Building the city up, to knock rental prices down

A new plan for greater construction density in Dublin hopes to improve future housing development

Dublin is a city in crisis. Housing issues have continued to plague the capital and its potential development as a leading European city. Annually, thousands of people continue to make the choice to move to Dublin for work and education, whilst the construction of homes and apartments of any kind continues to lag behind the ever increasing demand for affordable housing.

2018 was a historic year for Dublin, both for its construction sector and in relation to housing demand. Last year has seen the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Dublin city surpass the previous record set during the height of the Celtic Tiger in 2007. The average cost for a one-bedroom flat in Dublin has reached €1,308, a figure 26% above the former peak level observed during the boom times. 2018 has also seen a record number of cranes appearing on the city skyline, with numbers surpassing 100.

“These figures point towards an obvious lack of care by city planners towards the average individual trying to find a home in the capital.”

Though this increase in construction may seem positive to anyone on the outside looking in – an increase in construction usually means new homes will soon enter the market – this is not the case. The government failed to provide the accepted minimum of 34,000 homes to the greater Dublin area last year, with planners claiming 480,000 homes will be needed by 2030. Most of the new construction leans towards office supply in the build-up towards Brexit, and hotel construction to meet demand for the ever increasing number of foreign tourists visiting the country. In fact, 79 hotels were given the go ahead for construction around Dublin in 2018. These figures point towards an obvious lack of care by city planners towards the average individual trying to find a home in the capital. A greater emphasis continues to be put on tourist satisfaction and a sufficient availability of office space for multinational companies relocating here from abroad.

With land growing ever scarcer in the city centre, voices within the government and national planning authorities have started to call for a change in height restrictions, with a move towards taller buildings in the city. Compared to other large European cities, where average building heights reach seven to eight stories, Dublin has remained a low-rise metropolis with buildings in the city centre averaging four or five stories. Planners are aware that higher building densities are needed to meet supply demands. However, for two decades, high-rise buildings have been overlooked as a possible solution to accommodating the increasing population in the capital.

Although no city planners are calling for Dublin to adopt a Manhattan-esque approach to development, there is universal acceptance that greater heights will allow for the freeing up of beds in our city and for rental prices to subsequently fall. The government and city planners acknowledge that the traditional mould of urban planning no longer works in a capital where students and doctors compete for overpriced, and often inadequate, apartments.


“Whilst colleges in Dublin are trying to alleviate the housing issues students face, their efforts are not enough.”

The housing crisis has had a huge impact on the well-being of students based in Dublin. Increasing rental costs, coupled with high demand has made what was once the exciting and fun experience of “finding your own place to live”, a needless stress and worry for young adults leaving their parents’ homes for the first time. Trinity witnessed a steep drop in the number of students choosing the College as their first CAO choice in 2018. This increased stress, brought on by financial worry and general market instability, has for the very first time caused students, who could have chosen Dublin as their first choice, to choose a different college in a more reasonably priced location. In response to the first “Raise the Roof” protest held in Dublin last October, the government said that housing development is not as simple as protestors claim. The Irish Examiner quotes the Chair of the Oireachtas Housing Committee, Maria Bailey, saying: “It’s easy to throw away extra money when it’s someone else’s money. Housing developments needs roads, water, public transport, schools, shops, and other services.” However, this idea of building infrastructure to link new developments depends on the continued construction of suburbs outside the city, with Irish people continuing to live in spacious semi-detached houses, large gardens, and a car garage included. The more recent discussion of a high-rise Dublin would allow for homes to be built where infrastructure already exists, thus reducing cost.

Whilst colleges in Dublin are trying to alleviate the housing issues students face, their efforts are not enough. Trinity’s response to the crisis has largely consisted of acquiring of private student developments like Binary Hub, which remain overpriced and ultimately fail to provide the basics of what student accommodation typically should be; a cheaper and hassle free alternative to the private rental market. Trinity advertised its leased developments at Binary Hub and Kavanagh Court as being available to students at a “negotiated price”, when in fact the price College agreed on was €240 per week, just €10 cheaper than the price originally proposed. This is an example of College failing to properly provide for its students. Trinity’s Printing House Square development, aiming to open for the 2019/20 academic year, was initially refused planning permission, as authorities claimed its seven story design was unfitting for the area, forcing the architects to resubmit a scaled-back alternative of six stories, with 28 rooms less than originally planned.

Dublin’s strict regulations and lack of taller buildings is proving more harmful than ever. The Pearse Street development alone proves that changes must be made to planning authorities and their views on height restrictions, with a greater emphasis needed on housing density over the architectural relationship to the traditional Dublin cityscape. However, things are changing. In August 2018, the Department for Planning, Housing, and Local Government published a 14 page paper calling for the removal of needless housing restrictions, putting in place a brand new policy which will “take precedence over any conflicting policies and objectives of development plans, local area plans, and strategic development zone [SDZ] planning schemes”. This new plan requires all local councils and authorities to amend their approach towards taller buildings in Dublin and the surrounding areas. The plan identifies areas around Heuston Station, Connolly Station, the Docklands and other major business hubs as ideal locations for tall buildings, with a need for higher densities overall throughout the greater city area.

The paper identifies Paris, which has a far denser cityscape within its core, as a model for future development. Hub areas around the city centre are to be designated as locations for much taller developments compared to those seen in the past, stating: “It is critically important that development plans identify and provide policy support for specific geographic locations or precincts where increased building height is not only desirable but a fundamental policy requirement.”

“Changes are coming, yet Dublin remains in a state of crisis for another year.”

Speaking in December after the approval of these plans for higher construction densities and a move towards taller buildings, Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy, spoke positively about the increased height limits for buildings in both Dublin and in other locations across the country, saying: “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.” The minister added that increased building height is a “key factor in assisting modern place making and improving the overall quality of our urban environments”.

Changes are coming, yet Dublin remains in a state of crisis for another year, with no decrease in rental costs or an increase in supply visible in the near future. The changes put forward to planners by the government should change how we develop our city, though any major improvements will take some time to materialise. Ronan Lyons, an Assistant Professor of Economics at Trinity has followed the “Raise the Roof” protests. Lyons spoke to Trinity News previously on what the movement represents and how changes in government policy can make a big difference: “I think it is great to see people concerned about housing and ensuring accommodation for all – including students, those on lower incomes, new workers in Dublin. Policy has to a large extent, over the last few decades, in Ireland and other high-income countries, been driven by homeowners who, naturally, have a tendency to restrict development.” Lyons spoke positively of nationwide changes to planning and how we develop our cities, but believes more could be done to improve the lives of those struggling around the country: “It’s welcome that the government is, with its Ireland 2040 strategy, recognising the importance of cities, density, and building taller in ensuring accommodation for all. Two obvious policy tools they should consider remain unused, though: a land tax to replace commercial rates and other development charges, and a cost-rental housing system, rather than housing assistance payment”.

Shane Hughes

Shane Hughes is a Deputy Features Editor of Trinity News. He is a Senior Sophister Film Studies student, and a former Assistant News Editor.