Tony Pidgley:Berkeley Homes founder on Brexit and why London Mayor Sadiq Khan is a man he can do business with

The Berkeley Group boss says developers must be made to build more affordable London homes and the super-rich should be paying more tax.

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.

 

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.”

MIXED DEVELOPMENT
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.

HARD WORKER
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.”


Follow us on Twitter @HomesProperty and Facebook

Comments