Monday 16 September 2019

Tiny apartments: Is micro really Dublin's next big thing?

Itsy-bitsy apartments are all the rage in England but they might just make their way to Ireland's capital too.

One of the micro apartments in Cardinal Court, Oldham
One of the micro apartments in Cardinal Court, Oldham
Cranford Court apartments in Donnybrook, Dublin 4
One of the micro apartments in Cardinal Court, Oldham
One of the micro apartments in Cardinal Court, Oldham
Donal Buckley

Donal Buckley

After resisting the Garth Brooks tidal wave, the next King Canute challenge for Dublin City Council's planners may be to resist the latest international housing trend – luxury micro apartments.

After being trialled successfully in the Far East, luxury versions of these small homes are currently being introduced to meet the shortage of accommodation just across the water from Dublin in Liverpool, Manchester and Oldham.

One of the micro apartments in Cardinal Court, Oldham
One of the micro apartments in Cardinal Court, Oldham

But their minimum size of 20 sq m is less than half the 55 sq m minimum size which is permissible for newly built Irish one bedroom apartments. Behind the projects is UK developer G-Suite with an Asian-Pacific headquarter based in Hong Kong, which is developing the units ranging in size up to a maximum of 35 sq m.

Unlike the old fashioned Dublin bedsit, each G suite apartment is self-contained. In the smallest apartments all the facilities such as cooking area, sleeping area and relaxation area are open plan with only the bathroom/toilet separate. The latter is usually located, like in hotels, next to the door.

In some micro flats a built-in study desk is located next to the kitchen worktop area. The larger 35 sq m units, unlike studio apartments, can accommodate two beds, and sliding doors separate the one bedroom from the living/kitchen area.

To enhance their space these doors can be opened up and the beds folded away into the walls to transform the bedroom into a living area.

Cranford Court apartments in Donnybrook, Dublin 4
Cranford Court apartments in Donnybrook, Dublin 4

Alternatively the beds can be left down and the doors closed, but full length frosted glass in the bedroom doors allow natural light into the living area.

With Dublin's shortage of rental accommodation for single people as well as a shortage of student accommodation, provision of micro apartments could well curtail the city's rising rental trends. In addition, larger houses that are currently being shared by single people could be freed up for use by families.

However, a spokesperson for Dublin City Council (DCC) dismissed the suggestion of allowing micro apartments to be built in Dublin. "The city already has an oversupply of micro-apartments built in the 1990s and 2000s," he added.

Indeed criticism of the shoebox flats that were built in Dublin's 80s and 90s wave of urban renewal led to the introduction of the minimum sizes for Irish flats.

One of the micro apartments in Cardinal Court, Oldham
One of the micro apartments in Cardinal Court, Oldham

Initially the Government set a minimum of 38 sq m size. Then just as the property boom was ending, they increased it to the current 55 sq m minimum size for one bedroom flats.

A council spokesman said: "In the heart of Dublin's north inner city, in an area extending from the North Circular Road to the River Liffey and from Amiens Street to Dorset Street, over 46pc of all homes have just one bedroom or less. Half of these homes were built over the past 20 years."

However, Fintan McNamara, a spokesman for the Residential Landlords Association of Ireland, disagrees about over supply of accommodation for single people households.

He is convinced that micro flats are needed to address the shortage of affordable rental accommodation because so many bedsits have been taken out of the market since the authorities banned the division of old houses into flats which shared bathrooms and other facilities.

One of the micro apartments in Cardinal Court, Oldham
One of the micro apartments in Cardinal Court, Oldham

Bob Jordan, of the housing organisation Threshold, says that the number of bedsits has been reduced from 16,000 to only about 1,500.

On the other hand demand for micro flats appears to be identified by recent research from the Irish Government's Housing Agency which estimates that more than 21,400 new homes will be needed in Dublin city and county to cater for one and two person households between now and 2018. The agency says that such small households would account for 57pc of demand over the period.

As well as single people, increased divorce and separation rates are also factors behind such demand. Jordan, who supports the Government's crackdown on bedsits with shared bathrooms, also says that to accommodate divided families, the smallest apartment should be big enough to accommodate a child staying overnight with a parent.

But another increasing segment of the market is the growth in overseas student numbers for whom the micro apartments could cater. Indeed this demand has already attracted three UK developers into the Dublin residential rental market and one of these, Knightsbridge Student Housing, is undertaking one of the few new residential developments under way in Dublin City centre.

"From our experience of developing student accommodation in the UK, we know that older postgraduate students don't want to share flats and require their own private space," a spokesman said.

The developer considered including small flats to cater for such students in the mix at its development off Thomas Street in Dublin City centre. However, he was told that the minimum size would be two bedroom units. Consequently most of these flats have three or more bedrooms.

G Suite declined to disclose the prices for the Oldham flats, but the recent reports suggest that Oldham is far from being the hottest property market in the UK as its average house prices, at around €110,000, are about half the national level.

However, it is difficult to find many of the micro apartments for sale in Dublin – although this is partly because some agents do not include the floor area sizes on the website advertisements. Studio style apartment is usually the preferred term used by Irish agents for flats where the bedroom, living and kitchen area are all open plan.

One of the few small studio flats for sale in Dublin is a one bedroom studio apartment of 25 sq m at 32 The Chandler, Arran Quay, Dublin 7, between Heuston Station and O'Connell St. Asking €95,000, it is located in the ground floor of the gated development.

A Donnybrook studio measuring 23.63 sq m has recently gone sale agreed for an undisclosed price. Located at 44 Cranford Court, between RTE studios and UCD, in Dublin 4, the development has its own tennis courts, on-site caretaker and laundry facilities. Sales agent Hassett and Fitzsimons had been asking €135,000.

Among the smaller one bedroom apartments in Dublin is a 35 sq m unit in a Georgian terraced house at Belgrave Road in Rathmines, Dublin 6. As well as an open plan living room/dining area, it has a separate bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. Mason Estates is asking €145,000 for it.

Architects Falconer Chester Hall designed G-Suite's project at Cardinal Court Oldham, near Manchester and its managing director Adam Hall said: "This type of accommodation has already proved popular elsewhere in the UK for those looking to take their first step on the housing ladder, such as key workers and postgraduate students, and will help open up the residential market to a wider spectrum of society."

To complement the compactness of each unit, the G Suite design is described as luxury with Italian furniture and fit-out.

But residents can also enjoy the use of other facilities in the apartment complexes such as the communal space. A bar and clubhouse are located on the top floor with outside seating and panoramic views, while a fitness gym with changing facilities is also located at this level.

With laundry facilities located in the waiting areas on a number of floors, there's no need for a washing/drying machine.

Smart key cards provide access and security features include a CCTV system for common areas and elevator cards, as well as 24-hour security and concierge service. All floors also have WiFi coverage. Depending on the type of unit, each flat is also equipped with a space saving flat screen TV in addition to a refrigerator, microwave oven, induction cooker, dining table and writing desk with chairs.

G Suite is selling the flats to Chinese investors including some in Hong Kong who are happy to rent to students and young professionals.

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