Sunday 22 October 2017

Pressure over shortage of family homes could be catalyst for town development

Major employer: the Dell computer offices at Cherrywood, south Dublin
Major employer: the Dell computer offices at Cherrywood, south Dublin

Donal Buckley

THE current shortage of family houses in south Dublin may prove the key to unblocking the development of a major new town centre at Cherrywood in south Dublin – an area of the country with one of the strongest markets for family houses.

Bord Pleanala recently approved a Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) which supposedly is designed to fast track the development of up to 7,700 residential units, up to 355,662 sq m of town centre space, up to 61,600 sq m of village centre space and 375,000 sq m of other commercial property at Cherrywood.

However such development will be lucky to achieve a snail's pace, judging by the less than enthusiastic response of planning and property experts.

Indeed some believe that the SDZ itself may very well further delay development of any of the 255 hectares of development land.

This is because the SDZ's development strategy is dependent on several different land owners in different financial situations raising sufficient funds in order to take major financial risks.

Even more difficult is that banks or owners who control the financially riskiest sections of Cherrywood will need to develop their sections first.

Only then can other developers proceed with the lower density housing sections which are less risky financially.

Consequently the lower density family houses may have to wait years to be built even though this is the sector of the market that is currently strongest.

However if Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council (DLRCC) were to allow the less risky housing to proceed first then the presence of more families would generate demand for local retail and other commercial services which in turn would encourage commercial and other development, thus kick starting the SDZ.

Development of family houses is less expensive than apartment blocks and thus less riskier for developers. Furthermore as house sales gather momentum the revenues would also help to finance other property development as well as contribute to the provision of infrastructure such as internal roads, water, etc.

However planning officials fear that allowing some developments to proceed in advance of the other sections, could result in a patchwork of undeveloped sites and lack of social infrastructure such as schools which families would also need.

Planning consultant Tom Phillips says that the patchwork approach is inevitable because there are so many land owners and others who control land such as the banks.

"Consequently DLRCC needs to review the phasing requirements because they are effectively delaying sections of the development that could proceed and which the market would support," he says.

The state agency NAMA, which controls the loans of a number of Cherrywood landowners, was among those who made submissions to Bord Pleanala asking for the removal of the phasing sequence from the SDZ.

Presumably this removal would have made it easier for NAMA to sell on development land or the loans secured on those lands. Alternatively, perhaps, the removal might even have encouraged NAMA to finance housing development, as it is currently doing in the Honeypark development in the former Dun Laoghaire Golf course.

While DLRCC owns a portion of the SDZ land, other landowners include: the controversial Jackson Way Properties; Benreef/Johnny Ronan; Friends First; Pecan Properties; Cherrywood Properties; Kevin Smyth; William Neville and Tudor Homes. Tom Phillips, who is also a director of Property Industry Ireland, says that few, if any, developers will want to fast track any properties in the near future until the council comes up with the figures for costing the SDZ.

DLRCC needs to explain what it will charge in development levies and the likely developers' financial contributions for a range of infrastructure that is still required, he says.

The council points out that 6.5pc of the residentially zoned land has a minimum density of 35 units to the hectare and a further 57pc of the land has a minimum density requirement of 45 units to the hectare.

"These densities can cater for a home design other than apartments," a spokesman adds.

However three of the Cherrywood areas which are identified for lower density housing are also identified as those which would be among the last to be developed. These include a section of the Bride's Glen, Macnebury and the Tully areas.

At present between 93 and 140 homes are envisaged for the Bride's Glen area. Between 321 and 494 homes are envisaged for Macnebury at a density of between 45 and 70 units per hectare. As many as 1,115 new homes could be built in the Tully area which is also relatively low density by the high density standards of the SDZ.

While some of those densities are higher than those associated with the traditional three or four bedroom family semis, nevertheless they could appeal to both buyers of own door homes such as terraced houses as well as appeal to developers and their financial backers.

Last Sunday Housing Minister Jan O'Sullivan said that in order to address the current housing shortage there will be more flexibility in the planning system.

"Where there is a demand for houses rather than apartments ... the houses can go ahead first," he said.

House hunters who are frustrated at being outbid in Dublin's second hand homes market will be hoping that DLRCC's planners will heed the Minister's remarks and allow house building to proceed before other sections of Cherrywood.

Those developers with the capacity to build will also be hoping that the planners will heed the minister's reference to more flexibility and allow lower densities to cater for the sector of the market where demand is strongest.

After all if those families at the upper end of the market can be accommodated then this would free up housing for other sections of the market down the line including for those in rental accommodation and in turn those facing homelessness.

Unlike so many development areas in the Dublin commuter belt which were built so far away from the capital, Cherrywood currently is a developer's dream location because it is so well served by transport links.

In addition to being close to the junction of the M50 and the M11 and convenient to the leisure attractions of Killiney, Bray and Wicklow, it has as many as five stations on the Luas line, including the Carrickmines park and ride. All it needs now is for both planners and developers to get the finger out and get the fast track working.Major employer: the Dell computer offices at Cherrywood, south Dublin, is one of the factors pushing up demand for homes

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