ULI Ireland Hosts Roundtable on Apartment Guidelines and Standards

On 2 March, ULI Ireland hosted a roundtable discussion on the recently introduced Department of Environment, Community and Local Government (DECLG) guidelines and standards for apartments.

Sponsored by the Housing Agency, the meeting included architects, developers, planners and estate agents and focused on how the changes introduced in December 2015 would materially impact new apartment developments, especially in the Dublin area where there continues to be pent up demand and a supply shortage.

Chaired by Brian Moran, the meeting heard presentations on innovative apartment designs from Jo McCafferty, director of Levitt Bernstein architects and Elizabeth Hatz of the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm; and received an update on recent developments from John O’Connor, CEO, Housing Agency. The presentations were followed by a lively discussion on the subject and the impact the changes were likely to have.

Key Features of 2015 DECLG Apartment Design Guidelines

  • The new guidelines are a national standard including Dublin and are in line with the 2007 guidelines (45m2, 73m2 , 90m2 for one, two and three bedroom apartments respectively). In certain circumstances, studio type apartments (40m2) are also permitted.
  • Floor to ceiling height to be a minimum of 2.4m Ground floor apartment floor to ceiling height is minimum 2.7m
  • The new standards allow for up to 8 apartments per core.
  • In developments of 100+ units then minimum floor area guidelines in a majority of the units must be exceeded by at least 10%
  • With a couple of exceptions 50% of apartments should be dual aspect.
  • Development Management Standards are a matter for individual Planning Authorities. Considerations in the guidelines include childcare facilities, bicycle parking and car parking.

Meeting Observations and Comments

  • Affordability is a key issue. Based on 35% of after-tax income being available for rent only 12% of the workforce can afford €1k+ per month for rent.
  • When all factors are account for (i.e. land, taxes, levies, build costs etc.) there is a fundamental mismatch between total cost of development and what the market can afford to pay. The new guidelines are a step in the right direction to addressing this mismatch.
  • Size alone is no guarantee of apartment quality. Good design, detailing and quality finishes including common areas can make a substantial difference to the ‘living experience’.
  • For the first time since 2008 there now exists national standards which apply throughout the country including the four Dublin council areas.
  • More emphasis should be put on high quality, fully serviced Build To Rent developments.
  • Open plan living, increased internal specification and mixed typologies are suited to PRS. Jo McCafferty presented excellent PRS examples from the UK.
  • Other features to consider are concierge services, gym & fitness suites, event rooms for hire, additional storage areas, extra apartments available for visitors, well managed shared external amenity space.
  • In summary, there was consensus that the new guidelines would assist in both development and ongoing management costs and therefore were a step in the direct direction.
  • It will take some time before developments designed using the new guidelines enter the planning process and are completed. In the meantime, best practice innovative designs and examples from other countries should be used as reference points. Ultimately the best evidence will be completed high quality developments which are attractive for long term living and provide a return for the industry and investors.
  • The problem of Ireland’s housing shortage and the solution are multifactorial. The new guidelines for apartment design should be regarded as contributing to a comprehensive, multi approach solution to be implemented in the medium term.