Legal action over housing to persist unless ‘normal’ planning system restored

Skyscrapers will not solve housing crises, says former RIAI president

Property developers and investment funds will continue to have a destructive impact on the housing market and legal challenges will persist unless “normal” planning is restored, a new architect and surveyor-led think tank has warned.

The Strategic Housing Development (SHD) legislation, which removed the right to appeal planning decisions on large scale housing, coupled with ministerial directives on height and build-to-rent schemes which overrode county development plans, had undermined trust in the planning system, according to the new group Dublin Democratic Planning Alliance.

These "undemocratic and unsustainable" changes to the planning system were introduced "at the behest of the property industry" but had failed to provide homes, said former Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland president Robin Mandal, who is heading up the new group.

The Government decision to terminate the SHD system, where developers of large residential schemes bypass the local authority planning stage and apply directly to An Bord Pleanála, was welcome, said Mr Mandal, but the high volume of legal challenges to planning decisions was set to continue while ministerial directives were allowed to overrule county and city development plans.


The ministerial guidelines, which facilitate apartment schemes that contravene development plans in terms of height and space standards, had been a “misguided attempt to ease the housing crisis”, Mr Mandal said.

“There is no correlation between the construction of excessively tall buildings and providing people with a place to live. It’s like saying the way to deal with a famine is to bring in a couple of obese people because then the statistics will show everyone is the correct weight.”

Trophy skyscrapers

Mr Mandal, who has retired from commercial practice, said these trophy skyscrapers were either not being constructed because of their excessive cost or where they were built the apartments were unaffordable.

On the other hand, build-to-rent apartments did represent a good deal for investment funds but were “dire” places to live, he said.

“The big rash of applications for build-to-rent schemes has had nothing to do with housing needs, but were because you can get away with having much lower standards,” he said.

“You can have 100 per cent site coverage, you don’t have to provide balconies or car parking, and you can pay off the requirement to provide public open space by a financial contribution to the local authority. You can have as many studio apartments as you want – what we would have previously called bedsits. They are the real rock bottom in terms of space.”

The group, which includes representatives of more than 50 residents’ associations, was “pro-development” and “pro-density” he said, but this was best achieved through the traditional planning process, where applications were made to a local authority and could be appealed to An Bord Pleanála if necessary.

“We do have to increase density, nobody is questioning that, but we can do that through proper planning, not through letting developers run rip.”

The changes to planning rules had been introduced “on the false premise” that the planning process was slowing down the delivery of housing, but this had never been the case, said Mr Mandal.

“The legislation has, in fact, slowed down the delivery of housing as developers use the process to increase land values rather than construct homes.”

Shovel-ready sites

Removing limits on height and reducing apartment standards through the build-to-rent provisions had resulted in developers resubmitting applications for schemes that already had permission.

“Shovel-ready sites, with planning permission, are not being built upon as the owners seek more numbers of units. Of the approximately 70,000 units that have been permitted, only some 7,000 are under construction”

He said another 7,000 homes were the subject of judicial review proceedings which had “skyrocketed in number” since the enactment of the SHD and ministerial guidelines legislation, “and are a symptom of a planning system that increasingly excludes the citizen’s voice”.

“The property industry is saying we have to stop people taking judicial reviews without saying why they are taking judicial reviews. If we get back to normal planning where development plans are not overruled, and the right to appeal is restored, we will see a drop back to very tiny numbers going to the courts.”