The Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill 2016 proposes to fast track private planning developments by bypassing Local Authorities and going straight to An Bord Pleanála. This effectively removes local authorities and communities from the planning process thus removing citizens right to any say in what happens in their community. The only appeal from a decision of An Bord Pleanala will be by way of judicial review by the High Court and with the costs of such a review being €250,000 to €400,000 this puts appeals outside the scope of all except large development companies.
This legislation is deeply flawed and may lead to a worsening planning system and housing outcome. Our first concern is that the Bill seeks to address a problem that does not exist. We would dispute that it is the planning system that is holding back housing development across the country. The Irish Planning Institute has estimated that planning permission has already been granted for 33,000 units in the Dublin area, with a further 7,000 in the planning process. This indicates that the planning system has not failed in terms of delivering permission to build. It is the problems in our financing and development sectors that need to be addressed. The Bill proposes to extend the time that a developer/landowner may keep a planning permission with using it from the current 10 years to 15 years. This for many landowners is an incentive not to build. The government should reduce the time to a maximum of 5 years rather than extend it.
This Bill seeks to address another problem that does not exist. 88% of the planning applications made in the Dublin city area are approved within eight weeks. The national average is approximately 67%. In Dublin city, where the crisis is greatest, there is no evidence that the planning system is crucially holding up development. If one talks to people involved in the system, they frequently say that the reason a delay occurs is often because a developer submits a permission to test the waters and then subsequently makes changes to it. It is not the local communities or local councillors who are holding things up but the developers who are submitting planning permissions which have not been fully thought through. We all know that a key issue in the shortage of housing is the number of vacant houses and derelict sites and unused sites with permission for thousands of houses.
The Government through legislation should put pressure on developers across the board to use existing land banks and development sites in an effective and efficient way rather than just sitting on sites that are not being used although they may be zoned correctly.
A broader concern for us is that this is a serious further undermining of the strength of local government and local democracy. We need to strengthen local government by giving councillors responsibilities and putting it up to local authorities to deliver the housing we all know is needed.