Thursday, 25 November 2021
Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Second Stage
I am glad to have the opportunity to say a few words on this Bill. It may seem strange for a rural-based Deputy to be speaking on this legislation that will mainly apply to Dublin and the other cities around the country and that will be unlikely to have an impact on rural areas, at least not at this stage. As Deputies in the House, however, we all have an input into the decisions made for the whole of Ireland. The ending of the strategic housing development planning arrangement is welcome. There is no doubt about that and it has been welcomed right across the House. The question, though, is what is going to replace that process and this is important.
The Department has stated that the strategic housing development arrangements were intended to speed up the planning process for large-scale housing developments on land already zoned. It seems clear from the contributions made here that it did not seem to lead to the delivery of any extra houses but instead seems to have led to a market in the flipping of sites. We must get to the point where the political process stops seeing developers as a solution to the problems, because that is not the case. Developers are about maximising profits and that is what they have used the process for. One of the major objections to the way that developments were decided concerned the lack of a way for communities to have an input into the process at an early enough stage to have their views heard.
The report of the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage on the pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill is a good document and highlights many of the problems in this legislation. The section on community involvement is telling in respect of the attitude of the Department concerning community views. The Department, noting that community consultation should be taking place at the development plan stage, shows a complete lack of understanding regarding development. In an ideal world perhaps that would be the case, but planning applications deal with a particular site in much more detail than a county development plan. As the report finds, in practice, for many local communities, planning issues only become a reality when they are faced with a planning application. There is, of course, also the idea that development plans are basically aspirational and it is hard, at times, to get people interested in them.
It is only, therefore, when an application is made that the reality hits of a potential development being under way, and then people start to focus on the development itself. Interestingly as well, someone said earlier that most applications are for variations on plans, as developers use the planning system to get planning permission that increases the value of their land. In that case, then, the community would not be aware of these applications, even if it had been heavily involved in the county development plan process. That aspect must be examined and community involvement must be included.
It is right that it was stated by the committee that it would be of significant benefit to planning applicants and local communities if the proposed legislation contained a requirement for a certain level of public consultation to be incorporated in the pre-planning consultation stage. It is interesting that the committee referred to such a requirement for public consultation to take place as being of use to the applicant as well. I agree that the whole system, ultimately, would be improved by the addition of community involvement in a formal consultation process at the pre-planning stage. It would mean, eventually, with proper consultation being in place, that the planning process could be shortened and applications could move on without problems as well.
I will, therefore, be submitting amendments on Committee Stage to have proper community involvement included in the planning process that would meet the requirements of the legislation and ensure that the communities hosting these developments will be part of the process. It is vitally important that they are included and are a part of the process. If we can achieve that through this legislation, that would be something in itself.