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Property developers 'intimidating' residents' groups

Tue Mar 7 2023 - 19:22

Property developers have been accused of threatening locals groups objecting to proposed developments with defamation action and massive legal costs, by a number of residents’ associations.

Robin Mandal, chair of the Dublin Democratic Planning Alliance (DDPA), said he was aware of instances where people had been “intimidated” into withdrawing legal challenges to planning decisions.

Mr Mandal said people taking judicial reviews against approved developments had been threatened that they would be taken “to the cleaners” in court if the case was pursued.

One “classic” tactic was a threat to take defamation proceedings against individuals raising concerns about proposed developments, which he said “scares the living hell out of anyone”.

The Dublin planning group, which represents 75 residents’ associations, was speaking to the Oireachtas committee on housing, as it considered the Government’s upcoming overhaul of the planning system.

Cliona Kimber, with the DDPA, said developers had issued threats to take defamation cases in response to residents circulating leaflets to neighbours about proposed developments in their area.

Ms Kimber said this had a chilling effect and resulted in people backing down, as the threat and potential cost of fighting a legal case was “too scary”.

Pauline Foster, of the Recorders’ Residents Association in southwest Dublin, said in one case a developer had been “very heavy-handed” in response to a residents’ association taking a legal challenge against a development.

Mr Mandal said the idea the current planning process was holding up housing developments was “untrue”.

The draft Planning and Development Bill would result in “uninformed changes” that diminished the powers of individuals, local representatives and councils in the planning system.

Mr Mandal said there was “little explanation as to the rationale for these changes”. The failings in the current system were due to its “adversarial nature”, he told the committee.

Any effort to exclude citizens from the planning system was a threat to democracy and the rule of law, which he said “could lead to a breakdown in social stability”.

“We are also concerned about the false narratives driving some of the Bill’s provisions, such as the idea that objections stop development, which is not supported by evidence,” he told politicians.

Ms Foster similarly said residents’ groups were being blamed for the “huge hold-ups in the planning system”.

Delays and procedural errors in decisions by An Bórd Pleanála were largely down to the authority being under-resourced, she said.

Residents’ associations would “wholly reject” suggestions they should be barred from taking judicial reviews of planning decisions, Ms Foster said. This would be “akin to taking away David’s sling in his battle with Goliath”, she said.

Brendan Heneghan, of Terenure West Residents’ Association, said a requirement for associations to list all their members in any appeal of a decision to An Bórd Pleanála was a “stupid provision”.

He told the committee that half of the people involved in an association would have a “conniption” if their name was put to an appeal of a planning decision.

However, he said he rejected any suggestion that residents’ groups were only made up of “two cranks” objecting to developments.


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