Propertyshe podcast: Roger Madelin CBE Joint Head of Canada Water Development

Posted on 13 December 2021

“People come to  Canada Waterway, they have no idea where it, what it is and I guess, sort of, everything they learn is more exciting or more interesting than they thought, whereas at King’s Cross, you know, everyone came with a preconceived idea that it was, you know, dirty and dangerous and down at heel.”

Susan Freeman

Hi, I’m Susan Freeman, welcome back to our PropertyShe podcast series brought to you by Mishcon de Reya, in association with the London Real Estate Forum, where I get to interview some of the key influencers in the world of real estate and the built environment. Today I am really delighted to welcome Roger Madelin.  Roger is Joint Head and jointly leads the development of Canada Water, a 53 acre British Land development in central London.  Roger joined British Land in February 2016 after 29 years at Argent, where as Development Director CEO, he secured and led major projects in Manchester, Birmingham, the Thames Valley, the City of London and of course the 58 acre King’s Cross development.  He was awarded a CBE for services to sustainable development in 2016.  Roger is also an Honorary Fellow of the RIBA and an Honorary Fellow of the College of Estate Management. 

So now we are going to hear from Roger Madelin about the challenges and triumphs of 35 years spent creating some of our exemplar real estate developments across the UK.  So, good morning, Roger.  You’ve had over 35 years’ experience as a developer so I have to ask the question, how did you get into real estate in the first place?

Roger Madelin

Bad eyesight.  Purely by happenstance, I was desperate to become a pilot when… where someone paid me, RAF particularly, did A Level maths, physics and geography, did okay at them, got through the RAF form filling, first interview, had the medical, failed, didn’t wear glasses then but eyes not quite good enough, tried British Airways, same thing, tried Bristow Helicopters, same thing, and that took me into the middle of October 1977, goodness me, and I got home and my father obviously anticipating that I was going to be a little bit lost as to what to do, he said “I’ve got you a place at Aston University reading Civil Engineering and I’ve found you accommodation,” the chap who runs the accommodation is a glider pilot, I used to fly gliders then with my father and he said “We can go up over the weekend and settle you in.”  So I arrived at Aston doing Civil Engineering, probably I think it was three weeks into the term and then I switched after about six weeks to what was then called Building, which was probably a lot easier in many respects but it was a very diverse course and I’ve got to say, everything, everything I learnt I used within the first ten or fifteen years of my professional career, absolutely extraordinary.  From marketing to law to electrolytic protected, you know, concrete cancer, to fibre reinforced concrete to reinforced earth to, you know, different drainage systems and symphonic toilet systems, it was an extraordinary course, which of course they stopped a few years after.   

Susan Freeman

And you then went into property development, as you say, using everything that you’d learnt on the course and you eventually joined Argent and I think, was it in 1987 and what attracted you to Argent?

Roger Madelin

Well, from University, which was a sandwich course so, I worked six months and then back to University for six months, you know, for a four year course so I actually started work in 1981 for a building contractor called Kyle Stewart who are now called BAM and I had tremendous experience standing, you know, in the freezing cold trying to level massive, you know, floors ready to receive, you know, 40 loads of concrete, very stressful in many ways, you know, when those concrete lorries are ordered, are you really sure that the fourth floor of the office building in Gatwick Airport – still there by the way – you know, was exactly the right level.  So I worked for a building contractor until 1985 and got promoted, meteorically I think, not because I was brilliant but because you will probably recall from the history books, 1981/82 was a very, very tough recession and I had a number of senior people who were made redundant above me and I lost two successive bosses and they never got replaced because I was okay at doing my job and I got fascinated by all the other things that clients did before they employed the poor building contractor and to cut a long story short, I joined the developer in 1985 called Sherfield Investments based down in Basingstoke, who were doing extraordinary things and when I was there for eighteen months, we developed 500,000 square feet and pre-let, all of it, before practical completion to companies, IBM, Digital who are now Fujitsu I think, Arndale who are now Dell and a startup called Microsoft and we went bust, we went bust spectacularly owing £4 million to Twentieth Century Bank because the managing director was very, very optimistic and ambitious about bringing in new projects but all the new projects required planning and required sorting out legally and some of them, you know, were looking back on it, never going to get planning and the time it took to get those projects or we didn’t get most of them to the point where they became real.  The money ran out and Michael and Peter Freeman were very keen as a then property company, to find new projects and find people that could help them deliver them because although they had delivered a couple of projects and I think Peter mentioned the first one in Southampton, it was a kind of joint, it was a joint venture where someone else was responsible for delivering it and then they were keen to get more projects and some capability to deliver them and they looked at this company, Sherfield, with a lot of potential future projects and I presented to them in the summer of ’86 and to cut a long story short, when we went bust, they did a deal with the Receiver to try and rescue whatever they could and I was with the managing director, you know, trying to help rescue some of the projects and I liked them, they liked me and they said, “ooh we’ve got these other things that we’d like you to look at.  Do you know how to, you know, really place building contracts and make sure things happened properly?” and I said, “yeah, I can do that” and, you know, we kind of grew really fast.  Robert Lawrence joined in March ’87, so I had joined in January ’87 and kind of the rest is history I guess, we started doing rather a lot of development and then it became, you know, buying a lot of investments with Warburg Pincus and we went on the stock market in ’93 so I was one of the four directors of Argent, we were emerging major, yeah, it was an amazing group of people.  You know Michael, you know Peter, Robert Lawrence, very talented, very ambitious, you know, and I knew stuff that they didn’t know so, the four of us were quite formidable, I think, very ambitious. 

