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Former PfS chief insists local contractors will win work in new venture

Former schools chief Tim Byles has insisted three contractors backing his new company will not hoover up all the work.

Mr Byles, who departed Partnerships for Schools in 2011 to establish Cornerstone, said that despite the backing of Willmott Dixon, Bouygues and Morgan Sindall who have bought preference shares, local contractors would win work in his new venture.

He said that contractors would be chosen based on their suitability for the role, but admitted that the three contractors are kept informed of Cornerstone’s pipeline.

Cornerstone signed its first deal with Plymouth City Council last week to build up to 66 family homes and 20 flats to code for sustainable homes level 6, subject to planning permission.

The company is in talks with more than 20 local authority as it works with financial backers to acquire surplus property and convert it, with the majority of interest currently in mixed-use developments.

Mr Byles said: “We will look at each project on its merits. We will be wanting to make sure that the right partner is engaged in each of our developments and smaller and local construction firms will have good experience at delivering Code 6 houses so we will take that into account before making any decision.

“All our investors are familiar with our developments so they are aware of what’s coming forward.”

Cornerstone’s first deal

Cornerstone agreed to enter a deal with Plymouth City Council to deliver a zero-carbon village in Bickleigh Down, North Devon.

The agreement will be between CornerstoneZED - a joint venture between Byles’ Cornerstone and ZEDprojects, the enabling arm of architect Bill Dunster – and the council.

Plymouth City Council anticipates signing the Option Agreement over the coming months. CornerstoneZED will then submit a formal planning application. Should this be approved, the development is scheduled to begin later this year.

Mr Byles told CN in November that he hoped to have the first deal signed before Christmas last year, however this didn’t materialise.

He said this is down to greater interest than he had first thought, and said he still plans to make Cornerstone an international venture within five years.

“Some of our earlier discussions had got a lot larger than I expected. I thought we would conclude discussions around small to medium sized projects quite quickly but what’s happened is that the scale of the opportunity has become clear”, he said.

“We are seeing much larger scale schemes coming forward than I appreciated and that’s why our first deal is later than I thought but our pipeline is much bigger.

“For example we have been talking to an authority about a 100-bed home for the elderly and are now talking to them about providing a 400-bed home and larger deals do take longer to put together.”

The company is in talks over further deals in the South-west, and Mr Byles said he expected to announce further deals within months.

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