Tuesday, 21 January 2020

The Board over-rules its Senior Planning Inspector and grants planning permission granted for co-living development in Castleknock

Property developer, Bartra has been given permission to build a 210 bed, five-story, co-living development on the site of Brady's pub in Castleknock. This suburban scheme adjoins rear gardens and is served by just two car share parking spaces.

The company, which bought the site last year, lodged plans with An Bord Pleanála for 182 rooms with 210 beds. The scheme is substantially larger and provides vastly less parking - two spaces - than an apartment scheme with planning permission on the site granted in 2017 by the Board (after it further reduced its scale). The two schemes do not bear comparison. The 2017 permission though opposed by locals at the time, did provide some balance between respecting context while providing for an apartment scheme on the site. The current scheme does not.

In this case, An Bord Pleanála did not accept its own inspector’s recommendation to refuse permission. This recommendation is set out below. The Board’s decision to grant planning permission, with almost no changes, notwithstanding such a strong recommendation for refusal of the planning application from its Senior Planning Inspector, is difficult for local people to understand. They strenuously objected using all possible community resources; their material arguments were accepted by the Board's own Inspector, but then they were disregarded entirely by the Board itself. What then can local communities do when confronted by such an incongruous and out of context schemes?

For them, this decision seems to have almost wholly ignored the context into which this large-scale scheme is to be located. A community’s pub which provided amenity to the area is now to be replaced by a scheme which will – according to the experienced judgement of a Senior Planning Inspector – cause serious impacts on the area. Locals have asked, not unreasonably, who it is that takes responsibility in the event this decision turns out to have exactly the impacts predicted.

In the current rush to grant large strategic co-living schemes (and other large housing schemes), local communities are finding out the hard way that there is no appeal / review / oversight process in these  cases. Local communities are increasingly calling for this to be addressed within the Irish planning system.  As conversations about the inequity of planning decisions such as this one continue, and grow in volume, there are real concerns that the reputation of the Irish planning system is once again being damaged. There are concerns that "the planners" once again get the blame when it is the process and not the planners that is the problem.

In this case the Board chose to disregard the following conclusion written by its Senior Planning Inspector following a detailed assessment of the proposed development, the site context and all applicable planning policies.

13.0 Conclusion 

13.1 The subject site is located in an area with a suburban character and is contrary to the guidance in the Apartment Guidelines that such Shared Living developments should be located in city centre locations. A key determinant for Shared Living is location and proximity to work, amenities and public transport. The site is not located in proximity to existing amenities and facilities and is not easily accessible from the employment centres to which it is intended the development would serve. The applicant in my view has not demonstrated that this suburban location is appropriate for the Shared Living concept. The proposal would set an undesirable precedent and be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area. 

13.2 The Apartment Guidelines (S.5.23) advise that in assessing proposals for Shared Living schemes Planning Authorities should ensure that sufficient communal amenities are provided in accordance with the standards in Table 5b.  I am not satisfied that the development will provide sufficient communal kitchen/living dining rooms and development does not comply with the standards in this regard.  Furthermore, I am not satisfied that the development will provide sufficient resident services and amenities.  The guidelines state that such Shared Living Schemes must demonstrate that an enhanced overall level of amenity is provided.  Having regard to the fact that the majority of the communal amenity areas are external and have poor aspect and sunlight access coupled with the limited quantum of such facilities within the building to serve the extent of bedspaces proposed, I consider that the development will provide a substandard level of residential amenity to future occupants. 

13.3 The development due to its scale, height, mass and design will have a significant detrimental impact on the residential amenities of adjacent properties, particularly at Talbot Court due to its overbearing impact.  Overall, I consider the development to be a poor design response to the site compared to the previous proposal permitted on the site and is a scheme that will appear visually incongruous and out of context with its environs.  In this regard, I am consider that the development will significantly detract from the residential amenities of the area.

13.4 Having regard to the suburban location of the site, I am not satisfied that the quantum of parking proposed is satisfactory.  2 car share spaces is limited to serve a development of this intensity.  Limited set down parking is provided and no parking provision for staff or disabled users is provided. There is potential for overspill parking to arise to the surrounding streets resulting in congestion, illegal parking and nuisance to existing residents.

13.5 The bicycle parking provision is considered substandard in its design.  The majority is provided in a double racking system and most of the spaces (131 no.) are located at basement level where the only access is via a stairs with a bicycle wheeling channel rendering access difficult. None of the spaces are covered and no ancillary facilities such as lockers or bicycle repair room are provided.  Considering that the development has no car parking and cycle parking is promoted as a key element of the mobility management plan, I consider this arrangement to be unsatisfactory and contrary to the guidance that bicycle parking should be easy and attractive for residents. 

Anyone interested in understanding the problems inherent in the current Strategic Housing Development process should read the Irish Planning Institute's (it represents Irish professional town planners) review of the Strategy Housing Development legislation as enacted in the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 and Planning and Development (Strategic Housing Development) Regulations 2017.

Once again, Ireland is in a situation where its professional planners and their planning representative body is setting out that an area of Irish planning is not working. The new SHD process has: placed excessive centralised decision making powers in the hands of too few;  removed the right of third party appeal for an increasing set of development types; is making decisions in an office in Dublin that will impact on local communities across the country while local planning offices are forced to play only a peripheral role; resulted in the erosion of the value of local development plans as An Bord Pleanála increasingly uses its powers to disregard these democratically adopted rule books for how communities and the local planners and politicians who work for and represent those communities want their areas to develop (communities are told that their development plans have been superseded by statutory guidance documents).

There is a need to restore planning powers for large scale housing developments to Local Authorities to help redress these issues.

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