Housing crisis: soaring towers are no solution

Eoghan Murphy should be looking at measures such as a clampdown on the short-letting of “entire homes” as holiday accommodation

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy is mistaken in his view that soaring residential towers should form part of any strategy to deal with the current housing emergency. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy is mistaken in his view that soaring residential towers should form part of any strategy to deal with the current housing emergency. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

More than half-a-century ago, as Dublin was experiencing a housing crisis, then minister for local government Neil Blaney was persuaded by construction industry lobbyists that system-built high-rise housing would offer a quick and easy solution. What we got was Ballymun, with its seven 15-storey towers named for the 1916 Proclamation signatories, flanked by 19 eight-storey slabs and 10 four-storey blocks, all laid out in wide open spaces. Initially successful due to its novelty, this high-rise, low-density housing estate became a sociological “sink” over time, entering such a downward spiral that it must surely qualify as the State’s worst planning disaster. Since 1997, it has been redeveloped for medium-density housing and not a single high-rise tower has survived.

Now, in the midst of another housing crisis, Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy has apparently been seduced by the notion that the best way to end suburban sprawl and provide a more varied mix of housing is to eliminate “ridiculous restrictions” on building heights in urban areas, particularly in Dublin. Addressing the Irish Planning Institute’s annual autumn conference, he announced that he was “putting in place a process that will, quickly, review and update our approach to setting urban building height limits” and said revised statutory guidelines for local authority development plans would be published.

The Minister is mistaken in his view that soaring residential towers should form part of any strategy to deal with the current housing emergency. Veteran British social housing architect Neave Brown, who was presented last week with the Royal Gold Medal for his work, said the Grenfell Tower inferno in London this summer showed that that type of high-rise housing should never have been built and that it ostracised local authority tenants. It is also very expensive to construct, because of the need to provide lifts and a range of safety measures to protect residents – particularly on upper floors – in the event of fire. Thus, any new high-rise housing in Dublin can in no sense be regarded as an answer to homelessness.

Murphy should be looking at other measures – such as a clampdown on the short-letting of “entire homes” as holiday accommodation, via Airbnb and other platforms. Airbnb alone has deducted more than 3,100 dwellings from Dublin’s housing stock, which is equivalent to three times the number available at any given time for letting to live in. Simply introducing a registration system for short-lets, as the Oireachtas housing committee has recommended, falls well short of what’s needed. As in Berlin, we need to recover lost stock by banning the short-letting of entire homes. This would yield much more practical returns than entertaining fantasies about reaching for the sky.

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