Thursday, 25 November 2021
Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Second Stage
I thank the Minister for outlining the Bill, which is a really important one. It provides for the replacement of the fast-track planning system, the current SHD process for certain large housing projects. The new large-scale residential development process proposed by the Bill consists of three stages: pre-application, application and appeal. It proposes procedural appeal changes intended to reduce the length of time by which cases delay decisions and, ultimately, delay houses.
When we discussed the Bill in the Oireachtas joint housing committee at pre-legislative scrutiny, something really rare happened. There was a moment of cross-party unity and that does not happen too often on that committee. On that day, however, no matter our political persuasions, we sat in that committee room and expressed frustration with the current SHD process. That sentiment has been echoed in the Chamber today.
I was a county councillor on South Dublin County Council for almost a decade and SHDs were a cause of frustration for me. Councillors often viewed them as a way of bypassing locally elected representatives and development plans and public representatives and residents' associations viewed the appeals mechanism of judicial reviews as unattainable, unrealistic and unaffordable. In South Dublin County Council I saw at first hand the resourcing issues there when it came to planning issues, whether it was enforcement or decision-making, and the frustration caused at every level by the slow delivery of houses. That is why we needed a system such as the SHD system. SHDs were introduced to accelerate housing. They delivered a fast-track way of getting a decision on a planning application for a large development. However, judicial reviews slowed many down and 138 sites remain undeveloped despite their planning grants.
I therefore welcome the sunsetting of SHDs and this new legislation, which I hope will accelerate the delivery of housing supply while respecting local democracy and the views of residents. I welcome the strict time limits associated with each of the planning phases and the fact that the timeframes for consultation remain the same. It makes sense that pre-application can be used to iron out issues rather than ending up in further information requests, which ultimately just cost more time and delay housing.
If the Minister will allow me, I will mention today's breaking news that the Central Bank has cleared the way for banks to take part in the Government's shared equity scheme for first-time buyers. This means that prospective first-time buyers in places such as Lucan, Clondalkin, Newcastle and Rathcoole will be able to avail of a shared equity scheme for new build homes that will see the State take an average 20% equity stake in the cost of a home, with a mortgage to be taken out on the remaining cost. For many people this represents light at the end of the tunnel. It means an affordable pathway to owning their own new build, their own home. It will unlock the potential that exists in granted planning applications that lie idle, where homes should be, where young couples and families should be starting the next chapter of their lives, in their own home, right now.
We have heard from Opposition politicians comparisons between this scheme and the UK scheme. They are right that the UK scheme was not perfect. That is why we have learnt from it. That is why we are targeting our measures at the people who need support. That is why we are targeting our measures in the places where homes are needed, such as here in Dublin, where rents are sky-high and people my age cannot afford to buy their own home without our help, without this intervention. The reality is that we have learnt from the UK experience and are building on it. That is what makes our initiative a better deal for our young people. I commend the Minister on that because his actions will empower my generation and my constituents to aspire to own their own homes. I know the Minister could do with a rare moment of cross-party support on that too. If we were to work together towards a shared goal of creating housing for all, things would happen an awful lot faster.
Our collective aim must be to solve this housing crisis and to get people into homes. No politician's efforts should be focused on exploiting the housing crisis for political gain and delaying housing that is so desperately needed.
As I have said time and again, people do not need unrealistic silver bullets. They need action and they need homes. The Affordable Housing Act, Housing For All, and this Bill will stimulate the delivery of homes and increase affordability. That needs to be our goal.