inspiring sustainable growth of cities and infrastructure

9th February 2016

Public-Private partnerships to create a sustainable Dubai

Public Private Partnership or PPP is now being recognized and encouraged by the Government of Dubai. In the wake of the recent PPP legislation being passed in Dubai, Future Cities organized a ThinkTank discussion at the ADDRESS MONTGOMERIE Dubai, where the region’s leading architects, consultants and project suppliers discussed ways to accelerate and actualize effective Public Private Partnership activities in the coming year.

1- Peter Ridley – Principal Design Director, Architecture – Perkins +Will
2- David Lessard – Director of Architecture, Perkins+Will
3- Khalid Khan – Lead Design Architect, NEB
4- Lee Evans – ASTM technical Manager, Knauf
5- Darren Harrison – ASTM Manager, Knauf
6- Mohammed Tahbouz – Executive Director, Lacasa
7- Nicholas Kissane – Project Manager, B+H Architects
8- Harry Norman – Managing Director, Flip Flop Media

Mohd Tahbouz: Until now, we haven’t always been on the effective side of building a sustainable city. Yes, we are planning and designing but we don’t have the smart infrastructure, which is required to serve a sustainable city. They have regulations and are introducing more all the time. But we are not actually looking at the evidence-based regulation, where we can at least have the sustainability measures that are being taken into design with true data qualifying it. What I see is legislation being proposed without being tested first. We are sometimes facing requirements that are sometimes not working for the region. I think this is where we need to get engaged with Dubai Municipality and say “let’s look at these legislations you are issuing and see if they are applicable to the region and do they work?”

Khalid Khan: I would add here that we need to educate the clients as well and we need to raise awareness. As architects we try to implement these ideas, but when it comes to the cost, people can be reluctant to move forward. There are good examples of how this partnership works. Like the Standard Chartered project, which is a purpose built building with full green technology. Some corporate clients will have this interest.

Mohd Tahbouz: Mentioning awareness, we have to be convincing. If I am putting something forward and I am not sure that it actually works, and it is not evidence based, it is going to be very hard for me to sell it to you.

Khalid Khan: We need incentives. The client will always look at return on investments.

Peter Ridley: I think the government-consultant relationship can be a struggle in most places of the world to an extent. It comes down to dollars and cents. Plenty of developers start off with a great idea and push the sustainability agenda, but few really commit. In terms of the government side, in Europe and the US they make a lot of noise about it but that doesn’t really bring anything to fruition. In a way, developing cities like Dubai should be in a much stronger position, they have the opportunity to start with a more aligned agenda and learn from the lessons of the west. That opportunity is still available as Dubai is still a relatively young city. But it has to be driven right from the top as part of a bigger vision as to how you make Dubai a truly world leading city.

David Lessard: One thing that Dubai Municipality can be celebrated for is how nimble and quick it is with legislation. Often we suffer from legislation being reactive without benchmarks, but at the same time we have an interesting luxury that Europe and the States might not experience. Something that takes 4 years to pass in other markets can be passed overnight here. We would like to get to a point where the rules are the rules and there are no exceptions, but sometimes each individual legislative case, is dealt case by case.

To arrive at a consensus on legislation is really where the consultants can assist. Informing and advising on those legislations with benchmarked data, before they are actually published, is a good direction to go in.

Mohd Tahbouz: These legislations that are brought in quickly make us all measure “what can we do to pass this legislation?” What is the minimum I can do to meet this requirement? It is not what is optimum for my development use or the building to adopt. But it is what am I going to do to just meet that requirement. This approach will continue to put us into trouble. We are not looking at what is optimum for this system to work, but what is the minimum. Cost and legislation without benchmarking leads us to this situation.

Khalid Khan: When we bring the awareness to the clients, they are willing to spend and can experience the benefits over the long term. There will always be new regulations being brought, but the way forward is how we educate the client and the end user.

Peter Ridley: This is a key point, while the property industry is largely geared up to quick turnover and quick profit, the long-term payback becomes a much harder sell.

