Planning regulator knocks back Dublin build-to-rent curbs

Dublin City Development Plan sought to restrict rental-only apartment blocks

The planning regulator is to block attempts by Dublin City Council to introduce a number of tight controls on the development of build-to-rent (BTR) apartment blocks in the city.

Deputy regulator Anne Marie O’Connor has told the council not to go ahead with measures to stop developers from building blocks with no homes for sale, and to omit from the city development plan restrictions on numbers of studio and one-bed apartments included in a scheme.

The draft development plan would require BTR schemes of more than 100 homes to have at least 40 per cent of properties available for sale. BTR schemes of fewer than 100 homes would generally not be permitted, as they would not have a “critical mass” to support good communal facilities.

The plan also restricts studio and one-bed apartments to a maximum of 30 per cent of a development, a provision which would apply in particular to areas such as north inner city and Liberties, which already have a high proportion of smaller apartments.

City planner John O’Hara last month said the policy changes were an attempt to return a “diversity” of housing types to the city. “Build-to-rent has only emerged in the last three years, but it has largely displaced build-to sell altogether,” he said.

Ms O’Connor said while it appeared the policies were “a response to the City Council’s observed trend of nearly all recent planning applications for apartment development being BTR schemes,” they were in breach of national policies and ministerial guidelines.

The office of the planning regulator “cannot see any evidential basis for identifying a requirement that 40% of apartments in BTR developments would be required to be ‘standard build to sell apartments’,” she said in a submission to the council.

Specifying 40 per cent of apartments had to be available for sale would mean those units would have to comply with higher standards than build to rent schemes.

“As the planning authority would be aware, there is no national policy grounding in the Minister’s guidelines (December 2020) on apartment developments for specifying that 40% of BTR developments are to be of a different set of internal design standards.”

Similarly, she said there was “no national or regional policy basis, or any other evidence provided, to support the view that a scheme of less than 100 units cannot provide meaningful communal facilities and services”.

In relation to the curbs on the numbers of smaller apartments she said this would also conflict with Ministerial guidelines on BTR schemes which stated there should be “no restrictions on dwelling mix”.

She told the council it was required to omit or amend the policies which were inconsistent with the ministerial guidelines. However she said the regulator “understands and acknowledges the context for the proposal of these policies by the planning authority in terms of failing to secure a reasonable mix of housing in an area or the potential of an undue concentration of BTR developments that may be presenting in particular parts of its area”.

The council’s proposed policy that applications for BTR would be accompanied by an assessment of other permitted BTR developments within 3km to demonstrate there would not be an over-concentration of one housing tenure was “a reasonable requirement” she said and provided a “strong policy basis that would empower the City Council” to address the over-concentration issue.

Overall she said the regulator “endorses the majority of the housing policies” in the city plan.

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times

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