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Housing Minister issues de-facto ban on new co-living developments

O’Brien said the number of applications and permissions in Ireland are “comparatively high in the international context”.

Image: LEAH FARRELL

HOUSING MINISTER DARRAGH O’Brien has agreed to issue a de facto ban on new co-living developments in the country, citing concerns at the growing number of developments in the housing system. 

O’Brien said this was the correct decision given the number of applications and permissions to date are “comparatively high in the international context”.

The decision to amend the 2018 Planning Guidelines to seek to restrict all future commercial co-living development in Ireland was made on the back of a report on co-living from officials in his department.

The report raised concerns that the number of developments were become less niche and were now playing a greater role in the country’s housing system, and that many potential sites are outside the city centre. 

Snag_560822b A total of 14 planning applications for shared accommodation schemes, all located in Dublin, comprising more than 2,100 proposed bedspaces have been made to date. Source: Department of Housing

“I believe the number of applications and permissions to date are comparatively high in the international context. Given the unprecedented nature of these developments, I have concerns that the scale of the developments is moving away from the niche quantity of units the concept originally aimed for to a significantly larger role in the housing system,” O’Brien said. 

“I also believe the location of a substantial number of the potential co-living sites is not in keeping with the high density urban centres originally envisaged and that inappropriate locations away from the core city centre have undermined the concept.”

O’Brien added that there is a serious risk that co-living permissions will add to upward pressure on land prices.

The ban will only apply to future developments as any “amendments to the planning guidelines could not be applied retrospectively”. 

“Given the new nature of co-living developments it is appropriate that we draw lessons from the existing permissions once they are built out in keeping with the review originally attached the idea in 2018.” 

The department said an updated guidance document is currently being finalised. 

Former housing minister, Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy told TheJournal.ie that O’Brien is right to act. He said:

Co-living was only ever intended to play a limited and niche role in the housing market. It was never intended as an alternative to conventional apartment or housing developments.
Minister O’Brien is of the view there are enough developments in the system to meet anticipated demand and so he is right to act.

‘Dickensian’

Provisions that would allow for co-living were brought in by then Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy in 2018 when he published a document on Sustainable Urban Housing: Design Standards for New Apartments Guidelines for Planning Authorities.

Within this document were guidelines on co-living – or shared living – and how it could emerge as a “distinct segment within the overall urban accommodation sector”. 

Such developments should have a minimum 12 metres squared space for single rooms and a 18 metres squared space for double rooms, according to the Housing Department’s guidance. 

Since this guidance was published, a number of planning applications have been made to try secure permission for co-living developments in Dublin.  The first major proposed development to come to light was located in Dun Laoghaire in May 2019.

At the time, local Fianna Fáil councillor – and now TD – Cormac Devlin told TheJournal.ie that he “wouldn’t even call them bedsits they’re so small”. Green Party MEP Ciaran Cuffe called them “Dickensian in nature”

Murphy faced criticism for his defence of such developments in the past, after telling a conference that such blocks offer an “exciting” choice to young workers.

At the time Fianna Fáil’s spokespersons on housing Darragh O’Brien, now the Housing Minister, said he was opposed to the concept of co-living and called on Murphy to amend legislation around co-living

Since taking up office as Minister, O’Brien promised to carry out a review of all housing models, including co-living.

Labour Senator Rebecca Moynihan welcomed O’Brien’s decision but said he should have moved on it as soon as he was appointed. 

“Minister O’Brien’s opposition to co-living well documented and he knows well that it is not a solution to the housing crisis,” said Moynihan.

She urged O’Brien to urgently issue new guidelines on the location and balance of purpose-built student accommodation to stop developers converting student accommodation into tourist accommodation.

“There are numerous luxury student accommodation builds across Dublin and we cannot allow developers to convert them into tourist apartments at a whim.

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“The number of applications to convert PBSA to tourist accommodation indicates an oversupply of luxury student accommodation. He needs to ban developers applying to convert PBSA into tourist accommodation which is effectively co-living by the backdoor.”

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Eoin Ó Broin has today called on the minister to clarify whether he intends to ban or co-living or just restrict it.

“I welcome in the publication of the Minister for Housing’s review into co-living. However, I am concerned that the government is only restricting co-living developments rather that issuing an outright ban,” he said.

Ó Broin said there are already co-living planning applications in for more than 2,000 co-living bed spaces in Dublin.

“If the proposal is simply to restrict this accommodation, undoubtedly some developers will find a way around this. We have witnessed this approach around purpose-built student accommodation and owners seeking to change this accommodation to co-living.

“We needed to see an outright ban so that there is no wriggle room in terms of any new co-living spaces being developed,” he said.

About the author:

Adam Daly

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