New London Architecture

Five minutes with… Tom Goodall, partner and head of residential for Argent Related

Thursday 24 September 2020

David Taylor

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ

David Taylor: Hi Tom – how are you and what have you been up to?

Tom Goodall: Hi. I’m very good, thank you. I enjoyed the early summer during lockdown and I’m enjoying the late summer at the end of it. We've been extremely busy but I think it's been quite an interesting time hasn’t it? Really, the redefinition of the word ‘busy’ has been interesting for us all but I guess we are always trying to find the positives in things –I think it’s a really positive re-definition of the word ‘busy’ and actually being able to spend time on critical thinking and really pushing our business forward – I think we've achieved that in spades, which has been a really positive outcome. 

DT: So, your Tottenham Hale scheme I think has passed a fairly significant milestone recently. Could you tell us about that?

TG: Sure. My role at the businesses is head of residential for Argent Related, which was formed in 2015 and we have a pipeline now of about 12 million square foot of development and 8000 homes. Tottenham Hale is part of that. It is about 1000 homes and we got full planning for that at the end of 2018. We were fortunate, really. You know, you need a bit of luck on the way, and we were fortunate to secure funding on New Year's Eve 2019… 

DT: Oh, right! Extra special party? (laughs)

TG: Exactly! (laughs) Obviously we didn't see it at the time but that was a very fortunate thing because we placed three construction contracts during the first few weeks of lockdown – over £150 million pounds into construction contract and we are now well on well on with delivering the first 417 homes, which will include 131 council homes at council rent for the London borough of Haringey, and a new health primary health centre for 30,000 local residents, which was very much needed in the area before COVID and clearly is even more critical now. We're really pleased to be able to be delivering on positive change in the area. despite everything that's happened

Tottenham Hale scheme © Argent
DT: What would you say the biggest issue is in in terms of providing the homes that London needs right now?

TG:  That's a really good question. I mean, I don't think it's changed from COVID, if I'm honest. I think in many ways COVID has accelerated trends - I'm sure you've heard people say that across a range of things. But I remember speaking at an event probably year or so ago, and someone asked me what was the challenge in delivering 66,000 units a year that London needs? I said: well, the first challenge is you need to stop calling them units and call them homes, because people don't want to live in units; they want to live in homes. But more importantly, they want to live in neighbourhoods. 

Something the lockdown did is it made people really, really explore their local communities and make a decision as to whether or not they enjoyed living in those local communities. I think actually that is what people are looking for, and that will inform so much of what people choose in the future, and quite rightly so. 

I think that is a really great thing and something that our business has been focused on for decades, really. The homes are important, but the place around them and the communities and neighbourhoods that you create, and how you stitch that into the existing fabric and existing communities that are all around us is so important; more important than ever. I really think that the challenge is to stop just looking at the numbers, and start looking at the places you're creating. Because ultimately the biggest travesty would be if in 10 years’ time you no longer need 66,000 homes because no one wants to live in the places that you've created. 

DT: What would you say were the key lessons that you learned at King’s Cross that are transferable up to Tottenham Hale? Is it the same piece, or is it a completely different, clean-sheet type affair? 

TG: You won’t be surprised to hear that this is not the first time I've been asked that question…

DT: Sorry! (laughs)

TG: No, it’s fine (laughs). It is a really important one! (laughs) and I think the first thing to say is: we're very proud of what we've created at King’s Cross, but we are certainly not trying to create – and I know you're not saying that, but just to be clear –we're not trying to create King’s Crosses all around London and elsewhere. But we want to create the new Brent Cross, the new Tottenham Hale and other places where we're working. But at the same time there's lots of lessons that are applicable which is of course your question.

I think it comes down to it is now a bit of a cliche but perhaps wasn't when we first started talking about it is it’s the space between buildings that is almost more important than the buildings themselves. That isn't just the spaces you create but the activity you put on there. I think in 2019 our team at King’s Cross put on over 50 events on the estate. We had over 14 million visitors. Now, clearly that will be reduced in the first half of 2020 but it will bounce back and we're already seeing that Kings Cross is so much busier.

I was in the City last week in and King’s Cross is so much busier than places like that. Part of that you could argue, might be the businesses that are there. But actually, it's because you're not there because you have to pass through it to get somewhere else. You're there because we've managed to create the destination that people want to be in, and the weather certainly helped. I think actually that change to really focusing on places people want to be in, and there's so many things that at King’s Cross that you can do that don't have to spend any money. Of course, there are plenty of things you can do to spend money as well, but there are also free events, free activities in the public realm and the fountains of course are the biggest part of that. The way people interact and play with those is just… it's just something that we never really foresaw when we first designed it. Those are those are the things that we're going to be bringing to our future cities and projects that we think can make them grow. 

King's Cross © Argent
DT: Are you looking slightly differently now because of COVID at the types of homes that you are trying to build? ie are you thinking more about working from home and outdoor space, and all that sort of stuff?

TG: I don't think we're necessarily thinking about the homes themselves that differently. We'd like to think that we always consider how people live within spaces and ultimately people might start choosing a two-bedroom place over a one-bedroom but ultimately that's all driven by budget. The housing crisis has not gone away. In fact, it has got worse. So actually, I think the bigger tangential answer to that question is we have always focused on creating mixed use pieces and city and we believe that that now more than ever is the future. People don't necessarily want to be commuting a very long way to get to places, and that's not because of the virus. That will go away at some point, but people have taken a long hard look at what is important to them and I think that's really healthy. 

I think that actually mixed use city centres where you can work, you can live, and you can socialise and do all the other things in life that actually we have all missed so much over the last six months; that is actually the future rather than necessarily adapting every single apartment to have a small office space. Now of course some of that might be my sensible, but I think it's more fundamental about how we create mixed use cities 

DT: Which is a neat segue I can make now to looking at your CV really, with your work at the Shard and on the Athletes Village in terms of mixed use and your own history as a qualified architect. Presumably all those things mixed up make for a good way of putting that into action? A mixed use ethos?

TG: Yeah. I mean the first thing I’d say is that I wasn’t the best architect! (laughs)

DT: (laughs)

TG:  And that was probably one of the reasons I moved on. But I think I think one of the things that I I'm so conscious of and I speak to my team about all the time is how big a role we, as client/developers play in making architects be the best they can be and ultimately therefore improving our cities in the best way they can. It's something that I learned very quickly in my transition. I was an architect and then I worked in project management consultancy. But actually, as soon as you come onto the client side it became so obvious how the way you treat people, and how you act as a client is critical to the success of the project, and bringing the best out of the team. I think now more than ever, that that's so important. 

Clients need to ensure that they pay good fees, that they are decisive, and one of the problems with working from home is that everything starts to slow down a little bit because you can't have those creative design sessions. And actually, ultimately consultants work on thea time charge basis, and that really hits their bottom line and their ability to really think creatively about the projects and put the time in. I think there's so much responsibility on us as clients to ensure that we push the project along, and that we are aware of the challenges that our numerous consultant teams are going through. 

 That, along with setting the brief – and again, I'm not saying anything that you won’t have heard from others – but the recent crisis has been a watershed moment for the environmental impact of our cities, and how people feel about that, and how we can move that. It is up to us as clients to ensure that we don't lose this opportunity and that we actually really demand more from our consultant teams, who've been wanting to give it for a long time but haven’t really necessarily found the clients willing to invest in that 

DT: Brilliant. Well, I'm up I'm up to time, so all that remains for me to say is thank you very much for sparing some time, and that’s great!

TG: Thank you. I really appreciate you inviting me and I hope you have a good day

DT: See you soon in the real world I hope!

David Taylor

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ


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