Planning experts warn that review of housing regulation should not be led by developers

Glenveagh Properties has presented a plan for overhauling existing regulations to allow developers shave more than a quarter off the distance between the rears of houses

Planning and housing experts have warned that while a review of planning regulations is required in Ireland, it should not be led by developers.

Former Housing Agency chairman Conor Skehan has said developers cannot have the last word.

Mr Skehan was speaking on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show following a report in The Irish Times that Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has been told smaller gardens, a dramatic reduction of apartments and more tightly built streets is the “game-changer” blueprint for solving Ireland’s housing crisis.

Glenveagh Properties, one of the largest homebuilders in the State, has presented a plan to the Minister for overhauling existing regulations to allow developers shave more than a quarter off the distance between the rears of houses.


An existing 22m guideline from back door to back door dates to the 1900s, when it was needed to allow for outdoor toilets, solid fuel storage and some vegetable growing, the developer told Mr O’Brien.

It is urging a reduction to 16m as part of a masterplan for more “low-rise, high-density” developments in mainly suburban areas around the country, which it claims would be the “biggest game-changer in housebuilding in Ireland”.

Architect Joe Kennedy said the 22m ruling was a Victorian idea “to do with prudish privacy”. It was a measurement that was no longer necessary, he told the Pat Kenny show.

The size of the garden was not the most important part of a home, he said, and quality of design and space were more important.

“It’s all to do with quality of space including shared space. It isn’t a black and white comparison,” he said.

“Developers shouldn’t dictate policy, but there is merit in the proposal and it deserves to be looked at.”

Mr Skehan added that it was an important topic that had been raised by Glenveagh. A regular review of regulations was important, he said, but it was also important that society be protected from the excesses of capitalism.

“We are being dragged into this by developers who benefit from this, it’s not for the good of society, it’s to increase yield and profitability,” he said. “Being led by the main beneficiaries is not the way forward. Developers can’t have the last word.”

Planning consultant Tom Philips told RTÉ Radio’s Today show that planning standards in Ireland were very rigid and the Glenveagh proposal was saying “look at what they are doing elsewhere. It’s way more than shrinking garden sizes.”

Rory Hearne, professor of social studies and author, said it was important to look at the Glenveagh proposals in the context of the current housing crisis.

“People don’t want to live in apartment blocks which are hugely expensive to build,” he said.

The problem with the housing policy of the past 20 years was that it had been driven by the interests of developers who were the only ones building houses, he said.

The proposal needed to be examined in detail and researched properly, he said, and the claim by Glenveagh that reducing gardens would reduce the cost of houses was not accurate and the cost was identified by the market.

Mr Hearne said houses were going to sell at a price people were prepared to pay.

“It’s not just about house or garden size, it’s about cost and other factors,” he added. The Land Development Agency, local authorities and housing bodies need to ramp up building so the country was not so reliant on developers, he said.

In its report, Compact Growth Design Standards, Glenveagh cites “focus groups” saying the back third of gardens are generally “dead space” or “under-utilised”.

The company also says there is no demand for apartments outside Dublin’s M50 and limited demand inside the capital’s busiest ring road and that the cost of building apartments outweighs the benefits.

“Apartment living is still required in city centres,” Glenveagh chief executive Stephen Garvey said.

“But when you look at suburban housing, or, say, some of the bigger towns outside of Dublin city – an apartment costing €450,000 to build in one of these towns? Who would be the buyer for it and who can afford it?”

“It is not the cost of land, it is the cost of apartments when we could be building houses that is the main problem.”