New planning laws could prevent resident groups oppose controversial decisions

New legistlation will deter judicial reviews taken to the HIgh Court

by Rose Barrett
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Tuesday last saw the Government’s approval for the Draft Planning and Development Bill 2022. While Minister O’Brien claimed the new Bill, if enacted “will bring greater clarity, consistency and certainty to how planning decisions are made. 

“It will make the planning system more coherent and user-friendly for the public and planning practitioners,” said the Minister who hopes the Bill will be published in early 2023. 

However, for many, the new legislation is introduced to prevent residents’ groups or community associations take on controversial planning decisions in the High Court. 

The Minister’s changes have come as a response to the increased judicial reviews sought by communities following some massive Strategic Housing Developments (SHD) decisions made by An Bórd Pleanála over the past year. 

O’Brien’s new legislation should it be approved will be seen as a clear boost to ABP and local authorities, given them more autonomy in the property sector, and ultimately, for the Minister to see more houses delivered at a quicker pace. 

ABP approved several applications for high rise/high density developments in Dublin; at Cross Guns Bridge, Corbalis in Donabate, in Baldoyle, Finglas and across many Dublin communities. While the Minister may have welcomed the Bórd’s decisions, communities and residents’ associations have ignited in opposition and in most cases, sought a judicial review. 

Nicola Byrne of Save Malahide Village claimed many trees and corner spaces are “being cut in the headlong rush to for sexy new projects for outdoor dining, walking or cycling” by local authorities. 

“Giving away residential amenities for profit while residents suffer the consequences of noise, antisocial behaviour or getting mowed down by pelotons in a small village such as Mahalide is not progress! Along with most of Malahide’s public trees being threatened by Fingal’s so-called ‘improvement’ plans. 

“Planning our places is becoming an increasingly top-down affair with less and less role for local control or participation. Reducing and restricting rights to object makes this problem worse. For all its faults, the planning system and An Bord Pleanála gave us a chance to be heard while giving an opportunity for officials and agencies to be held to account. 

“With the new legislation approved, Ms Byrne stated Minister O’Brien is reverting to type, as an old-fashioned FF booster for builders. People aren’t angry about change – they are angry about top-down thuggery!” 

The cost of a judicial review can be up to €80,000 and more, according to Cllr Joan Hopkins (SD) who supported the community campaign against Shoreline Partnership’s application for thousands of housing units in Baldoyle over the next 10 years – and apartment blocks up to 15 storeys high. 

The new laws are further going to restrict timelines for planning appeals and objections, imposing fines where deadlines are exceeded along with giving local authorities greater powers to make compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) on derelict or vacant buildings. 

Fianna Fáil’s Deputy John Lahart caused quite a storm in the Dáil last September when he claimed residents’ associations could fund judicial reviews from “10 cake sales.” 

Cllr Joan Hopkins stated: “I think it is deeply cynical and disrespectful that a Fianna Fáil TD would state that residents’ associations are taking judicial reviews for the cost of a few cake sales. 

“Resident associations that take cases in my experience are doing so as a last resort, it time-consuming and they bear the worry of huge costs – €80,000 on average.” 

She continued: “The fact that the majority of cases taken by the public are being won, shows just how flawed the SHD legislation brought in by Fine Gael is. 

“Developers are blatantly ignoring County Development Plans and showing a complete disregard for sustainable development, that’s the core issue here.” 

“There are planning permissions already granted for 90,000 homes in this country – resident associations and individuals have objected to a tiny minority in the grand scheme of things! 

“Now the Government have scapegoated them, instead of addressing the very real failed housing policies at the root of the problem,” she concluded. 

However, Minister O’Brien said: “These reforms will ensure we have a modern, efficient planning system, with coherence between policies, plans and decisions. They will ensure key infrastructure like housing and renewable energy systems can be built with certainty for those planning it, and with public participation and environmental protection informing the process.”

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