‘Cultural change’ needed for communities to accept high density housing

Minister says development also needs to shift from ‘greenfield’ suburban sites to the reuse of urban land in towns and cities

Communities need to undergo a "cultural change" to accept sustainable high density housing developments, Minister of State for Housing Damien English has told an Irish Planning Institute conference.

Planners must build trust with people to help them see “what’s best for them” rather than “what they think they actually want”, Mr English said, if the goals of compact growth and the sustainable regeneration of towns and cities are to be achieved.

Growth needed to happen "upwards not just outwards", he said. "It's about achieving growth right across the island and not just the unending sprawl of Dublin city and other urban centres."

High density housing “makes life easier” for families trying to “manage the school run or go to work”, Mr English said, by giving them better access to infrastructure services and amenities. However, he said it was a new concept for many people, and necessitated a cultural shift.


“Most people have a vision of where they want to live and what type of property they want to live in, and it’s not always seven or eight storeys high. Yet if we do this right and show the benefits of having compact and high density living in our cities people will buy into that,” he told planners.

“When it comes to what the expectations are in communities, what people have got used to in the past, there is a cultural change needed if we are going to try and achieve higher densities and better management of land.”

However, he said trust was missing because of the “developer-led planning” people saw in the past.

“We can have planning theory and then we have what people think they actually want. We have to build trust that as planners we are trying to produce what’s best for them and for their communities in the long term, what’s good land use, and what will lead to affordable developments that are well serviced.”

Existing sites

He said development also needed to shift away from “greenfield” suburban sites to the reuse of urban land in towns and cities.

“Securing compact, sustainable urban growth also means reusing previously developed brownfield urban land, building up infill sites which may or may not have been built on in the past, and either reusing or redeveloping existing sites in well serviced urban locations, particularly those serviced by good public transport and accessible to employment opportunities

“In all our towns and villages and cities we see golden opportunities, lost opportunities waiting to be developed. It is our role to influence that.”

Irish Planning Institute president Joe Corr told the conference that planning was "not the roadblock to housing delivery".

“The planning profession has responded to the Government’s call for fast-track planning for housing with the implementation of Strategic Housing Development. However, despite increased planning activity figures for building on the ground need to increase to reflect the market need.”

Planning departments of local authorities needed to be resourced to help ensure that when planning permission is granted it is used.

“We are calling for the establishment of planner-led delivery teams at local authority level to unlock strategic lands where planning permissions have been granted in order to expedite development.”

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times