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Ducie House in Manchester is one of the great Urban Splash commercial success stories. Located on Ducie Street just a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Train Station, we took over the building in 1993 and for the past 21 years have welcomed some of the coolest start-ups from around the city into the scheme.

This month, we’ve reached our highest ever occupancy after existing tenants Codethink, Destination Space, Addicus and Makeurmove all confirmed they’ve extended or expanded their leases at the development. They’re just four of the businesses that embody what this scheme’s about.

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For years we’ve enjoyed having businesses like these at the building; back in the 90s there were lots of bands and artists based there - some of the most famous tenants included 808 State and Simply Red.

Ducie, which was converted by renowned architect Ian Simpson - one of his first schemes - has since seen hundreds of companies start up there since. Developers Ask, ANS SoftwareBrazen PR, Ear to the Ground - they all had their origins there.

It’s the same today, we’re full of interesting, creative companies and it’s always a joy to hear what they’re doing.

If you want to hear more about the remaining units we have at the building just drop me a line. We’re really flexible and the scheme’s great for start-ups so come and have a chat about how we can make it work for you.

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Filed under: Ducie House, Manchester, Urban Splash

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Urban Splash hoUSe: our big idea.

October 13th, 2014 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Tom Bloxham MBE

I have long been frustrated with mediocrity of the UK’s new build housing, but also see that mediocrity and monotony as an opportunity - especially as apparently the majority of the population don’t even consider new build when moving house. These sorts of views depress me…

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New build housing tends to be uninspiring, pastiche in design and often, a very poor copy of traditional houses with low ceilings, small windows, little character and tiny rooms you can’t alter! Above all they are usually small; so small most house builders don’t even tell you the true sq ft! I often wonder why other consumer laws don’t appear to apply in property - when you buy a tin of beans the law requires the makers to tell you the exact contents by weight - but then you spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on a house and no one has to tell you exactly the size of what you are buying..!

We have been thinking for years now about how we can break the mould, inject some new ideas and disrupt the house building industry - just as we did when we helped create the city centre living boom and loft apartment trend in the 1990’s.

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So we’re about to introduce to the market hoUSe, our housing scheme that’s drawn inspiration from the great English Victorian and Georgian terrace streets of the past.

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The reason for developing this kind of house was that we noticed many of our customers who had bought and enjoyed Urban Splash flats, would ultimately get older, richer (have babies!) and therefore end up moving to Victorian and Georgian houses in the suburbs. Once in there, most of them then strip out the internal walls and put in contemporary bathrooms and kitchens.  So it’s long begged me to ask why there are no new build equivalents? And why is there nothing in the City Centre?

We wanted to make houses with great space standards; high ceilings, big windows and we wanted to give customers the ability to alter and change the layouts both initially when they buy so they can specify the exact house they want - or if they are on a budget the option to buy a “base model” now and over time improve and adapt.

So here is our idea…

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First, we ask customers to decide what they want. Do they want a 1,000 sq ft home over two storeys, or a 1,500 sq ft home over three storeys.

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Then, customers can decide if they’re a loft liver - where their living room will be on the top floor with an exposed pitched roof - or if they prefer garden living; homes that come with a more conventional living room on the ground floor with a relationship to the garden.

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We then ask customers to pick from a whole series of floorplans for each floor

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They’ll then choose the add-ons such as; size and type of kitchen, floor finishes - be they timber or carpet… Or extras such as utility rooms and home offices.

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So what does it look like when it comes together? Here is one we built earlier (as they say on Blue Peter)

house_tb_blog10Proper double aspect open plan living

house_tb_blog111Windows you can stand in

house_tb_blog12Windows you can sit in

house_tb_blog13Ceilings so high you can’t touch them on your tip toes

house_tb_blog14So well insulated it needs only these tiny recessed heaters

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Eventually, we want to build hoUSes all over the country, but the first site for now is in New Islington near Manchester city centre, a few hundred meters from Piccadilly and the Northern Quarter (which Urban Splash helped develop). The homes are right next to the Cotton Field Park, the New Islington Metrolink stop, Marina and the New Islington Free School (sponsored by Urban Splash, Manchester City Council and The Manchester Grammar School).

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The hoUSes don’t just look good, they are practical and each has a small garden and car parking space, loads of storage, electric PV on the roof as well as solar thermal water heating.

