Paul Melia: 'Kenny housing row exposes flaws in our planning system'

Most people like where they live. They enjoy their home, and generally get on with their neighbours.

But some don’t like change. They don’t want new housing in their area, whether on an open field or an infill site.

In the case of broadcaster Pat Kenny and his neighbours, they don’t like the prospect of 26 houses and apartments being built on a 0.6 hectare site at the rear of their south Dublin homes.

This week, it emerged that a company called Bartra Capital Property had bought two sites adjacent to the Kenny home and sought planning permission for 19 apartments and seven houses.

The lands comprise two plots, both previously owned by members of the Charlton family. The late Gerard Charlton, a well known solicitor, was embroiled in a row with the Kennys back in 2006 over a strip of land in what became known as the ‘Battle for Gorse Hill’. The first site was home to a property called ‘Yonder’, since demolished, and the Kennys had previously opposed plans to build two houses there. The second site hosts Maple Tree House, Gerard Charlton’s family home, built in the 1960s.

The Bartra plan has met with stiff opposition on a number of grounds – density, traffic and impact on existing properties, among other issues.

But are the concerns from the 17 residents justified?

Planning is an inexact science. There are frameworks, strategies and guidelines underpinned by legislation, but these rules are open to a huge degree of interpretation.

While a 12-storey apartment block may be acceptable in the Dublin Docklands, it would cause consternation if proposed for Ballsbridge, home to historic properties. But planners did grant permission for the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road stadium back in 2007, almost 48 metres tall at its highest point and 200 metres wide.

Land zonings also allow for flexibility. The Dalkey site is zoned ‘A’, to protect and/or improve residential amenity. Housing is permitted, but open space too. Or a car park, caravan park, crèche, funeral home, hotel, office, church, garage or shop.

On the face of it, this plan is making best use of land, and will provide much-needed homes. But will they help solve the housing crisis?

Bartra paid €3.17m for the Maple Tree House site – the price paid for ‘Yonder’ is not clear – so the land cost per unit is at least €122,000. These homes will not be cheap, but that’s not the concern of the developer. They will sell at prices the market can afford. And in Dalkey, housing comes at a premium.

The units will be fully accessible and age-friendly, and provide an opportunity for older people to downsize which will free up family homes, the developers say. This is good. Close to the Dart and public transport links, national policy is that these sites be intensively used.

And this is the problem. The Bartra proposal equates to building around 43 units per hectare. The Dún Laoghaire Rathdown development plan says unless there are “exceptional” circumstances, minimum residential densities are 35 units per hectare, rising to more than 50 units if good public transport is in place.

Residents claim this is over-development. The developer says “careful consideration” has been given to the issue. Both sides are far apart.

On the face of it, this plan complies with national policy and provides homes in an existing built-up area. But it’s a big development in a low-density suburb. Would it be proposed in a less expensive area?

“I know some people think this area is wealthy people who want to keep others out,” one resident’s submission notes. “I am not wealthy and…would support a well-reasoned development of single family homes or a development with less units. This is merely an effort by a developer who is trying to cram as many units in as possible to make money.”

Possible financial gains are not supposed to be the concern of planners. They are tasked with making the right decision. This case sums up the difficulties they face on a daily basis.

Source: Read Full Article