Planning needs more public input, new RIAI president says

Strategic Housing Development scheme a ‘knee-jerk reaction’ to accommodation crisis

Urban development plans that “eliminate the element of surprise” for the public are essential to the revitalisation of Irish cities and towns, the new president of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) has said.

Starting her two-year term as RIAI president, Charlotte Sheridan emphasised the need for a greater involvement of architects in local authority development plans to ensure "quality is embedded", and for a stronger focus on public participation in local planning.

Many of the difficulties with and legal actions against Strategic Housing Development (SHD) schemes, where applications for large-scale residential developments were made directly to An Bord Pleanála, may have been avoided with better public engagement she said.

“The SHD process was a knee-jerk reaction to the housing crisis at the time and there were weaknesses in it, certainly in the perception of the level of public engagement and people really felt lost in that respect.”


High quality

The return of large housing applications to local authorities with the new Large-Scale Residential Development (LRD) system was “worthwhile” but there were elements of the SHD process which were positive, such as urban design requirements that meant the applications were usually of a high quality, which should be retained.

There was also, she said, a place for build-to-rent developments, as long as a “mono-functional use” was avoided.

“When it comes to build-to-rent we have to make sure we get that mix of tenure and multigenerational homes in urban areas. So where build-to-rent happens it should be informed by the housing need and demand in that area, so it is evidence-based,” she said. “You can accommodate a transitionary population so long as there’s a permanent population that goes along with it, and a multigenerational occupation so we get eyes on the street at all different times of the day. That mix of use and generation brings about great neighbourhoods.”

However, for these developments to work, it was essential the public had an opportunity to contribute from the early stages of planning.

‘Lack of engagement’

“Where we have had discontent among our public is through a sense of a lack of engagement at plan-making stage. It is absolutely important that we do get more engagement and a better understanding for the public so that surprises don’t occur, and they have a much better sense of what developments can happen.”

The Government’s recently initiated planning review, which aims to simplify the system to facilitate housing development, had “great potential”, she said, to ensure better public participation. It was also essential to ensure greater involvement of professions such as architects in influential roles, particularly in local authorities.

“What you want to get from the planning review is that you have consistent policy and consistent decision-making as well to get the benefit and certainty for the individual, for the city and the investor,” she said.

“What’s emerging is that you need a vision and you need leadership that will bring that vision though, and it is really important that design and quality is embedded in that.”

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times