New London Architecture

Five minutes with... John Badman

Tuesday 16 May 2023

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

John Badman

John Badman

Residential Director
CallisonRTKL

David Taylor meets John Badman of CRTKL to talk about net zero, the residential market, its Station Hill project, and how Reading is now London, courtesy of the Elizabeth Line.

David Taylor  
Hi, John, how are you doing?
 
John Badman  
Hi. I'm well, thank you. How are you?
 
David Taylor  
Very good. I wanted to ask you, I've just been reading about interest rate rises again, which I have no doubt is going to affect the housing market even more. And I just wanted to ask you, firstly, for your view of the state of play regarding residential in London, because you're quite concerned in that market - that's your thing? So where are we on residential and vis a vis the ‘crisis’, as I will call it?
 
John Badman  
I think ‘crisis’ is a strong word. I think the residential market is going to continue because people need homes to live in, they want destinations where they're living to be mixed use and multicultural and about community. I think we've seen over decades that the development market will strive hard to make those places regardless of the economic conditions that they're put under. But it's certainly making things more difficult to deliver the number of homes that are needed, and to deliver those in a way that people want to be able to adapt within the environments that they're in, really. There's lots of other challenges around, aren't there? The interest rates are affecting the markets, and we've got the building safety act going on, we've got Building Regulations changing, we've got many things moving around in the market at the same time, which makes it pretty difficult. But also, you have to be innovative about how you're approaching those projects. And I think design can help in that - to help make the projects come to life.
 
David Taylor  
Another one you didn't mention in that list was net zero – what are you finding the key challenge to be on the whole net zero regime?
 
John Badman  
I think the architectural world has been striving to get towards net zero and to have more sustainable buildings for decades. Now we're in a fantastic spot where the market is demanding it. That is a really exciting time to be involved in designing buildings, which are able to deliver, to get as close to zero as we can and strive towards that net zero. Because after the architectural world and the design world has been wanting to do that for many, many years, the fact that people now not only want to pay for it, but will pay for it and have to pay for it and have to respond to that and listen to that, and prove that their businesses are also, their funds and the developers are striving towards net zero as well makes it makes it easier for us to do that in the projects.
 
David Taylor  
Now, there's one particular scheme I know you're involved with in Reading called Station Hill. Can you tell us a little bit about that in terms of Its extent and also how it's different from other projects. What's its USP?
 
John Badman  
So, we've been involved in the project for about six years now, I keep changing that number. (laughs) But it's at least six years, I would say. It's a site which has had three different permissions on it over the years. All, you know, very, very good and very eminent in their intents, etc. But we were appointed by Lincoln MGT, who are the client on the project, and a lot of that came from our relationship we have with the Lincoln team over in the US. We looked to redesign the project really, and made one major move, which was taking down a 750-space car park, which sat right in the middle of the site and created a master plan, which is about reconnecting the town centre to the station, and creating a whole new public square, which has got a whole mixed use environment going on around. It's pretty dense. Reading is striving for height around the station. When you go down there now it's full on, what's getting built out at the moment at Station Hill. It's been a really exciting project, because it's been about placemaking, it's about the future of everything, the future of residential, of work of hospitality of belonging. You know, we've managed to pull a lot of those things together. And it's great. I was down on site last week, and it's a pretty amazing project. I've been delighted to be involved in it.
 
David Taylor  
I was reading about it. And there were two things that jumped out about it...
 
John Badman  
I'd better know these things...! (laughs)
 
David Taylor  
(laughs)...which were firstly that it was ‘resident-driven’ in the blurb. And also, the second thing was that there was a line saying: ‘in the experience masterplan we mapped every aspect that the residents experience, from the leasing walk, to collecting a parcel'. Can you unpack that and elaborate on that? What has happened there?
John Badman  
Yeah. So, we, as a practice, really focus hard on the users of our buildings and places that we're designing. And that is certainly the case when we're looking at residential projects. And, you know, our specialism in the UK is really Build to Rent. What's great about the Build to Rent sector is everyone's got an interest in it being really good – and better – because it's a long-term investment operational model rather than a ‘for sale’ model. So, everyone's interested in it – in the residents staying for as long as possible, and meeting other friends within that community and creating friends and meeting in different spaces around those buildings. The experience for the residents starts really on their phone. They've moved to Reading, or if they're looking to somewhere new in Reading, how those buildings present themselves as a brand online is very important. But you know, they physically do go there. And they go through that process of deciding to live there. We go through that journey that a resident will take when they cross the threshold, when they're approaching the building. I've been involved in Build to Rent for a long time, and we sit with the leasing teams and talk through with them how they would like to show that resident round the buildings. So, are they going to go up to the top floor amenity first and then look at the city skyline of Reading and out to the Thames etc? And then they're going to come down and go into the apartment. What's the view like from the front door when they open the front door of the apartment? What are they going to be looking at out the window, on the balcony? What's the time of day? What's the light going to be like coming into that apartment when they go in their viewing time? So that sounds like there's a lot of detail in that. But, you know, you're trying to sell something which people are going to move into very, very quickly and can move out of very quickly as well. Which is the threat side of it. And that's what's really good about Build to Rent. If it's not good enough, and the service isn't good enough, and the experience isn't good enough, competition comes and they'll have the choice to move. And they will do. They'll vote with their feet if it's not good enough.
 
