Almost 400 of the apartments proposed for former council land at O’Devaney Gardens would not have adequate daylight in their open-plan living room-kitchens, shows a daylight sunlight report submitted with a recent planning application.
Developer Bartra ODG Limited submitted its planning application late last month to build 1,047 new homes at the O’Devaney Gardens site near Stoneybatter. Of those, 1,023 would be apartments and 24 would be houses.
Under the relevant guidelines, the living-room kitchens in the apartments should get a minimum of 2 percent average daylight factor, meaning they should get 2 percent of the light outside on an overcast day.
Some architects say that anything less than 5 percent means that some electric lighting will be required during the day.
Bartra’s daylight sunlight report says that a significant number of the homes at O’Devaney Gardens meet these standards, and for those that don’t, its design team has taken measures to compensate where possible.
In November 2019, as councillors debated whether to back a deal with Bartra to transfer the land to it to develop, the council’s head of housing, Brendan Kenny said it would be “a really top quality residential development.”
Dublin City Council didn’t respond to a query about the quality of the plans that have been submitted.
Daylight is essential to health and well-being, says Amy Hastings, a sunlight and daylight consultant and director at ARC Architectural Consultants.
“There are considerable health implications associated with insufficient access to daylight including disruption to circadian rhythms, which can result in insomnia, gastro-intestinal problems, depression and cognitive dysfunction,” she says.
A spokesperson for Bartra said they can’t answer questions while the planning process is ongoing.
The Story So Far
In a fractious meeting in November 2019, councillors voted to transfer the land at O’Devaney Gardens to Bartra.
At the time, the proposal was that the developer would build 786 homes, half of which were to be social and affordable-purchase housing, with the possibility that it would sell some more to an approved housing body (AHB) to use as some version of “affordable” rental.
In August 2020, Labour Councillor Alison Gililand, who chairs the council housing committee, said that the new homes at O’Devaney were going to be a superior specification.
The O’Devaney scheme will be large, well-insulated, sustainable family homes, she said. “They are built to a very, very high spec. That was the criteria of the tender.”
In October 2020, the developer told councillors that it was upping density on the site. Bartra didn’t say why. But a councillor said at the time that the change was meant to make sure An Bord Pleanála would be happy with the density.
The designs filed with the planning application last month show 1,047 homes, of which 1,023 are apartments that reach 14 storeys at the highest point.
Of the homes, 524 would be social and affordable, says a spokesperson for Bartra.
At a council meeting last week, Kenny said he still thought there was a possibility of the rest being bought by an AHB and used as a version of “cost rental” – although whether that will happen is unclear, as is how the homes could be affordable when sold back at market rate with profit included.
Standards for Light
The Department of Housing’s guidelines for apartment standards say that developers should have regard for the British standards for daylight and to the UK-based Building Research Establishment’s (BRE) guidelines.
Those guidelines say a kitchen should have 2 percent average daylight factor – and even that is low, say some architects.
“Something like 5 percent would be far superior to 2 percent,” says Paul Kenny, assistant professor of architecture and planning at University College Dublin (UCD).
“Light is very stimulating and alerting and plays a very important role in our sense of well-being, physiology and 24-hour hormonal cycles,” says Kenny, who has been researching the importance of daylight for health.
When given a choice, people opt for well-lit rooms and natural daylight, he says.
People need blue light in the first half of the day to cue their body to synchronise their internal body clocks, he says. “As daylight is rich in blue, it is the most important source and typically most preferred by occupants.”
In all, 380 of the 1,023 apartments planned in the new development at O’Devaney Gardens would have less than the minimum required daylight in the living area and kitchen, according to the daylight sunlight report. That’s 37 percent.
The report says that, in line with the guidelines, the developer has clearly identified where the proposal doesn’t meet minimum daylight provisions and set out a rationale for “compensatory design solutions”.
Those included repositioning balconies, increasing floor-to-ceiling heights, and redesigning the block layouts, it says.
The report also says that more than 80 percent of spaces meet daylight factor targets. So that “exceeds international environmental assessment standards such as BREEAM”.
The BREEAM standards, which aren’t referenced in Ireland’s apartment guidelines, refer to the overall area in square metres that is compliant, rather than the percentage of rooms.
Nevertheless, the daylight report says: “Overall, having regard to the nature, scale and density of the proposed development in an inner-city location, it is considered that the proposed development achieves a high quality of daylight amenity for apartments and can therefore be deemed to meet the qualitative requirements of the Apartment Guidelines (2018).”
Kieran Rose, a former council planner, said that having enough light in the bedrooms in the development, say, cannot reasonably be expected to balance out the lack of daylight in the living room-kitchens.
“Your living room is your most important daylight,” says Rose. “It seems like just bad design or they are putting too many units on the site.”
Sometimes it can be difficult to design new homes in the historic centre of a city while also complying with rules on daylight, Rose says.
But those restrictions don’t apply to O’Devaney Gardens, a large empty site with no existing buildings, he says. “It is almost like a greenfield site.”
“You would wonder about the whole development if they cannot deliver proper daylight,” Rose says.
A spokesperson for Bartra said: “As I am sure you can appreciate, we cannot comment on an active planning application.”
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that “An Bord Pleanala will be assessing the application’s compliance in all respects, including daylight and sunlight.” The council will make submissions to the board, they said.
In the Background
In May 2021, a company called Diamond Atlantic – a tenant of the Docklands Innovation Park in East Wall – won a judicial review against An Bord Pleanála, partly because of how the board had assessed the levels of daylight that a proposed development there would get.
The judge criticised the board for going along with the developer’s incorrect interpretation of BRE guidelines.
In August 2020, An Bord Pleanála had granted permission to EWR Innovations Park Ltd to build 336 apartments in the industrial estate.
In the High Court in May 2021, Justice Humphreys found that the planning permission was flawed, and among the issues identified were those around the daylight survey.
The developer had said that the living room-kitchen areas needed to reach a minimum of 1.5 percent average daylight factor (ADF). That’s the level needed for living rooms – but the one for kitchens is higher, at 2 percent.
“The British Standard expressly provides that where rooms are used for combined purposes, the appropriate standard is the ADF that is highest for any of the uses,” says the judgment.
An Bord Pleanála had accepted the developer’s contention that the standard was 1.5 percent without sufficient scrutiny, said the judgement.
“The board acted erroneously in endorsing that without properly stress testing it against the guidelines,” said Justice Humphries. “If they had done so, the incompatibility would have come to light.”
“Thus the case illustrates a certain laxity in scrutiny, involving in effect the cutting and pasting of the developer’s materials by the board without adequate critical interrogation,” the judgment says.
The developer had also said that the BRE guidelines were not mandatory, but Justice Humphreys said that that was downplaying the situation.
“The mandatory s. 28 guidelines require appropriate and reasonable regard to be had to the BRE guidelines,” he said.
If the developer can’t fully meet the requirements for daylight, then they should identify that fact, set out how they will compensate for it and show that they will apply a “discretion and balancing exercise”, says the high court ruling.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said it will be up to An Bord Pleanála to assess all aspects of Bartra’s application compliance in all respects, including daylight and sunlight.
Dublin City council will make submissions in the Chief Executive’s report.
“In the event that the application is refused by An Bord Pleanala, the Board will include the main reasons and considerations for making such decision,” says the Council spokesperson. “It will be in this context that a decision on the next steps for the development of the site will be made.”