Susan Freeman

And I know when I interviewed Peter, he said luck is important so I suppose that is an illustration of, you know, completely sort of random meeting, really. 

Roger Madelin

I guess, yeah.   You know, and how I got into property from construction, I was literally driving down the road and I saw someone that I worked with on site during my sandwich course and I shouted, you know, hello at him, probably with some obscenity attached to it and we ended up having a beer and he had left that company I was working for a couple of years before and ended up at this small entrepreneurial developer and he just said, “you know, if you are starting to get interested about what happens, you know, before and, you know, around construction, you should come and, you know, meet this managing director because he’s looking for guys like you” and, you know, that’s pretty fortuitous, I think. 

Susan Freeman

One of the first Argent projects I think was Brindleyplace and I mean, I think Argent was innovating and disrupting, even then, because some of the things that you did at Brindleyplace which, you know, we now regard as normal mixed use, having the restaurant under the office building was just not done then was it?

Roger Madelin

No, certainly not in the UK but just to correct you, sorry about that, from ’87 until ’90, 1990, Argent was doing lots and lots of projects, we were doing office buildings in Covent Garden, in Enfield, in Slough, in Redhill, we had industrial buildings come out of the ground in Enfield again and Radlett, we were looking at a few other projects which when ’89 started, we had an away day, you know, and it was the day after the storm, I think and we were listening to people talking about the economy probably going to go ‘bang’ and I remember Michael saying, you know, ‘we have got to batten down the hatches, you know, as quick as we can, we’ve got to pull out of everything that we can pull out of’ and that was very prescient and end of ’89, certainly 1990, it’s probably fair to say the only thing on the agenda of importance at board meetings was cashflow and how to survive and that was real lesson for all of us, I think, in battening down the hatches, having very tough conversations with partners we were working with and, you know, Peter met Warburg Pincus, the story goes, at the end of his garden, who’d brought in that investment, where Argent started buying very high yielding investments in the early ‘90s but I think Peter particularly and me, you know, we’d got the development bug and Peter was introduced to Brindleyplace from Andrew Ashenden, I think you know Rose Hall had gone bust and Peter said, “oh you know about Birmingham don’t you?” and we went up and we just stood on what was then the old Crescent Theatre and just thought wow, you know we can get all this land in a city, you know, and wonder how much we can get it for and we got it for 3.1 million and everyone said, “wow, that was a snip”, well everyone said a few years later that was a snip but it wasn’t a snip because where do you get 3.1 million in 1993 for contaminated wasteland somewhere to the west of the centre of Birmingham and there was a commitment under a lease, Birmingham City Council have the freehold, that you had to start come what may the first 60,000 square foot, speculatively, otherwise you would have lost the lease so you had to then finance another 3 and a bit million and with interest and, you know, returns, you were looking for about 7 million.  Sorry that’s the road sweeper going past.  Very strict, clean the roads policy here.  Sorry about that. 

Susan Freeman

How long will it be going past for? 

Roger Madelin

It’s gone!

Susan Freeman

Oh it’s gone, okay.

Roger Madelin

It’s gone, yeah.  So, we bought Brindleyplace in May 1993.  It had a planning permission but the planning permission, when we looked at it, in terms of deliverability and finance, it was just bonkers because it was massive, you know underground carpark, you know it was very much rose coming out of London, coming out of Broadgate, being super ambitious and so we changed the masterplan to make it much more deliverable in bitesize chunks and we learnt a huge amount in terms of, you know, multiphase, mixed use, economically viable phased development and that, you know, that’s obviously something that stood us in good stead for King’s Cross. 

Susan Freeman

And had Argent had any experience of development on that sort of scale?

Roger Madelin

No, no but no one asked us.  We paid the money.  Yeah, we had by then delivered, I don’t know, over 10 maybe 15 projects, all of which were interesting and, you know, we thought complicated in their own way and, you know, we were very good at looking and learning what other people were doing but I’ve got to say, we looked in complete awe at Broadgate, what was going on at Broadgate, we’d been following King’s Cross from the late ‘90s, you know, jaw dropping, you know the plans up there and I remember talking to Peter in 1987, you know, just like wow, you know it would be amazing to be involved in something like King’s Cross, you know, some big scheme in a city and suddenly we had 17 acres in Birmingham and this was our chance.  You know, I think we were all very good at listening to people who could educate us and inform us and that’s just been a rule, certainly of me and I know of Peter and Michael particularly, you know, there’s people out there who have probably done what you want to do or know about it, you know, and bring them on board and listen to them, you know, and that was Argent’s skill and, you know, that’s what I’ve taken forward with the rest of my career. 

Susan Freeman

And so the vision for Brindleyplace was to do things, I mean, just not follow the rule book and I think, you know, that you’ve mentioned that the idea of putting a restaurant at ground floor level below offices, was not something that the investors’ funders necessarily took to. 