I am as excited by hoUSe as I was by our first lofts over 20 years ago. At prices less per sq foot than city centre flats, lower maintenance costs than old Victorian houses or blocks of flats, and available with Help To Buy, I am hoping these will be a great success and be a big part of Urban Splash’s future – and maybe yours too..? If you want to know more, register now or get in touch with our agents Julie Twist Properties.

Filed under: Tom Bloxham MBE, Urban Splash

Contribute to the Urban Splash blog. Email blog@urbansplash.co.uk

Park Hill: it’s a real quality building!

October 7th, 2014 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Tom Bloxham MBE

Great to see our much loved brutalist icon in Dezeen recently.

They have revisited our very own streets in the sky to kick off a series of building studies looking back at classic Brutalist buildings from around the world. Where better place to start than Park Hill in Sheffield.

From ambitious architecture of the 60’s by Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn, to its current day transformation – here’s the story of a beautiful brutalist that’s close to our hearts.

Park Hill as it was

Park Hill from above

The streets in the sky

The original Park Hill

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Streets in the sky

Decks

Neighbours

Shops

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Park Hill is like Marmite

Park Hill today

The renovated streets

Park Hill commercial space

Dominating the Sheffield skyline like a castle on a hill, it’s been a privilege (if quite a challenging one) to be able to work with this Brutalist masterpiece & bring it back to life.

Filed under: Park Hill, Sheffield, Tom Bloxham MBE, Urban Splash

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Transformation: A review

September 22nd, 2014 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Jonathan Falkingham MBE

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Thank you to architect Dennis Rodwell for this review of the Urban Splash book “Transformation” which featured in a recent edition of Context magazine - the official publication of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation.

If you haven’t already got your copy you can order it now via Amazon

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“Location, location, location” – we all know these are the three most important things in property… The difference with Urban Splash is that we try to create the next location.’

Transformation is the lavishly illustrated story of perhaps the foremost heritage rescue, development and design phenomenon of our times, told through the camera lens and words of its co-founders,Tom Bloxham and Jonathan Falkingham, and Nick Johnson (formerly deputy chief executive).

Founded in 1993 at a time when historic warehouses and mills in northern industrial cities were valued neither in economic nor heritage terms, industrial projects were insufficient – Bradford’s Lister Mills, Birmingham’s Fort Dunlop, Bristol’s former Imperial Tobacco headquarters, Plymouth’s Royal William Yard – and art deco icons such as Liverpool’s Bryant and May’s Matchworks and Morecambe’s Midland Hotel, Urban Splash has also successfully challenged negative perceptions of northern terraced housing and 1960s concrete blocks.

The plan-form inversion of the two-up, two-down houses in Salford’s Chimney Pot Park was both practical (for natural light to the upper floor living rooms) and symbolic (turning perceptions upside down). The 318 houses proved a sell-out; as one would expect, the authors are not fans of the housing market renewal (Pathfinder) strategy.

Urban Splash has taken a special interest in post-war ‘socially inspired housing’: Transformation expresses incredulity that so much of it continues to be demolished without evaluating the options. The completed phase I of the Park Hill flats, Sheffield, described as ‘a brute of a building’ and Europe’s largest listed complex, short-listed for the 2013 RIBA Stirling Prize, is just one of several ‘transforming projects’ that have successfully confronted this negative perception.

Winners of over 300 awards for architecture, regeneration, marketing and enterprise, developers of projects in use categories that only appear to sidestep heavy engineering and power stations, Urban Splash is, as the text quotes, ‘widely regarded as the UK’s most innovative developer’. Shaken (but not critically) though Urban Splash was by the 2008 economic crash, Transformation looks back with pride over the first 20 years and forwards to new locations for the next 20 years of projects that will transform public appreciation of the manifold diversity of our historic environments.

Dennis Rodwell, consultant in cultural heritage and sustainable urban development.

Filed under: Transformation: Our Book, Urban Splash

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New “hotel” opens at Royal William Yard…

September 11th, 2014 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Nathan Cornish

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As you can see from these pictures, the estate team at Royal William Yard had great fun this week constructing a brand new hotel at the scheme and welcoming its first residents…

The new “Bug Hotel” is now home to much of the scheme’s wildlife, and has been created using materials from the site.

It comes ahead of a “real” hotel at the Yard, which is being planned for the Melville building at the heart of the scheme. Watch this space for more details of that in the coming months.

