Shift away from apartments to housebuilding at centre of builder’s housing crisis plan

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has been presented with a plan by Glenveagh to overhaul existing regulations

The company says there is no demand for apartments outside Dublin’s M50 and limited demand inside the capital’s busiest ring road. File photograph: Getty Images

The 58-page report presented to Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien on Compact Growth Design Standards cites “focus groups” saying the back third of gardens are generally “dead space” or “under-utilised”.

Glenveagh Properties, one of the largest homebuilders in the State, is proposing that current standards of a 60sq m garden for a typical three-bedroom house be cut to 40sq m. But it is also arguing that a 40sq m standard should be extended to all newly built homes outside dense urban areas.

Under the proposals, this would mean increased private outdoor space for smaller homes for the likes of lone residents, couples and retirees, it suggests.

Under current standards, one-bed apartments must offer just 5sq m — usually a balcony or terrace, two-bed apartments 7sq m, three-bed 9sq m, while two-bed houses must include a 55sq m garden.


Scorning apartment construction — except in city centres — Glenveagh is arguing for a scheme of “100 per cent own-door” housing developments for single adults, young couples, families and older couples — from “first-time buyer to downsizer”.

The company says there is no demand for apartments outside Dublin’s M50 and limited demand inside the capital’s busiest ring road.

Critically, it says allowing homebuilders to shift away from apartments would make new developments much more economically viable, and, in turn, houses more affordable for different generations.

At present apartments are costing about €450,000 to build, compared to €300,000 for a house, the company told the Minister. This means people who buy houses see their prices increase to “subvent” apartment owners.

Apartments are an “undesirable product, consumers don’t want them” so for developers to sell them they have to lower the price by shifting their costs on to houses, according to Glenveigh.

“Apartment living is still required in city centres,” Glenveagh chief executive Stephen Garvey told The Irish Times.

“But when you look at suburban housing, or, say, some of the bigger towns outside of Dublin city — an apartment costing €450,000 to build in one of these towns, who would be the buyer for it and who can afford it? This doesn’t make sense. The media keeps saying land is the issue [in the State’s housing crisis]. But we have 15,000 plots of land under our control and the average cost of the plot is lower than many people might think — around 10 per cent sale of the overall price of the [housing] unit. In some scenarios, the land cost might only be 5 per cent,” he said.

“It is not the cost of land, it is the cost of apartments when we could be building houses — that is the main problem.”

Planning policy

This, he added, is exacerbated by a policy favouring “unviable” apartments. “The best way to sort out the housing crisis is by changing that aspect of planning policy.”

“The more supply we can bring in, which is viable and affordable, the closer we are to sorting out this crisis.”

Mr Garvey admitted his plan, drawn up after looking at international comparisons on building standards, particularly in the UK, is “not the whole solution” but said “we would be a long way from here if it was adopted. I think we could be completing 30,000 units a year already if these changes had been made in the past. That would have been a much better scenario for renters and home buyers because they could well have been benefiting from lower rents and more affordable purchase prices.”

Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said the Government needs to be “very careful of allowing industry to set the terms of framing policy” but added that it needed to be heard as much as other experts and that some of Glenveagh’s proposals “are interesting, and some are well established” design principles.

“They are correct in saying the current model is not viable,” he said.

“But that doesn’t mean there is not a better way of delivering apartments. All over Europe, there are good apartment complexes, from four to 13 storeys high.

“We are resigned to an old-fashioned way of doing apartments that is very expensive. But there are developers doing medium-sized apartment blocks, who are able to deal with it, for around €300,000 per unit all in. When we hear really large developers tell us they can’t deliver apartments, that’s simply not the case. There is more than one solution.”