Richard Upton Co Founder U+I Group Plc; Commissioner, Historic England

Posted on 04 March 2020

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 amazing world of real estate and the built environment.  Today I am absolutely delighted to welcome Richard Upton, Chief Development Officer of real estate regeneration company, U+I Group Plc.  Richard is a creative entrepreneur and patron of the arts who is passionate about quality of place, architecture, heritage and provenance.  Over the course of his career, he has established, built and sold four property investment and professional companies and developed more than six million square feet of mixed use real estate.  Pioneering one of London’s leading housebuilder, Mount Anvil in 1991, Richard delivered five thousand student bedrooms and regenerated several award winning social housing projects.  In 1998 he Co-founded Cathedral Healthcare and Cathedral Group Plc - nurturing the latter to become a market leader in public private partnership developments and building a pipeline of over £2 billion.  In 2014, Cathedral merged with Development Securities which ultimately became U+I in 2015.  U+I is a listed public company with a development pipeline of more than £11.5 billion.  Together with U+I’s Chief Executive, Matthew Weiner, Richard is the driving force behind the strategic direction for the company whose vision is to create long-lasting social and economic change for communities and sustainable value for shareholders.  So, now we are going to hear from Richard on his career to date and what it takes to create successful long-term regeneration.  So Richard, welcome to the studio.  We’ve known each other, you know, a little while but I have actually never asked you what made you choose real estate as a career.

Richard Upton

It was a collision, it wasn’t my first choice.  I grew up in south London, went to a pretty grotty comprehensive called Crown Woods, one of the best things that ever happened to that school was that it was knocked down, it was an experiment, and a failed experiment in sort of mass comprehensive education and my plan was to be a pilot, I think but thankfully I discovered the Air Cadets which was a sort of parallel activity to school, school wasn’t a particularly happy place and in the Air Cadets my plan was to be a pilot, I got a scholarship from the RAF and learnt to fly at the age of sixteen with Squadron Leader Ted Girdler who sadly died in an air incident.  He taught me to fly at RAF Manston at the cost of the RAF and that was going to be my plan until I sat in RAF Wildenrath in Germany in a bunker for a month in between A Level years and realised that I really wasn’t very good at sitting still and whilst the flying was great, perhaps I wasn’t going to make the grade because I couldn’t sit still and focus on the rest of the disciplines so, I was then… the key thing, I was just thinking before I came in this morning, the key moment for me was talking to a friend of mine who was an RAF pilot at a swimming gala in Swanley and I said, “Look, I don’t think I’m going to make the grade, I don’t want to go for pilot, I need to do something else.  I need to create some value” and he said to me – Steve Cochran his name is – he said to me, “What do you love?” and I said, “I like drawing.  I like design and technology.  I like buildings but I need to make some money because we haven’t got too much at home and I want to have options in life” and he said, “Well, how about property development?” and he had gone to a good school, locally, Eltham College, and they had a careers office that actually opened and who knew the system and I said, “Well, what’s property development?”  “You really don’t want to be an architect, Richard, because you’ll have to wait for somebody else to give you a job and I’ve known you for eight years and you won’t, you know, you need to be in control of things” which was great advice, he’d known me since I was eleven, and so I looked up and he said, “Reading is the best place you can get to” and nobody in my family had been to University.  I needed to do an extra A Level quickly in the last year to maybe get the grades and I just about scraped in.  So, my interest was in architecture and buildings after realising I didn’t want to be a pilot and probably wouldn’t make that grade and so I went to Reading and then struggled for about a year because I wasn’t particularly academic.  And that was the start of things and Reading is obviously, you know it was a huge privilege, I didn’t have to pay for my higher education which I am very grateful for otherwise I wouldn’t have been there and after a year I started to find my own corner of the Land Management Degree that I found engaging which was urban design and how to create great places and so I majored in that and asked others to help me in all the other things that I found more difficult. 

Susan Freeman

And then you started Mount Anvil, was that sort of directly after college or…?

