It is a key objective of Project Ireland 2040, which includes the National Planning Framework (NPF), to encourage a shift in the pattern and format of future development towards more compact urban growth, as a mechanism to support proper planning and sustainable development and as a measure to address climate change. The National Planning Framework is endorsed in the current Programme for Government, which also includes a commitment towards a ‘town centre first’ principle, in support of more balanced regional and rural development.
Rather than introduce new or increased requirements, both the NPF and the Programme for Government underpin pre-existing requirements for residential density. The National Planning Framework 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 generally require densities in the range of 35-50 dwellings per hectare (dph) on outer suburban/greenfield sites. The Guidelines also provide scope for densities below 35 dph on more peripheral sites, specifically in smaller towns and villages, in particular to assist in delivering more sustainable alternatives to dispersed rural housing. These requirements have been established Government policy for a significant period of time, dating back to the late 1990’s.
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 in such locations generally. 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 providing housing choice 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.
My Department continues to have ongoing engagement with the Local Authority sector, including individual local authorities, on a wide range of policy issues, including those relating to planning, which may include residential density. While there is scope to further examine density requirements in the context of sustainable settlement, it is my view that current policy is not a disincentive to the provision of appropriate housing developments in our towns.