In the meantime, check out the Bug version next time you’re in the area!

Filed under: Plymouth, Royal William Yard, Urban Splash

Contribute to the Urban Splash blog. Email blog@urbansplash.co.uk

The Daily Express on Royal William Yard

September 1st, 2014 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Tom Bloxham MBE

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The Daily Express has written a feature about the changes we’ve made at Royal William Yard over the past 10 years; an article that comes following HRH The Prince Of Wales’ visit to the scheme.

Read the full story below or on the Express website

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It could have been risky inviting Prince Charles to inspect a redevelopment site not only bearing the royal name but one that he might also fondly remember from visits during his Navy days. The Prince is after all well known for his readiness to pronounce on architecture.

The truth is, though, in taking on the daunting challenge 10 years ago of restoring Royal William Yard on Plymouth’s sea-lapped southern fringe, developer Urban Splash had already taken a big plunge. The original architect who also laid the foundations, Sir John Rennie, was commissioned in 1824 to construct a naval victualling yard “capable of embracing every requisite function”.

By the mid-1830s a mill, bakery, brewery, slaughterhouse and officers’ residences had been built on the 16-acre site to a scale that allowed today’s planners licence to think big. Indeed, the grandeur of these buildings was in part their downfall as such archaic places (some had become redundant soon after they were created) were expensive to maintain and deemed unsuitable to use for mere storage.

The Ministry of Defence, which owned the site, closed it in 1985. Michael Heseltine was the presiding axeman. The site lay unused despite ambitious efforts, a redundant monument to a proud naval heritage.

Indeed the buildings were considered just that, ancient monuments that were therefore untouchable.

“The buildings were scheduled as actual monuments originally, so we had to downgrade them to Grade One listed buildings to develop them at all, which took a time,” said Tom Bloxham, founder and chairman of Urban Splash, who escorted the Prince on the tour on Tuesday.

“I think the sheer scale of the problem frightened some. For us, they are just fantastic buildings; we fell in love with them immediately.” Care has been shown in making good the collection of forgotten and stately, if slightly austere, buildings.

This was not about new glass and steel affairs or monstrous new carbuncles but sensitive restoration and it was a fair bet the Prince would find much to like in what he surveyed. So it proved.

“I have been to the yard before and it was really fascinating to see it come back into use and see so many people enjoying it,” he said after his visit. “It’s wonderful to see so many recycled materials being used.”

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Mr Bloxham added: “It was fantastic to show Prince Charles the yard. He has known the buildings for longer than I have because he knew them when he was in the Navy. “I think he has a genuine passion for the built environment and has been consistent with his love of finding uses for historic buildings.

“We don’t agree on everything but he’s been to see our Collegiate building in Liverpool and the Smithfield in Manchester, so now he’s been to the Royal William Yard.

“I think he was genuinely enthused by what he saw and these are the sort of projects he’s very keen on.”

When it took on the Plymouth site a decade ago, Urban Splash set out to turn somewhere old and tired into a modern, versatile space, the hallmark of the company.

Hundreds of jobs, 216 homes and almost 90,000 sq ft of workspace have been created, while businesses and institutions including universities, design agencies, architects and recruiters have been brought to the area.

Now a gastronomical hub for Plymouth, Urban Splash has lured some great brands to the development including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage.

Art galleries, an artisan bakery and a relaxed nightlife, far from the bawdy charms of Plymouth’s nearby Union Street, all make up part of the revitalised quarter, which has scooped awards for design, commercial use, benefit to tourism and sustainability.

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“It’s interesting to be able to step back, 10 years on, and look at what’s been achieved. Like many big projects, if you take it as a single job it would scare you off, so we just took it job by job,” said Mr Bloxham.

This is what he and his Urban Splash co-founder Jonathan Falkingham have been doing ever since embarking on their first redevelopment in 1993 and the formula still seems to be working for them.

“It’s like having a giant Lego set to be able to take on these fantastic, if challenging, buildings and bring them back into use, whether it’s the Royal William Yard in Plymouth, Fort Dunlop in Birmingham, Lister Mills in Bradford or Ropewalks in Liverpool,” said Mr Bloxham.

“Most people, certainly in the property industry, would say there’s no future in these buildings. I think we’ve shown that with a bit of imagination, working with the right architects, you can bring them back.”

