Planning guidelines: What are cornerstones of builders’ objections?

Stipulation for three-bed units and services, and possible build-to-rent curbs trigger ire

A high-stakes tussle is under way between major builders and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council over new planning guidelines to govern apartment developments in south Dublin suburbs for years to come.

Under the council’s plan, greater numbers of three-bedroom apartments would be built in key areas, while all apartment blocks would have to have better storage space and parking .

The measures laid down in the council’s 2022-2028 draft development plan and proposed amendments have raised the hackles of builders and estate agents who sell new homes.

However, the amendments have already been agreed by councillors, so they would have to reverse course to remove them – which now explains the lobbying effort under way.

If followed through, the proposals would improve the mix and quality of apartments, requiring that 40 per cent of all apartments in all complexes with more than 50 apartments would have three bedrooms.

However, critics argue that they will hold back the supply of new apartments, thereby worsening the long housing crisis that is still far from resolution despite a succession of State interventions.

Indeed, the crisis has only intensified since the draft plan was first published in October 2020. The council has signalled it will adopt a plan in March, setting in place rules that will last for a decade.

Property developers

A public consultation on proposed amendments runs to January 17th. But dozens of submissions have been published, including a slew from property developers.

Quintain Developments, which has plans to build up to 3,700 homes on 120 acres in Cherrywood, has questioned the plans for bigger apartments and better ancillary services in forceful terms.

It has deployed estate agents Knight Frank and Savills Ireland on its behalf, while another big builder in the area, Cairn, wants key elements of the plan dropped. So, too, does Glenveagh Properties.

Quintain’s 18-page submission makes clear its displeasure at the council’s actions. In a submission prepared by consultants Stephen Little & Associates the company said it faced “significant” costs and delay to comply with such rules.

“We note that there were significant numbers of submissions made on the draft plan that presented evidence in support of this objective being removed, including one by Quintain Ireland. It is regretted that greater heed was not taken of these submissions,” it said.

“As one of Ireland’s largest residential developers and house builders, we believe there is limited demand for three-bed apartments in large-scale developments at the quantum proposed. Our view is supported by several highly reputed commercial agents who also have first-hand, market-driven data on what potential buyers and funders are looking for in new schemes. Evidence from our combined experience points to demand being greatest for one- and two-bedroom apartment units and we see this continuing to be the case in the future.”

‘International capital’

Among other concerns, Cairn questioned proposals in which build-to-rent projects would be “open for consideration” as opposed to “permitted in principle”. In a submission prepared by consultants John Spain Associates, Cairn said such a move would have a “detrimental impact” on institutional investment critical for the sector’s growth

“It is important to note that this inward investment is dependent on international capital which, similar to investment in the wider economy, is mobile. In this regard, it is inevitable that this mobile capital will be discouraged from investing in Ireland and seek to invest where the regulatory environment is more favourable,” Cairn said.

“The permitted-in-principle use would also serve to give comfort to international pension/investment funds, where there have been some notable announcements of ceasing investment in the sector.”

In its submission, Glenveagh questioned the requirement to have a certain percentage of three-bed units in build-to-rent schemes, saying it was neither clear nor consistent with national guidelines. A paper by consultants McCutcheon Halley said the 40 per cent requirement for three-bed units in certain schemes was “not considered commercially viable given current market trends and our client’s analysis and experience in delivering residential schemes nationwide”.

The council did not comment on the substance of the arguments, saying 60 submission have been received and that its chief executive will prepare a report for councillors. But crunch time now looms. Builders have big play for late concessions. In coming weeks, it will be for councillors to decide whether to yield to their demands.