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High rise to combat high rents?

Experts on how to combat the high cost of living in Dublin city

While Dublin city has many attributes, from free museums to beautiful parks, and easy accessibility to coastlines and mountains, the price of houses, high cost of living generally, and the limited transport infrastructure are just some of the negatives attributed to the city.

John O’Hara, city planning officer and head of land use policy at Dublin City Council, says there are many interlinking factors that make Dublin a relatively expensive place to live, including the transport and the materials and labour costs associated with being an island economy.

Developing the city

“Dublin is a good place in which to live and work, but there are many challenges and we cannot be complacent,” he says. “Post-Covid we must recreate the essential nature and character of our city by diversifying the retail, cultural and evening economy, increasing the population between canals to help increase thriving safe streets.

“We are reviewing the Living City Initiative Scheme, to encourage more living over shops, improving public realms and creating new pedestrian-friendly areas at College Green, the City Markets, Capel Street etc, to avoid a homogenised city, with mono-zones of either office or residential, in order to promote a safe, tolerant, diverse city.”


O’Hara believes the best aspects of living in Dublin are the rich variety of areas and experiences within short distances, eg the Georgian Squares versus Temple Bar. The variety of residential neighbourhoods within short distances of each other is also notable, he says.

“The city is also changing as a result of what I would call planned urban acupuncture, eg a pedestrianised Capel Street, the greening of the Liberties (eg Weaver Square and Bridgefoot Street) and the revitalisation of the North Lotts between the Convention Centre and Capital Dock.”

High rents and property prices

“Although household incomes in Dublin are relatively high by national standards, high apartment costs result in relatively high numbers facing affordability challenges,” says O’Hara. Dublin City Council has been working on a plan to tackle the issue.

“As part of the preparation for the new City Development Plan, we carried out a housing needs demand assessment [HNDA]. The HNDA model shows that over the next six years the number of households which will need social and affordable housing is in order of 65 per cent. The remaining 35 per cent comprise either buyers or the private rental sector.”

Attracting and retaining talent

It has been a concern for some time that the high cost of living and housing, in particular, is impacting companies’ abilities to attract and retain talent. O’Hara says that the high cost of homes has different impacts depending on income.

“The large multinational/high-tech companies do not appear to have issues attracting high-quality staff. This is not only due to the high-quality Irish education system, but the growing built-to-rent sector is providing accommodation for this high-tech workforce.”

“However, I am concerned about affordable accommodation for ‘key workers’ such as nurses, teachers, service industry workers etc, which are essential to a sustainable city, yet due to lack of affordable housing may have to engage in long-distance commuting, contrary to all our climate change objectives of reducing our carbon footprint and urban sprawl, quite apart from the negative effects on quality of life.”

Dr Lorcan Sirr, senior lecturer on housing, planning and development at TU Dublin, believes that high rents affect our competitiveness in a global market and mean that products can become more expensive. “If companies have to pay more to retain staff, then these costs will ultimately be passed on to customers.”

Site values

One of the main contributors to the high cost of housing in Dublin is site values, says O’Hara. “This can really only be addressed at a national level. The concept of land as a public asset, to which value is added by infrastructure such as public transport, schools, public parks etc needs to become more embedded in our thinking.

“In this regard proposed legislation for land value sharing, whereby the uplift provided by zoning and subsequent grant of planning permission is used to provide more affordable housing, is welcome.”

The high price of land results in expensive housing for sale and, as is increasingly the case, for rent, says Sirr. “The high price of land is caused by recent planning policy changes (eg, removal of height caps) which have only served to increase the value of land, resulting in every more unaffordable housing.”

“The initial work of the LDA [Land Development Agency] in providing social and affordable houses on State-owned lands is a good example of this approach,” says O’Hara. “But sooner or later, we will exhaust the supply of State-owned lands, unless more is created.

“One way this could be achieved is by giving the LDA or local authorities first call on newly zoned lands. Second, those who get planning permission for much-needed new homes should implement that permission within five years, rather than trade the permission or sit on it. Thirdly, it must be acknowledged that some of the high cost of city housing is due to delays caused by objections at a local level, and the increasing use of the judicial review system, rather than supporting sustainable placemaking for the next generation within the city footprint.”

Plans for new housing

The New City Development Plan can help make the city more affordable by increasing the supply of permissions for homes, says O’Hara, and outlines that the plan has a core strategy to provide for 40,000 new homes over the next six years – eg, up to 7,000 homes per year, which is twice the average per annum over the last 10 years.

“To achieve this, the new development plan has introduced a variety of policies to increase height and density in the right places, eg close to high capacity public transport corridors.”

It has also identified a number of strategic development and regeneration areas, eg Docklands, Poolbeg, Cherry Orchard, Clongriffin, Donore, which in total have the potential to provide 34,000 new homes of various typologies, in new neighbourhoods all within the M50.

Edel Corrigan

Edel Corrigan is a contributor to The Irish Times