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Building Regulations

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 15 July 2021

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Questions (234)

Róisín Shortall


234. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he plans to restore pre-2015 apartment standards including in buy-to-lets further to reports that he plans to end the SHD provisions; if he plans to reinstate height limits on apartment developments in line with city and county development plans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39058/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

The continued operation of the Apartment Guidelines and the Building Height Guidelines are separate to the Strategic Housing Development (SHD) process and it is important to clarify that at the outset.

National planning guidance provides important clarification and detail of Government policy regarding urban residential development in order to ensure a consistent approach to decision making, irrespective of the particular consent procedure, i.e. whether SHD or otherwise.

Contrary to what is frequently reported, floor area standards for apartments set out in Guidance published by my Department in 2018, and updated in 2020, are not new, and remain unchanged to those set out in previous versions of the guidance, both in 2015 and 2007. Apartment design parameters that the 2007 guidelines addressed only in general terms or not at all, include studio apartments, dual aspect ratios and the number of apartments per stair/lift core.

Accordingly, the 2015 guidelines specified planning policy requirements to address a range of issues such as, inter alia, internal space standards for different types of apartments, including studio apartments; dual aspect ratios; floor to ceiling height; apartments to stair/lift core ratios; storage spaces and amenity spaces including balconies/patios. Since 2015, at least half of all apartments in any development proposal are required to be at least 10% larger than minimum standard size.

Build-to-let was first referenced in 2015 guidance in response to emerging trends, which are envisaged to continue. These include on-going population growth, a move towards smaller average household size, an ageing population and a greater proportion of households in the rented sector. At that time, apartments had become a more common form of dwelling in urban areas, comprising 11% of all occupied households in Ireland and almost one-third of occupied households in Dublin City (Census 2011). By 2016, this had risen to 12%.

In 2018, my Department published updated Sustainable Urban Housing: Design Standards for New Apartments Guidelines for Planning Authorities to respond to the continuing changing housing needs in light of demographics and the dynamics in the urban employment market. Chapter 5 of the Guidelines address the relatively new and emerging 'build-to-rent' sector and set out a number of key distinct characteristics. Build-to-rent projects are usually a single entity investment for long term rental undertaking, comprising individual residential units within the development that are not sold off separately for private ownership and/or subsequent sub-letting individually, which is a key difference from the traditional housing development model. The guidelines provide for planning permission for specific build-to-rent developments to be sought from a planning authority. Build-to-rent developments have specific planning requirements for the provision of dedicated amenities and facilities specifically for residents in terms of communal recreational space, work spaces and cooking/dining facilities as well as a range of other support services such as laundry facilities, concierge, management, repair and maintenance.

Build-to-Rent development forms a relatively small proportion of all planning applications lodged. As of February 2021, 48,397 residential units in total had been approved under the Strategic Housing Development process, comprising 12,991 Houses, 27,624 Apartments and 7,782 Build-to-Rent units. Build-to-Rent continues to make up around 16% of the total residential units approved under the SHD process. The amount of approved Build-to-Rent developments therefore is small. Following a review of co-living, updated guidelines were published in 2020 and I have no plans to further amend the guidelines at this time.

'Urban Development and Building Height' Guidelines for Planning Authorities and An Bord Pleanála which were also published by my Department in 2018, pursuant to Section 28 of the Act, support the achievement of compact growth, in line with the National Planning Framework.

In determining planning policy and making planning decisions regarding appropriate building heights, the planning process has to strike a careful balance between enabling long-term and strategic development of relevant areas, while ensuring the highest standards of urban design, architectural quality and place-making outcomes.

Specific Planning Policy Requirement (SPPR) 3(A) of the Building Height Guidelines provides that where an applicant for planning permission sets out how a development proposal complies with the relevant criteria and the assessment of the planning authority concurs, taking account of the wider strategic and national policy parameters, then the planning authority or An Bord Pleanála may approve such development, even where specific objectives of the relevant development plan or local area plan may indicate otherwise.

However, it should be noted that in order to better align decision making processes between local authority development plans and the context of overall Government policy including the promotion of compact urban growth to support the more sustainable use of urban land and existing services, the Building Height Guidelines require planning authorities to identify through statutory plans, areas for increased building height, where appropriate, and to not provide for blanket numerical limitations on height (SPPR1). This work is underway as part of statutory planning processes in many local authority areas.

I am satisfied that these guidelines are necessary and appropriate to give clear context and direction to the overall requirement to promote increased density and building height in appropriate locations within our urban centres. I currently have no plans to review these guidelines.