‘Ridiculous restrictions’ on city developments must change, says Murphy

Minister for Housing says ‘building cities outwards is a failed concept’

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said he would lift the ‘numerical height caps’  in city cores and along key public transport corridors.  File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said he would lift the ‘numerical height caps’ in city cores and along key public transport corridors. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

It is time to address the “faintly ridiculous restrictions on effective and efficient use of scarce building land”, Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy has said.

Addressing the Irish Planning Institute Annual Autumn Conference in Dublin on Friday, the Minister said the sprawl would have to stop.

“We must change our outlook and approaches to the future planning and development of our cities,” he said.

He told delegates at the conference that he would lift the “numerical height caps” in city cores and along key public transport corridors.

“Building cities outwards is a failed concept,” the Minister said.

Mr Murphy said new statutory guidelines would be put in place before the end of the year.

He also said he would remove mandatory car-parking for developments in certain areas.

“The first thing we need to do is establish a planning policy position that within clearly defined geographical catchments, say within 750-1000 metres of Dart, suburban rail, Luas, Quality Bus Corridor and or Bus Rapid Transit stops, no minimum mandatory car-parking provision will apply,” he said.

He said housing providers in such locations would have to justify any car-parking provision.

He also said with only 1,000 properties available for rent in Dublin and similar low levels in all other cities, there was “not just under-supply, but a gaping hole in the supply of affordable accommodation”.

“Turning that tide means we simply have to deliver more apartments in our cities,” he said.

Mr Murphy told the more than 200 town planners that we need to “free ourselves from the mind-set that everyone should live in a three bedroomed house at every stage of their lives”. He said we needed a broader range of urban living solutions including more studio, and one and two bedroom apartments, as well as family apartments and specialist housing for older people, downsizers and the less able bodied.

The National Planning Framework was one of his top priorities, the Minister said. The Department of Housing and Planning would publish a draft of the new policy provisions by the end of November, he said.

He asked the institute to think carefully about his proposals and come back with their own.

Implementation of the new guidelines would begin as soon as the framework is adopted and in force.

He also said the time had come for planning and housing policies to embrace the introduction of new shared and build-to-rent accommodation models in Ireland “that we see working successfully in other countries”.

Professionals would have their own en suite bedroom accommodation to bridge the gap between student accommodation and apartments, he said.

Speaking ahead of the Minister, Deirdre Fallon, president of the institute, raised concerns at proposals to roll back design quality standards in housing developments.

“The Irish Planning Institute recognises the gravity of the housing situation and the need for urgent action,” she said.

“However, our members are concerned that the current focus appears to be on prioritising short-term measures and leaves open the danger of repeating past mistakes that will ultimately prove costly and detrimental to our communities.”

She said there was no one quick-fix solution to the housing crisis and as the Government reviews its “Rebuilding Ireland” Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, a multi-faceted approach is essential in ensuring sustainable housing for the long-term.

She urged the Minister not to succumb to demands to relax design quality standards “to the long-term detriment of developing sustainable communities”.

She said the institute also called for a site value tax system “to force landowners and developers to utilise land for housing”.

They also want to see a windfall tax on rezoned property introduced, which would “help to dampen down the price of land”.

Proceeds of the taxes should be ring-fenced for local government infrastructure and the development of community facilities.

Metro-phobia

Niamh Moore-Cherry, associate professor at the school of geography, UCD, spoke on effective planning in metropolitan areas. She said our politicians and policy-makers are suffering from “metro-phobia” in strategic planning. She said in Dublin, the notion of metropolitan planning had not hit the agenda and there was “no real strategic planning vision”.

“This is perhaps best illustrated by the lack of integrated transportation infrastructure, the wrong types of housing in the wrong areas, and sprawl into the neighbouring counties of Meath, Kildare and Wicklow,” she said.

She said the current local authority structures are simply not working as a cohesive whole and the Dublin region is in danger of becoming ungovernable because there is no single entity to bring it all together.

“I put this down to what I call ‘metro-phobia’ and an anti-Dublin bias where there is a reluctance to take decisions that could be seen as favouring the capital city at the perceived expense of the rest of the country,” she said.

“Our politicians need to move away from parish-pump politics and local issues, and to really think strategically and in the national interest.”

Prof Moore-Cherry said instead of local authorities competing with each other, they need to come together under the auspices of a single metropolitan authority with meaningful powers, including financial and strong Mayoral-type leadership.

“It will mean significant powers being devolved by central government, but if we are serious about the common good and the strategic development of our country as a whole, then we need to make this happen,” she said.