Saturday 3 December 2016

New rules to reduce apartment sizes won't fix crisis: architects

Published 23/12/2015 | 02:30

Environment Minister Alan Kelly. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Environment Minister Alan Kelly. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Government plans to reduce apartment sizes have been sharply criticised by architects who say they will do nothing to address costs or increase housing output.

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The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) said the State needs to reduce red tape and ramp up the delivery of social housing, and that relying on the private sector to provide housing will not solve the problem.

The comments came after the Government issued new guidelines that reduce average apartment sizes in our main cities, and remove the ability of councils to demand that developers build larger homes to cater for families.

The changes will allow studio apartments of just 40sq m in build-to-let schemes of more than 50 units. The new minimum sizes for one-, two- and three-bedroom units are lower than those that currently apply in Dublin and Cork, where most apartments are built.

Under the new guidelines, a one-bedroom unit must be 45sq m, rising to 73sq m for a two-bed and 90sq m for a three-bed. In Dublin, a one-bed was 55sq m, a two-bed 80-90sq m and a three-bed more than 100sq m.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly has defended the changes, saying that more than 50pc of units in schemes must be at least 10pc larger than the minimum. He also said the height, number of lifts and number of car parking spaces per unit had been changed to allow more affordable homes be constructed, and that the changes would allow for a mix of people to live in the city centre.

The Department of the Environment estimates that changes to the number of apartments serviced by a lift will reduce costs per unit by €20,000, while also reducing annual service charges.

In addition, there are new guidelines on communal amenity space, including a requirement for "accessible, secure and usable" outdoor space for families and the elderly.

But RIAI president Robin Mandal said the measures "aren't going to help at all".

"Relying on the property sector to provide our housing needs will not solve it," he said. "We didn't undertake enough social housing over the last 15 or 20 years, which is coming back to haunt us.

"A developer is finding it difficult to raise finance anyway, so reducing the size won't solve the finance issue. In terms of the cost savings, they are not proportional to the size of the apartment. An apartment 10pc less won't be 10pc cheaper.

"We welcome countrywide standards, but we don't believe they should be as low as they are. We shouldn't have loads of standards, but we do have different requirements. You have to have a mix. The needs of a transient population in Dublin is different from that of a family."

He also criticised the inability of local authorities to compel developers to provide storage space for bicycles or buggies, or communal space such as laundry facilities or rooms for social events. Instead, they are subject to agreement.

"Our difficulty is if the intention is to stimulate the market, it isn't going to work. If it does, it will produce apartment sizes which in the long run will be inadequate," he added.

The Green Party branded the measures a concession to developers, but Property Industry Ireland, which represents businesses in the sector, said the national guidelines would ensure the rules would not be subject to differing interpretations by local authorities.

Irish Independent

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