Planning Regulator Points to Way Dublin City Council May Be Able to Curb Build-to-Rent Developments

The Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) has suggested that Dublin City Council strengthen wording in its next development plan around what it considers too much built-to-rent, if it wants to stop complexes from mushrooming.

At the moment, the draft plan says that planning applications for build-to-rent schemes should show there isn’t an overconcentration in an area, “including a map showing all such facilities within 3km of a proposal”.

In its submission on the draft plan, the OPR has said that, rather than other measures the council has tried to drop into the plan, it should look to bolster this requirement that developers show that a proposed build-to-rent complex wouldn’t lead to an undue concentration of that type of housing in that area.

In the past, the council made efforts to do similar for student housing and hotels but, without a strict definition of overconcentration, the requirements failed to stem councillors’ concerns about clusters of those.

Chief Executive Owen Keegan will respond to the submissions to the city development plan at a special meeting currently scheduled for July, a council spokesperson said.

“The team are busy assessing the 3,200 plus submissions and preparing the CE’s [Chief Executive’s] report on these submissions which will respond to the issues raised,” she said.

Hitting the Brakes?

At an online panel discussion entitled Falling Out of Love with Dublin, on 9 February, Keegan talked about how many new build-to-rent (BTR) schemes are planned for the city.

“In the city council area, nearly all planning applications for apartment development are BTR schemes, most of which are built to minimum national standards,” he said.

“While BTR development certainly has a role, the near-total dominance of this typology has adverse long-term consequences for the creation of sustainable communities,” he said.

Councillors and officials have looked to curb build-to-rent with new measures in the draft city development plan, the council’s planning rulebook that governs what can be built where, the next version of which is currently being drawn up.

The draft plan says that new large housing schemes with more than 100 homes should include 40 percent of homes for sale. Smaller build-to-rent schemes with fewer than 100 homes will generally not be granted planning permission, it says.

Last week the OPR rejected that part of the plan, saying it clashed with national guidelinesthat allow for apartment complexes to be 100 per cent build-to-rent.

But then it said the council could strengthen the wording of the provision in the plan about overconcentration of build-to-rent housing.

A spokesperson for the OPR said: “We fully support the Dublin City Council draft development plan’s aim to create balanced, mixed tenure developments which avoid a proliferation or concentration of a single type of housing.”

How Much Is Too Much?

The OPR spokesperson said that asking the developer to include an assessment of other permitted build-to-rent developments within 3km of the site would be a “reasonable requirement”.

The council could talk to the developer at an early stage of the planning process – the “pre-application consultation” – to clearly signal if an undue concentration of build-to-rent was developing, he said, “and to consider alternative mixes of use and housing type”.

Under the current development plan, developers of student housing have to make similar submissions as part of their planning applications.

Since August 2017, developers have had to show a map of all student accommodation within 1km of a proposed site, to show there isn’t too much around. (Earlier, it was within 0.25km.)

Councillors for some parts of the city, such as the Liberties, argued that there was still an oversaturation in their constituencies, and expressed frustration at the cascade of schemes still approved by An Bord Pleanála.

People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh says that one of the problems was that there wasn’t a definition in the last city development plan of what amounts to an overconcentration of student housing.

Dublin City Council needs to decide what proportion of the housing stock in any area should be build-to-rent, she says. “You have to come up with a formula for it.”

“If you want build-to-rent to be a small percentage of the housing stock then you need to quantify that,” she says.

Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam says that the OPR is right and the council should not put anything in the plan that goes against national legislation.

That said, there are “mechanisms that the council can use to get the type of development it wants, through the city development plan process”, he says. For example, the city development plan can restrict the number of bookies in a certain area, McAdam says.

McAdam says planners did take into consideration the concentration of student housing in the area, when deciding past planning applications. In his experience planning applications are rarely decided on just one aspect, but often there are “a multitude of reasons” when an application is rejected, he said.

McAdam says he worked with other councillors to get the radius for student housing extended to 1km. “It certainly, in my view, provided an opportunity for planners to say no on the grounds that there was an overconcentration.”

The council did in early 2021 refuse an application to build a hotel on Francis Street, citing an over-concentration of hotels.

A February 2019 report by Ernst and Young and Coyne Research for Dublin City Council about limits on concentration of student housing argued that “the result of these restrictions would be to direct such developments to less sustainable locations”.

But the draft city development plan does seek to limit build-to-rent housing to certain areas of the city: the inner-city; within Strategic Development and Regeneration Areas, where the council has specific plans for regeneration; in areas of high-intensity employment; or near major public-transport hubs.

Whether council planning determinations around build-t0-rent and what counts as an overconcentration would prove binding or hold up on appeal, remains to be seen.

“All planning decisions made by local authorities are subject to appeal to An Bord Pleanála,” says the spokesperson for the OPR.

To Do or Not

MacVeigh, the People Before Profit councillor, says she thinks councillors should stick to their guns about what goes into the city development plan.

The council should keep the stipulation that 40 percent of homes have to be for sale to homeowners, she says.

“There is a law around build-to-rent and what the planning regulator is saying is that it may not be possible to regulate them given the current legislation,” she says.

However, she thinks the situation is legally ambiguous and needs to be tested in court. A judge, after all, might take a different view, she says.

The OPR makes recommendations that relate to “clear breaches of the relevant legislative provisions, of the national or regional policy framework and/or of the policy of Government, as set out in the Ministerial guidelines”, says its submission.

The council can’t just ignore these recommendations, it says. “The planning authority is required to implement or address recommendation(s) made by the Office in order to ensure consistency with the relevant policy and legislative provisions.”

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Author:

Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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