The housing crisis and the density debate

Recent planning decisions go to heart of an age-old debate

 Property developer Michael O’Flynn: he has voiced concern  his proposals for 609 homes at  Glanmire may get sucked into a planning  row

Property developer Michael O’Flynn: he has voiced concern his proposals for 609 homes at Glanmire may get sucked into a planning row

 

Several recent planning refusals for housing developments in Ireland have hinged on the density aspect – how many units can the site comfortably contain without compromising the aesthetic or overburdening the surrounding infrastructure.

But contrary to what you might think in many cases it was the planners arguing for higher density builds and the developers, normally stereotyped as trying to squeeze revenue from every last square inch of land, proposing less.

Take Burkeway Homes. It was refused planning for a development in Bearna, Co Galway, this month by An Bord Pleanála under new fast-track planning legislation – brought in last year to tackle the housing crisis – on the grounds its proposal under-utilised the site. The developer had sought to build 113 housing units but, in refusing permission, the board said the site was capable of containing at least 200.

In a similar vein, Cork developer Michael O’Flynn has voiced concern that his fast-track proposals for 609 homes at Ballinglanna, Glanmire, Co Cork, may get sucked into this row following a recent submission to An Bord Pleanála highlighting the supposedly low-density aspect of proposed developments in the same area.

Developers seem to view three-bed semis on a tenth of an acre as the ideal housing product to sell into the Irish market or at least the one that most meets demand, while planners favour twice as dense developments to optimise local transportation infrastructure and presumably meet the growing demand for housing in urban areas.

This is something of a perennial debate in Ireland, with some analysts suggesting current shortages are at least in part being driven by the lack of high-rise in cities. They point to the fact that apartments account for 30-50 per cent of the housing stock in other European countries, in contrast to just 10 per cent here.

Conversely, the Grenfell Tower inferno in London is used as an example where badly maintained high-rise ostracised locals and ended in tragedy.

A big challenge for planners is how to reconcile the preference of developers, and by extension buyers, with the State’s future housing needs.