Number of fast-tracked housing and student schemes on the rise

Scheme for large developments spreading to outside Dublin, planning conference told

The number of fast-tracked large housing and student accommodation schemes being developed is ramping up significantly and spreading to outside Dublin and the State’s larger cities, a planning conference has heard.

The conference was told 29 applications were received by An Bord Pleanála (ABP) in the first quarter of this year, as compared with 16 in the last quarter of 2018, under the Strategic Housing Developments Scheme (SHD). There were 14 applications in 2017, the year the scheme was introduced.

SHD provides a special fast-track process for developments of more than 100 housing units, or student accommodation schemes involving more than 200 bed spaces.

During 2018, ABP granted permission for schemes involving 7,102 housing units, and student accommodation involving 4,479 bed spaces.


ABP chairman, Dave Walsh, told the Irish Planning Institute's annual conference, in Carrick-on-Shannon, that behind the application figures there was "a lot more pre-application consultations. The system is very much ramping up."

The process, which involves a role for local authorities in applications that are decided by the APB, is spreading to new parts of the country, according to Mr Walsh.

In the period up to April 1st, 48 per cent of the applications were for schemes in Dublin, followed by Kildare at 20 per cent, Cork at 18 per cent, and Galway at 10 per cent. What was notable, he said, was that there were applications now from Waterford, Wexford and elsewhere as the SHD process spreads.

With the increased level of development under way in the State, there has also been a “ramping up” in the number of judicial reviews being taken against planning decisions generally. While there were 41 new reviews initiated last year, there were 19 initiated in the first quarter of this year, Mr Walsh said.

Water and sewerage services

Figures given to the conference by John Casey, asset strategy manager with Irish Water, provided another indication of the extent to which the pace of development is increasing.

There has been a “huge ramp up” in the number of developments being connected to the water and sewage services, he said.

Figures given to the conference showed more than 6,000 applications involving more than 40,000 housing units being received last year, up by about 50 per cent on the previous year. The number of pre-application inquiries more than doubled in 2018 when compared with the previous year.

Irish Water has a €6.1 billion capital investment plan for the period up to 2024 but Mr Casey said getting planning permission for infrastructural developments was a challenge and “adds uncertainty around timelines”.

The body is making about 50 planning applications, and seeking a lesser number of compulsory purchase orders, each year.

Maria Graham, assistant secretary with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, said there had been a "paradigm shift" in planning because the State's planning and investment plans were now "completely aligned".

Total capital investment of €121 billion was planned in the period up to 2027 across departments, State agencies, and regional plans.

There was “a huge amount of activity within the system” and planners have an important role to play. “Bad planning roars at you but good planning is really subtle” and this fact may contribute to planners not getting the plaudits they deserve, Ms Graham said. “Planning offers the opportunity to directly shape the environment in which we all live.”

The funding and development plans that were in place means “this is senior hurling now”, she told the planners.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent