New planning regulations are in the pipeline to allow owners of vacant commercial buildings to convert them into apartments without seeking planning permission. The process is currently undergoing review and approval in the department of housing and the Oireachtas.  This is positive change from the current law which requires owners of commercial buildings to obtain change of use permissions to convert to residential use.

If approved, this could potentially free up a number of central apartment developments and reduce the cost of development by disposing of the requirement to apply for a change of use permission. Any exempt development would also be exempt from development contributions which would further reduce the development cost.  Apartment developments are one of the most expensive to build at the moment. It does not appear that the development will be a permanent feature in Irish planning legislation – the exemption is currently due to run until 2021. It may be extended if it proves to be a success in bringing significant numbers of new homes onto the under supplied market. 

How will this exemption work with the current living city initiative? It may well be the shot in the arm that the living city initiative needs. The aim of the living city initiative is to bring life back to the heart of the cities of Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick and Waterford. It offers tax relief to qualifying expenditure incurred on the refurbishment or conversion of certain buildings for use as a dwelling provided the property qualifies.

If these proposals make it into law, it will also be interesting to see if any section 5 determinations are made by planning authorities as to the implementation of this exemption.