Planning expert claims housing supply will be ‘strangled’ by judicial reviews

Government’s plan to speed up planning process still ‘far too long’

A leading planning expert has claimed that if the issue of High Court judicial review challenges against "fast track" housing developments isn't tackled by Government the supply of housing will be "strangled".

Planning consultant Tom Phillips sounded the warning on Thursday after it emerged that the Government plans to speed up the planning process and make it more difficult for legal challenges to halt housing and other developments.

However, that process is expected to take 18 months to complete and Mr Phillips described this as “far too long”. He said: “It is so obvious where the problems are.”

The current Strategic Housing Development (SHD) legislation was already designed to speed up the process but grants of permission for residential developments of more than 100 units are being stalled by way of judicial review challenges taken by opponents of developments in the High Court.

Mr Phillips said today: “Even when you win, you lose, that is unfortunately the way at the moment.”

He explained that currently, "you get your permission for a SHD from An Bord Pleanála and eight weeks later you get your judicial review and that is put into a holding mechanism that could last a year".

He said “that is why it is so difficult to get developments done”.

He said that in 32 years working in the planning arena, “I have never felt the planning system is in such disarray as it is currently”.

Scruff of the neck

Mr Phillips, who employs 27 people at his Dublin practice, said: “Unless the Government grab the judicial review issue by the scruff of the neck there is no point in the Tánaiste saying we will be able to build 40,000 units when you can’t build any because of judicial reviews.”

Mr Phillips – whose projects include the Central Bank headquarter building on Dublin’s north quays and Johnny Ronan’s recently refused 40-storey-plus Waterfront South Central scheme – said it is “too easy” for opponents of SHDs to secure judicial reviews of An Bord Pleanála planning permissions in the courts. “It is like shooting fish in a barrel,” he said.

“If a scheme is judicially reviewed, that cost goes on to the cost of the unit so the person buying the unit ultimately is going to pay for the judicial review costs.”

Mr Phillips warned that the current judicial review situation will deter investment in the residential market.

Mr Phillips stated: “Where does the money come in if there is such a risk over money being into development?”

He said: "There is no Irish bank lending money for development at the moment and a lot of institutional money will go elsewhere as Ireland is too high risk. We are not going to build 40,000 houses on fresh air. The money has to come from somewhere."

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan is a contributor to The Irish Times