Housing crisis and planning objections

Strategic housing development process was a disaster

Sir, – From advocating for the Swiss model of local democracy (Opinion, March 23rd), David McWilliams now blames the citizens for holding centralised power to account, blaming them for the housing crisis (“An entitled minority are giving two fingers to the rest in Ireland’s housing crisis”, Opinion, March 30th).

He overestimates the impact of “objections”. They have no impact whatsoever on the timelines for making planning decisions, either in the local planning authority or An Bord Pleanála. A person making an objection is not putting “a cap on the building of homes”.

He does not see that the strategic housing development (SHD) process was a disaster. Not only did it take the citizen entirely out of the planning process, it handed over control of planning lock, stock and barrel (in the words of one of its advocates in 2016) to the development lobby, but it also destroyed trust in the planning process – this is what led to what he refers to as the “legal objections”. In my lifetime work as an architect, I never heard of judicial review of housing planning decisions until the advent of SHD. Our research shows that these “legal objections” were indeed based on a “clear breach of the zoning regulations”.

I do not know where his data originates, but it does not match ours.


Taking his figures, of 228 permissions, he notes that 16 have stalled because of a legal objection. This is 7 per cent, a tiny number. The numbers that he state that these 16 case effect are 4,151. In the Dublin area alone, our figures show that of 45,000 SHD permitted unit, 30,000 were unused – seven times more than those “held up by objectors”. Our figures also show that of the 80,000 permitted in the Dublin Area, 50,000 were unused.

Compare those 4,151 against those 20,000 SHD units (five times more than those “held up by objectors”) still not processed by An Bord Pleanála, more than a year after the disastrous SHD process ended, as noted in the recent Mitchell McDermott report. This report also backs up our own figures of the 30,000 unused permissions.

Our data for all planning permissions over a 10-year period show 265,000 planning decisions of which 18,000 (again, 7 per cent) were appealed - either by the developer or an “objector” – and 500 (0.2 of 1 per cent) were subject to a “legal objection”. While I am not fully aware of the details of each, he does not appear to understand that the schemes that he refers to as being “quashed” means that they were legally unsound.

As well as blaming them for holding up housing, which is patently untrue, he also blames them for the increase in prices. Once again, he overestimates the power of the objector.

I would expect that he would understand that the only people who have a vested interest in maintaining high prices of a commodity (for this is what successive government have made housing) are the suppliers of that commodity. Inflationary pressures have recently facilitated even higher prices. It is not in the interest of developers to reduce the price of their product or their profit – they simply would not produce the product. It is in their interest that supply is restricted to maintain high costs.

That is not a criticism of them, it is reality.

His blame recitation of “restrictive land-use regulations, burdensome building requirements and the reliable flurry of objections” is straight out of the development lobby hymn book. He should look elsewhere. The constraints on the potential supply of housing are many – mostly access to finance, skills, industry capacity, speculation, profit requirements, lack of certainty and clarity, to name but a few.

What has to stop is unexpected uncertainty in planning decisions. Developers would like to build whatever they like, however they like, wherever they like – that is their job. The citizens’ job, through government regulation, is to ensure that the result is, as David McWilliams says, “more homes, in the right places at the right prices”. To which I would add the right homes, affordable, designed with the citizen at the centre, for their inhabitants, for their communities, to reverse climate change, to facilitate social engagement, well-being, civility and to be beautiful places.

We have done it before and we can do it again. We can do it by having clear local development plans that are made with the participation of all, where there are no “clear breaches” giving rise to unexpected outcomes to which citizens might wish to object, rather like they do it in Switzerland. – Yours, etc,



Dublin Democratic Planning Alliance,


Co Dublin.