Council Seeks to Limit What Share of New Homes in Some City Neighbourhoods Can Be Studios and One-Beds

Families from the inner-city have been priced out of it for many years, says People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh.

Lately, the problem is worse because so little housing is being built that can even accommodate families, she says.

Much, instead has been student housing, hotels and build-to-rent complexes with a high proportion of one-bedroom homes, she says.

“People are watching their communities deteriorate,” says MacVeigh. “Kids can’t live anywhere near the area where they grew up and have their own family networks.”

It means people struggle to offer support and care to family members, she says.

MacVeigh’s observations of what kinds of homes are needed in the area line up with findings in recent research into Dublin’s future housing needs, carried out for Dublin City Council by consultants at KPMG Future Analytics.

The council commissioned this housing need demand assessment (HNDA) as part of the development plan process. The idea is that the findings feed into the council’s housing strategy, which is reflected in the next development plan for the city, which is currently at draft stage and out for public consultation.

After researchers zoomed in to look closer at future housing need in the Liberties and the north inner-city, based on historic census trends, they predicted a slight reduction in the percentage of one-person households in the neighbourhoods.

Based on that, and the researchers’ recommendations, the new draft city development plan seeks to change the make-up of what kinds of homes developers can build in those swathes of the city. It would mean capping the number of one-beds in bigger developments there, according to the plan, which says it is essential that new apartments are “high quality, attractive and liveable”.

But the national government later overruled an attempt by Dublin City Council in its previous development plan to cap the shares of studios and one-beds allowed in new apartment complexes. And it’s unclear whether or not the same thing will be the case this time around.

Working Out What’s Needed

To work out what kind of housing is needed in the future, local authorities, at the behest of the Department of Housing, have been drawing up HNDAs – or hiring consultants to draw them up.

These assessments, the idea is, then inform a housing strategy, which then is absorbed into the development plan, the blueprint drawn up for the city that lays out a vision and some rules for how the city should develop.

The findings of the HNDA done for Dublin City Council challenge some past assertions about future housing need in the city, particularly when it comes to the mix of homes.

Overall, based on trends in changes between censuses, Dublin City Council “sees a reduction in one and four person households at a relatively slow rate and five plus person households at a much higher rate”, says the HDNA.

“Two and three person households are on an upward trend with two person households increasing at the highest rate,” the analysis finds.

As part of the HNDA, the researchers zoomed in on the north inner-city and the Liberties to look more closely at housing need in those neighbourhoods.

They were chosen because they have more smaller homes, lands with potential for significant regeneration, and have, in recent times, seen a high proportion of what are called “strategic housing development” applications, the HDNA says.

Strategic housing developments are the big schemes that since 2016 have gone straight to An Bord Pleanála for planners there to approve or turn down, bypassing the council.

Those schemes “have been dominated by BTR [build-to-rent apartment complexes] and a preponderance of smaller units”, says the HDNA.

In the Liberties that includes on Newmarket Square. In August 2020, Carey Issuer DAC was granted planning permission for a build-to-rent complex of 413 homes, with 82 percent of the homes being studios and one-beds.

In the north inner-city, it’s schemes such as the Connolly Quarter. In February 2020, Oxley Holdings was granted planning permission for a build-to-rent complex, with 65 percent of the 741 homes as studios and one-beds – although that was quashed after a judicial review in November 2020.

But the HNDA predicts that between 2022 and 2028, the Liberties “sees a reduction in four and five person households at a relatively slow rate and one person households at a much higher rate”.

“Two and three person households are on an upward trend with two person households increasing at the highest rate,” it says.

Meanwhile, the north inner-city “sees a reduction in all household composition save for two person households, which are on an upward trajectory,” the HDNA says.

The assessment says a mix of dwellings suitable for people throughout their lives and adaptable to changing circumstances is “fundamental to creating a properly functioning city with sustainable neighbourhoods”.

“It is critical that any new residential development provided over the plan period provides choice for people throughout the lifecycle,” it says. “This is key to the creation of future stable communities and is of benefit to us all at a societal level.”

Under national guidelines, there is a provision for local authorities to set their own apartment mix, “but only further to an evidence-based Housing Need and Demand Assessment (HNDA), that has been agreed on an area, county, city or metropolitan area basis and incorporated into the relevant development plan(s)”.

Based on that, and the findings, Dublin City Council’s new draft development plan includes a new provision that planning applications for developments with more than 15 homes in the north-inner city and the Liberties have to include at most 25 to 30 percent one-beds or studios, and at least 15 percent three-beds or larger.

But it’s unclear if national government guidelines will allow that for all, or even most, residential developments.

Back and Forth

When Dublin city councillors drew up the last development plan, which ran from 2016 to 2022, theylaid out details of what mix of homes there should be in apartment complexes with more than 15 flats.

At most, 25 to 30 percent of these developments should be one-bed homes, the plan said. For build-to-rent blocks, the share could be up to 42 to 50 percent studios and one-beds, it said.

Then, in March 2018, the Department of Housing, under then Fine Gael Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, published new guidelines for apartment standards that overtook anything in the city development plan.

