Planning Guidelines

Is now the right time to dust off previously-shelved plans?

This morning, you will likely have woken up to headlines like “New tower block apartments are the slums of the future’ in The Times, or ‘Plans to lower apartment standards slammed’ in the Irish Examiner. Only a few industry representative bodies have welcomed the Department of Housing new guidelines on the design of apartments.

There is a very definite divide between those in support of the changes and those in opposition, with few remaining on the fence. Regardless of which side of the argument you fall, we hope you will accept that something had to change in order to break the apartment construction stalemate that currently exists.

So, what do the new guidelines allow?

In short, the guidelines focus primarily on the build-to-rent and subsequent buy-to-rent sectors in Ireland. The minimum size of apartments has now been reduced from 40 sqm to 37 sqm and more apartments can be built on each floor with reduced cores. Also, the guidelines allow for a greater number of one-bed apartments per development. Significantly, car parking spaces can now be eliminated from developments in urban areas that are within 1000m walk of a Dart or Luas stop.

There can be no doubt that this is a positive step for the industry as, fundamentally, it will help to make many non-viable developments viable. This alone is likely to encourage further apartment development. In fact, the publication of these new guidelines will likely have developers and homebuilders reaching for previously-shelves plans in the hope that they can now be tweaked into viability. Over the last few years there has been quite a bit of negative commentary on “land hoarding” by academics and commentators who, perhaps, didn’t understand that it is not a case of simply choosing to wait until market values pick up, but rather, it is more about waiting until units can be sold for more than the cost of developing them.

What we are seeing in Ireland now is the potential for a new development business model based on shared living that goes beyond student accommodation. We have written previously about the growing demand for co-living accommodation amongst young, mobile professionals in every international city in the world and Dublin is no exception, we were simply late to the party. Two such co-living spaces are opening in Dublin this month and the focus is on providing flexible housing solutions for the medium-term residents who are willing to share kitchen, living and laundry facilities. Effectively, the demand being met is for quality, affordable bed spaces rather than self-contained homes. Of course, we are still faced with uncertainty around building heights; however, this is likely to be clarified over the next year.

Understandably, much of the opposition comes from the objective lowering of standards published two years ago. And it must be pointed out that these new guidelines are mandatory, therefore, local authorities are obliged to incorporate them into their local area plans with no discretion to disregard them on a case by case planning application.

While the new guidelines will certainly increase the number of units per development, which will potentially make them viable to build, it remains to be seen whether or not the units will be more affordable for occupants.

Ian Lawlor
086 3625482

Director / Business Development
Lotus Investment Group