Sunday 18 March 2018

Real deal

The business of property with Philip Farrell

Bloom in the Phoenix Park
Bloom in the Phoenix Park

Philip Farrell

The announcement last week by the Government of its intention to create a Strategic Development Zone at Poolbeg, Dublin, which includes the infamous €412m Glass Bottle site, is very significant. With the commitment now in place to address the housing crisis nationally, this is an opportunity to create something very special that could be used as a template nationally.

The 35-hectare site would potentially provide 3,000 homes plus a host of commercial enterprises including an international film studio. The estimated split will be 70:30 in favour of residential. The fact that it is just 25 minutes' walk from the city centre and adjoining the Docklands says it all. This plan is being fast tracked so once approved it can't be appealed to An Bord Pleanala. Eliminating the appeal process could save up to 12 months in the construction process.

It is not without its challenges however. Only last week, potential cracks started to appear in the plan for the Glass Bottle site with comments from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) highlighting concerns over potential ground pollution emanating from the historical use of the area as a landfill. The EPA confirmed that it had highlighted this issue to the Government some years previously. A group calling itself the 'Glass Bottle Site Housing Action Group' has also been formed in the area to campaign for the entire site to be used for the provision of social and affordable housing as opposed to just the minimum 10pc requirement.

Assuming that the proposed plan proceeds as intended by the end of 2016, it is vital that this is not just seen as another new housing development. This development can be a blueprint for enlightened urban planning and set a precedent. With Nama in control of the site it is an opportunity to maximise the return to the taxpayer while remaining sensitive to the demands for particular housing types in Dublin. Let's hope this development can be seen as a catalyst to addressing our housing crisis.

Construction sector builds momentum

Strong construction sector figures just released by the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) make for interesting reading and may point to a speedier delivery of badly needed housing in major urban areas. Employment in the sector rose by 7.8pc or 9,500 new jobs in the first quarter of 2016, an increase of 28,000 since the first quarter of 2012. At the peak of the boom there were 273,000 people employed in the sector. Today there are 150,000. The figures highlight our two-tier recovery with the unemployment rate for the sector standing at 6.9pc in Dublin and as high as 12.5pc in the southeast. According to Tom Parlon, director general of the CIF, "The new Government must do more to spread growth outside the greater Dublin area and provide job opportunities regionally."

As the CIF has pointed out, many infrastructure projects have been delayed or postponed indefinitely, most in the areas of transport, services and housing. If these plans are not reinstated - and implemented as a national plan - it will only serve to fuel the continued migration to Dublin. Another thing to add to the new minister's 'to do' list.

Energy boost

Last weekend saw the inaugural INM interiors event House 2016, which despite competition from rugby and other events saw a very high turnout. Energy provider and sponsor of the event, Pinergy, took the opportunity to announce its collaboration with Hone on a new daylight technology product which can reduce annual heating costs for residential customers by up to 70pc. Instead of using sunlight to generate energy by solar panels, Hone uses daylight - something we have here in Ireland in greater supply. Using daylight solar panels, a heat engine allows heat to build on the roof while transferring the energy to a thermal store in the hot press. To the untrained eye, daylight Hone panels look like the usual solar panels on the roof.

This has potential to be a game changer. According to Enda Gunnell, CEO of Pinergy, "The water and heating system would cost about €15,000 before a €1,800 SEAI grant. Savings will vary by house/fuel type but will result in a pay-back period of about seven years. The product will last 20 years plus.

"We are also looking at putting funding solutions in place for customers. We plan to target customers who live in the 600,000 detached homes built prior to 2006, many of whom will be heated through oil and are regarded as the most energy inefficient in the country. This approach is consistent with the national obligation to generate 12pc of our heating requirements from renewable sources by 2020."

Based on our average annual cost for both heating and water of €2,000 for a traditional family home, the yearly saving would be in the region of €1,400.

Market of the future

Now that buying property from the comfort of your own home via virtual reality is possible, what other changes might we see in the near-ish future?

One area likely to change is infrastructure. Ultra high-speed trains, running three to four times faster than today, will connect our main cities, potentially providing 45-minute journey times between Dublin and Cork. The spin-off is that the value of land in the suburbs might increase as commuting time becomes less relevant. By 2035, the only cars on the road are likely to be self driving. This would reduce the demand for large city centre parking facilities as cars can be parked in more remote locations.

Another trend is likely to be underground construction because of exorbitant land prices and prohibitive development costs. Shopping centres, gyms, nightclubs and the likes could all be located under ground. Technology which directs sunlight directly into these spaces is already in planning and could potentially create an environment for growing plants underground. New York and Montreal have already initiated developments of this type.

Mega cities will be formed. One proposal under discussion in China is to connect nine cities to create one vast city called Jing Jing Ji with a population of 130 million.

And finally, nanotechnology is being developed to provide high quality construction materials at much reduced costs. Believe it or not it is also likely that 3D printers will eventually be able to construct buildings. Something that Minister Coveney can only dream about.

Philip Farrell is a property expert and market commentator

It's that time of year again when we flock to our very own Chelsea Flower Show, aka Bloom in the Phoenix Park. We'll drool at the designs, pick up the odd plant and a wheelbarrow full of ideas, and take our chances with the weather and the crowds over the bank holiday weekend. This year there's another reason to visit - estate agent Savills has teamed up with Irish gardener Andrew Christopher Dunne who won the 2014 Gold Medal at Bloom to create The Savills Garden: Face to Face. It is all about the increasingly endangered art of face-to-face communication in the age of social media. After the festival, the garden will bloom on as Savills has partnered with the Docklands Art Fund to donate the plants to local community groups. Nice one.

Sunday Independent

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