The Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government has issued a Circular (PL 11/2016; APH 5/2016) dated 19th October, 2016 to Planning Authorities which amends and updates the 2015 Apartment Guidelines with respect to Build-To-Rent (B2R) Housing Projects. The Circular inserts specific paragraphs into the guidelines as Specific Planning Policy Requirements (SPPR), within the meaning of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2015.

Taking account of the specific role that build–to-rent projects can play in addressing critical shortages of rental accommodation in areas of higher demand, the Minister specifically requests that planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála prioritise all necessary actions to deliver build-to-rent housing.

Build to Rent can deliver new homes more swiftly and is therefore a central plank of Government policy on accelerating housing supply. Pillar 4 of the Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness places a significant emphasis on the potential of large, institutionally funded and centrally managed build-to-rent housing projects to meet immediate housing needs, particularly in metropolitan areas and to deliver additional supply towards the overall target of 25,000 units per annum required.

A build-to-rent housing project comprises a centrally owned and managed complex or series of complexes that typically institutional investors see as a long-term commercial proposition, over a 15-20 year duration (with a requirement for units to remain exclusively for rental for a specified period as a condition of planning permission).

The Circular promotes the use of Local Authority/Public Lands to promote B2R Projects.

In relation to house types and sizes, the Circular states that it is a matter for housing providers to put forward proposals for the types of homes within build-to-rent housing projects, which can include apartments, duplex apartments or conventional houses.

The following paragraph is inserted after paragraph 2.8 of the Apartment Guidelines, 2015:

2.8(a) Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 2.8, planning authorities are requested to (i) avoid specifying particular locations where build to let or build to rent projects will be considered in preference to other locations and (ii) avoid limiting their consideration to locations within specified distances of public transport locations, as such provisions in statutory development plans, planning schemes and or local area plans, do not apply to other tenure types and may have the unintentional consequence of unduly stifling responses to housing providers in advancing such projects. However, B2R projects which seek to derogate from the statutory development plan unit mix standards, and specifically those incorporating 20% or more studio units, should be located in areas that are highly accessible in public transport terms and that ensure a good mix of other housing types and such proposals shall make provision in design that potential modification to other forms of residential accommodation, for example by way of amalgamation of units, can meet statutory development plan unit mix standards.

The above is a Specific Planning Policy Requirement, meaning that where the provisions of the relevant plan specify otherwise, the provisions of these Guidelines shall take precedence.

In relation to occupancy, for the avoidance of doubt, references to mobile workers in the Guidelines were for the purposes of illustrating sectors of demand for housing that are creating a demand for B2R projects and should not be taken to mean that such projects are only for mobile workers.

The following paragraph is inserted after paragraph 2.9(a) of the Apartment Guidelines, 2015:

2.9(b) In order to deliver a greater variety of private rented accommodation within overall build-to-rent schemes, in locations meeting the criteria in paragraph 2.8(a), Planning Authorities may permit up to 30% of the relevant build-to-rent project as shared living type accommodation where two, three or more bedroom apartments are occupied on the basis of single or double occupancy bedrooms sharing common kitchen and living facilities. Any proposal that seeks to provide this form of shared living shall, in addition to meeting the minimum room sizes in the 2015 Apartment Guidelines, provide space to accommodate en-suite bathroom facilities in all single or twin bedrooms, shall be accompanied by evidence outlining how such projects will be professionally managed, shall provide minimum lease periods of 6 months and shall not be restricted to occupation by third-level students.

The following paragraph is inserted after paragraph 5.11 of the Apartment Guidelines.

5.12: Where a planning authority is minded to approve build-to-rent housing projects, it is reasonable to expect that the unique characteristics of such projects and their advantages from a housing delivery perspective are secured for a specified period of time, at a minimum of 15 years and more normally at least 20 years.

The use of covenants and legal agreements under the Planning Act 2000 (as amended) are recommended as an integral part of the development proposal and consent.

Notwithstanding the above, during the tie-in period, the build-to-rent owner would be free to sell the portfolio to another investor (subject to any ongoing or wider future legislative obligations), e.g. Part V leasing arrangements or measures to protect tenancy rights.

At the end of the 15-20 year period, the build-to-rent owner could:

Retain the housing project;

Sell the project to a new operator;

Break up the project into a series of smaller projects (as in build-to-rent projects split over physically separate or discrete blocks); or

Sell homes on the open market (subject to design considerations as set out in para. 2.9 of the 2015 Apartment Guidelines).

Applicants for B2R projects may make their case to their relevant planning authority as regards the level of car parking provision that is appropriate and that authority must apply discretion in weighing up the level of car parking, or any car parking that it may require to be provided. Innovative alternatives or complements to car parking provision such as car clubs should also be considered.

Developers engaged in advancing B2R projects will typically aim to provide associated on-site amenities that may include some or all of the types listed below, depending on the scale of the project.

– Wet leisure – pool based facilities.

– Dry leisure – gym and fitness led.

– Cinema room.

– Residents’ lounge/games/club rooms.

– Workstations.

– Private dining room.

– Barbecue facilities.

– Storage facilities for bulky personal items.

– Créche.

– Car parking, car clubs and cycle storage and maintenance facilities.

In relation to Part V, the particular circumstances of B2R projects may mitigate against the putting forward of acquisition or transfer of units and land options outlined above and the leasing option may be more practicable in such developments.