Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Questions (38)

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin


38. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the terms of reference for the departmental review on shared living and co-living established following his appointment; the membership of the committee; the number of meetings that have taken place; the persons and organisations that were consulted during the course of the review; if he will report on the interim recommendations in the report as contained in a newspaper (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36465/20]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Housing)

I have submitted this question on behalf of my colleague, Senator Rebecca Moynihan, who is the Labour Party spokesperson on housing. The Minister will be aware that the issue of co-living has been raised regularly in these Houses. We spoke on a motion on this issue recently. We very much welcome the statement on co-living the Minister reportedly made yesterday. Perhaps he is in a position to outline his stance and what effect it will have.

I thank Deputy Ó Ríordáin. I am pleased to be given the opportunity to make an official statement to the House.

I have been clear in previous debates in my intention to review the provisions on shared accommodation or, as it is more widely known, "co-living", as set out in section 5.0 of Sustainable Urban Housing: Design Standards for New Apartments Guidelines for Planning Authorities, which were published in 2018. Paragraph 5.24 of the guidance committed the Department to monitor the provision of shared accommodation, with a view to issuing further technical updates of the sustainable urban housing guidelines document with regard to co-living, given the relatively new nature of this form of accommodation. The original guidelines provided for a two-year review. I stated in the Dáil and the convention centre that I would review co-living development. I asked my officials to do so and they completed a report, which I have carefully considered, having regard to the broader context of what I want the country to deliver, namely, sustainable, good, affordable housing, both public and private.

Further to the report, my preferred approach is to update the 2018 design standards for new apartments guidelines for planning authorities to restrict future commercial co-living development with a specific planning policy requirement, SPPR, for a presumption against grant of permissions for co-living shared accommodation. Yesterday, I issued a circular advising local authorities, An Bord Pleanála and the Office of the Planning Regulator of this and noting, in particular, the scale and location of co-living developments permitted and proposed to date, the need for a local authority-led evidence-based approach to guide any further provision, and the potential impact on land values. All of this is set out in the report I published yesterday, which is available to everyone. Effectively, in the guidelines I have set out on co-living, the presumption in respect of any new developments is refusal. It is a de facto ban.

My party welcomes the Minister's decision. His statements on this matter in opposition had been categorical and he has delivered on them as Minister. This could be an example of the Opposition and Government working effectively together. Is it the view of the Minister's officials that this decision will need to be underpinned by legislation in due course? Is there a suggestion it might be open to challenge? What will happen to planning applications that are currently being adjudicated by An Bord Pleanála? Applications for such developments in the south inner city and in Donaghmede in my constituency are currently under consideration.

The Minister's instruction has gone to An Bord Pleanála. Does his order have an effect on adjudications An Bord Pleanála may currently be making on applications?

The bottom line is that the circular issued to all planning authorities yesterday, so anything lodged beforehand is still in the system under the 2018 guidelines. I cannot change that because they were lodged at the time when the 2018 guidelines pertained. Existing permissions stand. It is important Deputies know that one of the reasons I looked at this in a lot of detail is that 14 permissions were granted to deliver approximately 2,100 units of this type and not one of them has been delivered. I was particularly concerned about the impact that was going to have, or was having, on land cost and values and whether some of these applications and permissions were simply about inflating the value of a particular piece of ground. Effectively, the current applications will move through the system and for new applications there is a presumption of a of a refusal because the guidance is that there be a refusal. I cannot make it retrospective, as the Deputy knows. The Government's position on co-living is clear: it is not a tenure of housing we prefer or that I, as Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, want to see.

We appreciate that and, again, it is something we welcomed yesterday when we saw the report. I have a quick question. If a number of planning applications were to be successful, if An Bord Pleanála were to rule that co-living, because of the previous guidelines, should be accepted in these cases, what measures does the Minister think would be within his powers to move against that? Do we just have to accept that these came and were given permission under previous guidelines and that is just the way it is or is there some kind of regulation he could bring in to monitor and have some kind of oversight over that type of accommodation? It is one thing to rule out everything that will happen from now on but to try to oversee the building standards that currently exist is another. As such, is there some way we can ensure that if something does get permission we are not behind the curve, that we are preparing for that eventuality? Is that something the Minister has thought about, is it something his officials are considering? I ask because we could have a situation where, notwithstanding the Minister's position on this, we have a number of co-living apartments or dwellings on stream in a very short period.

I have been clear regarding what we have done. I said I would carry out a review, which I did. I said I would base any decision I made on clear research and the data I had, which I have done. I have published the report for all to see. It outlines four different options and only one of those options was to do what I have done. Government has made a very clear decision here, through me as Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, that this type of development is not what we want to see. I have effectively banned these developments and there is a presumption of a refusal for any new applications that come in. It does not have any effect retrospectively for permissions that have been granted.

The Deputy mentioned building standards and other elements. The building standards will apply in each local authority area. It is interesting to note that not one of these developments has been built out yet. The clear decision made by Government yesterday shows that it is not a tenure of housing we want to see, it is not compatible with the "Housing for All" section of the programme for Government, which is what I want to deliver on: good public housing at scale and affordable housing for both purchase and rental. It is a significant decision and it is a very clear one and a break with what was being done.