What is a Master Plan?

A Master plan is a long term planning framework that presents a vision for the future. A Master Plan must be flexible and capable of responding to change over time.

A Master Plan can be prepared at various scales including:

  • Large geographical areas at a state or regional level. These are more often known as strategic plans, such as the Draft Metropolitan Strategy for Sydney
  • City or town level plans such as The Parramatta Town Centre Master Plan
  • Individual precincts or sites such as a school or hospital.

A Master Plan can comprise visions, urban design principles, strategies and objectives and design guidelines.

Master Plans may be known by other names such as Structure Plans and Urban Design Frameworks. It may also form part of other studies. For instance, a Plan of Management may comprise a Master Plan and its components.

Master Plans can be developed for immediate implementation or staged over time. Some can plan for as long as 30 years into the future. Long term plans may require regular reviews so that the strategy can be adapted to take advantage of new opportunities or technologies.

What does a Master Plan address?

Although each Master Plan is unique, they generally address these four key principles – commonly known as a Quadruple Bottom Line (QBL):

1. Economic – ensuring economic feasibility for everyone who has a stake in the Master Plan including businesses, employees, authorities, investors, developers, the broader community and visitors

2. Sustainability – developing planning strategies that ensure compatibility between the built realm and the environment

3. Social – providing a safe and equitable community where people can live, work, be educated, play and socialise

4. Civic Leadership – promoting cooperative and transparent leadership in all levels of government and organisations

Each principle is balanced with the other. When one principle is out of balance the Master Plan may not meet its objectives. For instance, a Master Plan that proposes strategies that achieve its Economic, Sustainability and Social objectives may not succeed if it suffers from poor Civic Leadership.

Who is a Master Plan for?

A Master Plan is for everyone. It provides confidence and direction for the future.  It gives authorities, businesses and the community the ability to make informed decisions about where they want to live, work and invest.

The Master Plan is used by government authorities such as local councils to identify land zonings, building heights and density regulations in their Local Environment Plans (LEP) and Development Control Plans (DCP). These documents provide the development regulations which govern new development. This gives life to the Master Plan.

Who Prepares a Master Plan?

A Master Plan is prepared by an Urban Designer. If the city is a machine, then an urban designer is like an engineer. The role of the urban designer is to understand stakeholder aspirations, how the place should function, and to prepare a strategy to achieve it. This strategy will identify what specialists are needed and at what stages of the plan.

What is the purpose of a Master Plan?

A Master Plan has a number of purposes. Its purpose depends on the type of Master Plan and who it is for.

Master Plan uses may include:

  • A method for government authorities to look after the welfare of its residents
  • Explaining the future vision of a place to the community.  The vision identifies goals and aspirations and gives them a structure and a plan for implementation
  • Guiding the future growth of a city and ensuring it meets the objectives of Quadruple Bottom Line requirements
  • Sourcing funds from government, private or community sources
  • Preserving the character of a place. This can include historic buildings, view corridors and important landscape features
  • Determining the staging of future development, roads and infrastructure – what is built first and why. A financial strategy is often interlinked with development staging
  • Determining what a place needs to become vibrant and full of people
  • Establishing a set of benchmark principles that maintain the design quality planned from the outset of a project
  • Providing consistency in approach so that everyone is on the same page. This give stakeholders   the means to make informed decisions
  • Assessing the need for improvements and the capital needed for the works. This is particularly important for educational and health facilities – where costs can be integrated into future budgets

Professional master planning from the outset will minimise blind alleys, false starts and maximise your resources and results.

What is the Master Plan process?

A Master Plan can be created using any number of methodologies. However,  a Master Plan generally follows a DESIGN process:

  • Project Establishment
  • Research
  • Design
  • Review
  • Implement

If you are preparing a Master Plan for a government authority, such as a local council, the process may follow a similar methodology – but with a few extra steps. This is because authorities may be required to consult with the local community to comply with their policies. This may be an important part of Quadruple Bottom Line (QBL) methodology – Civic Leadership requirements.