These new guidelines said that apartment developments could include up to 50 percent one-beds or studios, under the provision called Specific Planning Policy Requirement 1 (SPPR1). That didn’t apply to all apartment complexes, though.

For blocks that qualified as “build-to-rent” complexes, there would be no restrictions at all on apartment mix, the guidelines said in Specific Planning Policy Requirement 8 (SPPR8). They could be all studios, if the developer wanted.

The guidelines were needed “to ensure that the right stock of homes is being built, in the right locations, and at a cost that is more economically attractive to investors and developers”, it says on the page that launched a public consultation on the draft.

During that public consultation, developer Hines Ireland welcomed the changes to rules around housing mix, as did developers Glenveagh Properties and Cairn Homes.

Hines Ireland did say it was concerned about a caveat in SPPR1, “which seems to provide a local authority with an opportunity to reintroduce housing mix standards for apartment and housing developments where these are based on a Housing Need and Demand Assessment (HNDA) as part of the Development Plan”.

“There is no question that housing mix in all instances should reflect the housing demand in a particular area. Therefore, the principle underlying the intention to match planning applications with local demand is reasonable,” it says.

“However, the concern is that there is potential here for uncertainty and inconsistency across local authority areas in how this derogation is implemented,” it says.

Developer Castlethorn had similar concerns, about a possible “get-out clause”, it said, if councils could override the mix guidelines in their development plans not just in local areas, but citywide. They shouldn’t be able to do that, said its submission.

Will the Development Plan Hold?

Dublin City Council didn’t respond to queries as to whether this part of its draft development plan can be implemented if it is contrary to national guidelines.

National guidelines state in SPPR1 that the city development plan can specify the mix of of homes in apartment blocks and other residential developments, based on a HNDA.

But that doesn’t seem to include build-to-rent complexes, which fall under the different part of the guidelines, SPPR8.

It’s unclear, therefore, whether Dublin City Council can set limits on the shares of studios and one-beds in those – and many of the planning permissions being granted in the city have been for build-to-rent complexes.

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing says that it’s up to the Office of the Planning Regulator to work out what happens if local government planning policy clashes with national government guidelines.

The spokesperson for the Office of the Planning Regulator says that the HNDA is intended to discover the mix of homes needed in terms of social rental, private rental, and owner-occupied, including how many households will struggle to afford a home.

“It does not relate to specific housing mix, such as quantity of one or two bedroom dwellings etc,” he says.

But councils “should also ensure that there is an appropriate mix of dwelling types and sizes to cater for a range of housing needs”, says the spokesperson.

The spokesperson did not respond to a request for clarity about what mechanism the council should use to achieve that, or shed much light on how the council can rely on the HNDA to supersede SPPR1, if it doesn’t look at mix as part of it.

What’s Needed?

Orla Hegarty, assistant professor of architecture at UCD, says that around half of all households nationally include children, but there is a shortage of suitable family homes in central parts of Dublin.

“There is a risk that if new city housing is sub-optimal and undesirable, then the families with means will again favour the commuter belt in search of space and affordability,” she says.

“If new city housing is transient it militates against community, and if it is too small it risks being over-crowded,” she says.

Joseph Kilroy, head of policy and public affairs for Ireland at the Chartered Institute of Building, says it is important to understand that the type of accommodation available also impacts the type of households that are formed.

“There is a causal relationship in both directions between household formation and housing tenure types and housing typologies,” he says.

People might delay having children or move out of the city when they do because of housing issues, he says. “These are responses to a lack of housing options.”

If only one type of home is available then households will respond by occupying that type of housing, says Kilroy.

If 70 percent or 80 percent of all new homes built in the city are one-beds, then “we are going to end up with an incredibly homogenous city that really only caters to young professionals”.

It is essential that those people are catered for, he says, but it should be as part of an overall mix.

Dubliners shouldn’t have to decide between living in a small flat in the city centre and a three-bed semi-detached house in the suburbs, he says.

“We should also be looking at architectural design competitions to come up with family-friendly apartment buildings,” says Kilroy.

That won’t happen as long as Ireland is relying almost solely on private developers to supply homes because their financial model demands a 15 percent to 20 percent profit margin, he says.

Often the developer has paid a lot of money for the land, so to achieve those margins they need to maximise the number of homes they build, which in turn means building smaller apartments, he says.

A mixed delivery system, including a lot more public development and co-operative development “to compliment the private model” would result in “apartments that are more in line with the lived experience of families”, says Kilroy.

It’s important that this debate isn’t oversimplified. “What we need to do is have proper, democratic, national debate on these issues,” he says.

[UPDATE: This article was updated at 12.30pm on 14 January 2021 to note that the Connolly Quarter planning permission was later quashed after a judicial review. Apologies for missing that.]

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

Reader responses

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Lorcan Lyons
at 12 January at 13:27

Do the HNDAs just take the difference between the 2011 and 2016 censuses and extrapolate it into the future on a linear basis? How does that allow the city to change, doesn't it favour the status quo (for better or worse)? It could be that we want a village-style mix of housing types in both the city centre and the suburbs, or it could be that we want a dense city centre and with a greater share of family homes in the suburbs. But that is a debate for citizens, politicians, planners, etc. rather than a prediction exercise.

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