Increase in planning applications for student accommodation

Ian Brennan

Fast track planning applications for student accommodation on the rise.

There has been a sharp rise in the number of planning applications for large housing and student accommodation schemes, a conference has heard.

An Bord Pleanala (ABP) chairman Dave Walsh was speaking at the annual Irish Planning Institute conference, held in Carrick-on-Shannon.

There have been 29 applications made under the Strategic Housing Scheme Developments Scheme (SHD) in the first quarter this year, compared to 16 in the last quarter of 2018 and only 14 in 2017 when the Scheme was introduced.

SHD provides a fast-track process for developments that contain more than 100 housing units as well as student accommodation schemes involving more than 200 beds.

Speaking at the conference, Walsh believes that behind application figures, there had been many pre-application consultations, meaning that the system is “ramping up.”

In 2018, ABP granted permission for 7,102 housing units and 4,479 student accommodation bed spaces under these schemes.

Land around Dublin has been marked for possible rezoning as Dublin City Council try to find a way to deal with the housing crisis, with the potential of building on the rezoned land as a possible solution.

Andrew Montague, councillor for Dublin North-West, believes that the possible rezoning of land has nothing to do with the surge in fast-tracked planning applications.

“I wouldn’t think it’s much to do with rezoning. I would say the fact is that it’s a very lucrative form of investment because it’s cheaper to build, it requires less standards and they can charge big rents,” he said.

“That’s why they’re building those sorts of apartments above anything else. That’s the way the private sector works, it goes for the most lucrative end of the market.”

Montague also believes that the SHD’s process for fast-tracking applications for large housing and student accommodation units does not play a major role in the sudden rise in applications.

“I wouldn’t think it’s to do with the fast-track nature of it, I would just say it’s to do with the nature of the housing market, what’s the most lucrative part of it and the market moving in that direction.”

Montague also said that the way the market is in Ireland, and how it tends to work, can lead to other problems down the line when it comes to city planning.

“It doesn’t always lead to well-planned cities, it’s only one type of housing tenure that’s being provided. You don’t get the mix of tenures that you like.

“You want stuff for students, you want stuff for families, you want stuff for retired people, you want stuff for young people. You want a range of different houses in one area,” Montague said.

This sort of behaviour and outcome can also have a detrimental effect on the housing market itself, as Montague explains.

“If only one of them is making a profit or one of them is more lucrative than the rest, you can get a distorted market,” he said.

This pattern within the housing market is not only happening in Dublin, but it is also starting to spread to the rest of the country.

In the first three months of 2019, just under half of all such applications were from Dublin, with a further 20 per cent coming from Kildare, 18 per cent from Cork and 10 per cent from Galway.

What Walsh highlighted, however, is that the SHD process is spreading beyond even the larger cities in Ireland, with applications now also coming in from Waterford, Wexford and elsewhere in the country.

Ian Brennan

Image Credit: Chloe Rooney