Ministerial Power (Repeal) (Ban Co-Living and Build to Rent) Bill 2020: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Planning and Development Act 2000 and to repeal the Build to Rent and Shared Accommodation sections of the following guidelines issued to planning authorities thereafter, namely Sustainable Urban Housing: Design Standards for New Apartments, March 2018.

Every week, we hear of another co-living planning application, particularly in our large cities. Yesterday, news broke of a 500-bed co-living development in Smithfield, Dublin 7. At the latest count, there are almost 4,000 proposed co-living beds planned or in the planning process in Dublin and our other urban centres, which is in stark contrast to the number of planning applications for genuinely affordable homes for working people.

The question is how we got here. In 2016, in the dying days of the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government, Deputy Kelly, the then Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, introduced very controversial legislation that gave, for the first time in modern history, a Minister with responsibility for planning the power to unilaterally introduce changes to planning law without a vote of the Oireachtas. That very controversial power has been used only twice, both times by Deputy Eoghan Murphy, the subsequent Minister at that Department. In 2018, he published mandatory ministerial guidelines for apartment dwellings, a copy of which I have to hand.

While the majority of this document was in line with previous guidelines issued by the Department, two substantial changes occurred. For the first time in planning history, in the modern history of the State, it was permissible to provide homes with personal living space of only 12 sq. m for an individual. That is the size of a car-parking space. For couples, the requirement was for personal living space of 18 sq. m. Of course, there had to be further communal space but we know the problems with that. The same regulations also introduced build-to-rent design standards that were lower than in the case of apartments currently being built to purchase. There would be less dual aspect, less storage, more studio apartments, fewer lifts and stairwells and less car-parking space. For some reason the then Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, thought that if someone was renting, he or she did not deserve the same design quality and quality of living as someone who owns his or her own home. To be clear, our cities do not need glorified tenements for people. The idea that someone would spend €1,300 a month to live in a shoebox, without even basic tenancy rights because he or she would be a licensee, beggars belief.

These kinds of developments also have a significant impact on land prices and neighbouring developments. Take Fumbally Lane in Dublin 8, for example, where a plot of land was bought by a developer for €4 million a number of years ago. There was a three-storey planning application, with a shop and retail on the ground floor and 35-odd family apartments. In swooped the Collective, one of the world's leading co-living equity-funded investors, which doubled the price of the land overnight to more than €10 million and then submitted a planning application on exactly the same floor space for 200-plus co-living units. If anybody thought co-living was a good idea before Covid-19, imagine the idea of 40 or 50 people sharing a kitchen, a leisure space or a workspace. It simply makes no sense. These planning policies have significantly shifted investment away from affordable residential homes for working people, which are what we need.

In May last year, the now Taoiseach described such developments as "battery cage-type accommodation". He asked whether we were going back to the era of tenements and I could not have agreed with him more. Two months later, his then Opposition housing spokesperson, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, now the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, stated: "If Leo Varadkar and Eoghan Murphy want this bonkers policy so much, they should co-live together." He urged Fine Gael to scrap co-living. Deputy O'Brien is now the Minister. He could, on his first day in office, have scrapped these appalling forms of accommodation, but instead he announced a review. We only subsequently learned, in The Irish Times last week, that in fact his review is not focusing on scrapping it but, allegedly, on modifying it to allow multinational corporations to develop it. A very good freedom of information request by Killian Woods from the Business Post showed that the review has not even commenced.

The Bill seeks to do three things. It will scrap the controversial power for Ministers to make dramatic changes to planning law without a vote of the Oireachtas, ban co-living and ban substandard design of build-to-rent properties for renters. These are basic, simple planning regulations. We need a Government that stands up for renters and working people, not backs the vested interests, real estate investment funds and global equity investors. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.