Sunday 23 July 2017

Dublin apartment heights must go up to win Brexit bid

The Vertium Building on Dublin’s Burlington Road is one of U+I’s highest profile Irish projects
The Vertium Building on Dublin’s Burlington Road is one of U+I’s highest profile Irish projects
Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

The chief executive of property group U+I, Matthew Weiner, has said the Government should reduce the rate of VAT on new builds and allow for an increase in apartment building heights in Dublin city centre in order to address the capital's acute housing crisis.

Speaking to the Irish Independent following the publication yesterday of U+I's full-year results, Mr Weiner agreed with concerns expressed by developers including Johnny Ronan and Hibernia Reit chief executive Kevin Nowlan that Dublin's ongoing shortage of residential accomodation could see it lose out to other European cities in the bid for companies relocating from the UK in the wake of Brexit.

While U+I's interest in the Irish market has to date been largely confined to its investment in office and retail developments, with the Vertium building on Dublin's Burlington Road being the standout office project among these, Mr Weiner said his company is interested in developing mixed-use housing and office schemes here.

"A core part of our business in the UK is the development of mixed-use regeneration projects. We think that housing and offices can be a component of every scheme going forward. We would love to bring that to Dublin," he said.

Asked for his views in relation to the current limitations on the height and density of residential accomodation in the capital, the U+I chief said: "It's clearly restrictive. You either build up or you build out. For me, some of the people who work in a Google or a Facebook don't want to live in a two-up, two-down in the suburbs. I think you do have to think about densification of the city centre.

"In London, it's a bigger land mass. We don't want to build 60-storey towers in Zone One London, but we do like to build 10-storey density in and around transport nodes in good suburban locations. Dublin isn't big enough to pursue that strategy, but I think it probably has to accept 10 to 15 storeys in the centre in appropriate locations are the way to solve the housing supply crisis," he added.

Mr Weiner said, however, that the development of residential accommodation had to be "economically viable" before it would be delivered.

He said: "The VAT rate punishes the developer. I'm surprised there hasn't been some form of relaxation of VAT. The development industry, and U+I are included in that, will try to deliver space if it can; if it can do so on an economically viable basis."

Commenting more generally on Dublin's potential to benefit from the post-Brexit relocation of companies from London and UK, he said: "It's demand that probably wouldn't have existed had the June 23 [Brexit] vote gone the other way. So even if Dublin picks up 1pc or 10pc [of Brexit relocations], it's still going to be positive. And then you are allowing for the fact that no space was built for 10 years effectively. So there will be a lot of people who just want to upgrade the quality of space. And then there's the generic churning of space. Those three components all make me believe demand might be slightly stronger than historic levels."

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