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'A more compact city': Dublin should look at a more European housing model, says city planner

John O’Hara said that people need to want to live in these apartments, and that they should be of high standard.

Modern apartment buildings by the canal in Amsterdam
Modern apartment buildings by the canal in Amsterdam
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THERE SHOULD BE a move to more European-style, apartment based living within Dublin, a top Dublin City Council city planner has said.

John O’Hara, City Planning Officer with DCC told The Journal that there needs to be a quality densification of Dublin City, as part of efforts to reduce urban sprawl and ensure the city remains sustainable.

When asked about moving to a more European model of living, O’Hara said that he thinks that should be the case, but that traditional housing still has a place within that.

“I think if we’re to pursue the principle of a more compact city, of reducing urban sprawl, of doing our bit for climate change, there’s got to be a quality densification of development,” said O’Hara.

“That’s not to say there isn’t a place for a three or four-bed semi… You must bear in mind, right up to the 80s and 90s, the three-bed semi was the predominant form of development at a very low density.

“In the last 10 to 15 years, the apartment developments are simply, you know, rebalancing that, but I have to stress I’d have to say that the apartments have to be of good quality.”

O’Hara said that people need to want to live in these apartments and that they need to be of a high standard, and have good connections to public transport and amenities.

According to O’Hara, while the minimum apartment standards are set by the Government, he wants to go beyond these minimum standards and for further mixes of units to be supplied.

People need to access more space within apartments, and he called for a focus on additional storage space, balcony space and communal spaces.

“The other thing that needs to be done is that apartments have to have more space around them: community space, more generous balconies, more storage areas. Not just the absolute minimum.”

O’Hara added that with an increased focus on cycling, people need to have the space within apartments to be able to store things like bikes, and that better-sized apartments will make the lifestyle more attractive.

Build to Rent

Within the new draft Dublin City Development Plan, there are plans to cut down the amount of build to rent apartments that can be built as part of efforts to push them into the city centre.

New policies within the plan will presume to deny planning permission for new BTR developments that are not built within the inner city or within 500 metres of a high employment area.

This policy has been welcomed, with Sinn Féin’s Housing Spokesperson Eoin Ó’Broin saying that housing policies should be based on need, and should be examined through Housing Need Demand Assessment (HNDA).

“Unfortunately, some parts of the city are witnessing planning applications which consist solely of build to rent dwellings. These are built of a lower standard than build to buy and are far too expensive for most ordinary workers to rent,” said Ó’Broin.

“Of course, delivering build to rent apartments is an ideal project for developers due to these lower standards and the higher profit margins.

“Local authorities know best what type of homes are needed in their areas. The new Housing Need Demand Assessment (HNDA) will further inform local councils as to what kind of homes will meet the population and demographic demands in their areas.”

O’Hara says that the council carried out a HNDA for the entire city, and particularly focused on the Liberties and North Inner City, and found that there was a significant amount of one-bedroom Build to Rent apartments being built, as well as hotels and student accommodation.

“Our analysis shows that over the past three or four years, there’s been a lot of built to rent of the one-bed style, a lot of student accommodation and a lot of hotels being built, even in the inner city.

“Whereas we would like to see family living, and that this is more two-bed and more three-bed.”

Policies within the draft plan will require developers of BTR developments to ensure that 40% of the apartments within their complexes are build to sell apartments.

DCC criticism

In recent years, there has been criticism levelled at DCC around the high number of hotels that are being built around the city, with concerns being raised about the over-proliferation of them.

In recent months, a proposed development on top of The Cobblestone pub in Smithfield was squashed by An Bord Pleanala after widespread opposition to the project, with over 700 third-party submissions being made to the planning authority.

However, an appeal has since been launched and a decision is expected in April.

When asked about the high number of hotels within the city, O’Hara acknowledged that there is a policy within the draft plan to avoid the overconcentration of hotels in any particular area.

However, he defended hotels within the city, saying that they provide significant employment for people across all socio-economic backgrounds and that they were important for tourism.

“There is a policy in the draft plan to avoid over-concentration of hotels in any given area and that any new hotel applications must have regards to the mix of use in locality, and it must also encourage publicly accessible uses on the ground floor, like cafes, rather than dead frontage.

“We have to also bear in mind that the average hotel in the city employs up to 200 people… It’s an important employer in the city.”

There has also been criticism of the council over the comments of its Chief Executive, Owen Keegan, who made comments to UCD’s Students’ Union around building its own student accommodation.

Last October, UCDSU President Ruairí Power wrote a letter to Keegan expressing concern over the use of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) for tourist accommodation.

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In response, Keegan criticised Power for “misrepresenting” the basis for why a ‘change of use’ was granted for the PBSA developments.

The letter concluded with: “If you genuinely believe that excess profits are being made in the PBSA market I am surprised the Students’ Union has not entered the market itself and provided lower-cost student accommodation for its members.”

Significant criticism was drawn by the remarks, with calls from some councillors for Keegan to resign, and Taoiseach Micheál Martin calling on Keegan to withdraw them.

Two days after the initial controversy, Keegan apologised for what he called an “element of sarcasm” within the letter, which he admitted was not appropriate.

Moore Street

Concerns have also been raised about current plans to redevelop parts of Moore Street, with DCC granting planning permission to UK developers Hammerson to regenerate the area around O’Connell Street.

The redevelopment of Moore Street is mentioned within the draft plan, with local campaigners calling for the street to be preserved as it is synonymous with the 1916 Rising.

The street is where leaders of the rising retreated to from the GPO, moving to a row of terraced housing on Moore Street.

Padraig Pearse formally surrendered to British forces on the street.

“It is envisaged that Moore Street Market will also be developed as a significant new cultural and historical amenity with associated public realm upgrades as well as high-quality mixed-use development,” reads the plan.

There are four houses – 14 to 17 – that are protected due to being designated as a national monument, with plans to have them turned into a museum.

However, the remaining street is eligible to be redeveloped.

Mícheál Mac Donncha, the secretary of the Moore Street Preservation Trust and DCC councillor, said the area should be “sensitively” regenerated as a historic quarter, along with the return of on-street market trading.

He called on Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien to intervene in the development.

O’Hara emphasised that the current plan was just a draft plan, and encouraged people to make submissions on any concerns they may have.

- Additional reporting by Press Association

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Tadgh McNally

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