The long-term vision of the master developer

Christine de Ferrars Green talks about master developer-led residential developments, what makes such projects different from many housing developments and some of the advantages of them, and the place for patient capital in stewarding such projects and the need for good stewardship of the completed development for the long-term future.

The master developer as a landowner, often working with a development manager, owns a large site that is planned for comprehensive development.  Typically, a project will be built out in phases over a number of years by different developers, following a masterplan approved under an overarching planning consent.  The master developer holds the long-term vision for the development of a community of thousands of residents in new homes, set in character neighbourhoods having a full range of community facilities, built for them to live well.

A key part of the master developer approach is to deliver all the main infrastructure, and to oversee compliance with the site-wide planning consent conditions and obligations.  Fully serviced land parcels are sold to housebuilders, which need to be concerned only with the planning requirements for their parcel.  Making sure the parcels interconnect seamlessly and development happens to a timeline that satisfies the overarching planning consent requires careful practical, technical and legal management.

Building beautiful is all part of the master developer’s vision.  A masterplan for the whole project is accompanied by a design guide. Using this, a range of brands and a mix of housetypes and tenures can be delivered by housebuilders working to design and build their products to blend across the wider site, offering choice for new residents.  High quality design from one land parcel to the next helps to maintain values for the landowner and the housing developers alike.  

Green infrastructure is an integral element.  Design will often be led by the existing natural landscape and the history of the site.  Green open spaces provide attractive places as the setting for new homes and for residents to enjoy leisure time.  It is also a space for nature.  Biodiversity net gain objectives have been delivered for many years in large sites, and much can be learned from past projects in best practice going forward as this becomes a requirement of new development.

All this requires patient capital investment as the time taken from site acquisition, planning, initial infrastructure delivery and first income producing land sales and development will be many years; and it will be some more before the net payment out by investors moves along the hockey-stick shape of development investment finance from the hook to the long upward line of new money in. 

One last point to mention is the legacy of development.  This includes long-term management of the public realm, green spaces and shared facilities.  In a master developer-led project there will be a single management organisation working to a plan, funded in a way that assures a sustainable, in-perpetuity income stream.  Usually all residents will be required to make a contribution to a management charge and to abide by estate regulations which are written to make sure that the initial quality of the development is preserved.

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