Irish Property Market Pulse – Issue #38

Legitimate Expectations: Can Dublin Develop in the Face of  Planning Unpredictability? 

Last month, Dublin was named by fDi Magazine as the Northern European Region of the Future, as well as earning the title of top small European region.This is particularly relevant in light of ongoing Brexit trade negotiations, as London remains Europe’s top performer when it comes to attracting foreign direct investment. What is interesting about this 2017 study (published in February 2018) is that Dublin has overtaken Paris and Frankfurt to succeed London post-Brexit.

On that basis, it must surely be time to critically assess the infrastructure of our capital city, and the long term future plans (in the context of the recently-launched National Planning Framework), and  ask some difficult questions. For instance, while the Government is saying all the right things, are we starting to see real change where it matters?  It certainly doesn’t feel like it on a day-to-day basis. We have yet to ramp up to the levels of activity and delivery needed under the Rebuilding Ireland initiative. Within the industry, there is a feeling that developers and construction companies are poised for take-off, yet they are hamstrung by bureaucracy. Still.

On a not entirely unrelated note, An Bord Pleanála has rejected a plan by Johnny Ronan’s company, Ronan Group Real Estate (RGRE), to build Ireland’s tallest building on Tara Street in Dublin 2. This high-profile application was originally refused by Dublin City Council last July and subsequently appealed. This is one that we have watched with interest over the past year as the decision will have an impact on the entire city centre. We simply cannot chase FDI if we do not have the buildings to house these international companies, or the bed spaces to accommodate their workers, or the public transport to get them around, or the restaurants for them to dine at. Development does not exist in a vacuum and it is harmful to treat it as such.

There are so many reasons for the industry to be frustrated by this decision; it is a step backwards when we need to be moving forwards. Forget for a moment the FDI imperative to keep pace with other contemporary capital cities around the global; this application was in keeping with the local authority’s own Local Area Plan for the George’s Quay area, which provides for an 88-metre building on the Tara Street site.

This is too important a State function to be fickle.

In fact, one of our own developers had a similar issue in South County Dublin when planning permission sought for 8 to 10 houses was refused. In rejecting the application, the local authority maintained that the site could, and therefore should, comply with higher density guidelines for the wider area, demanding two houses and 14 apartments instead. Despite the original application being in line with the local area plan, the decision-makers are pushing for something different. Notwithstanding the fact that South County Dublin urgently needs more homes, there are two immediate  issues to be flagged here. Firstly, if developers cannot rely on the local area plan as a dependable indicator of likely planning permission, purchasing sites without planning will become too high-risk to consider; secondly, this will severely disrupt the delivery of much-needed new homes. Something has got to give.