Re: Re: The Question of Land

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I have a feeling we will never agree on macro economic policy but that it is clearly time to stop the blame game and estabvlish a clear development policy going forward. No developed economy can function without a healthy construction sector but equally no construction sector can deliver secure employment if the underlying development strategies are not sustainable.

Couldn’t have said it any better myself. You know, I have noticed a good deal of personal break time over the last week, end up being spent running my mouth off at Archiseek. I was hoping to enjoy a proper break, where I read more and talk a lot less. I find that way I learn more too. But it has been really nice I must say, to read some of the stuff posted here, obviously written by more intelligent people than I am.

It is notable that the stimulus package is targeted at delivering other objectives beyond and directly contrasting with an objective to simply refloat the status quo of the previous 24 years of almost uninterupted boom from 1983 – 2007.

Yeah, the thing that floats my boat most about the new concepts of sustainability (or perhaps they aren’t so new as we like to think, but rather re-adjusting our outlook a bit better) is that it offers people working in all areas, both public and private an opportunity to jolt out of a way of thinking that has lasted and developed over most of my lifetime. Being born in 1974, I was only just coming to an age of consciousness when all of the things in the 1983-2007 timeframe played out. What I mean is that I have grown up with certainly things in the world seeming normal to me. In order to perceive a different option, I need a strong and robust model in order to guide me. I think that is probably true of many in my generation.

Recovery to 2005 levels is certainly acheivable but it needs to be based on a vision containing a set of core principals which need to be agreed by the social partners to ensure that industrial unrest is absent as was the case from 1987 – 1997 i.e. the phase when high growth and low inflation were present in all but 2 years.

Another very interesting point. I believe the professionals need to fall in behind whatever agreement in necessary too. To be honest, I was shocked at easily people in the professions took to the real free market, dog-eat-dog mentality that really came out in Ireland towards the end of the last cycle. I wouldn’t have predicted that at all. Living on this little island for most of my life, I imagined we were somehow better or more immune, or pure or something. There was an interesting documentary about Madoff on BBC. It is interesting the way in which the God complex takes over in the end. One can get a self-believe that one is invincible. That is very sad to watch in people, especially talented people one knows and respects.

3. Certain infrastructural investments have the potential to disproportionately deliver connectivity and reduce carbon footprint.

4. Average medium term housing demand is say 50,000 – 65,000 units per annum based on a young population structure ( revised Bacon analysis required)

5. Office demand is say 500,000 sq m p.a. (wild guess), Logisitics / light industrial demand is say 500,000

I have to say, I do agree with the above. I am also glad that people such as Paul Keogh and indeed quite a number of others seem to be keyed into the ‘big concept’. And are interesting in making a plan that could work and deliver back acceptable economic conditions and prospects in Ireland. I also agree with the notion, that many other parts of the world do need to rise to a similar kind of challenge.

I have written elsewhere at Archiseek, about the need to be careful in the legislation that we introduce. Whatever road we go down with legislation, must ensure that the Paul Keogh’s of this world remain part of the re-building process. What I saw from the inside during the Celtic Tiger years, was an almost systematic attempt to exclude good ideas from the process. On the one hand we felt good about ourselves when we produced so many professionals and graduates. But then when it came to the hurdle of involving them in the process, all kinds of excuses were found to explain why we shouldn’t include them. This resulted in massive ill-feelings with
in the professions themselves.

6. Retail should be tilted towards tourist led demand given the oversupply of hotels, with City & Town centre development being prioritised; user clauses of out of town retail should exclude all uses except bulky goods and one or two catering pods.

Quite an interesting suggestion. At a recent brainstorming session of industry people mainly, the idea was developed to build healthcare facilities which could become ‘best of breed’ on the world stage. That providing of healthcare in Ireland could be expanded beyond catering for people within the island alone. I suppose, given the fact that it is now an open and large European region it makes a lot of sense. Who knows, maybe the market goes beyond the Europe region. I thought it was an interesting idea, and could quite neatly dovetail with what you mention in relation to retail strategy.

