Saif Uddin graduated in 2010 with a Masters degree in Planning and Development; he is now a Development Manager with Balfour Beatty Investments
SHP: Your first degree was in Economics, how did you become interested in property and particularly in development?
SU: I grew up in Tower Hamlets in east London, in the shadow of the City and Canary Wharf. I saw the phenomenal transformation of the docklands first hand, going from prolonged decline to become the financial, retail and entertainment powerhouse it is today. It made a profound impression and my love for architecture in the first instance and later property development dates back to my teenage years.
I was fascinated by business and economics and how it relates to the built environment. When it came to choosing my A level subjects I decided to keep my options open, studying Biology and Chemistry on one side and Economics and Geography on the other. Eventually for my undergraduate studies I decided to combine my passions and completed a joint honours in Economics with Human Geography.
I went to Aberystwyth University for my undergraduate studies, a small university town in western Wales with limited development activities. It was difficult to find relevant property development related experience though I was fortunate enough to land a part time role at Ceredigion County Council. Reporting to the director for development and renewal, my role involved collaborating with various developers and reviving stalled developments. Working alongside other team members, developers, commercial and retail operators and other stakeholders, my role was to evaluate and amend site briefs, secure public funding and renegotiate development agreements for approval by the cabinet. Seeing how developers function, the variety of their role and the positive contribution good build form can make made me want to pursue a career in client side property development.
SHP: What led you to come to Reading for your Masters programme?
SU: Towards the end of my undergraduate studies I knew I wanted to further my property development knowledge and my decision to undertake a MSc in Development and Planning was strongly influenced by my desire to gain a breadth knowledge of the interrelating process of real estate development and town planning.
When it came to deciding on the destination it came down to quality, reputation and location, something the University of Reading and Henley Business School have in spades. I did my research and Henley Business School stood out for consistently being ranked among the world’s best business schools and, more specifically, real estate schools. Personally an MSc in Development and Planning with its double accreditation by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) was extremely attractive.
Most importantly however, it was Real Estate & Planning''s close and longstanding relationship with the property industry, the fact it is highly regard by leading employers and its outstanding employment record that put it ahead of the competition. It was an easy decision at the end.
SHP: following your graduation from Reading youstarted working with Bouygues Development on Hallsville Quarter, that must have been an exciting start to your career. Can you tell me about that, what was involved in your new your role and your progression.
SU: My passion has always been development so I made a conscious decision to pursue client side development roles only, consultancy based role didn’t appeal to me. I was focused on the type of role I wanted and I was ideally looking for a company that would be a good fit.
I first heard of Bouygues whilst visiting France. I know the company was a diverse multinational so when a role came up in their development division I was quick to apply. The role was as for a development officer in Bouygues Development, the UK property development arm of Bouygues UK. Most importantly the role involved the development and delivery of a complex multi-phase project in East London.
The company seemed a good fit and their property development division had a strong focus on growth, primarily focusing on complex mixed-use projects. After a rigorous selection process I was delighted when the role was offered to me, working on a prestigious project was most definitely appealing.
Initially I was in a team of three, together responsible for the design and delivery of Hallsville Quarter. My responsibility in the first instance was twofold, to negotiate and agree the Development Agreement with the London Borough of Newham (the land owner) and to commence design development for submission of a hybrid planning application comprising a masterplan planning application for the entire site and detailed planning application for Phase 1. Hallsville Quarter was a complex project, over 5 Phases the scheme will deliver 1,130 mixed tenure housing units, over 3,000sqm of leisure space, circa 30,000sqm of retail space, a hotel, and 3,000sqm of space for community facilities. Such a complex project demanded a strong professional team so I amassed a professional team comprising the likes of Aecom (master planner), Haworth Tompkins (Phase 1 architect), GVA, Knight Frank and Montagu Evans among others. Working with a strong professional team from the outset was a great experience and helped shape and deliver a successful project.
My role was very diverse, it entailed a full range of activities from initial viability assessment, overseeing design development and planning submission to forward selling of assets, contractual negotiation with the building contractor and, ultimately, construction delivery. The culture at Bouygues Development very much encouraged a hands on approach, employees were expected to participate in all workflows and understand the development process holistically, from initiation to construction completion. Whilst it was daunting at first, it nonetheless provided the perfect platform to learn and gain experience quickly.
A truly mixed-use project, during my time at Bouygues development I delivered the masterplan and phases one and two. Phase 1 comprised the delivery of 179 units of private and affordable housing, a Morrison’s foodstore of over 7,100 square metres, additional retail units, estate management facilities, a CHP energy centre, basement and surface car parking comprising circa 400 spaces and considerable amount of public realm space. Additionally, Phase 2 delivered an additional 349 residential units, fifteen retail and restaurant units, a 196 bed Accor hotel, double basement car park and comprehensive public realm works. The combined Gross Development Value exceeded £250 million and I was instrumental in supporting the disposal of the various assets to the likes of Pearson Pension Fund, Grainger plc, APG Asset Management, Mountain Capital, WM Morrisons Supermarket plc, Accor and One Housing Group amongst others. Working with a diverse group of investor and operators broadened my property development expertise.
