Published: 1 February, 2016
By DAN CARRIER
ROGER Madelin joined developers Argent when they employed just five people. Nearly 30 years on – and as he announces departure this month – the company has employed thousands of people and rebuilt the King’s Cross railway lands.
Mr Madelin originally wanted to become an RAF pilot but he failed the eye test. Instead, he studied building technology and management at university.
“The course provided ‘sandwich’ periods in industry, so I was luckily able to get work for a major building contractor at the end of my degree in the depths of the 1981 recession,” he recalls. “Having two successive bosses made redundant due to cost saving measures, I got rapid promotions to become a senior contracts manager at the age of 25.
“Constructing buildings for others was rewarding but I was fascinated by the ideas behind each building, the planning process and the finance.”
Argent had been founded in 1981 and Roger joined in 1987, becoming a director a year later. In 1997 he became the firms CEO – and started the process to develop King’s Cross.
He says his time developing the area had two low points – “the public inquiry with Islington Council regarding the Triangle site, and the Judicial Review of the planning permission” – but these are heavily outnumbered by the many highlights. “They include being selected as the development partner in 2000 and then a year later hearing Phase 2 of the High Speed Rail Link was to go ahead,” he says
Others include seeing major parts of the project completed, such as Granary Square and seeing the first residents move in. And today, as he walks through the site, he gets pleasure from watching the scheme he conceived with his team bursting with life.
“I like watching kids playing in the fountains in the sun, lovers holding hands on the benches at night with the fountains lit up, having strange-looking but optimistic young students going to Central St Martins, cyclists riding on the public realm and pupils going to the new school,” he says.
He staunchly defends the deals in place concerning how much profit Argent and their co-developers stand to make and the various Section 106 agreements they struck with Camden Council.
“Any business can only get money to do ‘stuff’ if they can convince those that provide it that it will be well spent so that either the money comes back with a little return or if it is a risky activity with a higher return,” he says. “Between 2008 and 2011 it was pretty difficult to convince anyone with money that they should let us use it to develop King’s Cross. The market has been better over the past few years, but things will change again.”
He says it is in the developers’ best interests to create places that put the needs of communities first and that this goes hand in hand with maximising profits. “Vibrancy, mixed use, good public space and a mix of housing tenures is good for long-term business,” he says.
He is also quick to defend the way the planning system works, saying that the right of the Mayor of London to “call in” big schemes works well. “A strong London Plan with rights to call in applications is good for London,” he says. “If ‘local democracy’ can approve plans – like Camden for King’s Cross – so much the better. And as for democracy, who decides where the boundaries for those eligible to vote start and stop? The Mayor should be able to call in big projects because they have a wider democratic mandate.”
Although Mr Madelin has now left Argent, he is still employed by the firm as a consultant to the Aga Khan for two buildings in the development.
Next month he moves to British Land as head of development at Canada Water, a 46-acre site in Southwark. “It was a challenge too exciting to say no to,” he said.