Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Second Stage


2:20 pm

Photo of Francis Noel DuffyFrancis Noel Duffy (Dublin South West, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister for his briefing on the Bill, which was considered and constructive. I truly welcome the abolition of the strategic housing development scheme, which was a programme for Government commitment. A core tenet of our democracy is a robust, transparent and democratic planning system that allows for genuine public participation to bring about good planning solutions in a timely prescribed manner. From my 30 years of experience in the planning system, speeding the process up will put unneeded pressure on an overworked system and lead to problematic planning solutions. Currently, pre-planning applications are far exceeding the statutory timelines for consideration, with applicants waiting more than double the expected time. I have had personal experience of that in recent years.

The SHD scheme has failed on many levels. It took democracy out of our planning system, which ultimately led to unsustainable developments that materially contravened local development plans. The only recourse that could be taken by the public in that backroom system was to action judicial reviews, and anyone who disputes these actions is questioning a person's right to be heard in our democracy. That is why I feel so many have been actioned, albeit at great expense to the people and communities concerned.

The initial aim of SHDs was to fast-track housing delivery considering our housing crisis, a laudable aim which has sadly failed. It failed to deliver the housing we were in critical need of. Based on the figures given to me by the Department, only 29% of applications granted permission commenced or were completed. We conducted our own research across Dublin, Cork and rural local authorities, which showed the normal planning system had a far higher rate of commencement than the SHD scheme - up to 50% higher in Dublin - despite the fact the SHD scheme was to be considered successful if it hit an 80% commencement rate.

At the heart of the issue with SHDs is the fact that they created a development-led system with no genuine engagement with the local community and local government. Those best placed to make decisions on local developments were blocked from the planning process and had to resort to costly mechanisms to appeal decisions by An Bord Pleanála. It is, therefore, crucial that we do not in any way replicate the SHD system in a new large scale residential development scheme, and I believe the Minister is in agreement with me on this.

I have grave concerns about this Bill. It continues to allow material contraventions to county development plans, where An Bord Pleanála can overturn local authority decisions under section 37(2) of the Planning and Development Act, something I believe An Bord Pleanála is using beyond its real purpose. As a former councillor who has worked tirelessly alongside colleagues to ensure all of the needs of the local community are encapsulated in development plans, I cannot stand behind a planning system that will undermine the work of local authorities and councillors, and the community behind them. I have tabled a number of amendments to improve this part of the Bill and I invite the Minister to perhaps consider strengthening regulations to guide An Bord Pleanála not to undermine existing county development plans.

Another concern I have with this Bill is the limitations around requests for further information, which fetters the discretion of local authorities to request the further information they require. The planning system is very well designed and, from my experience, it works. Shortening this process for large scale developments is problematic, and I can outline why this is the case through the SHD scheme. Where an application is fast-tracked, when a local authority does not have time it will condition the development. These conditions can hold up the commencement and the negotiation happens post permission instead of within it. Essentially, the can is kicked down the road outside of the application process, which puts more pressure on planners. I understand there is huge pressure on planners. The CCMA said in a committee meeting that it did not think there was a problem, but it appears that there is. I hope the preplanning process the Minister has discussed will mitigate the new provision of limiting requests for further information. Complex large developments require more consideration.

I ask the Minister to give careful consideration to my concerns about the Bill. Having fought hard to get rid of the SHD scheme, it would be a great disappointment and unacceptable if the Bill, or parts of it, replicated the failed SHD scheme. I understand we are in a housing crisis. However, the decision of An Bord Pleanála to allow particular developments where they do not meet development planning goals from national to regional to local plans will leave the next generation without local facilities, school access and public transport to work. Measures need to be in place so that we create communities and not unsustainable sporadic housing blighting rural Ireland and suburban communities.


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