Here is  a sample process that might be used:

1. Project Establishment – During this stage the project brief and methodology are confirmed. The methodology may include a community and stakeholder consultation strategy. Leadership roles and lines of communication are also established. These are then bound together by a project plan.

2. Research and Analysis – The research and analysis stage provides a deep understanding of a place. This analysis requires an understanding of its people as well as its physical geography. Analysis can take many forms – it may have a desktop component but the experience of spending time in the place you are studying is critical. Spending time on site  helps you understand it’s personality, how it functions, how it’s perceived and how it responds to different events (climatic, social and cultural). Analysis may take the form of surveys, interviews, site photography, SWOT, data collection and at a basic level – observation. During this stage it is common for the local community and stakeholders to be consulted.

3. Vision Creation – A Vision is a product of the research and analysis stage. The Vision is commonly developed with the community and stakeholders. The Vision may be developed into urban design principles and objectives that will guide the Structure Plan.

4. Structure Plan or Urban Design Framework – A Structure Plan provides the bones of a Master Plan. It’s important to get this stage right otherwise the Master Plan not come together cohesively. The Structure Plan gives form to the Vision and gives it structure.

The Structure Plan may comprise:

  • Movement Framework
  • Land Use Framework
  • Open Space Framework
  • Catchment Framework
  • Infrastructure Framework

5. Community and Stakeholder Consultation – Consultation is a process that gives the community an opportunity to provide ideas, provide feedback on the proposed design options and be informed about the process. Consultation can comprise public forums, workshops, meetings, newsletters or an interactive website.

6. Design Development with the production of a draft Master Plan – This stage details the Structure Plan. It looks for ways to activate a place and give it life. Place activation is considered during the Structure Plan stage of the methodology however, at a much higher level. During Design Development building envelopes and the spaces between are developed and detailed.

7. Public Exhibition, including further Consultation of draft Master Plan – The Public Exhibition is a time when the community and stakeholders can provide formal feedback on the Master Plan, usually in written form. The timeframe is generally 4 to 8 weeks. All the feedback must be considered as a whole and must be fair and equal to the entire community. The feedback is then collated and considered when finalising the Master Plan.

8. Preparation of a final Master Plan – The final Master Plan is a product of the Public Exhibition, review by the relevant authority and the consultant team. The Master Plan is finalised and then issued to the Client.

9. Endorsement of the Master Plan by Council – The final Master Plan is then endorsed by Council. This endorsed Master Plan is then used by Council to establish budgets, funding sources and resource requirements

What Does a Master Plan Look Like?

Master Plans are documents that incorporate both graphic and written elements, including:

  • Structure plans and urban frameworks, building massing and envelopes and staging diagrams
  • Elevations and sections of streetscapes and land topography
  • Analysis diagrams that help you understand the history, the function and important elements that  comprise a place
  • Perspectives and illustrations
  • Photomontages
  • Animated views or flythroughs
  • Augmented reality for smart devices – showing artificial information overlaid on real-time scenes
  • 3D modelling and virtual 3D models
  • Statements such as vision statements
  • Guidelines and principles such as urban design principles or design guidelines
  • Written strategies that help explain the intent of the Master Plan
  • Statistical information and projections
  • Checklists for implementation

The composition of a Master Plan will depend on the message being conveyed and the intended audience. A Master Plan may be a graphic drawing, a report – or it could be a combination of both.

A Master Plan is intended as a guide to future development rather than dictate its final design. A good Master Plan sets the benchmark for growth, development and character in a city or town. Therefore, a Master Plan will generally be indicative when showing built form. Some plans may use perspectives or 3D models to show what a place could look like in the future. These are intended to give an impression of the future. This is very different to the imagery placed on building sites to show the future development – which is an actual representation.

Urban designers can prepare a Master Plan for you or can help you visualise the elements of an existing Master Plan.

If you would like some assistance with a Master Plan contact us here.