A very long time ago Tony Pidgley was a Barnardo’s boy. Adopted by travellers, he left school as a largely illiterate 15 year-old. The founder of Berkeley Homes, today he is worth an estimated £212 million and he is widely considered London’s most influential housebuilder.
Pidgley began his business career in haulage. He amassed a fleet of 42 lorries and he made sure that “every Friday night I took my drivers out for a Chinese meal or a steak. You have to look after your workforce.”
Looking after its workforce is something that Pidgley, 69, thinks Britain is failing to do, especially in London and the South-East where affordable housing is so rare.
LONDON HOUSING CRISIS
“In Manchester and Liverpool they may not have as many jobs, but there is no lack of housing at affordable prices,” he declares. “The housing crisis is in London. I think London is being left behind.”
Pidgley has an answer: “We should say to the industry that 30 per cent of what we build on each site of more than 1,000 units should be affordable housing,” he says.
For simplicity’s sake, he breaks that figure down — 10 per cent should be social housing at affordable rents; another 10, shared-ownership units enabling councils to help young professionals to get on the housing ladder, while the final 10 per cent should be extra care homes — supervised housing enabling the elderly to move out of costly larger houses — or starter homes sold at a market discount.
This uniform standard should be imposed across all housebuilders by central government, he says, and should be reflected in a 30 per cent discount on the cost of land, which might stop some local authorities holding out on developers.
New Homes Awards - last year's winners
New Homes Awards - last year's winners
1/43 Grand Prix winner 2016
Winner of the prestigious Grand Prix award, after picking up the Best Conversion award by a small-scale developer, Artisan by Dukelease Properties and Rolfe Judd is a scheme of luxury apartments in the heart of Fitzrovia. Scroll right...
2/43 Grand Prix winner 2016
Thirteen elegant apartments and penthouses were carved from the upper floors of five historic terrace houses, including a painstaking reconstruction in a void created by severe bomb damage during the blitz.
3/43 Home or development of outstanding architectural merit
A riverside development described as 'a breath of fresh air' by judges. Winner: Riverlight in Nine Elms by St James
4/43 Home or development of outstanding architectural merit
A large, iconic development that set the bar high for other developments in the area... Highly commended: The Eagle on City Road, by Mount Anvil
5/43 Best Large Development
Winner: Goodman’s Fields, by Berkeley Homes North East London
6/43 Best Large Development
This development makes good use of its riverside location, creating an attractive environment for residents. Highly commended: Fulham Riverside by Barratt London
7/43 Best Small Development
A well thought out development of three homes. Winner: Cozens Place in Haringey, by Unit One Architects
8/43 Best Small Development
Combining affordable homes, apartments and family houses with a much-needed community centre. Highly commended: Clipper Place in Rotherhithe, by Alan Camp Architects, Family Mosaic and Docklands Settlements
9/43 Best Development in the Affordable Homes Sector
A former car park, now a range of affordable apartments near Wembley stadium. Winner: Lime Walk in Wemley by Network Housing Group
10/43 Best Development in the Affordable Homes Sector
An excellent conversion of a Georgian block into apartments for shared-ownership and affordable rent. Highly commended: Suffolk House in Fitzrovia by Origin Housing
11/43 Eco Living Award
A small development in south London, built using sustainable timber. Winner: Lendlease in Battersea by Cobalt Place
12/43 Eco Living Award
An individual house, built to zero carbon sustainability standards. Highly commended: Cedar Barn, Hanslope in Milton Keynes, by 3D Architects
13/43 Eco Living Award
A development that incorporates the latest green technologies to make sustainable living easy and affordable. Special commendation: Fabrica by A2 Dominion for the Elmsbrook in Bicester
14/43 Best Regeneration Project
A tenant-led approach, with existing assets used to help fund the overall scheme Joint-winner: Stockwell Park by Network Housing Group
15/43 Best Regeneration Project
