Revision of the planning process to try to limit serial objections and reduce judicial reviews

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Reducing serial objections and tackling the number of judicial reviews in projects of national importance are key elements of a major overhaul of state planning laws.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien acknowledged that it takes far too long for big projects to wipe out the planning process.

Attorney General Paul Gallagher is spearheading a three-pronged approach to overhauling planning laws.

In the coming weeks, a new bill is due to be tabled that will aim to streamline the judicial review process primarily by limiting challenges to decisions made by An Bord Pleanála. A new town planning and environment court must also be created.

The new law will seek to revert to the old “motion on notice” approach instead of the current “motion exparte” approach for the purposes of judicial review applications to the courts, aimed at eliminating delays as well as to revise the “substantial grounds” and the “sufficient interest” criteria for the purposes of granting applications for leave for judicial review.

Talk to Irish ExaminerMr. O’Brien said: “I have always said that the judicial review system needs drastic changes.

“As a minister, I cannot speak to any individual planning issue, but we absolutely need to improve our planning legislation to ensure that we can deliver homes efficiently and affordably where we have them. need.”

Another bill, the Large-Scale Residential Development Bill, will end the current process of Strategic Housing Development (SHD) and “return planning to local authorities,” O’Brien said.

This will ensure a more efficient planning system which in itself should reduce the frequency of judicial reviews. ”

The SHD system has encountered significant legal problems and local criticism.

From the start of the system in 2017 until the end of September 2021, An Bord Pleanála received 363 SHD requests and had decided 320 cases with authorization granted in 226 cases. The figures obtained reveal that 79 judicial reviews were taken against the SHD authorizations decided by the board of directors.

The system will be replaced by a new process led by local authorities which sets a deadline of 16 weeks for decisions by local authorities, and 16 weeks with An Bord Pleanála to ensure swift decisions, while restoring the main role of the authority. local in crucial local planning. the decisions.

The bill is expected to be adopted by the Dáil in early December. It will end SHDs from December 17th. The third part of the plan consists of reviewing and consolidating the town planning acts.

The attorney general has until December 2022, when Mr Martin must abandon the Taoiseach’s office, to complete the work, sources said.

This is the biggest “streamlining” of the state’s planning process, Martin said.

Long delays

Addressing the long delays currently in major state projects, Mr. Martin said: “The Attorney General has undertaken a huge task in a fundamental overhaul of the Planning Code, to streamline it to ensure that we can move on. ‘a county council in An Bord Pleanála. , to judicial control, to the courts and to Europe. We need to streamline it. “

In addition to the return of planning decisions to local authorities and an overhaul of the judicial review process, Mr. Gallagher is also undertaking a total revision of the planning laws with a view to their consolidation.

The current Law on Land Use Planning and Development consists of 437 articles and seven schedules.

It has been amended hundreds of times since its enactment and as a result of these changes there are inconsistencies as well as a number of provisions which are not in line with EU law.

The complex nature of the legislation makes it difficult for those responsible for implementing and enforcing the law to navigate successfully.

At present, judicial planning checks are frequent, as potential inconsistencies in the law are judicially tested.

The government’s Housing for All is committed to undertaking a comprehensive review and consolidation of land use planning legislation.

The Attorney General is working closely with the Ministry of Housing, and a Planning Advisory Forum is established in December to take advantage of industry experience.

“The objective of the revision is to consolidate and revise all the state planning laws. It will regularize our town planning laws, improving the coherence and the overall stability of the system. Above all, it will bring a level of consistency and certainty in the application of the planning system, ”said the Ministry of Housing.

Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin said he and his party welcomed the commitment not to expand SHD legislation into the government’s agenda, but that allowing SHDs to be continuing until the end of 2021 is not acceptable.

“Once the SHD legislation is abolished, we must introduce significant reforms in the planning legislation that introduce legal deadlines for pre-planning, requests for additional information and appeals to An Bord Pleanála,” he said. -he declares.

“This will ensure that planning decisions can be taken as quickly as possible without compromising democratically agreed development plans and local participation in planning. “

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