Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien wants to bypass a key phase of parliamentary debate on draft planning laws to replace contentious fast-track planning laws.
His request for a waiver from pre-legislative scrutiny has met resistance within the Oireachtas housing committee, with members concerned about the effect the new laws to replace strategic housing developments (SHD) will have.
In a letter to the committee, Mr O’Brien said the waiver was needed swiftly to enact the new laws because of the “urgent need to introduce transitional arrangements” before the strategic housing laws expire in February.
He wants the new laws passed in the autumn session of the Dáil and Seanad, but this could prove impossible if pre-legislative scrutiny by the committee goes ahead.
“Given the timeframes involved in the proposed Bill, there is insufficient time for pre-legislative scrutiny,” he said.
However, one committee member has already expressed reservations. Independent Senator Victor Boyhan said new planning deadlines would leave councils with “an impossible task” unless the Government gave them significant resources to recruit new planners and other staff.
“We should have pre-legislative scrutiny on this important legislation,” Mr Boyhan said.
Mr O’Brien received Cabinet approval in July for large-scale residential development (LSRD) planning arrangements that will take the place of fast-track strategic housing development laws.
The strategic housing legislation has been heavily criticised for cutting local authorities out of the planning process for estates and apartment blocks with more than 100 units by allowing developers to seek consent directly from An Bord Pleanála. There was no third-party appeal mechanism at local level but many projects were challenged via judicial review in the High Court, often successfully.
Mr Boyhan said: “We should review what has happened as part of this SHD process and get clear factual evidence about the shortcomings of the scheme. Therefore we need to talk to local planners and look at the successful SHD appeals to the courts.”
In the LSRD proposal, the initial application would go the local authority with the possibility of an appeal later to An Bord Pleanála.
Pre-application consultations with planners would take eight weeks and planners would be required to decide on an application within eight weeks. There would be a 16-week deadline to determine appeals.
In his letter, Mr O’Brien said the new scheme would maintain “best practice elements of the SHD arrangements” with “enhanced public participation” on local developments. “The proposed new arrangements will effectively restore decision-making on such large-scale developments to local authorities in the first instance,” he said.
“In order to provide certainty for the construction sector and the related professional sectors as well as planning authorities, including An Bord Pleanála, and the wider public, these proposals need to be progressed and enacted as early as possible to enable stakeholders to definitively plan for future proposals and dealing with same.”