This week’s interview at the senior level of the UK new homes industry takes an unusual turn as we interview two joint-venture partners side by side, who are currently working on a major development scheme in west London: John Knevett of FABRICA and Mark Mitchener of Rydon.
Please tell us a little about yourselves and your companies.
John Knevett (JK): I have worked in the housing sector for almost 30 years, having started my career as a structural and civil engineer. I am now the group commercial officer of FABRICA, and am responsible for the commercial, development and sales functions of the business. FABRICA is committed to creating meticulously designed, skilfully produced homes. As part of the A2Dominion Group, we bring over 70 years of experience and are one of the largest developers in the UK.
Staying true to our skilfully produced promise at the heart of our brand, our design ethos and commitment to sustainability means that our homes are built in carefully considered locations and are sympathetic to the environment. Every project reflects our dedication to thoughtful design, sustainable living, and to providing an outstanding experience for our customers. People are at the heart of everything we do, and because we own and manage all our properties, our commitment to providing the best possible service for our customers never stops.
Mark Mitchener (MM): I first joined Rydon Construction in 1999 and lead this successful business operating across a broad range of sectors, but specialising in urban regeneration and with a particular focus on cross subsidy development schemes across London.
Starting my career as a planning engineer, I progressed over time through to construction management and onto the position of construction director at a major PLC developer, joining Rydon as construction director in 1999 and taking the position of managing director and joining the group board in October 2010.
Rydon Construction is part of the Rydon Group, an established group of companies set up in 1978 specialising in property and construction who bring a wealth of experience across a broad range of projects in housing, healthcare, education and the commercial sector. Rydon Group companies cover the fields of development, construction, refurbishment, maintenance, asset management and investment within our operations.
I am heavily involved in a number of initiatives linked to sustainability and employment for young people. Rydon is a long term partner with youth charity The Prince’s Trust, whose programmes are run on Rydon projects and give disadvantaged young people the practical and financial support needed to stabilise their lives, helping develop self-esteem and skills for work.
What are the details of the project your companies are jointly working on?
JK: Together as part of a 50:50 joint venture partnership with Rydon, we are currently working on the second phase of construction at our Jigsaw development in West Ealing, due to complete this autumn. On completion, this will deliver 770 beautifully designed homes, offering a selection of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, duplexes and large family houses.
With architecture designed by Conran and Partners, Jigsaw was conceived to foster a sense of community, with pathways and open spaces unifying each component of the scheme. With a collection of new parks, landscaped plazas and boulevards, long-term connectivity and integration are encouraged throughout.
As a landmark regeneration scheme for the borough of Ealing, Jigsaw’s residents are set to benefit from the arrival of Crossrail from 2019, which will be accessible in less than a five-minute walk, offering links into Bond Street in 13 minutes and Liverpool Street in 21 minutes for optimum convenience.
MM: As part of a £166m masterplan to revive the former Green Man Lane sink estate, Jigsaw is setting a new benchmark in regeneration for London, and has firmly placed West Ealing on the map as a residential destination.
Community is at the heart of our vision for the scheme, and we are also delivering a new primary school with excellent new facilities for both residents and the broader to community to help accommodate young and growing families at the development.
Jigsaw also benefits from being at the heart of London’s leafiest borough, with over 100 parks nearby as well as some historic allotments and a famous summer festival, which has become a landmark in the local cultural calendar.
Is this the first JV between these two organisations, when did the partnership begin and what do both sides bring to the project?
JK: Jigsaw is the first joint venture between FABRICA and Rydon, but we are both experienced partners and welcome the opportunity to bring our significant expertise to a breadth of projects.
Our energetic partnership began in 2008 and has been driven forward by the same team since its inception. This has ensured that our vision hasn’t wavered and aligns with the overall development strategy, which revolves around the importance of developing and sustaining an enduring community and inspiring new neighbourhood.
The partnership is a benchmark of success, receiving acclaim from peers and industry professionals, which is testament to the hard work invested throughout. The first phase of the development is now occupied, while the second phase is due for completion this autumn.
MM: Rydon is an expert in regeneration and has a history of delivering award-winning, community-focused projects. We brought forward the opportunity for the redevelopment of this innovative scheme, inviting FABRICA to join us as a partner and create Jigsaw into a beacon of our combined knowledge and experience. The result showcases why successful regeneration is about more than just replacing buildings, but encompasses working with local stakeholders through consultation, workshops and interviews to ensure that the right housing mix is delivered in conjunction with good schools, services, employment and recreational opportunities.