Roger Madelin

Well, I think there are about 20 property owning institutions that might have bought one of our 120,000 square foot office buildings at Brindleyplace and you remember Rob Bould, you know he’s still very much around, but he was at GVA Grimley then, and we asked Rob, ‘if we put a restaurant under an office building, how many property owning institutions might be put off by that?’ and he said, “well it’s about 20 that might be in the market but have those kind of assets in their portfolio and you’d probably put off 18” and we said, “well if we didn’t say there was going to be a restaurant there because it could be offices but we designed it so you can make sure the bins are in a bin store and the extract, you know, actually doesn’t get in the way of anything and goes right up to the roof and, you know, we can choose a restaurant operator that clearly is, you know, very, a very good operator and a very high quality operator and we won’t give them a 25 year lease that they can sign to anyone, we will put all those things in”.  He said, “well if you can do that, you know, and it is there and you can demonstrate to people that you’ve got”, he said, ‘”you know, maybe there’ll be a few more people interested” and I think when we did it, the world was starting to change, people were starting to sit on the streets a little bit in London, you know, if you go back to the ‘80s and you know, did people sit on the streets in London?  Not really.  You know so many things have changed in the last 20 or 30 years which we now take for granted but they were sitting out on the streets, you know, when you travelled to the continent and I think we all brought back things that we’d learnt from just being in other parts of the world, where you go, well they do that, you know why can’t we do that, we like sitting outside in Paris, you know, the weather’s not that much different to Birmingham really, you know, go to Copenhagen but… so we just thought well why not, if we like that idea, we can’t be alone and I think we kind of captured a change that was happening and would accelerate over the next decade and the same with residential in city centres, you know, Birmingham had by that time, I think, not had any private residential in the city centre for decades and decades and decades and you know, you sat in the traffic driving into Birmingham thinking well, you know, why wouldn’t people want to have an apartment in the centre of Birmingham?  You know, maybe some younger people would actually want to live in the centre of Birmingham, you know, the bars and the restaurants were starting to emerge, it was starting to become an interesting place to stay and so, you know with Berkeley Homes, we did Symphony Court which, you know, according to Berkeley was the first inner city residential they had done and, again, the rest is history with that because they started with Crosby Homes and the rest of, the rest of the market, they didn’t even know how to build a concrete frame, Susan, it was such a laugh, you know they were asking us about concrete, you know, three storeys, concrete frame, Berkeley Homes had never built a concrete frame until Symphony Court. 

Susan Freeman

It’s incredible, actually, when you think about it and then you were able to take, you know, that thinking forward when King’s Cross came up and what was the timing?  When did you start on King’s Cross?

Roger Madelin

Well, in 1996, I don’t know if you were aware but there was the Channel Tunnel rail link built, you know, they’d scrapped the idea of the train coming under central London with the big Sir Norman Foster mega station, literally under King’s Cross and I am a little bit of a transport anorak, I guess, so I was watching that for no particular reason other than it was of interest, as, you know, someone that might use a high speed rail to continental Europe I guess and then as the ‘90s progressed, ‘98/99, there was talk about land becoming available as a result of the high speed route and I read in early 1999, you know one of the property journals, that Jones Lang LaSalle had been appointed to represent the landowners at King’s Cross to appoint a development partner and it said Katie Kopec and I phoned Katie because I vaguely knew her and just said, “if you are going to choose a development partner, it’s going to be us because we want to do it and we’ve got the track record and we’ve got the right kind of money and I wouldn’t waste your time going out to anyone else” and she laughed and said, “well Roger, you know, it’s great that you’re interested, it really is going to be a development partner we want and, you know, we will be going out to the market I think in late summer ’99” and we got all the documentation and I asked colleagues if they wanted to go in, you know, with this submission and they all said, “no”, they said, “no, it’s a public sector in effect, they’ll just go for the highest bidder, we’ve done those kind of things before, wasting your time, you know, we’re not in the process of allocating big budget and resource, we’re very busy”.  They said, “when you win it, Rog, we’ll help”.  So, I put the submission in, which I’ve got to say I got the date wrong and I realised the date on the morning the submission had to be in so I wrote a very good three page letter answering every one of the questions.  I had arranged for a book about Brindleyplace to be made three or four months before, purposely to go in with our bid to say look, you know, this is as far we know one of the only examples of a mixed used multiphase, economically viable development.  We put our report and accounts in and this three page letter and I phoned up Katie and our Finance Director delivered it by hand and I said, “you won’t believe this but I’ve read everything and I’ve prepared everything and then I hadn’t actually written the submission because I thought it was next week and it’s this week and you have got it but it’s a little bit concise”.  Anyway, she phoned a few weeks later, a bit like the blooming, you know X Factor or something like that, and she said, “well Roger, you know, yours was concise, in fact it was the shortest by quite a long way and after a lot of careful consideration, we have shortlisted the 28 submissions, you know, most of whom came in, you know, boxes and boxes” and, you know, she was dragging it out and anyway she said, “and we’ve shortlisted you as one of three and she said for goodness sake, make sure you bloody pull your finger out with this submission” and I told my colleagues and goodness me, they really helped with the submission and we blew Lendlease and Amec, who were the other two shortlisted partners, out of the water.  30th March 2000 we were formally appointed as the development partners of the landowners at King’s Cross.

Susan Freeman

And it was, it was a few years wasn’t it before you actually got planning consent to get started?