Richard Upton

Not directly, I came out, I went to University at eighteen, came out at twenty one and it was a good time, 1988 I came out so the market was still quite strong, I had three job offers, as did most people that came out of Reading at the time, and two were graduate trainee schemes, one was a land buyer with this company called McInerney which was the largest housebuilder in Ireland at the time, it was a good thing to say at that point, and they had a UK subsidiary that had commercial and residential and a peer at University, his dad was in recruitment said, “There might be a job going with this McInerney as a land buyer”, I thought that sounds a lot more interesting than a graduate trainee scheme, I like to be involved in the raw materials so I chased this HR Director of McInerney who was either at Ascot or was at dinner or lunch or something else, he was always enjoying himself and he would never return my calls so eventually I put a call in direct to one of the Directors, Barry Bennett, who gave me an interview for McInerney – it’s the only job interview I have ever had, in fact because I had gone from that job interview to just build companies within that structure and Barry knew that I was well qualified but green and they gave me a Escort 1.6 GL and said, “Go out into the lands and try and buy some land” and I did it the old-fashioned way of knocking on doors for a bit which was great schooling in a number of ways, a great apprenticeship and some two years later, 1990/1991, the market correction had caught McInerney, on the commercial side, out and they withdrew, they were a quoted Plc in Dublin, they withdrew, retrenched back to Ireland and leaving a Receiver in charge of McInerney UK who I remember, I remember this visually in my head, Robin Addie was the Receiver’s name, he walked in, he was twenty… twenty three, he looked like the Grim Reaper.  I remember him as having a cape and a sort of scythe, and he came and let everybody go and Killian Hurley who was the FD of McInerney and now the owner of Mount Anvil, was standing next to me at the table as I was given my papers to leave and he said to the Receiver, “You don’t want to let go of that guy, he’s the only guy in the land buying department left and he knows all about the land you want to keep  him” so I was given a job back within a minute and then told that I could have whatever I wanted in the car park that was left so I grew up from a 1.6 GL Escort to a turquoise BMW and I was very excited at the time.  So that was the start of a new company that came out of McInerney.  We finished off as a contractor at the work for the Receiver of McInerney and over the next year Co-founded Mount Anvil and that was on September the 2nd 1991.  Barry Bennett was the MD of McInerney and Killian was the FD and they became the shareholders and Co-founders of Mount Anvil and from there we created a business model in partnership housing, social housing, and student accommodation which was sort of prescient at the time, it was much misunderstood I think as a, you know, financial construct.  That was early 1990s. 

Susan Freeman

I actually didn’t know how you and Killian Hurley got together.  Now we know.  So, moving things on a bit, you started Cathedral and successfully ran it as niche developer and then in 2014, you merged Cathedral with Development Securities to become U+I and they looked like two very different cultures, I mean, how difficult was it to bring those two cultures together sort of very much in the public eye?

