Do you consider it important to set a strong vision of a new development such as Soho?
I’ve got a team of people that helps create a vision. So it’s not just one person, or two or three. It’s actually a group of people that create a vision together. We need to get thinkers together at the start of a project to sit down and say, “All right, let’s create a European village style centre.” And get everyone on board with that vision. If you get that locked in place, everything else feeds off that. We’re not making decisions when you come back and say “Why’d you put that big square there for?” It’s a team that works together. And yes my mind has a bit of a thought as to how it should be, but it’s you guys, the architects that actually make it, which is very important.
Did you share VillaWood’s vision to create an active village centre?
We shared the vision to create an active centre. There was some aspects we weren’t in agreeance with, hence we involved Clarke Hopkins Clarke and we turned it upside down in some ways and Villawood were quite happy with what we did for them as we got Soho as a result.
Did you have reservations about the diversity of housing with apartments and home offices?
From what we’ve sold out at SoHo, there will be a series of home offices for small businesses like accountants or bookkeeping. The apartments sold very quickly, but if we do build apartments, build them very efficiently because out in the western suburbs that financial incentive is just not there if they are over a house and land package. There was a very strong market for the Townhouses.
Does the walkable community create that buzz?
Yes, lifestyles are changing, people are just too busy so that small village atmosphere where residents can just quickly walk out to grab dinner or some groceries really suits many people.
I’m very proud of the development. We want people to enjoy living there, and everybody’s saying that we can’t wait until it’s all finished and to live their life there.
So as a private developer do you have a certain amount of passion to be able to deliver good quality products that people will enjoy?
Yes, 100%. I don’t think many developers are inclined to do that. Many of them are just there to build it, take the money and go, or build it cheaply and get the rents, whereas we’re a bit different…It’s me, my wife and my two children and because we’re keeping all of the retail elements, we intend to be there for the long term so we did it properly and everybody benefits…a shared value approach.
So how do you ensure the high standard of the tenants?
We had almost four pages of interested parties wanting to take lease of the tenancies so myself, and the leasing agent, David from Burgess Rawson, sat down and wrote a list of what we wanted, who we wanted and how we could achieve it. Basically we chose who we wanted in order to get the mix right. We basically curated the offer around a small supermarket to ensure that the locals didn’t necessarily have to go elsewhere unless they want to do a big shop at a major supermarket.
What are your thoughts on the introduction of a church and child care into the diverse mix of uses in the village?
I think the church will be great. It’ll bring people together in the community. Similarly with the child care, both will bring more support to the retail and get more people walking by.
There is a large reduction of the required carparking provided on site, do you think this reduction will cause an issue or do you think it will promote more walking to the village centre?
Locals will walk to the centre because we’ve got a great mix of shops and services, but it’s those that are four or five streets away obviously, which may use a push bike, but for those people that want to drive it may cause an issue.
Do you see a value add to bringing employment through offices to give diversity during the day?
Our plan was to provide commercial space here, however our concern with this was that it was untested in a small centre. However we identified that there was a particular group that needed office space so we actually sold a parcel off to another party who is building an entire building for themselves.
So when there is somebody there that needed office space we work with it. But to build it and hope that somebody will take it, I think it’s quite risky out there being on its own.
If you could change one thing in either the process or the outcomes to create more vibrant communities, what would that be?
I would emphasise more on bringing the locals in to spend more time in the centre, have a communal open area, some nice trees around where they can just sit, congregate and socialise. More like a European style lifestyle where they sit outside have chats, plenty of heating or cooling, whatever needs to be provided and then have a good time. There are just not enough places out there for young families to just sit back rather than spending time in their living room.