Roger Madelin

2006.  It was always going to take a while because Camden’s planning policy was ten years out of date so they had to rewrite their policy which was a great opportunity and they were brilliant at a planning officer and a political level with that but that process was going to take its time and it had to go through the public enquiry got challenged and you will recall a Mayor was just about to arrive, Mr Livingstone arrived and he was going to write a London Plan so our application, ideally had to conform with the planning policy of Camden and the GLA so, we kind of worked with those processes as much as we could so the application was never going to go in until they were adopted.  They took longer than we though, surprise, surprise, because and then our planning application sat in with Camden for longer than we thought, surprise, surprise and then it just got through in March 2006 but Section 106 then had to go back which it did on November the 16th 2006 and we got it through and the planning was signed off on December the 28th I think, 2006. 

Susan Freeman

And is it true that you were known as Martini Man for the way that you were sort of any time, any place, anywhere when it came to sort of meeting people, getting consensus during the consultation period?  I mean I read somewhere that you personally saw 7200 people but I mean that is an awful lot of people. 

Roger Madelin

Err, some people called me that because on the 30th March 2000 I did stand up in what’s now St Pancras Hotel and I said, “I am very aware of the interest, concern and enthusiasm for this project and I will do a lot of listening and I will, you know, commit now to go anywhere, any place, any time to listen to anyone” and I did that.  Now, there were 7,200 people, some of them, you know, were repeat visits, some of them were in large groups, sometimes there were 50 people in a room so, it soon mounted up, you know, and my PA at the time, you know, counted them all up because she had to submit your consultation report, you know, who have you listened to, what have you done and it wasn’t just me, it was other colleagues and we had a brilliant firm of consultants called Fluid at the time who were doing new kinds of consultation, you know, going out to schools and going to street markets and going to residents associations, you know, as I was as well but they were using these different tools, mind maps and form filling and, you know although there was email, you know social media didn’t exist in any way or form comparable today so there was a lot of boots on the ground, a lot of listening, a lot of writing, you know, form filling and I really enjoyed it to be honest, Susan, and you know, vast, vast majority of people were really kind to me, especially the Welsh Tabernacle Society, they always used to bake me a cake. 

Susan Freeman

Well that’s important, I know that you’ve said that consensus is so important when you’re planning a new community and development like that and I mean we will talk obviously talk about Canada Water and what you’re doing there and I imagine will be a sort of similar exercise of just making sure that, you know, everybody understands what you are doing and that as far as possible, everybody is on board.  So, just we need just a couple of a hours if we were going to sort of talk about King’s Cross and talk about Canada Water so, I just wondered, I mean, King’s Cross is seen as an exemplar for modern regeneration, I mean, is there anything that you are most proud of because obviously there is, you know, there is so much there?

Roger Madelin

The framework of streets and squares.  The very simple aspiration of King’s Cross was to make it somewhere where families with young kids would choose to go and want to go back because it was clean and safe and enjoyable and I… when we were selected, you know, in March 2000, we had a son who was three months old and it just became really clear to me, you know, how important it was, you know, to be able to go somewhere, you know, with your kids and family and each of you, all of you enjoy it in different ways and I think King’s Cross has done that very well, that public spaces, the connections and the buildings will come and go, hopefully they won’t come and go that quickly but, you know, that very simple, been around for thousands of years idea of a framework and of streets and squares where the development plots then come forward over time, yes they’d come forward over fifteen years at King’s Cross, some of them I think will stand the test of time, some of them are very good, I don’t think any of them are not very good but you do look back on them now and think if we were doing it today, we probably would have, obviously we would have pushed harder on, you know, sustainability and embodied carbon and all of those kind of things, you know we were doing good things in terms of the combined heat and power and the district heating system, you know, we wouldn’t do that today because basically it’s a small gas fired power station, you know, on the site and there was a… Chris Twinn at Arups was saying, you know, this is the wrong thing to do, combined heat and power and district heating and we said, “well, we’re getting 50% carbon savings from businesses as usual at that time” and we were and King’s Cross, you know, is better as a group of buildings than I think any other group of buildings at the moment but you just wouldn’t do that again so, I’m very proud of the public realm, I’m very proud of the building, I’m very proud of my colleagues and the team and the process and the input, particularly from, you know, Camden and the planning officers and the designers, I think that collaboration got something really special but I guess with all of the environmental issues now and sustainability, I don’t regret and think ooh we should have, because you know we weren’t looking at embodied carbon in any big way, you know, and we couldn’t put heat pumps in, you know, it was either every building had a big gas boiler or we had one big gas boiler so, we did the right thing, I’m just you know more excited I think about Canada Water, I feel more responsible about Canada Water because, you know, everyone is now quite rightly, finally, finally, you know looking at these environmental issues, particularly of CO2 emissions. 

Susan Freeman

So, it’s probably a good point to ask you, what persuaded you to join British Land in 2016 after just short of 30 years at Argent?

