25 Sep

'Collaboration as a Path to Better Cities' Jason de Sousa – Director Major Projects, Lendlease

In the central part of Tokyo’s Roppongi district (which literally translates to ‘six trees’) are Lendlease’s offices. They are in a new commercial building project managed by Lendlease and they are equipped with a greenery filled entrance that characterises many of our workplaces around the world.

I’ve just returned from a week visiting our team there and to say they are supportive would be an understatement. The hospitality, courtesy and care they show for us as visitors extends beyond expectations.

Our Japanese country MD is Andrew Gauci who has called Japan home for over 20 years. A Melbourne boy from Altona, he speaks fluent Japanese but has sustained a vocal passion for the Essendon Football Club. As a Greater Western Sydney Giants supporter myself, our exchanges on this subject were amusing to say the least.

Leading a team of about 500 mostly local recruits, Andrew has built a business with deep relationships with some of Japan’s top firms. Today, with the drive of our Asian region and global executive behind him, he is diversifying the business to help attract Japanese capital to our broader platform of projects in Australia and other markets.  

It’s the type of approach Australian trade missions dream. And it’s possible because of the very localised focus I can see Lendlease is taking in growing each of its international markets, while also leveraging the deep expertise we have in Australia.

Japan itself is mix of supreme organisation, pride of place, country and effort. Its people are focused on doing their best - at everything. They love working with others and, regardless of any language barriers, are engaging and willing to learn and in turn share experiences. It makes doing business there so enjoyable and it also creates an ecosystem for collaboration.

The scale and complexity of property and Infrastructure development they attempt is remarkable. For example, this photo is of the well-known commercial and business centre of Shibuya, which is reportedly home to the two busiest railway stations in the world.

It has a significant private commercial building and precinct being built over existing underground rail - in fact five underground rail lines - in a mix of public and private ownership. Making the development happen required extensive negotiation between the private rail line owners, the developer and the majority publicly owned Japan Railway.

The result of an agreement between these parties is a renewed integrated station precinct now rising - with a strong community understanding of why it’s needed.

Also interesting are the ownership structures of the private rail line companies, with each one a conglomerate comprising commercial property, residential, retail department store and of course the rail line itself.

Suffice to say the Japanese don’t really build rail lines - they build new city suburbs along with corresponding new rail lines. They use investment in new infrastructure to create new parts to their cities, in a way that increases productivity and boosts economic value. And they do it in a way that explains to the community why things are needed, helping to secure essential public support for change and progress.

This is increasingly a model being adopted in Australia, albeit at a different scale. In New South Wales, the government is procuring five integrated precincts along its new driverless metro with a mix of commercial, residential and retail property. The private sector is being asked to tailor each precinct to the needs of the surrounding suburb, ensuring we maintain the character of what makes them unique. Queensland is looking at precinct wide re-developments at several of its stations along its Cross River Rail project, including a new entertainment centre at one precinct and the renewal of the precinct around the famous Gabba cricket ground; while Victoria included two integrated over-station buildings on its Melbourne metro tunnel project.

These are welcome changes in procurement thinking on what it is exactly that new infrastructure projects need to achieve for our cities. However, my experiences recently in looking at other cities, like Tokyo, have me questioning whether we in Australia   are being ambitious enough. I believe we can go further and achieve even better results.

At the heart of this is a need for the private sector to be better aligned with government clients in achieving public sector objectives - by investing time in learning and understanding the problems policy makers, cities and citizens are facing and defining how to collaboratively approach solving them.

One potential approach to achieving this alignment is the “development partner” approach for major development projects, such as that used in the UK for example to develop the planned high speed railway known as HS2.

Rather than being ‘construction led’ this “development partner” approach enables a client to pick a partner early, achieve alignment in commercial risk allocation and agree on return metrics upfront. The partners then work transparently with the community to achieve an understanding of the project’s purpose, it’s scale and why the city needs it before any construction begins. The result is an alignment between the public and private sector and the community on developing new parts of cities that are citizen focused.

With the next generation of major infrastructure projects now being planned in Australia, such as the new airport rail line in Melbourne, Sydney’s Metro West and the Western Sydney Airport, this collaborative approach could better unlock the new parts of our biggest cities.

Now is the time for a deeper conversation between the public and private sector on how our procurement models can be more focused on achieving the best city and citizen outcomes.

Approaches like the “development partner” model could enable us to take the best of what other cities are doing and be innovative and bold in applying these lessons to maximise the benefits of public investment in new infrastructure and make our cities the best they can be for all their citizens into the future.

Jason de Sousa – Director Major Projects, Lendlease

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