Thursday, 25 November 2021
Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Second Stage
Will the Minister please allow me my time?
Returning to the Bill before us, it is good that we are getting rid of what was a disgraceful initiative introduced by then Minister, Deputy Coveney, to completely disregard the role of local authorities and local councillors, ignore city and county development plans and ram major developments through at the behest of developers. The SHD process was about ignoring local and democratic views in what constituted the good planning and development of areas and ruling out the opportunity for an appeal. People had one shot at it and it was An Bord Pleanála that made the decisions.
If the applicant did not like the decision, it was tough luck and the only option was to go with a judicial review. We know the majority of judicial reviews that were taken were upheld, which underlines that this was dreadful legislation.
Much has been made of the fact the Minister is now proposing to undo that legislation and restore the two-stage planning process. There is no doubt this is a welcome development but he should not for a moment suggest it will solve the problem of poor planning and development, which is driven by developers. We need to look at the real problem. On the surface, it looks like it is the SHD process, and it is certainly problematic and has squeezed out local opinion. In fact, the real problem is the mandatory planning guidelines that were introduced over recent years by successive Ministers with responsibility for housing and planning. The Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, allowed for national planning guidelines to which local authorities and An Bord Pleanála had to have regard but which were not mandatory. In 2015, the then Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, introduced mandatory guidelines and that was the start of the rot in regard to good planning and development. Irrespective of the views of local authorities, local communities or An Bord Pleanála, the guidelines were mandatory for the latter. Irrespective of what that body felt was right in terms of good planning, it had to observe the national guidelines because they were mandatory. In 2016, this problem was added to by the then Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, when he introduced the SHD process. The SHDs started to operate in 2017, under the then Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy, and, in 2018, the latter further reduced apartment standards and introduced new building height guidelines. In addition, he introduced the build-to-rent policy.
As a result of these measures, the planning framework that has existed over recent years is based on a system whereby no regard is given to city and county development plans or the view of local planners, who know their area best, and little regard is given to the views of local communities. An Bord Pleanála was mandated to remove height limits and reduce apartment standards, which was the most egregious element of the changes to the planning laws. In the case of regular, general developments, up to 50% could be made up of one-bedroom or studio apartments, and up to 100% in the case of build-to-rent schemes. Has anyone ever heard anything like it in terms of planning standards? There was no limit on the number of small, shoebox apartments that could form part of a development. No criteria were set down for what would be a good mix in terms of different apartment sizes to cater for different household sizes and what would constitute a good social mix. The consequence is that we now have 100% build-to-rent schemes, 100% transient populations and 100% ruling out of any option for people to buy an apartment. It is very clear from the situation in Dublin that it is not possible for anybody to buy a new apartment. They are all part of build-to-rent schemes. That is the result of the scandalous planning decisions that were taken over the past six or seven years.
Let us look at the mandatory guidelines that cover the whole area of apartment standards. We now have very small apartments, not much bigger than a disabled parking space.