Question mark hangs over fast-track housing legislation

Cantillon: dispute involving Cairn Homes’ proposals for a plot beside RTÉ’s Montrose complex will attract a lot of attention

Cairn Homes wants to build more than 600 homes on a site it bought from  RTÉ for €107.5m in 2017. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Cairn Homes wants to build more than 600 homes on a site it bought from RTÉ for €107.5m in 2017. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

 

It’s not unusual to see planning rows ending before the courts, but the dispute involving housebuilder Cairn Homes’ proposals for a plot of prime land beside RTÉ’s Montrose complex will attract a lot of attention.

Cairn wants to build more than 600 homes on a site it bought from public broadcaster RTÉ for €107.5 million in 2017. An Bord Pleanála gave permission for this in September 2020 under the Strategic Housing Act, which fast-tracks large residential developments through the planning process.

However, legal challenges brought by Chris Comerford, Pat Desmond and John Gleeson, from nearby Ailesbury Road, have stalled the process.

They have two cases. One, against An Bord Pleanála, the Housing Minister and Attorney General, is that the Strategic Housing Act breaches their constitutional rights and parts of the European Convention on Human Rights. The other is against the board’s decision to grant permission. The High Court merged the two lawsuits.

A further complication emerged this week. An Bord Pleanála told the High Court that it would consent to an order quashing its decision to grant Cairn planning permission for the RTÉ site as it had discovered an administrative error in its processing of the application. The court did not quash the decision. Instead, Mr Justice Richard Humphreys adjourned the case to February 8th.

None of this is the fault of Cairn Homes as the error that An Bord Pleanála found was of the board’s own making. The listed company says it was not going to begin the Montrose project this year, and has 18 other sites on which to build new homes once Covid-19 restrictions allow. Nevertheless, it faces a long wait and the prospect of having to spend more cash to finally develop the site.

Meanwhile, the constitutional challenge could open a huge can of worms. If it succeeds where does that leave the permission granted under the Strategic Housing Act for thousands of new homes? Should work stop on these projects? Should they be knocked down? Should everyone living close to them get compensation?

It’s a nightmare scenario for legislation intended as a key weapon in the battle against our housing shortage.

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