Strategic Housing Development system set to be terminated early

Legal issues and delays prompt plan to end SHD in autumn and create speedier process

The Government plans to bring an early end to the Strategic Housing Development (SHD) planning application system, which was intended to speed-up the supply of homes but has led to a rash of legal challenges and lengthy delays.

It is set to be replaced by a system that restores the role of local authorities in the planning process for large developments and also introduces time-limits for making decisions – accelerating the process to a maximum of 32 weeks.

The Cabinet is expected to approve proposals from Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien shortly to end the SHD system in the autumn rather than next February, when it was due to expire. The last applications for SHDs would be accepted at the end of October under the plan.

Those seeking permission for SHDs – larger developments which must involve more than 100 units – can apply directly to An Bord Pleanála for permission, avoiding the need to seek planning from a local authority.


One-stop shop

It was introduced in 2017 in an attempt to speed up the provision of housing. As many large developments were appealed to An Bord Pleanála anyway, the then government decided the board should be a one-stop shop for large developments, cutting out the time-consuming process of going through local authorities.

However, legal challenges have proliferated in recent years and clogged up the process, partly due to a change in the law on costs which has enabled litigants to take cases without the fear of facing crippling legal costs if they lose.

Challenges to SHD decisions have accounted for many of those cases, with almost a third of all cases taken against the board last year related to SHDs, though there are plans in Government to amend the judicial review system in order to reduce the number of court actions

With growing dissatisfaction on the board and among officials, the Government has now decided to shut down the fast-track process in the autumn rather than next year.

Time limit

Sources said it would be replaced by a two-step, time-bound process for large-scale developments, which would restore the role of local authorities. The timeframe for the planning process, it is understood, would be eight weeks for pre-planning, eight weeks for the local authority to make a decision, and then 16 weeks for An Bord Pleanála to hear and decide on any appeal, if one was made. This would reduce the time required for planning to 32 weeks at most.

While the board will be bound to process applications within a specified time limit, it will also be given more resources for the additional workload, if the plan is adopted.

Officials recently commenced a comprehensive review of planning laws which will see several different laws brought together in one planning Act, intended to streamline the process and speed up delivery of key projects.

The review, which is being undertaken by Attorney General Paul Gallagher with input from the Department of Housing, will take 18 months and is expected to result in a simplified and accelerated planning process, as well as making it harder to delay developments by court challenges.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times