David Lessard: It’s definitely an alignment of goals, which are misaligned between private developments and legislation within the municipality. The municipality view is to promote sustainability and to put in as many measures in place to force the hand, whereas the developers’ and clients’ sustainability goals exist to some extent, but they are in business and they need to be profitable. The question is, how can these two align? Because when they are misaligned they become inefficient, the process becomes longer, with everybody looking for loopholes. If there was some middle ground where both were happy to push the same agenda, it would be a lot smoother and efficient. And efficiency leads to the better returns for all parties.

Mohd Tahbous: What is sustainability? Do we all have a common understanding of what sustainability is? A lot of people think green buildings are sustainability. We should go back to the basics, and try and understand what we are talking about. It is not the green building checklist that we tick off with Dubai Municipality, what level of sustainability does the municipality want to have Dubai at? This definition has not been there, until now. Without understanding where we want to reach and what is the full definition of sustainability to Dubai Municipality, we will just run in circles.

Nicholas Kissane: It’s difficult for consultants to actually get the time to meet with Governments. We are both busy people and hard to reach at times, so I think that Forums like this help and during the policy-making and vision setting, the private sector has a lot to give. For example, if the Government sets a mandate to have 20% renewable energy in the next 10 years, they need the private sector to make this happen and if they do not integrate this into the private sector, its not going to work.

Lee Evans: As a manufacturer I think we can add value with the Government on testing products. I don’t think enough is done on actually testing products to be sustainable. Products are being tested in different regions and countries, but may not bring the same results or even work here. We test our products here to prove that they are efficient, things such as VOC free, but when we do this kind of tests the price on the product increases and it can be neglected. The architects put it forward and the client shows interest in sustainability, but as soon as we move into the price and seeing the differences, the conversation tends to shorten. We have the best architects in the world here, they design fantastic buildings, but we need governments and the local authorities to come on board and enforce the legislation and vision.

Mohd Tahbouz: Do you think if we had enough lobby power with DM, that we can incite them to come in and give the client an incentive to build sustainably? May be allow them to have more activity on another land somewhere, or give a fee-waving incentive. We do not see this incentive.

David Lessard: This is a difficult one, they do have this in Europe, US and in some parts of Asia, but usually the incentive is in the return of a tax credit. But here there is no tax here, so how do we begin to incentivise without this?

Mohd Tahbouz: We have to be smart and come up with something on how to make a return to the investor on the adoption of a sustainable system. By finding something, which can show a tangible return on his investment.

Peter Ridley: A key incentive should be the way climate change is happening. According to a recent report the GCC area could be uninhabitable in the next century. This should be a big enough incentive. We need to understand the long-term vision of the region, we should think favourably on cities and countries in the world which do have a ‘healthy society’ and environmentalism is part of the natural flow of life. We aspire to live as well as a Scandinavian, from a public image point of view. The vision needs to come from the top. The opportunity here is not to create Dubai with a perception that it’s just a place for a developer to make a quick buck, but actually it should be a place with more value than that and it’s a place where people should really want to be.

Architecture as a profession does sometimes get lost in daily life. Nicholas touched on how busy we are running around, and that’s true. But when we look at other professions they do a better job of thought leadership. We ought to look at ourselves and see what we can contribute to this.

Mohd Tahbouz: What is stopping us from creating are own lobbying bodies and having ThinkTanks? In the west we have laws being brought in and out, being lobbied and then being passed, why shouldn’t we try to do this? Yes, it might be a new thing to the Middle East, but we should be trying this.

David Lessard: There are a few simple and straightforward things that we are touching upon, especially with standardisation. We are all following the same legislation but we are addressing this through different means. Specifications can be British or American depending on what body we are working on. For the same projects, and the same area we may be looking at more than a dozen different areas. This is a big inefficiency. If the city is growing at the pace that it is growing, and we are trying to mature at the pace we are maturing we are certainly fighting against ourselves on the simple things. Adopting a broad specification standard would simplify people’s lives and cut out the first few workshops on every project where we agree these things.

The discussions continued to touch on various other topics but always circled back to the need for evidence-based and simplified legislations on PPP, along with guidelines based on data-driven and sustainable construction practices. These together can help us achieve meaningful Public Private Partnerships that will in turn build future sustainable projects which will enhance the overall business environments and improve people’s quality of life in our cities.
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