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Lend Lease’s Communities division is ideally placed to meet a growing demand in the UK. Libbie Hammond learns more from Keith Perry, CEO, EMEA.


index.jpg Lend Lease Communities creates entire communities and neighbourhoods, using a holistic approach, bringing together the full spectrum of community and physical infrastructure that is needed to create successful living and working destinations. This includes a range of housing choices, innovative education, recreational and retail facilities, establishing a health infrastructure and providing commercial areas.

Keith Perry, CEO Lend Lease Communities EMEA, is responsible for a number of major mixed-use and other development schemes across the UK and contributes to several working groups such as London First’s Housing Initiative Group, various Thames Gateway bodies and ODPM sponsored working parties looking at various issues associated with aspects of mixed-use development. “Creating special places summarises our approach,” he began. “We create neighbourhoods where work, leisure and home life all come together.”

With a degree in architecture, and experience in accountancy and corporate finance, Keith possesses an unusual blend of experience, which has proved to be very appropriate for his current role. “I worked for P&O for a number of years, and ran their resort business,” Keith told me when asked about his early career. “There is a synergy between how you approach resort development and community development, and I also had the benefit of working in the US, where I saw how community development worked over there.

“I left P&O in 1999 and joined Lend Lease. In my time here I have held a number of different roles but my current responsibility to the European board is to drive the Community Development business forward.

“When we say ‘community development’, basically this entails the proper planning and delivery of mixed-use schemes/communities that comprise significant residential components (3000 homes and upwards) plus delivering the infrastructure such as utilities, roads and facilities including schools and health care,” Keith continued. “These developments are on a scale where they are considered a new district if they are in an urban context, and if they are outside the town centres then they are probably new towns. When you are working at that scale you need to place an important emphasis on ‘community’ and especially people, as there has to be a balance of residential buildings and buildings for employment use,” he said. “Being a communities developer takes a core set of skills, it is different than just building houses or commercial premises. It means carefully thinking about the parks and recreational spaces as well as the buildings - creating a community and thinking what is going to make a community work.

Community Developers
“The UK has seen some dramatic changes over the past few years, creating what we believe is a clear need for community developers, and that is why we define ourselves in that way. In the UK we have been doing this for a while - our first approach was Bluewater. The shopping centre is part of a far bigger community, but all the focus has been on the first piece.”

Lend Lease waited to brand this part of the business Community Development until it had got planning permission for its flagship project on the Greenwich Peninsula. “Greenwich is very exciting,” Keith commented. “We are creating a new high density district with 10,000 units, which offers us a wonderful opportunity be part of the current trend for moving London eastwards.

“The Dome is going to prove an incredible anchor for leisure and entertainment, and when you add in our residential offering and employment space, Greenwich will offer someone that perfect world where they can live on the peninsula, walk to work, walk to the Dome for entertainment and enjoy the central park or wander along the two kilometres of water front for relaxation. This is true urban living with everything in walking distance and is very exciting to be working on.”

Lend Lease operates across a number of core sectors in the UK including retail, urban communities, health, education and defence. Core development projects include the Chapelfield centre in Norwich and the Golden Square scheme in Warrington. I asked Keith to elucidate further about these two schemes.

“The Norwich project is a retail let opportunity, where we used Bovis Lend Lease skills to build it. It was not an easy scheme to construct in the town centre and projects of that scale need a very sophisticated approach; in this case there is a residential component wrapped around the outside. It is not really part of our core communities in scale, but it does show that increasingly in inner urban locations we are going to see retail and residential together.

“In the Chapelfield case the residential aspect is used to activate the elevation of the shopping centre, but each scheme will be different in terms of how it uses its residential space. Residential and retail are a happy set of bedfellows and the decisions of what and where to build are all driven by market research. We do a lot of analysis on shopping and the people who might choose to live in these schemes and we see trends and try and target those areas.