Richard Upton

Yeah, I mean that’s a good question, the… there’d been quite a bit in between, Cathedral came out of Mount Anvil as the development arm of Mount Anvil and Cathedral Healthcare and investment company built lots of doctors’ surgeries and each of these companies had very different cultures and approaches to the market so we are used to change and being pretty entrepreneurial.  Come the… just before the merger of Cathedral and Development Securities there’s a relevant back story, in 2000… well, in the financial crisis around Lehman, I had sold my shares in the parent to Killian at Mount Anvil and he now runs that, a hugely successful company.  I am very proud of what he’s done for him in Mount Anvil.  I took Cathedral with Barry Bennett, the original MD of McInerney and Barry wanted to retire, he’s almost ten years older than me and I think, using his words, he said he didn’t have time to earn it again so he wanted to rest at that point and hand over the liability or the potential of Cathedral to me.  And that was a pretty tough time at a personal level, I had all of the responsibility for a business that was doing well, wasn’t over leveraged, it was in a good place, it had a good business model but it was a very, very tough time, we both remember that.  And I got probably more serious as an individual, I probably grew up, I heard Guy Grainger sort of, just before Christmas, talking about the same thing, you know, it’s in that adversity that you really learn fast, I learnt a bit about myself, certainly my team who very willingly took salary cuts and doubled down on effort and we drove Cathedral very successfully out of those dark days and almost singlehandedly really and started to win new work as well and we needed a balance sheet for our ambition basically and looked around and I had met Matthew Weiner and Michael Marx before as we were looking for, you know, capital to drive the business forward and that hadn’t worked and the financial crisis happened but we went to Matthew at Development Securities with the project that we didn’t have the money for but it was a great project and Matthew was looking for joint venture partners to grow Development Securities who were good at putting solid projects together so our first project down in Greenwich was a joint venture, Greenwich Movement, very mixed in use, very sustainable, right by the train station, a very successful scheme in a number of ways and we went from there to acquire the old vinyl factory at what was known as London Gate and that was an unconditional acquisition of scale and then an old sweetener refinery down in Greenwich which we still have, Morden Wharf.  During those three projects, I think I got to know Matthew… all projects have difficulties and they have up sides and, you know, high points and low points and I realised in all of that journey that Matthew was somebody who I shared common values with and that was the key element of trust, we are taking significant risk so by sharing a value system and an ambition in very different ways, I felt there was more than just three transactions to be had and you’d have to ask Matthew, you know, for his view but I am pretty sure he would say that the feeling was mutual, that we were a really good performing, diligent, thorough development partner as well as hugely creative and visionary, and Development Securities had all of its probity and balance sheet and governance and was known for partnerships also with the public sector which was useful but they didn’t shout about it as much, maybe they didn’t need to, and so there was quite a bit of courting before, you know, the slightly unconventional looking marriage, I would guess which was in May the 19th, 4.00 o’clock in the morning as corporate lawyers as well you will know, like to stay up all night and then complete the deal.  May the 19th, 4.00 in the morning, 2014.  So, we’ve had maybe six years of courting before that marriage.

Susan Freeman

That’s a long engagement isn’t it?

Richard Upton

But you need to be thorough about these relationships if you are planning them for life. 

Susan Freeman

It’s true.  And you mentioned common values and I know you’ve called on the property industry to have its own MeToo moment and face up to its wider responsibility to the communities that they develop and drive socioeconomic value not just the bottom line.  A lot of your projects involve collaboration with the public sector, Local Authorities and it seems to be something that a lot of property companies don’t get right, I mean, do you think that as an industry we should be doing it differently?

Richard Upton

Well, I think as an industry we can either look at our responsibility with land and property to a wider society and say I want to create something that makes a lasting, sustainable difference and optimises profit or you can start the other way round, perhaps odd for a developer to say this but it goes back to me to, without over-intellectualising things, the philosopher, Joseph Proudhon – I mentioned it the other week, Susan – that property is theft that we’ve got seven billion people on the planet, we all own the planet and we are therefore just looking after it sustainably for the next generations.  Now, in property we, you know, tend to put a picket fence around it and internalise that but actually if you just look at it as something that can make a huge difference to society without taking natural resources and bleeding the planet dry then you have an industry that’s a power for good so, clearly Local Authorities and Government think in that way anyway and they have a wider responsibility but they also have a red line around their district and they are the only anchor tenant, by definition, that will stay in their district for the long-term.  So, the philosophy, the MeToo moment of let’s stand up, let’s be responsible, we can achieve so much more with property and create a best in class purpose and profit that comes with it, that’s a much more sustainable business model than one that is just solely focussed on profit.  It’s essential for a business to be sustainable in itself but it has a purpose. 

Susan Freeman

And do you think that there is a change in mind so, because I’ve heard a lot of development companies’ CEOs, you know at debates and on platforms, now talking about doing social good but do you see any change in the way people are behaving or is it a bit of a box ticking exercise? 

Richard Upton

I think for some it might be a box ticking exercise but they will be left behind.  I think the rate of change is significant and perhaps the next generation will, or the current generations, certainly the younger generations are going to drive that requirement for change a lot more aggressively.  Taking an ethical, you know, role in impact investing of course is going to change the nature of the investment market which will change the nature of the products that the investment market requires so it’s self-fulfilling that if you’re connected with the consumer, the customer, the occupier of these spaces then you need to understand the key elements that are driving them and the whole issue with climate change in recent years is starting to show how significant that is in most people’s minds and the property industry has been a dinosaur really in catching up with that, it’s been allowed to be lazy and that’s changing at a rate of knots so I think there are some that are taking it as a box ticking exercise but the property companies that are going to grow and prosper are those that are thinking very carefully about their responsibility to wider society and, you know, you and I as one of those. 

