Future housing plans must mean an end to dominance of Dublin

Balanced regional development can deliver affordable homes and quality of life for all

Overly concentrated activity in Dublin means a congested and unaffordable city for many and sprawling car-dependent living for others. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

Overly concentrated activity in Dublin means a congested and unaffordable city for many and sprawling car-dependent living for others. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

 

The future of housing delivery in Ireland is on the cusp of change.

The Land Development Agency (LDA) has a role to play in changing current planning and land management systems by unlocking State-owned land and delivering affordable housing. The potential for significant projects and societal change has never been more present.

Overly concentrated activity in our capital has meant a congested and unaffordable Dublin for many and sprawling car-dependent living for others.

Better balanced regional focus and transit-oriented development should usher in a new era in a sector that has failed to keep up with demand and to provide affordable good quality housing for so many in Ireland.

Significant change on the way

Project Ireland 2040 has recognised the spatial challenges facing our country. It projects an increase of one million people by 2040. It outlines the need for compact development and densification of urban areas. It understands that the future of Ireland can’t be based on a Dublin-centric approach and needs to harness the potential of other locations. That is why 75 per cent of population growth is earmarked to take place outside Dublin and its suburbs. Dublin still grows but the four regional cities need to grow by an unprecedented 50 per cent.

Land – using it more efficiently

Drastic and significant changes will be needed to cope with such growth.

We don’t do densified living well in Ireland. A culture change is needed. Dotting the landscape surrounding cities, even villages, with semi-detached developments and one-off housing will not answer the challenges that come with drastic population increases and climate change. New ways of living in cities and towns will allow people to walk, cycle and even scooter to work, social events, schools and their friends and family.

Good choices made now will allow cities, towns and villages to thrive to 2040 and beyond

We have to see our cities and towns better connected by public transport and collaborating so that they all thrive together.

By sharing spaces more, higher-density walkable neighbourhoods will create not just places to sleep but communities living, working and socialising together. That will reduce the amount of land needed to cope sustainably with population change and with that reduce the cost of providing infrastructure and services.

Population change is non-negotiable; Ireland is projected to expand past 2040. Good choices made now will allow cities, towns and villages to thrive to 2040 and beyond. Analysis undertaken by architects outlines how efficient land use in regional cities could allow them to grow to accommodate populations of 300,000, all living within 15 minutes of their respective mainline train stations.

Dwellings – a new type of living

With different approaches to land use comes different forms and quality of living.

By living in walkable neighbourhoods, expensive cars will not be left parked at home or the office 95 per cent of the time. They will not be needed at all - increasing space in our cities and money in our pockets.

Commuting times will be cut for tens of thousands giving back valuable time to be spent with friends and family.

This will require funding. The Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF) allocated € 2 billion for expenditure between 2019 and 2027. Five per cent of the fund was successfully applied for in 2018. Based on 2018 figures, € 1.3 billion, or 63 per cent of the fund could remain in 2028. Bigger and bolder ideas are required to “rejuvenate significant but under used areas in Ireland’s five cities and other large towns”.

But local communities and authorities are not alone in doing this. The land agency has a role to play in conjunction with the URDF.

This change will not happen through completing one-off sites. The LDA’s mandate to help facilitate the delivery of 150,000 homes by 2040 means 7,500 homes per year, a very significant feat. While repositioning individual State-owned sites for development is a good start, the ambition for the LDA means it must also look beyond individual site development.

The market will continue to cater for much of the one-off or suburban housing. The Land Development Agency must focus its efforts on enabling higher-density urban supply. Unprecedented collaboration between the different state agencies, private sector, social bodies and funding programmes will be required to achieve an optimal outcome.

Affordability – the key deliverable

The LDA’s role is not just to positively influence the supply of housing in Ireland but to ensure its affordability. Extra supply will help but also rental models based on lower delivery costs and alternative funding models will become commonplace in its interventions.

People are calling for greater return for time spent working. But not just higher wages

Affordable is often assumed to mean no more than one-third of net income is spent on housing. Examining one aspect of the market for a single person shows that Waterford (29.9 per cent rent burden) is the only city in Ireland where a worker on the average national wage can afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment. Limerick city (35.7 per cent), Galway city (38.1 per cent), Cork city 41.1 per cent) and Dublin city (above 50 per cent) are all unaffordable.

But it is not just about supporting cost-effective delivery using State lands. By changing lifestyles and reducing the cost of living, including transport, affordability is further enhanced for all.

We are at a crossroads. People are calling for greater return for time spent working. But not just higher wages. Instead, lower commute times, more affordable living, better local public services, larger communal green spaces and more flexibility to live and work where they desire are dominating.

Change is required but will not come easily.

  • John Moran is chairman of the Land Development Agency and a former secretary general of the Department of Finance. He will deliver the keynote address at the national conference of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland today.