Allowing Bord Pleanála to okay big builds ‘harms democracy’

Planning body objects to Bill giving appeals board power to approve large-scale housing

Allowing applications for developments of more than 100 homes to be made directly to An Bord Pleanála will damage democracy and increase the risk of judicial reviews, the Irish Planning Institute (IPI) has warned.

Legislation allowing the planning appeals board to deal directly with large-scale housing applications will be published this month and enacted by the end of the year, senior officials from the Department of Housing said yesterday.

IPI president Deirdre Fallon called the plan "misconceived" and speculated that "dissatisfaction with third-party involvement in the planning application process", such as appeals against developments by members of the public, councillors or other stakeholders, was behind the measure.

“Third-party appeals have always been a cornerstone of the Irish planning system,” she said. “Are they now considered too great a price to pay for efficiencies?”


No barrier

The planning process was not holding back the construction of houses, Ms Fallon said at an IPI conference in Dublin.

“In the Dublin area there is the potential to deliver over 46,000 homes on zoned lands with essential services already in place; 33,000 units have permission and another 7,000 are in the planning process. Clearly, the issue is not the granting of permission .”

The key to increasing housing supply, she said, was to ensure those developments that have been granted permission “are built out more quickly”.

Terry Sheridan, head of planning policy in the Department of Housing, told the conference that the Bord Pleanála measure would be temporary – until 2019 with, "at most", a two-year extension.

“It is a radical proposal,” he said, “but we are facing quite a serious, dire situation in relation to housing shortage. In situations like that, radical solutions are often required.”

Democratic deficit

Mr Sheridan acknowledged the criticism in relation to a “democratic deficit” associated with the new process, but said: “We are talking about developments on lands already zoned for housing. The public and the elected members have already inputted to the zoning of the land in question”.

In addition, he said, there would be a nine-week “pre-application” phase involving the board, the local authority and the developer, and then a 16-week adjudication phase by the board. During this time, the public, councillors and local authority could make submissions.

“The public, the elected members and the local authority are not being removed from the process,” Mr Sheridan said. “This is being done with a a view to providing greater certainty to developers and facilitating the early provision of housing supply than would otherwise be the case.”

The department's principal planning adviser, Niall Cussen, said larger housing developments were taking 18 months to two years to go through the planning process.

“In the context of site acquisition costs . . . the cost of that, the duration of that, has a very big bearing on the affordability of housing,” he said. The new process could shorten that time frame to six months.

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times