Planning Bill would cause ‘erosion of environmental democracy’, Dáil committee hears

Environmental groups argue that draft Bill would make it more difficult for public to hold authorities to account

The draft planning and development Bill would cause “conflict, dysfunction and delay” and an the “erosion of environmental democracy”, environmental groups have told an Oireachtas committee.

The Draft Planning and Development Bill 2022 is intended to reduce the number of judicial reviews, which have been blamed for slowing down development of housing and other infrastructure.

However, the Irish Environmental Network (IEN), which includes groups such as An Taisce, Friends of the Irish Environment and BirdWatch Ireland, said the legislation would make it more difficult to hold public authorities to account and would result in a greater risk of legal action.

“Judicial review, and those who pursue it, have become unjustifiably subject to a toxic narrative,” Attracta Uí Bhroin, IEN’s environmental law officer, told the Oireachtas Housing Committee. In reality, she said, just 3 per cent of An Bord Pleanála’s decisions were subject to judicial review in 2021.


The Bill puts restrictions on residents’ associations or other groups taking judicial review proceedings. The draft Bill represented “a veritable cat’s cradle of obstacles making it more difficult for the public to hold a whole range of authorities to account before the courts for the lawfulness of their decisions, via judicial review,” she said.

“Rather than speeding things up, this risks adding to delays, as the legality of these new restrictions will inevitably be challenged and argued first. This adds to the complexity of any particular court case, and so too to its duration and costs.” This, she said was a phenomenon known as satellite litigation. “The uncertainties arising from any such challenge will spread like a virus through the whole system.”

Solicitor Fred Logue said the judicial review system was “the one piece of the planning system that actually worked over the last five years. It did what it was supposed to do: it quashed unlawful decisions.”

Judicial reviews exposed poor-quality developments that may have been built if those cases were not taken, he said.

“Most of the judicial reviews were won on fairly substantive grounds to do with overdevelopment – either too high, too dense, not enough open space, traffic issues, lack of public transport capacity – very, very real issues, all of which are things which lead to a poorer-quality development,” he said.

“In development the bad drives out the good. If we don’t have a system of stopping the bad development getting pushed through, we will never get the good development that my colleagues and the architectural profession are talking about.”

The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) told the committee that architects and planners should have a role in the promotion and assessment of new board members to An Bord Pleanála.

RIAI chief executive Kathryn Meghen said although the institute supported the introduction of mandatory guidelines for decision-making, it did not favour fines for failing to meet these deadlines. “We believe that properly resourcing the system in a way which allows timelines to be met is preferable to the use of fines.”

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times