17 January 2017

The construction industry has begun to go crazy again.

Since the foundation of the State there has never been more than than 100 units of student accommodation in my constituency of Dublin Central. 

But in the last two years alone, 3,300 units have received planning permission and most are under construction. Over 2,500 more units are awaiting the outcome of planning applications. Most of these submitted were over the Christmas period when it was probably thought that they would not be noticed by local residents. A batch of applications for a further 600 student bed places were so badly prepared in the Christmas rush that they were declared invalid and will have to be resubmitted. 2,000 on-campus units are already included in the plans for the DIT college at Grangegorman which is being constructed at present. 

Thus in the space of only two years an incredible 8,000 units have been placed in the pipeline. All of this student accommodation – with probably more to come- is located in the North Inner City.

Large scale student housing complexes are unknown to Dublin or any other city in Ireland. The sheer density of such accommodation in a small area will create a huge imbalance with the existing residential population, place pressure on local services and give rise to a host of problems in local neighbourhoods.

At the same time there is a chronic shortage of public and private residential housing in the local communities throughout the North Inner City. The cost of rental accommodation has rocketed and homelessness is at crisis levels.

Why is this happening?  Developers are reluctant to build homes because of the 10% social housing clause and because the accommodation standards and floor space requirements are more demanding. Open space is at a premium now. Huge profits are not guaranteed.

Student accommodation has none of these restrictions. There is no social housing requirement and student bed spaces are of studio size without the additional recreational space needed for family living.

Dublin City Council published its new City Development Plan in 2016. The plan provided for an orderly and balanced regeneration of the City with particular attention to the needs of local communities over the next six years.

The failure to control the unprecedented proliferation of student accommodation has already made a mockery of the Dublin City Development Plan which states in paragraph 16.10.7:

In assessing [student accommodation] proposals, the planning authority will have regard to the pattern and distribution of accommodation in the locality, and will resist the overconcentration of such schemes in any one area …

The Higher Education Authority has stated that there is a need for 15,000 student bed-spaces in Dublin.  In the space of two years more than 50% of that number are in the pipeline for a small area of the North Inner City.  The property gold rush is on again.  It destroyed the housing market in the Celtic Tiger years, almost collapsed the economy, and created the housing crisis of today.

The student accommodation bubble has already distorted the housing market in the North Inner City.  If it continues to spread it will create a surplus of unwanted bed-spaces all over the country similar to the holiday home disaster of the recent past.

In the current homeless and housing emergency the focus of the construction industry should be firmly on the provision of family homes until the crisis is over.

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