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Will the planning system be fixed by new law?

Major piece of legislation must survive scrutiny of its effect on areas such as judicial reviews, timelines, An Bord Pleanála and compulsory purchase orders

What has happened?

The Cabinet approved Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien’s plan to overhaul the planning system, designed to streamline and clarify 20-year-old legislation which governs the area. The reforms are critical, the Government says, to enable its most important political goals to be met: mainly on housing and the development of renewable energy, where projects are often slowed down by years in planning limbo.

What will change in the short term?

Nothing. The full draft of the Bill will be published in the new year. It still has to go through pre-legislative scrutiny and the full passage through the Oireachtas, meaning substantial changes are still possible. The Government is aiming to enact it in “early 2023″.


Does it create any new powers?

Guidelines issued by Darragh O’Brien or his successors will be given extra standing, and other planning documents produced at a local or regional level will have to be aligned with them on a mandatory basis. The hope is that by concentrating more power in the Minister’s office, they will be able to cut through planning inertia. But there will be criticisms about local authorities and the Oireachtas having their role watered down.

Will things move more quickly?

That is one of the key aims of the Bill. Mandatory timelines are to be set for planning-consent processes at An Bord Pleanála level, with fines for failing to meet them, introduced on a phased basis with major strategic projects first in line. However, there is no detail about what they may be. It also envisages expanding the lifespan of local development plans from six to 10 years, the aim of which is to corral objections into the plan-making stage rather than on specific objections.

What about judicial reviews?

Timelines are being introduced for various steps of the judicial review process, seen by many in Government as the main headwind for timely progression of projects through planning – again, we don’t know what the timelines will be. However, there is a political risk here: the Bill will also seek to narrow the scope for who can take judicial reviews, with the example of a residents association offered by the Government: individuals will now have to take them, rather than the group itself. It also outlines that a “person affected” by the application can take a review or an environmental NGO who meets certain criteria.

This prompted a backlash at Cabinet from Green Party Ministers Roderic O’Gorman and Catherine Martin who raised concerns and said they would be seeking amendments to the legislation around access to justice and public participation in decision-making. There is a new regime to help with costs of taking a challenge, which the Greens are more happy about.

What about An Bord Pleanála?

The scandal-hit body will be restructured and given a new name – An Coimisiún Pleanála – and the decision-making and governance structures separated. Planning commissioners, consisting of a chief planning commissioner and up to 14 other commissioners, will replace the chairperson and board members while a new governing executive led by a chief executive will be responsible for governance and organisation.

Anything else?

There will be more powers for local authorities to use compulsory purchase orders. Planning authorities will be able to correct an error or fact of law in a planning decision and apply for a stay on judicial review proceedings. The draft Bill is said to run to more than 600 pages.

What are the politics of this?

This is a major piece of the Government’s legislative agenda and will be trumpeted as a win, but it will be some time before it’s known if it is effective or makes a difference on the ground. Meanwhile, pressure to deliver on housing is unlikely to dissipate as a result of these reforms, in the short term at least.