Lifting our Cities: Minister Murphy unveils initiative to increase apartment output and urban renewal in cities by easing parking and height requirements and encouraging more build-to-rent projects
Speech by Eoghan Murphy to the Irish Planning Institute
President of the Irish Planning Institute Deirdre Fallon, members of the Institute, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to be here to open your Autumn Conference - Re-imagining the Planning System: Planning and Implementation.
You have a busy session ahead so let me jump straight in to it. The housing system in our cities is not working as it should be – why is that? While our cities are growing as major centres of employment, they are not growing quickly enough as places to live in - why is that? Today, we have nearly 100 cranes on construction sites in Dublin city centre but only about 10% of these are on residential development sites - why is that?
Delivery of badly-needed new housing is on the up. But much of it is out in the suburbs and beyond - out at the edges or along commuter routes. And what’s being built is very much focused on the traditional 3 & 4 bed family homes, with little of the more diverse housing mix that we need for the much more diverse range of households looking for housing today – why is that?
We Have Choices to Make
The population of Ireland grew by 53,000 people in the year to April 2017, the largest increase since 2008 – that’s 1.1% year-on-year growth when the rest of the euro area was essentially static. Half the day-time population of Ireland’s three largest cities travel from outside. One quarter of Leinster’s working population travel into Dublin each day.
In 2016, 230,000 people commuted at least an hour a day each way, a 30% increase in long commutes in just five years. Just think about what that means for families in terms of quality of life. Our country is growing again, our cities particularly - so we need to deliver the homes much closer to where the jobs are happening.
If we learned anything from the so-called Celtic Tiger era, it was that our future does not lie in our people living in one location, and commuting up to 100km away to work, juggling work and family lives and losing the battle to strike a reasonable balance.
With fewer than 1,000 properties available for rent in Dublin and similar low levels in all our other cities, there is not just under-supply, but a gaping hole in the supply of affordable accommodation (and rental accommodation in particular) in the heart of our cities. Turning that tide means we simply have to deliver more apartments in our cities.
On Tuesday 26th September the Government published our final consultation draft of the new National Planning Framework Ireland 2040–Our Plan. After a lost decade, we can once again set out a vision for what our country should and could look like in the years ahead.
Yes we have an immediate housing crisis to face. If we pause to plan, even for just a moment, we can tackle that crisis but also secure the sustainable development of our country and our communities in to 2040 and beyond. We have to think in decades if one crisis isn’t to simply roll in to another.
Over the next number of weeks, the public, including your Institute and its members, will have a chance to make their views known, helping Government finalise the NPF document by the end of this year. Finalisation of the National Planning Framework will coincide with the development of a 10-year Capital Investment Plan, ensuring alignment between planning and investment. Once the Framework and its capital investment are in place, Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies will develop more detailed policies and proposals at regional level. And this work has already begun.
So this time, we know it’s real, and not just a false dawn.
What does the NPF say to us?
One key element of the NPF is targeting the provision of approximately half of the homes that will need to be created by 2040 in Ireland’s five cities. To deliver on this aspect of the vision in the Plan, I believe that we need to completely change our outlook and approaches to the future planning and development of our cities.
What I am Proposing
I have assembled a small working group that will, by end-November, bring forward proposals to augment and broaden existing 2015 statutory guidelines on apartments, addressing some new issues I will delve into now.
The 2015 guidelines provided much greater clarity and certainty for how we build apartments. I intend to build on and update these guidelines in line with the completion of the NPF at the end of this year.
Re-Thinking Parking Provision
Let’s start with some basics.
The first thing we need to do is establish a planning policy position that, within clearly defined geographical catchments, say within 750-1000m of DART/suburban rail, LUAS, Quality Bus Corridor and/or Bus Rapid Transit stops, no minimum mandatory car-parking provision will apply.
In fact, in such locations where we want to see sustainable travel, not cars, the default position will be that housing providers will have to justify any car-parking provision.
This works from a viability & affordability point of view. It helps us to maximise and prioritise public transport investment, which supports other objectives like climate mitigation targets.
It also makes a lot of sense thinking about a future where mobility solutions for citizens are about access to the car when needed – and I’m talking here about the shared economy – rather than going to the expense of having to buy a car and then pay to let it sit in our driveways and parking bays for the vast majority of time when we simply don’t need 24/7 car ownership in our city centres.
Lifting Height Caps
I also want to announce the putting in place of a process that will, quickly, review and update our approach to setting urban building height limits. We know that building cities outwards is a failed concept. We have some ridiculous restrictions on the effective and efficient use of scarce and expensive building land. The sprawl has got to stop.
We have a situation here in the Docklands, where an otherwise excellent SDZ planning scheme sets lower building heights than parts of the surrounding Dublin City Development Plan, on top of key existing and future public transport corridors like LUAS and the future DART underground, that will happen.
