Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 November 2021

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


4:10 pm

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Cork North Central, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister for bringing forward the Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021, which I very much welcome. Given the comments made here earlier on the crisis, it is important to understand that yes there is a crisis in housing and we have faced difficulties over the past number of years, but there have been good news stories too. The reason we have such an increased demand for housing is because more than 400,000 new jobs were created between 2012 and 2019. We also had the situation of trying to respond to the demand when most of the major builders were in NAMA. There was also a huge issue around access to funding. Previously, builders would get money from banks where they could build 100 houses, but now the same builders are only able to get sufficient funding to build 20 houses at a time. There was also a problem with regard to local authorities which just did not have the capacity to take on the projects themselves. Over the past number of years, the Department has made sufficient amounts of money available to local authorities to build. Some local authorities have been very good in reaching targets and others have not been so fortunate in reaching those targets.

I very much welcome this Bill in the context of the consultation process where clear timelines are set out under large-scale residential development, LRD. Once the request goes into a local authority that meeting must be held within four weeks and an opinion must then be issued within four weeks thereafter. One of the biggest problems we have had with the previous late legislation was that the course of appeal was through judicial review. The difficulty with judicial review is the whole process of judicial review. I am aware that the Attorney General is currently looking at that whole area. I am familiar with one case, for example, with a lay litigant that is now going into year 21 and into the third judicial review. This is not in relation to planning, it is in a different area of law. It has been 21 years in the courts, from the Circuit Court to the High Court to the Supreme Court to the Court of Appeal and back around. This is not what the courts system was set up for. In fairness to the courts, they are trying to deal with the issues, making sure that people have adequate time to deal with the issues, making sure there is appropriate consideration of all the legal issues that are raised, and also that a fair judgment is delivered at the end of the day, be it for the person who is taking the action or in favour of the respondent in the case.

The Minister has introduced a provision whereby an objection will bypass the Court of Appeal in the context of judicial reviews. In fairness to the Court of Appeal, it is extremely efficient, from my own experience, and it does set clear timelines in relation to matters coming before it.

Section 6 of the Act will amend sections 126 (a) and 126 (b) of the Planning and Development Act 2000. I am aware that it is the intention to speed up the whole process if it goes into legal proceedings, but the whole problem is that the Supreme Court also has other demands on it and there is no guarantee that this will indeed speed up the process.

In addition there is also an issue in that the Supreme Court can hear a case but it may take some time for it to deliver a judgment because it must examine all of the documentation submitted to it. I was dealing with a recent matter in the Court of Appeal where more than 2,500 pages of documents were submitted. This gives an idea of the complexity of some of these issues, and especially when one is dealing with planning and the detailed reports that are produced by the experts in the area. It takes some time for all of that to be analysed and looked at and also to look at the legal issues.

On planning and development, there is one indication about confidence in the market with the announcement this week in Cork of a proposed development in the order of €350 million. This will be a combination of office development, residential development and a rehabilitation hospital that will have facilities for 130 beds.

When considering planning, we need to ensure that we put in all of the services at the same time we are building residential units. I am not sure that we have done well on this in Ireland. I was at the recent official opening of a community centre where the local community did all of the work in putting in a new facility in an area where more than 130 houses were added in a very short time. Some €130,000 was allocated under a sports capital grant and the whole project cost some €450,000, but only €10,000 was given by the local authority. Yet, the local authority would have collected quite a large amount of money from the developer when the housing was being built. Should we look at this whole process?

I know a person working in the building sector in Edinburgh, and over there they must build the playgrounds and extensions to the schools at the same time as the housing is being built. I wonder whether Ireland has sufficiently joined-up thinking around all of the other services that are required with housing development. This is especially relevant when considering large-scale housing developments and asking whose responsibility it is to put these services in place. The local authorities collect a substantial sum of money in planning charges, but those charges are not ring-fenced for that area, even if one could come back into an area 20 years later. For example, there is one area in my city where 1,050 houses were put up in the 1990s. When we went back to build a community centre, nobody wanted it on their front door and everybody objected to it. We never actually got a community facility built because it was never in the plan from day one. This is why we need more robust planning around services. It is extremely important and we need to work on this.

It is not just about commercial facilities. It is also about sports facilities, facilities for young children, schools and medical facilities. These facilities should not be put down in the corner out of everyone's way where it may not be immediately available to young children and families and where it might take ages to get there. We need to look at this issue in the context of planning. We need to look at how an area might not benefit from the planning charges.

I also want to touch on the issue of the whole housing policy in Ireland by looking at other jurisdictions. I spoke recently with a person who had invested in Germany, buying nine apartments for €450,000. This person did not have to do any of the fitting out of the apartments, which is all done by the tenants. The tenants get a 20 year lease and they put in the bathrooms, kitchens, curtains and so on. The tenants may be able to borrow €25,000, for example, to do the fit out. The tenants have a guarantee of a 20 year lease with five year rent reviews and they can renew the lease again after that. Ireland should start to look at this model to give certainty to people who might find it difficult to get onto the property market no matter what provisions we make.

It also allows for the infrastructure to be put in place quickly. We should examine this similar options in other jurisdictions where the landlord does all the maintenance and provides everything, from kitchen tables to chairs and beds. We need to take a wider view of housing.

It is important to have greater co-ordination among local authorities on delivering, from the day a site is identified to when it is finished. We need to look at that again. The whole process is far too slow and we need to ensure we can deliver local authority housing in a timely manner and ensure people on the housing list are provided with appropriate accommodation in the fastest time possible.

I welcome the Bill. It is the way forward in dealing with this matter. I warn, however, that it does not stop the judicial review process. We need to reform that process, in particular, the making of ex parteapplications to the High Court without the consent of the respondent. All parties should be notified before the application is submitted. That would be one way of dealing with that issue.

I thank the Minister for bringing this Bill forward. I look forward to it being passed.


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