Thursday, 25 November 2021
Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Second Stage
I welcome the opportunity to examine the Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021. I thank the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and his officials for their work on this Bill and for bringing it before the House. I will be supporting this important change in legislation which ends the era of strategic housing developments. This was a key commitment of the programme for Government and I am pleased to see it being implemented by the Minister. I agree with the Cathaoirleach Gníomhach. His own experience in Dublin South-West mirrors my very similar experience in my own constituency in Dún Laoghaire with regard to SHDs.
The Bill introduces a new planning process for large-scale residential developments, LRDs, which will replace the existing strategic housing development process. Crucially, the reforms in this Bill will restore the power to make decisions on large-scale residential developments to city or county councils in the first instance, thereby providing greater transparency and clarity and improved public participation in the process. The Bill passed by the Seanad introduces a provision that local authorities must ensure that owner-occupied housing is provided for as a tenure type and that the number of such units is estimated in their housing strategies. Next year, €4 billion of Exchequer funding, supplemented by Land Development Agency funding and Housing Finance Agency lending, will be made available to deliver 9,000 new-build social homes and make 4,130 homes available for affordable purchase and cost rental.
The Bill introduces a new planning process for LRDs to replace the SHD process. The SHD process, provided for by the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016, allowed for certain large-scale applications to be made directly to An Bord Pleanála. The new process is envisaged to take place at local authority level with a mechanism to appeal to An Bord Pleanála. This is quite similar to the traditional planning process. The introduction of the LRD process gives effect to the commitment in action 12.3 of the Government’s Housing for All strategy. It introduces a three-stage LRD process consisting of a pre-planning phase, an application phase and an appeal phase. The reforms will restore the power to make decisions on large residential developments to local authorities in the first instance, providing greater transparency and clarity and improved public participation in the process, which is crucial.
A large-scale residential development is defined as a housing development of 100 or more units, student accommodation comprising 200 units or more, or a combination of the two where the threshold is met for either element. The Bill also contains an amendment to section 50A of the Planning and Development Act 2000, allowing for any party to a planning appeal to apply to have it heard by the Supreme Court under judicial review, bypassing the Court of Appeal stage provided for under the current system. This provision is intended to reduce the length of time it takes to dispose of the litigation and is a welcome change. The Bill will also provide certainty and stability to the construction sector by retaining some of the positive elements of the existing arrangements such as mandatory pre-application consultation, the quality of applications submitted and decision timelines.
Delivering on commitments in both the programme for Government and Housing for All, the new LRD arrangements will involve three stages. The pre-application stage involves two steps. The applicant will first be required to seek standard pre-application consultation as currently mandated for developments of this scale under section 247 of the Planning and Development Act 2000. The second step entails a mandatory eight-week consultation phase with the local authority resulting in the holding of an LRD meeting and the issuing of an LRD opinion as to whether the proposals constitute a reasonable basis for submitting an application.
The application stage involves a standard application, to be made to the city or county council, with a mandatory eight-week timeframe for decisions. On the appeal stage, the decision of the planning authority may be appealed to An Bord Pleanála, in which case the board has a mandatory 16-week timeframe for decisions. That is new. The Bill also proposes a number of transitional arrangements relating to the expiry of the SHD arrangements and their replacement by the new LRD arrangements.
I welcome the ending of the SHD process. The legislation was deeply flawed, undermined county development plans, rode roughshod over local democracy and failed to deliver housing. The new LRD process will ensure future applications have regard to county development plans, many of which councillors across the county have worked on or are working on. This will fulfil the need for democracy in this process. The LRD process will ensure a more appropriate process for large-scale applications. This is welcome. I hope it will deliver housing. I will be supporting the Bill and I look forward to hearing from the Minister regarding reasonable amendments such as those allowing councils to seek further information. Perhaps, in his closing remarks, the Minister will confirm whether councils can seek further information in the process. Will applicants still be required to provide drawings, plans and other information through a specific dedicated website under the LRD process or will it be for the councils to provide that information on their planning websites?
To go back to the points raised by my colleagues, it is important to remember that the SHD process was meant to accelerate the processing of applications. It probably did that but how many of those applications actually came to fruition? I am thinking about a specific case in my own constituency, in Carrickmines, where planning permission for a 22-storey building was granted in the middle of what is, in theory, a residential area. It would have been far greater in height than any other proposed building, whether residential or otherwise, in that area. We need to look at the heights, the mix and the facilities. The Cathaoirleach Gníomhach himself spoke about facilities in respect of SHDs. We need to look at what is provided around these proposed developments. We need units to be developed. That is for sure. However, they have to be appropriate for the area with regard to their scale, their size and the amenities they offer. In moving away from the SHD process, the Minister and his officials have heard the genuine concerns of the people over recent years since the SHD process was brought in in 2016. Many of the changes being proposed today are very welcome and will be welcomed by members of the public engaging with the various processes and applications.