At Broadstone on Constitution Hill, there are 24 car parking spaces available at the back of several flat complexes. At around 7:40pm on Thursday evening, just 12 cars were parked for the evening.
Further down the road at Red Cow Lane in Smithfield, the metal gate to the Smithfield Gate apartment complex creaks open. Inside, down the concrete ramp, sits one car with two empty spaces either side.
“It’s a ludicrous situation,” says Fine Gael Councillor Paddy Smyth.
Allowing fewer parking spaces as part of newer apartment developments could be a double-win, nudging people towards more sustainable transport and helping to reduce construction costs, says Smyth.
Councillors from across the political divide seem to agree.
Building Costs …
The market price for a two-bedroom apartment is less than the cost of developing one (including site, construction, VAT, profit, etc.), according to a recent report from the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI).
It’s only when the price equals more than the cost that companies decide it makes commercial sense to build. So to encourage developers to build more, prices need to rise or costs need to fall, the report said.
Reducing the number of parking spaces required could bring costs down, says Smyth. It’s high time the city ended its love affair with parking provision, he says.
According to the SCSI report, which looked at the cost of bringing two-bedroom apartments to market in Dublin, the cost of parking spaces is just one part of the puzzle.
Exactly how much construction costs would fall if the amount of parking required was reduced depends on the type of apartment being built.
At the moment, developers are generally required to provide one car-parking space for each apartment although there is discretion, as set out by the-then Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in 2015.
The SCSI’s calculations suggest that the cost of building apartments ranges from €293,000 for a suburban low-rise apartment with surface car parking, to €400,000 for a suburban mid-rise apartment with a mixture of basement and surface car parking, to €470,000 for an urban mid-rise apartment with basement car parking.
It sets out scenarios whereby developers only have to provide one parking space for every two apartments.
Savings in construction would range from around €2,000 for the cheapest builds to €36,000 for the most expensive mid-rise apartments, the report says.
Says the SCSI report: “It is clear from the scenarios put forward that the solution will not be sourced from one area alone. ”
… and Selling Prices
Fine Gael’s Smyth says the requirement for each new apartment to have a parking space should be dropped.
“I know from personal experience, friends and family that have them don’t use them,” he says. “And in certain circumstances they’ll rent them out.” (Those who help Dubliners rent out parking spaces say business is good.)
Dropping the number of parking spaces required could also dissuade residents from driving altogether, reduce car use, and create further sustainable travel, he says.
Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe, who heads up the council’s transport committee, agrees. “It is clear that the level of occupation [of parking spaces] is nowhere near what the planners were insisting on 10 or 20 years ago,” he says.
According to the report from the SCSI, there is room to achieve a lower ratio of car parking space to apartments within the current national planning guidelines.
Reducing the ratio is definitely part of a solution, says Labour Councillor Andrew Montague, who chairs the council’s planning committee.
But it’s a location-specific solution, he says. “Some apartment [building] is viable in certain locations where developers can get a certain amount of money.”
Says Montague: “It still mightn’t make it viable everywhere but it will make it viable in more places.”
He wouldn’t be concerned about the commercial attractiveness of parking-less homes such as blocks in city-centre locations, he said. “They would definitely sell.”
Around 35 percent of people aged over 15 years old and at work in Dublin city drive to work, according to 2016 figures from the Central Statistics Office. “And yet we’re mandating one car parking space per house,” says Montague.
If Dublin does reduce the number of parking spaces in new builds, Montague is confident that the resulting savings in construction costs would be passed on to the consumer.
But the Green Party’s Cuffe is unsure whether reducing car parking provision will make apartments more affordable for the tenant or owner.
“There is a fear that many of these potential savings might just amount to a higher profit for the developer,” Cuffe says.
Meanwhile, in Vauban
Montague says that another option is for Dublin to emulate a model for parking that was used in Vauban, a district in Freiburg in Germany.
In 1998, a group of architects, financiers and future residents of the redevelopment, which counts 5,000 people, came together to design and push for parking-free streets.
Under the planning codes, each home had to have access to a parking space, but residents and developers negotiated a compromise, according to a case study of the initiative by researcher Simon Field at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy in New York.
Most of the parking was put in two garages on the edge of the district, which had 470 spaces between them, and this meant there was a parking ratio of less than 0.5 spaces per housing unit.
In order to comply with state laws, those behind the development still had to set aside land in case they needed to expand the number of parking spaces in the future. Residents had to help fund this, too.
Montague says that following this kind of model would solve a few problems. Planners and developers would no longer have to estimate how many parking spaces they would need, he said.
“If you build an overground, multi-storey car-park unit, you don’t have to guess. You can build one storey and if there’s a demand for two you can add a storey at any stage,” he said. “That gives you the flexibility that’s needed.”
These new developments with off-site car parking are also “so much cheaper and better for the environment. You create really liveable spaces for families, for older to people to walk around, and you’re able to build the houses that people really love to live in,” says Montague.
Those who live in the parking-free blocks in Vauban must either sign a legal contract agreeing not to own a car, or purchase a space in one of the two off-site garages.
In 2011, it cost €22,500 for a parking space or €18,500 in a separate solar-panelled garage; these figures were based on the land value and the construction costs.
If these facilities did take off in Dublin, says Labour’s Montague, they could be council-owned or privately owned. This would eliminate the embedded construction cost of providing car parking in new developments.
They could be multi-functional too, available for businesses during the day and residents in the evening. “We should be trying to have multi-functional areas in Dublin which have a mixture of residential and commercial and office space,” Montague says.
According to Field’s report, the local government of Freiburg still doesn’t publicly support the parking-free streets model in Vauban as it is still state law to provide one parking space per household.
This serves as an important reminder that “such radical initiatives are only likely to be considered if grassroots campaigns to demand them are mounted by the electorate”, writes Field.
Montague says he hopes the council will do a feasibility study for a similar model Dublin. So far, though, council officials have been reluctant, he says.
“We need a pilot,” says Montague. “But there is nervousness. Change is always difficult and people are always nervous of it.”
Smyth of Fine Gael says Dublin must move away from a situation of unused car parking spaces and increased construction costs.
“We don’t do this for any other aspect of life,” he says. “Why are we tacking on an extra cost for car parking regardless of whether residents want to pay it?”