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More than half fast-track housing delayed by legal objections

Figures show 16 of 28 schemes granted planning this year now subject to judicial review

Housing output is expected to be about 21,000 units this year, increasing to about 23,500 in 2022. Photograph: Alan Betson

More than half the new housing developments granted planning under the Government’s fast-track process have been halted by judicial reviews, posing a major risk to future housing supply.

Figures provided by Dublin-based legal firm FP Logue show that of the 28 schemes granted planning under the strategic housing development (SHD) system so far this year, 16 have stalled because of a legal objection.

These schemes contained plans for 4,151 individual housing units.

The SHD fast-track process was established in 2017 to ramp up the delivery of housing. It allows developers seeking permission for 100 residential units or more to bypass local authorities and apply directly to An Bord Pleanála for permission.

However, developers complain the process is being frustrated by judicial reviews of the planning decisions, often for minor matters.

The percentage of schemes subject to judicial reviews has increased significantly, said Paul Mitchell of construction consultancy Mitchell McDermott.

“When the court hears these cases, which are taken against An Bord Pleanála, it is likely that they [the permissions] will be quashed, based on the approach taken to date,” he said.

In other words, the planning agency drops the case, leaving the developer in a position of having to resubmit the planning application.

“If an SHD planning permission is quashed, for whatever reason, the application has to be resubmitted to An Bord Pleanála. This will take four to six months, adding substantial costs to a development,” Mr Mitchell said.

“We would like to see a more measured approach adopted whereby if permission is quashed due to relatively minor administrative issues, the applicant does not have to restart the process again,” he said, noting the bar to take a judicial review was currently too low.

“Minor items are delaying the process and causing a huge increase in cost.”

In a recent submission to the Department of Public Expenditure-led review of the National Development Plan, An Bord Pleanála told the Government it had “significantly underestimated” just how much work would be involved in dealing with SHD applications.

It said it had assigned just six inspectors to the process at first, but that this had more than doubled under the weight of work required and that it needed 16 extra staff to manage its workload.

The Central Bank warned last week that low levels of housing supply coupled with already high demand was placing upward pressure on residential property prices.

Housing output is expected to be about 21,000 units this year despite a four-month hiatus in construction at the start of the year – the result of restrictions to contain the coronavirus – lifting to about 23,500 in 2022.

This is still well below the estimated level of demand in the market, which has been put at 30,000-35,000.

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