Most fast-track housing applications defy local development plans

All but five of 116 Strategic Housing Initiative projects involve ‘material contravention’

Most fast-track housing schemes proposed by developers last year breached local or county development plans, lawyers say.

Under the Strategic Housing Initiative, which is due to be phased out from next month, anyone planning to build more than 100 homes or 200 student beds in a single scheme can bypass local councils and apply directly to An Bord Pleanála.

Developers sought permission to build more than 38,000 homes and student apartments under the fast-track scheme last year, figures compiled by Dublin lawyers FP Logue Solicitors show.

Builders sought permission for 116 projects, comprising 34,441 homes and 2,363 student beds, according to the law firm, which drew its figures from An Bord Pleanála.

FP Logue points out that all but five of the applications proposed a “material contravention” of either the relevant county development plan or local area plans.

In other words, the firm says, 96 per cent of strategic housing development applications last year sought permission for projects that these plans did not permit.

Planners gave the green light to 79 of these projects last year. Twenty-seven were refused while developers withdrew two applications. One case remains open as it is due before an oral hearing.

Quashed decisions

However, 36 of the decided cases face High Court reviews. While strategic housing development decisions cannot be appealed, opponents can seek judicial review, where a judge scrutinises the ruling to ensure planners followed regulations and procedures.

Opponents challenged 39 cases in this way last year. The court quashed three decisions after An Bord Pleanála conceded, while the rest remain outstanding.

According to FP Logue, projects that have not been challenged account for 12,384 homes, 827 student beds and 397 “co-living spaces” – blocks of flats where residents share kitchens and other amenities.

Those still facing a legal challenge account for 9,341 homes, 1,024 student beds and 531 co-living flats.

Recent projects that planners approved include Lioncor’s proposal to build 240 homes on land that previously belonged to private school Blackrock College in Dublin.

Officially dubbed the Strategic Housing Initiative when it began in 2017, the fast-track scheme will end in February. Developers hoping to use the system must apply to An Bord Pleanála before then.

Politicians created the scheme to end planning bottlenecks widely blamed for the Republic’s housing shortage. However, a high proportion of decided cases still wound up before the courts.

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