Larkfleet Ascending

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Not content with running just one business, the ever-energetic Karl Hick has launched a further eight companies that make up his Larkfleet Group, arguably the region’s premier deliverer of sustainable homes. Clive Simpson talks to the ebullient Karl to find out how he manages it all

A positive and infectious energy surrounds Karl Hick. He’s a potent mix of athlete, scientist, accountant and developer. And the list of nine companies on his business card seemingly leaves no stone unturned. With an award winning house builder to head up, not to mention a timber frame firm, a retirement homes specialist, an energy company, a waste company, a renewables firm, plus two product supply companies, this is a man with an insatiable appetite for business. He’s been at the helm of the hugely successful Larkfleet Group for a dozen years now, running a growing portfolio of interconnected companies that are steadily setting new national benchmarks in home construction and renewable energy. His Bourne-based Group specialises in building energy-efficient housing and investing in research and development of innovative new building designs, materials and construction methods. The company is also a major developer of sustainable energy projects, as well as being a provider of energy-efficiency improvements for new and existing buildings.

‘Supply and demand is out of kilter and the housing issues of this country have to be put right’

Karl started Larkfleet at a watershed time for the construction industry. It had emerged from the recession of the 1990s but with the looming financial crisis of 2007 was about to be thrust into an even deeper one. ‘The housing market has been unbelievably difficult in the last five years and we are very aware of the need to improve the environmental performance of new housing,’ he admits. ‘But the Government’s Code for Sustainable Homes is driving the industry to become ‘greener’ at a time when it is under enormous economic pressure. Supply and demand is out of kilter and the housing issues of this country have to be put right,’ he insists. ‘Houses are so different to 20 years ago and the regulations are very strict. The Government should be concentrating more on the second-hand market because this is where the biggest improvements can now be made.’

The innovative boss of the Larkfleet Group has always had an eye for the future. He studied chemistry at university before becoming a chartered accountant. Under Karl’s determined leadership, Larkfleet has steadily enhanced its role and broadened its reputation to become one of the leading house builders in the East Midlands and East Anglia. ‘I started Larkfleet in 2002 with a staff of just three. Now the business employs more than 120 people. From the outset I wanted it to be a different company, built around a sustainability ethos. At the time this was a unique proposition in the industry and others were not interested in such a long term approach.’

Karl opted for a lower offer – which came with a commitment to keep the company trading

Before establishing Larkfleet, Karl had acquired Spalding-based Allison Homes in 1992 after saving the company from receivership. Over nine years he took the building firm from strength to strength and when he came to sell it in 2001 was faced with two competing offers. The highest bidder was only interested in the land bank and would have closed the company. So Karl opted for a lower offer which came with a commitment to keep the company trading, protecting the jobs of the people who had helped build the business. Larkfleet was initially focused entirely on house building and, through Larkfleet Homes, this remains a core activity. But recognising the opportunity for diversification, Karl quickly expanded the scope of his business to embrace developing more energy-efficient and sustainable homes, and renewable technologies. ‘I can’t put the world right but I can do my little bit to help the green industry and make it a commercial success,’ he says.

Larkfleet has developed some of the country’s biggest solar energy parks

Larkfleet, one of the few builders to offer solar panels on new homes, has now built more than 2,500 homes, developed some of the country’s biggest solar energy parks and is exploring renewable technologies in waste and power. Typical of the latter is a new research project to generate ‘carbon-free’ electricity via an experimental solar power system installed on land at the Bourne headquarters. Its panels focus the sun’s rays onto water-filled metal tubes and the energy generated can be harnessed to heat water or produce steam to drive a generator for electricity. The panels are mounted on a rig which rotates to track the movement of the sun through the sky during the day. Eventually Karl hopes that such a system, which is already attracting interest from around the globe, can be integrated into traditional power stations which raise steam by burning fossil fuels. ‘The solar steam could be fed to the power station generators so fossil fuel would only need to be burned at night or on days when solar power is not enough to meet demand,’ he says. It might also be used to desalinate sea water or purify polluted water to produce clean drinking water.

In the immediate future, however, his project team will be investigating a range of smaller scale applications. ‘The solar steam rig provides an opportunity for looking into a new method of low-carbon energy generation and is just another example of Larkfleet’s commitment to… [cont]

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