Philip Lee wins €5.5m legal services contract with An Bord Pleanála

Planning board dealing with upsurge in judicial review challenges to SDH decisions

John Given, a partner with law firm Philip Lee. File photograph

John Given, a partner with law firm Philip Lee. File photograph

 

Dublin legal firm Philip Lee has beaten off competition from four other firms to win an estimated €5.5 million legal services contract with An Bord Pleanála.

The company has legally represented the appeals board since 2016 and this is the company’s second term to provide legal services concerning planning and environmental matters for the board.

An Bord Pleanála is currently dealing with an upsurge in High Court judicial review challenges against its “fast-track” Strategic Housing Development (SHD) decisions.

The tender documentation shows that last year the appeals board dealt with 83 judicial reviews relating to all decisions it made across a number of different functions.

This represented a 51 per cent increase on the 55 judicial review applications of appeals board decisions in 2019 and more than a doubling of the 41 judicial reviews in 2018.

Spend

The upsurge in judicial review applications contributed to the appeals board spend on legal services last year increasing by 50 per cent, from €1 million in 2019 to €1.5 million.

A spokesman for the board said on Tuesday that 53 of the 83 judicial reviews last year concerned SHD decisions made by it.

He stated that to date this year, 45 decisions by the board have been subject to judicial review and 18 of those concerned SHD decisions.

Six of the 18 SHD judicial review applications have taken place in June.

Last week a leading planning expert, Tom Phillips, commented that it is “too easy” for opponents of SHDs to secure judicial reviews of An Bord Pleanála planning permissions in the courts. He said: “It is like shooting fish in a barrel.”

Speaking at the Dáil Public Accounts Committee earlier this month, Dave Walsh, chairman of An Bord Pleanála, said that he was concerned by the overall increase in legal costs for the board.

Mr Walsh stated that since the SHD process was commissioned in 2017, the board has made about 280 SHD decisions and about 54 of those have been judicially reviewed.