Developers must be compelled to build childcare facilities in new housing developments, which could be acquired as state assets and leased back at a reasonable cost to childcare providers, a Fine Gael Senator has said.
Senator Emer Currie stressed that the planned public consultation in 2024 on updated planning guidelines for childcare facilities should mark a decisive step towards systemic change in providing childcare services at both local and national levels.
Senator Currie said: “Updated planning guidelines for the development of childcare facilities are due to be published for public consultation in 2024. There is a real opportunity here to change the delivery of childcare places and offer much-needed security for operators and choice for parents.”
Senator Currie is calling for the Government to introduce a new model of state acquisition specifically for childcare facilities, building on learnings from the existing Part V requirement already in place, which compels developers to include social and affordable housing in new developments.
“A new model, set-down in law, which would require developers to hand over newly-built, vacant childcare units to an approved public body at a reduced price, could then be leased out at a reasonable cost to childcare providers,” she explained.
“It would have the double benefit of making more spaces attainable for childcare providers, while giving developers certainty that the facility will be taken off them. This solution would bring an end to the current farcical situation where developers have vacant premises they cannot get their money back on, while childcare providers struggle for space” she continued.
“In my own constituency of Dublin West, only about half of the childcare facilities built in the last 5-10 years where the current planning guidelines apply are now open. Instead of being opened to fulfil the need for childcare in an area, units can lie idle for years.
“Facilities aren’t purpose-built and may not comply with regulations for specific childcare requirements. So providers face the cost of buying a shell of a building and kitting it out, making it economically unviable for many small to medium operations. This is happening in an environment where parents are on waiting lists of up to two years for places and providers are crying out for spaces.”
Currently, at least one childcare facility is recommended to be provided for every 75 dwellings in new housing developments. However, according to Senator Currie, there are childcare units that have been built in line with these guidelines currently lying empty and too many planning loopholes that can render developers exempt from having to build them at all.
“The number of creches required has not kept up with the pace of new development, also as a consequence of the exemptions available; such as the number of studio and one-bedroom apartments or whether there is a childcare facility nearby, even though it may be full.
“It’s all wrong and must be addressed. Current planning guidelines for new developments have major gaps and don’t follow through to provision. The system is failing us all – parents, providers, and planners.
“Our planning system must facilitate a process where new development is effectively linked with childcare supply and where that supply meets the requirements of communities,” Senator Currie concluded.