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Vacant offices may be turned into new homes as part of drive to address housing crisis

New taskforce to assess potential of converting commercial buildings to provide up to 7,000 apartments

A new Government taskforce is to meet in the coming days to assess the potential of converting offices to residential use, to address the twin problems of housing demand and growing commercial vacancy, particularly in Dublin.

More than 5,500 commercial properties are vacant across Dublin and about 500,000sq m (5,382,000sq ft) of offices, largely built in the second half of the 20th century, have been identified as “at risk of obsolescence” and could provide up to 7,000 apartments.

A revision of the Government’s Housing for All strategy in November committed to convene a group to assess and make recommendations on the potential for converting vacant commercial properties for housing “and examine the scope for planning exemptions, subject to planning considerations and housing need”.

A spokesman for the Department of Housing said this group has now been established, with representatives of the department, along with the Department of Enterprise and the Local Government Management Agency, and will hold its first meeting on Thursday.


The group will draw on expertise in the areas of planning, building control and standards, architecture and fire safety, the spokesman said. “The group will be assessing the feasibility of converting vacant commercial space and any statutory requirements that may arise.”

Commercial vacancy rates are now close to 15 per cent in Dublin, with just more than 5,500 commercial properties vacant across the capital, according to the An Post and Tailte Éireann property database GeoDirectory.

The proportion of unused office blocks in Dublin 2 is even higher, with a commercial vacancy rate of almost 17 per cent in what used to be the prime office market but is now dominated by “first-generation” blocks built from 1960-1980 that are struggling to attract tenants due to their outdated layouts and poor energy efficiency.

More than 5,500 commercial properties are vacant across Dublin and about 500,000sq m of offices, largely built in the second half of the 20th century, have been identified as “at risk of obsolescence”. Based on an average apartment size of 70-80sq m (750-860sq ft), these older offices could be converted into 6,000-7,000 apartments in Dublin, according to commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.

Architect John Dobbin of Shay Cleary architects, who 18 months ago began working on a study of the viability of residential conversions of Dublin’s older office stock, said there was a strong argument for environmental incentives to retain and convert, rather than demolish and rebuild obsolescent blocks.

“To demolish these structures is now an unacceptable act of carbon profligacy in a climate emergency,” Mr Dobbin said. “We really should have a taxation system that rewards you for keeping the carbon in the building, because that is the way the world is moving.”

He supported the examination of planning exemptions to avoid lengthy delays in the planning system. “We could give some measure of permitted development, in certain circumstances, for converting office space without having to go through a full planning process,” he said. “Those two things would immediately make converting office spaces to residential spaces viable and attractive.”

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien in recent months wrote to Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan requesting the Office of Public Works (OPW) undertake an audit of all State offices to evaluate if they could be converted into residential use. The OPW did not respond to queries from The Irish Times on the issue.

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Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times