August 15, 2022


Design meets need

Nigel Hugill: the man building houses for the work-from-home revolution | Real estate

7 min read


‘Everything in entrance of you did not exist 18 months in the past.” Nigel Hugill is standing in front of a playground, gesturing previous the swings and climbing frame to the park and homes driving.

It is a sunny spring working day in Houlton, just outside Rugby in Warwickshire, and inhabitants of a massive new housing growth are creating the most of the climate, getting their small children to the playground and consuming lunch at the cafe.

About 1,000 properties have already been designed on the 1,200-acre web page, as nicely as a key and secondary college, with a even further 5,000 residences to be extra by the time the advancement is completed, in 15 years’ time.

City&Civic – the corporation Hugill co-founded with Robin Butler in 2009 and which he prospects – is the “master developer” of this job and 13 other individuals throughout England. That indicates it requires obligation for the web-site from conception and setting up to building by housebuilders and completion.

Hugill set up Urban&Civic with the “objective of making exterior the M25, but in just 100 miles of London” in parts with the most important population growth, and consequently greatest housing demand from customers. The enterprise sees these substantial developments as important to fixing the housing crisis, at a time when the governing administration is pushing its levelling-up agenda.


Age 64

Family members Married with 4 children Hugill and his wife achieved as teenagers.

Training Teesdale university in County Durham politics diploma at Christ Church, Oxford master’s at the London School of Economics in labour law and labour economics.

Pay back £1.3m in pay out and bonuses in 2020-21, the last 12 months ahead of Urban&Civic was bought by the Wellcome Rely on he claims his pay out remains at a comparable stage.

Past holiday Two recent ski excursions to Val d’Isère, in which he has a property.

Greatest information he has been presented? “A wonderful quotation from Merchant of Venice, which is ‘With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come’.”

Biggest vocation mistake “I have been exceptionally fortunate. When I went to function for Chelsfield, the alternative was operating for Goldman Sachs prior to it floated. Economically, there is no question that would have been my major vocation miscalculation.”

Phrases he overuses “Interesting, and structural.”

How he relaxes “My spouse would say ‘He never ever relaxes.’” Nevertheless, he provides: “I fantasise in excess of the redesign of correctly modern-day hospitals.”

Urban&Civic purchases only brownfield web-sites in key commuter spots – this kind of as Houlton, when dwelling to the Rugby Radio Station, the place the to start with transatlantic telephone support started practically 100 years in the past. Many others incorporate a former RAF foundation at Alconbury in Cambridgeshire,, – the company’s initially scheme, begun in the depths of recession – as perfectly as internet sites in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire.

The centrepiece of the Houlton enhancement is the secondary college, attended by 180 12 months 7 pupils due to the fact it opened in September 2021. It was created around the radio station’s Grade II-mentioned structures, together with the transmission hall and the energy space. The 64-12 months-previous Hugill’s enthusiasm for the venture is clear as he bounds up the stairs of the main making, declaring this, the 3rd secondary university he has designed, the finest so considerably. “Just glance at them: they are experience proper at home in this article. I adore observing it,” suggests Hugill, catching sight of some pupils.

Hugill is no stranger to superlatives: he reels off a dizzying array of actuality and figures about Houlton – a joint venture with Aviva Investors – and Urban&Civic’s other jobs.

A single colleague, who has labored with Hugill for 15 yrs, describes him as an individual who “cares about the details”, and has an ability to “think five to 6 actions past what many others are obsessing about”.

Nevertheless he grew up in the north-east, and secondary school in Barnard Castle – which he jokes has now been created famous by Dominic Cummings – Hugill’s operate was not normally targeted on England’s locations. He left residence to research at Oxford College – the very first pupil from his university to go there – prior to heading to London for a master’s degree and then a initially occupation in banking.

He entered property soon after signing up for the compact developer Chelsfield, starting to be its boss and then, when it floated, chief government of a outlined organization at 35. Throughout this time, together with a stint at Australian-owned property business Lendlease, Hugill began to form the funds – the town he has now termed residence for extra than four a long time, even though his County Durham roots are still audible in his vowels.

The two London shopping centres owned by Australian firm Westfield in the east and west of the town, as perfectly as the transformation of the unloved previous industrial location all over Stratford into the athletes’ village for the 2012 Olympics, were being amongst the huge regenerations assignments Hugill and Urban&Civic’s co-founder Butler worked on. This observe record was most likely partly why City&Civic was acquired by health care exploration charity the Wellcome Trust in 2021 as element of its financial commitment portfolio, which Hugill suggests will support the business enterprise expand even though giving it “further political credibility”.

These developments in the lifestyle of the enterprise come at a time when scheduling regulations have again returned to the headlines, as past week’s Queen’s speech proposed enabling far more area input into setting up.
Due to the fact his time advising Sir Bob Kerslake at the Houses and Communities Company, England’s former housing and regeneration human body, Hugill has been certain that “the contribution of significant new settlements or city extensions, or community authorities electing to place a ton of new properties in one particular place” is necessary to cope with inhabitants growth in south-east England. He thinks so-referred to as “infill” developments, where homes are constructed in undeveloped pieces of existing settlements, will not create everything like the variety of households needed.

The government’s new levelling-up invoice, together with steps developed to placate Conservative voters in “red wall” seats gained from Labour in the 2019 election, “all details in the direction of a pragmatic result in south-east England” with “more massive sites”, he claims. Which is just what City&Civic specialises in.

New residences in Houlton. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

The newfound overall flexibility of the post-pandemic earth of do the job has also designed Rugby and other regional towns a lot more interesting, and specified households the impetus to move out of London. Such relocations pushed sales 30% above anticipations in the course of the pandemic. “Quite a selection of folks in Rugby perform in London, notionally. They used to commute 5 times a week and there is no opportunity of them likely back to that if they have a preference,” Hugill says, including that a lot more time and money expended in your neighbourhood “helps the complete perception of your identification with a locality”.

Houlton is 4 miles from Rugby prepare station, accessible making use of the new connection road crafted by City&Civic, and it is already served by a bus route. Commuters are plainly a goal market place: a big poster urging people to “join our expanding community” is prominently displayed in the station vehicle park.

This shift will strengthen nearby economies, he believes, as adaptable staff commit cash regionally all through the 7 days, not just at weekends. Nonetheless, he provides a caveat: “You have to be very careful about overestimating the transform ensuing from functioning from property, mainly because it is fundamentally only a center-class choice.”

Household functioning also has its downsides, especially for metropolis centres and the smaller support companies – from sandwich stores to dry cleaners – which depend on trade from business office personnel, a little something which preoccupies Hugill in his other position as chair of the Centre for Towns thinktank. “Fridays are on the lookout quite vulnerable,” he suggests of article-Covid doing the job patterns, with a lot of business-centered staff selecting to conclusion the 7 days at household.

Irrespective of this new place of work versatility, he thinks labour relations are about to be place to the test: “At the moment, people are finding compensated the very same, and having London weightings and almost everything else, and that will not maintain above a interval.”

Genuine to his County Durham roots, Hugill would like to see levelling up in motion, but doesn’t think this is reached by merely building far more homes in the north of England, or by relocating authorities employment to diverse components of the state. “You can not create area economies just out of housing,” he claims. On the other hand, write-up-pandemic performing designs could also kind component of the answer. “More residence doing work will, in excess of time, minimize to some extent the London-centric character of the British isles overall economy,” Hugill says of the money. “But it is additional than able of hunting soon after alone.”


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