RIAI outlines key recommendations to increase delivery of new houses

The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) has today published a report which highlights the lengthy timelines and complex administrative processes that impact delivery of new housing stock.

Despite obvious demand for new houses and apartments, it can take upwards of three years for new homes to become available to purchase or rent.  While it may appear that there are potential development sites on which no activity is taking place, in fact structural and administrative pre-construction work on new housing schemes may be progressing. The RIAI calls for a holistic vision to ensure that quality homes and sustainable communities are the outcome.

The RIAI Housing Timeline Report analysed interviews carried out with principals of range of Architectural practices located around Ireland, which are currently active in designing multi-unit housing and apartment developments for various private and public clients.

The report identifies issues such as limited resources at Planning Authority level, delays in the adoption of new Local Area Plans (LAPs) or County Development Plans (CDPs), inconsistency in the interpretation of regulations by officials, delays in the provision of public utilities, as well as a lengthy statutory planning process, all of which cause delays in the planning process. The RIAI proposes a streamlined system to regulate and process housing planning applications.

The RIAI report makes four specific recommendations to policy-makers, to allow new housing developments proceed through the pre-construction stages quicker without undermining existing regulations or sacrificing standards of design or construction.

The key recommendations of The RIAI Housing Timeline Report are:

  1. Develop a Shared Service Model for planning applications
    Interpretation of the large number of regulations, policies and guidance documents varies between planning authorities, which impacts on how homes are designed and how quickly they are built.
    The RIAI recommends that planning applications be received by one central agency, on behalf of all planning authorities, to ensure applications are valid and that all administrative tasks are facilitated prior to being sent to the Planning Authority for decision.
    This would mean that applications would be determined on the merit of the development rather than rejected because of administrative errors.
  2. Increase capacity within Planning Authorities
    The pre-planning process is a very useful tool for informal dialogue.  However, in some cases, an applicant may wait up to 3 months for a preliminary pre-planning meeting with the Planning Authority.
    The RIAI recommends that the pre-planning meetings themselves should be standardised, requiring the same Planning Authority personnel attend all meetings to ensure consistency of application and that formal minutes are produced by the authority so that Architects can respond to queries, concerns and suggestions for improvement.
  3. Develop a National Referrals Body for Regulation
    In designing developments that conform with building regulations, Architects rely on technical guidance documents which are open to wide interpretation, even within the same Planning Authority.
    The RIAI recommends that there should be a National Referrals Body to which questions on interpretations of regulations can be sent in order to avoid a lengthy appeal process.
    This approach would establish a body of clear precedents for future interpretation of regulations.
  4. Prepare new County Development Plans and Local Area Plans prior to the expiry of current plans
    In recent years, a lack of resources within Planning Authorities and an increasingly long public consultation process has meant there may be a delay between the expiry of one CDP and/or LAP and the formal adoption by the Local Authority of the next plan.
    Delays between one CDP/LAP plan ending and the follow up plan coming into effect means projects cannot proceed until the Architect knows what the Planning Authority intends, as this determines the parameters within which they must operate.
    The RIAI recommends that initial studies and reports to frame new development plans should be done during the life of existing plans, not commissioned when the plan has expired.

Commenting on the report, John O’Mahony, First Vice President, RIAI said: “This report shows that for numerous structural and administrative reasons, it takes upwards of three years for new homes to become available to purchase or rent. Building is complex and there are many variables, but it’s essential that Government implements systems that deliver consistency and remove uncertainty.”

He added: “We have a population prediction of an additional two million people in Ireland by 2050 and if we are to deliver the estimated demand for 800,000 new homes, we need to ensure that all sides are working together with the same goal in mind.  Central government, local authorities, Architects and planners require a unified approach to deliver quality homes and overcome major infrastructure deficits that lead to traffic congestion, ensure fire safety standards are upheld and maintain sustainability targets. We hope that this report will stimulate a wider debate in Irish housing policy in respect of the role of the planning system in the delivery of new homes.”