A former social housing estate, now a mixed income, tenure-blind neighbourhood where the developer has phased the work to retain the sense of community. Joint-winner: Portobello Square in W10, by Catalyst
F10 Studios Ltd
16/43 Best Regeneration Project
A development that blends modernity with the surrounding Victorian houses and street pattern. Special commendation: Trafalgar Place, Elephant & Castle, by Lendlease
17/43 Best Conversion by large-scale developer
A Grade II-listed sanatorium that has been restored and converted into apartments, duplexes and houses. Winner: King Edward VII Estate in Midhurst, West Sussex, by City & Country
18/43 Best Conversion by large-scale developer
A carefully converted flour mill that retains its warehouse feel. Highly commended: Spillers Mill in Cambridge, by Hill
19/43 Best Conversion by small-scale developer
A development in the heart of Westminster. Highly commended: Eight Artillery Row, SW1, by LBS Properties & Make Architects
20/43 Best Out of London Home by large-scale developer
A five-bedroom house set over three floors... Winner: The Elite Collection, Ninewells, Cambridge, by Hill & Bushmead Homes
21/43 Best Out of London Home by large-scale developer
A stunning home with a bit of history... Highly commended: King Edward VII Estate in Midhurst, West Sussex, by City & Country
Paul Eccleston Arthouse Ltd
22/43 Best Out of London Home by small-scale developer
This home comes with its own mooring on the River Wey. Winner: Alderbrook House in Weybridge, by Newcourt Residential
23/43 Best Out of London Home by small-scale developer
Located in Surrey, an attractive family home in a tranquil location. Highly commended: Ryemead at High Warren, Ashtead, built by Millgate
24/43 Best London Home by a large-scale developer
A meticulously refurbished Grade II-listed landmark building with stunning views over Richmond Park. Winner: The Star and Garter, Richmond, by London Square
25/43 Best London Home by a large-scale developer
Highly commended: Goodman Penthouse at Goodman’s Fields by Berkeley Homes North East London
26/43 Best London Home by a small-scale developer
A stunning penthouse apartment in the heart of Westminster. Winner: The Penthouse at Eight Artillery Row, by LBS Properties and Make Architects
27/43 Best London Home by a small-scale developer
A well-designed modern house. Highly commended: Vermillion in Dulwich Village, by Oppidan
28/43 Best Luxury Home
A magnificent £16.8 million mansion with eight bedrooms, five reception rooms, a swimming pool, gym, wine cellar, cinema and garages for six cars. Winner: Cavendish House, Totteridge Common, by Octagon Developments
29/43 Best Luxury Home
With everything you might want for luxury living, including an indoor infinity pool and cinema. Highly commended: Breezes at Fairmile Estate, Cobham, Surrey, by Hyatt Group
30/43 Best Family Home by a large-scale developer, priced over £1.5m
A beautifully-designed home in an attractive suburban location. Winner: The Chesterton at Hayes in Kent, by London Square
31/43 Best Family Home by a large-scale developer, priced over £1.5m
A spacious home with vaulted ceilings and great views. Highly commended: The Elite Collection, Ninewells, Cambridge, built by Hill & Bushmead Homes
32/43 Best Family Home by a small-scale developer, priced over £1.5m
The attention to detail and spacious design matches the desirable location. Winner: Walpole House in Kew, built by Richstone Properties
33/43 Best Family Home by a small-scale developer, priced over £1.5m
A pair of beautifully crafted modern houses in a very sought after area. Highly commended: Vermillion in Dulwich Village, by Oppidan
34/43 Best Family Home, priced from £750,000 to £1.5m
A very spacious house in an attractive development in Kent. Winner: The Eton at Hampton Grange, Bromley, built by Bellway Thames Gateway
35/43 Best Family Home, priced from £750,000 to £1.5m
Highly commended: The Hemingway in Great Kneighton, Cambridge, by Tatehindle
36/43 Best Family Home, priced up to £750,000
A well-planned, flexible family house. Winner: Brockham Lodge in Merstham, Surrey, by Croudace Homes
37/43 Best Family Home, priced up to £750,000
A well thought out lifetime home. Highly commended: The Pine at Poppy Fields in Ashford, Kent, by David Wilson Homes Kent
38/43 Best Apartment by a large-scale developer
A stunning penthouse in a large development on the edge of the City. Winner: The Goodman Penthouse at Goodman’s Fields, by Berkeley Homes North East London.