Our aim is to create stable, prosperous and safe communities with a lasting legacy, of which residents and the wider community can be proud.
Please tell us about the area of the development and the mix of buyers that the properties under construction are aimed to attract?
JK: West Ealing as an area has a very promising future and the perception of living here is changing – thanks largely to Jigsaw. Ealing as a borough has undergone a significant transformation over recent years and West Ealing can be regarded as the final piece of the Jigsaw in the rebirth of the area.
Increasingly popular for home-hunters, West Ealing offers good value, convenience and investment potential with the arrival of Crossrail, which will revolutionise travel into London from 2019.
MM: Since launch, Jigsaw has attracted a broad spectrum of buyers, which fulfils one of our key objectives for the scheme. We have sold off-plan from the outset, which has proved popular with many who appreciate the choice and the financial advantages of buying at today’s prices for a home that is likely to appreciate in value by the time they move in.
Offering relative affordability compared to local areas such as Ealing Broadway and Chiswick, we have seen many first-time buyers, second steppers, city workers, families and investors purchasing here. The majority of our purchasers have come from the broader West London vicinity.
With a mix of homes for all tastes and aspirations including apartments, split-level duplexes and large family houses in later phases, coupled with the array of community facilities, we have the key components of a thriving neighbourhood that welcomes new homeowners and the wider community.
What sort of specification/communal facilities can residents expect under the tenures they are buying through?
JK: With its design masterminded by Conran and Partners, Jigsaw’s 770 homes each enjoys the optimum in quality and finish – from their architectural to the interior to their fixtures. Ultimately we have worked to create flexible homes for Londoners, which can accommodate and adapt to an array of personal circumstances, whether it’s finding a home for a growing family or downsizing from a forever home.
MM: Rydon invested much time setting out a vision of infrastructure and provision of facilities at Jigsaw, underpinned by the theme of connectivity, with pathways and open spaces unifying each aspect of the scheme. This vision has been brought to life by Conran and Partners, creating a masterplan containing a collection of new parks, landscaped plazas and pedestrian boulevards that combine to create an attractive public realm, fostering integration and sustaining a vibrant community for decades to come, while a new café provides a meeting place and an opportunity to meet the neighbours.
How have political issues such as the London mayoral election and EU referendum added complications to the building process?
JK: Political change will always have an impact on the property market, but Jigsaw has experienced minimal impact from the mayoral election or Brexit – largely because of the value it offers, but also because the scheme is being developed by two trusted developers.
The supply and demand imbalance remains pronounced, but because Jigsaw is designed well, underpinned by our ‘skilfully produced’ ethos, it continues to attract purchasers looking for well designed and constructed homes with huge investment potential.
MM: In addition, Sadiq Khan’s progressive ambitions for housing, to bring forward more land owned by public bodies, a London Living Rent and a high proportion of affordable new London homes, could provide a pipeline of interesting opportunities for us. Rydon is a strong UK business and we are confident that the future looks optimistic.
Does the 'joint venture' mean that the buying and ownership processes are more complex for purchasers?
JK: The joint venture partnership has no impact on the buying process – we keep this as simple as possible for buyers.”
Is this JV structure a good basis for more building in London and affect the likelihood of addressing the capital's new homes shortage?
JK: Our joint venture partnerships bring a wealth of expertise and skills to every project, and are instrumental to our track record of providing high-quality homes and cultivating residential destinations in London and the South East. The collaborative nature of a joint venture means that we are financially stable, but are able work with local authorities to build in places where homes are needed most.
Jigsaw is a case in point; on the site of a former estate, the development has improved the streetscape, infrastructure and community integration, as well as making better use of the space on offer. Furthermore, we have increased the number of homes from 464 to 770, allowing existing residents to trade up into a new, better quality home, as well as creating much needed housing for London.”
MM: Bringing together joint venture development partners is an increasingly popular option for London boroughs to deliver much needed new housing. There are real benefits for all sides, most notably pooling skills, experience and resources together – particularly on large, multi-phase schemes such as Jigsaw, which require years of investment and planning before we can expect a return. Because each partner brings a different perspective, it is vitally important that the partners are on the same page from the outset, and that is something both FABRICA and Rydon have brought to the table.
While Jigsaw is our first joint venture, we had previously enjoyed an excellent working relationship on a number of other successful schemes and have ensured that our goals were aligned from the start.