A new ‘shared-living’ development has been proposed for central Dún Laoghaire town, which is radically different from the way we have built housing in recent years. Is it a good thing and will it get planning permission?
The site is the old Christian Brothers’ schoolhouse on Eblana Avenue, between the Town Hall and St Michael’s Hospital. It has been vacant for a number of years. The roof has collapsed. There has been a fire. you get the idea. The area needs regeneration and I am keen to see some progress.
Permission for a regular block of 52 apartments was granted two years ago. But then Minister Eoghan Murphy announced new lower building standards that would make construction more profitable by squeezing in more people into the same space. Developments like this went back to the drawing board. So here we are now, with a redesigned plan that would make a far larger profit for the owner.
The minister’s 2018 guidelines allow for ‘shared living’, where a group of people would live in a large apartment of 6 ensuite bedrooms, with shared kitchen, laundry and living rooms. In reality, this kind of living is normal already, Many people rent rooms around Dún Laoghaire or even rent a bed in a shared room. The new guidelines formalised this arrangement, allowing new buildings to be designed with the intention of being shared in the future.
This development is different from the 6-bedroom format. Instead, it has 40 bedrooms on a floor, along with one large, shared kitchen and a TV room. Each tiny 16sqm bedroom includes a pull-down double bed, shower, toilet, sink and storage. The developer says each room is intended for single-use but how can this be enforced?
There is just a kettle and a toaster to cook in each room. So between 40 and 80 people will share one kitchen for each meal. The developer explains this by claiming that residents will eat all their meals at work.
This kind of development already exists in London. People have been willing to pay 50% more rent to live in this kind of housing than they would pay to rent a room in a house.
The ‘regular apartment block’ intended for this site has 102 bedrooms. The new proposal is for 208 bedrooms. So this combination of ultra high density and higher rent levels should result in very high income for the owner. Let us consider the total monthly rental income for the building for this new format of residence compared with the rental income for a regular apartment block. (The developer has predicted that each micro-flat will rent for €1,300).
|Regular Apartment||Shared Living|
|Rent per room||€900||€1,300|
So the shared living owner could take in three times the gross rent of a regular apartment block of the same size.
Shared living includes all utility bills and a concierge, but the profitability is clearly still immense.
There is only a handful of parking spaces provided between hundreds of residents. As each underground space typically costs €40k to build, this makes construction much cheaper. The site is next to the DART station and will have a pedestrian short cut straight down to the station. The 46A, Dublin Bus’s flagship service, passes within metres of this site. A single car sharing vehicle is provided on site.
Will it get permission?
It might. The guidelines say that the 6 bedrooms sharing facilities is “one format”, but that other shared accommodation formats may be granted “at the discretion of the planning authority”. The decision will be subjective but also pivotal because if permission is granted for this development by An Bord Pleanála, expect that many similar schemes will follow this profitable precedent.
What about social housing? New developments normally require the builder to give 10% of the land to the council for nearly nothing. The council usually builds social housing on this land. However, shared living and student accommodation do not have to provide any land for social housing. This was a decision of the Minister in an attempt to encourage new construction by boosting profits.
Is it a good thing?
So overall, should this format be permitted and encouraged? While I like the high density, low energy, car-free homes with shared facilities, in this case they have gone too far. This development is likely to be incredibly profitable and the developers could afford to deliver more to the residents and to the public realm.
40-80 people sharing a kitchen is far too many. Either, the bedrooms should be increased in size to allow for cooking in the rooms, or else the shared kitchens should be larger and more numerous, even if that means fewer bedrooms.
Stripping the balconies from the rooms detracts from the streetscape and reduces the amenity value of the bedrooms. They should be restored.
The building itself is considerably more drab and monotonous looking than the previous apartment block design. It should be redesigned to at least match the previously agreed apartment block.
The portion of the building that caps the pedestrian route to the DART was originally meant to be a landmark tower, and not just another slice of repeating windows, copying the rest of the block. This goal should be adopted afresh.
Sound-proofing will be essential to the success of a hive-like living format. Nobody wants to hear the intimate noises of their neighbours’ lives.
Tenants’ rights should not be reduced to suit the investors. These rights should be clarified by the Residential Tenancies Board and the Minister.
Social housing should be provided for by the developer offering 10% of units at a social rather than a market rent to people on the housing list. Again, this is affordable within the profitability of the scheme. The special exemption for Part V social housing provision for shared housing should be repealed.
The truth is that many people in Dublin live in overcrowded, damp, cold, substandard accommodation. These micro-flats will be new and purpose-built. They will be safer and warmer and will appeal to people in their 20s, with well paid jobs, looking for some community in their living space. However, this development gets the balance wrong between what it delivers in amenity value to the public and the return on investment to its backers.
What do you think? Do you think it will get planning permission and would you approve it, if it were your choice?
If you want to make a comment to the people who will decide whether to approve this, you can do so for a fee of €20. The deadline is 22nd May. Send your comments along with your name and address and the reference number 304249 to:
An Bord Pleanála, 64 Marlborough Street, Dublin 1, D01 V902