I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
This morning we read in the newspapers of yet another co-living application. It is a proposed 14-storey development - twice the height cap in that part of the city - with 506 co-living beds in Dublin city centre. According to An Bord Pleanála and the Dublin local authorities, there have been more than 36 co-living planning applications in recent times, totalling more than 5,055 co-living bedrooms in the capital. Comparing that to the paltry number of live planning applications and permissions for affordable housing under the Government's serviced sites fund speaks volumes about our broken housing system. We can see little or no investment in affordable homes but outstretched arms to equity investors queueing up to build co-living. There is also a concerning trend of change-of-use applications from student accommodation, some of which now lies vacant, unfortunately, to co-living.
Let us be clear: co-living is a bad form of accommodation. It must not be confused with share living or co-housing, two eminently sensible concepts that should be supported and that are already permissible under our planning codes. Co-living is a greed-driven model that seeks to pack as many people as possible into as small a space as possible to maximise profits. These are nothing short of gentrified tenements with asking rents estimated at €1,300 per month for a single person. Controversial planning regulations introduced by Deputy Eoghan Murphy in 2018 allow co-living developments that provide 12 sq. m of personal living space for a single person. For the benefit of anyone who does not know what 12 sq. m is, it is the size of an average car parking space.
This concept is dreamt up by global equity investors looking to exploit the high demand for housing and apartments in our urban centres. The funds have access to unlimited investment capital and can outbid regular residential developers when buying prime city centre land. As a consequence, they are driving up the cost of that land and making standard residential development in our city centres even more unaffordable.
Why are we allowing private investors to dictate the terms of how our cities are being built? The House need not take my word for it but should listen to the views of the current Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when he was in opposition. Last July, he said he wanted the Planning Acts to be amended to block further co-living developments. At the time, the future Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government compared co-living to emergency accommodation family hubs. He described co-living as "a bonkers policy" and urged Deputy Eoghan Murphy to scrap it. His boss at the time is now the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin. He described co-living as "battery cage-type accommodation". The future Taoiseach rightly asked whether we were going back to the era of tenements. Deputy Darragh O'Brien is now the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and Deputy Micheál Martin is the Taoiseach. The question is whether they have banned co-living. The answer is "No" and, instead, they have announced a review. One media report recently suggested that instead of scrapping co-living the Minister may allow it in a "modified form".
We simply do not need a review. We need the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, to keep his word and to scrap what he rightly called a "bonkers" policy. If co-living was bonkers before Covid-19, how on earth can it be justified now?
The Bill before us does three straightforward things. First, it removes co-living from planning law, bringing an end to any new co-living planning permission and developments. Second, it scraps the inferior design standards, also introduced by the former Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, for build to rent apartments. Why should renters have smaller apartments with less dual aspect and natural light, less storage, less car parking and less comfort than owners of private apartments? The straight answer is they should not. Third, and importantly, the Bill repeals the controversial power introduced by Deputy Kelly when he was Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in 2016, allowing Ministers to make profound changes to planning law without a vote of the Oireachtas, while riding roughshod over the democratically agreed planning rules of local authorities. If the Minister believes, as I do, in the need for good quality affordable accommodation in our towns and cities, then he must support this Bill. It is the time to end co-living.
I appreciate the Minister has important matters to hand such as drafting the emergency legislation on banning evictions but we are seeing a worrying trend of the Minister either not attending or not remaining even to hear the first round of contributions from the Opposition, something even the former Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, did not do on his worst of days. I would like the Minister of State to raise that concern with the Minister, not just for my benefit but for the benefit of other Opposition Members, when he next speaks to him.