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Affordable, Innovative, Thoughtful, Profitable

Part 2

Why do you think Jeremy Clarkson liked it so much?

I didn't get into that. It wasn't a very enlightened article. He thought it looked like a lovely place to live.

But it was the last place I'd want to live in. So I wrote this article in the car on the way back down and emailed it to my mate who is the deputy editor of the Independent. He sent a photographer up the same afternoon and it was in the next day's paper, and it was a big article. I just got this flood of people agreeing and saying "It's about time somebody stood up and said this". It was amazing. Some other magazine - might have been Homes and Gardens - wanted to print a version of it. And I thought "bloody hell, I've done some things at Red or Dead that have caused a stir but this is something that people really feel strongly about".

Within days Wimpey had contacted me. We thought they were going to take us to court, so we got legal advice to check that we hadn't gone too far. We checked with the people who'd handled the legal side of the Red or Dead sale that we weren't up shit creak for deformation of character. He said no, you're probably just short of that; but they could tell you to cease and desist.

Finally we went to see Wimpey and the Chief Exec said, "Can you explain your feelings? We were involved in Cambourne". We told him, and he said, "I agree with all the things you're saying - we know we've got a problem with some things and we know that Cambourne isn't the best development. Can you do better?"

Gerardine and I just looked at each other. We always believe we can do better - that's the way we are - and that's literally how it happened.

For the first six months they obviously thought "We've got some designers who are reasonably well known here, we'll get them to do some chi-chi riverside thing, put their name on it and sell it for more". But then they realised that wasn't what we wanted and that we weren't interested in just doing a couple of houses, because that doesn't prove anything, so they gave us their largest housing development.

How many houses?

Seven hundred. Seventy million pound project. They took us to visit the location and said "What do you think of this site?" It had been empty for twelve years and wasn't in the centre of Newcastle or Gateshead at all. Away from where everybody was building and where all the development was taking place; surrounded by gas tanks and industry and blighted property.

We just thought, "This site is absolutely amazing. The way the sun moves around it, the glint you get off the river." Anybody with a design eye could see that it was just amazing; it made your heart race.

So we said "Yes", and that was it - seventy million pound project just like that, which showed a fantastic degree of trust from Wimpey.

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