Specialising in land subdivisions – get in, get out and get dirty

Graham Coles joins Northrop’s Brisbane office as Civil Manager.



Graham’s desire to get in and get his hands dirty at each and every phase of a client’s project ensures his technical experience is integrated with the team’s ability to deliver it.

Graham is the new Civil Manager for Northrop in Brisbane, in the heart of South-East Queensland (SEQ), a region he has worked in for more than 18 years. Graham’s technical and management expertise covers all manner of urban development, but his passion lies in land subdivisions. He understands the client’s vision and delivers cost-efficient outcomes while working with industry stakeholders to ensure project risks remain low.

Every site and client is unique

For Graham, every site is different, but the process in which critical elements are determined is the same. What does vary, he says, is the client and what the client sees as success. Listening to what that is and getting that right from the start leads to further opportunities and success for both his team and his clients.

In the present financial climate, Graham appreciates that clients want to get in and get out as quickly as possible in an effort to mitigate the unknowns of market and financial changes outside of their control.

“My understanding of the critical project elements ensures that my clients acquire the land as free of external constraints as possible,” he explains. ”They have the right budget to complete the project, we have the team to deliver the results that makes their project a success, and we reduce time exposure on their projects.”

Fundamentals and continual learning

When he first became a civil engineer, Graham was involved in as-constructed drafting for civil subdivisions services before progressing into hydraulic pit and pipe designs, flood modelling projects and then development cost estimates or feasibility investigations.

“These early days provided me with a ‘ground-up’ understanding of the fundamentals of land development, which allowed me to progress into construction administration and onto project management,” he says.

Having spent the majority of his career working on projects in SEQ, Graham has had to continually understand and refresh his knowledge to work across at least seven different local authority areas within the region.

“Every council region has its own set of rules and requirements that have to be applied,” he says. “It’s been a process of getting to know the varying standards, the officers that implement them and understand what will ensure the project success particular to the locality.”

Developing SEQ land subdivisions

These days, Graham is heavily involved in the pre-acquisition phase of projects which is where clients see the greatest risk, where they lock themselves into a project budget, he says. His experience is in this space, backed up by continuing technical development on projects around current polices and guidelines.

Graham says in South-East Queensland, developments are often established by massing together several smaller fragmented land holdings when they’re not master planned community developments.

“The acquisition process is often the key to a successful development in that there is a need to understand the implications of having or not having legal access to essential services such as sewer and water as well as stormwater and flood management implications,” he says.

“The key to success in developing in Queensland is understanding these global site constraints and ensuring they are addressed early in the project acquisition process.”

No substitute for experience

Graham’s range of project scale experience has provided him with an understanding of what makes a difference at the micro scale as well as at the macro sale on projects.

He has designed, supervised the construction of, and project managed from pre-purchase feasibilities to off-maintenance inspections, projects ranging from small land subdivisions for small developers through to several thousand lot master planned communities for some of Australia’s largest Tier 1 companies.

Graham’s experience extends beyond the realm of residential land subdivisions though, including projects in industrial lot development and land subdivisions, small shopping centres and large retail centres - both new and refurbishments, as well as service stations, childcare centres, aged care centres and multi-unit residential developments, for boutique and project builder developers.


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