David Taylor  
And lastly, what do you think about these kinds of satellite towns like Reading in terms of the London offer? Do you see them as growing in potential for people leaving The Big Smoke?
 
John Badman  
Yeah, I mean, it's going great guns. It's one of those towns, and there's a few of them really, but you know, it's obviously got the Elizabeth line now. 
 
David Taylor  
Oh, yeah, of course. 
 
John Badman  
And that is pretty amazing. So you can be in Oxford Circus in 30 minutes. And I think what's interesting about Reading is it's a town at the moment. It's trying to become a city and has spent many years on that. I was talking about it as a city but it's trying to get to a point where it has the density right in the town centre. It has all those different assets available to people living there, people who are working there and we're working with Gensler as well on the scheme that they're designing there in the master plan. And you know, those are huge offices and the types of tenants that are going to be in those are going to be well-known names. So, the big companies are moving there. People want to move out of London, but still have access into London. That's great. But they can get on a bike and be cycling down the Thames in rolling countryside in five minutes. You can't do that in Clapham. That's where the difference is. And the price point is different as well. And as people grow and change, their families have merged and they may want to get into home ownership, there's more opportunity for them to buy in that market as the prices in London become probably more unaffordable in the market that we're in at the moment. So yeah, I'm a big fan of places like Reading in their aspiration to be bold in their regeneration goals. And it needs people like Lincoln to come in and Lincoln MTC to come in and do bold things that like they're doing at Station Hill and getting it built. There's going to be people living there in the next six months. It's pretty exciting.
 
David Taylor  
It's interesting you mentioned the Elizabeth Line; I was just watching a webinar about it about with a chap from TfL about the Elizabeth Line one year on because it's almost a year to the day that it's been open. And I wondered what you'd noticed in terms of real change on the ground in somewhere like Reading in that time. Has it been visible?
 
John Badman  
Um. Well, it's a very busy place. What's interesting about it is people treat it as like part of the tube network now. You know, at one end you have got Reading and then if you want to get to Barking, you can do it with one change. Now. That's pretty amazing.
 
David Taylor  
So it's London! It's London now. Right? 
 
John Badman  
It is. It kind of is London. It's on the map. Right? So if it's just on the Tube map it is defined as London. What changes have we seen? I think one thing has been really interesting is when we take people to the site, and whether that's potential tenants or if it's consultants or investors, or whoevers, you know, they're coming in from London, then they go - Christ, it's really close, isn't it? And it's like, yeah, it is really close. We weren't joking when we said the Elizabeth line was coming. It's here and it's really close. Then when you get to Reading, you walk out the station the station entrance is literally there right in front of you. So, there's no Oh, it's a 10 minute walk from the station with a bus ride. It's, it is right there. That's the big advantage that scheme is going to have for the tenants coming in and for the residents as well,
 
David Taylor  
It is a good example, isn't it of how infrastructure can really shrink the map and change places very effectively and very quickly? 
 
John Badman  
Yeah, absolutely. 
 
David Taylor  
Excellent. And so, what's the timeframe for Station Hill just finally? When is it arriving as it were?
 
John Badman  
Tenants are going to be able to visit and see the project, you know, in real life in in July. They're going to be moving in, in November, I think first completions. So this year, later this year, G4, let's call it., So people moving in, and then that's phased over the next year, I'd imagine. But within a year, it's that first phase, and then we've got the next phase in phase three, as well last phase to be to be designed but I'm sure that we can move forward in due course, as well. And the office is, I think open in the latter part of next year, mid to end of 2024. And then once the office is occupied, and the residential occupies 600-ish units, there'll be whole new streets opening up, there's retailers and F&B and those sort of people we will be speaking to now that there's ground floors and bringing together the dream! I met up with the team who are operating the estate with the placemaking book and said this is now your responsibility. We've developed a dream, please go and deliver it. So that was my statement to them: please go and it's in your hands now to make all this come to life. And I'm sure they will!
 
David Taylor  
Magic. Well, congratulations on spreading London even more West!
 
John Badman  
(laughs)
 
David Taylor  
And good luck. It'll be Swindon next! Anyway, Good luck with it all. Thanks a lot. 
 
John Badman  
There we go! Thank you very much! 


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

John Badman

John Badman

Residential Director
CallisonRTKL



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