Proposed Apartment Size Changes

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The following is a summary of the main opinions expressed on the proposed apartment size changes as discussed on The Right Hook on Newstalk. The interview can be listened to in full at The Right Hook / 31st July 2015.

 

Dublin City Council (DCC) are rumoured to be considering significant changes to minimum apartment size standards as part of their current review of the Development Plan. The City Development Plan is reviewed and updated every 6 years and forms the basis for how all planning applications (what is permitted and where) are considered. The current proposals are not formally adopted but are largely speculation until the Plan is published for public consultation towards the end of the year. DCC usually set the upper benchmark for apartment size standards nationally and being the largest council in the state any change they adopt will have a significant impact.

In summary the rumoured changes include

1. the minimum number of dual aspect apartments in a development being reduced from 85% to 50%. Dual aspect means having windows on more than one side (ideally on opposing sides) to maximise light and provide varying aspect. However, this limits the number of apartments that can be served by a single lift and thus reduces the overall number of apartments possible while increasing the number of lifts required – both of which increase construction and purchase prices.

2. Single aspect east facing apartments will be allowed and north facing only where overlooking a body of water or attractive open space. Currently only south facing single aspect is allowed on a limited basis.

3. The number of 1 bedroom apartments allowed in a development will increase from 20% to a maximum of 30%. A good mix of apartments results in a varying mix of tenures and creates a mix of occupants within a development. Larger apartments (2 bed and larger) are seen as being suited to families and hence sustainable development where occupants can live long term in a development knowing that the apartment will cater for their needs should they decide to have a family.

4. Increased heights are being considered. This will increase the overall density of schemes which would be positive in urban locations where development land comes at a premium.

5. Studio apartments reintroduced – minimum of 45 sq.m (national 1 bed minimum apartment size standard) and for a maximum of 7.5% of the development mix. These would potentially only be allowed in ‘build to rent’ schemes of >100 units with integrated communal facilities in city centre or dockland locations. They would also be permitted in conversions of older buildings to encourage the mixed use of upper floors of commercial buildings. With the demise of the ‘bedsit’ in recent years there is a gap in the market for small units which are suited to short term accommodation for students and young single people without families. However, this needs to be approached with caution so as to avoid a repeat of the abuse of the bedsit system.

 

The fear with these proposals now circulating is that quality will suffer as a result of reduced apartment size. In my opinion it is a kneejerk reaction to the housing crisis but one which will leave a lasting legacy for the quality of life of the occupants for generations to come. With the fast growing population in Ireland we have an increasing number of households but also an increasing number of smaller households (2 people) which requires more housing units. The current standards are based on ‘Sustainable Urban Housing : Design Standards for New Apartments’ published by the Department of the Environment in 2007. This formed the  basis for higher standards adopted by DCC in their last Development Plan however they were never really tested as the construction downturn occurred in the interim. These are good standards but are seen by developers as an obstacle in conjunction with all of the other increased building regulation of recent years.

 

Standards can be relaxed only if quality is not sacrificed. This will promote a move towards sustainable developments where people can happily live long term in an apartment which is adequate and flexible to meet their lifelong changing personal circumstances. There is an argument that there is already an oversupply of smaller apartment types – these were built in the 1990s – it is plausible therefore that the newer larger apartments to be built will allow the occupants of these existing smaller apartments to up-size leaving them available for the demographic they suit. With the very young and increasingly very old population of Ireland we need these larger units more than ever.

 

Apartment living is a necessity of a developed country where development land in key urban centres is limited. By increasing residential density it allows a greater number of people to live close to their work and allow key services (shops, creches, schools etc) to be located locally and sustained by a larger local population. It also reduces the need for car dependence and reduces carbon emissions through greater energy efficiency. However, these homes need to be of critical minimum standards to ensure it can sustain a wide range of tenure types and be flexible to meet these needs over the long term. Unlike houses, apartments cannot be readily extended or altered and therefore getting them right at the outset is critical.

 

The major problem of affordability cannot be denied. Smaller apartments mean higher profit margins for developers (ie, more units per site) but the increased standards needed for energy and accessibility may cancel out any cost saving passed on to purchasers. Therefore, not only is a reduction of construction cost necessary but the purchase cost needs to be looked at through financial incentives offered to purchasers which are government led. It is positive that the government have through the Housing Agency committed to an annual updated review of housing supply and demand with an outlook for the years ahead. The National Statement on Housing Supply and Demand 2014 and Outlook 2015-2017 can be viewed here.