City Hall: Cork at mercy of Dublin-based planners on massive housing developments

City Hall: Cork at mercy of Dublin-based planners on massive housing developments
An artist impression of the Ballyvolane housing project.

STRATEGIC Housing Development (SHD) schemes must deliver sustainable communities for Cork as well as much-needed housing, City Hall’s director of planning has said.

The Government’s SHD scheme allows developers to apply directly to the national planning authority without going through the local council planning system in order to fast-track housing developments.

This has led to a spate of planning permission applications being lodged with An Bord Pleanála for houses and apartments in 2019.

Some of the applications in the last year have included 550 student bed spaces in 81 apartments on the Bandon Road; a 17-story apartment block near the Elysian; 274 homes in Blackrock; 251 homes near Grange; 230 homes in Bishopstown and consultations are ongoing on a potentially massive 750-home housing development north of Ballyvolane.

Cork City Council’s head of strategic and economic development Fearghal Reidy said the council is doing everything it can to work with developers and ensure infrastructure and services are delivered alongside the homes in SHD schemes but has warned that the communities created as a result must be sustainable.

However, he added the council is at the mercy of Dublin-based planners who may or may not take the local authority’s views into account before granting permission.

Railway Gardens apartment tower. Pic: Meitheal Architects
Railway Gardens apartment tower. Pic: Meitheal Architects

“What is generally looked at by planners in development management [at City Hall] is the policy objectives in the city development plan, design objectives and how does the scheme match,” said Mr Reidy.

“There would be a series of meetings trying to marry the two. Once the developer has decided to go to An Bord Pleanála for an SHD then we would write a report in terms of how consistent it is with the scheme.

“If in our view, if it didn’t come to a certain standard then we would write that down and An Bord Pleanála considers that submission. The issues are infrastructure, transport, services and design. The decision is, ultimately, with An Bord Pleanala. The priority is to deliver houses but we need to ensure that we are delivering communities as well,” Mr Reidy added.

One SHD application granted in December at Railway Gardens had storeys added to it by the planning board - bringing it from its original 13-storey height to 17-storeys. The planners deemed the original designs "stocky and out of proportion".

Chair of Cork City Council’s economic development and planning strategic policy committee Seán Martin said applications such as this is where the SHD scheme is becoming problematic for Cork and can be an “intrusion”.

View from proposed Bandon Road Student accommodation. Artist impression supplied by Pedersen Focus
View from proposed Bandon Road Student accommodation. Artist impression supplied by Pedersen Focus

“[SHD] is becoming an issue. We all want houses but we end up creating problems for 20-30 years’ time. That’s a question that needs to be addressed. You look at Cooney’s Lane in Grange. Anybody who knows that area knows the infrastructure is not capable of dealing with what’s already up there never mind putting another 170 houses into a narrow lane that you couldn’t swing a cat in.

“From the Government’s point of view, you can see how they are frustrated with local authorities across the country constantly saying no to everything but the other side of the coin is a developer being told to go higher when they don’t want to, that’s an intrusion. If everybody is happy, including the developer, I don’t see then why we need to put four more storeys there. I don’t see the logic in that,” Mr Martin added.

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