Urban Splash: Tom Bloxham
You'd be forgiven for thinking Tom Bloxham invented the loft apartment, such is the impact his company, £25m turnover Urban Splash, has had on urban living in the past decade.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Tom Bloxham invented the loft apartment, such is the impact his company, £25m turnover Urban Splash, has had on urban living in the past decade.
While London, Paris and New York embrace urban dwellings, the North West had no such reputation, and no developer was willing to look at new niches, driven as they are by turnover and shareholder profit.
The industrial revolution left city centres dotted with factories falling into dereliction as the existence of traditional industries receded. “There was a perception that old Victorian buildings should be demolished. The 1980s had been a sad period for architecture. And the recession of 1989/90 meant developers lacked ambition,” says Bloxham.
Bloxham cut his teeth in property working on concept bars in Liverpool with Urban Splash’s co-founder and architect Jonathan Falkingham and his design practice Shed. The demand from friends for quality apartments in the city centre encouraged him to shift focus to residential developments. “In 1993 restaurants were becoming design-led, clothing and furniture was design-led. Property was the last thing to be given that treatment,” he says. “We came along committed to quality, design, regeneration and sustainability.”
Developers had ensured there was no real demand at the time for city centre living because there was no supply and “people were only offered images of twee suburban homes with neat front gardens. Once we illustrated it was normal other developers latched on”.
Nevertheless, Bloxham’s been surprised at how mainstream Urban Splash’s approach has become. He confesses he had no business plan or specific targets beyond completing the company’s first project – “I wish I could say I was a visionary”.
But it was apparent that to achieve success he would have to gain approval and public sector funding. “We like working in cities with good leadership and councils and Manchester and more recently Liverpool have that. Our timing was good as property prices were low and it’s harder nowadays to get the funding due to added bureaucracy.”
Bloxham decided against raising money to accelerate growth, relying instead on reinvesting profits alongside debt from HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland, partly in order to retain his control and not have his principles questioned. “I have a very good majority shareholder with 70% equity and we rarely disagree,” he says of himself. His methods have ensured the brand remains undiluted and propositions come looking for the company, rather than the other way round. “We’re almost unique having a branded product in this market and the effect is that when £20m of property we developed in Plymouth went on sale, it sold in a day.”
New market: The Property Market Boom Company: Urban Splash Founded: 1993 Focus: Design led property development Owner-manager: Tom Bloxham Key factors: A changing architectural scene; low property prices; clear branding; public sector funding and urban regeneration schemes; retaining control; reinvesting profits Turnover: £25m