Dublin City Council is to consider allowing the temporary construction of log cabins in back gardens for people to live in as the housing crisis continues.
A motion comes before the authority's planning and property development strategic policy committee in September that is "an attempt to clarify a grey area when it comes to these sorts of structures", according to the councillor John Lyons, who is moving the motion.
“Planners I have spoken to acknowledge there is a proliferation of log cabins across the city in parents’ or friends’ back gardens that people are living in. It’s a response to the housing crisis. The regulations say if they are over 25sq m they need planning permission, but if no one objects the council can turn a blind eye to them,” said the People-Before-Profit councillor.
His motion, which calls on the council to "amend... [its] planning regulations to allow for the construction of temporary structures for residential purposes at the rear of residential properties", comes on foot of a case in Raheny in his constituency where a young couple have been ordered by An Bord Pleanála to take down a log cabin they call home.
Sharon Brerton had been renting with her son (8) near her parents' home when she and her partner Marc Carroll decided to move in with each other in 2016. The couple hope to buy a home in the next "three years". Both are working.
“We had a bit of savings but with rent costing us €1,200 a month, well we knew we’d need to save a lot of money to get a deposit. We felt we were going nowhere,” says Sharon.
They hit upon the idea of buying a log cabin and putting it in her parents’ 32m back garden. In December 2016, they bought a 52sq m, two-bedroom cabin from one of the biggest suppliers in the country. *
“It cost €27,300 for delivery and labour; it flew up in a few days. There are no screws, it just slots together,” says Mr Carroll. “It’s really cosy. In the winter we put just one radiator on and the whole cabin is warm.”
It could easily lead to an epidemic of grown adult children building similar unauthorised structures in their parents' back gardens
Their plan, says Ms Brerton, is to save €45,000 “to buy somewhere a bit outside Dublin” and then dismantle the cabin and sell it. “We don’t want a free house. We want to pay our own way, and this was the only way we can hope to.”
They say they were told they would not need planning permission as long as neighbours had no objections. *
However, despite talking to neighbours and receiving no objections before the cabin was erected, Dublin City Council received objections afterwards. The couple applied for retention permission in February 2017, and four observations were received, including from a number of public representatives.
A neighbour described the cabin as an “eyesore”, adding if it were allowed to stay “it could easily lead to an epidemic of grown adult children building similar unauthorised structures in their parents’ back gardens".
“This would be an all too attractive option for many adult children as the cost of one of these structures is approximately 10 per cent...of our current home [about €300,000].”
In May 2017, Dublin City Council granted retention permission for two years, after which the cabin would have to come down or permission could be extended following a review.
This was appealed to An Bord Pleanála, which in August 2017 overturned the permission.
“That would mean us going homeless,” says Ms Brerton. “I am not bringing our family into a hostel or a hub when we have a home here. What’s really annoying is that there are three other log cabins in people’s back gardens near here but because no one has objected the council can ignore them.”
The matter is now before the courts as the cabin still stands. It has been adjourned until October. Last month the couple applied for outline permission for a “single-storey extension to rear and gable end of house, utilising existing log cabin structures in new position and reduced in size” in an effort to keep their home.
* Clarification: 17/06/2019. The planning permission sought was not for dwelling purposes. A Bord Pleanala report estimated the size of the cabin at 57 sq metres with accompanying veranda. There is no evidence that planning permission would not be required.