Fast-Track Planning Bill Needs Fine-Tuning
Minister Coveney officially published the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill 2016 last week, as part of Pillar 3 of ‘Rebuilding Ireland – An Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness’.
The purpose of the legislation is to introduce a fast-track planning process for residential applications over 100 units or student accommodation proposals over 200 units. The Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government has drawn attention to the fact that large schemes are not coming though the system quickly enough.
The proposed legislative change seeks to address inefficiencies in the system by sidestepping the requirement that an initial planning application should be presented to the local authority, and instead should go directly to An Bord Pleanála as it will be appealed anyway.
As yet it is unclear how effective this bill would be, and if primary legislation should be used to address the regulatory process of decision-making.
The bill replaces the normal planning application phase with a nine-week ‘Pre-Application’ phase involving the necessary regulatory bodies, which is preceded by the requirement to consult the local authority, meaning that there will not be a lot of time saved in comparison with the current process. The legislation also requires the applicant to take on many administrative responsibilities (similar to strategic infrastructure development) which may actually increase costs and risks.
As urban planners we want to see faster, more effective decision-making. But there is no indication of how An Bord Pleanála will deal with problems relating to infrastructure, design or strategic issues. As the organisation is an appeals board, it is difficult to see how inspectors with less access to technical departments will be able to make a decision more quickly.
The core of the problem lies with the system’s capacity to solve problems, to get departments out of silos, and to work with planners on creative solutions.
Many jurisdictions, (e.g. Australia & Bulgaria) use a form of oral hearing to get parties around the table to make agreements on critical issues, which they must commit to. In Ireland, oral hearings tend to do the opposite, and reopen everything de novo; a system which involves months of Further Information Requests and inconsistent positioning.
As an alternative to the proposed legislative changes, it may be more efficient to cut An Bord Pleanala decision periods from their current length of 18 weeks, back to eight, which may do more to promote efficiency within the system.
The release of the legislation has met with a cold reception from the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Irish Planning Institute, but is unlikely to be defeated.
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