We have restrictions where there are lower building heights for residential development than commercial – even on the same street. This makes no sense in normal times, never mind when we’re in the midst of a housing crisis.
Today, I am announcing that revised statutory guidelines on the process around Development Plans will be published before the year-end which will put in place a new evidence-based policy methodology for setting building height policy objectives in statutory development plans.
Essentially, I intend to lift the numerical height caps in our city cores and along key public transport corridors.
A numeric height cap is a planning restriction that no longer makes any sense in the context of proper sustainable planning, good design and the other contextual factors which planning authorities take into account. It is because of these other contextual factors applied by planning authorities that the removal of a numeric restriction will not be a free-for-all for high-rise, but will instead enable high density viable residential development where it makes sense. And on densities – we have strong minimum densities, but these are not being enforced, so we will issue clarifications on this also.
The Government’s Strategy for the Rental Sector calls for a major expansion of a properly funded and professionally managed rental accommodation sector. We need a mature build to rent market in our cities but we don’t have any guidelines for the sector.
So new statutory guidelines for planning authorities will be put in place for the build-to-rent sector, by December, and in the context of completion of the NPF, which will allow for a new type of apartment development, including the shared accommodation models that we see in other cities.If you go to cities in the UK like Manchester or London, and further afield, you will find new models of brilliantly designed, superbly executed, centrally located and affordable managed rental accommodation. Like the Collective (www.thecollective.co.uk) providing thousands of badly needed and innovative accommodation solutions for the needs of a modern city and modern communities.
We have to free ourselves from the mind-set that everyone should live in a 3 bedroomed house at every stage of their lives. We know other models work, but we don’t have them here. So, our job as policy makers and planners is to see how this can be done and to then make it happen.
Build-to-rent isn’t just about shared accommodation models only though. We can have build-to-rent models without the levels of requirement we can see for the build to sell sector, enabling greater flexibility around technical matters like
- dual aspect,
- units per lift core
- percentage of studios, and so on.
Otherwise we are forcing people to pay more for accommodation they don’t need in places which aren’t convenient to their work, or suited to their lifestyle.
Can we address this? Of course we can – we’re not so different from our European and Anglo-American cousins. We can design the provision of the wider range of accommodation our society needs, working back from what it can afford, and not the other way around. Those previous failed planning policies helped in some way to drive us to unsustainable debt, unsustainable development, and ultimately collapse – not just of the sector, but of the whole economy.
From some initial work done in my Department, it would not be unreasonable to assume that in Dublin alone, at least 5,000 new homes could and should be unlocked over the next couple of years under new build-to-rent models. This new model will not be for everyone or everywhere but that’s ok. We have to move away from the one size fits all approach.
New Urban Living Solutions
So we need a broader range of urban living solutions:
- More studio and 1- and 2-bedroom apartments, and not just for build-to-rent.
- Family apartments to encourage Living Cities.
- Specialist housing for older people, downsizers and the less able-bodied - enabling people to remain in the communities that they know and love.
And so, as well as producing for the first time a set of guidelines for the build-to-rent sector, we will also look to best practice abroad and further tweak the 2015 guidelines in line with the National Planning Framework. We’ll be ready with those guidelines and changes when we finalise the Framework after the consultation process now underway.
Let me completely dispel any notion that this is about quick returns for our housing providers. This is about meeting the housing needs of modern diverse cities and new communities, while also opening up new sources of funding like pension funds to provide this accommodation.
The plain fact is that we need this type of development to be part of the solution if our cities are to grow in a sustainable way – if we are to learn from the planning mistakes of the past.
New housing models – innovations in design and build – can help us tackle the problems we currently face around affordability in our cities and urban centres. We’re not alone in facing these problems - indeed others around the world have made a head start in terms of implementing solutions.
These new housing options are part of a broader package on affordability being pursued by the government. Some of it is already in train, like the LIHAF infrastructural funding and the Rent Pressure Zones. Other measures I will announce in the coming weeks.
Finalisation of the National Planning Framework is one of my top priorities in the next two months. And of course the NPF is about much more than just our cities. In fact, 50% of it is about the areas outside our cities. I emphasise cities today because of the changes that are specifically coming for apartments and affordable city living.
My Department will publish a draft of the additional policy provisions I’ve mentioned today, by the end of November under Section 28 (statutory guidelines) provisions of the Planning and Development Act and I will consider whether a more explicit Policy Directive under Section 29 of the Act is warranted on certain key aspects.
I’d like the Irish Planning Institute and its members to think carefully about what I have set out here this morning and within the next 2-3 weeks, to come back to me and my Department with your own proposals.
Implementation of the Guidelines will begin once the NPF is adopted and comes into force. This will create a dramatically different and more positive environment to deliver the urban places and affordable homes within these places, that people need.
Thank you for inviting me here today. With your contribution and expertise, I look forward to the finalisation and implementation of the National Planning Framework to realise Ireland’s Plan for 2040.