As Buildings Grow Taller, Some Residents Say Their Right to Light Is Being Overlooked

From her fifth-floor balcony, Delphine O’Keeffe looks out at the red rooftops of the Dublin 8 cottages in front of her. To her right is Weaver Park.

It’s been tough working from home with noise from the construction site next door, says O’Keeffe, who is wearing a blue hoodie and has long curly red hair.

Usually disturbances from building works end eventually. But at the South Gate apartments in Cork Street, the problems are just beginning.

When it is finished the new Dublin City Council housing complex next door will block O’Keeffe’s view from her balcony and from her living room and block most of her daylight too.

“We will be detrimentally impacted by the enclosure of our homes in a dark well created by the new buildings,” says O’Keeffe.

Downstairs on the second floor, her neighbour Patrick Fenton’s apartment will be affected even more. He thinks he will be left with so little natural light that it might breach regulations.

A Dublin City Council inspector said in his report that the development would “detrimentally constrict” daylight at the back of the South Gate complex – where the balconies and big windows are.

However, a council spokesperson says that a daylight and sunlight report found that development complies with minimum standards and concerns must be weighed up against the serious need for social housing.

As permission is granted for complexes of taller towers across the city – from Cork Street, to the Player Wills and Bailey Gibson site off South Circular Road to the Docklands – those living next to new developments say there’s not enough consideration being given to the right-to-light of those who find their homes in shadows.

Planning permission has been granted for housing that will get very little natural light too, says Orla Hegarty, assistant professor of architecture at University College Dublin (UCD).

“It can be damaging to people’s mental health to live in an apartment that gets no sunlight and has inadequate daylight,” she says.

Does It Meet Regulations?

The lift shaft has been completed in the new complex so the residents of South Gate are starting to get a sense of the scale of the new development.

They currently enjoy south-facing balconies and have large windows in their open plan living room-kitchens which are also south-facing.

“As construction progresses, we are hit once again by the awful reality of what is unfolding against our homes,” wrote O’Keeffe in a recent email to local political representatives and council officials.

“The design and development of this project is unacceptable and unethical,” she says.

There was social housing there when she moved in, she says, which was fine because it was four storeys, sat further back from her home, and the housing was staggered, allowing light through, she says.

The council’s part 8 planning report says that shadow studies show that the new development will “detrimentally constrict daylight penetration to the rear windows and rear balconies” in the South Gate apartments.

It wasn’t considered a reason to refuse the scheme though.

The distance of 2.5 metres from one complex to another facing it was “not an uncommon relationship between residential apartment buildings” and privacy screens would reduce the issue of overlooking, it says.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says that a daylight and sunlight report found that the scheme complies with relevant minimum standards, “given the inner city location of the site where higher densities are planned”, says the spokesperson.

Fenton forwarded a more detailed responsee that he got from the council answering his observations.

That says that the regulations around light are only guidelines, that they are not binding and can be overruled by other considerations.

In conclusion the council officials say that they have taken Fenton’s concerns on board, but ultimately they need to deliver homes.

“The proposal will reduce the amount of direct sunlight currently received by the South Gate development from the west,” says the response. “However, this must be balanced by other aspects of the proposal, namely the provision of much needed social housing.”

The height is appropriate for the inner city, says the response.

No Appeals

Dublin City Council can grant itself planning permission under Part 8 of the planning and development regulations.

Councillors sanction the plans, drawn up by city officials, in a vote and the decision can only be appealed through the courts.

Councillors gave the project the nod because it will deliver much needed social homes, says Green Party Councillor Michael Pidgeon.

“I think it’s a difficult situation for those who are facing a loss of light, but felt on balance that the social housing development should go ahead,” he says.

O’Keeffe says that the Part 8 process is unfair because there isn’t any appeals process and not all residents have the resources to bring a judicial review.

She fully backs the development of social homes, she says, but even small changes to the design could have mitigated against the loss of light.

O’Keeffe is calling on the council to change the plans by “leaving a reasonable gap at the Cork Street end of the build, to go some way towards compensating for the loss of light”, she says.

Residents have a right to light under the law. Fenton says he has received legal advice that he can apply to the circuit court to establish that his right-to-light exists, under the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act, 2009.

He was advised that he has grounds for a judicial review, he says.

The Daylight Factor

In the Docklands, a company called Atlantic Diamond recently won a judicial review against An Bord Pleanála after the planning authority granted permission for 336 apartments in an industrial estate.

The judge said that the decision was unprecedented, according to the Irish Times. He also found that the open plan living room and kitchen area in the new homes required a minimum “average daylight factor” of 2 percent.

“Average daylight” is the amount of daylight outside on an overcast day, and less than 5 percent means that some artificial lighting would be required during the day.

According to the guidelines, a living room should have a minimum average daylight factor of 1.5 percent and a kitchen should have at least 2 percent average daylight factor.

An Bord Pleanála had failed to ensure that the planned homes would have sufficient daylight, according to the judgement.

Architects Marcus Donaghy and Anne Heary made a similar observation in relation to the Hines development on the Bailey Gibson site in Dublin 8, which would create more than 400 apartments and rise up to 16 storeys at the highest point. The An Bord Pleanála inspector agreed.

The inspector noted that the Bailey Gibson site has a lot of apartments on the ground floor and first floor, and there are many single-aspect homes included in the plans.

There is also less than 20 metres between the blocks in the central part of the site and the design is “likely to make for poor provisions for natural light for these units”, he wrote.

“The adverse impacts resulting from the proposed development, inclusive of impacts on sunlight and daylight, ultimately point to overdevelopment of a restricted site,” he said.

However, despite the inspector’s observations, An Bord Pleanála approved the plans for the development.

Into Darkness

Back at South Gate, Fenton stands in his living room looking south.

He will only have a sliver of light to the left from that window. The rest of the skyline will be fully blocked out by the much taller building just metres away.

Seven storeys is quite high in Dublin unless it’s got a lot of space around it because it can overshadow other buildings nearby, says Hegarty of UCD.

“Architecture is more than stacking things up. You have to think about wind, daylight and orientation,” she says.

Hegarty has concerns that other upcoming developments, particularly dense “strategic housing developments” – big projects of more than 100 homes – do not provide sufficient daylight and sunlight.

On paper these developments might look fine, but once built, people “may be shocked when they realise the difference between bright images with a blue sky, and the reality of dark, wet, winter days in gloomy spaces”, she says.

Dublin is less suited to high rise than many other cities because of its latitude as well as the damp weather, she says.

“Our sun is really low in winter,” she says. “Lower-rise buildings mean that light can get to ground level between buildings and deeper into rooms.”

Sunlight also cannot dry the rain on those streets and the high-rise buildings can create wind corridors.

A lot of people think that high rise in Dublin will be similar to New York, says Hegarty, but it won’t be.

“New York is at the latitude of Barcelona,” she says. “The intensity and amount of daylight, the height of the sun and how far it gets down to the street is completely different.”

The needs of children, older people, people with disabilities and people who spend daytime hours at home are critically important, says Hegarty.

“There are too many people making decisions now that don’t have any sense of quality or why human needs of space, daylight, amenity and fresh air are so important for successful housing,” she says.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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