Alan Zammit (OAM) - Part 2
Interviewee: Alan Zammit OAM, born 1948
Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
for The Hills Shire Council
Date of Interview: 28 Jan, 2009
Transcription: Glenys Murray, Feb 2009
This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee
So how did you woo companies like ResMed and Cathay Pacific to make their headquarters in this park? Why was it so attractive to them?
Historically ResMed came fairly late but Cathay was the first major tenant. There we were competing against Singapore and Vancouver. A couple of reasons we understand as to why they came here. One is the amenity itself the fact that Norwest was in a low risk area. Not being in the middle of the CBD environment and the fact that we could offer dual services. At the time we were able to bring in electricity supplies from two different feeds, telecommunication from two different feeds water supply from two different feeds. They gave them a degree of redundancy that gave them guaranteed connectivity of operation. ResMed was a little different it was growing rapidly in North Ryde but in a number of locations. They couldn’t secure a large enough parcel of land and so they took twelve hectares in one large parcel here and were able to set up their campus which they’ve been progressively been developing and expanding over a number of years. So for them it was more size amenity for staff. They enjoy Bella Vista Farm Park and good exposure for their company being right on the junction of Norwest Boulevard and Windsor Road. What’s different of course is that each company has their own reasons. Probably the trophy would be The Reserve Bank of Australia that is also located near ResMed. Again the security of Norwest being proved they’ve set up establishments as well.
What about the Crown Plaza Hotel that’s there as well isn’t it?
That’s there as well initially it was trading as Norwest International but the owners decided to align themselves with the Crown Plaza chain and it’s travelling quite well now.
So you’ve got a major hotel on site?
We do. Its all here.
What sort of feedback do you get from the people who are working here about what this is doing for their business?
It’s not only their business growth but it’s a general lifestyle. Employee satisfaction is a key driver in business success and so if you can provide your employees with the right amenity and ease of access. That can only lead to success.
There are around four and a half thousand dwellings around the park where people live?
No not that many. There are three precincts of about five hundred each. But the surrounding area would certainly be far greater of course because we feed into The Hills Shire as a whole.
So what kind of innovations in design, water conservation and environment have you made to the development of Norwest Business Park?
Well I mentioned the one where we trapped our water and not only the volume of water but the quality of water that discharges from our estates. We were forerunners of that. It’s now quite a common practice within urban development but back in the late 80’s that was fairly new. Likewise our approval process. I mentioned Cathay Pacific setting up their data centre here at Norwest they put their plans through the Norwest Association Panel and they were signed off and approved by that panel on a Friday. Lodged their plans with the Council that afternoon and actually picked up their development consent the next Monday morning. The weekend got in the way unfortunately. I don’t think that twenty four hour turn around has ever been reproduced anywhere else in this country. That’s a fairly unique observation.
So are there any particular advances in the environmental construction or the way that the business park operates?
The technologies of course are changing as we speak. Fibre optics and the whole mode of communication of course. Norwest is really up there and able to communicate with the world at large. In the early days the marketing of the business park was a challenge. The challenge was do you try to pick winners and target those markets or do you target a much broader field. We found that the mix of businesses that were being attracted to Norwest was so vast from pharmaceutical companies such as Wyeth or Sigma Pharmaceuticals. To data centres such as the Cathay data centre or more recently the data recovery centres that we have with EDC and The Reserve Bank. It was impossible really to try to pick a winner. The park was designed not for one industry or one business sector it really is quite broad. Broad in sense of scale as well. Through strata subdivision some of the commercial developments are just not single user centres but have been subdivided to permit the smaller businesses, growing businesses who may have outgrown their premises elsewhere. To come and consolidate and take up smaller space but still enjoying the same amenity that was available to the larger corporation.
Landscaped amenity at Norwest Business Park
So what’s your role as chairman of Norwest Business Association?
The Association has two roles primarily. Its membership is made up of all the owners of employment land within the business park. The two roles are to maintain the development standards within the park and so it has that approval and monitoring role. As well as maintaining the landscape amenity of the business park. Which people value so much the fact that you’ve got the tree lined boulevards that was a landscaping regime which is far ahead of and beyond what a local council would normally provide and maintain. So we have a system of levying or rating of those property owners to fund both those processes. The company has a board and I chair that board.
Now there’s three residential precincts really aren’t there? There’s Bella Vista Village, Bella Vista Waters and The Lakes Norwest Town Centre. How do they differ each of those from each other?
