Interview with Joël Bruneau, Head of Property Development, Omnicane: Mon Trésor to become an important economic platform for the country

The Head of Property Development of Omnicane, Joël Bruneau sees Mon Trésor Smart City becoming one of the most important economic nodes in Mauritius.

Mon Trésor is the first project in the country to receive the Smart City Certificate. It seems like you were ahead of your time. What is the motivation behind this major project?

Omnicane started plans for the development of its land next to the airport in 2013. It took a bit of time. The guidance was from the European Investment Bank to carry out the master planning of the region. Once that was completed, we made the appropriate application for a Smart City Scheme Certificate. We received it in 2016. Obviously as you know, all developments of that magnitude require a lot of planning. In that sense, we won’t say we were ahead of time but, on time.

What makes Mon Trésor unique and a necessary project in Mauritius? How will it participate in the economic growth of the country?

If you look at the geography of Mon Trésor Smart City, it has many facets like the proximity to the airport, close to the sea, a pristine palm forest and not to forget Mare aux Songes, which is the last home of the Dodo in Mauritius. Mon Trésor has several features, one of them is, it is economically viable and the other being very leisure-oriented hospitality and tourist-friendly ambience.

Located 500 metres from the international airport of the country, besides corporate travellers, what are your other targets for your business and residential segments?

I would like to start with the economic advantages of the airport. Travellers are only one segment of the market, but don’t forget proximity to the airport opens the door for logistics business development such as Freeport activities. 25 hectares of land have already been reserved for this. We have also large morcellement projects. By morcellement, I mean land sold to individuals to build either warehouses or offices close to the airport terminal. The residential segment is also quite significant. Everyone in Mauritius experiences heavy traffic. Many people leave the south and commute to other parts of the island. This has a lot of pressure on the infrastructure of the country. Trying to keep people residing in the South close to their work area is one of the targets of the Smart City. It will provide affordable but luxurious residential facilities as they get closer to the beach and the infrastructure it offers. We are talking of a unique budget. The idea is to create a residential environment for Mauritians as well as foreigners.

Mon Trésor Business Gateway is the first office park right next to the airport. It adjoins the Holiday Inn Hotel, the landmark location we would like to create. In 2020, we will start the project for a commercial centre. It is not just plans and designs on paper. It is the actual realisation of these plans. As you can see, the Mon Trésor Business Gateway where we are located presently, symbolises the start of our project.

What challenges do you face as a Smart City developer?

Firstly, the challenges we have faced and are facing, is to get the whole-hearted support of the authorities. To get permits in time and support for putting the right framework in place and to manage these large developments remain a challenge. Secondly, since Mauritius is a small market, the challenge is to be able to attract critical mass, with regard to both people coming and living in these places as well as to get business enterprises to move in. Counting on local enterprises to move down to Mon Trésor or in any other smart cities is going to be a big challenge. So, we have to concentrate on attracting foreign companies to Mauritius. Obviously, being next to the airport offers exclusive advantages in that respect.

People from overseas would love to come to Mauritius and enjoy our very light fiscal framework. But it takes time. It is not something that can happen overnight. It demands a lot of marketing and intensive effort from us developers. The EDB (Economic Development Board) is also providing a lot of support in this promotion. Our main competitors would be countries like Dubai, Singapore, Hong-Kong and even neighbouring countries which are not supposed to be great in terms of fiscal framework, like Johannesburg, but a strong hub. The government has provided enough support to the right framework, but we are expecting more to come.

What is being done to make this project inclusive and integrate people from surrounding areas?

Inclusiveness has always been the main element of Omnicane DNA. When we designed Mon Trésor, we voluntarily took the Bream Communities certificate. This means that every single aspect of sustainable development has to be taken care of. Firstly, the environment where our design takes care of globally accepted and promoted sustainable development parameters. These include the use of natural resources like rainwater or be autonomous in the use of energy. Second is the commercial factors. We have to ensure the project developed is economically viable for our tenants, buyers, operators and users.

Finally, and what we believe is the most important part of the development. We have encouraged and brought about the complete participation of communities in the development. This means with the Bream Communities, we have engaged and are engaging on a daily, weekly and monthly basis all the people living around Mon Trésor. That includes all the villages and the economic operators like the airport. We discuss with them regularly, to involve them in the development. As you are aware, the South of the island has been left behind with regard to development activities. Our primary target is to provide jobs for all - men and women, and not just those around the Mon Trésor vicinity, but even further. I am talking of Souillac and Chemin Grenier, those areas which are obviously nearer to Mon Trésor than Ebène or Port Louis.

Where do you see Mon Trésor in 50 years’ time?

If you look at the middle of the last century, all developments were centred around the seaport. Port Louis has developed because of the seaport. Now in the 21st century, you can see quite clearly that developments have to happen around the airport. In 50 years’ time, I can see Mon Trésor as a very important, if not the most important node in Mauritius. A city around its airport. It’s now a global trend in all the big cities of countries like South Korea, France, the Netherlands and even South Africa. The main airport development zones are of prime importance for the economic development of the country. In 50 years’ time, I see the area of Plaisance and Mon Trésor becoming an important economic platform for the country itself, to provide life, work and play environment centred around the airport.