Working together to create the future
Published: 13. March 2023
Transitioning former industrial sites to a new life cycle opens up new perspectives for the regions concerned. At the same time, it is important to incorporate different perspectives into the devel- opment process. In this interview, Isaac Reber, Cantonal Councillor for Basel-Landschaft, and Dr Felix Grisard, President of the HIAG Board of Directors, offer an insight into their collaboration at the Pratteln site.
Dr Grisard, does HIAG have a kind of ideal process for site development?
Felix Grisard: There’s no such thing as an ideal process that can be applied to all sites. That’s because each site presents its own specific challenges. Any process can be described as ideal if it results in a sustainable site that has a good future ahead of it. Development must, of course, also translate into a financial gain for HIAG.
What criteria determine the direction in which a site is developed?
Felix Grisard: The mix has to be right. The quality and sustainability of the development also depends on a good mix. Each site develops over a period of time, often spanning many years. A lot changes during that time, and we have to take that into account. The development of traffic arteries is a good example of this. Better and better train connections running at shorter intervals bring many places closer to urban centres and make them appealing places to live.
Mr Reber, the former industrial site is located in the immediate vicinity of Pratteln railway station and is to be rezoned to a residential and commercial zone with a utilisation rate of around 2.0 by means of a neighbourhood planning process. What is your assessment of this project?
Isaac Reber: The site used to be a good location for industry. But today, when you have six S-Bahn connections per hour to Basel, four to Liestal and two towards Rheinfelden, it doesn’t make sense for industrial production to continue at this central location. If we look to the future from the perspective of sustainability, we have to say yes to urban developments in places like this with such good transport connections. But density always goes hand in hand with quality. The study competition that HIAG conducted together with representatives of the municipality and the canton in 2020/21 highlighted the potential and added value for Pratteln, and laid the ground- work for the current development. Pratteln is very important to us, and is significant to the whole can- ton for a number of reasons. That is why we are very interested in it and welcome the fact that the site is being developed by HIAG.
How does HIAG align its interests with those of the respective region/municipality? How and on which levels does communication take place?
Felix Grisard: What’s needed is a process in which mutual trust is built up. This is the basis for a mutual willingness to work together. This cooperation between the publicand private sectors should not be driven by short-term profit but by the pursuit of long-term and positive solutions. Good communication is important in this respect as it is the only way to achieve set goals. Of course, opinions and needs sometimes diverge, but then you have to find reasonable compromises that work for both sides. We now have a lot of experience in this area, and I think that HIAG is perceived by the public sector as a partner that can be trusted.
How is the population involved in the development of the canton and the planning of such projects?
Isaac Reber: Those living in a municipality are the ones who are mainly affected by such a project. We (i.e. the canton and HIAG) also work very well together on another level, which is the technical level. The utilisation plan is ratified by the municipal assembly, which means that it is most important that not only the neighbours but also the entire population of Pratteln is genuinely involved. HIAG works with the municipality to do this in an exemplary manner. They actively seek a dialogue with the population and all stakeholders, and regularly invite them to information events. The dialogue with the neighbouring residents and the municipality of Pratteln is therefore working very well. The canton, in turn, has a good relationship with the municipality of Pratteln at the political and administrative levels.
The GLEIS SÜD site is the former location of the Rohner chemical factory. It is listed in the register of polluted sites as an industrial site in need of clean-up. What challenges did this pose for the canton?
Isaac Reber: When the Rohner company ceased operations in 2019, around 15,000 tonnes of various different chemicals were stored on the site and in the buildings and had to be disposed of properly. Some of the facilities also still contain hazardous substances, and you can’t just stop that. You have to shut them down and finally empty the whole thing and dispose of it properly. We found it very positive and gratifying that HIAG was immediately prepared to take on the responsibility. It didn’t take us long to find our feet and plan the next steps together. This even ended up accelerating the development process. The investigations of the subsoil are currently in full swing in order to be able to continue and optimise the necessary clean-up of contaminated sites in a timely manner under the supervision of the canton.
HIAG incurred significant additional costs and losses after the bankruptcy of Rohner AG. How do you factor such imponderables into a project?
Felix Grisard: HIAG has many sites with an industrial past. We have already gained a great deal of know-how when it comes to dealing with pollutants and contaminated sites. In the case of Pratteln, we had major environmental issues in particular that had to be “dealt with” unexpectedly and immediately after the purchase. This was very awkward and difficult for communication with investors. Today, fortunately, we have a site with very good prospects for the future, but it came at a price. I am of the opinion that as a solvent owner of a site, one must also take responsibility in such a difficult case. Offering a hand is also the decent thing to do in this situation. This requires long-term thinking.
What has changed for the canton as a result of the change in ownership from Rohner to HIAG?
Isaac Reber: I think both HIAG and we were surprised by the very sudden end of the Rohner chemical factory. We had assumed that there would be a transformation on this site and around the Pratteln railway station in the medium term. We had to find our feet at the beginning, but everyone was aware that we had to sort things out. This has enabled very efficient processes that are now helping to bring the siteback up to the legally required standard, also in environmental terms.
The topic of sustainability is an important one for HIAG in its business activities. How and in which areas do you promote sustainability?
Felix Grisard: HIAG has practised sustainability since its beginnings in the real estate industry because we have a very long-term focus. Today, we also want to show genuine progress and make it measurable. Our sites are certified in accordance with the Minergie or SNBS stand- ards, so we are constantly developing in this respect. It is important to me that this sustainability is not just something for the stock market and its regulators, but that practical sustainability becomes a part of our culture. Too many papertigers have already been born.
Mr Reber, how confident are you about the future?
Isaac Reber: Change is happening everywhere. We need to anticipate it, accept it where it is inevitable and above all create something produc- tive for the future. I believe that we are in a very good position here in Pratteln, but also in the Basel region as a whole, to bring about the necessary and sustainable transformations for future generations.
Mr Grisard, what are HIAG’s goals for the future?
Felix Grisard: We see ourselves as structural transformers and have the same interests as the municipal- ities. We also want the old to be- come new again. As we are and will remain owners, we want to create something that will really last. This way, we can also use it to generate added value for everyone.