Robin Mandal, our chairperson, provided comments in an Irish Times article on the proposed planning reforms that the Government wants to bring in.
The article can be accessed here.
Any attempt by Government to block residents’ groups from taking legal proceedings against proposed housing developments would fall foul of European law, an umbrella organisation of residents and civic groups has said.
“It’s fundamentally wrong… it undermines civil society,” said Robin Mandal, chairman and cofounder of the Dublin Democratic Planning Alliance (DDPA), a body aimed at championing sustainable home construction.
“I would be very surprised if it wasn’t constitutionally attacked and taken to [appeal in] Europe.”
Mr Mandal, who is also a former president of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (RIAI), believes it could specifically be challenged under Ireland’s obligations to the Aarhus Convention which protects public participation in environmental decision making.
He was commenting on the basis of reports on Monday in The Irish Times setting out aspects of Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien’s proposed reform of the planning system, and stressed he had yet to see any official detail.
The DDPA was established in response to concerns over planning policy in the capital, particularly former Strategic Housing Development (SHD) rules that saw larger scale proposals bypass local authorities to An Bord Pleanála.
The alliance believes strategic planning policies designed to facilitate housing provision had brought about a “hornets’ nest” of judicial reviews, the High Court challenges that would be rendered unavailable to housing associations under Mr O’Brien’s draft laws.
According to the alliance, as of September there were about 15,000 houses and apartments caught up in the legal process, compared with about 17,000 that have been started and 68,000 that are ready to go but have not.
In its analysis of data earlier this year, the alliance said the trigger for increasing judicial reviews was the “extraordinary number” of SHD applications which were material contraventions of their area development plans.
Architect Alfonso Bonilla, who had objected to a SHD of 1,600 build-to-rent apartments on former Holy Cross College lands close to his Drumcondra home, said the restrictions would have a chilling effect on public participation in the planning process.
“It seems like what this is trying to do is to encourage individuals to feel more exposed to costs,” he said.
“If you were to take on a judicial review as a neighbours’ association through a registered company, the company would be liable for cost if you weren’t successful.
“By changing this rule, and making it that it is purely individuals who can take these legal proceedings, then that is putting the brunt of the full weight of a multinational corporation’s legal team back on to a single individual. It is like a ‘Slapp’ – strategic lawsuits against public participation.
“It really is a way of scaring the public into not legally challenging bad development,” he said.