Susan Freeman

When you sit down with a Local Authority or other public sector body, how do you establish trust because we know that last year’s British Property Federation perception survey showed that only 27% of the general public had a favourable view of the sector?  So, you know, when you sit down with people that haven’t dealt with you before, they’re, you know, thinking ‘oh, you know, another developer’, how do you establish the trust relationship?

Richard Upton

Slowly by showing the respect that… and property is a very local thing, by definition.  One of the first things that I will do, whether it’s in partnership with a public sector talking to a Local Authority leader or Mrs Miggins who lives next door and has done for forty years, is to understand that place as a leader of a project or a company with a project, to understand what has happened in that place over the last two or three hundred years before you suggest any change, is an essential bit of respect, I think at both a heritage level, a local understanding level and then take the time to read all of the things you can about socioeconomic depravation and opportunity in that area.  There’s a difference I would say between the term ‘property development’ and ‘regeneration’.  By property development, you might be building some buildings with some spaces in between and you might be doing a very good job.  But when you go back to the dictionary definition of ‘regeneration’, the widest definition has the moral and spiritual and physical repair or improvement of a place so, if you are passionate about achieving all of that and driving an optimum return from the property risk then you have a different level of respect and understanding of the issues so by the time I meet a leader of a Council, whether it be in, you know, in Manchester with Sir Howard Bernstein and his team that selected us for Mayfield, most often the edge condition… where at an edge condition, there is a yellow sign saying ‘Murder.  There are issues of prostitution, drug abuse, loss of confidence, poor unemployment, other unique issues of deprivation’.  So, if you take the time, and it might only take you two days, to read everything you can about that and you go in understanding what the widest problems are and how you might help to resolve them with property which is self-fulfilling in a way because the better you make that wider place and the more you understand the issues are that people face, the more likely you are to come up with a solution that is long-lasting rather than a short fix.  And that’s what they want, they are the anchor to it, they are going to stay there for the next hundred years, they don’t want a developer that just comes in and goes out in three years with some pretty property development, they need more than that, they might not ask for more than that but it’s a responsibility on the industry to deliver more than that. 

Susan Freeman

It would be nice to think that every property developer going into that situation had researched the area. 

Richard Upton

It’s not easy and it’s increasingly more complicated, of course, and politicised but if you act with integrity and that purpose and you try to do more right than wrong then you are going to create a business that is valuable for the long-term, for its shareholders, and the communities it serves so that drives us, it keeps me in grey hair. 

Susan Freeman

And, I know you’ve said that ‘placemaking’ is the word that makes you laugh.  Hopefully, the word ‘regeneration’ won’t also get a bad name because I am not quite sure what one would replace the regeneration word with. 

Richard Upton

That’s really interesting, just talking to somebody about a job role recently and they didn’t want the word ‘regeneration’ in their title because it felt like some rather staid sort of director of a Housing Association that’s trying to make some places better and I was a bit perplexed at that, I suppose I don’t really… I see the purpose of the word ‘regeneration’ as defining what we do and whether it be greenwashing or, you know, social inclusion-washing, developers can use these phrases for the wrong project and therefore it gets maligned but the purpose and the intent of it is important, not the word.  We need a new word, for sure.    

Susan Freeman

We do.  Yes, I’m not sure what it would be. 

Richard Upton

Placemaking is one of those things that’s really applied and I’ve seen some ridiculous examples but it’s really simple at the end of the day, we’ve been gathering as human beings for a hundred thousand odd years, we clear a patch of trees and we have conversation and learn how to make a fire and we’re social animals who need to see each other and connect and share stories and the whole sort of extension of the word community and companionship and communion, is wrested around breaking bread together, sharing stories together and being in an environment which is relatively safe so, that’s placemaking and there is nothing new. 

Susan Freeman

Now you mentioned job titles and you’ve changed your title from Deputy CEO to Chief Development Officer.  So, is that significant or just recognising what you are actually doing?

