Objections to large housing schemes are inevitable

Locals rarely like change and politicians will always support objections to big housing projects

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald was not the only politician to object to  the planned build-to-rent scheme  on Clonliffe Road. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald was not the only politician to object to the planned build-to-rent scheme on Clonliffe Road. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald is not the only politician to object to plans to build 1,600 apartments on the grounds of the Holy Cross seminary on Clonliffe Road in Dublin.

A month ago, Dublin City Council members were almost universally opposed to the project, largely on the grounds it was a build-to-rent scheme, where lower space and size standards are permitted than in regular apartment blocks.

McDonald agreed, arguing that the Hines development would would drive up the cost of the land, making standard residential development for Dublin even more unaffordable.

There are several things that have proved predictable, almost with certainty, about the Strategic Housing Development (SHD) system, where giant housing plans go directly to An Bord Pleanála, without the right of appeal.

First, there will be local objections, and second, local politicians, both at council and Oireachtas level, will support them. An Bord Pleanála will almost certainly grant permission, leaving residents to seek a judicial review.

Pressure

Almost the only certainty the SHD has failed to provide is the one it was established to deliver – certainly in terms of timelines and provision of housing.

Locals rarely like change. Multi-storey apartments are the most disliked, but even applications for estates of two-storey houses will still prompt objections, such as pressure on local road or the lack of childcare or GPs.

The SHD system was set up because appeals against local authority planning decisions on large projects were almost guaranteed. To speed matters up, local authorities were excluded.

An Bord Pleanála was allowed to get on with adjudicating developments,which the theory goes, it would have ended up doing anyway. However, it turned out that people did not like having their right to appeal removed.

Under the SHD system, the only way of challenging the board’s decision was to take a judicial review, which has resulted in a colossal increase in the number of them before the courts and lengthy delays to final planning decisions.

The absence of an appeals process, other than the courts, is not the only way people are denied their fair crack of the democratic whip under the SHD system.

Under normal rules, objections or observations to development are publicly posted by the local authority. With SHDs, An Bord Pleanála only publish the objections after it has decided upon them.

Jargon-heavy applications

It could be argued that everyone should make up their own mind whether they are for or against an application without having to copy their neighbour’s homework.

However, not everyone will have the time or the expertise, either personal or purchased, to go large, detailed and often jargon-heavy applications, so being able to see what others make of a proposal can help.

Which is where politicians’ SHD observations come into play. Each SHD gets its own council meeting and councillors’ views are passed upwards to An Bord Pleanála. TDs and Senators also tend to make their views known.

Faced with McDonald’s objections about Clonliffe Road, the developer Hines said the plan matches local needs where 51 per cent of households are either single occupancy or couples without children.

The SHD schemes will end next year. But no such promises have been made about build-to-rent schemes which will be submitted to local authorities initially. It will be up to the public and politicians to take it from there.

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