9. Completed Residential units in delinquent schemes held by NAMA should be transfered to a holding company to be rented out atr current market rates and not left on the market or sold at fire sale prices. The income potentially paid by the government in many cases would pay the commercial mortgages and as a result remove the deliquant status from the loan, that in turn improves the NAMA profile, reduces negative perception of government debt lowering finance costs and removes supply overhang.

I would have to add to that, we have the opportunity in Ireland now to evaluate other rental models for building sustainable residential communities (in the right places) in Ireland. I mean, from the get-go, the Dublin Docklands area had sustainability stamped right all over it, at the masterplan stage. It was ourselves that really managed to screw it up. We had no idea or plan for what we were doing, besides putting up as much concrete as we could find credit for, and allowing the remainder to cater for itself. Hardly a world beating model for the roll out of a sustainable, international standard living/working thriving urban hub.

However, the developers I know from my own experience had done certain calculations. They knew how much to spend on development and no more. They were used to operating within a certain climate in Ireland and had learned how to survive within it. One could argue that they helped to create that climate in the first place, or the lowest common denominator. But we as a nation also have a responsibility to create conditions off the bat, which enable private builders to aspire to more. Trying to argue that more ‘liveable apartments’ are required in the Docklands area is ridiculous. Trying to force those through legislation at planning stage is not good enough. If the average family in Dublin would not want to raise a family in Mayor Street.

Why don’t families what to raise a family in Mayor Street? There is a whole raft of reasons and most of them would require audacious government scale intervention to correct. Ballymun regeneration for all its efforts suffered from the exact same problems. We have been sitting by and posturing about how great our efforts to turn around Ballymun have been. I don’t think it stands up yet in all of the 5-stage model of sustainable development.

What I mean, is that regardless of whether it is private land in the Docklands or public land in Ballymun, we still have not figured out this process from end to end. In terms of families, communities, lifestyle, opportunities and economics. There are too many bodies, too many civil servants involved and too many people to keep happy. Not project can really carry itself and all of that weight at the same time. The one huge advantage the private developers I worked for had, was they knew how to keep things lightweight so that projects had a chance of getting completed. The public side of the fence, really hasn’t to learn that about team building and team dynamics.

Trying to haul out private developers and point the finger solely at them, avoids the real problem, that we don’t have the perfect model in an overall sense yet. As I said, the private developers are the ones who really understand how team dynamics work, and it is a pity there aren’t the same skills in the public sector yet. Adamstown did look promising for a while though, and certainly the good press it received was deserved. But unfortunately though, if we could achieve the right sequence in Adamstown, then why couldn’t we do it in more central areas aswell?

12. Construction costs have fallen dramatically as have finance costs both need to be carefully controlled by limiting development consents going forward to ensure that provision of space remains competitive.

Very good point well made. I think professionals have a lot to answer for here also. I can think of dozens and dozens of cases during the Celtic Tiger – even with the supposedly best architects in the country involved at the helm – where value for money ideas flew out the window. Designers have a really, really poor ability in this area. But in general, also have very clever arguments for trying to justify the crimes against cost-control they can commit. I think the basic difficulty here stems from the fact that Irish designers grew up in such a poor country, where they didn’t have the opportunity to learn about money and how it aught to be managed. Then when the money came along, they simply had not to time or resources available to them to understand how well it can be managed. Designers really need to own up in this regard, and if they can’t see a problem here, then that is the problem.

Where I think the design community really needs to focus is on the early stages of the model of sustainability I described. (Only until they have had a chance to upgrade their skills in cost control and construction, through working with people who really understand that area) Designers have so much more than anyone else to contribute in the early stages of the sustainable development model. I am all for building employment in those area for designers. But don’t let them near construction. I really mean that, don’t let them go near construction until they are prepared. And until we have sorted out a better model for how design teams can work. Something along the lines of what Amory Lovins in talkng about.

An advanced studies stream could be provided for designers who want to advance into the construction design stages. It shouldn’t be taught by other professionals, but by people like myself who understand how things work on the cold face. I could certainly help in that area myself, as I know a lot of people I worked with who could do. But we are not going to get any kind of value for money in construction terms with consultants on the loose. I am pretty sure of that. For all of their best intentions they really haven’t got the training. I could start with many of the published design awards selection there.

