THE ORIGINAL PLANNING SYSTEM
The original planning process in Ireland was consolidated by the Planning and Development Act, 2000. Like similar legislation in all other European countries, this act placed the primary executive power for planning decisions with local planning authorities. The primary benchmark document by which the decision to approve or deny a planning application by a planning authority is the Local Authority Development Plan. This document sets out, in detail, its development objectives. A Development Plan is designed by a local authority's planning department, which is guided by national and regional policies, and by direct democratic input from councillors and the general public. Importantly, the final Development Plan must be ratified by the democratically elected local council.
This system, which is similar to planning systems in other democratic countries, is generally considered robust, representative and accountable. Where the Irish Planning and Development Act 2000 differed from similar legislation in European countries is the existence of a third-party appeals board, An Bord Pleanála. The various stages of the planning process are outlined in the figure below.
THE NEW PLANNING SYSTEM
With the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act, 2016 and the Planning and Development (Strategic Housing Development) Regulations, 2017 the Strategic Housing Development (SHD) system was introduced by then Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy TD. The SHD system introduced an alternative planning process for residential developments over 100 units (over 200 units for student and co-living developments). Through this alternative process, planning permission for these developments can be sought directly from An Bord Pleanála. The SHD system removes local authorities from their role as primary planning authority and assigns it to An Bord Pleanála. Together with the introduction of Section 28 Mandatory Ministerial Directives, the SHD system has led to a significant centralisation of executive and legislative power away from local authorities and to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.
THE INEFFECTIVENESS OF SHDs
The SHD system was introduced with the aim of "fast-tracking" the delivery of housing by avoiding the normal planning process, eliminating the right to appeal. In reality, it has failed to do this. What it has done is to further delay the supply of housing as developers seek higher and higher returns through applying for more and more "units" of housing at extremely high densities. Of the 312 SHD applications (May 2021), 282 have been finalised, with 30 pending. 196 have been granted permission; 60 have been refused; 21 have been quashed in Judicial Review; and 5 were withdrawn or refused JR. To date, of the approximately 60,000 units granted permission nationwide, less than 9,000 have commenced. In Dublin, of the 7,000 units that have been commenced, the only units that appear completed are approximately 1,300 student bed spaces and 227 apartments (May 2021). These results can be found in the the following charts or downloaded from here.
The location and status SHD applications can be found in our map below.
THE DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT OF SHDs
The democratic process has been subverted by removing planning decisions from local Planning Authorities through the Strategic Housing Development 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 prohibiting the right to appeal, another democratic balance has been removed. The only review available to the citizen is Judicial Review, a complex and forbiddingly expensive process, with a very narrow remit that cannot address the substance of planning matters that affect local communities. While the number of Judicial Reviews is less than the refusals to grant permission, they are a symptom of the alienation that the removal of planning from local communities has caused. This is likely to get worse, as the number of "Material Contraventions" to development plans that are being applied for through the SHD process now vastly outnumber those that do not contravene them.