Minister signals Coalition may shelve divisive housing scheme

Strategic housing development enables developers proceed directly to the planning board

The SHD scheme has been criticised for cutting local councils out of the planning approval process and is set to end next February. File photograph: Bloomberg

The SHD scheme has been criticised for cutting local councils out of the planning approval process and is set to end next February. File photograph: Bloomberg

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A Minister of State has suggested privately that the Government may replace a controversial fast-track planning system for large housing developments when it lapses next year.

Minister of State for Planning Peter Burke said in a letter last week to Independent Senator Victor Boyhan that new laws were being prepared to replace the strategic housing development (SHD) scheme.

Mr Boyhan questioned whether the Government was considering another similar scheme. But sources yesterday insisted there was no change to a programme for government commitment to end the regime.

The SHD scheme allows developers to make direct planning applications to An Bord Pleanála for projects with more than 100 homes or blocks of 200 student bed spaces.

It has been criticised for cutting local councils out of the planning approval process and is set to end next February after a two-month extension because of lockdown delays to planning.

“The intention will be to revert primarily to local authorities,” said a Government source. Another source said the programme for government was clear and that SHDs were finishing “as a delivery type”.

Mr Burke, a Fine Gael TD, said in the letter: “A general scheme for a Bill is being prepared to provide for replacement arrangements in respect of SHDs. This is expected to be published before the Oireachtas summer recess.”

This led Mr Boyhan to call on the Green Party, which opposes the scheme, to “pull the plug” on fast-track planning. He said it bypassed local authorities, citizens and communities, who had no option for third-party appeal.

The SHD policy is under the command of Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien. A source said Mr O’Brien is working on new planning and development Bill, which would not be introduced before autumn.

‘Use it or lose it’

The legislation will impose a “use it or lose it” condition on all planning applications for 10 housing units or more, as promised in the programme for government. The aim is to encourage developers to turn sod quickly, instead of stalling building work in the hope of benefiting later from rising prices.

Separately, Mr O’Brien is planning measures to extend by more than one year the planning permission on building projects delayed by lockdowns.

He will seek Cabinet approval this month for draft laws to prolong planning consents that would lapse otherwise with building work still unfinished. Planning permission is typically set for five years but can be prolonged to 10.

Mr O’Brien also wants to extend legal deadlines for local authorities to produce their new six-year development plans, again because of coronavirus restrictions that have changed the way councils work.

The move will apply to 31 county and city councils in the State, 28 of whom who have already initiated formal reviews of their plans under rules laid down in the 2000 Planning and Development Act. The plans of all authorities bar Monaghan, Sligo and Donegal are under review, and many are well advanced.