A masterplan is a critical tool for any development, whether at the level of an individual site or a comprehensive development scheme. A robust masterplan, supported by a delivery plan, is fundamental to maximising land value and development of sustainable communities, in accordance with planning policy.
Most planners, engineers, design and construction professionals recognise the value of a masterplan to focus effort, investment and attention on the objective and purpose of development. Most also know that masterplanning needs specialist input across a range of disciplines, bringing together an integrated team that covers different sectors and areas of expertise.
If the objective is to create cohesive and sustainable developments, getting the right approach to masterplanning from the beginning is crucial to successful place making. Team selection and leadership at the outset can dominate the direction, dynamic and cost of the scheme, and the economic value of opportunities that are either taken up or overlooked. Getting it wrong creates consequences throughout the development process, and is very unlikely to lead to smart, sustainable development.
Appointment of a lead consultant with a single focus, be it finance, architecture or engineering, will almost always lead to inadequate focus on other critical issues. Whilst any masterplan must be financially sound, a purely cost driven lead will not create places in which people want to live, work and play, and where value increases over time. Ebbsfleet Garden City in north Kent has been much criticised for it’s a ‘fractured and incoherent’ vision’, which has left new residents isolated from effective public transport, despite a 19-minute rail connection to London, with missed opportunities for using sites for green infrastructure and community benefit. Back fitting such facilities, if even achievable, is an inefficient and often costly use of both land and resources.
Development masterplanning can be, and often is, a complex and expensive process which, for major development, will extend over a number of years. At any time during the genesis of a development project, the professional masterplanning team can include specialists drawn from finance, law, planning, architecture, engineering, utilities, energy management, landscape, ecology, and sustainable development. The emerging masterplan will normally comprise a suite of specialist plans, such as an engineering masterplan, an architectural masterplan, and a green infrastructure plan. Whilst the primacy of the professional lead will change over time from concept, feasibility and outline, through to detailed design and delivery, best value masterplanning over the long period from concept to development depends on having an overarching lead by a project manager with a holistic and inclusive approach. That role can set the context to assembling the right expertise and identifying and implementing opportunities as they arise over time. This will facilitate informed and joined-up decision making, creating a cost-effective and efficient delivery programme that helps remove development risk and secure long-term quality.
Where do Environmental Planning, Landscape and Ecology fit in?
Environmental professionals critically inform understanding of any site in terms of environmental context, site capacity and sensitivities, and the opportunities that can be generated by development. They undertake the baseline surveys that inform how different development options can be fitted into the context of constraints and opportunities at a site and its environs. This constraints and opportunities planning phase is essential to secure properly informed allocations of uses within the site, to inform the detailed technical options for building residential, commercial, manufacturing and other uses, and the associated infrastructure critical to the functioning of the development.
Having set the environmental baseline, all three disciplines are typically embedded within the masterplanning process, proactively informing scheme iterations with professional interpretation of the landscape and ecology evidence base, advising other disciplines on the effects and opportunities of potential development options, and the mitigation needed to facilitate policy and legally compliant development. As the scheme moves from outline to detailed phases, landscape architects, with input from ecologists, will again work closely with the delivery team, informing the design of development and subsequently the discharge of project details via planning conditions and legal agreements.
This process is summarise below, based on the RIBA Plan of Work which details the tasks and outputs required at each stage of development, from site procurement through to post-occupancy.