Wishing an old friend a happy 50th birthday

September 23rd, 2015 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Tom Bloxham MBE


I’ve just read a lovely article in the Birmingham Mail celebrating the 50th birthday of the city’s Rotunda building.

It is one of Birmingham’s most iconic buildings and around a decade ago, Urban Splash working with Glenn Howells architects helped rejuvenate it, turning it into 232 apartments with 360 degree views of the city. It has since won seven awards including the Insider Construction Project of the Year.

Read the full article from the Birmingham Mail below, or visit the newspaper’s website for a great timeline graphic showing how Rotunda’s changed over the years.


Birmingham’s Rotunda building very nearly featured a colour-changing flame-like weather beacon on its roof.

The idea was to make the cylindrical office block look like a giant candle.

A cinema and rotating restaurant also featured in early plans for the tower but also never came to fruition before it was opened in 1965.

Even without them the Rotunda has become perhaps the city’s most recognisable and best-loved buildings.

It was renovated between 2004 and 2008 to become hundreds of city centre apartments by developers Urban Splash who celebrated the 50th anniversary of the building’s opening yesterday.

To mark the occasion we climbed up its 25 storeys to capture Birmingham’s changing city centre from the building at its very heart.

Filed under: Birmingham, Urban Splash

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September 21st, 2015 [ No comments ]

Peter Doig at Park Hill

by Leila Alexander

sq_blog_pdoig1I am thrilled that the exhibition, Peter Doig Printmaker: there is no wealth but life, has just been launched at The Scottish Queen, a 12-month pop-up art gallery at Park Hill.  Not only is Turner-Prize nominee Peter Doig one of the most internationally-renowned artists working today (and a record-breaking painter - in 2007, his painting White Canoe sold at Sotheby’s for $11.3 million, then an auction record for a living European artist), but this exhibition is the first survey of Doig’s print work to be staged in the UK, showcasing many of Doig’s rare editions dating from 1986 through to the present.

It is particularly fitting this show is taking place at Park Hill given that several of Doig’s most celebrated works, the Concrete Cabin series, depict the modernist architect Le Corbusier’s seminal structure, the Unité d’Habitation in Marseille – a piece of architecture that heavily influenced and inspired the design of Park Hill.


With a career spanning nearly three decades, Doig’s inventive style and sensuous palette place him in a long line of great colourists and creators of richly textured worlds alongside Gauguin, Matisse and Bonnard.  Based variously in Edinburgh, Montreal and now Trinidad, it is clear to see the colourful influence of those landscapes on this work.

Running in parallel with an ambitious city-wide exhibition called Going Public which sees art works from four major European art collectors displayed at venues including Sheffield Cathedral, Graves Gallery and the Millennium Gallery, Peter Doig Printmaker presents works from the private collection of our very own Sheffield-based collector, Tim Dickson.

If you haven’t visited The Scottish Queen yet, do come over and see Peter Doig’s work which is on exhibition until 24 October and is open to the public Thursday to Saturday, 12 – 5 pm, until 24 October.

In the meantime, you can read more about the exhibition here.

Filed under: Park Hill, Urban Splash

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Our housing pipeline of over 2000 homes

September 16th, 2015 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Tom Bloxham MBE


We recently acquired the former Regiment pub site in Manchester, a scheme which comes with planning for 44 homes. It made me sit back and take stock of just how many homes we have in our development pipeline.

We are now working on the delivery of over 2000 homes around the country; here’s more about them…


We are on site delivering the initial 43 hoUSes at New Islington in Manchester – the first place you’ll see our new modular housing concept hoUSewhich allows customers to create bespoke designed, affordable homes. We will be launching a show hoUSe later in the year but so far 39 of them have sold – that’s all hoUSe 1000 gone and just four hoUSe 1500s for sale remaining.


Springfield Lane may sit on the peaceful banks of the River Irwell, but it’s still just half a mile from Deansgate and Harvey Nichols. We have already submitted a planning application for the scheme which will bring 171 new homes; 71 of them hoUSes and 100 apartments.


We’re creating 182 more new homes at Park Hill - taking our total apartments in the first phase of the building to 260. We are selling on site and taking over five new reservations per month - no surprise given prices start at just £100,000.


We’ll be starting on site at the second phase of Lakeshore in Bristol in the new year. There, we’ll complete the final part of the scheme which will include the construction of 152 new apartments, adding to the 270 homes already completed in the original Listed Cor-Ten steel building.