During my time at Bouygues Development I performed well and progressed quickly, initially going from a Development Officer to a Senor Development Officer. Subsequently I was promoted again to a Deputy Development Manager and to ultimately a Development Manager in four and half years. By the end I was leading my own east London focused team, concentrating on securing and delivering mixed use project across East London, a priority business are for the business. Bouygues Development involved a lot of hard work, long hours and the inevitable stress and strain, but above all it provided the perfect environment to learn very quickly, working on complex projects and gaining incredible experience and exposure. As my first role it was definitely what I needed.
SHP: You have recently moved to Balfour Beatty Investments and are now working on the East Wick and Sweetwater Project, within the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. What is your involvement with that scheme?
SU: Building on my mixed-use regeneration experience and expertise, I am now leading the East Wick and Sweetwater project. I am managing a talented team and report to the Joint Venture Director of Development.
To set the scene East Wick and Sweetwater Projects Limited (a joint venture between Balfour Beatty Investments and Places for People Homes Limited) is the London Legacy Development Corporation’s (LLDC) appointed developer for the delivery of East Wick and Sweetwater (EWS), a new neighbourhood being delivered as part of the continuous transformation of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
This transformational regeneration scheme sits to the west of the park, adjacent to the Copper Box Arena and Here East, adjoining the creative neighbourhoods of Hackney Wick and Fish Island. A masterplan planning application for the site was submitted to the LLDC (the local Planning Authority) in September 2015 and I am now developing detailed planning applications for Phases 1 and 2. True to its mixed use nature, Phases 1 and 2 will deliver 424 mixed tenure residential unit, considerable amount of retail and flexible commercial/employment space, community space including a large nursery and estate management facilities together with high quality public realm, car parking and a marketing suite.
Overall EWS’s masterplan proposal for the entire site comprises approximately 1,500 residential units, of which approximately 35% will be for private sale, 35% will be bespoke Private Rented Sector (PRS) and 30% will be affordable housing. These uses will be supported by a mixture of exceptional retail, employment, creative workspace and community uses. Uniquely, the majority of the 1,500 new homes (over 50%) will be family housing units (3 bed or larger). Furthermore, all private for sale units will be sold domestically to the UK market. This will help deliver a truly thriving community and a destination of choice for Londoners.
To establish this new community at EWS I’ve assembled a team of leading UK architects. To ensure diversity in building design five different architects firms are designing Phases 1 and 2, each responsible for designing two building blocks and houses. They are all working within design perimeters set out in the masterplan developed in partnership with Sheppard Robson and submitted to the Local Planning Authority for approval. The range of contributing architects will ensure a diverse scheme which exemplifies the best of London’s residential architecture inspired by the attractive housing found along the edges of London’s parks. A key aim of the private rented housing is to create a flexible housing option for Londoners, which will provide high quality spaces, amenities and lifestyle opportunities required by occupiers.
As the Development Manager I am responsible for overseeing the ‘front end’ development process, from initial project brief setting, professional team assembly and viability testing to taking each phase through design development process, planning process and ultimately through various internal company gateway processes and to construction commencement.
My current role represents a natural step-up from my previous role so I’ve settled in well. Having a talented team to lead from the outset is vital for timely delivery and is also always very fulfilling. Learning from and building on each other’s strengths and expertise is something I actively promote and I encourage the junior members of the team to get involved in as many work streams as possible and put forward ideas and solutions. Whilst my management role means I am no longer as hands on as I once was, I nonetheless make sure I am available to the team for guidance and support whenever possible. Additionally, I attend design and planning meeting regularly to monitor progress first hand and work closely with the wider technical and finance teams to ensure project viability remains healthy and that we are on programme and budget. Overseeing such a large and prestigious project inherently comes with a lot of responsibility and challenges but is certainly rewarding and diversity of the role means every day is an adventure.
SHP: Finally, it’s been 5 years since you graduated, what are your best memories of Reading?
SU: Obviously Reading gave me a huge head start to my career but to be honest it’s definitely the people. I made some great lifelong friends and seeing all of us progress together in the real estate industry is probably the best legacy of our time at Reading. Beyond work on a personal level it’s great to see friends go on to get married and start families. I would like to think in a few years time we are all going to progress further and hopefully be in position to collaborate more closely.
SHP: Thank you Saif, for giving us such a detailed insight into your career so far. You have certainly packed a lot into the last 5 years and been involved in some very interesting projects. We hope you continue to have such a fulfilling professional life.