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Housing for All - A New Housing Plan for Ireland: Planning Proposals

08 September 2021 | 4 min ⧖

Housing supply is one of the Government’s top priorities. The Government set out how it intends to address this issue in its “Housing for All - a New Housing Plan for Ireland” in early September 2021. The overall vision is to realise a target of over 300,000 new homes by 2030, adopting four pathways to achieve the overarching objectives of:

  • Supporting Homeownership and Increasing Affordability

  • Eradicating Homelessness, Increasing Social Housing Delivery and Supporting Social Inclusion

  • Increasing New Housing Supply, and

  • Addressing Vacancy and Efficient Use of Existing Stock

Each pathway contains a variety of actions dealing with different stages of the development process. We will focus on one area often blamed for holding up housing: the planning system.

Changes to the Development Plan

Local authorities will be required to allocate sufficient land in their development plan to meet higher housing targets. To accord with general sustainability policies, the Government expects new housing to be located within existing built-up areas with ample serviced land.

The Government will introduce a new designation, Urban Development Zones (UDZ), for land that has significant capacity for growth and regeneration. These zones should be identified at the master-planning stage, following public engagement. Further measures such as a Land Value Sharing mechanism backed up by CPO powers are to be introduced to help with land assembly for these zones. The Government hopes these measures will overcome current hurdles in residential zoning such as price increases for neighbour sites and lack of available infrastructure. Once designated as an UDZ, the local authority must “fast-track planning” for proposals submitted in accordance with an approved scheme.

In terms of timing, the Government intends to finalise proposals for UDZs and section 28 guidelines on development plans by Q4 2021. On the face of it from a planning point of view, the designation as a UDZ appears to be attractive for developers. Developers should keep an eye out for the detailed proposals and opportunities to propose their land for designation. 

Large-Scale Residential Developments instead of Strategic Housing Developments

The Government proposes arrangements for Large-Scale Residential Developments (LSRD) to replace the current Strategic Housing Development (SHD) arrangements in Q4 2021. To be eligible, a development must be for 100 homes or more, or student accommodation bed spaces of 200 bed spaces or more, with up to 30% of the gross floor space of the proposed development allowed for commercial use.

The Government has taken the first stage of decision-making for large housing developments from An Bord Pleanála (the Board) and put it back in the hands of the local planning authority. A developer must firstly enter into pre-application consultations with the local planning authority, who must confirm whether the proposals are reasonable within 8 weeks. If they are, they can be submitted in a planning application to the planning authority which must be determined within 8 weeks with limited scope for further information requests. The Board has “generally 16 weeks from receipt” to determine any appeals, again with similar limited scope for ‘further information requests’.

In practice, it remains to be seen whether the proposals will be “almost as time efficient as the SHD arrangements”, particularly if decisions end up with the Board on appeal or in judicial review. That said, the pre-application consultations should filter out applications that are unlikely to obtain permission and the stricter timelines should result in quicker decisions if they do not go to appeal. 

Reducing the risk of delays from judicial review

The Government aims to introduce new legislation to reform the judicial review system, in compliance with EU legal requirements, in Q2 2022. The aim is for the judicial review system to deal with “substantiative” rather than “administrative” issues. The Government is aware of the high level of SHDs that ended up before the Courts. Again, little detail is provided at this stage, but measures are being proposed to reduce the risk of procedural errors by decision-makers. One such procedural issue is access to the administrative system. To address this e-planning is to be rolled out in all local authorities by Q2 2022. A programme of learning and development for the planning service is also to be provided to Local Authorities and the Board by Q2 2022. In terms of improving access to the planning system, a stakeholder planning advisory forum is to be established in Q4 2021.

At the same time as reforming the judicial review system, the Government will establish a new division of the High Court dealing with planning and environmental issues. These measures, with a more streamlined case management, should assist if sufficient resources are provided to the Courts.

The Office of the Attorney General is to put forward changes to the planning code by December 2022.  An ongoing review of planning law is aiming to make the planning system more accessible and streamlined with “a fitness check” to be completed by the end of Q1 2022. Although the detail is limited, the Government is seeking for the “major debate” on development proposals to consider the needs of both existing and future communities, and to come forward to the plan-making stage rather than the application stage.

Conclusion

Overall, the Government’s planning proposals intend to give developers of large housing developments more “certainty and stability” by shifting the focus of decision-making and public participation to an earlier stage in the process. The decision-makers are also to be provided with tools, guidance and resources to help them meet stricter deadlines. 

The Government has recognised that a holistic approach is needed to build more homes as there are hurdles at each stage of the development process. Whilst the implications of the proposals will become clearer when further details are published, the Government will be hoping that the new measures will reduce the risk of delays to housing developments that achieve an appropriate balance on planning merit.

For more information, please contact a member of our Planning and Environmental team.


The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.

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