The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien, TD, has signed Planning Regulations that will exempt the conversion of former pubs into residential units from requiring planning permission. The new exemption is contained in an extension of 2018 Planning Regulations that allow a change of use of certain vacant commercial premises - including vacant areas above ground-floor premises - to residential use such as ‘above shop’ living. The exemptions aim to increase the re-use of vacant commercial buildings in Fingal and elsewhere to increase much-needed housing supply and renew urban areas. Since 2018, 13 residential units have been provided through 8 notifications of exempted developments and Minister O’Brien has said he wants to see this figure increase substantially.
For the conversion of former pubs into a home/homes in Fingal the pub’s license must have lapsed and a limit of nine residential units can be produced under an exempted development.
Commenting after signing the regulations, Minister O’Brien said: “Turning vacant properties into occupied homes is a major element of Housing for All. Unfortunately towns and villages in Fingal have seen pubs close their doors for the last time in recent years. This new planning regulation will ease the planning burden for those who want to convert small and medium-sized pubs that are no longer viable and have ceased to operate, into residential housing for Fingal. The regulations will also continue to make it easier to get other forms of vacant commercial premises in Fingal, including vacant spaces over ground floor premises, back into use for residential purposes such as ‘over the shop’ living.”
Minister O’Brien added: “Since 2018, 39 homes have been provided from exempting the conversion of certain vacant commercial premises. I believe there is great potential for even more vacant properties to be converted into residential units through these regulations. Increased awareness of these exemptions, including through the work of Fingal County Council, will help get more vacant properties back into use. This measure supports the Government’s other measures to tackle vacancy, including increased funding for full-time Vacant Homes Officers in Fingal County Council and other local authorities, and the launch of a Town Centre First policy, which will revitalise town centres and their buildings.”
In January, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage held a workshop with the all Local Authorities including Fingal County Council to discuss the challenge of vacancy and initiatives to ensure vacant homes are re-used for housing, where appropriate. The Department also issued a communication outlining that it will increase its annual contribution to the funding of local authorities’ Vacant Homes Offices from €50,000 to €60,000 per annum, subject to the local authority’s VHO being full-time (and preferably a permanent role).
The Department is supporting Local Authorities to ensure the role of a VHO is focused on relevant actions in Housing for All and compliment the role of potential Town Regeneration Officers (provided for under Town Centre First). The VHO will have a particular role in driving two new Housing for All schemes:
• the Croí Connaithe (Towns) Initiative, which will attract people to build their own homes, and support the refurbishment of vacant properties
• a Compulsory Purchase Order programme, to be implemented by local authorities, to purchase vacant properties for resale on the open market to ensure their use for residential purposes
In February, the Government published its Town Centre First policy. It contains 33 actions that give towns the tools and resources they need to become more viable and attractive places in which to live, work, visit and run a business. The policy contains actions and funding streams to address vacancy and dereliction.