‘It will take two decades to fix the housing crisis’: The developer reshaping south London | Construction industry

A a new ‘town centre’, a group of four buildings with towers of varying heights, is emerging at Elephant and Castle, one of the south’s busiest junctions Londonto replace a shopping center demolished in the 1960s.

Residents and local traders have expressed fears that it will become “another Westfield with all kinds of chain stores”, as local Lib Dem councilor Maria Linforth-Hall put it. But Rick de Blaby, chief executive of Get Living, the company behind the project – which has built and manages 4,000 rental homes, including Stratford’s former Olympic village – is adamant that won’t happen.

“I can see why people are concerned about it, but I don’t think we want it to end,” he tells the Observer from the ‘luggage room’ in the site’s temporary office, overlooking a group of red cranes and a huge construction site (there’s also a ‘tusk room’ – in keeping with the elephant theme).

“You need a few recognizable names to anchor your scheme. But we have a vision of bringing in many more independent local traders who really bring character and definition to the place. Otherwise, it becomes another slightly formulaic shopping mall.”

He points to Get Living’s nearby Castle Square hub, which has 27 small traders, including 19 that were based in former Elephant and Castle complex. Demolished in 2021, it was one of Europe’s first major indoor shopping malls when it opened in 1965. Its distinctive statue of a pachyderm carrying a tower – modeled after an older inn sculpture of named after the whole area – will be showcased at the new site, along with nearly 1,000 homes, shops, restaurants, offices and a cinema, as well as a new campus for the London College of Communications. It is due to be completed in 2026.

The planned Elephant & Castle town centre.

After local opposition and the rejection of the original plans by Southwark council, Get Living revised its proposals to include more affordable housing, including 116 socially rented flats, compared with 33, and affordable shop rents for at least 10% of the units.

The company was established in 2013 by a client fund of the British property group Delancey and Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund. Then last year, a 22% stake in Qatari Diar was bought by Aware Super, an Australian pension fund. Dutch asset manager APG and an investment vehicle led by Oxford Properties and Delancey each own 39%.

The firm offers three-year leases with a break clause for local residents only, with no fees or security deposits and with a rent review based on consumer price inflation. De Blaby, who joined Get Living in 2017, says: “The vision was: can we create a business that seeks to disrupt the slightly dysfunctional private rental market?”

Get Living charges an average monthly rent of £2,700 in London, with studios at £1,945. This compares with £1,195 for a one-bedroom flat and £1,995 for a three-bed flat at their Salford site in Manchester, while homes in Maidenhead have just started from £1,550 for a one-bed flat. It’s not cheap, but in return, tenants get a concierge, an on-site maintenance team, and amenities like a gym and free wifi.

Average private rents in the UK have risen to record highs, reaching £1,291 outside London and £2,633 in the capital in the first quarter, according to property website Rightmove. They showed the official data the average private rent rose 9.1% in the year to March.

Scotland temporarily restricted rent increases by 3% between September 2022 and last month, but De Blaby believes the rent caps are not working, suggesting they are deterring investors. He argued that the underlying supply problem needed to be addressed: “The big story is: how can we go ahead and build more homes?”

It calls for a comprehensive plan to fix the The UK housing crisis. “Whoever is in government, start by really being able to articulate what our grand vision is for housing in the UK, because if we can create something that’s inspiring and positive … we have a chance to change the mindset of a lot of people to be in support of development, not against development.’

At the Olympic Park in east London, Get Living has taken over the former athletes’ quarterswhich the government’s Olympic Delivery Authority converted into flats after the 2012 Olympics ended, buying them for about half the cost of building the village. It now manages 2,445 rental homes in the East Village, while 1,379 affordable apartments are managed by housing association group Triathlon Homes.

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The distinctive statue at Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, which closed in September 2020. Photo: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

In January, a court ruled that Get Living, as the owner of East Village, must pay £18 million to improve fire safety standards in five of the 66 blocks, seven years after deadly fire at Grenfell Tower. Tenants at shared ownership properties managed by Triathlon have been unable to sell their apartments since the defects were discovered in 2020, and Triathlon filed the lawsuit. Get Living says it was not involved in the design, construction or redevelopment of the properties and that it will appeal.

“The first-tier tribunal recognized that liability is not synonymous with fault, so they said it was not our fault, but we are still liable under the terms of the Building Safety Act,” says De Blaby.

“And there was also a comment that those with the broadest shoulders should pay, and they thought we were the broadest shoulders.” But Get Living are the custodians of millions of key workers’ pensions [as it is backed by pension funds].”

De Blaby says another 33 units need fire safety repairs and “there is more exposure for all the other buildings” that still need to be assessed. “We in turn will be forced to prosecute all the developers who built these buildings under the government’s own regulations at the time.” We have been quite shocked at some of the standards these contractors have built to in terms of missing fire extinguishers and insulation etc.

He stressed that “no one lives in an unsafe home in the East Village” and that he “sympathizes with the people who are affected,” promising to fix any fire defects “within the next few years.”

De Blaby grew up in the Midlands and attended one of Britain’s oldest state schools, Bromsgrove near Birmingham, as a day boy “because my parents couldn’t afford the boarding fees”. His mother took a job as a receptionist for an estate agent to pay the bills (his parents divorced during his teenage years). De Blaby worked in his spare time with estate agents and architects and wanted to be an architect. “I was often painting buildings or making Lego buildings,” he recalls.

After his property management degree at Oxford Polytechnic, now Oxford Brookes University, he got several jobs in London “coloring plans and making tea”. His first proper job was at developer Trafalgar House, where he “learned to be a developer over 10 years”.

He led Countryside Group’s commercial development and mixed-use regeneration activities before taking up his first chief executive role at MEPC, a former FTSE 100 property developer now owned by the British Telecommunications and Post Office pension fund manager . He then worked with private equity when he turned around United House Group and sold most of the business.

Get Living is part of the nascent build-to-rent sector in the UK, which accounts for less than 2% of residential construction but will grow to 15%-20% in the coming years, De Blaby predicts. “It has a really important role to play in the UK housing market. It has the ability to provide both affordable and market-rate rental housing and innovative things like co-living. It’s about bringing in global capital to really try to address the housing market that we have.”

However, he warns: “It will take two decades to solve the housing crisis and I fear it will get worse before it gets better.”


Age 64
family Married, three adult sons.
Payment It is not disclosed.
education Bromsgrove School, Oxford Brookes University BA Property Management.
Last holiday Family ski trip to Tignes, in the French Alps.
The best advice he’s ever been given “In any confrontation or disagreement, give people an honorable departure.”
Biggest career mistake “Working with people who have little responsibility.”
A phrase he overdoes “What’s the offer?”
How relaxing Surfing, windsurfing and swimming – “I love my time in the water.”

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