Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien is considering reviewing the strict planning laws which protect heritage buildings to make it easier for people to live in the middle of towns and cities.
Mr O’Brien said the preservation orders on older heritage buildings in Ireland are such that they need to be treated “almost like a national monument”.
At present, many older buildings in urban areas have been designated as “protected structures” with very strict obligations on local authorities and owners to ensure their character is preserved.
Provisions of the Planning and Development Act, known as Part IV, provide that any proposed structural change within the area of a protected structure – including garden buildings and outhouses – require planning permission. This also includes the interior features and structures of such buildings, which typically date from the Georgian or Victorian eras.
Suggesting that preservation orders in Ireland were inflexible compared to the process in Britain, the Fianna Fáil Minister said the current law was a disincentive for people to move back to live in urban centres.
Mr O’Brien said that initiatives to encourage living in cities are an important part of the Government’s plans and he wants a more nuanced approach to preservation.
"If you go up to Mountjoy Square or right up to Drumcondra you will see some vacant buildings because they are Georgian," he said.
“We have one stage of preservation order in Ireland which is a big problem. So if somebody wants to go in and do work, that preservation order on the building is treated almost the same as a national monument.
"It is extremely expensive to do it. That's crazy. In Britain they have a four-stage process. The Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland have done a really good paper on that.
“We can actually change things pretty quickly on that. I am looking at things, potentially, within our cities including certain derogations to let that work happen. We need people living in our towns and cities.”
Mr O’Brien also indicated if the previous government’s controversial co-living strategy is to survive, it will be in a much more modified form.
“I am not a fan of co-living and don’t support it [as a permanent solution],” the Dublin Fingal TD said, adding that he would conclude a review of co-living soon and bring his recommendations to Government.
He said there were multinational corporations that might want accommodation for staff on a co-living basis. He said it could be a solution for student accommodation or seasonal workers.
Mr O’Brien said one of the problems with dealing with homelessness was that many homeless people were single and not enough single accommodation had been made available until now.
He said on the other side of the spectrum there were “about 50 larger families who have been homeless for about four years because we do not have the accommodation to cater for them.”
He has said he has asked the housing bodies to provide accommodation for single people and for large families.
In the past five years, he said, the departments of housing and health had not worked together on this issue enough. He said there was a need for a “wraparound service” for people with addiction and mental health issues.
“They comprise a lot of the clients in the homeless services,” he said.
He instanced a 100-bed addiction facility in Dublin which was being built by his department but being operated by the Department of Health.
Mr O’Brien said he had not set any “arbitrary targets” but wanted to keep working to drive the numbers down.
“Eight to nine thousand people and 4,000 children homeless is disgraceful, frankly,” he said. “It’s fixable. It’s not easy. That’s why I am focusing on the single and large family [issue].”
The Minister insisted the Government would meet its target of providing 50,000 public homes on public land within its term. He said it would build between 12,000 and 12,500 public homes next year provided there was not a second wave of Covid-19.
He said an affordable housing scheme would be unveiled around the time of the budget.
“The average age of home ownership is now 36. It used to be 25 and home ownership rates are dropping.
“We have a chance to address this with a good scheme of affordability for that cohort, singles and couples. [I’m confident] there will be a big take-up and it will be sustainable if it’s done properly,” he said.