Well when we first kicked off Bella Vista Village was the first residential precinct centred around a village green with its rotunda. Annual Christmas Carols were held on the village green sponsored by our company. It was good quality project homes that were built there. Again the street scape and the local amenity enabled it to command a premium of fifteen thousand dollars, a lot more than adjoining land over the fence. We were selling lots for one hundred and fifty thousand a block. Adjoining lands were being sold for one hundred and thirty five. As we transitioned out of Bella Vista Village to the newer Bella Vista Waters the company took a bold decision to say that each of the homes needs to be architecturally designed. So project homes traditional project homes were not permitted by covenant. That’s raised the benchmark up a notch or two and so now you have housing of a quality that is quite varied and with homes ranging in retail price from 1.2 million to over 2 million dollars. Which is quite amazing seeing that it is sitting right in the heart of an employment area.
What about Lakes Norwest Town Centre?
That’s where it is a tighter density and indeed we see a strong demand for people transitioning out of their traditional homes either into town homes or apartments. Where they don’t want to have a large yard to maintain but still want to have the amenity of living close to shops and lakes and landscaped environment. So its catering for a transition.
Have the land values increased greatly?
Well that block of land I was mentioning before selling for one hundred and fifty thousand is probably now selling for five hundred five hundred and fifty thousand dollars in 2009. Significant appreciation in value.
What have been the benefits to the Council in having this park?
Not only have we been able to bring employment to where the people are but employment within an area of high standard and high amenity. I mean the visual amenity is second to none. As you drive through past the landscaped entrance way with the flags flying and the tree lined boulevards it’s a very pleasant working environment. The Council is quite proud of that. Indeed if you look at their web page you come across several photos of Norwest as a trophy estate. The estate itself has won a number of awards. Both locally through the Australian Property Institute or internationally as well as a leading master planned community. That’s the secret behind it. Planned, master planned it was controlled and remains controlled so that any new development that takes place still requires the tick of approval from the Norwest Association. So it’s an ongoing process.
Aerial view of Lake at Norwest
Talking about benefits for the community what would you say have been the benefits for them?
The access to employment the fact that we’ve able to transfer the land at Bella Vista Farm Park so that there is a heritage precinct now preserved for posterity right in the heart of the business park in the Shire. These are great benefits of course as it goes beyond the retail and other community aspects such as child care. There are a number of child care facilities within the business park. For example so whether its people dropping off their children locally on their way to work or indeed bringing their children with them to work. The child care facility is downstairs or across the road a number of pluses there for the community at large.
Is there a school as well incorporated?
There was originally a school proposed for part of what is now Bella Vista Waters. But the Department of Education decided that it had adequate school services available. So there are no schools within Norwest Business Park but very much in the local area. Both in terms of public schools and private schools as well.
How do you feel about the fact that there isn’t going to be a railway any time soon to service this area?
That’s a moveable feast I don’t think we’re going to see one soon. However I certainly think we will see one. The matter of timing is up in the air. As Sydney expands in the north west and south west I think governments be they state or federal will have to bite the bullet in terms of transport.
A family enjoying life at Bella Vista Waters
You got so close didn’t you at one stage?
The station right in the heart of Norwest was planned and right under Norwest Boulevard. The line was designed to come down Norwest Boulevard and wrap around under Lexington Drive as it heads north towards Rouse Hill Town Centre. So there was a station at Norwest. We suggested to the government that perhaps they should have a second station at Bella Vista. Its close but we’re watching the space.
Not close enough? If they do decide at a future time to put in this railway are the facilities or the land that you had reserved for the stations would that still be available?
Through Norwest it was still underground so really there was no major acquisition involved. It was just a case of tunnelling through from Castle Hill through Norwest and then once it left Norwest it was in a cutting. But through Norwest it was underground so there’d be no difficulties at all in fitting that rail in.
So who sets the development standards and how are they maintained?
That comes back to the Norwest Association. There is a master scheme in place which sets out guidelines for the estate as a whole. As well as for the development of the individual properties. That’s in terms of the employment land. In terms of residential land the developer Norwest Land sets a series of covenants on title which requires a certain size and finishes, materials of individual dwellings. So it’s a dual regime. Back to the employment lands where the Association has a controlling influence there. An applicant would come up with their development proposal they’d need to apply through the Norwest Association for their development to be approved.
Housing in Lindenwood precinct Norwest
The boxes need to be ticked the quality needs to be there as well as the agreeing with Council’s own controls. Then once the Association is satisfied it goes through to the Council and they give formal consent in accordance with the Act. The Association doesn’t take away Council’s obligations and duties that it has to perform under the legislation but it supplements them by giving an added layer.
What sort of recognition had the park received for its design and function?
Both internationally as well as locally in terms of master planned community. The park as a whole even within the park a number of the commercial buildings have received for either their design or construction through Master Builder’s Association. One of Norwest Lands housing projects Waterstone Precinct likewise received a Housing Industry Association Award in terms of its quality.
How does it rate against world’s best?
