The rapid-build homes for homeless families in Ballymun should be done soon. Honest.
Each has three bedrooms and triple-glazed windows, and boasts a fully fitted kitchen and utility room, says a spokesperson for Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE).
They are also, the DRHE said, 92 sqm in size.
Why, in a Dublin City Council project, in a Dublin City Council neighbourhood, don’t the houses meet one of the standards set in Dublin City Council’s development plan?
How Big Should Houses Be?
We’ve heard a lot in recent months about what size apartments should or shouldn’t be, but there are also minimum sizes for houses.
Any residential unit with three bedrooms should ideally be at least 100 sqm, according to the current development plan. Scroll down to section 17.9.1, if you want to check that out.
And 100 sqm seems to be a minimum that, in the past, council planners have paid heed to. At least, in the environs of Ailesbury Road.
In September 2015, Dublin City Council turned down an application for a development on Seaview Terrace at the back of 77 Ailesbury Road. The problem?
It failed “to comply with the minimum size standards for residential units as set out in Section 17.9.1 of the Dublin City Development Plan 2011-2017”. It would “result in substandard accommodation for future residents and seriously injure the residential amenity and depreciate the value of property in the area”.
The proposed two-storey, three-bedroom detached homes were about 85.5 sqm. That wasn’t good enough, said the planner’s report. “This is 14.5 sqm less than the minimum floor area required for a 3 bed unit.”
Planners do have some discretion, and their decisions are about a balance of issues. But why is it okay to build smaller homes for homeless families in Ballymun?
The answer might be in the tender documents for the rapid-build homes in Ballymun.
Rather than point just to the city’s development plan, the tender pointed to the Department of Environment’s best-practice guidelines for housing from 2007, which are lower, and say that three-bedroom units for five people should be a minimum of 92 sqm.
The Department of Environment press office said: “Our Quality Housing for Sustainable Communities document is a set of guidelines which may be used by local authorities in the provision of social housing. The guidelines are not proscriptive so there’s no question of them taking precedence over a development plan.”
So the houses meet that Department of Environment’s threshold. But there are those who don’t think that’s good enough.
“I think that the city council, of all organisations, should comply with its own development plan, so it is a big deal if we’re not compliant,” said Labour councillor Andrew Montague, head of the council’s Planning Strategic Policy Committee.
Even at 92 sqm, the homes are an improvement for many homeless families who have spent long months living in smaller hotel rooms, where they have been unable to cook food, and obliged to obey a lists of rules that range from not having visitors, to signing in every night, to using the side door.
But “there are little things that lead us to question the efficiency and the capacity of Dublin City Council with regard to this”, said Labour councillor Alison Gilliland, who sits on the Housing Strategic Policy Committee.
The Council’s Stonewall
At the last meeting of the council’s Housing Strategic Policy Committee, council officials said that, before families move in, there will be tours of the Ballymun rapid-build homes for councillors and residents’ groups.
The aim, said housing chief Dick Brady, is to show people what the houses are like.
“We are talking about houses, A-rated houses, so they’re top of the range in terms of heat-retentions,” he said. “I defy anybody to tell me looking at the units to see what difference they are compared to normal units.”
“There’s been so much misinformation,” said Brady. ” Regrettably so, in relation to what it is that we’re talking about here.”
So we tried to contact the council in an effort to clear up any possible misunderstandings, to ensure we weren’t putting misinformation about.
But Dublin City Council’s press office said it couldn’t confirm what size the homes were: “Dublin City is engaged in a procurement process for Rapid Build Homes and all questions are commercially sensitive at this time.”
And it couldn’t respond to a question asking for its take on whether the homes meet minimum sizes set out in the development plan: “As the procurement process is still ongoing, we are not in a position to comment at this time.”
UPDATE: This article was updated on 20 March at 11.30 am to include a comment from the Department of Environment about whether its guidelines take precedence or not.