Roger Madelin

A few months before, I had been in France with my wife, Jane, and kids and I was leaving Argent as an Executive at the end of that year, I’d gone down to… that year, I’d gone down to three days a week, you know, at Argent I was doing a few other things which some of them were very interesting and maybe in different circumstances, you know, some of those would have ramped up a bit, I was looking at a lot of other development things and my wife and I spent each morning for a week, early, you know having breakfast on the terrace, interviewing each other every other day so, I would interview her in like ‘how much work do you want to do?  You know, how much exercise do you want to do?’  You know, it was like a life’s list, we certainly saw it as a watershed and one of the questions she asked me is, ‘do you think you’re going to want to do a full, full-on, full-time, executive job?  And if so, what would the criteria be?’ and I said, “maybe, it’s pretty unlikely because it would have to be something that would excite me as much as King’s Cross, maybe it’s, you know, a proper new town somewhere but it would have to be in accordance with, you know, politics and planning policy, I don’t want to bang my head against the wall, it would have to be significant and meaningful, it would have to be the right kind of money, it would have to be the right kind of people, I’d have to be able to have a decision making power to employ who I want and I don’t really want to, you know, fill in lots of forms and do loads of reporting and I have to be able to get on my bike every day of I’m working for a proper reason, I don’t just want to have an hour in the morning and go cycling, you know, around Richmond Park or something” so, we ended with 10 points and literally, literally, Susan, two weeks after, Chris Grigg, Chief Exec of British Land, I knew vaguely, I actually bumped into him on holiday earlier that year so we’d kind of refreshed each other with what we were doing, he phoned me up and said, “do you want a cup of coffee?”  I didn’t think anything particular about it because we’d probably had half a dozen cups of coffee over three years and he said, “I’ve got a new town for you Rog” and I thought he was going to say 500 acres in Cambridge and he said, “Canada Water” and I was deflated because I’d been to Canada Water and he said, “do you want to run it?”  And I said, “probably not Chris but, you know, thanks for asking but you know how much land have you got?”  And he said, “46 acres.”  “Is it freehold?”  “Almost”, he said, fibber, but it is now, you know, “can you get vacant possession?”  “Yes.”  Fibber but we can now.  “Does anyone live there?”  “No.”  “What’s in the books for?  Do you really want me to run it?  You know, does that mean that I come in and run it? you know, how does that work?”  He said, “well you report to me, you know, basically a, it’s not a company in a company because, you know, it’s part of British Land but basically, you know, we want someone in to come and run it” and I said, “I’ll go and have a look” and I came to have a look, Susan, with my wife in August 2015 and when you come, when anyone comes here, if you’ve got enough time, if you can do the hour and a half walk that my wife and I did, I will defy you not to come away thinking it is more exciting than King’s Cross in many ways, in many ways.  Probably equally as exciting but from the themes that were already with us of health and wellbeing, you know, physical exercise and mental health and wellbeing, connections to communities, accessibility in terms of public transport and cycling, it just blew my mind and within… my wife and I spent an hour and a half walking round and then we had lunch here in the shopping centre but within half an hour she said, “you’re just going to take the job, do it”, because she could see that it was just something very special and everyone who’s been there, Susan, literally everyone comes away and just goes it’s going to be amazing Rog, it’s going to be fantastic and you think well thanks, there’s quite a lot to do, there’s 4 billion to spend and I’d say 19 out of 20 people who came up to King’s Cross walked away going good luck, it’s never going to be anything so, is that a poison chalice but people come to Canada Waterway, they had no idea where it is, what is, and I guess, you know, everything they learn is more exciting or more interesting than they thought, whereas at King’s Cross, you know, everyone came with a preconceived idea that it was, you know, dirty and dangerous and down at heel and they kind of left thinking well, you know, sure Rog, you know, it’s going to be an amazing bit of central London but it’s still dirty and dangerous and down at heel and no one’s really going to come to King’s Cross are they?  So, anyway. 

Susan Freeman

Well, you changed all that and you mentioned that it’s accessible and I mean it’s quite surprising to me actually, Canada Water is, what is it 15 minutes from the West End on the…?

Roger Madelin

No, it’s 11 minutes according to the map of London from Canada Water to Green Park.  11 minutes. 

Susan Freeman

11?

Roger Madelin

On a bike you get to the Bank of England in 13 minutes, well you can get there in 8 minutes 35 seconds if you want but that’s kind of heads down lycra.

Susan Freeman

Which, you know, which is important and so, what is the vision for Canada Water?  I mean, you mentioned 46 acres but it’s grown hasn’t it to 53 acres so it’s, I mean, only a few acres short of the size of King’s Cross so, you’ve effectively got a blank sheet of paper.  What are you planning?