Richard Upton

I don’t think it is significant, no.  We’re a public company and often, you know, twice a year coming round the city, explaining ourselves and it’s very simply just a question of what’s the division of labour between Matthew and myself.  U+I was Founded, Co-founded, by Matthew and I, we agreed our value system, we agreed a business plan and we work like partners.  I sadly communicate with Matthew more than I do with my wife at this point in time so, you know, we are very, very close in every element of the business and very, very different people, I guess.  But, in terms of focus, we’re deeply driven by making sure that the places that we are creating, and it’s a significant pipeline now, are best in class.  I could see that some things were pretty good and I’ve got a very high bar of expectation, I’ve made promises to leaders and the communities where we work, I wanted to make sure that it’s as good as it could be or great as it could be following a bit of a sabbatical.  I came back and that was clear to me so, that intervention within the middle of the business plan is something that I have been doing for the last fourteen or fifteen months, and the job title reflects that.

Susan Freeman

So, I’m going to ask you a very easy question now.  The housing crisis, or housing emergency, we have been talking about for years, I mean I know it’s not straight forward but could we be doing a better job of sorting it out?

Richard Upton

Yes, clearly.  It has to start with, and there’s lots of suggestions, there’s land banking with the private sector and the housebuilders and I am not sure that that’s true for the most part, most of them are looking to get land into productivity quite quickly, there certainly needs to be more supply to deal with the super inflation in the housing market and the under supply so, we need to fix the planning system for sure, in order to release appropriately located land but as long as it is the right quality of not just housing and Monika which are… and the planning system over the last year or two, certainly in London and the southeast has become increasingly politicised and projects that used to take three or four months to get planning consent, take eighteen months because of either a lack of resource in the planning system, political interventions in the planning system for otherwise agreeable technical schemes, there’s been a significant issue in the last eighteen months in the productivity of the planning system and I have supported Nick Rainsford in his review of the planning system, I think there is time for some radical change, I think we are hearing that it might be coming and that’s a useful thing.  The planning system is the one key element in need of radical change and of course we need to take the delivery from a few very large housebuilders with a particular position into many and perhaps celebrate diversity of product and approach in the same way that the car industry does or, you know, phone industry does.  We need to have that diversity in the developers and the housebuilders in order to get the right product and more of it. 

Susan Freeman

And in terms of diversity of product, I know you were looking, you know, quite closely at the build-to-rent side of the business.  Is that something you are pursuing at the moment?

Richard Upton

No.  We will come back to it.  We spent some time with Rothschilds and others looking at the model because we have a pipeline of over 20 million square feet where there is at least fifteen or seventeen thousand homes coming through, it made sense for us since we are developing large schemes to look at our own model with a capital partner of build-to-rent on some of our larger projects.  We tested it and we just couldn’t see a sensible risk adjusted margin.  We were taking significant risk for a particularly low margin when you look at the development risk and everything else.  That’s not to say that we won’t find and discover and create long-term value for our shareholders through that model.  We are always looking quite entrepreneurially at sort of sibling businesses where we grow other balance sheets around our own and that build-to-rent plan was part of that but we have others that have grown quite successfully.  I think we’ll come back to build-to-rent.  Build costs need to come off a bit. 

Susan Freeman

And you are always looking at new ideas and new products and at one point you had a micro-flat product which I think was in your office.  Was there any take-up on that?  Was that well received?

