ION believes that Wallonia holds a great future
CEO Kristof Vanfleteren and Pierre Gielen meet at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers. Pierre only just started as a Business Unit Manager on the ION team barely three days ago. And that was after a 23-year career at Eckelmans. The CEO and his new recruit taking a look at the future from the Citadel that towers over Namur. At least it seems certain that there are plenty of opportunities waiting for them.
You took a new step in the group’s expansion with the Namur business unit. What made you decide to expand your business into Wallonia?
Kristof: There’s a whole market waiting to be developed in Wallonia. Whereas the local players are primarily involved in the residential sector, ION also has experience in very different areas, such as service flats, logistics, and social housing.
What are your plans for ION activities there?
Kristof: We firmly believe in having a solid local base. All regions have their own specific characteristics, which makes each development different. This is why it is vital to find someone locally with good references and an extensive network while also having a strong sense of ION’s DNA. That person turned out to be Pierre.
Pierre: For me, based in Namur, it’s a great comfort that I can rely on the back-office in Waregem. They have a great deal of expertise there. It would be a shame not to take advantage of that.
ION presents itself as an innovative and carbon-neutral real estate developer. Does the Walloon market suit your objectives in terms of urban planning, architecture, and sustainability?
Pierre: The Government of Wallonia wants to create some 350,000 additional housing units by 2040 to accommodate demographic growth. That’s more than 10,000 a year. And this is without even mentioning the concrete ban that also exists here or the planned renovations to the energy-efficiency of existing buildings Therefore, our objectives are entirely consistent with Wallonia’s intentions.
What are the biggest challenges in Wallonia?
Kristof: First of all, we want to offer afford- able and high-quality housing. To do this, we are reaching out to the local authorities and other partners. We hope to be able to invest in this type of rental housing with a formula such as ION Residential Platform.
Infrastructure is another significant challenge. The city councils in Flanders have realized that they have neither the time nor the resources for developing real estate on their own. That explains the increasing number of Public-Private Partnerships. I believe that we can be partners with local authorities in that respect as well.
Pierre: There are also business parks that are continuing to expand. So, we are up against quite some challenges, both in the residential and economic real estate markets. What first attracted me to ION was the ability to develop and revive entire neighborhoods with a diversity of functions. These may be service flats, residential neighborhoods, or public buildings.
When I look at how Paul Magnette and his team want to revive Charleroi with their strategic vision of urban development, I am confident that there are plenty of opportunities for us to fulfill their political ambitions.