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Minister signs Fast-Track Housing Legislation

Eoghan Murphy TD

New process could result in strategic housing decisions within six months

The new Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy TD has signed the necessary Commencement Order and associated supporting Regulations to enable planning applications for large-scale housing developments of 100 units or more, and large-scale student accommodation projects, to be made directly to An Bord Pleanála (the Board).

Fast Track Housing Developments

The introduction of temporary new fast-track planning arrangements for large-scale housing developments – in respect of which enabling provision was incorporated in the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 – delivers on a key commitment under Pillar 3 of the Government’s Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness – Rebuilding Ireland. Minister Eoghan Murphy said, “The intention behind the planning related provisions of the 2016 Act is to facilitate the provision of increased housing supply through greater streamlining efficiencies in the planning system.”

Under the new Regulations, developers will – with effect from Monday 3 July 2017 – be able to submit planning applications for large housing developments, known as strategic housing developments, directly to the Board, instead of to local planning authorities, as is currently the case.

The new arrangements will apply initially for the period until December 2019, and, subject to review, may be extended to December 2021 (the end date of Rebuilding Ireland).

The new Regulations set out the detailed procedural and administrative matters relating to the determination of planning applications for proposed strategic housing developments and the requirements on relevant parties – the applicant, the Board, relevant local authorities and prescribed bodies for consultation.

Importantly, participation by members of the public will remain a fundamental part of the decision-making process.

Under the new fast-track planning procedures which will essentially involve a two-stage process, the Board will be required to complete pre-application consultations in relation to a proposed development with the developers and the relevant planning authority (who will have a key input into the process) within a maximum period of nine weeks, this is primarily to determine whether a proposed development is broadly consistent with the development plan or local area plan for the area concerned. Where a planning application is subsequently submitted to the Board, it will be required to make a final determination on the application within 16 weeks of receipt of the application (except in exceptional circumstances where an oral hearing is deemed to be required). This will potentially result in planning decisions in respect of such strategic housing developments being decided within an overall period of 6 months of the commencement of formal pre-application consultations with the Board as against the current arrangements where planning applications for large housing developments are initially required to be submitted to the local planning authority and generally end up being appealed to the Board, thereby taking in certain circumstances up to 18 months from initial application to securing ultimate approval.

Part 8 Process Enhancements

In tandem with the new arrangements for private large-scale housing developments, the Minister is also bringing into operation revisions to the Part 8 process for local authority own development proposals ie, social housing, infrastructure servicing both public and private developments, libraries, fire stations, swimming pools etc.  These revisions set a maximum timeframe within the process for the determination of local authority own development proposals and will mean that such proposals must be decided on by elected members within a maximum period of 20 weeks of being first issued for public consultation. Until now no such maximum timeframe existed resulting in delays in the progression of Part 8 projects including social housing developments.

Minister Eoghan Murphy said: “I am confident that these streamlining measures will assist in providing greater certainty in the planning system so that we can get large scale developments built more quickly. Our constant attention has to be on measures that more rapidly bring about the supply of new homes. We have to make it easier and quicker to get homes built and that is why the action I took this morning is necessary and welcome.”

Fast-track procedures in brief

  • Developers/housing providers will in the first instance be required to hold initial informal consultations with the relevant local authority in relation to a proposed development (local authorities have been advised by way of Departmental circular letter that a maximum waiting time of 2 weeks should apply in respect of the holding of such initial consultations).
  • Further to such initial consultations, a developer intending to progress a housing development shall submit a request to the Board seeking to commence formal pre-application consultations in relation to the proposed development, supplemented by specified documentation relating to the proposed development including site location map, a draft layout of the proposed scheme, details of the proposed house types and design, the housing density, building heights, vehicular access, open space provision, integration with surrounding land uses etc.
  • The Board shall complete such formal pre-application consultations within a maximum period of nine weeks, providing its opinion on whether or not the proposed development is broadly consistent with the development plan or local area plan and accordingly, whether or not an application for planning permission in respect of the proposed development may be subsequently submitted to the Board;
    Where a proposed development is deemed during the pre-application process not to be broadly consistent with the relevant development plan or local area plan, the Board shall outline its reasons for same and indicate what steps could be taken by the developer to revise the proposed development to render it broadly consistent with the relevant development plan or local area plan, to enable a proposal to be re-submitted and considered anew.
  • Simultaneous with the formal pre-application consultation process, the Board will conduct a parallel review of the need for an environmental impact assessment (under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive) or an Appropriate Assessment (under the Habitats Directive) in respect of the proposed development and make a determination in this regard.
  • Once a planning application is received, members of the public, prescribed bodies and the local authority will be able to make submissions on a proposed development to the Board in the same manner as currently applies in respect of planning applications submitted to the local planning authority or appealed to the Board.
  • To maximise the efficiency of the overall process and the quality of preparations for planning applications made by developers, requests for further information by the Board will not be allowed.
    Further to the pre-application consultations and the receipt of a planning application in respect of a proposed development, the Board will be required to make a final determination in respect of a planning application for a strategic housing development within a maximum period of 16 weeks of the receipt of such application.