Thursday, 25 November 2021
Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Second Stage
Sinn Féin is clear in its support for good-quality, affordable and well-planned homes. We support this Bill, despite some of its flaws, which I will outline later, as it repeals the SHD legislation. That legislation was undemocratic and undermined democratically agreed local and city and county development plans. It also reduced public participation and led to an increase in legal challenges, as has been outlined.
The SHD model being repealed by this legislation, which Sinn Féin opposed when it was introduced by the former Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, was a throwback to the developer-led planning of the Celtic Tiger days. We are still paying for that developer-led planning today in the form of poor planning decisions, poor-quality developments, a lack of quality public open spaces and a severe lack of public services, particularly public transport infrastructure. It is also worth noting that the previous legislation failed to achieve its objective of helping to increase the provision of housing. According to the Dublin Democratic Planning Alliance, DDPA, consisting of civic society groups, of the 70,866 units for which permission was secured through the SHD process, only 10,711 have been commenced.
Some developers are getting very rich by flipping land on which planning has been granted.
The other issue worth noting is that section 28(1)(c), the ministerial directive, opened the floodgates to material contraventions of development plans. This provision, as the Minister will acknowledge, annoyed many people in our communities, including many councillors who spent months diligently working through the county development plan with planning officials, consulting the local community and democratically deciding what they believed was a sustainable plan for their counties, only to see that work, effort and time utterly wasted as a ministerial directive rode roughshod over those democratic decisions. I welcome that the Government has finally seen sense in scrapping this legislation. We said it would not work and we were right. Sinn Féin proposed an alternative, namely, the provision of statutory timelines for decisions from planning authorities.
While we support this legislation, we have five key concerns. We will introduce amendments on Committee Stage to address them. The first is that there is no provision in the legislation for public participation at pre-planning stage. It is best practice to involve the local community early when planning decisions are being made. I listened on the way in to the House today to a discussion on wind farms. That everything is decided before wind farm plans go to the community causes a lot of concern.
Some 90% of the judicial reviews involve material contraventions of city and county development plans. All local authorities are currently being reviewed and must align with the national development plan. They are reviewed by the Planning Regulator. There is no reason cases in the future should involve material contraventions. Sinn Féin does not believe there should be any restriction on local authorities seeking additional information on planning decisions. If they need more information to make a sound planning decision, there should not be any impediment to this.
We oppose the leapfrog provision in section 6. The Minister has not satisfactorily made the case as to why this provision is in the Bill. It has nothing to do with residential development. We suspect it was inserted for other reasons relating to large infrastructural projects. It would be great if the Minister could be honest as to why this is section in the Bill.
The transitional arrangements in section 17 are problematic. This section effectively extends the SHD provisions into next year and possibly beyond if there are any legal challenges. If applications already in the pre-planning process get approval to proceed to full planning before 17 December, when this replacement legislation is due to be enacted, developers will have until April to apply. For applications not yet in pre-planning, provided developers submit pre-planning applications before 17 December, they will have until June 2022 to submit their applications.
It must also be noted that despite the promises made in the programme for Government to end SHD legislation, with a deadline of the end of this year, there is a concern that many communities will still see inappropriate developments being brought through SHD planning processes well into 2022. If there are legal actions, we may even see some in 2023. This is not acceptable. I believe it is in some ways a trick to delay the removal of the co-living legislation, thereby giving developers ample opportunity to benefit from the delay. We are seeing the same here today.
Sinn Féin intends to submit amendments that would remove the undemocratic powers the Minister has to issue mandatory planning guidelines to local authorities. These powers were introduced by a previous Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, and were used twice by another former Minister, Eoghan Murphy, to bring us co-living, build-to-rent and mandatory heights. For example, just outside Blanchardstown village a developer proposed a co-living development for a suburban street. It was opposed by residents who wanted homes for families on the site. It was also opposed by Fingal County Council planners. It was one of the strongest rejections of a planning application I have ever seen from Fingal County Council planners. Even An Bord Pleanála's inspector opposed it, yet the project was given permission. It would cost the residents tens of thousands of euro to fight this decision in the courts. Many communities do not have those resources. The big developer and big money win out.
As a councillor, I supported a Green Party motion in our county development plan proposed by the now Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, that no development in our village should be allowed over three storeys. Since the disastrous ministerial order contravening development plan heights, we have had several SHDs in Clonsilla where build-to-rent apartments of up to nine storeys were proposed along the protected Royal Canal. Thankfully, they were rejected by An Bord Pleanála. Communities in Clonsilla will be very disappointed to see that the developers will be given another bite of the cherry in 2022.
SHDs, co-living and material contraventions of the development plans were undemocratic. They undermined local city and county development plans, reduced participation and confidence and led to an increase in legal challenges as people rightly believed that this was the only route they could take that would ensure their voices were heard. I urge the Minister to take on board the amendments that have been proposed by Sinn Féin.