39/43 Best Apartment by a large-scale developer
An apartment that is light, spacious. Highly commended: The Penthouse at The Chroma Buildings in SE1, built by Fabrica by A2 Dominion
40/43 Best Apartment by a small-scale developer
A penthouse with great views – this time over south and west London. Winner: Cheyne Place in Chelsea, by First Penthouse
41/43 Best Apartment by a small-scale developer
An elegant apartment with fantastic panoramic views. Highly commended: The Penthouse, Eight Artillery Row, built by LBS Properties and Make Architects
42/43 Best First-time Buyer home
Winner: Marcon Place, Hackney, by Pocket
Sarah J Duncan
43/43 Best First-time Buyer home
A well-designed apartment in a great south London location. Highly commended: The Junction, in Stockwell Park, built by Network Housing Group
PLANNING RULES AND TAX
Like all developers, he’d like to see a reduction in the number of planning conditions imposed on projects after consent is given, suggesting it would be better to prosecute “the one per cent who break the rules” rather than making “the 99 who get it right” jump through time-consuming hoops.
“I’ve owned Southall Gasworks for two years, it’s been derelict for decades, and I can’t lay a brick on it because I’m fighting time-consuming and expensive technicalities,” he says. For its part, says Pidgley, the building industry should invest more in apprenticeships and training to combat the lack of skilled workers.
He thinks the industry will have to learn to live with the increase in stamp duty, but that this “transactional tax” will have to force a further reduction in the price of land. Personally, he’d have preferred the Government to adjust council tax bands.
Pidgley’s own home is a 16th-century pile set in 100 acres near Windsor, but he also owns “a flash flat in London, and I pay £4,600 in council tax on it. If someone like me wants a second home they should pay more for the services. If I was being charged £50,000 a year, I would think about it more. I think we are all agreed the super-rich should pay.”
LONDON MAYOR AND EUROPE
Though he has expressed support for the Tories in the past, Pidgley believes London’s new Mayor, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, is a man he can do business with.
He is pro-Europe: “I think on balance we should stay in, be part of a bigger market. For security, being part of a bigger family feels better, and if we are not part of the common market, we will lose a lot of our manufacturing base. In banking, £4 trillion goes through our City each day. We are the financial capital of the world and I wouldn’t want to put that under threat.”
He returns to his original point. “We can’t have the situation where policemen, fire engine drivers or nurses don’t have a home that’s affordable.”
He says we should all be grateful for the NHS and recently had cause to appreciate it himself. His second wife, Sarah Hill, a passionate dressage rider who he met at a polo match, “fell off a horse, was knocked unconscious, couldn’t remember her name or count to 10. At emergency outpatients they were absolutely superb. And I was ill about six months before, with internal bleeding post-op at 3am. The NHS was again superb.”
Berkeley Homes has a track record in the kind of mixed development he is proposing. The company has taken over failing council estates, most notably in Kidbrooke in south-east London. “There was some violence on the estate, a certain amount of drugs, a lot of single mothers,” he recalls.
“We won the tender by saying we would look after them [problem tenants and chaotic families], picked up 500 of them, talked to them, asked them what they wanted, built them houses, gave them garden taps to encourage them to make their own homes look good.”
He adds: "You can’t tell the difference between our private and our affordable units.” Those 500 families are now part of a development of 1,500 homes. Pidgley claims that Berkeley’s customer ratings are “the best in the industry”, and suggests that giving people social housing they can be proud of, where “the rich and the poor are part of the same community”, is a way to drive social improvement and aspiration.
He is, of course, something of a poster boy for aspiration. He worked as a teenager for his parents, chopping down trees, selling logs, saving money to buy a lorry, turning that into a haulage company which he sold to Crest Nicholson in 1968, parlaying a job in its building division as part of the deal. His adoptive mother lived to see him start Berkeley eight years later. Would his parents have been proud of his success today? “Of course they would,” he says, “but they wouldn’t understand it.”
He has two adult children from his first marriage — his son Tony Jr once launched a takeover bid for Berkeley — and two daughters with his second wife, who have been brought up to do their chores and “don’t answer their father back”.
Pidgley claims he comes to work for the love of it, not the money. Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? “Now look,” he replies, still smiling but with a glint of steel in his eyes, “I have had an amazing life. I have built this business from one house to what it is today.
“I am basically uneducated. Ask me to spell 10 words, I will probably spell three. I don’t feel ashamed of that. Am I streetwise? Yes. Did my parents teach me common sense? Yes. Do I have a lot of energy? Yes. Is it fantastic what I have done? Yes. Do I love it still? Yes. Will I retire? No.”