The Department of the Environment has defended the decision of Environment Minister Alan Kelly and Junior Minister Paudie Coffey to write to all four local authorities in Dublin urging them to be mindful of the impact rigorous planning standards have on increasing the housing stock.
In the letters seen by the Gazette, the Minister said the “viability of new development and therefore supply, will be placed at risk by insertion of unreasonable or excessive requirements in relation to the standard of housing or ancillary services and facilities ”.
Minister Kelly also said department officials are “examining interactions between development plan requirements and the viability aspects of new housing provision with a view to informing our statutory roles in the development plan process”.
According to Castleknock councillor Roderic O’Gorman, this means the minister could use a ministerial directive to overturn the planning standards set by the council and is “a threat” to overturn moves taken by local authorities to improve building standards.
He claims the letters were written in response to a Green Party proposal in the Dun Laoghaire – Rathdown Development Plan to include provision for “passive housing standards in the development plan. Passive housing is a housing standard whereby using thorough and precise building design housing can be constructed with an energy demand 90% lower than most buildings.
“These buildings are extremely cheap to heat and run in the medium to long term”.
“Minister Kelly… wants us to permit houses that will be colder, less efficient and more costly for home owners to run. He has provided absolutely no evidence to back up his claim that these houses are more expensive to build. Indeed, there is ample evidence that passive houses are now being built for the same cost as the usual, less efficient houses,” said Cllr O’Gorman.
He said he has submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Department asking for all communication that it has received on this issue, adding that he believes housing standards should be set according to what is going to be best for home owners, not what suits big builders.
A spokesperson for the Department of Environment responded saying the letter was written to urge the local authorities to pay close attention to the impacts of development plan requirements on the viability of new housing developments, as this would help the department overcome the barriers to increase supply.
They went on to say that the Development Plan sets the overall policy framework for the delivery of housing and is a key instrument to influence housing supply.
“The development plan preparation processes for each of the Dublin authorities are at an early stage and the Department’s view is that the focus needs to be on the plan making process around practical measures that can be adopted to boost housing supply and ensure good quality housing in suitable locations are available at prices that people can afford to buy and that investors find attractive to develop for the rental market,” said the spokesperson.