Developer Bartra criticises councils ‘prohibiting’ large housing projects

Bartra claims council local area plans blocking developments are ‘not fit for purpose’

A property developer has complained that local authorities’ planning rules were acting as an “impediment” to large housing projects being built, in a recent letter to Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien.

Bartra, founded by developer Richard Barrett, criticised planning policy in South Dublin County Council, where it said the local authority was holding up significant residential housing developments.

In a September 23rd letter, Bartra called for Mr O’Brien to issue a directive to councils “clarifying the need for a less prescriptive approach” when it came to drawing up plans for where developments should be permitted or blocked.

The correspondence, from Hazel Jones, strategic planning director at Bartra, said the council often refused planning permission for projects that were later approved by An Bord Pleanála (ABP).


Ms Jones shared an analysis of 11 cases where planning permission had been sought for housing developments in the Tallaght area over recent years, which she said together would deliver nearly 4,000 homes.

The correspondence said the council had recommended planning permission be refused in 90 per cent of cases. In five of the cases, ABP overturned the local authority’s ruling and granted approval to build, she said.

Ms Jones said if planning decisions had solely been left to the council “there would be 830 less residential units under construction” at present. The letter said the developer was currently applying for permission for the third time for a residential development in Cookstown, Tallaght.

South Dublin County Council had adopted “unsuitable standards and obligations” when it came to requirements for height or density of housing projects, in both its overall county development plan and local area plans, she said.

The current policies undermined the “viability” of large housing projects, particularly on brownfield sites, she said.

“We bring this matter to your attention not to seek your intervention but to make you aware of the consequences of overly prescriptive development plans and local area plans,” she told the Minister.

The letter said while Bartra was highlighting problems it faced in South Dublin County Council, “other local authorities are equally culpable”.

“Plans which are interpreted to prohibit good development, later allowed by ABP, are clearly not fit for purpose,” Ms Jones said. The correspondence was released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

In a November 1st response, Mr O’Brien said he was planning to introduce “a significant programme of planning reform”.

The Minister said the reforms would be aimed at providing more certainty when it came to planning applications.

“It is agreed that [council] plans should not be so prescriptive that they would preclude what may be appropriate forms of development in particular contexts,” he said.

Department of Housing officials and the office of the Attorney General were in the process of reviewing the current Planning and Development Act, he said. Mr O’Brien added he planned to bring forward a new planning Bill “within the coming weeks”.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times