Dáil debates

Wednesday, 8 March 2006

Priority Questions.

Departmental Guidelines.

1:00 pm

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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Question 6: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the measures which can be taken to improve the design and build of apartment blocks; his views on whether there is a need to make apartment living more attractive to families; if his Department will identify higher-density and high quality build as part of a strategy to prevent urban sprawl; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9784/06]

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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A wide range of policies and measures has been put in place to ensure that the unprecedented rate of housing development in Ireland is planned for in a manner that supports the creation of sustainable communities within a high quality environment.

Guidelines for planning authorities on residential density were published in 1999. These included a specific objective of reducing urban sprawl and promoting greater efficiency in the use of energy, transport and natural resources. The purpose of the guidelines is to assist in achieving high quality residential density of a suitable scale at appropriate locations, in conjunction with improved public transport systems.

My Department is reviewing the guidelines with a view to updating them later this year. The updating of the guidelines will focus on the quality of new developments. It will also take account of the extensive experience built up since the introduction of the guidelines in the design, assessment and development of higher density proposals.

A new Housing Policy Framework: Building Sustainable Communities was approved by the Government and published in December 2005. This sets out an agenda for an integrated package of housing policy initiatives. These include supporting higher densities and compact urban settlement through quality design in the creation of new homes, new urban spaces and new neighbourhoods. My Department has also commissioned a research study into apartment size and space standards to inform the revised planning guidelines on residential densities. These new guidelines will address the need to make apartment living more attractive for family living. They will also deal with the related issue of effectively linking residential development with the provision of social infrastructure, including playgrounds, amenities, schools, transport and leisure facilities.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his reply and welcome the review of the guidelines. In Dublin city and along the east coast generally, Fine Gael has been inundated with complaints about the poor design and the poor quality of life many people living in apartment complexes experience. Noise insulation is a key issue with many people. Other issues include the fact community areas are badly kept and are of poor quality and the lack of available recreation and amenity areas. We will build more houses in smaller spaces and we will build up rather than out. That is modern life. In many cases, however, the quality of the buildings and the surrounding environment is poor. What will the Minister of State do about that? How will he regulate the management of these apartment complexes which is causing grief around this city? Fine Gael is inundated with complaints about this issue, particularly in Dublin city.

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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There are a number of different aspects. The guidelines and the size of spaces have changed over the years. When we started building apartments 15 or 20 years ago, we were probably glad to see some derelict sites being built on. However, the guideline figures and space requirements have changed and continue to change. There are the 1995 guidelines and 1999 social and affordable housing guidelines. In the Dublin area, we have the Dublin city development plan. Larger space requirements were introduced during those three phases. The Dublin city development plan provides not only for the size of apartments but there are rules that not more than 50% of units in a development can be one bedroom units. It is trying to encourage large family units, which are attractive to the family. Fundamentally, that is what we are trying to achieve.

I accept some of the points made. We all get complaints about noise. That comes down to the self-certification system. People who buy apartments should ensure architects have signed off on the requirements and the certificates.

The issue of management companies is different and was not part of the question as such. We are considering that issue, about which questions have been asked. We are waiting for the report from the Law Reform Commission to guide us on what legislative changes need to be made.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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Many of these new apartment blocks will become the slums of the future because of the poor quality of design. Legislation is being introduced to retrospectively grant fire certificates to some apartment complexes. This is a most serious issue that is not being addressed by the Government in current legislation.

Many people living in apartment complexes feel they are being ripped off by management companies. Some people are living in buildings that are disintegrating around them. I accept it is not true in the majority of cases but it is happening in a significant number of cases. A fundamental change in Government policy is required to ensure an improvement in people's quality of life. I do not refer to green spaces alone; sports complexes, swimming pools, schools and other amenities are required for people living in new high quality, high density developments. The Minister is charged with changing this situation but he has not done so.

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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I note the Deputy's concerns. We are carrying out a study in advance of updating the guidelines which we expect to be completed reasonably soon. It will examine Irish and UK experience on space standards. Consultations will take place with the various stakeholders. Inspections of some recent projects will also take place. Recommendations will be produced for guidelines on one, two and three-bedroom units. It is also intended to invite submissions from relevant stakeholders, including the local authorities and the professional bodies — the IPI, the RTPI, and the RIAI — that deal with the development of the docklands, and the BRL in regard to Ballymun in regard to amending and progressing with the guidelines.

Management companies are a separate issue. We are aware that problems exist. Management companies, co-operatives or whatever one calls them are supposed to be run by——

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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They are called rip-offs.

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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——the owners. In some cases the owners have been a bit lax and have not taken control——

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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They are not run by owners.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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In many cases it is the builder.

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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——and not been involved to the extent they should.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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They are run by management companies.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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They have huge control.

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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In other cases developers have——

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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The management companies are set up by the builders.

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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Yes, in some cases management companies have been set up by developers who have used different devices to deny proper control and management to the home owners.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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It is extortion.

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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We are examining those cases. We await the Law Reform Commission report before progressing the issue further.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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That report is overdue by at least six months.

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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We cannot speed up the Law Reform Commission.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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Local authorities are putting it as part of the planning permission.

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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Sometimes it is necessary to wait and see what problems will emerge. We are now aware of them. Evidence is being documented and it appears that some changes will be necessary but we are waiting for the report before we publish them.