Under Project Ireland 2040, including the National Planning Framework (NPF), the Government has taken a lead on moving away from development 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, published by my Department in 2009.
The Guidelines on Sustainable Residential Development in Urban Areas are specifically referred to in SPPR 4 of the Urban and Building Height Guidelines, published in December 2018. It should be noted that SPPR 4 sets out a specific planning policy requirement in relation to the development of greenfield, or edge of city/town locations, for housing purposes, particularly in relation to appropriate building height, that Planning Authorities are required to follow.
An Bord Pleanála is a statutory independent body and it would be inappropriate for me to make any comment in relation to individual decisions it makes. However, in general, it should be noted that An Bord Pleanála typically upholds national policy where there is divergence apparent in local policy.
The Guidelines on Sustainable Residential Development in Urban Areas generally require densities in the range of 35-50 dwellings per hectare (dph) on outer suburban/greenfield sites. This has been established Government policy for a significant period of time, dating back to 1999. The Guidelines, however, also provide scope for densities below 35 dph on more peripheral sites in smaller towns and villages, in particular to assist in delivering more sustainable alternatives to dispersed urban-generated rural houses.
Given that individual county development plans prioritise key towns, including county towns and many larger towns, for future development with significant population growth targets, achieving densities of 35 dph and over is important. Not achieving such densities means that such towns will become even more spread out and car dependent, with negative implications for tackling climate change and for promoting and sustaining public transport systems or even for the provision of cycling and walking networks.
Moreover, achieving densities of at least 35 dph is essential in catering for the more diverse range of smaller households presenting today, including couples who may wish to downsize, creating the flexibility for households to stay in their neighbourhoods/towns as their housing requirements change. Such densities are achievable through a mix of some individual homes, coupled with a significant level of semi-detached and some terraced housing.
In terms of research, the Guidelines on Sustainable Residential Development in Urban Areas area were issued together with a detailed manual and include a list of relevant documents at Appendix B, available at the following link:
It should also be noted that the 1999 Guidelines on Residential Density for Planning Authorities were based on a detailed research report undertaken by Feargal McCabe Town Planning Consultants and McCrosson O’Rourke Architects.
I am satisfied that the 2009 Guidelines are entirely consistent with supporting the appropriate development of our towns and urban centres in the context of the compact urban growth objective of the NPF.