Dáil debates

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Housing Policy

5:35 pm

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for attending this evening's debate. I have raised this matter previously. Ultimately, we need to build homes, but we also need to ensure the national density guidelines are in keeping with ensuring that we get sustainable development. The national density guidelines recommend between 35 and 50 units per hectare. In many cases they are well above that now. At above 35 units per hectare, only apartments can be accommodated, in many cases very high-rise apartments in mature areas. In many cases developers are submitting planning applications to local authorities and including as part of the mix five-storey or six-storey apartment blocks, which in many cases may not get built, in order that they can continue to build starter homes. The issue of traffic management and the impact it will have on an area does not appear to be factored into national guidelines in how particular planning applications are assessed.

I am based in Limerick city. I very much welcome the development under way in the building of homes. However, in many areas, homes are being built but are ending up being interspersed with five-storey or six-storey apartment blocks in order that developers can get the densities to get the planning applications approved to enable them to build starter homes. In many cases the cost of building apartments is 30% higher than the cost of building individual homes because the model means they need to build large apartments. This is becoming a feature in areas such as Castletroy, Monaleen, Caherdavin, Dooradoyle and Raheen on the outskirts of the city.

We need high densities in city centres and I want to see people living there. In many cases, the location is the issue. I have no particular issue with high densities along main thoroughfares but I do where there are existing or mature areas, including those with houses. For a developer to get planning permission, they must go for apartments to get the required densities.

We need to build starter homes and apartments in a sustainable way. I call on the Minister of State with responsibility for the local authorities and planning to give a commitment to look at reviewing urban density guidelines. I ask that he consider different measures as one size does not fit all. Densities suitable for Dublin, for example, may not fit down the country and what is suitable for city centres may not fit in suburbs or rural areas outside city centres. What might fit on a main thoroughfare in a suburb may not fit in a mature area. I ask the Minister of State to undertake a review of the urban planning guidelines and look at them on a specific basis.

Local area plans may have a density of 35 units per hectare and planners in the local authority in Limerick say this cannot be dealt with locally because national planning guidelines supersede the process. It is a contradiction. A local area plan may indicate what is sustainable but national policy appears to contradict it. I am looking for a commitment that the Minister of State will carry out a review of the national density guidelines for residential housing, taking into account different density requirements outside Dublin, including Limerick and the suburbs rather than city centres.

5:45 pm

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy makes a very valid point and we are trying to resolve the matter. Deputy Stanton and Councillor Anthony Barry, who works very closely with Deputy Stanton, have raised the issue consistently. Project Ireland 2040 is the overarching policy and planning framework for the social, economic and cultural development of Ireland. It includes the 20-year national planning framework, NPF, and the ten-year capital plan to 2030. The NPF and Project Ireland strategy includes very clear objectives to significantly grow the regions by focusing on Ireland's cities, including in particular the four cities other than Dublin and on regional growth drivers and other key towns.

A key outcome of both the NPF and national development plan is the compact growth of cities and towns of all sizes to add value and create more attractive places in which people can live and work. The preferred approach is to focus on greater reuse of previously developed brownfield land, consolidating infill sites, which may not have been built on before, and the development of sites in locations that are better serviced by existing facilities and public transport. However, the NPF also acknowledges that there is a need for more proportionate and tailored approach to residential development, especially in the context of the growth of regional cities and towns. This means it is necessary to adapt the scale, design and layout of housing according to the size and type of settlement in which it is located and its proximity to centres and public transport services.

Statutory "section 28" ministerial guidelines for planning authorities on sustainable residential development in urban areas were last issued in 2009, having been first introduced in 1999. A preliminary draft of sustainable and compact settlement guidelines, SCSG, is currently being prepared for the purposes of screening to determine if a strategic environmental assessment, SEA, is required. Following the completion of the SEA process, the draft SCSG will be placed on display for a focused period of public consultation. Although there is no statutory requirement for public consultation, it is considered best practice to seek the views of planning authorities, practitioners, industry representatives and other interested parties. Submissions can be made in due course.

As the Deputy mentioned, my Department is undertaking a targeted review on the update of the sustainable residential guidelines. In the meantime I have issued a circular that the Deputy will be aware of. It states: "It is necessary for An Bord Pleanála and planning authorities to exercise discretion in the application and assessment of residential density at the periphery of large towns, particularly to the edges of towns with a rural context."

We must be clear that it is not a one-size-fits-all approach and there are communities and towns that should not be required to have a very high density level when it is not suitable for the area. On the other hand, in very large city areas like the centre of Dublin, we must take into account the land values that underpin cities and make the most of that in terms of compact growth and carbon footprint. A targeted review is under way and we will work through that. I am happy to take into account Deputy O'Donnell's views on that. I share his opinion and understand exactly where he is coming from. The last thing we want is any policy putting out development that is not viable and will not be delivered. We want to try to have sustainable communities across all tenures. That is very important.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the commitment from the Minister of State and that the review is under way. When will the review be complete? The Minister of State must write to local authorities, as from my perspective in Limerick, local authorities seem to be taking the view that if they give planning permissions in line with local area plans of the order of 35 units per hectare or less, it will be overturned by An Bord Pleanála. There is a need for real clarity around the matter.

I invite the Minister of State to come to Limerick to see what I am speaking about. There is an area in Castletroy where there could be over 700 houses going in and there are two roads leading to a traffic management bottleneck. It does not seem to be taken into account by local authorities in the granting of planning permission.

We want sustainable development. I want to see apartment blocks but I want to see them in specific and sustainable locations. Laws are being interpreted at a local authority level and for whatever reason there may not be a full appreciation of what the Minister of State has indicated this evening. I ask him to write to the local authorities and tell them they have discretion and must consider the qualities of areas. We need high densities in cities, for example, but that is not the case in mature areas where young families may make their home. Putting blocks of five or six storeys in their back yards is not sustainable. The same is true when we put in large numbers of houses and apartments in an area with serious traffic problems.

We want people to use public transport but if a bus cannot get around a corner and an apartment block is put on that corner, it is not sustainable development. There is a lack of understanding of how plans are processed. The problem is that when planning permission is granted and the units are built, they will be there forever. We are only on this Earth for a short period and people want to buy homes in which to rear children or just for themselves. They put hard-earned money into buying them. Through no fault of their own they can be in a position where a block of five or six storeys is in their back garden and that is not sustainable.

I ask the Minister of State for information on the timing of the review. I also ask him to write to local authorities to reaffirm this position. I look forward to him coming to Limerick city.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for his response and I am absolutely delighted to take up his invitation. The review is expected to be concluded midway through 2022. We should expect a number of submissions and they may be complex but the target is to have it completed by mid-2022.

The circular was sent to all the chief executives in the country and the chair of An Bord Pleanála for its attention. As the review is ongoing, we must monitor what results on foot of the issuing of the circular and what way decisions have taken account of it. The sustainable settlement guidelines for communities are important and the new iteration must take into account a range of factors responding to the more effectively defined settlement hierarchies, as the Deputy outlined, of cities, towns and villages, as well as the different types of neighbourhoods. In particular there are the outer suburbs, which are critical, as the Deputy mentions. We must look at that.

In addition, we should consider linking development criteria and standards to different settlement hierarchies, with greater utilisation of urban design frameworks and master plans to promote quality-led designs to ensure we have sustainable communities. I take on board everything the Deputy has said and look forward to his submission in due course when the consultation process opens.