Roger Madelin

Well, Southwark had produced a very good planning brief saying please build a new town centre.  I’m going to call it an urban centre just because it doesn’t feel urban at all walking around the 53 acres, yes bought this building, we bought another building, we’ve got some land adjacent that kind of makes the public realm connect into the surrounding environment better so we’ve now got 53 acres.  So, what’s an urban centre?  Well, I think the difference between something that’s urban and something that isn’t, is thousands of people come and go every day for work or higher education, you know, that diurnal flow then makes shops and restaurants see extra customers, obviously food and beverage and culture and you know there’s lots of people end up working here, people will stay in the evenings, friends will come and visit them etcetera, etcetera and that opportunity at Canada Water was something I would never have thought until I came here and got here on the Jubilee Line and then though ooh there’s this other railway line that is orange and it used to be called the East London Line and it’s now called the Overground and you get on it at Canada Water and you end up at Shoreditch High Street in 9 minutes and you go, Shoreditch High Street?  Like, what’s so good about Shoreditch High Street?  Oh it’s where Amazon’s headquarters are.  Oh, that office building’s just let for 85, ooh that one’s just let for £90 and you think wow, you know, I wonder if we could make, you know Canada Water like Shoreditch but cleaner and safer, you know, but just as urban as Shoreditch and then you go the other way and you end up in West Croydon and you go through Nunhead and Sydenham or you go through, the other branch you go through Denmark Hill and Peckham and Wandsworth Road and then Clapham Junction.  Clapham Junction?  Wow, that’s like blimey and then you go down to Waterloo on the… blimey, I can go from Richmond to here on the train in 40 minutes like, well no I can get to Canada Water, you know, faster from Richmond than I can to British Land’s office and you start then looking at where these railway lines, whether it’s the Jubilee Line or the overground go and then you think well these are London’s growth areas, this is where you know people have been buying apartments and before I said yes to Chris, I asked Jones Lang, you know how accessible is Canada Water for the under-35 demographic and they went oh it’s the second most accessible place in London within 45 minutes on public transport for the under-35s and you go, well that’s who everyone wants to employ, this could be an amazing place and when you look at the growth in those areas, it’s going to continue because that’s the only place, you know, where planning is flexible.  It will become the most accessible place within five years for the under-35s in Greater London on public transport but it’s not just public transport, you’d be able to get on a pushbike as well so, I became instantly of the opinion that this could become an amazing office or workplace location and suddenly when you think you could get that 30,000 people coming and going every day, you look at the 350,000 square feet of retail here and yes, there is a lot of catering but it does include such delights as Burger King and, you know, this little… they’re perfectly fine but to get, you know, a bigger range, you need a different kind of customer base than that 30,000 coming and going every day would do that and so what we’re trying to do here is to build a new urban centre, a new town centre and whether it’s, you know, like Richmond or like Islington or like Hammersmith or like Marylebone or no, it’s going to be like Canada Water but the opportunity to build a real town centre where you’ve got let’s say a third is retail and leisure and F&B and a third is workspace and a third is residential and as I used to say King’s Cross, you know, then you keep adding thirds and a third could be higher education and then a third could be some kind of culture and performance and then you add health and wellbeing and environment and suddenly we could build the most extraordinary urban centre that has ever been built, I know that sounds a bit dramatic but trying to deal with these issues that everyone’s had on the top of their agenda before the pandemic, you know, those issues of connecting people to communities and 30,000 live on the peninsula, we’re going to bring in another 7,000 people and an opportunity for a developer to communicate and bring together all of those people, if they want, to get to know each other socially or to get to know each other, you know, volunteering or get to know each other, you know, in some kind of time bank or to get to know each other through sports and other clubs, I just got, you know, super, well I’m still super excited, I’ve been here coming up for six years and I just think it’s something that, you know, we could all learn from and then perhaps, you know, try and retrofit into other parts of our urban environment.  So, we didn’t think that at King’s Cross, you know, we were trying to build a terrific, you know, business location, you know, with some terrific residential kind of wrapround the north to be blunt and as much retail and F&B as we could get in within the planning constraints. 

Susan Freeman

So it is, I mean it’s an amazing opportunity and I mean, when was the last time anybody had the opportunity to create a new town centre in London?

Roger Madelin

Err, they have evolved, you know, generally, you know high streets were coaching routes or routes, you know, out of London so, when I first said to colleagues, “I think we are creating the first new hight street in London from scratch ever”, they kind of said, “well you can’t say that, that’s just really nobbish, you know, it must be wrong” and I said, “when was the last high street in London created because, you know, Chiswick High Road or Kensington High Street or Islington Upper Street, you know, these places, you know, were major routes coming out of London that over hundreds and hundreds of years have evolved”, you know, I can’t think when someone said, “ooh we’ll build a new high street” so, we’re building a new high street here and I don’t know whether it’s the first new high street for 50 years or a 100 years or ever, Susan, but it’s erm… and I think we all know what makes a good high street and so we are going to try and put all those ingredients in, of not too much traffic, wide pavements, you know but anyway, you know all that.

Susan Freeman

And what are you think in terms of density because at Canada Water you’ve got the water, you’ve got a lot of open space and the question is density because we talk about the fact that generally in London, density is pretty low compared to say Paris or Barcelona?  How are you thinking of treating that?

Roger Madelin

Well like King’s Cross had viewing corridor height constraints from Primrose Hill and Kenwood House, I think, from memory and if you’ve ever looked at King’s Cross, the buildings get slightly higher as you go up the boulevard because, you know, the line to St Paul’s cause that and I was very, we were all very grateful of that constraint because the whole debate about tall buildings and you know just get higher and higher, you know, would have polluted the discussion, I think, you know, certainly with the landowners and valuers.  We’ve got viewing corridors from Greenwich across quite a large chunk of our land here which restricts what we’re calling the town centre, you know, the main town centre, to six storeys of basically, offices which is tremendous, tremendously fortuitous, especially post-Covid where people want better vertical circulation and they want a kind of more human scale and spaces between the buildings are going to be bigger and, you know, greener and all of those kind of things.  The answer to your question is, we can get densities, not as much as King’s Cross, we can go high and we’ve got six taller buildings, the highest one is 35 storeys, they will all be residential because they are tall and thinnish but most of the rest of the buildings are six, some of the commercial buildings, some of the educational buildings might go up to ten so the density is less than King’s Cross but more than Marylebone.  So, kind of in between the two.  Is that… probably Parisian I would think, you know, Paris is kind of like twice the density of London isn’t it and Barcelona is four times the density so, we’re probably Parisian so we could probably build on that couldn’t we because they’re all talking about the 15 minute city and doing some annoyingly good things which, you know, we can… actually learning from Paris, that’s outrageous isn’t it. 

