Speeding up the planning process could be a long, slow slog
Cantillon: A specialised High Court branch could deal quickly with judicial reviews
The site of the proposed Apple data centre at Athenry, Co Galway: Our planning laws allow fast tracking for vital infrastructure and big housing developments. However, a judicial review slows that down radically, rendering it redundant
Apple’s decision to drop its proposed €850 million data centre in Athenry, Co Galway prompted inevitable calls for planning reform. Those demands echo warnings that the biggest challenge to building badly needed homes and infrastructure is getting permission and repelling any challenges to that decision.
Overhauling planning laws would take a long time. The Republic has rafts of legislation and rulings in this area, many of them detailed and technical. In fact, reforms could themselves create further delays as new statutes could give objectors fresh scope to challenge decisions.
The process is the real sticking-point. Anyone can ask a High Court judge to review a planning decision, and then seek to appeal any ruling through the legal system, even to Europe. That is an important safeguard. Any attempt to limit or eliminate it risks injustice to those with genuine concerns and potentially cuts across Constitutional rights.
Nevertheless, it takes too long. Our planning laws allow fast tracking for vital infrastructure and big housing developments. However, a judicial review slows that down radically, rendering it redundant.
It is also worth noting that the courts uphold most decisions. Of the 40 or so reviews of An Bord Pleanála decisions last year, the appeals board lost two and conceded quickly on seven or eight, meaning three quarters of its rulings stood up to scrutiny.
This indicates that the board gets most things right most of the time. It also lends some credence to suspicions that a minority of objectors use judicial reviews to stall developments.
The answer is to establish a specialised planning branch of the High Court to deal quickly with such cases. There are plenty of judges and lawyers with experience in this field to staff such a forum.
Cutting the delay in getting to court makes sense in light of fast-tracking and should suit most parties, as they get an answer quickly. It would also make it a lot harder to use the courts to delay or frustrate building.