Against a backdrop of a housing shortage and a homeless crisis, legislative steps have been taken to permit the construction of high-density residential accommodation in urban areas.

On 7 December 2018, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government issued the Urban Development and Building Heights Guidelines (the "Guidelines") after a public consultation process. The Guidelines have statutory footing under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

The Guidelines seek to change the current development patterns for urban areas by:-

  1. Elaborating on key policies outlined in the National Planning Framework, in particular the restrictions on building heights within urban areas. The Guidelines call for developments of at least six storeys as the new "default objective"; is suitable for the provision of housing or in an area zoned for residential use; and
  2. Providing wider strategic policy considerations and criteria that planning authorities should apply when assessing proposals for taller buildings; and
  3. Requiring that authorities take in to consideration anticipated population growth and their development needs by, "building up and consolidating the development of our existing urban areas".

Going forward, Planning Authorities will have to be cognisant of any specific planning policy requirements of the Guidelines in carrying out their functions. The Guidelines will take precedence over any conflicting policies and objectives of development plans, local area plans and strategic development zone planning schemes. Indeed, where conflicts do arise, such plans / schemes would "need to be amended by the relevant planning authority to reflect the content and requirements" according to the Guidelines.

The Guidelines have been criticised for failing to have regard to current development plans and the importance of protected structures; for example the Dublin City Development plan 2016-2022 which sought to regulate height restrictions in inner city Dublin. However, Eoghan Murphy, the Housing Minister, made clear at the launch of the Guidelines that change is needed, "We have arbitrary height caps on apartment buildings in our cities that don't make any sense and don't facilitate good planning and design. This is as much about increasing the shoulder height of buildings in our town and city cores, as well as allowing for taller buildings across our skyline, that will add to the merit and functionality of our urban cores as places to live. This is an opportunity for our cities and our towns to be developed differently".

As the New Year begins it will be interesting to see how Planning Authorities handle the Guidelines and the effect they will have on changing the sky line of our urban areas.

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