Well indeed that was our slogan. “Join the world’s best at Norwest”. There’s no doubt that having seen a number of business parks in America and in Europe Norwest is up there with them. We have a different lifestyle here in Australia our methods of construction differ from overseas. But there is no doubt that when you drive through the business park and you haven’t been here before and you drive in. You say “wow this is something it’s fairly unique”.
Some people have described it as inspirational. Is that going too far?
I probably wouldn’t use those words but I welcome the comment.
Housing in Waterstone Precinct Norwest
Let’s look a little bit at the Shire as a whole now in terms of its business development I know there wasn’t much before and it was mainly orchards but because of the nature of this project it’s called “The Changing Shire”. I’d like you to reflect back a little bit back to the fifties. What sort of place was Baulkham Hills then and how has it become?
Well only being born in 1948 I can’t reflect about what it was in the fifties other than to suggest that it was very much a rural agricultural setting there. As you say with orchards and as suburbia finally caught up in the seventies there was some industrial development towards the North Rocks area. Progressively in the eighties Castle Hill Industrial Estate came on board. Then of course in the nineties and now Norwest Business Park is the leading employment area. The Shire is still a great place to live. It’s not an industrial heart of Sydney. With communications and transport changing and evolving now you don’t really have to be working in your office in the heart of Sydney’s CBD. You can be well served establishing your offices at a place like Norwest Business Park and still communicate with the world at large. So it really provides both a great living and business amenity.
It’s been a huge change for the Shire to go from a farming community with orchards to high tech which it is now. You’ve got marvellous communication and companies like that Norwest?
But life’s evolving and we never stand still and that’s the good thing about it. You can always learn by what others are doing. Certainly Norwest was a learning experience. I used to encourage all my staff to view what others are doing. Be they locally or interstate or even internationally there is always room for improvement.
A project like this doesn’t normally eventuate unless there is pressure behind it to do it? What were the pressures do you think that forced this kind of development?
Sydney certainly as it grew needed further employment lands. Part of that was satisfied by renewal within the inner city areas. But as The Hills Shire was expanding its population rapidly growing in the seventies and then the opportunity for local employment was sought for. But Norwest Business Park is just not simply employment land it is actually a meld of residential and employment. The fact is that we were able to bring a trade up situation in terms of residential as well as a high standard of employment land was a great attraction.
How has residential development dovetailed business development or was it the other way round in the Shire?
No residential was certainly here first. Indeed even within Norwest Business Park. In 1992 when the first stage was released it was the proceeds from residential land sales that kept the company afloat. While we worked our way out of that recession and sales of business land were able to take place. They were very hard times in the early part of the business park. You look back now and you think “what a great project”. But back in the early nineties to encourage people to come out to Baulkham Hills at a time as I said before the M2 before the M7. When Old Windsor Road was fundamentally a goat track and the company itself only having limited resources was trying to market a world standard business park from effectively what was a brick manufacturing plant. We’d meet people out on site and try to keep them away from brick dust as much as we could and try to sell the dream, the vision of what could become and indeed what has become.
You’ve done it very adequately.
Lakeside Restaurants in Norwest Business Park
So going back to the business park. How do you see the future of the Norwest Business Park?
Well the park is evolving so that projects that were put up in the early nineties are now being revisited just to see if they can be redeveloped into a more intense use. The park itself is wrapping up in terms of its final stage where the hospital is being constructed. So as we transition from warehousing to mixed use to full commercial development the park without doubt is changing to meet the needs of the incoming business population.
Some people have described you as the “father” of the business park how would you react to that?
Showing my age I think. Well when you lived with a project for fifteen years I mean when I first came on board there were two buildings in the business park. There was a drive through post office which was innovative in its own way. Without getting out of the car you could throw your mail out the window and off you went. And ARV food services had their establishment. There were no other employment businesses within the park. In terms of Bella Vista Village the first stage was being marketed so we had a long way to go. But again through maintaining high standards and people embracing your visions and saying “yes they’ll join you on the journey”. It’s been a great project.
How’s the journey been for you?
Fabulous I mean great satisfaction being able to create something that is of world standard. I guess my philosophy probably learnt from my parents is it (?) to add value. I think I’ve achieved it here just as I have on a number of other interests that I have outside of Norwest. Be it with community organisations or regional development organisations over the years.
Alan I’ve got no further questions is there anything else that you want to put on record? Any final comments that you might have?
Well perhaps just to say that this project would not have happened without the great team that are in place at Norwest Land. You mentioned that as though it was my project. It’s not really my project it’s a team that was lead by my general manager Peter Gray(?) and a wonderful group of people plus the strong support that we’ve had from The Baulkham Hills Shire Council. It’s not often that developers can work so closely with the local authority to create such an outcome. Yes there are legal agreements and frameworks that set that in place as part of the master scheme. But there has clearly been a willingness between both parties to share. To create something that is just a little different. So I sincerely thank those involved.