New builds revert to ‘shoe-box’ standards

A planning expert has accused the Department of the Environment of reverting to the ‘shoe-box’ apartment size guidelines of the 1990s and said the current floor area requirements will impact the most vulnerable in society.

In 2006, Kieran Rose, an urban planner, was tasked by Dublin City Council with heading up a project to improve apartment standards. Until that point, the minimum space permitted for a one-bed ‘shoe-box’ was, as Mr Rose put it, “a cramped 38 square metres”.

“Interiors were often gloomy, corridors long and narrow and balconies were not a usable feature,” he wrote in Work & Life, the magazine of Impact trade union, of which Mr Rose is a member. “Many argued that we were allowing the tenements of tomorrow to be constructed.”

Under the remit from Dublin City Council, his team held a wide-ranging consultation process, though he said there was “dogged opposition” from some property interests in the construction industry.

Nonetheless, the council adopted a variation to development plan which meant minimum floor areas of 55sq m for a one-bed, 80-90sq m for a two-bed, and 100sq m minimum for a three-bed.

“Other improved standards included a requirement for increasing the number of dual aspect apartments, allowing for more light, in addition to usable balconies,” said Mr Rose.

“These improved standards were subsequently included in the Development Plans of Cork City Council and some of the other Dublin planning authorities.”

However, he said the “powerful opposition” never went away and their efforts to reverse the guidelines bore fruit.

“In December 2015, the Department of Environment published revised apartment standards that effectively directed Dublin and Cork planning authorities to reduce their apartment standards,” Mr Rose said, adding that the Department’s new policy states that it is “specific policy requirement” that the following minimum standards apply — 45sq m for a one-bed, 73sq m for a two-bed, and 90sq m for a three-bed.

He said apartment standards have a “huge and lasting effect on the quality of life of those who live in them”, adding that the significant reduction in the quality will affect the most vulnerable, particularly the elderly. He said Alone, which represents old people has highlighted that the average 80 year old will spend 80% of their day at home and that they need a space they can live in, “not somewhere they can exist”.

Mr Rose said there were two “very strange” aspects to the reduction in apartment standards.

Firstly, he said there was no public consultation — with a Freedom of Information request revealing that the consultation was private and confined to property interests and some professional bodies.

Secondly, he said the Department in the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2015 “gave itself extraordinary new powers... to make its policy decision unilaterally, without having to refer it to the Dáil and Seanad, as had been previously required”.


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