One of the State’s biggest builders has called on the Government to tighten fast-track planning laws to make it more difficult for objectors to challenge new housing schemes in the High Court.
Glenveagh Properties, a €770 million stock market company, said the delivery of thousands of new houses and apartments had been delayed because of court cases, undermining efforts to tackle the housing crisis.
Legal challenges, which can delay projects for months, had potential to become the “Achilles heel” of housing delivery, the construction company told The Irish Times.
The bar should be raised for judicial review cases against An Bord Pleanála decisions under the four-year-old fast-track Strategic Housing Development (SHD) scheme that bypasses local authorities.
Glenveagh is facing a second judicial review of an apartment project in Castleknock, Dublin, after An Bord Pleanála granted permission for a second time in March based on a new report by a senior planning inspector.
In the first judicial review the High Court quashed the board’s original decision to grant permission based on an assessment of overshadowing and asked it to carry out another assessment.
“It would not be appropriate to comment on a specific planning matter or decision,” said Glenveagh, which has a land bank big enough for 14,000 housing units.
“In general terms the SHD system has brought numerous benefits, not least bridging the gap between national and local policy, and the planners and statutory bodies which engage in the process do so with professionalism and integrity,” the company said.
However, its call for changes to the SHD regime reflects anxiety about the pace and number of court challenges to approvals granted by An Bord Pleanála and the fact that some projects have been struck down on what the company perceives to be technicalities in the SHD process.
Some rulings have created a requirement for additional documentation in applications and for the dimensions of subterranean structures to be set out even though some of them are not typically known until site work begins.
An Bord Pleanála told the Dáil Committee on Public Accounts last week that 54 of the 280 SHD approvals granted have been judicially reviewed. In a February report, construction consultants Mitchell McDermott said there was a tenfold increase in 2020 in the number of new housing units in Dublin quashed or held up due to judicial reviews.
Contentious SHD scheme
Planners and developers are bracing for more judicial reviews as applications intensify before the SHD scheme closes for new projects next February. Figures as of mid-April, which were provided to Independent Senator Victor Boyhan, showed that the board had conceded 14 judicial review applications at that time and lost 11.
An Bord Pleanála chairman Dave Walsh told the PAC last week that the rising number of pre-application consultations suggested “a further increase in SHD applications” this year. The scheme has been criticised for cutting local councils out of the planning approval process and Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens made a commitment in the programme for Government last year not to renew it.
Glenveagh said it had “the upmost respect” for the planning process and always sought to work constructively with the planning authorities and within the processes including the courts.
“However, it is clear that the judicial review mechanism has become its Achilles heel, and potentially the Achilles heel of housing delivery itself.”
An Bord Pleanála granted permission for 98 SHD schemes last year – including some 25,400 residential units and 2,300 student bed spaces – and refused approval for 28 schemes.