New plan for Dublin city puts emphasis on housing strategy

Number of cranes on skyline shows Dublin has turned corner in commercial office sector

In the last two years, more than 500,000sq m of office space for Dublin has been granted planning permission, of which over 240,000sq m is currently under construction. Photograph: Alan Betson

The new Dublin City Development Plan, which was adopted in September by city councillors, came into effect last month, bringing to a conclusion a two-year statutory review period which included three public consultation phases. This six-year plan (2016-2022) will guide development proposals in securing the future housing, employment and infrastructural needs for the city.

As with all city and county development plans, this plan contains a core strategy which identifies a vision for the city that embraces three key principles: to create a compact and connected city; to provide for employment and support innovation and to create quality neighbourhoods.

The core strategy identifies 19 future development areas, including strategic development regeneration areas (SDRAs), eg Harcourt Street, local area plans (LAPs), eg Georges Quay and Clongriffin, and strategic development areas (SDAs), eg Docklands. A key requirement for any development plan is to ensure that its policies and objectives are fit for purpose which, in the context of Dublin, is to sustain the continued population growth and to ensure that the city maintains its competitiveness in attracting inward investment.

Housing need is by far the State’s biggest social challenge and the issue has become a crisis since the collapse of the property market in 2008. Dublin is the epicentre of this crisis. From an output of more than 7,000 housing units a year in 2007, the number of housing completions was reduced to just under 500 in 2012, reflecting the dramatic collapse in the housing sector.


A mandatory requirement of all development plans is to provide for the future housing needs of its population. The housing strategy, which is an integral part of the new city development plan, has determined that the need for the city over the next six years is in the order of more than 4,000 housing units a year.

Housing need is driven by two factors: population growth, estimated to rise by 53,000-plus by 2022, and by household formation rates (the number of people in a household), which is estimated to continue to fall from the current 2.21 people to an estimated 1.94 by 2022. While the strategy identified a need of more than 4,000 housing units per annum, it is the responsibility of city councillors, to make the development plan increased this estimate to more than 7,000 so as to ensure that social housing needs together with the pent-up demand over the last number of years is adequately provided for.

The city plan must have the necessary policies (sufficient lands zoned for residential purposes) and objectives (density) in place to accommodate this estimated need. It identifies about 450 hectares of land zoned for residential purposes. Based on acceptable urban residential densities of about 120 units per hectare, this land bank can provide for an estimated 52,000 housing units. This is more than adequate to meet projected housing needs, assuming that the appropriate density standards are achieved.

The density of development, therefore, is key to delivering housing need and factors such as permitted height, plot ratio (floorspace-to-site ratio) and residential standards, which all have an impact on density and in turn housing capacity. Much comment has been made in the print media of late on the issue of building heights. This plan is exactly the same as the previous city plan (2010-2016) in relation to height for commercial buildings, ie 28 metres in the inner city, 24 metres in transportation hubs and 16 metres in suburbia. Higher buildings are permitted in designated areas such as local area plans, eg Georges Quay, and strategic development zones, eg Docklands.

The height strategy introduced in 2010 provided clarity and certainty for the first time in a City Development Plan, replacing the uncertainty and ambiguity in height policy which had caused controversy and conflict. This policy (adopted in 2010) has successfully led Dublin out of the recession in the commercial property market.

The barometer of measuring the economic health of the city used by this newspaper – the number of cranes on the skyline – is evidence that Dublin has for the last two years turned a corner in the commercial office sector. In that time, more than 500,000sq m of office space has been granted planning permission, of which over 240,000sq m is currently under construction in the city.

The intention is to have as many cranes active in the city in the construction of residential development in the foreseeable future. The new plan provides for higher residential buildings in the city – two additional floors in the inner city (maximum height 24 metres), two additional floors in transportation hubs (maximum height 24 metres) and one additional floor in suburban locations (maximum height 13 metres).

This increase in height, together with the adjustments to apartment standards (such as reductions in the number of dual aspect apartments required in a development and an increase in the number of apartments which can be serviced by each lift), coupled with the ministerial directive to reduce apartment floor sizes, will allow for increased housing capacity on this 440ha residential land bank. In simple terms, the number of units that can be accommodated on an average inner city plot will increase by 40 per cent as a result of the new policies and standards in place compared to the previous plan.

Eighty per cent of all future housing needs in the city are planned be in the form of apartments, not conventional housing. These changes, therefore, will improve the viability of apartment construction, particularly for the build-to-sell sector.

The housing strategy reflects the growing complexity of housing specialisation; the growth in student accommodation is an example of this specialisation. With more than 80,000 third-level students in Dublin, and with only a very small fraction of this population being accommodated in purpose-built student accommodation, the need for this is obvious. This year alone, 470 bedspaces of purpose-built accommodation has been completed.

A further 1,600 bedspaces are under construction and scheduled for completion in 2017-2018, while a further 3,000 bedspaces are in the pipeline, having been approved for planning permission. These dramatic changes will alleviate some of the congestion in the rental sector by freeing up much-needed housing in the city.

Another significant change in the housing sector in Dublin is the growth in the buy-to-let sector. Housing viability is the key to housing supply. At the moment, significant parts of the city and the Dublin region are not viable in that the costs of construction far exceed the market value of the finished product. Therefore, with as many as 40 per cent of households in Dublin living in rented private accommodation, the arrival of specialist operators in the provision of “build-to-let” is to be welcomed. There is growing evidence that with the introduction of new guidelines for this sector, more and more developers are being attracted to it.

Dublin City Council anticipates that these changes in policy together with recent Government initiatives on housing supply, will encourage the development sector to convert opportunities into a reality in the form of much-needed housing for the city. Jim Keogan is assistant chief executive of th Planning and Property Development Department at Dublin City Council