So watch out, they could be coming to an abandoned cinema near you soon, or factory site, former school, warehouse, mill or block of flats. “We’re always looking for opportunities,” added Mr Bloxham.

“One day someone rang me up out of the blue and asked if I wanted to look at Royal William Yard, and it was the same with Fort Dunlop. Sometimes we say ‘no’, others we say ‘yes, we can make something happen here’. And then we make something happen.”

Filed under: Mills Bakery, Plymouth, Royal William Yard, Tom Bloxham MBE, Urban Splash

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My design inspiration: Sir Terence Conran

August 27th, 2014 [ No comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Tom Bloxham MBE

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Thanks to Designer Kitchen and Bathroom magazine who this month asked me to write about my design inspiration - Sir Terence Conran. You can read what I had to say below and see the full August issue of the magazine here

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I love good design and am constantly inspired by beautiful new buildings and objects.

There are so many architects and designers  who I admire so much., however, the person who I have picked for this column is one of the most extraordinary in the design world – Sir Terence Conran.

When he pioneered the first Habitat store in 1964, it brought great European contemporary design to England at prices that were affordable to the masses. Previously great design had been the preserve of the rich and Habitat in its early days was revolutionary, bringing colour, simplicity and great design at prices most could afford.

Not only though did Sir Terence become one of the great retailers, he was also a developer, developing Butler’s Wharf on the south bank of the Thames and a restauranteur bringing great Italian and European food to England with restaurants like Bibendum. He’s still a fantastic retailer with shops like the Conran Shop and of course his ongoing architectural practice.

A true renaissance man, thank you Sir Terrance for making the lives of so many people in this country a bit richer.

Filed under: Tom Bloxham MBE, Urban Splash

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On July 15, HRH Prince Charles visited Royal William Yard to celebrate 10 years of Urban Splash involvement at the scheme, a period which has seen it transformed from a derelict, empty naval yard to a bustling collection of shops restaurants, homes and workplaces.

HRH was impressed at this transformation, saying it had been “fascinating to see it come back into use and to see so many people enjoying it.”

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Filed under: Tom Bloxham MBE, Urban Splash

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It was great to see in Property Week this full page article on Urban Splash and I hope that the journalist Hannah Brenton’s comment that our revival “might just mirror a larger recovery…” is right.

The article comes after we published our annual results for the year which showed an increase in sales of £99m! Read the story below or on the Property Week website

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Developer focuses on growth after recording its best ever results. Hannah Brenton reports…

Urban Splash, Tom Bloxham’s multi-award winning residential developer, has shaken off its debt pile to return to profit and record its highest-ever turnover in its latest results.

The spectacular return to form in the year to September 2013 marks a turning point not just for Urban Splash — which on Monday also announced the sale of former Birmingham tyre factory-turned-office Fort Dunlop to Tristan Capital Partners — but also possibly the wider regional market.

Now, its charismatic chairman Bloxham, known for his trademark trilby, reveals to Property Week he is preparing to put his foot on the gas again after what he acknowledges has been a long hard road back to growth — most of which Urban Splash has spent beholden to its debt burden.

“We probably had 15 years of uninterrupted growth where we were building up to 1,000 units a year,” he recalls. “But in 2008, the financial crisis stopped all that and for the last four or five years we’ve been sorting out our debt issues and finishing off the schemes we started.”

These issues have largely been resolved, he says. In April, the company agreed a refinancing with Pears Group to replace £135m of facilities held by the Co-operative Bank, Blackstone, HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland. This was facilitated by a corporate restructuring last August which enabled Urban Splash to manage legacy assets for its lenders — who were owed more than £200m — and pursue new joint ventures.

The agreement followed the sale of a £77m portfolio of 654 flats, comprising whole blocks in Manchester, Plymouth, Bristol, Bradford and Leeds, to housing association Places for People — a deal Bloxham credits with the rise in turnover.

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All of this means that Urban Splash can now start looking to the future again. It is already on site for the next phase of Park Hill, the iconic Sheffield council housing redevelopment that was shortlisted for the 2013 Stirling Prize, through its partnership with registered provider Places for People.

“We’ve got some housing in Manchester and New Islington, we’ve got the next phase of Park Hill in Sheffield and we’ve got a number of other plots around the country that we are looking to develop,” Bloxham says.

