Q&A: Alan Soutar, AVJennings


Arcadian Hills, AVJennings' master-planned community in Cobbitty, NSW.

The Urban Developer caught up with Alan Soutar, Executive General Manager, AVJennings NSW, to talk about master-planned communities, regional development and some of the influences on the housing industry in 2015.

What is your career history?

I began my career in building materials and moved into building when I joined Long Homes in 1986. Over that time, I’ve been involved in most aspects of delivering a dream home to our customers. In 1995 AVJennings was acquired by Long Homes, so I’ve spent a number of years with the company.

Tell us about your role at AVJennings?

As the General Manager of New South Wales for AVJennings I’m responsible for all aspects of the business in NSW. This involves working with our development managers, builders, tradesmen, suppliers and sales and marketing and customer service teams, all to ensure we are delivering quality homes that our customers want to buy.

How does AVJennings choose locations for its master-planned communities?

We carefully consider the locations for our master-planned communities by looking at proximity to infrastructure, amenities and transport. We also consider whether sites are close to natural parklands or open spaces for residents to enjoy and benefit from, as well as whether the site has any historical references we can highlight. While each community must have good facilities available for residents, they must also be set within a pleasant environment, and enjoy a community feel.

A number of our current estates are located near Camden in Sydney’s South West. This area certainly has a unique character as a regional hub but also incorporates a range of amenities and strong transport links. We really focus on identifying places where our customers will want to live - we aim to make each community a special place for people to live.

Why is it so important we focus on building homes in growth centres away from the Sydney CBD?

Many people dream of owning a house on a block of land with a backyard, in a nice community. Space to create these locations is limited and is increasingly found on the fringes of the city as there is naturally more space there. It’s important we continue to build homes in these areas because as our population continues to grow it places more and more pressure on existing infrastructure in urbanised areas. Growth areas provide established communities with amenities, transport infrastructure and proximity to the natural environment.

Why is the South West region such a thriving growth area?

The increasing demand on the Sydney housing market means we need new places to expand and build new homes. The South West region is a perfect location as it’s only an hour drive to the CBD, it’s close to a range of amenities and facilities such as schools, hospitals, childcare and sporting clubs. Construction of new infrastructure is underway to further support the growth of the region, such as the Badgery’s Creek airport and the South West Rail Link. With all of these aspects combined, we see the possibility of the formation of vibrant master-planned communities, as everything homebuyers need is in close proximity – there is no reason not to live there!AVJennings’ traditional buyer groups have been families aspiring to a new lifestyle. This has now expanded to the extended family group, as grandparents and children come to live nearby and the community becomes a lot more blended.

Why do you think master-planned communities are appealing to families?

Master-planned communities are appealing as they provide families with a number of living options. At AVJennings we focus on building homes to meet market demand, providing a range of dwelling types such as free-standing homes, terraces, townhomes, duplexes or larger homes for a more traditional family. With a master-planned approach we can build something for everyone including families, couples, singles, retirees, downsizers and investors.

Although AVJennings focus is on selling completed houses, our communities also offer an opportunity for homebuyers to design and build their own home. For example, buyers can also purchase vacant land lots from AVJennings and then work with some of Australia’s leading builders to customise a house on that lot.

Will there be an oversupply of homes in NSW if development in regional areas continues at such a pace?

Not in our view. For five or six years now the industry has not been able to deliver the number of houses that are required by our growing population. Now we're catching up, but we still need several more years of good, solid building at the level we're currently building at, in order to satisfy the underlying level of demand.

What’s in the pipeline for AVJennings NSW in 2015?

We currently have seven master-planned communities under development in NSW including:

Arcadian Hills a collection of modern, architecturally designed country residences in the historic township of Cobbitty in NSW.

Argyle a new residential community at Elderslie within the Camden LGA, which brings together the best of peaceful, modern, urban design for a quality lifestyle that is both idyllic and convenient.

Ravensworth Heights a collection of 260 homes, located a short 5 minute drive to all of the conveniences of Goulburn city, yet moments away from its stunning country surrounds.

Magnolia at Hamlyn Terrace on the Central Coast is a visionary new master-planned community set within easy reach of both coast and country.

Lakes Edge at The Ponds comprises of six feature ponds, complemented by 80 hectares of bushland corridor surrounding the premium master-planned community.

Cavanstone at Eastwood a recently completed master-planned community on the historic site of the Great Northern Brick Company, which has preserved the heritage of the area to build a range of living options for over 400 residents.

Seacrest at Sandy Beach a master-planned community with a variety of options for families centered around a two-hectare neighbourhood park.

What, if any, are the major influences that could shape the property industry in 2015?

The real opportunity for the industry in 2015 is to be able to provide housing options close to a range of amenities and transport but at a price that’s affordable, to attract buyers. This requires us to innovate, to find new ways to deliver housing, and be less reliant on labour-intensive trades. We are now seeing a move away from the predominance of bricks in housing simply because it’s a very expensive process, and a move towards more economical materials such as cladding and other sheet materials.

We are also moving towards smarter use of land with smaller lots but without losing the innovative design and style of quality homes. Buyers are also realising they don’t need a large block of land to still enjoy the same lifestyle opportunities and benefits.

In addition, housing affordability will be a challenge for the industry in 2015, but I think the housing industry is up to meet this challengeI expect a fantastic few years ahead for the housing industry, provided we're all prepared to innovate, and we never lose touch of what the customer wants.

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