A Green Party TD has hit out at a Minister’s plans to reform planning laws by reducing the stages at which a judicial review can be sought.
On Monday, Minister of State for Local Government and Planning Peter Burke of Fine Gael said that plans to build “tens of thousands” of homes were being held up because of the high level of judicial reviews.
Green Party planning spokesman and chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing Steven Matthews said the Minister appeared to be “aiming to exclude people from seeking justice.”
“Removing access to justice on planning and environmental matters doesn’t mean we will get a better or faster planning system, it just means some people will get away with poor planning decisions and that method haunts us from the past. Proper planning and sustainable development should be open, transparent and stand up to scrutiny at any level.”
Mr Burke had said one in four housing developments were the subject of judicial challenges, citing an almost four-fold increase since 2018.
“This could slow down plans to build 100,000 homes before 2030,” he warned.
However, the Minister’s claims were also challenged by the Opposition which said the problem did not stem from the volume of judicial reviews, rather what they described as deep deficiencies and flaws in recent Government planning policies.
Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said the current situation had resulted from the decision of the previous government to dispense with the two-tier planning application system for larger developments and replace it with strategic housing developments, which bypass the local council and go directly to An Bord Pleanála for decision.
He said that mandatory ministerial guidelines introduced by former housing minister Eoghan Murphy (one to raise the permitted maximum height of a residential building, the other to reduce the minimum size for new apartments) were introduced after local development plans and created conflicts.
He said that those planning policies – as well as An Bord Pleanála decisions on strategic housing developments – had led to not only an increase in judicial review applications but also to a significant number of decisions getting defeated in the courts. He said that had not happened with anything like the same frequency under the former two-tier system.
The new fast-track process for strategic developments has been discontinued since January, but only for new planning applications.
Social Democrats housing spokesman Cian O’Callaghan said that the narrative put forward by Mr Burke not borne out by the facts.
“The growth in Judicial Reviews taken in recent years against planning decisions is a direct result of badly thought-out changes to our planning system including the controversial Strategic Housing Development Process. The best way to reduce conflict and legal challenges is to encourage early engagement and consultation in the planning process.”
Rebecca Moynihan of the Labour Party that the Government had “caused this mess by cutting out public participation at the behest of developers back in 2018.
“Public engagement in our planning system is important. They need to stop this kite flying, further undermining faith in our planning system.”