Monday, 19th February 2018
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Michael Garland,

bizBoost Chair,

Waterford Business Group

"Are you counting cranes?”

Last week, Deloitte published their "London Winter Crane Survey”.

I heard about this survey on the BBC Breakfast programme, so I had to have a wee look. The interactive website lets you explore in real time, the building works taking place, right here, right now, across London. It’s not surprising to see that the vast amount of construction work, is taking place in the heart of this great City.

The statistics, if you are interested, are simply mind boggling. There are numerous developments upwards of 250,000 square feet and even a few over 1,000,000 square feet! Developments that we here in Waterford can only aspire to. If you use your imagination, you might just be able to see a crane or two, whilst you fantasise!

There are of course, some key headline grabbing findings. The survey states; office construction is down 9% since the previous survey and the last six months have seen the lowest volume of new space started since 2014. This caution is somewhat mitigated, by demolition levels hovering around 8m sq ft, indicating a desire to keep developing. A buoyant rental market, in which 44% of space under construction is already let. There have been above average levels of completions and 2017 is on course to deliver a 13-year high of space.

The outlook for future development looks reasonably optimistic; the demand for new space will remain resilient. The rise of vacancy rates across central London will continue. The continued rise of co-working space is set to impact the market. Brexit will move real estate up the agenda for businesses. This is all very encouraging for the London economy. Well on the surface it does.

Despite all looking, at least on the surface, very rosy - I would hedge any bets. The vast majority of these works, started long before the mess that is Brexit, came to the fore. There would have been a colossal commitment to start developments by a certain date, ensuring rental income would start rolling in.

Clearly, London will forever be ahead of the UK’s building game. I have no doubt that wherever you look, you will always see cranes being used for high-rise expansion.

The crane survey, has now been running for around 20 years. I think it’s a great way to measure just how a local economy is performing. There are very nearly 140 projects covered in the "Winter 2017” report. It must be encouraging for the citizens of London, to see such a huge number of construction projects taking place. Over 12,600,000 square feet of building works are on stream.

Crane counting got me thinking. I know that there is presently, one fixed tower crane at University Hospital Waterford (UHW). This is helping to build a new

Palliative Care Unit and I occasionally see a mobile crane supporting this green monster. Apart from the main "Cranky Crane”, I can’t see any more in our City. Interestingly, I did see a mobile tower crane in Carrick-on-Suir. This crane, like Waterford’s one, is also being used for a Health Service Executive (HSE) project, for a Primary Care Centre.

There may in the very short term, be more tower and mobile cranes, appearing at other HSE sites and enhancing Waterford’s skyline. I’m sure if this were the case, we would welcome these symbols of growth, to our horizon. To date, I fear cranes are an endangered species. Especially, those which will be used for large private development projects. Office space, retail shopping centres, leisure centres etc to name but a few.

Yes, we are ALL waiting for the North Quay, SDZ, to receive a small, insignificant "Government handout”. This will in turn, stimulate a circa €300,000,000 investment, across two sites in Waterford City. The plans will dictate that more than a few tower cranes will be seen, helping to lay the bricks and mortar. However, strange forces are at work, attempting to de-rail and impede this game-changing project for the region.

This political posturing and further shenanigans being played out, are detrimental to successful development. My fear is, that Ireland’s Oldest City’s skyline may take months, or even years, to sport these symbolic silhouettes, our fair share of tower cranes.

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