Susan Freeman

I know, I’ve just been there and there are certainly a lot of cyclists and e-scooters, it’s quite hazardous crossing the road.  So, can you tell us a little bit about what’s going on at the moment because I think you are, you’ve started on phase 1, what’s going on and are there are any occupiers on site at the moment?

Roger Madelin

There are occupiers on site.  We’ve signed our first two occupiers in the last year, year and a bit.  The first one was a brand new University, sound familiar, from King’s Cross and Central St Martin’s.  This one has started a little bit smaller but just as exciting I think, they are called TEDI London, they are an applied engineering University joint venture between King’s College, Arizona State and the University of New South Wales.  Because of the pandemic, they have started very small, no international students, and they’re in a modular campus which we are very excited about because we can expand it very quickly for them.  We will keep them there for five years and hopefully, you know, within that time they’ll have a requirement for a permanent building.  And we’ve also got Global Generation here as well, they did the Skip Gardens at King’s Cross but they have been doing something here called The Paper Garden and the reason they are an occupier as opposed to just a series of mobile garden operators, is because they have now got accreditation to teach horticulture to an accredited standard so they are going to do that with kids and adults and we’re building them, well, they’re building, they say it’s the largest circular economy building in London, class area and gardens, and I think the area around the University and what they’re doing, is going to be very uplifting and is going to surprise a lot of people when we take them over there, it’s about an acre and a half and it’s going to serve… so they’re our first occupiers, they are in these modules, you know, we will be moving them in five to seven years.  What else we’re doing here, we’ve just placed £360 million of building contracts, all British Land resource, British Land’s allocated half a billion to King’s Cross, not to King’s Cross, to Canada Water so we’re building innovatively called A1, 35 storey residential tower with 110,000 of offices, we’re building A2 which is a 60,000 square foot leisure centre for Southwark with 180,000 offices above and we’re building 79 family affordable homes which Southwark Council are going to buy as council houses, and a lot of infrastructure improving the dock, you know, and public realm around and a lot of designs, we have designed the next one, two, three, four, five major buildings, planning approval reserved matters has just gone in so we’ll be gearing up, hopefully, to start those next year, either with British Land resource or with a partner and we’ve been talking to a number of potential partners and we’re optimistic we’ll be with a partner but we have a plan B without a partner, you know, King’s Cross went for quite a few years, not necessarily intentionally at the beginning but we went for quite a long time on our own so, you know, you can do that but with a partner we could accelerate the delivery here which I think would be a good thing. 

Susan Freeman

And in terms of the type of occupiers who are showing an interest, do you think will be coming to Canada Water?  I mean, is it just across the board or are you getting interest from companies that wouldn’t necessarily have been interested in King’s Cross?

Roger Madelin

The first two businesses were people who looked at King’s Cross and they phoned me up and they said, “don’t let us make the same mistake again Rog.”  Now, I won’t mention who one of them is because, and I’m not saying it’s a mistake and they have taken a building from British Land, which is fine so, in due course, you know, they can swap, they can move from that building to here.  We… the kind of glib answer to your question is any business that’s optimistic, any business that wants to employ bright people who want to get up in the morning and find it easy to get to work and find that there are other things once they get to work that are good for them, whether that’s, you know, sport or whether it’s volunteering, and when they get here, you know, the buildings are extraordinarily uplifting and dealing with all of the issues that, again, were on the agenda before Covid but there’s lots of outdoor space, there’s lots of vertical circulation, there’s lots of natural light, there’s amazing spaces between the building so any business that’s optimistic, not necessarily businesses that are thinking about growth but companies that will have optimistic growth plans, will be interested in coming here because, you know, we can deliver them 5000 square feet, 50, 500,000, you know a million square feet and King’s Cross obviously benefited from companies who had ambitious expansion plans, Brindleyplace did as well, you know and before and during Brindleyplace Thames Valley Park, you know had Oracle and Microsoft, obviously King’s Cross had Google and then Facebook, there’s very few development opportunities where if you are a company that says ooh I want 50,000 this year but, you know, I might want 150 next year and then I might want 200 and I might want… and we’ve spoken to quite a few businesses that are not household names but they exist and their expansion plans are quite extraordinary and the optimistic side of me has never been more optimistic about business in London as long as London, you know, stays open to the international people and finance which, you know, it’s got to hasn’t it, you know, we can’t be that stupid.  This is the place for companies who want to employ bright international talent and expand and I think the amount of information we’ve all been collecting as a society and as a business, you know, we can now do stuff with it, artificial intelligence and computer power is such that there will be very, very few businesses that aren’t affected, hopefully positively affected by how we are going to start using data and there will be a whole raft of new businesses, whether it’s in health or data security or things that, you know, we didn’t think would be a business.  I think we’re in this third industrial age and Canada Water will get filled up pretty quick with some business that are not household names today. 

