The right moves: Hines in Ireland for long haul
With over €1.2bn worth of property assets under management and a bulging development pipeline, Brian Moran, senior managing director of Hines Ireland is well placed to comment on property. He also chairs both The Urban Land Institute's (ULI) European Urban Regeneration Council and the ULI National Council and he has strong views on planning and development issues in Ireland.
Mr Moran practiced as an architect in both Dublin and Paris and moved to Russia in 1992 to handle a development project. It was in Russia that he joined Hines, the global real estate firm, to focus on project management and development. At an early stage he discovered that the ULI "produce the best books in the world on real estate- from community development to debt, equity, master planning and marketing and ULI was my main route into property development."
ULI's mission is "to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities."
ULI is not a lobby group and Brian Moran told me that their focus is on promoting "best in class thinking and encouraging a quality focus on property, from design through development, and to encourage young people to think like this."
ULI shares information across disciplines, academia, public and private sectors. "It's a give-back from senior people in the industry to give guidance to the next generation." he added.
Mr Moran believes that Ireland missed a huge opportunity during the wave of development in the "Celtic Tiger" era by developing at densities and building heights that were too low. Indeed his views on planning are in sharp conflict with national spatial planning strategy, which seeks to achieve "balance" by promoting the development of a series of regional cities and towns. "Only dense urban environments will achieve sustainable outcomes for cities" he said.
"Trying to prevent the growth of larger cities is like trying to push back the tide. Low density development is inefficient in supporting services like schools, hospitals and fire stations. Higher density, if well done, leads to better outcomes- there's less sprawl, easier mobility, greater energy efficiency and less pollution."
"We should embrace density" he continued. "The sustainable use of our planet requires the vast bulk of people living in urban environments. Urban living has to be considered as the only sustainable model. Surrounding towns and countryside can only ever play a supporting role. We're wasting resources trying to build urban clusters outside Dublin. But there are no short-cuts to higher density, it takes a lot of work to get it right."
For Dublin, Mr Moran believes that the planners should permit building heights of 30 storeys. However he thinks that approximately 20 storeys is probably the economic height for development in the Dublin market as construction costs rise exponentially above 20 floors. "We should benchmark our tall building designs against cities like Vancouver in Canada and Hanover in Germany as we are on the same latitude as them and we have the same design issues with scale and sunlight."
He is critical of the planning system here which is "expensive and a lottery." "The planning system is not set up to facilitate development-it's set up to slow down development. Whilst some planning authorities are better than others, there needs to be a shift in perspective and for the people processing applications to become more collaborative and to guide applicants towards achieving positive planning outcomes, including adding ideas to make plans better."
The housing crisis is a function of "affordability" he believes and is "exacerbated by the wave of people moving to cities seeking better economic outcomes." The state's tax take is a big part of the problem but he believes that the recent move to permit smaller apartment sizes is a positive development. Another problem has been the lack of investment in integrated public transport and Brian Moran thinks that a first priority is the connection of rail lines via the Dart underground system. This he believes would see "more people moving into the city and would take huge pressure off the M50."
Hines, who are five years in Ireland, will have a considerable influence on the next wave of development in Dublin, as developers/owners of schemes at Cherrywood, Liffey Valley Shopping Centre and Spencer Dock. Mr Moran told me that they are looking for more "large, complex, apartment led master planning schemes. These developments take a long time and we will take a holistic view to place making."