The Irish Times view on the reform of planning laws: vital supports needed

The Government has set out on a vital reform of planning laws - it is essential that it considers how this can be implemented in a way that achieves the desired result

After surviving a Dáil confidence motion over housing, the Government faces fresh challenges in the battle to provide more homes. As building slows down and financing costs increase, the imminent expiry of the eviction ban is but one of many hazards. The need for action to open supply bottlenecks is clear. But the Coalition should guard against mistakes made in haste that store up problems down the line.

One glaring point of weakness is the glacial pace of planning. An acceleration was anticipated when Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien unveiled draft laws to streamline how building consents are granted. Now professional planners have warned of serious deficiencies in his mammoth Bill, saying the large number of binding timelines is “unworkable.” The new system cannot function without more planners and increased financial support, says the Irish Planning Institute.

In the wake of a long review of the current unwieldy planning regime, this is quite the opposite of the clarity, consistency and certainty the Minister promised. O’Brien would do well to address planners’ concerns, particularly on the funding of a system in which the delivery of thousands of homes is already on hold. Reform without resources won’t work.

The representative body for private and public sector planners has other reservations. It questions both the proposed ban on residents associations taking judicial review claims against planning decisions and the curtailments of the right of third parties to seek enforcement of the law. Absent any Ministerial rethink on such measures before passage of the Bill through the Dáil begins, it may well be left to the courts to determine their legitimacy.


But the basic point should be clear enough. A dash to legislate without scrutiny, funds and personnel risks self-defeat, further worsening the crisis. This is what planners mean when warning of further “unforeseen” problems. We have seen this before. Fast-track measures for large apartment schemes were supposed to deliver new homes at speed. The result was a fast-track to the High Court because objectors had no right of appeal at council level, prompting the disputed moves to restrict judicial review access.

O’Brien aims for enactment by the summer so there is still scope to filter the fine grain of his proposal and secure commitments on the money required to streamline planning in real time. With housing completions set to dip this year to 27,000 units from a little below 30,000 in 2022, there is no time to waste. The Economic & Social Research Institute forecasts an increase to 31,000 units in 2024, yet that is hardly enough for real respite. Planning is only one part of a complex equation. But getting it right will be critical.