Rush to avail of fast-track planning regime for housing projects as deadline looms

Developers seek talks with An Bord Pleanála on dozens of large projects

The SHD laws took force in 2017 in a bid to speed up the delivery of new homes with direct applications to the planning appeals board. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

The SHD laws took force in 2017 in a bid to speed up the delivery of new homes with direct applications to the planning appeals board. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

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Developers are rushing to avail of fast-track planning laws and seeking formal talks with An Bord Pleanála on dozens of large housing projects as a key deadline looms.

The clamour to make use of the Strategic Housing Development (SHD) regime comes despite many projects being delayed by objectors taking cases in the High Court against approvals.

The SHD laws took force in 2017 in a bid to speed up the delivery of new homes with direct applications to the planning appeals board.

The laws, for schemes with more than 100 residential homes or more than 200 student dwellings, have been heavily criticised for cutting local councils from the approval process, with no appeal option before court.

The SHD regime closes to new applications next February but developers must first have pre-application consultations with An Bord Pleanála.

Such consultations are mandatory and developers are working to a December 17th deadline for initiating talks with the board on new projects.

Responding to questions from The Irish Times, An Bord Pleanála said it received 53 pre-application submissions between September and November. There were 24 such submissions in October, almost double the 13 the board received in the same month last year.

Advance projects

With the regime soon to end, planning experts say privately that “the trend is upwards” as developers push to advance projects. “Developers have been preparing for this moment for a very long time,” said one senior figure.

The board received 96 formal SHD applications between January and November this year and 109 pre-applications in the same period.

Conor Norton, president of the Irish Planning Institute, which represents professional planners, noted new large-scale residential development legislation to replace SHDs will restore councils’ roles in planning, with “some improvements” to the process.

Asked how he interpreted the rush to avail of the fast-track regime, Dr Norton said: “It must be perceived that there might be more favourable outcomes from the SHD process for proposers than there might be from local authorities.”

The delivery of new homes is the Government’s top priority after the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Department of Housing, the 226 SHD permissions by September include 13,623 houses, 33,456 apartments and 9,945 build-to-rent units. They also include 1,330 shared accommodation units and 13,660 student bed spaces.

Legislation

But with almost two-thirds of approved SHD projects not started as of that time, Dr Norton said it was “a bit early” to assess the actual impact on development.

“Certainly, there have been a lot of permissions but not as many commencements as might have been expected. There hasn’t been a great variety in terms of the type of permissions, in terms of housing typologies,” he said.

The December 17th deadline for SHD pre-applications is contingent on the enactment of the large-scale residential development legislation.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien aims to complete passage of draft laws through the Dáil and Seanad by the Christmas recess next week.

“Given the restoration of the appeal mechanism, the new arrangements should also reduce the number of judicial review challenges being taken against proposed developments going forward, as is happening under the current arrangements,” the Minister said.

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