Richard Upton

It was really well received by those people that can’t afford to live in zones 1, 2, even 3 of London.  We had thousands of enquiries as to where you were going to build that and we wanted to prove that we could create a model that could respond to the hollowing out and gentrification really of central London so you could have people on mixed incomes, particularly the squeezed middle, so we’d do okay with affordable housing and we as a market do very well at selling super-expensive homes.  But the vast majority of people in the middle have got nowhere to live and they might be spending a, you know, three hours of a return trip on a train to get to their employment and that’s just not sustainable.  Home ownership, you know, in London is over twelve times salary so there’s no hope of getting a place on the ladder so I’ve either got to live in Folkestone or you know, I’ve got to move to Huddersfield to afford anywhere to live.  So, surely London as the driving force of the economy of the country should be providing a mix of product as long as it stays affordable and has the right level of design quality and welfare and support.  So, we felt it should be a market for beautifully designed, smaller than standard flats with a rooftop garden and co-living/working on the ground floor as a model and we designed two town flats, as we called them, one with A Rogers and one with Jonathan Manser – one of them was nineteen metres squared but a lofty one with high bed, and we proved that you could buy land in the marketplace, so no subsidy, and create a rented flat that would stay rented forever so the equity doesn’t get privatised and you could make that work between £700 and a £1,000 a month.  You’d feel like a grown-up, with your own front door, you’re not sharing a many level multiple-occupation house in Clapham that’s less regulated but sadly, as much as we tested it with the GLA and others, subsequent London plans and other local plans, I have a real problem at a headline political level with what might be considered a rabbit hutch or a kennel or some other suggestion, however, every whether it be politician or member of the wider public that came to visit these flats and we said, “Look, if this was in Vauxhall or Lambeth or, you know, Kennington or somewhere like that and it was £800 a month, how would you feel?” and almost 100% would say, “Great, why can’t we do it?” and the reason we can’t do it is that the London plan won’t allow it and there’s a minimum flat standard of 37 metres.  What I am suggesting is, that’s not the solution to the housing crisis but we need to be more open with the right rigger about a mix of tenure and product design and we need to embrace that, as other countries do.  So, we’re probably going to… we’ve still got those flats, they operate, you can sort of sleep in them overnight just to test whether you are feeling too cramped or not, which you won’t be, and I am sure we would develop probably first in Dublin and Manchester which are our other two areas which are slightly more open-minded planning system.  

Susan Freeman

Interesting, because with all the merge that we are seeing between the different parts of the sector so, hotels and residential, you can see that the people actually want that sort of product, they are prepared to compromise on space if they’ve got other facilities. 

Richard Upton

Well, they… with, you know, with the vast amount of our world in our phones and we’re renting smaller and smaller cars, we’re using our phones as a sort of virtual life and connection, the product available through the planning system in housing is just not responding to the actual needs on the ground of the population and that means, I think… I am a Londoner, I was born in Mile End, I care about London being an accessible opportunity for all and I think it’s a mistake that if we don’t trial, as the hotel industry does very successfully, with the right quality of design and product and care of a consumer, if we don’t do that then we will start to fall behind as a city. 

Susan Freeman

And the housing crisis seems to be getting worse rather than better, I mean, in the wake of Grenfell and the concern about, you know, fire safety, it seems that about half a million people are living in flats with unsafe cladding.  Any thoughts on what’s gone wrong and whether a Housing Ombudsman is actually going to help sort of make sure that we build better in the future?

Richard Upton

Well I suppose at the highest level it is being looked at now and clearly before Grenfell there were systemic issues in the approval of you know, retrofit and cladding and other systems that with approved inspectors and other forms of safety checking, there were huge gaps between what should be done and what was being done and so that is being resolved now and I am not sure whether there has been an overreaction in some instances and the industry is trying to work that through but it is probably better to have an overreaction and be safe with peoples’ lives, certainly above you know, a few storeys and safer than we have been in the past.  But it’s, it is quite interesting as one moves into this year at a wider economic level the issues of cladding, I think there was something in the press this morning with L&Q making a great provision, almost quarter of a billion I think to remedy potential issues with cladding from their development portfolio and with a major player like that you know, focussing on a cladding issue rather than building new homes of course that has a consequence in the market as well so whether these things are coming together as black swan moments which could further add crisis to the housing crisis, who knows.

Susan Freeman

So one of your other roles is as a Commissioner of Historic England, I think you’ve been doing that since 2017.  So how does the role of Preserver go with your role as Developer?  Is there a conflict?

