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Sunday 25 September 2016

Alan Kelly defends new apartment standards - despite minimum space increasing by just 2sq m from Fianna Fail guidelines

Paul Melia and Sarah Jane Murphy

Published 22/12/2015 | 02:30

Environment Minister Alan Kelly insisted that the Government's policies would not reduce living standards, and that he would not allow 'shoe-box living'
Environment Minister Alan Kelly insisted that the Government's policies would not reduce living standards, and that he would not allow 'shoe-box living'

THE Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has defended new minimum standards for apartments will reduce the average cost per unit by up to €20,000.

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Changes to planning guidelines will increase the number of units allowed to be served by a single lift in an effort to reduce costs.

But the changes mean homes built in our major cities will be smaller than currently allowed.

The measures have been criticised for adopting a one-size-fits-all approach without taking into account local needs.

Planning sources said the guidelines were "shocking" and "worse than expected".

"It's an anti-urban, and anti-­city thing which the minster has introduced," one said.

"In cities like Cork and Dublin, new living will be in apartments. There's a new minimum of 40sq m, which is tiny."

The Irish Planning Institute said the guidelines would "restrict" the opportunity of local authorities to compile local housing policies, but said it recognised the need for an "affordable housing supply".

DIT housing lecturer Lorcan Sirr said the guidelines were "very vague" and did not allow local authorities to insist on higher standards.

This was because the national guidelines override local development plans and local councillors.

"I think they're a retrograde step," he said.

"By nationalising standards, the minister is making the fundamental error of thinking the needs of Leitrim are the same as Dublin.

"You don't live in 50sq m, you exist. There's also an arrogant assumption that one-beds are occupied by single people when half have couples. All he's doing is perpetuating that negative perception where you live in apartments until you move to the suburbs."

However speaking on RTE's Morning Ireland, the Minister defended the move.

"We have increased the size, height, number of lifts and number of car park spaces of accommodation. We have made the necessary changes to ensure there are affordable apartments in city centre locations.

"It's the design standard that's relevant. There's been a lot of media commentary that it's connected with building regulations but it's simply nothing to do with them.

"A studio apartment is a one room dwelling and this will be reflected in the price.

He said the new guidelines will allow a mix of people to live in the city centre.

"The reality is that if someone is going to build apartments at the moment they will lose money."

"Studio apartments are mainly for the build to rent market. They are required for people working in the city centre who work locally."

"The new apartments will allow a mix of people to live and work in city centre locations in affordable accommodation."

"Families, couples, single people and single people with children will all be catered for."

He also defended the new minimum size - despite it being just a 2sq m increase on the minimum Fianna Fail introduced.

"In the past under Fianna Fail a studio apartment measured 38 square metres. We have increased this to 40 square metres. But it's not a fair comparison to make as we have made several other changes and the 'shoebox living' of the past will not return.

"If you look at the 2007 guidelines which took in a lot of research, they seem very favourable when compared to standards in other European cities.

"By conducting research and analysis we believe that these apartments are adequate and affordable which is the real issue.

"There's no point having standards in place if nobody is going to build, we need to get real here.

"The new guidelines create one standard across the country and overrides all local authority rules.

"We need to do everything to ensure that vacant sites are developed."

The main measures announced include:

■ Studio apartments of 40 sq m will be allowed, but only in build-to-let schemes of more than 50 units.

■ The minimum size of a one-bedroom unit must be 45sq m, rising to 73sq m for a two-bed and 90sq m for a three-bed. This is lower than the minimum sizes in Dublin and Cork City. In Dublin, a one-bed was 55sq m, a two-bed 80-90sq m and a three-bed more than 100sq m.

■ More than 50pc of units in schemes must be at least 10pc larger than the minimum.

■ Half of all apartments must be dual aspect, or have two windows. In Dublin City, this was 85pc.

■ A total of eight apartments per floor per lift are allowed, to reduce costs.

■ There are also measures around minimum communal amenity areas, and higher floor- to-ceiling ratios.

Just over one in 10 households live in an apartment, rising to one-third of all those living in Dublin City. This figure is expected to grow.

The Department of the Environment said the new guidelines were intended to achieve "consistency" between local authorities and to address affordability issues while maintaining living standards.

Changes around lift design would reduce the price per unit by €20,000, it claimed.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly insisted that the Government's policies would not reduce living standards, and that he would not allow "shoe-box living".

Irish Independent

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