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Barnardo’s Boy Who Became Surrey’s Own UK Building Guru Dies at 72

Published on: 6 Jul, 2020
Updated on: 8 Jul, 2020

Tony Pidgley

By Martin Giles

One of the UK’s leading housing developers, Surrey’s Tony Pidgley CBE, of Berkeley Homes, has died suddenly, aged 72, much mourned by colleagues in the local building sector.

He was responsible for several developments in the borough and actively engaged in projects yet to be built, including the regeneration of North Street.

A former Dr Barnardo’s boy adopted by a Traveller family in Kingston upon Thames who felled trees and sold logs, he was a self-made man who gained the respect of many of his contemporaries and mixed with the rich and powerful.

Cllr Geoff Davis

Former borough councillor and chartered surveyor Geoff Davies knew him well. He said; “I first met Tony when he was about 21, and he had just made his first million.”

That was from amassing a fleet of trucks in his teenage years and selling out to a firm of builders when he was 19.

“He had learnt some very basic fundamentals of business from his Traveller family, including knowing what a profit was. He kept those principles for the whole of his life.

“He had just established Berkeley Homes [absorbed into Berkeley Group] jointly with Jim Farrar, whom he later bought out.

“Berkeley had certain fundamental principles relating to secure growth and not taking planning risks. The company was unique at the time and was quickly involved in many successful developments.

“At all times during the company growth, right up to the end, Tony Pidgley was always accessible for a lunch or a coffee chat, and always very ‘hands on’. When I was dealing with him as a lead GBC councillor on North Street, he attended all meetings himself, very keen to transform a major site in the centre of Guildford.

“I always had enormous respect for Tony, both because of his openness but principally because of his clear thinking. He ‘took no prisoners’, and I understand he could be challenging to work for.

“But if people were on the right side of him, and agreed with his principles, then they would be handsomely rewarded.

“During my active property years, we did quite a bit of business together, the most memorable being a number of developments in Betchworth village.

“That was the first time that he ended up with a barn for conversion, whereas he had done only new-builds up until then. That was a tremendous success and it whetted his appetite for major projects, including conversions and upgradings.

“I, along with so many others, will miss Tony Pidgley very much indeed. I regarded him as a true icon, and utterly unique.

“I had so much respect for the way that the young man who left school at 14 became revered in the City. It made him a very rich man, worth well over £300 million.

“There cannot ever be another Tony Pidgley, in these modern times, but he will be remembered for all his amazing achievements.”

Borough councillor John Rigg (R4GV, Holy Trinity) was another who knew and respected Tony Pidgley. He told The Guildford Dragon NEWS: “Tony was a very shrewd operator, tough but generally appreciated by local authorities and others because his reputation was to do what he said he would do and his developments are considered a cut above the rest.

“But there was another aspect to his personality which I admired.

“I started Guildford Vision Group in 2011. We were surprised at how Guildford had failed to blossom in recent decades or address its issues such as a lack of affordable homes, congestion and pollution, also the absence of pedestrianisation or any plans for an open riverside. We had ideas but needed to test our proposals with experts before presenting to the public.

“Although Tony had no projects in Guildford he was always generous with his time and ideas when GVG colleagues and l met him to seek his advice.

“One of my concerns was the paucity of good architecture in Guildford. I said we needed more architectural choice so the community can express its view on what was preferred. Tony said if he was ever in a position to do so, ‘It would not be a problem’.

“Ironically, as a councillor holding the major projects portfolio at Guildford Borough Council, I’m now responsible for regeneration and North Street.

“M&G, the owners of North Street, have decided not to do a retail scheme but a residential one and picked their joint-venture partner St Edwards, a subsidiary of Tony’s Berkeley.

“So we found ourselves on opposite sides of the table. I reminded Tony that l was adamant we have to develop a project we can be proud of for the years, decades or century ahead.

“Last May, when l was first elected, there was a suggestion GBC would sell its portion of the development site to M&G and await its planning application but this did not give adequate protection.

“We needed to work with a developer to get the best scheme, meet our housing targets to stop further incursions into the green belt but with high-quality town centre design and public realm.

“With the decline of retail and the impact of Covid-19, the High Street is going to need a more town centre-based community, so good design will be essential if people want to live in the centre.

“Having reminded Mr Pidgley of our discussions years ago, especially about us having a choice of designs which the community could see, something neither his nor our own planning department probably preferred, our negotiations have been edging towards this outcome, but very sadly Tony has died.

“He was THE man, a hugely successful developer and leading on North Street. I am very sorry at his demise because I know he had the ability, drive and vision to deliver what we need but I am assured his company will keep delivering good-quality projects imbued with his culture, his approach to quality and making things happen.”

Philip Davies, who was chairman of Linden Homes and now chairman at Nednil and Ashill Developments, said: “Berkeley Homes, under Tony, grew from their first detached house in Weybridge in 1976 to a FTSE 100 business with Tony always at the forefront of every move the company made.

“His sense of timing in an industry that is notoriously cyclical will be as much remembered as some of the unique developments and communities he masterminded.

“Locally, he personally led the acquisition of Effingham Lodge Farm and joined with Rhona Barnfield to propose a new Howard School and new homes at no cost to the public purse.

“That will be a permanent legacy to Tony’s long-term value creation whether that be for shareholders, the Berkeley team, or those living in communities Berkeley and its subsidiaries created.”

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