We fully support the development of affordable housing and secure rental in our communities that meet the needs of our citizens, supports existing and new communities, and address climate change and biodiversity.
Introduced at the behest of the property industry, the current system of Section 28 Mandatory Ministerial Directives and Strategic Housing Development (SHD) legislation, both of which override the democratic mandate of the Development Plan, will not provide affordable housing, secure rental or sustainable developments for our current and future population and will destroy the quality of the places we call home.
We do not support the Strategic Housing Development process of developer-led design, ministerial directives and planning decisions solely made by An Bord Pleanála. We consider this process to be anti-social and to have a fundamental democratic deficit. This system does not hear our voices as communities, nor does it take any cognisance of our concerns about the destruction of the quality of the places in which we live.
Through reviewing the 250 decisions made already, we believe that many of the buildings granted permission by An Bord Pleanála will irrevocably damage their areas in social, spatial and visual terms and will not provide any affordable housing for our population. We believe that the SHD process will play a large part in developing future problems. It is also very clear that the SHD process is not delivering the housing supply that it promised.
The concept of “subsidiarity” is enshrined as a core value of the European Union. This is the principle that the best decisions are made at the most local level that can support the best decisions. The SHD process is the antithesis of this approach, being entirely centralised.
The Planning Acts set up a system of democratically based area planning through Development Plans. These Development Plans are approved by elected representatives after public consultation.
This process has been subverted through Ministerial directives, under Section 28 of the Planning Acts. Over a series of Ministers, these directives have down-graded space standards to facilitate “Build-to-Rent” schemes and allowed for heights far in excess of anything permitted by local development plans.
It has been further subverted by removing planning decisions from local Planning Authorities through the Strategic Housing Development (SHD) Regulations of 2017. For large housing developments, planning decisions are no longer made by the Local Authority, but are made directly by An Bord Pleanála and there is no right of appeal against a decision by the board. By forbidding the right to appeal, another democratic balance has been removed. The only review available to the citizen is Judicial Review, a complex and expensive process.
These Regulations were to be a temporary measure for a two year period, which was extended by a further two years. It is due to expire in December 2021. They were intended to speed up the planning process for developers, in an attempt to facilitate the speedy construction of more housing stock. This was on the basis that they were being delayed by the normal planning process.
There is no evidence that the planning system is to blame for the shortage of housing, and plenty to suggest that leaving local communities powerless in the face of developers seeking financial returns will lead to poor results.
As well as eliding the local planning authority’s decisions, this process is not transparent. The entire application is managed by the developer and there is no way of seeing what commentaries are made during the process by any interested parties. In our opinion, this effectively nullifies the right of citizens to information that is of vital interest to them. It is also very difficult to see the overall pattern of applications on An Bord Pleanála website. It is telling that the best record is being produced on a voluntary basis by a firm of solicitors – without them, there would be no clear view of the process.
When the decisions are made, the documentation is difficult to access, as very little of it is on-line. In these days of COVID, it is hard for people to get to the offices of An Bord Pleanála to review boxes of paper files and is a risk to themselves and the staff of An Bord Pleanála.
When reporting on extending this process in 2019 for a further two years, In its own report, the Review team noted that: “while the SHD arrangements have generally been a success in providing a fast-track development consent process for developers of large-scale housing developments, the number of SHD permissions that have commenced development is less than might have been expected, given the public resources put into the arrangements and the benefits provided for developers in terms of time-savings and consistency of decision making.”
In practice, the drive to higher densities and faster planning has not delivered anything of what we need – affordable housing for a generation denied of it. What appears to be happening is that developers are seeking higher and higher returns as the rules change, and that the process is actually impeding the delivery of housing.
The Board was set up by the 1976 Planning and Development Act, which removed the Planning Appeals process from the Minister of the day to the newly instituted Board. Under Section 14, its role was defined as determining planning appeals, including references under Section 5 of the 1963 Planning and Development Act, amongst other tasks. It was not intended under that legislation to be the first and only decider of any planning application.
Its role expanded over the years to its current role as the sole arbiter of Strategic Housing Developments. We do not understand why it has this role nor do we understand how its functionaries are monitored to assess their competency to make these decisions, without the background of a fully processed planning application through the Local Planning Authority.
In reviewing the planning permissions granted, the results, if built, appear to be the wrong homes in the wrong places at the wrong price, at an enormous future cost.
There is nobody tasked with assessing the overall impact of the cumulative effect of these Strategic Housing Developments. They are assessed solely on the basis each application. The result will be uncoordinated development, designed at densities that are far in excess of anything that has ever been built in our country, including the tenements of the late 19th century.