“Warrington is our latest retail scheme, and we think it is indicative of other opportunities that are going to come forward. There are a lot of town centres with retail environments that need refreshing and extending – in Warrington we are adding a significant amount of new space to reflect the fact that demand has grown so much in the catchment area.”

Large communities are increasingly appearing on the Government’s agenda, especially as changes in the way that affordable homes are delivered are being introduced. “We are seeing the government encouraging the private sector in bids for housing association grants and changes in the way registered social landlords work, and affordable housing plays a big part in our Greenwich site,” said Keith.

Joint Venture
“We have formed a joint venture with Stanhope to particularly focus on the area of affordable housing, looking to bring skills from the commercial sector into the residential, particularly in the affordable and key worker market places. The commercial sector, certainly in the medium high rise is very well placed to do that. I think we will see a lot more of that over the next 12 months, because it is such a big challenge to deliver against.”

Watching trends and reacting to future demands is a big focus for Lend Lease, and this includes modernising traditional techniques and applying new ways of thinking to long term challenges. One such area is health and safety, and as Keith explained, Lend Lease Communities puts a lot of thought and effort into tackling the problem of accidents and injuries in the workplace.

“The industry has always been focused on safety and is constantly trying to find new ways to make a breakthrough in safety. This includes constantly improving processes and procedures, but also mind sets, changing individual attitudes to safety. Human nature means sometimes we all take short cuts, for example, at home we don’t always put on the right protective equipment when we cut the grass, and if you take that attitude into a dangerous work environment it can have serious repercussions.

“It is very important to look at the attitude and culture surrounding safety and that is where our construction business is focusing, but it works just as strongly for us in all the business streams, and not just safety on-site.

“On the communities side our research continually raises the issue of safety as a big concern that people have when moving into a new district or a new community. They want to feel safe walking home at night and in their homes, so safety challenges the way you think about everything, including design. This includes the placement of streetlights and how the streetscapes work - people don’t want high walls and deserted looking buildings.”

Away from the UK, Lend Lease Communities has been developing communities in Australia for many years, and has worked on 40 schemes there. This has enormous value, as the company can go to projects and communities that have been established for 20 years and see what works, and learn lessons from what went on over that period. “Community development is fairly new in the UK market,” said Keith, while in Australia it is very well established and there is a big market for it. Our experience working on the Sydney Olympics also means we can offer advice for the London 2012 Olympic bid.”

When the IOC visited London recently, it was clear that the legacy side of the Olympics is regarded as very important and this fits in very well with Lend Lease’s community development business, as Keith explains. “One of the legacies of the Sydney games was the Newington new community, which started as part of the Olympic Village for athletes and was then converted back into homes for the community. That is now a very large and successful community in Australia.

“The area under development is also connected to the trend for London moving east, and the Olympics is a great opportunity to accelerate that process. When building for the Olympics, we like to think of it as a theatre. The first show is the Olympics themselves but you have other subsequent shows on other nights going forward. You have to think long term and that is a crucial part of the IOC’s evaluation. I think they could see the development of Stratford and the infrastructure for the transport is underway, and appreciated this isn’t just trying make changes for one isolated case, it is all happening anyway.”

The Dome on the Greenwich Peninsula also has the potential to be a part of the Olympics, and Keith identified another new opportunity that large developments such as this are bringing to the fore.

Big Challenges
“We can re-think how we approach the delivery of all of this growth,” he said. “One of the biggest challenges in the construction industry is attracting talented people, and a problem is that we expect those talented people to finish a job in one location and then move on again. That makes it very hard to schedule tradespeople and find the right people at the right time.

“If you see Greenwich as one end of a development and Stratford as the other, as an industry we should be able to see that for the next 20 years we can offer significant amounts work in one geographical location. This makes it easier to plan logistics in areas such as materials delivery, but also we can train someone today, and maybe even see them working for almost their entire career on one site if they wanted to. If we can change how the model works a little bit, I think could be beneficial for the industry and those involved in it. That is an exciting part of the large community projects we get involved with and the Olympics as well.” CT-E

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