Change Planning Rules to Help Solve City’s Childcare Shortage, Council Report Says

Within the next three years, there may be more than 1,000 homes built along the Swords Road, says Racheal Batten, a Fianna Fáil councillor.

But there’s already a shortage of childcare with all that that brings, she says. “An awful lot of women are restricted from their career because they simply can’t direct the income from what they would get going back to work, on childcare.”

There is an extra childcare facility built inside Santry Place, an apartment block, Batten says, but it is vacant at the moment.

Batten could be talking about many other Dublin neighbourhoods.

In the north-east inner-city, there are only enough spots in existing childcare facilities for one in every four children, says an October 2022 report by Young People at Risk.

Future childcare needs in Inchicore are unlikely to be met due to new developments being built without enough childcare, said a February 2022 report by the Dublin South City Partnership.

The government needs to consider making changes to planning rules to solve this shortage, and the problem of vacancy in childcare spaces, a recent Dublin City Council report says.

It also said that contributors favoured keeping the council’s role focused on making sure the infrastructure is there for childcare, rather than stepping in to run childcare facilities itself.

Conflicting Guidelines

Developers looking to apply for permission to build housing must comply with government guidelines for childcare facilities.

But there are multiple guidelines in place, the report says, with some overriding others.

The “Planning Guidelines for Childcare Facilities” date to 2001 and recommend one childcare facility with at least 20 child spaces for every 75 homes.

But the “Sustainable Urban Housing: Design Standards for New Apartments – Guidelines for Planning Authorities” from 2018 says that one-bedroom or studio homes, and sometimes two-or-more bedroom homes, shouldn’t be counted when looking at future provision of childcare.

The recent council report highlights how An Bord Pleanála granted permission in November 2021 for 1,614 homes in Drumcondra, of which 71 percent would be studios and one-bedroom homes.

The guidelines meant that the size of the creche was decided on the basis of two- and three-bed homes, which were 29 percent of the development, says the council’s report.

But with the housing crisis, people can have children and end up stuck in a one-bedroom or studio apartment and in need of children, says the report, even if the guidelines assume that children wouldn’t be living in small homes.

Meanwhile, the “Sustainable Urban Housing Guidelines” from 2020, which currently govern standards in build-to-rent complexes, are creating unsustainable neighbourhoods because developers aren’t asked to add any social infrastructure like childcare, says the council’s report.

“For instance, in Belmayne there are 2 applications with over 1000 units, with no provision for childcare,” it says.

Contributors to the report suggested that build-to-rent blocks over a certain size should have to make provision for childcare spaces, the report says.

(Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, of Fianna Fáil, has indicated that he plans to scrap the build-to-rent regulations.)

Meanwhile, for social housing, council planners always ask for “animation” – meaning things like as shops or places for activities – at a ground level rather than homes. But the council’s Housing Department “will insist that their options are limited here due lack of capital for social infrastructure”, the report says.

One contributor called for a “Whole of Government approach” to this. “In developing social housing units, a commitment to provide childcare places should be enforced in the way it happens in the commercial development model of housing, and it requires capital investment by the state,” the anonymous contributor is quoted as saying.

The council’s report says the government should bring the design standards from 2018 closer in line with the 2001 “Planning Guidelines for Childcare Facilities”.

The Department of Housing didn’t respond to queries sent Friday asking whether it had completed its review of the “Planning Guidelines for Childcare Facilities”, which it had said in the 2018 design standards that it would do.

Issues with Vacancy

In planning applications that may need childcare facilities, the developer has to submit reports outlining the need in the area.

They can get help from Dublin City Childcare Committee, which gives support to childcare providers and parents.

Sometimes, developers may tailor submissions in certain ways, says the report, like omitting whether creches in the area are full, or extending the catchment area to pretend there are enough creches.

“If developers extend catchment area from 1km to 3km, they are more easily able to make the case that there is capacity, and therefore no need for additional provision,” it says.

The question of viability is also highlighted as an issue in the report.

The 2001 guidelines required one creche, for at least 20 children, per 75 homes in a development, which contributors say is too small to be commercially viable, says the council report.

Also, although rarely, developers will put the creche facility in a bad location on purpose so nobody is interested in renting it, it says, or they may overcharge on rent.

If a childcare facility in a new development ends up vacant with no one able to run it, after some years the developer will usually apply to change the use of the space.

The council usually resists that at first, the report says. “Particularly if the planners have been informed about a shortfall in a certain area.”

But if the council refuses, the facility could stay vacant. While, if it permits change of use, people might complain, seeing a potential space for childcare lost, it says.

One proposal in the report to solve this is to allow that, if many developers are applying for permission to build housing in one area, they could pool resources to a central fund to build a larger, and potentially more commercially viable, creche, says the council.

The council’s report says it would like to be involved in this decision making, along with Dublin City Childcare Committee, as it has a bird’s-eye view of what is needed for population increase.

Sophie Nicoullaud, an independent councillor, says smaller creches inside housing developments are more accessible by foot to young families, rather than big childcare facilities a drive or longer walk away.

“That’s market thinking, business thinking, profit making,” she says. “We need childcare facilities, but we don’t need big factories of them every 5km or 10km. We need more, and smaller ones.”

The council is relying too much on private developers to build childcare facilities, she says. “And then as well, to not make it too expensive. It doesn’t work like that. Developers are not here to give us, for free, community spaces.”

Nicoullaud says the council, or the state, should take over the vacant facilities and make them public, and put funding into it, because the alternative is that large childcare companies control the market.

“It should be a service we provide, and it should be fully public,” she says. “The staff will be well looked after, and we would be able to choose where we put them.”

Batten, the Fianna Fáil councillor, says childcare providers have said that smaller places are not financially sustainable. “Unless we make buildings cheaper, and running them cheaper, then it’s not going to be sustainable.”

“The primary cost of facilities and VAT on the industry needs to be looked at next, for people to make a living out of it, to be able to pay wages, and provide a service,” she says.

Hazel de Nortúin, a People Before Profit councillor, says that the council should work on the ground to find locations for childcare facilities and people to run them.

“Small housing estates I think are ideal for childcare, because you’re on the doorstep for people,” she says. “You’re only looking at a small service, you’re not looking at a multi-storey, multi-room, bigger childcare service.”

Larger facilities are good too, she says, but all kinds should be supported by the council.

The council should link in with groups on the ground to identify places where childcare could go, and people who could run them as community, not-for-profit operations, she says.

The council’s community development unit should be able to do this, she says. ““Why don’t they support them to upskill, give them confidence and support?”

Filed under:

Author:

Claudia Dalby: Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at [email protected]

Reader responses

Log in to write a response.

Understand your city

We do in-depth, original reporting about the issues that shape Dublin. We're not funded by advertisers. We're funded by readers like you.

We use first-party cookies to allow visitors to log in to our website and read our articles.