One-on-one interview with John Long at igloo 

Posted 15 January 2015

This week, John Long, development director at igloo, speaks exclusively to Marc Da Silva to continue our ongoing weekly series of interviews with senior figures from the UK housebuilding industry.   

What regions do you cover? igloo operates nationwide.  We’re currently working on projects across the whole country, from Cornwall to Glasgow, London to Cardiff and Manchester to Nottingham, and more.  

As a niche developer, what sort of homes does your firm build? I think the term ‘specialist’ might be more apt. We’re currently delivering a pretty wide range of projects. They vary in mix, from commercial to residential, community to custom build, and size, from anything between 20 to a couple of hundred homes. And we deliver them for a wide range of clients, from financial institutions, to communities and local authorities. But what all igloo schemes have in common, the thread that runs through them, is that they have people, place and planet at their heart.

Current projects include Four Hundred Caledonian Road, a collection of 25 low-energy homes in Islington, London; Porth Teigr at Cardiff Bay – a 35-acre mixed-use regeneration scheme centred around a 170,000-sq-ft production studio we created for the BBC to produce Doctor Who amongst other things; and the now completed Bermondsey Square in London – comprising 76 apartments, a new independent arts cinema and retail space set around a public square and the world-renowned Bermondsey antiques market.

What is so innovative about igloo homes? igloo is credited by the UN as having formed the world’s first responsible real estate fund. We did this by creating our Footprint development methodology, which governs the design and implementation of all our development schemes. It sets out, based on years of research and post-development assessment, clear guidelines for project teams to follow relating to its four key themes of Regeneration, Environmental Sustainability, Design, and Health, Happiness & Wellbeing.

Ultimately, for our customers, Footprint’s impact on development means living in a home that is well designed, healthier, cheaper to run and easier to maintain. In the wider context, it means a higher quality of life in a development that helps create a cohesive community feel with well-designed public spaces. Again, it’s about people, place and planet.

In the end we actually spend a lot of time investing in the simple things. For example, our homes are designed with a fabric-first approach to sustainability – basically spending money on the parts of the building that will last for generations, including the structure, its insulation performance, air-tightness and quality, before we add the ‘bells and whistles’ that people normally associate with green buildings.

However, ultimately once you have handed over the keys, the impact of the house is in the hands of the user, hence, at Four Hundred Caledonian Road we have installed Nest intelligent thermostats which ‘learn’ when the house needs to be warm and can be controlled remotely. We also provide buyers with simple handbooks to help them make the best of home and save energy, and money – whether that be how to get the best of their heat recovery ventilation systems or where to find space to dry washing naturally.

Your Four Hundred Caledonian Road eco scheme in Islington was recently accredited in the Building for Life 12 scheme, could you please tell us about the development? Four Hundred Caledonian Road is one of our smaller projects, but we love it. It’s a little infill site on the historic ‘Cally’ Road, between Islington town centre and King’s Cross.  It’s a great area – a proper London street, and incredibly well linked by Overground adjacent to the site, Underground just up the road and bus and cycle routes.  It includes 23 low-energy apartments and a pair of townhouses, as well as three commercial studios.

It is is laid out around two private, intimate courtyards and includes the careful restoration of a Victorian townhouse fronting Caledonian Road, along with a retained historic stable block and new dwellings at the rear – so in that sense it very much combines past and present.

The homes all have outdoor space and balconies, along with the full raft of money saving eco features.

We’re particularly proud of the scheme as it is the first housing development in London to achieve the Outstanding 12/12 rating under the government-endorsed Building For Life 12 assessment criteria, which is the industry standard used by independent design experts to assess the quality of both private and shared amenity in new developments.

What other projects is igloo working on and what’s in the development pipeline? It’s exciting times for igloo. We’ve got two UK firsts in the pipeline, including a pioneering ‘custom-build’ development at Trevenson Park in Cornwall. This is part of a government-backed initiative to stimulate the growth of the custom-build homes market, which allows people to buy a plot of land, choose a home from one of a number of pre-approved home manufacturers and then work with them to create their ideal home by choosing from a menu of house-types and options. It’s a customer-focused approach and suits people who want all the benefits of a new home but wouldn’t want to buy a house from a typical volume housebuilder. We have also created a specialist finance package to suit the scheme and thus far the overall feedback has been resoundingly positive. Basically, people get to help create their dream home, but with none of the drama or hassle of self-build.

igloo has also been appointed by the Mayor of London, as part of a consortium with Carillion and Genesis, to build Britain’s first ‘floating village’ in literally London’s Royal Victoria Docks, which will transform 15 acres into a thriving new community of 50 floating homes and amenities.

This is something that has been done before in Europe to good effect – and with land in the capital in such short supply, it makes good sense to consider alternative options such as this.

How much does a new home by igloo typically cost to buy? It varies hugely depending on location, of course, but as an idea at Four Hundred Caledonian Road, prices start at £400,000 for a one-bedroom flat. A one-bedroom house at Green Street in Nottingham however costs around £150,000.

What is igloo’s USP? It all comes down to people, place and planet – ensuring our projects have a positive impact on all three.

Which of the developments igloo is currently developing do you think stands the best chance of winning a WhatHouse? Award? I’m biased, but as the project director I think Four Hundred Caledonian Road would be perfectly suited to the Best Sustainable Development category!

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