Richard Upton

No, no, I think there is a huge opportunity. I generally speak from the heart and I find the approach or the historic approach of too many developers to the heritage, whether it be listed or protected in some way, or just a really good old space in an area has been pretty flippant and lacking in care and so I think heritage for me is the king of placemaking.  If the intention is to create a sense of belonging, an authenticity it needs to be inclusive to be authentic but you’ve clearly got a structure that has its own narrative or a space that has its own narrative and that is deeply engaging for most people and so to come at it from that point of view that I want to make a great place and therefore I want to work with heritage which is more difficult perhaps than just knocking it over and doing something that’s predictable -  which has happened too often in the past - is a great opportunity for a developer to create a better place and the stats will show also a more valuable place but you just have to work harder and if you work harder you tend to get a bigger reward and so my role was for 7 years with the London Advisory Committee where we deal with developers… my role was to stop developers pulling the wool over the eyes of historic England and I haven’t made friends in that role, I’ve spoken honestly with the experience that I have but it affects the skyline of London, it affects the heritage assets of London and I think that is sort of the golden goose of… that was the London Advisory Committee, that’s the golden goose of what we have as a place which might be increasingly important you know, post-Brexit to define our own identity and heritage does that very well. I am on a sort of gentle mission to show that having purpose and thought and care of heritage will create more value for you on a risk adjusted returned to the development industry.  I was asked by Sir Laurie, the Chairman of Historic England whether I would go for the role of a Commissioner, there is always one developer who sits alongside much more intelligent,  you know, historians and very clever people who understand a lot more than me about these things but in terms of viability testing or looking at again where the wool is being pulled over the eyes and not for the greater good, I have a good instinct to help that you know, Government body do a good job for wider society. I enjoy that role very much and I think it has great value and it is starting to play out.  People are recognising that whether it be retailers or clubbers or office workers or occupiers working within a mix of authentic old places and new places, drives a lot more creative spirit and productivity usually than a standard new build building so there is a sea change I think which is looking to embrace heritage and it produces a much greater level of consistent return than a new building, so I can bridge the divide so I don’t think it is, there are two parts of it.  There is an education I think of the property industry that can be really quite compelling.

Susan Freeman

And I think King’s Cross has highlighted the fact that where you have got heritage buildings and you can mix them in with new build, you create a more interesting place.

Richard Upton

And the subtlety of what the team at Argent have done there is sometimes missed.  The quality of the place is also driven by the quality of landscape design and if you look at how there are certain bricks and sets are not grouted and there is industrial scale of benches and other materials, there’s a philosophy that is really thoughtful in the spaces between the buildings which developers tend to get over excited about building buildings but Joe Public gets over excited about sitting in nice places and the quality of that approach, the intent from day one to make that a connected, authentic space, the bravery of getting the old you know, Coal Drops Yard where the coal was dropped off and the railway tunnels and the viaducts there and then celebrating that with Thomas Heatherwick, so it is not only looking backwards revealing you know, the confidence of that place in Victorian London but it is celebrating it with bold, new retail and fantastic architects and designers like Heatherwick so it has a, a confidence from the past and it is throwing it into the future and I think it, it is a great job and they have done a great job, Argent up there.

Susan Freeman

Well I think that is probably a good place to finish on a positive note so Richard thank you very much

Richard Upton

Thanks Susan.

Susan Freeman

Huge thanks to Richard Upton for sharing his thoughts on what successful regeneration is all about and how he gave up a flying career to be a property developer.  So that’s it for now.  I really hope you enjoyed today’s conversation.  Please join us for the next PropertyShe podcast interview coming very shortly. 

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 download on your Apple podcast app the purple button on your iPhone and on Spotify and whatever podcast app you use and please do continue to 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 for a very regular commentary on all things real estate Prop Tech and the built environment.

Richard is a creative entrepreneur and patron of the arts, who is passionate about quality of place, architecture, heritage and provenance. Over the course of his career, he has established, built and sold four property investment and professional companies and developed more than six million square feet of mixed-use real estate.

Pioneering Mount Anvil in 1991, Richard delivered 5,000 student bedrooms and regenerated several award-wining social housing projects. In 1998 he co-founded Cathedral Healthcare and Cathedral Group PLC, nurturing the latter to become a market-leader in public-private partnership developments and building a pipeline of over £2bn. 

In 2014, Cathedral merged with Development Securities, which ultimately became U+I in 2015. U+I is a listed public company with a development pipeline of >£11.5bn. Together with U+I’s Chief Executive Matthew Weiner, Richard is a driving force behind the strategic direction of the company, whose vision is to create long-lasting social and economic change for communities and sustainable value for shareholders.

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