The law change that could mean the only way is up for homes in Dublin
Dublin in 1986 was a very different city to the one we know today, with no Luas, no Convention Centre and no Good Friday Agreement.
It was 32 years ago that Phil Lynott died aged 35, Jack Charlton took over as manager of our national football team and the first radiation from the Chernobyl disaster reached us.
Dublin Zoo took delivery of giant pandas Ming Ming and Ping Ping and Hurricane Charley brought Dublin’s worst flooding for more than 100 years.
In less surprising news, 30,000 Irish people emigrated that year and we held a referendum – which voted not to legalise divorce.
A lot has changed in more than three decades, including the Irish property market, the immigration picture and Dublin’s skyline.
The forecast is that this will continue as Ireland – particularly Dublin – suffers the growing pains of population increase and property supply fails to keep pace.
There is also the growing clamour to keep our town and city centres across Ireland from emptying out at night – and the best way to do that is to provide more homes for people there.
A Vision for the Future:
Nobody can predict what things will be like in 32 years from now, but Dublin Chamber has made a bold attempt to look into the capital’s future.
It unveiled its Great Dublin Survey in the autumn, in which 20,000 people were asked what they want their city to be like to live and work in by 2050.
It sets out a comprehensive picture of Dubliners’ aspirational future, covering technology, transport, leisure and development, particularly housing.
This roadmap for Dublin’s future development identified a desire for the old and the new to exist together from a planning viewpoint.
Respondents were keen that Dublin’s planners combined the bold and the traditional, with family homes a priority along with futuristic city centre skyscrapers.
One Dubliner summed it up thus: “Tall buildings should be introduced to Dublin in a way which complements the historic beauty of the city.”
Eight out of ten of those surveyed want to own their own homes, so that shortage of properties is going to have to be resolved before 32 years elapse.
The only way could well be up by 2050, with 750,000 more people predicted to swell Dublin’s population by then out of a total increase of around one million.
Almost half of those surveyed for Dublin 2050 predicted that more people would be living in the city centre and many of these would be in rooms with a view.
But there is a lot of work to do to make that prediction a reality, as many of those surveyed were attracted by the dream of city centre living, but not the current reality.
They cited the perception that it is not particularly safe or family friendly and many say they are still attracted by traditional suburban life in a house, not an apartment.
Changes to the Height Restrictions:
The dream of skyscraper living is just that, due to Government restrictions on the height of new residential buildings.
But the first small steps towards having a room with a view were taken this month when those limits were eased by Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy.
He unveiled a series of changes to planning rules, including measures to make it more affordable to build apartments.
The biggest change is the removal of the height restrictions, which are currently set at six storeys, or around 24 metres, in Dublin’s inner city and lower in the suburbs.
Mr Murphy said that cap would be lifted and in future the height of a residential building will be determined on a case-by-case basis, according to its location.
He explained: “It was clear to me upon taking office that we had a particular problem in this area.
“While there might be plenty of cranes across the skyline of Dublin for example, the vast majority are building offices, not homes. We need to turn this around.”
He also scrapped the requirement for a development to have car-parking spaces and increased the number of units on a floor for every lift or staircase from eight to 12. Rules that stipulated apartments must be dual aspect, with windows on two different walls, will also be swept away.
Another major change would be an initiative to build ‘shared accommodation’ high-rises for hundreds of people.
These would offer tenants – and possibly owners – their own bedroom and ensuite, with communal kitchen and living areas.
Mr Murphy said: “They’ll allow for ‘shared living’ options which I believe will be very attractive to our multinational sector with its young and mobile workforce.”
“We’ll see the right types of homes being built, with more studios and one- and two-bed apartments.”
It’s clear that the lifting of height restrictions and the Dublin 2050 vision could signal a construction step change that would transform the capital’s skyline.
If it does, the Dublin of the future would be a far cry visually from the city we know today.
Is the Only Way Up?
The views would be spectacular, but height is in the eye of the beholder and any new Irish skyscraper would be unlikely to get into Europe’s top 20 or the world’s top 50.
Just compare Ireland’s three tallest buildings with those of cities across the globe.
1 Capital Dock, Dublin: 79m (259ft).
2 The Elysian, Cork: 71m (233ft).
3 Riverpoint, Limerick: 58.5m (192ft).
1 The Shard, London: 310m (1017ft).
2 One Canada Square, London: 236m (771ft).
3 Heron Tower, London: 230m (755ft).
1 One World Trade Center, New York: 541m (1776ft).
2 Wills Tower, Chicago: 443m (1451ft).
3 432 Park Avenue, New York: 426m (1396).
Rest of the world
1 Burj Khalifa, Dubai, United Arab Emirates: 828m (2717ft).
2 Shanghai Tower, Shanghai, China: 632m (2073ft).
3 Abraj, Al-Bait Clock Tower, Mecca, Saudi Arabia: 601m (1971ft).
The fact is that any attempt to throw up a ‘super skyscraper’ here would attract howls of protest and in all likelihood get bogged down in a long planning wrangle.
That much is evident from the experience of property tycoons Kevin and Donal O’Sullivan in Cork.
The Kerry-born brothers, now based in the United States, announced plans in 2017 to build Ireland’s tallest building – a €250 million, 40-storey monster in Cork Port.
They paid the Port of Cork €5m for the prime site on the River Lee estuary and brought a fine pedigree to the project – Kevin O’Sullivan’s company built parts of New York’s Ground Zero towers and 9/11 memorial.
But that high-profile experience did not impress some of the locals and opposition has grown to the ambitious plans, which would incorporate a hotel, offices and apartments.
That sums up the dilemma for all would-be Irish skyscraper developers – for every tacit supporter of their plans there will be a vociferous opponent.
That’s because change is scary and we remain a country of semi-detached homes in neat suburbs.
But don’t write off the prospect of skyscrapers looming over the Grand Canal Dock or Merrion Square in 30 years or so.
The Dublin survey showed that while people are not ready for high-rise city centre living now, they would consider it if Dublin changed to meet their needs.
That means safety, better transport, community facilities and above all the confidence that they could bring up a family there.
The Government’s direction of travel on future housing is clear, with the National Planning Framework demanding that population growth is concentrated in existing developed centres.
With the height restrictions gone and the clamour growing for innovative solutions to a growing population and a housing shortage, the opportunity is there for developers with a vision of the future.