Thursday, 25 November 2021
Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Second Stage
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. As a Deputy for Dublin Bay South, I have seen first-hand the terrible impact the SHD legislation has brought to local communities. Thousands of build-to-rent apartments and co-living units have been developed across the city with little or no regard for affordability or integration into the local community. They are just another cash cow for international vulture and cuckoo funds. Affordability, community and sustainability could not be further from their minds.
I welcome that the Government has finally decided it is scrapping SHD legislation. We must be clear about the realities of the SHD process. It is deeply undemocratic. It has provided a method to bypass democratically agreed city and county development plans. It has reduced public participation and led to an increase in legal challenges. It is a throwback to the developer-led planning days of the Celtic tiger. At the time of the introduction of SHDs, Sinn Féin warned the Government against the process and proposed an alternative but it refused to listen. Sinn Féin was criticised for opposing what we were told was the way to deliver housing quickly. How wrong that assertion turned out to be.
It is a shame it has taken this long for the negative effects of SHDs to be recognised by the Government parties and their supporters. Recently, one SHD has been given the green light to fast-track plans for 112 apartments, of which 56 will be one-bedroom and 56 two-bedroom apartments, in Irishtown, Dublin 4. They are going to be shoehorned into a very small site. The scheme results in the introduction of a six-storey development in an area defined by two and three-storey houses. The indicative prices are €540,000 for a two-bedroom apartment and €400,000 for a one-bedroom apartment. I do not know many people who can afford those prices. They will probably be bought by some highly paid executives in the big high-tech companies the Government has welcomed into the country. Not many ordinary working families in Ringsend or Pearse Street will be able to afford them, that is for sure. Where do these families go when they are pushed out? They end up moving to the outskirts of the city or beyond. This breaks up the community and dislocates families. Residents of Ringsend, Pearse Street and Irishtown are very proud of their community, and why would they not be? They have built an amazingly strong community. Unfortunately, Government policies do not support the community. They support the big tech companies and vulture funds.
In the inner city the residents face serious challenges. The Government invites in the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon, tech companies whose establishment pushes up the price of homes, putting them out of the reach of working people. It is great to have all the new jobs, absolutely, although very few of the middle and upper management jobs will go to the local community. I acknowledge that Google is working on community engagement but the other companies are not even making an effort to support and engage with the local community.
On top of these high-tech companies pushing up the price of homes for the community, Government policies are supporting the vulture funds, which also squeeze residents and push up the cost of homes to rent and buy. Residents in Pearse Street, Ringsend and right across the inner city are being squeezed by Government policies. Sinn Féin would make the likes of Amazon and the other high-tech companies and vulture funds pay their share and give residents in Pearse Street and Ringsend a break.
The expense of the sites and apartments means the Part V public housing allocation will not be on site and often will not be in the community. The Part V homes must be delivered in the community.
The legislation needs to be changed to ensure Part V homes are delivered, at the very least, in the community. The most high-profile example of Part V homes not being delivered locally concerns Capital Dock. The Part V homes that were to be there were delivered in Mount Argus. Although this is great for the Mount Argus community, it is not the way it should be. Residents in Ringsend and Irishtown have to put up with the disruption from building works. They are happy to do that, but the least they should have is something positive out of this and homes for their children. That is not unreasonable to expect.
We need to see housing developments that are well planned for effective integration into the community. We need to see good-quality, genuinely affordable homes that are designed with families and long-term tenants in mind. We need residents to shop locally and use local sports clubs. We need housing developments to be places where communities can grow and develop. It is our town too, and we have to develop a city that reflects the needs of the community.
While this Bill is a step in the right direction, there are several concerns and shortcomings – one being that there is no provision in it for public participation at pre-planning stage. The input of the local community must be a cornerstone of any policy on planning. Developers can talk to the planners, which is understandable and right; but equally, residents must have access to planners. It needs to be easier for residents to access planners. Residents need to be given the tools to engage with planners because trying to understand the planning process can be extremely difficult. Residents need support in this regard, and the playing field needs to be levelled. The local community must be given an avenue for its voice to be heard. Time and again, we have all seen where a lack of meaningful consultation with the local community led to tension and hostility to change. That is understandable.
Ninety percent of the judicial reviews of SHD planning applications involve material that violates the city and county development plans. How is it that we allow SHDs to override our local development plans? Local development plans are put together by councillors and council management with the best interest of communities in mind. The plans are then democratically agreed upon. We cannot continue down the path of eroding more and more local government power. In that regard, this LRD legislation is a good step in the right direction. Local development plans must be in line with the national development plan. They are reviewed by the planning regulator to ensure they are all in line. Therefore, there is no reason that future cases should involve material that violates local development plans.
We are also concerned that when it comes to local authorities making planning decisions, there should be no restriction on local authorities seeking additional information. If they need more information to make a sound planning decision, there should be no obstruction. We need to be providing local authorities with the support and resources to make the best planning decisions possible, not putting obstacles to finding additional information in their way.
We have strong concerns over the lack of clarity regarding the leapfrog provision set out in section 6 of the Bill. We need clarity from the Minister on the reasoning for its inclusion. It strikes me that the provision has nothing to do with residential developments; rather, it is being inserted for the benefit of large infrastructure projects. Therefore, we must ask why the provision is in the Bill.
I also have strong concerns over the transitional arrangements set out in section 17. 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 are approved to proceed to the full planning stage before 17 December, when the replacement legislation is due to be enacted, developers will have up to April to apply. Some applications will remain in the circumstances I describe until October, with the possibility of legal action late in 2022, and possibly 2023. This is nothing new. When we consider the delay in the introduction of planning restrictions on co-living developments, we see developers have now been provided with ample opportunity, long after the expiry of the SHD legislation, to benefit from it. Section 17 effectively extends the SHD provisions into next year, and possibly beyond if there are legal challenges. While we support this legislation, we will be raising concerns on Committee Stage.