Affordable housing is not sustainable and sustainable housing is not affordable, the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) has said.
Planning policies may favour high-density sustainable development but measures had not been put in place to make these housing schemes viable, Claire McManus, an RIAI council member, said on Monday.
She was responding to warnings from the Irish Green Building Council (IGBC) that the State could not meet its climate action goals if it continued to allow the development of large, detached houses.
The IGBC is a non-profit organisation which advises professionals involved in sustainable construction, and its chief executive, Pat Barry, said that while homes had been made more efficient to run, “they have also been getting bigger, so the impact of building bigger homes has offset the efficiencies”.
Ms McManus supports the development of higher density housing schemes and the reuse of vacant buildings, but this was not the most affordable housing to build.
“The lowest-cost housing is building houses on greenfield sites outside our urban centres and, therefore, that’s what we’re generally getting, and while planning policy supports compact growth, affordability and viability is a really strong force.”
The Government may say it is supporting compact growth, but that is not the reality of how the housing system operates, she said.
“What counts in the system is the cost to deliver, the sales values, and self-selected local opinion. Building houses on greenfield sites is the cheapest – it gets the least local opposition, and the sales values are higher than anything else,” she said.
“But if we started counting all the other stuff that we say matters, such as the ability to survive without a car, or the permanent loss of agricultural land and hedgerows, and the cost of all of these car journeys, if we counted all of those things and brought them into the system in a real way, in a financial way, then we’d start to see the more sustainable development being possible and viable,” she said. “But in the meanwhile the situation we have now is that affordable housing isn’t sustainable and sustainable housing isn’t affordable.”
Developers were not to blame for building estates of low-density houses as they were the most economically viable homes, she said.
“I think developers are very predictable,” she said. “If low cost meant walk-up apartments on brownfield sites, then the developers would be doing that.”
Schemes for the conversion of spaces over shops, of the renovation and adaptation of existing buildings, would be built if they made money.
“We need to have the systems in place to make the type of development we want to see possible ... we really just need to make the sustainable housing models possible and viable and if we can do that, then they’ll happen.”
Incentives would not necessarily prevent the development of unsustainable detached homes and low-density estates, but it might make them less numerous. “Probably you’re never going to stop people from wanting to build a one-off house in the countryside but that shouldn’t be the cheapest option.”