Planning Guidelines for Design Standards for New Apartments

Synopsis of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government of Planning Guidelines for  Design Standards for New Apartments

In December 2015, the government through the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, have published a review and update of national guidelines for planning authorities in relation to apartment development. It is part of their response to the housing crisis following from a package of measures on housing supply titled “Stabilising Rents – Boosting Supply”, tabled by the Government in November 2015

The guidelines will be the first set of Ministerial Guidelines issued under amended legislation which enables the Minister to set out ‘specific planning policy requirements’ which must be applied by planning authorities in the exercise of their functions.

This will have an effect on the variety of development standards across differing Development Plans, with particular reference to the standard set out in the previous Dublin City Development Plan which have proved prohibitive to new apartment development in the city over the past ten years. Equally the updated guidelines intend that all local authorities comply now national standards that were set in 2007.

The 2007 guidelines had significantly increased minimum apartment floor areas above that of previous Departmental guidance, which dated from urban renewal Designated Tax Incentives as far back as 1986 and of the Residential Density Guidelines issued in 1999.

Generally these changed increased the minimum apartment floor areas by approximately 15% and introduced minimum room dimensions, standard sizes for apartment balconies / external space, and requirements for internal storage.

The significant amendments in the 2015 update is the introduction of the following concepts,

  • the majority of apartments in an apartment scheme exceed the minimum floor area standard in the previous 2007 guidelines, by at least 10%. 
  • The possibility of “studio” units, but only in managed, build-to let developments of over 50 units in certain circumstances.
  • Guidance on the proportion of dual aspect apartments and the number of apartments per floor per lift core.

The proposal intends that all new apartments in Ireland will have area standards that will be comparable with apartment sizes in Europe, with a variety of apartment sizes considering that in medium and larger scaled schemes (over ten units) a significant proportion of apartments in a given block will exceed the set minima.

The updated guidelines intend ensuring well proportioned & sized apartments, while considering the effect that the emphasis on dual aspect in the Dublin City Development Plan development standards has created the necessity for additional lifts and stair cores, which dramatically increased the cost of development to unviable levels as is evident from the dramatically reduced proportion of apartment proposals compared to more traditional forms of housing within the city boundaries since their introduction. In 2007, one-quarter of all homes being built were apartments, but by the time the 2007 apartment guidelines had time to take effect, apartment building had collapsed to 95% below peak (2006) levels in 2012

The following are the significant elements the guidelines which should be considered.

The updated 2015 apartment guidelines retain the minimum floor area standards that were set nationally in 2007. These areas are as follows:

• 1 bedroom apartment Minimum 45 sq.m

• 2 bedroom apartment Minimum 73 sq.m

• 3 bedroom apartment Minimum 90 sq.m

In addition to these, the new guidelines include the concept of a studio type apartment is introduced, but only as part of new ‘build-to-let’ managed accommodation above a certain scale threshold, i.e. 50 or more units. The guidelines detail the minimum space standards and dimensions for studio apartment floor area as follows:

• Studio apartment: Minimum 40 sq.m

These units must be minimum of 5m in width

Further to these minimum sizes, the guidelines require a majority of apartments in all schemes to be larger than the national minimum standard (>50% of apartments must be at least 10% larger than minimum). These are outlined in a matrix and included below.

The guidelines do not define a specific mix of unit types as to the division of ‘studio’, 1, 2 or 3 bedroom, units, which would be within the remit of the particular local authority to provide guidance, however the examples provided indicate following breakdown for calculation purposes:

• Studio units 10%

• 1 bed units 20%

• 2 bed units 50%

• 3 bed units 20%

The guidelines retain the minimum private amenity space and storage area requirements that were set out in 2007

Unit Type           Min storage                   Min floor areas for                              Minimum floor areas 

                      space requirements            private amenity space              for communal amenity space

Studio                     3 sq m                            4 sq m                                              4 sq m

1 bed                      3 sq m                            5 sq m                                              5 sq m

2 bed                      6 sq m                            7 sq m                                              7 sq m

3 or more beds         9 sq m                            9 sq m                                               9 sq m

The updated guidelines specify new minimum communal amenity space requirements, which was not a requirement of the 2007 guidelines.

The new guidelines now require at least 50% of apartments in to be ‘dual aspect’ i.e. to face more than one direction. However north facing single aspect apartments may be considered, depending what is overlooked. If any of these are acceptable, require significantly greater minimum floor to ceiling heights of 3.0m (ground) and 2.7m (above ground) than normal (2.4m).

• The new guidelines define that up to 8 apartments per floor of an apartment block will be allowed off each lift-core.

The new guidelines introduce the preference for a higher than the Building Regulations requirement normal of 2.4m minimum to floor to ceiling height of 2.7m. where height restrictions would not necessitate a reduction in the number of floors.

Contact us at 01 532 4183 or if you require assistance or advice.

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