Dublin City Council’s climbdown from the high standards it had set for apartment design just a few years ago is already being seen as a shameless capitulation to pressure from the construction industry. The proposal made by city planners, as part of a review of the Dublin City Development Plan, would allow for significantly smaller units to be built, to meet housing demand from young singles and couples in a more diverse market. However, it has been criticised as heralding a return to the “shoebox flats” that characterised an earlier burst of urban renewal in the early 1990s – until higher standards were specified in guidelines drawn up under the direction of then minister of state for housing Liz McManus.
The effect of the latest revision, which requires the approval of city councillors, would be to reduce the minimum size of apartments to permit smaller studios of 45 square metres in “build-to-let” schemes by developers. This will please the equity funds and property companies, which have snapped up assets cheaply and now see themselves staying for the long haul as landlords. The planners would relax the current requirement that 85 per cent of apartments must have a dual aspect, thereby giving designers more flexibility in adapting older buildings for residential use. A prohibition on north-facing single-aspect apartments would also be relaxed.
Separately, Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly and Minister of State for Housing Paudie Coffey have written to local authorities in the Dublin area cautioning against the adoption of “unreasonable or excessive requirements in relation to the standard of housing or ancillary services”. In their view, such impositions would “impact adversely on the economic viability of commercial investment and deliverability of new housing development” over the next five years. The priority was to deliver more housing as quickly as possible. Quality is as important as quantity, however, and we must be careful to ensure that it’s not thrown out the window. The last thing we need is to be left with a legacy of sub-standard apartments.