Susan Freeman

It’s interesting isn’t it, there is so much change going on and obviously you have referred to some of it.  I mean, just sort of looking back over 35 years of development, do you think development has become harder because there is so much more to think about?

Roger Madelin

It’s become more complex.  There are certainly, yes, more hurdles and it makes it sound very negative but there are certainly more issues and challenges that you have to be aware of and work your way through and our teams are bigger, it costs more money because there’s more things to think about and understand, there’s more boxes to tick, you know some of those boxes are very important, I’m not, you know saying that we shouldn’t go through all those processes but, you know, the environmental impact assessments came in not that long ago and in principle they’re very good but there’s more things now that you assess and the whole carbon issue is not only important but how we measure it and judge it has not been agreed yet as an industry, as a government so, working very constructively with authorities will be great and be good for everyone but I suspect a lot of well-meaning requirements and initiatives will be brought in which won’t actually be that well thought through and I think they will cause some frustrations, you know, in principle keeping old buildings is great but, you know, you’re going to have people saying well you should just keep every old building and try and knock anything down and you know work out the whole carbon picture is going to be another massive industry, isn’t it, you know, and you’d say quite right too, you know, about time and all that stuff was on the agenda but from a development point of view, it’s going to be another thing to look at and there’s a lot of different policies when you look around the boroughs of London and the GLA and the Government just on energy and carbon, you know this Susan, you know the industry is trying work together to work out how to measure embodied carbon and try and look at carbon in use and how do you look at carbon coming from the grid and if we all suddenly electrify buildings, is that a good thing today or is it a good thing in five years or ten years?  You know, should you be getting rid of gas completely or, you know, if you are actually looking at carbon over the next five years, maybe you should keep some gas, you know, all of those issues are complex, important, but they are going to create a debate and extra cost, aren’t they?

Susan Freeman

Yeah, so additional challenges.  And Roger, how will you judge the success of Canada Water when you sort of look back in a few years’ time?

Roger Madelin

Well I judge the success of King’s Cross by taking people there who I know are very direct to me, particularly my wife and kids tell me straight but, you know, a lot of people do and again I do a lot of listening and I remember I took my family up when we’d opened the Boulevard and we’d finished, Central St Martin’s was open and you know we walked up the Boulevard and my younger kid kept saying, “how much did this cost Dad?” and you know, “what are doing there?”  And you know, I was explaining and you know giving him figures that were pretty close to being right and I wasn’t really sure whether he was taking them in but we got to Granary Square and he said, “you know, how much did this cost?” and the other son went “wow, this is really cool” and got all these different coloured lights and went into University and you know they said, “wow”, well the older one went “wow this is really cool for a University” and the younger one was going how much did this cost and well the younger one said, you know, “when are you going to get more money back from this development than you’ve spent”, which you know I thought was a very important question which always driven me and I think always drove Argent and is a rule that we should always have at the top of our agendas but, you know, when my kids say it is really cool or it’s good or they start going there, you know, as they’re older with their friends or people who work there say it’s good or people who live there say it’s a nice place to live, you know that’s… when it becomes someone else’s, you know and people are proud that Canada Water is where they live, where they work and it’s their London, when other people say you know come and have a look at Canada Water, you know, the developer disappears quite quickly and quite right so. 

Susan Freeman

I think that’s a pretty good measure and I hope your kids are thinking about going into real estate, it sounds as if they’ve got the right attitude.  So, Roger, thank you so much, I mean we probably could have talked for hours but, you know, that’s brilliant, so thank you for your time today. 

Roger Madelin

Absolute delight and a pleasure and you need to get yourself down here for three hours, don’t you Susan. 

Susan Freeman

Absolutely.  Well, we’re going to…

Roger Madelin

And all the listeners as well.  All welcome but you do need three hours and a good pair of walking shoes. 

Susan Freeman

I’m looking forward to it.

Roger Madelin

Good.  See you soon.  Happy New Year. 

Susan Freeman

And to you.  Thank you, Roger for some amazing insights into what it takes to create successful communities and we really look forward to watching Canada Water take shape over the next few years.  So, that’s it for now.  I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation.  Please join us for the next PropertyShe podcast coming very soon. 

The Propertyshe podcast is brought to you by Mishcon de Reya in association with the London Real Estate Forum and can be found at Mishcon.com/PropertyShe along with all our interviews and programme notes.  The podcasts are also available to subscribe to on your Apple podcast app, and on Spotify and whatever podcast app you use.  Do continue to subscribe and let us have your feedback and comments and, most importantly, suggestions for future guests and of course you can continue to follow me on Twitter @Propertyshe and on LinkedIn for a very regular commentary on all things real estate, Prop Tech and the built environment.

Roger is Joint Head and jointly leads the development of Canada Water, a 53 acre British Land development project in Central London.

Roger joined British Land in February 2016 after 29 years at Argent, where, as Development Director/CEO, he secured and led major projects in Manchester, Birmingham, the Thames Valley, the City of London and the 58 acre King’s Cross Development.

He was awarded a CBE for Services to Sustainable Development in 2006. Roger is also an Honorary Fellow of the RIBA, and an Honorary Fellow of the College of Estate Management.

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