The Green Party is set to seek changes to Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien’s landmark planning Bill after divisions emerged in Government over a key plank of the reforms.
It is understood that two Green Ministers, Catherine Martin and Roderic O’Gorman, raised concerns at Cabinet on Tuesday over aspects of the Bill focused on reform of the judicial review process.
Under the draft legislation, the scope for judicial reviews of planning decisions is to be narrowed in an effort to streamline the planning system, which critics say sees projects bogged down for years in courtroom challenges.
It is understood that both Ministers highlighted the need for amendments around access to justice and public participation in decision-making, thought to be centred on the reforms to judicial reviews.
A Government guide to the legislation, which is to be published in full in the new year, outlined that objectors would have to demonstrate the project impacted them while groups such as residents’ associations would be curtailed from taking challenges – although individual members could take a judicial review of a planning decision. Environmental NGOs will have to meet “certain criteria in relation to its establishment and its purposes” to have standing to take a judicial review.
The Greens are thought to be supportive of many aspects of the Bill, including measures to reform legal costs associated with reviews, and they support the push to bring down costs and shorten lengths of time in an unwieldy system, viewing it as important for renewable energy and public transport projects. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Green leader Eamon Ryan said planning reform was “vital”.
“We need it as well for addressing the housing crisis. We have to be able to make decisions in a timely manner, we need to meet our climate targets, to do the same,” he said, adding that years-long delays to key projects would mean missed emissions targets.
However, at the post-Cabinet briefing for political correspondents, the spokesman for Mr Ryan declined to say if his party would support the restriction of judicial reviews under the proposed new legislation. Asked if the Green Party had been consulted in advance of the new legislation, the spokesman said: “There has been some consultation but the key thing is that this is a draft Bill and it is going for pre-legislative scrutiny.”
‘Access to justice’
Asked if the Green Party would seek changes to the draft Bill, he said: “The Green Party supports access to justice… We believe that the widest group of people should be able to appeal.”
Asked if this included residents’ committees, he said that this would be a matter for future discussion of the Bill. When pressed, he declined to say whether the Greens would object to measures in the Bill which could restrict residents’ committees from taking judicial reviews.
Mr O’Brien intends to publish the full draft Bill in the new year, with the intention that it pass through the Oireachtas early next year. It will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny at the Oireachtas housing committee, chaired by Green TD for Wicklow Steven Matthews.
On Tuesday evening, Mr Matthews also flagged concerns, telling The Irish Times that the “entire planning system is based on participative public consultation”.
“We will defend the rights of individuals or environmental NGOs to participate at every level including recourse to judicial review where the law has not been adhered to.”