The Government has been urged to delay a long-awaited overhaul of the planning system, after senior planners found key parts of the new regime were “unworkable”.
The intervention by the Irish Planning Institute (IPI), which represents more than 1,000 private and public sector planners, has called into question sweeping new laws which are supposed to accelerate building in the face of the worsening housing crisis.
With the delivery of thousands of new homes on hold because of planning and court delays, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien published draft laws in January in a bid to streamline the system.
The legislation includes contentious measures to bar residents’ associations from taking judicial review cases in the High Court against planning decisions. It will also introduce fines for breaches of new mandatory planning deadlines.
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While Mr O’Brien wants the law enacted by summer, the professional body for planners said key measures “will not be achievable in practice” without more planners and increased financial support.
In a detailed submission last week to both the Department of Housing and the Oireachtas housing committee, the IPI also said the draft laws could lead to further “unforeseen” planning problems if they are rushed through the Dáil and Seanad.
The submission followed a review by a “wide range of members” and a committee including three of its former presidents.
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The IPI questioned the “large number of new and strictly defined timelines” in the proposed regime and said many of them “in our experience appear to be unworkable.”
Asked about the IPI’s concerns, the department said it was “considering” the document and submissions from other bodies and stakeholders. The institute’s move, after two months of pre-legislative scrutiny by TDs and Senators, deals a fresh blow to the Government as it faces rising homelessness in the wake of its decision to lift the ban on evictions.
The draft law followed a “legal fitness check” by former attorney general Paul Gallagher SC on planning legislation dating to 2000 that has been amended many times since and is regarded as impenetrable, even by planning experts.
The department said the planning institute was on the advisory forum that discussed “policy considerations” in the attorney’s review: “Once the pre-legislative scrutiny report and these submissions have been fully considered, the final Bill will be published and will commence in the Houses of the Oireachtas.”
Although business groups welcomed the Bill, the planning body said the draft law lacked an “explicit and evidence-based rationale” for many measures.
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The IPI expressed serious concern about proposals to restrict access to judicial review proceedings for unincorporated bodies such as residents’ associations.
“Given that the entire [judicial review] system is designed to correct procedural errors by decision, including in planning decisions, rather than planning assessments, the institute sees no reason or justification to limit access to justice by any person, especially in the context of the Aarhus Directive,” the IPI said.
The Aarhus measures, which took force in Ireland 11 years ago, apply international agreements on the right of access to environmental information and promote public participation in decision-making.
The IPI also questioned measures to remove the right of a third party to seek a declaration from a planning authority that a development was or was not exempt from the requirement to seek planning permission.
Such measures, it believes, could have implications for the ability of third parties such as neighbours to seek enforcement of planning law on developments as diverse as residential extensions, quarries and wind farms.
“It is a long-established, and cherished, feature of the Irish planning system that there is full provision for third party rights, and in the institute’s view this must be retained and enhanced in the Bill,” the submission said. “It is the institute’s considered view that this current Bill, with all of its complexity, is being promoted and progressed in too short a time period.”