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New Housing Design Guidelines for Planning Authorities

The Sustainable Residential Development and Compact Settlements Guidelines for Planning Authorities (the Guidelines) were published by the Irish Government on 15 January 2024. The Guidelines will assist planning authorities in the preparation and adoption of development plans, namely the policy for the area, a large part of which is housing.

The cover page of the 68-page document states that ‘the guidelines set out policy and guidance in relation to the planning and development of urban and rural settlements, with a focus on sustainable residential development and the creation of compact settlements’.

The Guidelines aim to create more attractive, liveable, well-designed, high quality urban places, and are expected to provide a broader range of housing options to meet the needs of the growing population. The Guidelines replace previous guidelines on Sustainable Residential Developments in Urban Areas-Guidelines for Planning Authorities.

Scope of the Guidelines

The Guidelines have five core chapters:

  1. Introduction and Context: providing an overview of the Guidelines and related Government policy.
  2. Implementation: touching on development management and environmental considerations and outlining a design manual for urban roads and streets.
  3. Settlement, Place and Density: including area types and density ranges, recognising the differences between cities, metropolitan areas, small, medium and large-sized towns and rural towns and villages.
  4. Quality Urban Design and Placemaking: setting out, among other things, key indicators of quality design and placemaking processes.
  5. Development Standards for Housing: outlining relevant standards such as, among other things, separation distances, open spaces, car parking, bicycle storage, operation, and management of developments.

The Guidelines provide for enhanced flexibility. In addition to the focus on the renewal of settlements, there is an emphasis on the interaction between residential density, housing standards and location. The five chapters of the Guidelines consider a range of factors, which, when balanced together, aim to increase the delivery of sustainable and compact growth through a range of housing types. These housing types include affordable housing and ‘own door’ homes. These Guidelines are the first of their kind by supporting innovation in housing design throughout the State.

Sustainability is also at the core of the Guidelines, reflecting the importance of sustainability in the reform of the planning system as a whole. The guidelines respond to Ireland’s obligations under European Directives and international agreements relating to the management and protection of the environment and biodiversity and the transition towards net zero by 2050.

Obligations for planning authorities under

The Guidelines have been introduced under Section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended.

Section 28 provides that planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála must “have regard to” Ministerial guidelines in the performance of their functions. However, the extent of the meaning of “have regard to” has been subject to much debate. In contrast, where the Guidelines contain specific planning policy requirements (SPPRs), planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála are required to apply these requirements in the performance of their functions.

Conclusion

The Guidelines are sure to be welcomed across all sectors and demographics. However, it remains to be seen to what extent local authorities will implement them. Timing is also a concern, particularly if local authorities face constraints, such as legal challenges in the form of judicial review, and material and labour shortages. There is also concern as to whether the current infrastructure in place can deliver these projects.

The Guidelines are yet another step in the Government’s response to delivering a wide range of sustainable housing, with a focus on meeting the needs of more diverse and smaller households.

It is worth noting that provisions under the Planning and Development Bill 2023 are set to replace section 28 guidelines and section 29 ministerial policy directives.

Under Chapter 3 of the 2023 Bill, a new planning policy hierarchy will be introduced. This introduction will empower the Minister to issue, with the approval of the Government, National Planning Statements (NPS) for the purpose of setting out policy and providing related guidance to support proper planning and sustainable development. Importantly, it will be mandatory for all plans to be aligned to these Government-approved national planning policies and measures once they are issued.

That said, however, the associated guidance outlining how NPS should be implemented will be discretionary, allowing for some flexibility.

Existing section 28 ministerial guidelines and section 29 policy directives will remain in force until revoked.

The Bill is expected to be enacted in early 2024. Please see our previous updates here and here.

Please get in touch with a member of our Planning & Environment team if you have any queries.



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