Jan van der Bergh is a senior development manager for Mulpha

Jan van der Bergh, senior development manager of Mulpha, believes that good developments don’t need to sacrifice sustainability to turn a profit. In fact, the real estate investment company’s Norwest project is an example of a premium development that is turning heads and attracting buyers – chiefly because it is putting nature at the fore. You can hear from Jan at Urban Greening on Thursday 28 July.

A lack of nature is killing our cities, leading to urban heat, air pollution, and poor mental health.

The problem is that many urban developments don’t consider incorporating nature in their projects. Or, they choose to plant introduced species or homogenous ecosystems that do not reflect the biodiversity of the natural environment. Male trees are often planted to reduce seed and fruit “litter” – which contributes to high rates of allergies in urban populations. 

The answer? Rewilding.

Mulpha has “always had a really strong emphasis on landscape, so a higher proportion of the area is landscaped”, says Jan van der Bergh, senior development manager of Mulpha. Rewilding means taking it that extra step, and actively planning a biodiverse native ecosystem in development projects.

The real estate investment company has Malaysian ownership, which has supported an evolution to a “triple bottom-line approach” – ensuring that developments are good for the environment while at the same time making a profit.  

“There’s an imperative that we have to do it, there’s an existential threat to our being that it’s not a question of if… it’s a question of how we make this happen.” 

Van der Bergh says the company’s leadership “always want to be above market, because they are a premium product for many reasons… they have a trusted brand.” 

Mulpha is responsible for a number of luxury developments including Sanctuary Cove, Hayman Island and Bimbadgen Estate winery. So, having that expertise behind it is what makes its developments promising.

Norwest Business Park, in The Hills district north west of Sydney, is one such project that has been celebrated for its strong environmental credentials. 

“The future development of Norwest will be like Parramatta today. We’d like to target a far greener town centre than Parramatta is – so how can we hold on to that green structure and that pleasant environment… that is more conducive to general comfort in the area?” 

The two Norwest Quarter buildings are named Lacebark and Banksia

The landscaping typology of the area has changed over time, he says, from “manicured” to now (with the Norwest project) being “more unstructured, more biodiverse, promoting local fauna coming back”. 

While rewilding was in the past considered more aesthetic, it is now recognised as having a functional purpose for the community and natural environment. 

“It is challenging. It hasn’t really been done before.” 

The precinct is a premium investment, and to reach its goals Mulpha worked with the University of New South Wales. UNSW developed a guide specific for the development, to help Mulpha make decisions around urban heat. (A guide for developers in the area is in a draft form now and will be released at the end of this year.) 

The result is that the development has a lower ambient temperature than the temperatures around it. 

Norwest Quarter – Banksia

The challenge to bring nature back into an urban environment is not just to get investors on board – it’s also to convince residents and businesses that it’s a good idea.

“Bringing [nature] into a more urban place will have its challenges, but we’re trying to do it in a more sensitive way. How do we approach attracting fauna in a sensitive way that isn’t causing a nuisance to retail or to residents? We’re learning as we go.

“It is challenging. It hasn’t really been done before.” 

It’s about changing the buyer mentality to see flora and fauna as their neighbours rather than as pests. 

“It’s not a box ticking exercise.”

Changing to a more biodiverse landscape means more buyer interest, lower maintenance costs, and it “feels better,” Mr van der Bergh says. 

“Feeling safe and feeling protected… balancing that risk and safety equation.”

Buyers want to be future proof: “It’s not a box ticking exercise”.

“There’s an imperative that we have to do it, there’s an existential threat to our being that it’s not a question of if… it’s a question of how we make this happen.” 

Jan van de Bergh is speaking at The Fifth Estate’s Urban Green event on 28 July. Get your tickets before they run out.

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