Surge in strategic housing developments being quashed

Cantillon: Spike in legal actions prompting use of lawyers to bullet-proof applications

The strategic housing development process was introduced in 2017 to provide a fast-track mechanism for planning permissions for housing schemes with 100-plus units. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

The strategic housing development process was introduced in 2017 to provide a fast-track mechanism for planning permissions for housing schemes with 100-plus units. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

 

Earlier this week a report by construction consultants Mitchell McDermott outlined the spike last year in the number of potential units in strategic housing developments (SHDs) in Dublin that were either quashed or held up by judicial reviews.

While 508 potential housing units were affected by judicial reviews in Dublin in 2019 that figure jumped to 5,802 last year – thus thwarting the fast-track element of the process.

The SHD process was introduced by the government in 2017 to provide a fast-track mechanism for planning permissions for housing schemes with 100-plus units. Essentially, it allows the developer to bypass the local authority and seek permission directly from An Bord Pleanála. It was a key policy measure designed to tackle the housing crisis, which has persisted for about a decade and is a major issue with voters.

Much-needed housing

Those in favour of SHDs argue that it speeds up the delivery of much-needed housing. Those against say it bypasses local authorities and often ignores development plans drawn up by councils following consultations with impacted communities.

The spike in legal actions has resulted in some developers hiring lawyers to ensure that their SHD planning applications are bullet-proof.

Rick Larkin of Dublin developer Twinlite is one such example. “When we lodge a planning application now we hire a lawyer and say ‘here’s our planning application, tell us how you would judicially review this’ so we can try and head it off. The costs are rising incredibly,” he told Inside Business, a podcast from The Irish Times.

‘Nimbyism gone crazy’

According to Larkin, a lot of challenges are over very “minor technical points” and are taken by “individuals with money, who are using the courts as a method of vetoing developments near them. It’s a case of nimbyism gone crazy.

“At the end of the day, this serves nobody apart from the lawyers because these rulings come out and often they are not detrimental . . . the application gets resubmitted, and then it gets granted , and the scheme will eventually get built. So all it really does is introduce delays and delays cost money, and cost people their lifestyle by continuously constraining supply in the market.”

Those who have objected to SHDs would no doubt dispute Larkin’s view. But one thing is clear: the current system isn’t working.

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