Sunday, May 21, 2023

Muireann Duffy

The State needs to turn away from its reliance on the private sector and instead invest public finances in providing desperately needed housing, a planning and housing expert has said.

Dr Lorcan Sirr, senior lecturer on housing at Technical University Dublin said the same conversations surrounding housing have been discussed for decades, yet “policymakers don’t seem to have learnt”.

“It’s all the same stuff going on and on and on, over and over, repeatedly. In the 1920s, they were giving out about the cost of providing houses, which is what they’re still doing now.

“In the 1960s, there were politicians giving out about why we aren’t building more houses when we were building loads of offices and hotels, that’s the same debate that goes on today.

“This stuff is just going on repeatedly for the past 100 years, and the real shame and the real crime is the fact that over 100 years nobody has learnt anything. We’re still coming up with the same solutions, we’re still coming up with the same debates in the Dáil,” Dr Sirr said.

He added the “political dogma” of the late 1980s and 90s saw the country move away from State-built housing, with policymakers instead entrusting the private sector to ensure adequate supplies.

“A lot of that economic dogma is at the root of much of our housing problems.

We really need to reflect on the challenges involved with managing the market when you rely on the private sector

“That ideology hasn’t worked, so we have no choice but to reappraise the way we have been delivering housing, and there seems to be a reluctance to do that.

“We really need to reflect on the challenges involved with managing the market when you rely on the private sector, versus managing a system when you control it yourself.”

Noting that there are almost 58,000 households currently on social housing waiting lists across the country, he added: “If [the Government] aren’t going to put the money into housing, who’s going to provide housing?

“Those houses aren’t going to magic up themselves, and neither is the private sector going to provide them, and if the private sector provides them, it will be much more expensive that if the State does it.”

He added that the provision of adequate levels of social housing would take many people out of the private rental market “who really shouldn’t be there”, thereby alleviating cost and supply problems for others in that sector.


The issue of cost has come to the fore as of late, particularly as prices soared following the outbreak of war in Ukraine. However, Dr Sirr said he does not foresee prices falling, and all the while people still require homes.

“In 1924, WT Cosgrave said building all the houses that we needed, 70,000 at the time, was too expensive. Ninety-nine years ago they were having the argument that housing was too expensive.

“It’s exactly the same thing 99 years later. You just have to build them. It’s not as if we’re short of money, policy is a question of priorities.”

However, Dr Sirr stressed the issue is not only quantity, but also that the types of accommodation is what people and communities want and need.

He said parts of Dublin city centre are a study in the construction of unsuitable dwellings, arguing that high-density apartments, as seen in the docklands, are doing “far more damage than they are good”.

“To get the type of housing people want, they may be working in cities, but they’re moving miles and miles away to buy somewhere where they actually want to move in, rather than rent somewhere expensively.”

He added: “We’ve made a mess there in terms of what we mean to be sustainable development. We’re building in sustainable locations, but they wrong type of housing.”


Despite the issues, Dr Sirr said he believes the planning system isn’t the problem, adding: “Neither is people making observations, that is their right, that is democracy.”

“What you have though is a series of poor legislation, which then leads to an awful lot of judicial reviews and the State losing nearly all of those judicial review because the legislation was poorly thought out.”

Although he acknowledges delays in the planning system are partly due to the relevant bodies, such as local authorities and An Bord Pleanála, not getting through cases quick enough, he said the actual planning regulations and the way the system operates is the problem.

And what’s the solution? Dr Sirr believes it could lie in giving local authorities greater autonomy “take the Department of Housing out of the equation”, but first they need the manpower.

“You need to staff ABP and you need to staff local authorities

“The local authorities are where most of the planning action happens. They’re short something like over 540 planners, and they can’t get them.

“We have a huge shortage of planners, so if you want to speed up the planning system, the real trick is addressing where there’s the real bottleneck, which is in your council.”

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