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Michael Lawson says Northerly Group has taken considerable time to ensure its retirement living offering is appropriate for its target market. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Northerly on retirement mission

Building and development firm Northerly Group is adding retirement living to its suite of services with its latest Perth project.

Scarborough’s rejuvenation has opened the door for Northerly Group to launch an ambitious plan to develop, build, own and operate a high-end retirement living project in the seaside suburb.

More than $100 million has been invested in Scarborough by the state government since 2016, and it’s that investment, combined with Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority control, that Northerly Group managing director Michael Lawson said made it feasible for its Altum project to move from concept to reality.

Mr Lawson told Business News Northerly Group had bought a plot of land at 10 Nautilus Crescent around 13 years ago. However, it had taken the subsequent period of time for market conditions and the right planning framework to be put in place for the company’s 51-apartment proposal to stack up.

The MRA, now known as Development WA following its merger with LandCorp, was appointed to manage a comprehensive rejuvenation of Scarborough in 2013, implementing new planning and design guidelines around two years later.

Mr Lawson said Northerly had evaluated the development potential soon after it bought the site, with analysis of a catchment area stretching from Hillarys in the north to City Beach in the south unearthing a dearth of retirement living options.

“Around 2006-2007, we looked at it, but the timing wasn’t right and we just had to sit and be landlords,” he said.

“It was around 2017 that I thought the market was about right.

“It’s probably taken us a good 18-month process to get where we are; we have a development approval in place and we are probably around four to six weeks away from submitting for a building licence, so we are well advanced.

Mr Lawson said Northerly’s Altum concept would not have been viable if the MRA had not been appointed at Scarborough, with planning changes formalised in 2015 allowing for higher density development in certain areas.

“With that framework, we thought ‘Ok, now we’ve got something we can really work with’,” Mr Lawson said.

“Had the MRA not come in, we wouldn’t have the town planning scheme that we have there now. For us to drive density in these sorts of precincts and get the right level of development and the right type of development, you need this sort of planning framework.”

While Northerly had previous experience building retirement living and aged care projects for third-party developers, Altum is the first such project it is doing entirely in its own right.

Mr Lawson said the decision to design, construct, own and operate Altum was not taken lightly, but came back to the company’s vision of lifting the bar in the retirement living sector.

“I’ve put a lot of effort and thought into what we’ve got and what we wanted to provide,” he said.

“It’s one thing owning the overall asset, but it then struck me that my concern was whether a third party was going to be able to deliver on my promise.

“That was probably where I started having question marks come up. Can we ensure that delivery is commensurate with the product we are selling to our residents?

“The last piece of the puzzle had to be a customer service model.

“That’s what people want and that’s what was really what I wanted to make sure we could provide, because at the end of the day these aren’t cheap apartments.”

Mr Lawson said it was Northerly’s aim at Altum to create a new standard of retirement living product.

As such, the amenity proposed at the building includes an indoor swimming pool, a gym, a yoga and pilates studio, a massage room, a hair and beauty salon, an activity and craft room, a lounge area, a private dining area with its own bar and a 12-seat gold class-style cinema.

Mr Lawson said Northerly had also worked extensively with its architect partner, GHDWoodhead, to ensure the apartments themselves would be suitable for its target market, from the standpoint not only of high-end finishes, but also of space.

“For people coming out of large homes, four or five bedroom houses, if we are going to bring them into something that’s smaller then we have to provide something that’s big enough,” he said.

“Some people are a bit hesitant with apartment living because they think they won’t have enough space.

“They understand that they need to consolidate, but they don’t want to consolidate too much.”

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