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Planning watchdog clashes with Dublin City Council over plans to limit new build-to-rent schemes

The regulator said it was crucial that the delivery of all forms of housing in Dublin was accelerated and supported.

THE STATE’S PLANNING watchdog has clashed with Dublin City Council over a proposal by the local authority to limit new build-to-rent developments in the capital.

The Office of the Planning Regulator claims the council had failed to provide any evidence to justify its plans to stipulate that 40% of all units in new apartment developments must be made available for sale.

The OPR has issued a number of recommendations to the local authority about its proposals on BTR schemes which indicates it believes a new draft development plan prepared by Dublin City Council is in breach of either planning legislation or national and/or regional planning policy.

The OPR said it was also unclear how a 60:40 mix between built-to-rent (BTR) and private ownership units in the same development would work in practice.

Under the Draft Dublin City Development Plan 2022-2028, the council aims to prevent developers from building new apartment blocks with no homes for sale amid concerns at the predominance of BTR scheme in new planning applications in recent years.

New BTR apartment developments would also be restricted to specific parts of Dublin including the inner city, areas of high-intensity employment and within 500 metres of major public transport hubs.

In a submission on the plan, however, the OPR said the council’s policy on BTR schemes was ambiguous and open to misinterpreting its intent as seeking to have 40% of apartments in BTR schemes sold to individual purchasers.

It warned it also had the potential to create different design standards for units in the same development.

While the OPR acknowledged the motivation behind the council’s plans was to try and secure a reasonable mix of housing in an area where there was a risk of an undue concentration of BTR schemes, it claimed the council’s broad aim would be better served by a policy requiring an assessment of other BTR schemes within 3km of the site.

The regulator said this measure would also ensure there would be no overconcentration of BTR apartment developments in a particular area.

The OPR said it believed that such a requirement would provide “a strong policy basis that would empower the city council through the planning application process, including pre-application consultation, to clearly signal if an undue concentration of BTR situation was potentially presenting and to consider alternative mixes of use and housing type.”

The OPR also criticised a proposal in the draft development plan to introduce an effective ban on any BTR scheme of less than 100 units over the council’s concern that they do not provide sufficient communal facilities for tenants.

The regulator said there was no policy basis or evidence to suggest that a development of less than 100 units could not provide adequate communal facilities.

It expressed concern that such a policy could deter smaller BTR developments that might be appropriate for certain sites and certain parts of the city as well as being in conflict with other housing policies.

The OPR has called on Dublin City Council to omit its proposed ban on smaller BTR schemes or to revise it to allow for “clear and reasonable performance-based criteria for the evaluation of communal facilities.”

It also advised the council to amend its proposal relating to setting aside 40% of BTR developments for sale.

Dublin City Council had stated that an objective of its draft development plan was the idea of neighbourhood-making and sustainable communities and to prevent an over-concentration of BTR schemes in any one area.

Although BTR developments have only emerged in recent years, Dublin City planner, John O’Hara, said they had largely displaced build-to-sell apartment schemes altogether.

The OPR acknowledged that the council’s proposed policies appeared to be a response to the concern that nearly all new apartments developments were BTR schemes which could act against the aim to create sustainable communities.

While the regulator supported and endorse the majority of policies in the draft plan, it said it had a serious concern about the validity of the Z16 zoning proposed by the council which allocates a site for a combination of uses consisting of 30% for employment, 10% for high quality recreational open space, 10% for community and cultural amenities, 10% for private residential and 40% for social and affordable residential.

The regulator questioned the rationale for such a zoning as it pointed out that the statutory provisions under amendments to Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 already provided for a greater proportion of social and affordable housing with all new developments.

The OPR said a key challenge for the plan over the next six years will be to deliver the target number of 40,000 housing units set out in the Government’s housing supply target.

The regulator said it was crucial that the delivery of all forms of housing in Dublin was accelerated and supported given the gap between the official target figure and the “very low current levels of supply coming on stream.”

However, it expressed concern that the number of Local Area Plans and masterplans that need to be prepared as a result of focusing housing development in 17 Strategic Development and Regeneration Areas have the potential to delay the delivery of housing in key locations

The regulator praised the council’ initiative to revitalise the city centre area by encouraging the greater use of upper floors for residential purposes.

Seán McCárthaigh