Planning Bill risks making our broken system worse. And it’s almost silent on climate

Few stakeholders are happy with a Bill that won’t speed up the planning process, further centralises a top-heavy system and fails to prioritise the climate emergency

The Government’s controversial Planning and Development Bill starts its passage through the Oireachtas Housing Committee this week. As it stands, the 700-page Bill is a mess. The unwieldy legislation risks increasing the levels of uncertainty, conflict and litigation in our planning system. This will lead to ever greater delays of much needed infrastructure, housing, public transport and renewable energy projects.

Even though it took almost two years to draft, when the Bill was published last November, it was still not complete. This month, the Government tabled a further 68 pages of amendments to its own legislation. The final list of proposed changes runs to more than 200 pages, with 1,194 amendments from the Minister, Government TDs and the Opposition.

Beyond the Oireachtas, there is growing concern at the Bill’s lack of clarity. When Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien announced his intention to consolidate 20 years of complex planning legislation, there was a broad welcome across the planning and development community.

That fair wind has all but dissipated. Residential developers are concerned that the Bill will lead to increased litigation and delay. They are urging the Minister to focus on resourcing An Bord Pleanála and the courts in order to expedite decisions. The renewable energy sector believes the Bill fails to prioritise the climate emergency and the need to ensure a pipeline of wind and solar projects to meet our 2030 and 2050 carbon emissions reduction targets. Planning professionals in the public, semistate and private sectors believe that the bill lacks clarity and further centralises an already top-heavy system. Environmental NGOs and community-based organisations are fearful of what they believe is an assault on their access to participation and justice. Meanwhile, planning and environmental lawyers fear the Bill will open up a Pandora’s box of satellite and superior court litigation.


A lot of these concerns were presented to the Oireachtas Housing Committee during pre-legislative scrutiny and in subsequent written submissions to the Department and the committee.

Each of these sectors come to the legislation with different interests and concerns. But there is a broad consensus that without significant change, the Bill risks making our planning system worse not better.

Even those parts of the Bill that enjoy widespread support have problems. The positive inclusion of statutory timelines for An Bord Pleanála is somewhat undermined by the lengthening of existing timelines for Local Authorities.

The Bill’s focus on greater plan-making is long overdue. But the absence of any multiannual workforce plan to increase capacity in our planning authorities begs the question of who is going to do the plan-making.

And then there is the issue of climate change. The built environment – what, how and where we build – is the fourth largest emitter of carbon, after energy, transport and agriculture. We have to dramatically reduce the volume of embodied carbon across all forms of development if we are to meet our Paris Agreement targets. And yet, this once-in-a-generation reform of our planning system is absolutely silent on this crucial issue. This is all the more bewildering when you consider the fact that we have passed into law our own Climate Act and sectoral emissions reductions targets, including for the built environment.

Sinn Féin wants to get planning right. We have said from the outset that we want to work with Government to reform the system. This not only involves consolidating and clarifying existing legislation. It means cleaning up the mess created by years of bad planning law, properly resourcing the planning system and ensuring that system is focused on the challenge of climate change. We need a planning system that makes good decisions in a timely manner following meaningful public participation.

We need a planning system that allows the public, semistate and private sectors to meet the social, economic and environmental needs of our society while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reversing biodiversity loss.

To achieve this the Government’s Planning and Development Bill needs significant amendment. As the legislation makes its way through the Oireachtas it is crucial that Government listens to the wide range of sectors who are concerned with the Bill as it stands.

The Government must also listen to and work with Opposition members of the committee. We have tabled sensible and constructive amendments based on extensive engagement with all those sectors who engage with our planning system.

There is a real opportunity to get planning right; to have a plan-led approach to development that is participative, progressive, efficient and sustainable. But this is only possible if Government accepts that the Bill as it stands is not fit for purpose. Failure to do this will burden our planning system with confusion, conflict, litigation and delay – the very opposite of what the Planning and Development Bill was intended to do.

Eoin Ó Broin is a Sinn Féin TD for Dublin Mid West and the party’s spokesperson for Housing, Local Government and Heritage