We are delivering 30,000 sq ft of workspace at Stubbs Mill. It will transform this fantastic mill, with its distinctive North Lit roof, into the best raw and inspiring work space for creative businesses in Manchester.

sept15_pipeline_2_altWe have recently achieved planning at Smith’s Dock in North Shields where we’ll be creating 34 of our hoUSes in an area of the site that will be known as The Plateau. This is a joint venture development with Places for Peopleand we hope to be on site early next year.


Smith’s Dock will also be home to the Smokehouse, a development of 80 waterside apartments designed by award-winning architects Simpson Haugh which are currently in for planning


In Plymouth we’re busy creating arts, creative and workspaces at Royal William Yard, something bolstered by the launch of Ocean Studios.


And finally, we also recently agreed to acquire Plymouth’s Civic Centre.

Filed under: Tom Bloxham MBE, Urban Splash

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I was recently interviewed by Adam Branson of Property Week with whom I talked about the future of Urban Splash and the work we’re doing. Have a read of the article below or online on the PW website


Tom Bloxham does things just a little bit differently. That’s something that applies not just to his company Urban Splash’s projects, but also to his own sense of style.

On the day of our interview, he is dressed in a well-cut suit and a stylish shirt. So far, so property. But a glance towards the floor reveals he is wearing a pair of open-toed white leather sandals. Different enough in itself, but given that it is pouring down with rain outside it counts as mildly eccentric.

Such individuality has stood Bloxham in good stead. It was his company that pioneered city centre living in places such as Manchester and Liverpool, doing as much as anybody to contribute to the urban renaissance in our northern cities. It was also that iconoclastic world view that made Urban Splash a huge success - and Bloxham a very rich man. By 2007, the company was turning over around £100m a year and had advance sales on its residential developments of twice that amount.

“Then the world changed,” says Bloxham. “The people who had committed to sales couldn’t raise the money to complete, so those exchanged contracts were next to worthless.”

At the nadir, Urban Splash had a debt pile of more than £200m. Now, however, Urban Splash is back in the black. In an exclusive interview with Property Week to coincide with the RESI Conference, Bloxham reveals how he dragged Urban Splash back from the brink and why his new modular housing concept, ‘hoUSe’, gives him the same butterflies inner-city lofts did two decades ago. He also comments on those rumours he considering running for mayor of Manchester.

To say things got bad for Urban Splash during the downturn would be an understatement. When the residential market first started to feel the chill winds of the crisis, the business had enjoyed 15 years of year-on-year growth.

The sharp contraction in mortgage finance had not figured in its calculation. Worse, the value of Urban Splash’s developments started to go through the floor. People who had bought flats at, for instance, £100,000 were getting valuations for £60,000-£70,000, at which price only forced sellers were coming to market.

What is more, cash buyers were the only game in town, and they were offering just £30,000-£40,000 on the same properties - which in turn fed into valuations and the vicious circle just continued. “You saw the cycle of banks panicking and most companies in our sector - speculative, northern developers - sadly went to the wall,” says Bloxham. “Nobody saw the crash coming and I think we did well to survive it. We’re still here - many people in our position just fell away.”

Such a situation was unprecedented and it did not help that in 2010 the government abolished the regional development agencies and a series of grant agreements Bloxham had assumed were in the bag simply disappeared.

“It was an interesting thing I never thought I’d see,” says Bloxham drolly. “But whatever happens, my experience is that it’s not what life sends you; it’s how you deal with it. It was a bit of a challenge, but people were very supportive. They saw in Urban Splash a company that had done some great regeneration schemes nobody wanted to lose.”

That support saw Urban Splash able to raise enough money from HSBC and the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) to build out the schemes it had started, and Bloxham says that all its contractors got paid in the end. Homes that could not be sold - read most - were simply added to the company’s burgeoning private rented sector (PRS) portfolio, which Bloxham describes as “a good business”.

“Fundamentally, housing for rent is a good business model,” he says. “If you look at most building types today - student accommodation, supermarkets, office parks - in 30 years’ time they will be useless. Most of the houses we live in are more than 100 years old and as long as you maintain them well, they will last forever.”

That may be so, but what the crash killed dead was Urban Splash’s ability to take on new developments. The last two years, however, have seen Urban Splash shrug off its debt burden, return to growth and to begin, tentatively, to look for new opportunities.

