Thursday, 11 November 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
3. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if his Department will initiate a review of An Bord Pleanála in view of the recent High Court decisions against An Bord Pleanála with respect to the docklands strategic development zone to ensure its future decisions are consistent with the principles of good policymaking and democratic planning. [55416/21]
As the Minister of State is aware, Dublin City Council, DCC, sought to amend the docklands strategic development zone, SDZ, two years ago to increase building heights and residential and commercial densities in that part of the city. After deliberating on the proposal for two years, An Bord Pleanála rejected the proposal, but that has been struck down in a recent High Court decision. While I am not asking the Minister to talk about any individual planning application or court decision, because he is prohibited from doing so, the recent High Court decision is the latest in a series of decisions that have found An Bord Pleanála at variance with planning law in respect of strategic development zones and strategic housing developments, SHDs. Is the Minister of State concerned about this trend and will he consider a review of An Bord Pleanála decisions to ensure that they are consistent with good policymaking?
I thank the Deputy for his question. I wish to explain from the outset that under section 30 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, I am specifically precluded from exercising any power or control in respect of any particular case in which a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála may be concerned.
Sections 50, 50A and 50B of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, codified a statutory right of judicial review of any decision of An Bord Pleanála. An Bord Pleanála takes full cognisance of any settled legal adjudication in respect of its decisions and seeks to apply any principles arising from such adjudication to its application of its statutory decision-making role. Section 3.2.4 of Housing for All - A New Housing Plan for Ireland sets out several objectives with the aim of improving the functioning of the planning system, including a comprehensive review and consolidation of planning legislation. The review will also include a fitness check and upgrade of relevant provisions of planning law to ensure that it is more accessible and streamlined from a legal perspective. The review, which is being led by the Attorney General, is due to be finalised by September 2022 to allow updated legislation to be enacted by December 2022.
A review of An Bord Pleanála was undertaken by an expert panel and published in March 2016, as the Deputy may be aware. An implementation group, with representation from the Department and An Bord Pleanála, was established to oversee the implementation of the review's recommendations. The review contained 101 recommendations concerning legislative provisions and a review of those 101 recommendations is under way in respect of the proposals we are considering in that context.
That response was interesting, but it did not deal with the central point that I asked the Minister of State to address. I will repeat it, therefore, but I will also give some more context. We have now had three, if not four, High Court judgments where decisions made by An Bord Pleanála on planning applications for material alterations to the docklands SDZ have been struck down. We have also had a growing number of conflicts between local authorities and An Bord Pleanála in the context of its decisions on strategic housing developments. In fact, of the 89 SHDs that have been granted, almost half have been opposed by the planning authorities.
That is an important fact. Dublin City Council has opposed almost 25% of the 29 approved strategic housing developments, SHDs, in its jurisdiction. Almost half have been opposed by South Dublin County Council in its area. Exactly half have been opposed by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. The planning authorities in Fingal, Meath and Cork have taken views at strict variance with the board. Given the growing conflict between the High Court and the board and between local authorities and the board, surely this is something the Minister should be looking at now, not putting off for a year or more until the review of the Attorney General is published.
As I clearly outlined, there was a review in 2016. The recommendations on foot of that review are now being examined as to their implementation subsequent to that. My Department has an oversight agreement with An Bord Pleanála where vital issues and concerns are raised on an ongoing basis. The Office of the Planning Regulator, OPR, has statutory functions to conduct reviews in this area. The powers and armoury are there and are being acted on, as I referenced in terms of the implementation group, the oversight agreement with the Department and in connection with the OPR.
More issues relating to the case will be coming at the end of November so I want to be very careful about issues that are before the courts. All these issues are taken into account. I wish to reaffirm the board's independence. That point is important in the context of this debate.
Again, the Minister of State's answer was very interesting but it did not address the question. I am not asking about the implementation of the 101 recommendations of the 2016 review, nor am I asking about the more comprehensive review of the planning system by the Attorney General. I am asking about a specific trend. In fact, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, raised similar concerns in the context of a court case between Dublin City Council and the board. It is not credible to have six or seven local authorities in constant conflict with the board, and the board losing a string of High Court decisions. I am not asking the Minister of State to comment on the court decisions or the individual planning applications. A trend has emerged recently as a direct result of the strategic housing development, SHD, policy, which, thankfully, the Minister is scrapping, albeit he is taking far too long to do so. At the centre of this is the section 28 mandatory ministerial guidelines for building heights and substandard apartment design standards, which will continue even after the SHD process expires. I am asking the Minister of State to give a commitment to using the oversight body he just mentioned to raise this recent trend as a matter of urgency with the board to try to have the matter addressed.
I just made clear that we are actively doing that, through the oversight agreement in the first instance, and the other two mechanisms I outlined. Some 27,000 planning permissions are granted in this State per annum, 10% of which go to appeal. The process is working as prescribed. There are instances, such as those the Deputy has outlined, of concern and we are actively engaging on those issues. The Minister and I are working on the judicial reform Bill, another key piece of legislation which will improve the functioning of the planning system and ensure it is delivering key capital projects that this Government is putting finance behind. All of this is being worked on actively. I assure the Deputy we are keeping a watching brief and acting on any points of concern within the planning code. The review that is ongoing with the Attorney General's office will be most comprehensive to ensure that the planning code is fit for purpose and passes stress tests to ensure it is delivering for society.