Almost two-thirds of the housing projects approved under fast-track planning laws remain undeveloped, an Oireachtas committee heard as it discussed proposals to replace the regime.
Strategic housing development (SHD) laws took force in 2017 with the aim of speeding up the delivery of new homes by allowing direct planning applications to An Bord Pleanála, the planning appeals authority. The laws have been heavily criticised for cutting local councils from the approval process and many projects have faced judicial review actions in the court.
Paul Hogan, chief planning adviser in the Department of Housing, told the Oireachtas housing committee that the number of apartments approved annually under SHD laws had trebled in four years. But he accepted that the actual delivery of new homes was “not commensurate with the level of planning activity” and decisions made.
“There’s been 210 grants of permission under SHD and 72 of them have commenced. It’s not insignificant by any means but there’s 138 yet to commence,” he said in reply to a question from Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin.
Still, Mr Hogan said the Government’s Housing for All plan included firm measures to spur building on undeveloped property that already has planning permission.
These included a new tax on zoned development land that is not brought forward for construction. “That is happening, That is being pursued.”
The SHD regime closes to new applications next February. After the Government promised not to renew the scheme, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien plans to replace it with new laws to streamline large-scale residential developments (LSRD).
The initial LSRD application would go the local authority with the possibility of an appeal later to An Bord Pleanála but the proposal includes mandatory pre-application consultation and decision timelines.
“The reintroduction of an appeal mechanism to the board should assist in reducing the number of judicial review challenges against LSRD planning application decisions,” Mr Hogan said.
He noted a “significant increase” in the number of judicial review challenges to SHDs than were previously taken against large-scale housing, particularly in the last year. Such challenges follow a large number of approvals.
“As of end July last, the SHD arrangements have resulted in the approval of 210 development proposals comprising 13,199 houses, 29,938 apartments and 9,174 build-to-rent properties – giving a total of 52,311 residential units – as well as 13,091 student bed-spaces and 1,330 shared accommodation bed-spaces,” he said.
Mr Ó Broin said Mr Hogan had made the “understatement of the day” to say that there had been “some criticism” of the SHD laws.
“Most of us are of the view at this stage that it’s been an absolute disaster both in terms of the lack of commencements of grants of permission, the level of juridical reviews and just that general sense in which it’s exacerbated the adversarial nature of the planning system.”