In its latest set of results, covering the year to the end of September 2014, the company posted a turnover of £44.4m and a pre-tax profit of £7.6m. It also concluded the refinancing of £195.9m of debt and £93.6m of property transactions and repaid £134.9m of debt.

Two deals were critical to the turnaround. The first, agreed in July 2013, saw Urban Splash sell off a £77m residential portfolio to housing association Places for People. Urban Splash was retained to manage the properties and a joint venture (JV) formed to enable the two organisations to undertake new developments together. The ongoing redevelopment of the brutalist Park Hill estate in Sheffield is a key example.

Then in April last year, Urban Splash agreed a refinancing deal with the Pears Group, the notoriously private London-based property firm, to replace £135m of facilities held by the Co-operative Bank, Blackstone, HSBC and RBS. Again, the deal led to a JV being formed to take forward future acquisitions. Bloxham says the result of both deals is that Urban Splash has “no significant bank debt”.

So now the developer is back to doing what he loves best - turning ignored or neglected spaces into thriving and profitable places. The second phase of homes on the Park Hill redevelopment went on sale earlier this year and a cluster of creative companies have moved in to join taxi app Uber and graphic design firm Human. Now Urban Splash is considering future phases of development. “It’s very early days, but we’re thinking about putting in an arts centre,” says Bloxham. “We’ve used artists all the way through the process.”

Then there is the Smith’s Dock project in North Shields, where Urban Splash and Places for People have secured planning for the first phase of a project that will see 815 homes, work spaces, cafés and bars constructed on the banks of the Tyne. The JV will also continue to develop out the Lakeshore scheme in Bristol and is down to the last two in a bid to develop the British Waterways, Birmingham City Council and HCA-owned Icknield Port Loop site in Birmingham.

While Urban Splash will continue to build the individualistic developments that made it famous, both on its own and with its partners, it is also moving into modular housing. The company has been working up its hoUSe concept for five years and the first project to utilise it is now under construction in New Islington, Manchester.

“Inevitably, you get more cautious as you get older,” says Bloxham. “I think we are more cautious about financing and our rate of growth. We do want to find things that are scalable, and one of the things about hoUSe is that it is a lot less capital intensive. You can build a house, sell it and move onto the next one - you can speed up and slow down.”

The idea for hoUSe was borne in part of a desire to minimise exposure to rising labour costs - units are largely prefabricated in factory conditions and then assembled on site, requiring a minimal workforce. However, Bloxham also wanted to bring a new product to the market - one that involves selling homes by space rather than the number of rooms.

“Housebuilders get the maximum number of rooms in the smallest amount of space,” he says. “They don’t even tell you how much space you’re buying. It’s incredible. You buy a can of beans and they have to tell you how much space is in the can, but you buy a new house and they don’t have to tell you how many square feet it is. They’re selling rooms rather than space.”

Purchasers of hoUSe homes are able to choose between a 1,000 sq ft two-storey home or a 1,500 sq ft house with three storeys. They are then able to configure the internal space to their liking, including the number of bedrooms they need. The design is by architects shedkm, which designed Urban Splash’s multi-award-winning Chimney Pot Park development in Salford, and incorporates a modern take on the Victorian bay window in order to maximise natural light.

Bloxham hopes that, while still very much in its infancy, the hoUSe concept will grow to become a substantial part of the business, although he knows he is in untested territory.

“We’ve got a pipeline and we want a bigger pipeline,” he says. “We think this could be really quite important. When we first did inner-city lofts 20 years ago, we didn’t know if it was going to work, but we had butterflies in our stomachs and we feel the same way now.”

If the day job isn’t sufficient to keep him busy, Bloxham has other roles that put him at the front and centre of civic life in Manchester and further afield.

He has just stepped down as chancellor of the University of Manchester after seven years (“you do less than that for murder these days”), but is still a trustee of the Tate group of art galleries, sits on the board of the Manchester United FC Foundation, the football club’s charitable arm, and chairs Manchester International Festival.

But could it be that he is about to take his extracurricular activities a stage further? In order to secure additional powers, Greater Manchester agreed to chancellor George Osborne’s demand for an elected mayor to provide strategic leadership for the area. Inevitably, Bloxham’s name is being mooted, with Ladbrokes currently offering odds of 12/1 - not as good as Manchester City Council’s leader Richard Leese at 3/1, but considerably better than Happy Mondays’ Bez at 33/1.

