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Dublin: 0 °C Sunday 17 November, 2019
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Are prefab villages really the future of housing?

Innovative solutions are required to solve the housing and homelessness crisis, not “off the shelf” solutions, writes Mary Hughes.

Mary Hughes

The government has allocated €17 million to provide 500 new modular homes to tackle the homeless crisis. It’s something that has already been seen in other countries.

Here President of the Irish Planning Institute Mary Hughes explains how the planning system can facilitate their delivery in a short eight weeks, but says site selection and consultation might cause delays.

MODULAR OR prefabricated housing will be utilised as part of addressing Dublin’s housing shortage. It has been suggested that emergency planning legislation may be required to deliver these quickly, however, it would seem that procurement, not planning, is where the longest delays might arise.

Planning consent for the development of temporary housing for the homeless can be secured within eight weeks.

Once suitable sites are identified and units that are affordable and meet building regulations are procured, the planning permission process can facilitate the delivery of these units.

CORRECTION Disaster Housing Source: Associated Press

A local authority does not require planning permission to carry out development in the normal way. Instead they place a development on public display for six weeks after which the development and any submissions received are put before local authority members.

The members then agree to either accept or reject the development or alternatively to proceed with modifications. This process is commonly known as a Part 8 application (Part 8 of the Planning & Development Regulations, 2001 – 2012).

Where are the suitable sites for these homes?

The single most important consideration in the provision of emergency housing is the identification of suitable sites and it is this element of the process that is likely to cause most delay and opposition.

In general people are strongly opposed to any kind of such a facility in their vicinity and exhibit a “not in my backyard” attitude even if they are aware of its necessity. This attitude, expressed best in local politics, needs to be managed carefully.

Early consultation with established communities is a pre-requisite to site selection and the Irish Planning Institute would caution against reducing the public participation element of the process, though this is where time savings might be sought.

Czech Republic Europe Housing Migrants Source: Associated Press

To avoid storing up problems for the future any modular housing should be located on the right site, in proximity to services and amenities rather than just taking any available site. Short term site location solutions can very quickly become medium to long term and so emergency accommodation should be located, laid out and serviced with a view to many of them still being in place in over a decade.

Ideally site selection for emergency accommodation could be part of the development plan process, a process that embraces public participation and debate from the outset.

This process also secures political buy-in as it is the elected members that ultimately make the plan. A special ‘emergency zoning’ should be considered in all development plans. This zoning could sit on top of existing land use zonings and identify locations for any emergency housing.

Innovative solutions needed, not quick answers 

Innovative solutions are required to solve the housing and homelessness crisis. Using “off the shelf” solutions as proposed should only be temporary solution. We should be using our engineering, architecture and planning expertise to design and build tailored solutions appropriate to Dublin and its housing needs.

Germany Refugees A container village in Berlin. Source: Markus Schreiber

A “menu” of approved and viable one, two and three-bed modular homes should be designed which can be constructed quickly. These designs could then secure automatic planning approval for erection on sites already identified through the development plan.

Ultimately to avoid this situation in the long term, more effective forecasting of housing supply and the monitoring of delivery of housing in areas where supply is needed is required.

The process of preparing local authority housing strategies may need to change and our Councils and Government must be more responsive to change when it appears that the recommendations of a housing strategy are obsolete or require amendment.

Mini-poll: Would you like a modular/prefab village in your local area? 


Poll Results:

No (2142)
Yes (1119)
I don't know (451)



Mary Hughes is president of the Irish Planning Institute.

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