UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU) has altered its approach towards UCD’s attempt to build additional on-campus accommodation. The university is pushing ahead with its plan to build over 3,000 rooms as part of its Residences Masterplan. UCD recently paid the maximum €80,000 application fee to bring the Strategic Housing Development application to An Bord Pleanála, which is a new method designed to fast-track planning applications for large scale residential and student accommodation projects.

Planning applications have an observation period during which interested parties can make submissions to the Planning Authority. UCDSU made submissions earlier this year when UCD applied for permission to build extensions to O’Reilly Hall and the Quinn School of Business.

Barry Murphy, UCDSU Acting President, told the Tribune they did not make any submission to the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council this time ‘as the previous observation was not entertained’ and ‘our concerns are being listened to now by talking to UCD management directly’ and also with EY, the financial overseers of the plan.

Murphy stated there was ‘a lot of reservations over the initial observation by [former UCDSU President] Conor Viscardi.’ When asked if the change in approach was due to Viscardi’s advice, Murphy said that Viscardi carried out the Presidential handover with Katie Ascough, and so he was unaware what advice he gave her about the issue.

Murphy explained that one of their main concerns was that ‘students should be given the opportunity to get a cheaper room. When the rooms are being built, they shouldn’t all be ensuite, they shouldn’t all be double beds or large rooms. They should be smaller rooms available for students sharing a bathroom with two or three others, like there is in Belgrove and Merville.’

UCD is seeking a 10-year permission grant for the project. The plan entails the creation of 3,006 residential bed spaces, including apartments, studios, and residence halls, accompanied by a retail service space. The area reserved for development is 98,275 square metres, over a partial basement of 21,437sqm. UCD wants to demolish 5,291sqm of buildings near Roebuck Castle, a protected structure, to make way for the project.


The Plan and Layout

In contrast to the spread of Residences around campus, the plan sets out seven blocks, centred around a Fulcrum Building. Block A will be between 5 to 7 storeys, with 75 apartments consisting of 478 beds, and 2 shops. Block B will be between 5 to 7 storeys, with 67 apartments consisting of 390 beds. Block C will be between 5 to 7 storeys, with 57 apartments consisting of 386 beds. Block D will be between 6 to 7 storeys, with 49 apartments and 12 residence halls consisting of 452 beds. Block E will be between 5 to 7 storeys, with 67 apartments consisting of 412 beds. Block F will be arranged as 3 distinct buildings, comprising of 6 to 8 storeys, with 111 apartments, 12 residence halls and a studio apartment consisting of 828 beds, with a shop on the ground floor. All of the Blocks will contain lounge areas, study rooms, and laundry facilities.

The Fulcrum Building will range in height from 2 to 7 storeys, with 60 studio apartments, consisting of 60 beds. The Building will also have a range of facilities designed to make it a hub on campus. There is a planned Auditorium with 290 seats, and a Dining Hall with 144 seats. The Building will have room for 4 small shops, a larger convenience store, a fitness suite, a Student Health and Well-Being Centre, a UCD Residents’ Contact Centre, and further ancillary facilities.

UCD is also seeking to build just under 1,000 extra car parking spaces. 637 car spaces are to be located at basement level of the Blocks, with 32 at surface level. It wants to extend the car park beside Belgrove with another 225 spots to the south-west of the Residence, while adding another 100 spaces adjacent to the Sutherland School of Law. Bicycle parking spaces are estimated at 510 spaces at basement level, with 1,594 at surface level, totalling 2,104 spaces.

UCD wants to carry out the project over three phases, beginning with the construction of the Fulcrum Building, and Blocks D and E. Blocks A, B, and C will be built for Phase 2. The biggest challenge is the construction of Block F for Phase 3, which requires demolition work on a number of buildings to clear the way.

Buildings selected for demolition are the Roebuck Offices (a former Residence Building), the modern extension to Roebuck Castle, the Southern Courtyard Range, the former Chapel, outbuildings and the UCD Confucius Institute building. The new Confucius Institute is currently being constructed near the lake in UCD.  No further works are proposed to Roebuck Castle, Crannog Lodge, or Glebe Lodge, which is also a protected structure.

UCD President Andrew Deeks used his Presidential Bulletin on the 26th of September to hit back at initial reports of UCD’s plan. Deeks revealed that Simon Coveney, then Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, had ‘strongly encouraged us to follow this particular planning path.’ He stated that UCD had carried out significant consultations with the Council and nearby residents to ‘mitigate any concerns they may have.’ He also added that ‘contrary to some of the reporting, we will not be demolishing any protected structures, and have applied for a modest increase in parking spaces on the campus as part of the Master Plan.’

The Council’s Report

The Council produced its own report based on UCD’s application. The Council’s report was signed off by Gormla O’Corrain, Executive Planner, and Shane Sheehy, Senior Executive Planner. Paragraph 2.2.4 of the report states there are ‘no objections to the principle of providing a significant quantum of additional student accommodation’ in UCD. The proposed tall buildings are ‘acceptable and desirable according to the Council’s policy framework.’ The proposed layout and architectural designs are ‘considered broadly acceptable.’

The Council noted that 1 car space per 20 student beds is applicable, so a maximum of 150 spaces are ‘specifciallly justified’ for the purpose of student housing. The number of additional spaces sought could undermine UCD’s own Travel Plan 2016-2026. It suggested that UCD should consider omitting the application for 225 spaces at Little Sisters, and 100 at the Law School. Justification is needed for the proposed location and reasoning behind the need for an additional 200 spaces during the construction phase.

Block F was singled out for a number of reasons. The Council approved of planned demolitions to the extensions on Roebuck Castle as it presents a chance to ‘enhance the setting, amenity and presence’ of the structure. However, the 3 buildings of Block F fail to integrate with Roebuck. Blocks F1 and F2 are ‘considered contextually misplaced’ and have an ‘overpowering, overbearing impact on the setting, amenity and appreciation’ of Roebuck Castle. It recommended a reduced height and increased distance between them and the protected structures.

The Law

New planning laws, which came into effect this July, allows developers with projects consisting of over 100 residential units, or 200 plus student bed spaces, to apply directly to An Bord Pleanála for permission. The Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 created the ability for such actions. Eoghan Murphy, Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, signed the Commencement Order and Ministerial Regulations to bring it into effect.

The Regulations, which are designed to help speed up the planning process, set out a two-stage process. First, An Bord Pleanála carries out pre-application consultations with the developer and local planning authority. Once an application is made, the Bord has 16 weeks to make a decision. The new Regulations are in force until December 2019, but can be extended until December 2021. The Regulations are a benefit to UCD, and others who want to develop student accommodation around the country.

The cost of on-campus accommodation has always been a controversial issue. The Tribune reported in Issue 1 that rent hikes had no impact on the demand for them. Looking towards the future, Barry Murphy concluded that while ‘purpose-built student accommodation is the way forward’, ‘it’s not fair to take advantage of the other way by charging extortionate prices for rooms. I think UCD’s approach is to house less students charging them more than more students charging them less, and it works in their favour because it’s less insurance, less staff needed.’ All sides are currently waiting on An Bord Pleanála to make a decision on the application, which is due by the 19th of January 2018.

Cian Carton – Editor