It is going to be hard to get designers to change for the better in this regard though. So much of their business model in the past depended on spending away too much money, to get far too little in return for it. There lack of construction skills and understanding was less exposed if they worked on smaller jobs. While their fees grew proportionally as the cost of construction went up for those smaller jobs. A lot of the ‘award winning’ projects every year are a result of finding that balance. For instance, a civil office for a regional authority, that looks like Bill Gates might live/work in it.

Of course, we were building from a very low base there also. For decades since the founding of the state, there was some kind of cosy relationship between owners of crumbling old Georgian building stock, that was rented to the state. When our involvement in the EU accelerated through various treaties and so forth, the Irish government was asked to clean up its act in this regard. We still cannot seem to find that right value for investment balance here. The OPW seems to be at the centre of this problem too. In that none of their employees appear to have ever worked in the real commercial world themselves.

I worked on one job where the OPW was the client and because the walls were circular, we had to install circular doors also. I am no carpenter, but I knew the guys installing the fittings and they could tell me exactly how much the price changes when you veer away from standards in components like doors. But the OPW attitude is that, if the budget was there, then lets find ways to spend all of it. It troubles me greatly that an awful lot of people involved in sustainability of architecture now, hope to get awayy with the same exact thing. That they will not be the subject of any real kind of cost efficiency benchmarking process – or even better, post occupancy evaluation to see what was necessary, and what wasn’t. The RIAI journal certainly won’t print anything like that, because it is compromised too. We are locked into a system of our own design, like a binge drinker or addict or some kind.

Lets bear in mind that there are highly trained designers involved there, employed by the state and who are responsible for delivering value for the state. Yet, their curriculum vitae shows no really honest experience in being the client. I was the client for a number of years myself, and boy is it different from graduating at the top of one’s class at Design School. Which is what most of the OPW are, the top of their class at design school. This is why I worry that the OPW is involved in anything to do with sustainability. You need people who have experience being a client in the real world and being ones own boss. Guys like Michael O’Leary would be an ideal example of that. We shouldn’t laugh at him, we should be asking him for his advice.

The over-reliance on construction is the major problem at present but a clear plan needs to be established based upon a shift from site opportunity led development to a system governed by tax breaks on sustainability and competitiveness criteria.

Like I said, don’t rely on the OPW and design consultants in that regard at all. They have been compromised by too many years of experience working in a bent system. Unless you refer to getting them invovled in the early stages of the sustainability model, where I believe they are very well qualified, and yes, I would 100% support them. I think training can happen in the other areas, with the right communication between private sector clients/developers and the established construction professionals. This really needs to happen now, if we are to succeed. One group has never talked or exchanged ideas for as long as I have been around.

Neither seem to know it yet, but both have different parts of the greater puzzle already un-locked. It is only a communication barrier that is holding back progress. That is why I positioned myself squarely in the project management field a number of years back, and have worked my butt off trying to advance myself in that area ever since. I realized that trying to get myself featured in the design awards wasn’t going to help the overall system to function better. One has to speak a few more languages than that.

The task of how we integrate the four or five great pieces of this puzzle is going to require the best project management skills we have. Think of it like putting together a complex working system, something like a Boeing aeroplane. Now there is something, you really don’t want to leave up to designers alone. You don’t want to leave it up to the bean counters either. But you do need to integrate both in some way.

How we get them to the hotel needs to be on a shoe string for now i.e. allow taxi’s to use the port tunnel free and use the former truck lanes on the Liffey Quays to become a QBC/QTC. The days of thinking in billions are gone for now, you need to think in re-regulation and delivering stimulus not as dole but in making core industries more efficient; it is time for the rabbits to put on welding goggles and get on with creating the future.

Some excellent thinking coming out there. Keep it up, and keep on circulating the ideas out there. They are sure to be picked up sooner or later, or I have misread the world very badly indeed. I say that to the entire Archiseek group also. Keep up the work. Over and out.

Brian O’ Hanlon

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