Chartered engineer Michael Browne, the principal at BBA architecture, a multi-disciplinary engineering and architectural practice in Co Wicklow, believes that lack of infrastructure is the major barrier to new development in Ireland.
And Mr Browne fears that the problem will be exacerbated by the de-zoning of serviced land as local authority development plans are forced to comply with a new hierarchy of national and regional plans.
Over 20 years in operation, BBA are currently involved on a variety of sites in greater Dublin, for a range of clients including Cairn Homes and D/Res Properties.
While 60pc of the firm’s work is residential, Mr Browne told me that the commercial element is increasing steadily and includes working on data centres, public sector engineering work, pub refurbishments and the design of a brewery for Wicklow Wolf.
He told me that the under-funding of Irish Water for water supply and waste water treatment is one of the biggest impediments to solving Ireland’s housing crisis.
Echoing an issue I covered recently in Co Meath, where the requirements of the Regional Economic and Spatial Strategy of the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly has seen the de-zoning of sites for approximately 10,000 homes, the publication last month of the Co Wicklow draft development plan 2021-2027 sees the same issue arising and the de-zoning of residential land.
He questions the draft plan’s assertion that ‘mono-type building typologies will not be looked upon favourably’
In my view, many of the aspirations of the National Planning framework, which seek to focus growth on existing conurbations, are admirable. However, in the era of a national housing crisis those objectives will seriously slow the supply of housing and the de-zoning of land that is already serviced is questionable.
Mr Browne says that the target of providing 30pc of Co Wicklow’s housing growth within the built-up footprints of existing settlements is highly unlikely to be delivered, due to the nature of infill and brownfield sites and complex ownerships.
He also questions the draft plan’s assertion that “mono-type building typologies” – two-storey own-door houses – “will not be looked upon favourably”, which implies that apartments, duplexes and terraced houses must now be required for all towns in Co Wicklow.
But it is the application of higher densities in existing towns which is leading to the de-zoning of land elsewhere and some of it already serviced. Mr Browne cites the example of land at Newtownmountkennedy, where approximately €70m has been invested in infrastructural development by landowners, including under a local “Serviced Land Initative”.
Lands at Newtownmountkennedy have been partially developed and roads, drainage, parks and sites for schools provided. It is now proposed to de-zone tracts of this area, including serviced sites adjacent to the town.
Population growth in Co Wicklow to 2031 will be restricted to housing for 18,000 people rather than the target of 31,000
Overall, his analysis is that under the new plan population growth in Co Wicklow to 2031 will be restricted to housing for 18,000 people rather than the target of 31,000.
Mr Browne suggests we should revisit the Project Ireland 2040 Plan and pause local development plans for 12 months with no de-zonings carried out. Population numbers should be monitored on a yearly basis, based on commencement notices, and that flexibility must be allowed to enable growth.
Mr Browne said “central government policy on employees’ rights to work from home, post pandemic, does not align with the compact, high density proposals outlined in the draft county plans”.