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'It's not suitable housing for anyone, anywhere': Green light for another co-living development in Dublin despite ban

A series of co-living developments have been given the go-ahead in Dublin in recent months.

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A PROPOSED CO-LIVING block in Dublin city centre has been given the green light by An Bord Pleanála after Dublin City Council raised concerns over what it described as an initial “substandard” accommodation plan. 

It is the latest in a series of co-living developments that have been given the go-ahead in Dublin, despite an effective ban on them brought in by the government last year. 

The proposed development at 17 and 18 North Frederick Street in the north inner city was appealed to An Bord Pleanála (ABP) in February. 

The Council refused the original proposal after raising concerns over the size and potential lack of daylight in the bedrooms. It also raised concerns about a lack of communal spaces. 

The proposed development would result in the demolition of the single storey buildings at 17 and 18 North Frederick Street and the construction of a seven-storey building with 27 double rooms for couples to share and 18 single rooms.

The original planning application proposed that the first five floors would each have had three single bedrooms and five doubles, along with a communal kitchen, living and dining space on each floor. 

The sixth floor would have had three single bedrooms and two double bedrooms, which would also share a communal kitchen, living and dining space.

In its planning report, Dublin City Council said: “There are grave concerns over the useability and functionality of the bedroom spaces. In most cases, the rooms are only 2.6 metres wide resulting in long and narrow bedrooms.”

It said that a daylight and sunlight assessment was not submitted with the application so it was unclear what levels of daylight the rooms would get given that the “majority of the rooms are single aspect” and 24 units would be north-east facing.

The council also said that having up to 13 people share a kitchen, living and dining space was unacceptable. “On floors one to five this equates to 3.2 sq m per bedspace,” it said. “This is considered far too low and is not acceptable.”

The Council said: “Apart from the roof terrace, all additional facilities are located at either basement level or ground floor level where there is no access to daylight. There are serious concerns over the quality and useability of the communal spaces provided throughout the scheme.”

Screenshot 2021-06-10 15.50.45 - Display 2 (1) Proposed single bed unit Source: An Bord Pleanála

Appealing the Council’s refusal, Hughes Planning and Development Consultants on behalf of its client John McDonnell submitted a revised plan for the shared accommodation scheme in February. 

In its decision to grant permission, An Bord Pleanála agreed with the Council that the development as originally submitted would represent “a substandard development for future occupants and would be of excessive height and scale which would seriously injure the visual amenities of the area.”

However, it said revised plans submitted reduced the height of the development sufficiently, that the size of the double bedrooms meet the minimum requirements “albeit just” and ruled that the development could therefore only contain single bedrooms.

ABP said that the amendments to the proposal submitted with the appeal represented a material and significant improvement above that originally submitted to the Council.

Screenshot 2021-06-10 16.22.28 - Display 2 17-18 Frederick Street, Dublin Source: GoogleMaps

The board’s approval comes after it granted permission for a number of shared accommodation schemes in the city in recent months following an effective ban on co-living

The government issued new guidelines in December stating that there “shall be a presumption against granting planning permission for shared accommodation/co-living”.

However, this and a number of other developments had to be considered for planning permission because the initial application was lodged before the government’s guidelines were published.

Co-living projects – where residents have their own unit of residence with a bed and bathroom but share communal cooking and living areas – have been a controversial concept in Ireland with some describing them as modern tenements and a poor response to the housing crisis. 

Developers insist co-living units will make up a small proportion of the housing market, will appeal to younger working professionals, and were never designed to tackle to housing crisis. 

In a letter to Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien last year before the ban was issued, Mike Flannery, CEO of property developer Bartra, asked to discuss the “important role” co-living can play in the Irish housing market and “to challenge the sustained misinformed public commentary that shared living has attracted.”

The letter pointed to other European cities where co-living properties have been developed such as Vienna and Copenhagen and states “surely Government policy should not be seeking to remove this prospective choice”. 

Cabinet arrivals 002 (1) Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien Source: Sasko Lazarov

An Bord Pleanála granted permission earlier this year for plans for a 297-unit shared co-living scheme on the site of Phibsborough shopping centre in Dublin. 

The developers MM Capital lodged ‘fast-track’ plans for the redevelopment of the 1960s shopping centre in December. 

MM Capital already had planning permission for a €50 million student accommodation scheme at the site but replaced it with the shared co-living scheme which will increase the permitted building height by two metres and increase in floorspace by 1,079 sq.m to 12,235sq. m. 

At the time Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald stated that “co-living developments are driven by investors seeking to exploit the high demand for housing and apartments in our urban centres”. 

She argued that “as a consequence, these developments drive up the cost of that land making standard residential development in Dublin even more unaffordable. On that basis granting permission to this development is neither coherent nor sustainable”.

In granting permission, the appeals board reduced the number of shared co-living units from 321 to 297 units.

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The board inserted this condition “in the interests of providing a satisfactory standard of residential amenity for occupants of the development”.

Recommending that planning be granted, An Bord Pleanála inspector in the case, Una O’Neill, stated that she was satisfied that “in terms of location and need, there is adequate justification for the provision of co-living/shared accommodation at this location and will provide for an adequate level of residential amenity”.

O’Neill also stated that shared co-living accommodation “should not be viewed as being provided to the detriment of family housing provision or social housing”.

PHIBSBORO TOWER555 Phibsborough Shopping Centre Source: Sam Boal

The board also granted permission for a shared accomodation development on Mountjoy Street in Dublin city in April.

That same month it gave the green light to ‘fast track’ plans to US property giant Hines to construct 732 residential units on the site of the former Player Wills factory site in Dublin 8, of which 240 will be co-living units. 

The Strategic Housing Development (SHD) – which means an application for a large housing development goes straight to An Bord Pleanála, rather than to a local authority, and cannot be appealed – faced strong local opposition with over 180 submissions lodged with An Bord Pleanála concerning the contentious scheme.

Separately, Dublin City Council granted permission for 120 co-living spaces on Jervis Street earlier in January. However, it refused a co-living proposal at the old Hendron’s building in Dublin 7, which is a protected structure. 

Local Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan has questioned An Bord Pleanála’s decisions to grant permission for shared accommodation schemes following last year’s ban.  

In an observation letter to the Council regarding the Frederick St proposal she said in December: “That the minister for housing has signed regulations in the form of a specific planning policy requirement with a presumption against a grant of permission for co-living or shared development, it would not appear pertinent to proceed with this type of development at this time.”

She added: “The north inner city already supports a concentration of co-living hubs, student accommodation and aparthotels, to the detriment of residential and family-friendly housing and apartments.”

Reacting to the board’s decision on the Frederick Street development Hourigan said it “speaks to the need for reform of An Bord Pleanála”. She told The Journal: 

It’s making decisions that are constantly under review, are constantly being challenged. It’s not considering [whether] housing it grants permission for is actually of a standard for people to live in because co-living is not.

“It’s not suitable housing for anyone, anywhere. It doesn’t confer renters’ rights on anybody, it doesn’t have a fair tax status. We have removed co-living from the spectrum of housing that we consider acceptable for a very particular reason.” 

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