“I did the bulk of my early career in the UK working in finance for Amec Investments Ltd. They had a large construction portfolio, so as I advanced to Financial Controller I was introduced to the industry in that way,” says Vince Harney, CEO of Anisorian, describing his lateral introduction to construction.
The international real estate advisory, which he now leads from a base in Ireland, includes Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) valuations and sustainability in real estate among its specialist services.
“I’ve worked internationally throughout my career so I have had a great chance to see different methods of construction, and cultures of innovation across the global construction industry,” Harney says. “The construction industry will have a huge say in how to provide a more sustainable future.”
Global status reports for carbon emissions consistently indicate 40 per cent of all global emissions can be accounted for through the built environment.
“It’s all interrelated. You can’t disassociate any of it,” he adds.
Harney describes how, from sourcing raw materials to the final project being delivered, there needs to be “joined up thinking”. He also offers a warning for the commercial sector, and the construction industry as a whole, that sustainability, green initiatives and environmental trends are incredibly important to investors.
“We’re seeing investor groups right now are very aware to avoid buying any non-green projects, so there’s a warning there for the industry,” he says.
Though optimistic for the future, another cautionary note is how regulatory bodies, like the EU, and investor groups are both working to the same ends – a more sustainable future through the built environment – but working at it from different angles.
“We’re seeing investors move one way, and the EU another but both are moving toward the same goal,” Harney adds.
These independent approaches to the same issue, Harney believes, is a good thing with regard to sustainability measures but for the industry it makes it all the more pressing that builders take note to deliver homes to sustainable standards.
“Ireland can be a bit slow to adapt, not for lack of volition, but the bureaucracy can be cumbersome.”
How do we build a more sustainable future, while addressing the housing crisis? The recipe for success involves one part Industry and two parts Government.
“The industry needs to embrace sustainability, for the simple fact that we have got to have a future,” he says.
In terms of the governmental policy, finance and planning are two major hurdles to delivering sustainable homes in Ireland.
The industry has adopted some innovative modular solutions to supplying more homes, reducing carbon emissions in the process, though Harney does question if it’s happening quickly enough.
“We need to prevent the planning process from becoming this torturous grind,” he says. “There’s no shortage of potential sites for constructing homes to solve the housing crisis.”
Harney is waiting expectantly for the final outcome of the planning reform, cautiously optimistic that the new process will reduce bureaucracy to allow homebuilders to deliver the houses the country needs.
“We need to see joined up thinking,” he says. “I do think from what we have seen, that the Government is listening to the industry during this consultation process. They have embraced the mindset needed to find the right solution.
“If the Government’s attitude to planning reform consultation is reflected in the final result, then I think we have cause to be optimistic.”
As for funding, Harney believes there are some unexplored avenues that could maximise both homebuilder’s outputs and delivery of social housing.
“I think what you will find is that many homebuilders would embrace doing a lot more social housing on their schemes, in particular as you can develop some incredibly useful funding models to deliver more homes,” he says. “There are definitely some interesting funding models that could be explored using social housing.”
He discusses an idea where social housing could form the bulk of funding for phase one projects with the Government’s ability to provide lump sum payments for pre-allocated social housing units within a scheme, compared against the “drip-drip” of private home sales.
It would require a level of imagination, and volition on the part of the Government but Harney believes “there is value in that which isn’t overt or obvious to people right now.”
There are issues facing homebuilders that do require more attention from government, he admits.
“There’s a disconnect from some in government as to just how drastic the cost difference for apartments is as against typical semi detached homes,” he says.
Looking to Europe
Detailing the variables, he describes costs as fully 50 per cent more expensive per square metre for apartment building “and that’s before you take into account the acute hyper-inflation you see in specific materials”.
“You see in Europe a much more efficient and appropriate mindset towards apartment building,” he says. “You see here in Ireland, local authorities might decide to place an apartment at the edge of a site, looming over a housing estate.”
He compares this to more European examples of apartment building, which are located “much closer to existing amenities and public transport”.
Harney understands that for planners, the attraction of apartments is to meet density guidelines, “but placed inappropriately far away from urban centres it really doesn’t make sense”.
Looking to Europe he notes that apartments are typically built for the inner-city and outer-city while almost never rural.
“We need a common sense approach to where you place apartments. We also have to talk about the Dublin skyline.” he
says. “We don’t need gargantuan block upon block of apartments, but look at very nearly every European country and you see apartments in the city centres.”
Sometimes the solution is at the feet of the local authorities.
“Planners will always refer to the legislation, as is their mandate, but some of the stuff in there is really archaic,” he adds. As ever, the shining examples of government and industry cooperation in sustainable home delivery are the Nordic countries.
“Finland is a leading light in green home building,” Harney says. “We have some incredible examples locally of intelligent planning and city building.
“Some councils are much more adept at responding to sustainability needs, while others might be a bit caught up in policy.
“We should make note of our successes,” he says of local authorities that have explored innovative and impressive models for smart planning.
“Look to Limerick as a really strong example of a green city and what can be done to promote sustainability.”