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Dublin: 20°C Tuesday 15 June 2021

With a housing crisis and fierce competition for investment, it's time to consider high-rises

Ibec’s Aidan Sweeney argues that lowering our building heights will make it harder for us to increase our housing supply.

Aidan Sweeney

AN ADEQUATE SUPPLY of housing would remove the biggest constraint on economic growth.

However, proposals within the Draft Dublin City Development Plan (2016-2022) will limit the city’s ability to grow and accommodate a rapidly expanding population.

Maximum heights will be revised downwards from 28m (about eight stories) to 24m (about seven stories) for “low-rise” inner city residential developments. Yet, commercial buildings would continue to be four metres taller.

More worryingly, a new maximum height of 13m (about four stories) is being proposed for “low-rise” residential developments in the suburbs. This overrides established global practices of assessing each site’s suitability and context for development. Instead, the hands of Dublin city’s planners will be tied by these new and impractical height restrictions.

The new restrictions, if passed, would reduce building heights by almost 20%. In an average residential development, this would result in six to seven fewer apartments being built. Under the previous development plan, up to 80% of the city’s housing output was apartments.

Well-designed tall buildings, in the right context, can make a positive contribution to their setting and the city. Dublin City Council, rather than imposing a blanket restriction on height, should work with developers to ensure that proposals are assessed on a site-by-site basis.

Housing crisis

This development plan demonstrates an unwillingness to deal with density issues facing the city.

Severe new restrictions on building height and density will hinder our ability to house people within the Dublin city area. Given the size, population and overall importance of Dublin city to the national economy, we need to get the future development framework right.

The Dublin City Council area alone now accounts for 12% of the country’s population. This continued growth in the population is putting severe strain on the city’s resources.

Under-supply and rising prices are putting severe pressure on young families, job seekers and workers. More affordable and quality housing to buy or rent will make it easier for companies to attract people to Dublin, and indeed Ireland, and to keep people working in the city.

The proposed restrictions could effectively sterilise entire areas that are in need of redevelopment and regeneration, by inadvertently making a proposed development financially unviable.

At a time of acute housing and commercial space shortages, it is crazy that tougher and unreasonable height restrictions are being proposed in the current draft plan.

A sensible strategy

A more sensible approach is needed, which recognises that taller buildings can make a beneficial contribution, besides accommodation, to urban regeneration and their surrounding streetscape and skyline.

We should follow the example of local authorities in the UK and the Netherlands by developing a tall buildings strategy. This would identify suitable locations for higher density developments. Such strategies are successfully used internationally to balance expectations of height, density, visual impact, heritage impact, regeneration and public realm improvements.

Currently, Dublin City Council and its three neighbouring local authorities across Dublin develop short-term (six year) development plans. Developing such plans independently is not in the best interests of the Dublin region. A single Dublin development plan would identify priorities that could then be implemented through existing mechanisms.

Cork’s two local authorities have an internationally recognised track-record in spatial planning. It is time for Dublin to follow suit. These plans are also being concluded in the vacuum of having no national spatial strategy.

Global competition

The city is in a global race for investment, capital and talent which is intensifying all the time.

The fallout from Brexit demonstrates that investment is mobile. Dublin needs to be firmly positioned amongst the world’s most liveable cities such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Vienna, Sydney and Vancouver in order to attract new business and jobs.

Yet, the city is lagging behind when it comes to infrastructure, cost of doing business and our global quality of life ranking.

Investment decisions for specific locations are made on the basis on the quality of life they offer. In 2010, Dublin was ranked as the 26th most liveable city in the world. In 2012, we fell to 35th with only slight improvements over the lifetime of the current development plan. Today, Dublin is 33rd.

A large reason we fell in those rankings was that renting became unaffordable. We cannot allow ourselves to slip further. Such indicators can be extremely useful in monitoring progress improvements in the city due to the development plan.

The new six-year Dublin city development plan must unlock the economic potential of the city. Ireland will benefit because our economy relies heavily on the performance of all our cities.

Dublin needs to be more adaptable and capable of responding to the global rise of city regions, mobility of investment and accelerated urbanisation.

Aidan Sweeney is Ibec’s Senior Public Sector and Regulatory Executive.

Read: Poll: Should Irish cities become high-rise?

Read: Here is why councillors don’t think taller buildings will tackle Dublin’s housing crisis

About the author:

Aidan Sweeney

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