Dún Laoghaire council defies Alan Kelly on passive houses

Councillors vote in favour of energy-efficient building despite department's concerns

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council could be on course for a clash with Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly after councillors voted in favour of an energy-efficient building standard over which his department has serious concerns.

The Department of the Environment wrote to the local authority earlier this year questioning a policy contained in the council’s draft development plan for 2016-2022, stating that new buildings should be built to the passive house standard.

The standard involves the use of high levels of insulation and typically triple-glazed windows in new buildings, which makes them virtually airtight.

Passive house measures are more stringent than those currently imposed on builders under the Planning and Development Act.

They potentially allow commercial and residential developments to dispense with conventional heating systems.

The Construction Industry Federation of Ireland has warned use of the standard will lead to an increase in the price of new builds.

Recommendations

Dún Laoghaire councillors were recently asked to decide on recommendations from the council’s chief executive to delete passages referring to the standard from the authority’s draft development plan for the period 2016-2022.

The recommendations were countered by a motion from Cllr Marie Baker (Fine Gael) proposing that “all new buildings will be required to meet the passive house standard or equivalent, where reasonably practicable”.

This was passed by the council earlier this month.

In its submission to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, the department said excessive housing standards threaten availability and affordability of housing in Dublin.

Risk

“Viability of new development and therefore supply, will be placed at risk by insertion of unreasonable or excessive requirements in relation to the standard of housing or ancillary services and facilities that, in turn, impact adversely on the economic viability of commercial investment in new housing development,” the department said.

The letter added that failure to remove the passive house standard from the draft development plan “will entail the consideration” by the Minister, of the use of the powers available to him under section 31 of the Planning Act.

The Act gives Mr Kelly scope to try to overrule what the council puts in the development plan.

Asked what action Mr Kelly now intends to take, a department spokesman said the Minister “will review the matter further and consider what further course of action to take” when the next stage of preparation of the development plan is taken. The final development plan will be adopted in March.

Passive house standard

Proponents of the passive house standard say buildings constructed to it require very little energy to achieve comfortable temperatures.

This means they could potentially make conventional heating and air-conditioning systems obsolete.

The construction and design methods are not predetermined, but buildings following the standard are usually heavily insulated, typically with triple-glazed windows, and often use some form of renewable energy such as heat pumps or solar-powered water heaters.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county councillors voted in February to amend the county draft development plan 2016-2022 to require passive house standards on all new buildings.

The councillors made the decision after visiting a passive house in Mount Merrion where low-energy systems for heating are used for four adults at a cost of about €170 a year, according to its owner Niall Walsh.

But the amendment attracted criticism from State and construction bodies. The Department of the Environment said it would threaten the viability of new development and supply in the local authority area.

The Construction Industry Federation said the move would increase the costs of new builds and warned that, if it goes ahead, “there will be very few houses built in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown next year”.

Nama also urged the council to reconsider the requirement.

Supporters of the standard say the arguments over building costs are flawed.

A blog post on Passive House Plus magazine claimed a developer in Wexford is planning to offer passive house certified homes in Enniscorthy for €170,000.

“And this is without factoring in the money saved over a lifetime of tiny heating bills.”

Dún Laoghaire council defies Alan Kelly on passive houses [Online] Available at: < http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/d%C3%BAn-laoghaire-council-defies-alan-kelly-on-passive-houses-1.2405693 > [Accessed 03 November 2015]