There are plans in the pipeline for Liverpool and Plymouth, for instance. The developer has also secured planning consent for 2,000 units on land it already owns and is hoping to roll out its new concept “House”, which will enable buyers to individually specify terraced houses with their preferred fittings, in Manchester this autumn.

Meanwhile, it has continued to manage 2m sq ft of commercial space and operate 800 private-rented units, with Bloxham keen to build a larger PRS portfolio.

“Most of the other property assets, whether it be student housing, or supermarkets or data centres, it’s hard to see them living more than 30 years or so and needing to be fully depreciated over that period of time, whereas we’re still living in residential apartments that were built hundreds of years ago,” he says. “We believe it’s a market that’s here to stay, it’s a market that we know very well and it’s a market where we are looking for opportunities to build another 1,000-plus units.”

Bloxham believes the regional markets are on the cusp of a recovery, largely due to the growing value gap with London. “Many people see London as being hard to achieve the returns or yields they are looking for. Therefore, they’re looking in other parts of the country and they’re looking for experienced operators,” he says.

So as things start to improve, what will Bloxham do differently this time round? “We’ve probably raised more than £1bn of conventional bank debt over 20 years. I think it’s unlikely we’ll be doing that again going forward,” he says. “We’ll be looking for more of a mixture of our own equity, joint venture partners, profit sharing agreements, and true joint ventures.”

The last few years have been challenging, he admits. “It has been very, very difficult. I do believe that we’ve turned the market simply because we’ve restructured all our debts and that’s what’s been occupying our mind for a large number of years.”

With its fate tied to the regions, Urban Splash’s revival might just mirror a larger recovery.

Filed under: Tom Bloxham MBE, Urban Splash

Contribute to the Urban Splash blog. Email blog@urbansplash.co.uk

July 22nd, 2014 [ No comments ]

Saxton: the balance between outdoor and indoor living

by Anthony Mackle

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It’s great when other people write about our developments, and I was delighted today to see this piece about our Saxton, Leeds development on the Government’s Help to Buy site.

You can read the full article below…

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“Ordinarily, city centre living means replacing a BBQ in the garden for a glass of champagne on the balcony.

However the innovative Saxton development, located in the heart of Leeds, mixes up the balance between outdoor and indoor living.

Developer Urban Splash began building the development in 2005 and now consists of 410 deluxe apartments split into two buildings, Drive and Parade. These are set within 6 acres of meadows, including allotments, orchards and a park for all to enjoy but still just a 5 minute walk from the city centre.

The site offers a wide variety of different apartments to suit everybody’s taste. The thinking behind the building was to work with the original 1950s structure that was there, whilst adding a modern twist by focusing on subtle colour changes in the materials used.

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The 1 and 2 bedroom apartments are built to a high quality finish with features such as engineered wooden floorboards; slate bathroom flooring, luxurious carpets and floor length windows. As well as great interiors the apartments also have ample parking facilities and a large gym where you can book a personal trainer to help burn away those extra calories.

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It is the outdoor space though that makes Saxton such a unique development. The huge gardens include allotments available to rent. So far, homeowners have rented 80 out of the 97 allotments and a keen interest in the gardens is clear to see amongst everyone living there. Near to the development, there are privately owned flats with owners that also enjoy gardening and looking after their environment ensuring that there is a good relationship between the them and the community at Saxton.

When reflecting on the success of the site Anthony Mackle, manager of the development, said: “Urban Splash always look for an exciting building to work with. Saxton is in a great location and has lots of space around it which is unusual for a city centre – allowing allotments and gardens. That was a huge appeal for us and has helped us to create a truly unique development.”

The apartments at Saxton are available to buy through a Shared Ownership scheme, a government funded initiative to help get people on to the property ladder. For the remaining share of the property you will need to pay market rent, determined by the housing association. This means that owning 100% of your apartment is achievable. The scheme would allow you to purchase a share in your home, ranging from 25-75%, with the opportunity to buy additional shares in the future.

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Saxton is now complete and Urban Splash is focusing on their other projects: Lister Mills in Bradford and Park Hill in Sheffield. These are both ambitious developments that will share the same quality finish that has been achieved at Saxton.

There are a lot more people choosing to buy through Shared Ownership in 2014, as it is an easier way for young professionals to be able to buy a first home.

If you are interested in viewing the apartments and grounds at Saxton please contact Anthony Mackle by calling 0333 666 6000 or email live@urbansplash.co.uk”

Filed under: Urban Splash

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