it’s worth noting this is the Group’s largest ever recorded turnover.  We also recorded our first profit for a financial period since 2008 of £0.05m improved from the loss of £15.4 million in the previous year. A revaluation of our commercial properties at 30th September 2013 has shown a reduction in value of £16.3 million (2012: reduction of £6.9 million) reflecting the fact that values of regional commercial property portfolios remain depressed.

Despite the difficulties faced over the last 5 years, Urban Splash has maintained its reputation as one of the country’s leading regeneration companies.  With our restructure and refinance behind us I believe that together with our new partners and our established brand, we are in a position to respond to the many opportunities now presented by the property market in the UK - we have lots of new ideas and we hope to be announcing some of them soon.

Looking forward, in the last few months both the economy and particularly the UK regional property market has shown real signs of growth.  The country continues to suffer from the severe shortage of housing particularly affordable housing and all the major political parties appear united in trying to find a solution.

I hope having survived the worst economic downturn I can remember, restructured our business and formed new joint ventures with some very significant and substantial partners, we will be well placed to continue delivering award winning regeneration schemes and much needed new homes and work spaces up and down the country.


As ever, my thanks go to all our public and private sector partners and above all my colleagues. I am hopeful that the past is behind us and I am very much looking forward to driving this great business onward and bringing new exciting, innovative and amazing regeneration projects to the market.

Filed under: Tom Bloxham MBE, Urban Splash No comments

Park Hill: Brutally beautiful

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Hello, I’m Deborah and I’m responsible for arranging local events that celebrate the best of English heritage… So I was thrilled this month, when Urban Splash agreed that we could use Park Hill in Sheffield as the venue for our forthcoming exhibition: “Beautiful and Brutal”. We’re staging it as part of Sheffield Design Week and will spend 23rd to 29th June at Park Hill celebrating the best post-war era architecture and listed buildings.

We’ve known Urban Splash for some time, and one of our most exciting and challenging projects is Park Hill. It’s a fantastic example of post-war architecture preserved and, with our exhibition emphasising listed buildings in the North of England, is the perfect venue.

Our exhibition will feature stunning photography and we’ll have contributions from architects of post-war buildings. We hope it will show the people of Sheffield and the broader design community just why the very best buildings are worthy of preservation.

We hope to see some of you there, here are all the details you’ll need.

Filed under: Park Hill, Urban Splash No comments

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”.

Filed under: Tom Bloxham MBE, Urban Splash No comments

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…’

Filed under: Tom Bloxham MBE, Urban Splash No comments

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…”

Filed under: Tom Bloxham MBE, Urban Splash No comments


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