Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Questions (66)

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

66. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties encountered in a number of towns in obtaining planning permission for housing developments due to the density restrictions in Project Ireland 2040; if clarification will be issued to planning authorities in relation to densities that are appropriate to towns and cities, respectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16328/19]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Housing)

My question is on the planning and density restrictions in Project Ireland 2040, particularly difficulties around towns. I do not suggest that we should not have greater densities in cities but there are issues around planning applications in towns in particular, and there is difficulty in respect of complying with the densities that are required.

I thank the Deputy for the question. Under section 30 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on individual planning cases. Under Project Ireland 2040, including the national planning framework, the Government has taken a broadly welcomed lead on moving away from sprawl to more compact urban growth as a key mechanism to support proper planning and sustainable development, as well as action on climate change and congestion.

Project Ireland 2040 restates the commitment to implement statutory planning guidelines on sustainable residential  development in urban areas, which were published by my Department in 2009. These guidelines generally require densities in the range of 35 to 50 dwellings per hectare in urban areas and more than 50 dwellings per hectare in more central urban areas. Many examples of the successful achievement of these density levels are set out in an accompanying urban design manual, which is available on the Department’s website. In addition, it is important to note that the guidelines also provide scope for densities under 35 dwellings per hectare in smaller towns and villages, to assist in delivering sustainable urban housing alternatives to one-off rural houses. I am satisfied that the 2009 guidelines are entirely consistent with the compact urban growth objective of the national planning framework. My Department will continue to engage with local authorities, the home building industry and other sectoral interests to address any issues arising, particularly in the context of the amendments to be made to development plans as part of the roll-out of the national planning framework.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I welcome the fact that he said he is going to engage with local authorities because it seems to be a real problem in some of our towns. Developments are being proposed where there is much need for housing - we all agree that we need to see more housing in our towns - but because of the specific densities, they are not viable and therefore are not being proceeded with. We are ending up not getting the housing development we need in many of our towns because they have to satisfy these quite restrictive criteria. I completely understand that we need more density in urban centres and so on. There are practical issues arising where it does not become viable to go ahead with some of these developments. I think the Minister's attention has been drawn to some examples; I understand my party leader drew his attention to some. I ask the Minister to clarify how he is engaging and whether there is some scope for flexibility in that regard.

It is true that Deputy Howlin engaged with me in respect of something that had been brought to his attention, as has the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, in respect of concerns as to whether the densities are correct and to make sure we are not preventing developments from happening. The requirement of 35 to 50 dwellings per hectare for urban areas is the equivalent of 35 to 50 homes on a site similar in size to the pitch of Croke Park. I do not think that is over-densification in an urban area, if we are talking about a town like Wexford or a town in Cork, as was drawn to my attention. We have to make sure we are maximising the sites we have that are close to town centres. That is going to be important for community living and for reducing our reliance on cars. It is also going to be important for reducing our carbon impact. The guidelines and manual that we have speak to this. It is also about taking a different approach, not just trying to build one type of home on one site but a mixture of different types of homes, in order that we can provide housing for someone coming into their first job, for a family, but also for someone of an elderly age as well. Increasingly, what we are trying to drive, through the work of the Ministers of State, Deputies English and Jim Daly, is housing for the elderly. On some of these sites, if they combine houses for families with elderly housing facilities or community spaces, they can achieve that 35 to 50 dwellings per hectare quite easily.

What I am concerned about is the practicalities. Certainly the idea of mixed developments, housing for the elderly and so on is very positive. However, the practical result of it is that in some cases they are almost being required just to have apartments, which may not be appropriate for a town or for the demand within a town. I ask the Minister to engage with the issues that are arising to ensure we do not end up with developments not happening at all because of the restrictions. If there is a way in which the Minister can be flexible to ensure that the developments actually can happen, that is really what my request is.

On foot of my engagement with Deputy Howlin, I did speak to my planners again about this issue around density. I spoke at the annual planning conference last week in Carrick-on-Shannon. The challenge of the right density was one of the key things that I spoke to. So often now, when we talk about the challenge we have in housing, it is actually a challenge around planning. We know more homes are being built, but are they being built in the right locations and for the right people? This is the planning aspect that comes into it and density is key to that. There is a meeting happening in Cork next week with the planning authorities there to talk through this issue to make sure the guidelines we have published are being used to their maximum flexibility. We can arrange for other workshops if necessary in Limerick, Wexford or wherever else planning authorities might feel that the density requirements are not being interpreted in the right way by private planning bodies.

I ask that the Minister would engage with all the local authorities because I think this is arising in other places besides the ones we have mentioned. I ask that the Minister would engage to ensure they are aware there is flexibility.