Bloxham is having none of it. “My son says he will take any bet he can get,” he says. “So no, Manchester is very well run and I have no aspirations. I wouldn’t be able to do it as well as the current incumbents. I’ve got the best job in the world doing what I’m doing and I’ve got no desire to leave it.”

Unless he changes his mind, Manchester politics will have to do without the Bloxham brand. But now that Urban Splash is back in the black; you can bet your house - or even hoUSe - that we will see much more of the quirky regeneration schemes that made Bloxham’s name.

Filed under: Tom Bloxham MBE, Urban Splash

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A Weekend of Wonders ahead..!

September 3rd, 2015 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Emily Handslip


I am so excited about the Weekend of Wonders taking place here at the Royal William Yard this Sunday! We are delighted to be hosting the event at our beautiful waterfront scheme along with the fabulous crew from the Invisible Circus. The event is part of the launch of the Ocean City Festival.

Last week the circus announced more new spectacular street performance acts including tightrope Walker Chris “Anaspitos” Bull, who has been walking wires and ropes for over 12 years, will wire walk across the Royal William Yard Marina Basin, and the Wall Running artist and choreographer David Greeves, who has worked with aerial wire performance for over 18 years. There’s also Strong Man - Sir Leopold Aleksander - The Lion of London, The World’s Tallest Bubbleologist, Hula Hooper Miss Merlin, acrobat AJ James, showgirl Able Mable performers The Mighty Gareth, Bevan Adams and Cheeky Pete, Slack Rope impresario the Great Bullzini and of course The Invisible Circus Ringmaster Doug Francisco.


It’s going to be an amazing and dynamic event which I believe will showcase something that has never before been seen in Plymouth. The talent that will be at the Weekend of Wonders is phenomenal and to think we will actually have a tightrope walker across the marina and wall walkers performing the unimaginable within the yard, means this is going to be nothing short of spectacular.   There will be several performance ‘pitches’ around the Yard bringing the streets alive… look out for the main acts on The Green, as well as in front of Melville, at the front of the Main Gates and of course the huge wall along the back of The Yard.  Not only will it be a day of spectacular events, but we also have The Invisible Youth Circus located in front of Residence One encouraging children to come and get involved and have a go at learning some circus skills themselves!

The Good Food Market with additional craft stalls will be held on the lawn at the same time, so come along via ferry, foot, bus, bicycle or car and take in the splendour of Royal William Yard, our fabulous shops, galleries and restaurants. Buy your favourite local produce from the award winning Good Food Market, chill out on our deckchairs and prepare to be amazed by the spectacular line up of events from The Invisible Circus.  As well as rolling events through the day on all pitches, the timings for the wire walk and Doug Francisco’s main pitch are as follows:

10am – Miss Merlin

10.45 – Cheeky Pete

11.30 – Sir Leopold Aleksander

12.15 – Wire walk across harbour

1pm – Aj James

1.45 – Able Mable

2.30 - The Mighty Gareth

3.15 –Bevan Adams

Wall Walker timings will be confirmed on the day.

If all that isn’t enough we also have the Plymouth Lifeboat in the Marina for the public to board and explore.

I’d also like to thank Mark Laville of the Barbican Theatre, Plymouth City Council and Plymouth Waterfront Partnership for their support ahead of the event.

See you there…!

Filed under: Plymouth, Royal William Yard, Urban Splash

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I’m writing this blog from Singapore, where I’m currently on a UK trade delegation with none other than the Prime Minister David Cameron!

We’re here promoting the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and have been meeting with government officials, investors and financial institutions in both Malaysia and Singapore showing them just how prominent the role of the northern economy is - and how many viable investment opportunities there are in the region.

It’s also great to have Urban Splash noticed on this global, political scale. Since 2007 we’ve worked really hard to regenerate cities, secure new funding and investment as well as establishing JV partnerships with people like The William Pears Group and Places for People. I hope I’ll leave this trip with more great contacts and more people with whom Urban Splash, Manchester and the North as a whole can work with.

Filed under: Urban Splash

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A rich range of events at the Yard

July 22nd, 2015 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Emily Handslip


For almost a decade now I’ve had the pleasure of working with commercial occupiers at Royal William Yard in Plymouth. In that time, I’ve seen it transformed during that time from a disused naval base into somewhere that’s a flourishing cultural and gastronomical hub.

That was in part thanks to the fantastic range of occupiers who moved here, Seco Lounge, River Cottage, Le Vignoble, Wagamama, Las Iguanas to name a few, but more recently their presence has been bolstered by a fantastic and consistent programme of events.


It’s rare now that a week goes by at the Yard without an event being hosted - each one bringing with it more local people and visitors who want to explore what’s on offer. Recently, the BBC hosted the Antiques Roadshow here to much acclaim. A vast crowd came along to see the filming and we got a ringing endorsement from the show’s presenter Fiona Bruce who said: “I’ve never been to Royal William Yard before - it’s beautiful. The people that live here are so lucky… The history of this place is absolutely fascinating… to be in a place with such historical resonance works very well for us.”

We also continue to play host to a monthly Good Food Market; regular arts & crafts markets and I’m very excited that we’ll be hosting a week of outdoor performances of a Midsummer Night’s Dream.  It’s going to be one of the most ambitious and exciting events we’ve ever hosted and comes courtesy of Mark Laville of Barbican Theatre; together we managed to find the right spot where this fascinating production will take place.  The Yard seems unique in its chameleon ability to fit itself to such events.  We’re planning more pop-up theatre in different locations later in the year but I’m particularly excited by our Weekend of Wonders on 6th September when the Invisible Circus will join us at that month’s Good Food Market, animating the site with street performances from some of the country’s finest artistes, expect the unexpected and prepare to be amazed!

It’s such a change from what life used to be like here at the Yard. Urban Splash completed the first homes in 2007 and 2008 and as the community has grown so has the range of events and things happening here. If you’ve not visited, then now’s the time to do so! Also, watch this space for announcements of events later in the year including an outdoor cinema and Christmas markets.

Filed under: Plymouth, Royal William Yard, Urban Splash

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Getting the Government’s feedback on hoUse

June 26th, 2015 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Tom Bloxham MBE


It was great yesterday to welcome the Minister of State for Housing and Planning Brandon Lewis to New Islington – to see our new modular hoUSe (you can watch the film about hoUSe here).

I enjoyed showing him around the scheme and hearing his comments on how our work sits within the Government’s vision for housing. See what he had to say below. And in the meantime, if you want to come and see our hoUSe you can register your interest here.


Brandon Lewis MP on hoUSe: “Manchester has a rich history of innovation, so it’s great to be here and see that spirit is alive and well with Urban Splash’s new modular housing concept. This Government has got Britain building, encouraging a new generation of house builders to pursue their ideas and come up with new and exciting ways to build homes.

“Urban Splash is a prime example of that and I want to see other new entrants follow their lead and break into the market. That way we can ensure a thriving industry that delivers the high-quality homes that hard-working people rightly deserve.”

The Minister ‘s visit was led by Urban Splash Chairman Tom Bloxham MBE, who said: “hoUSe will bring a new ideology and way of thinking to the UK residential market and I am delighted that we have already sold 75% of the available homes even before we have officially launched. Providing affordability and good design is our main objective and I look forward to welcoming more people to this site – and other planned hoUSe sites – in the coming months.”

Filed under: Manchester, New Islington, Tom Bloxham MBE, Urban Splash, hoUSe

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Back to the Schoolhouse

June 22nd, 2015 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Paul Jones


We’ve just hosted a fantastic event for office agents at the award-winning Schoolhouse scheme in Trafford Park.

One of the first Urban Splash commercial schemes and originally redeveloped in 1996, it’s a great space filled with beautiful offices and some cool occupiers. We recently decided to update some of the spaces there for contemporary occupiers and it was those units that we invited agents to come and see today.


We had around 30 of Manchester’s top agents through the door, with lots of great feedback about the spaces and a simple closing statement from one attendee saying it had all been a ‘resounding success’.

We’ve already let one of the refurbished units, but if you’re a business looking for some space then take a look at what’s on offer here.

Filed under: Urban Splash

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I was delighted to read that we had topped the list of developer clients whose schemes have won the most national RIBA Awards.

We’ve won 11 national awards, and I’m really proud that as a relatively small, Northern-based developer we were able to top the rankings ahead of much larger, more established developers.


Great architecture is part of the reason we get out of bed every morning so I’m honoured that we’ve topped the list. Our developments are different as we like to push it, we have fun with the architects and get as much as we can out of every building, which makes them better places to live, work and play.

We’ve won 57 RIBA awards in total for our efforts - and more than 350 overall accolades since we formed.

Read the full article in the Architects Journal.


Filed under: Tom Bloxham MBE, Urban Splash

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