Higher Education Minister Simon Harris has admitted it is “less than ideal” for state officials to object to new housing schemes over concerns about school places.
He said “joined-up thinking is really vital” in relation to dealing with the housing crisis, while also ensuring there were enough school places to cater for large-scale developments.
Mr Harris was commenting after it emerged the Department of Education had submitted planning objections to a string of large-scale, high-density strategic housing developments (SHDs) because it was having difficulty securing sites for schools for the children who would live there.
“The first thing I’d say is we need to build housing. There is a housing emergency in place, and it absolutely makes sense that there is a relentless focus on increasing housing supply,” he said.
Mr Harris said he knew what it was like to live in a constituency with a lot of new houses and “then the system has to run to catch up, in terms of schooling provision”.
Stressing the importance of joined-up thinking, Mr Harris said it was “less than ideal when state agencies are kind of objecting to national objectives”.
He said it would be better if they sat down and discussed issues “so we can fulfil our twin objectives”.
Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien said he was precluded by law from commenting on individual planning cases.
However, his department made it clear that responsibility for planning for schools lay with local authorities and the Department of Education.
“The Department of Housing’s role is in setting the legal and policy framework for planning,” it said in a statement.
“There are mandatory re- quirements to ensure that adequate provision is made for schools through the development planning system.
“It is the responsibility of the local authorities to ensure this is reflected in up-to-date development plans, and to work with the Department of Education to ensure that school sites are delivered.”
The statement also pointed the finger at An Bord Pleanála, which has been determining SHD applications up to now, although local authorities are being handed back the job.
“If planning applications for housing are made in advance of such provision and plans [for schools], there are several options available to the planning authority, including granting a phased permission and/or in the case of a large application site, permission on part of the site,” it said.
“It is noted that very large-scale planning applications for hundreds and in some cases thousands of houses tend to be delivered over many years, and are often subject to a 10-year rather than a more normal five-year permission.”
The Government’s Housing for All Strategy stated that Ireland needed an average of at least 33,000 new homes per year between 2021 and 2030 to meet targets outlined in the National Planning Framework.
In the cases that came to light this week, the Department of Education objected to 10 SHDs comprising more than 7,000 homes, or sought conditions to be attached to the granting of planning permission, citing various difficulties in providing school places.
Six of the developments were granted permission by An Bord Pleanála and four will be decided in the next few months.
In a statement, the department said that since the adoption of the National Planning Framework in 2018, it had intensified efforts to work collaboratively with the planning authorities to ensure that sufficient sites were appropriately zoned to meet potential future school requirements.
The department said it was “essential that planning for the provision of school places takes place in tandem with planning for residential development by local authorities”.
It had provided a needs analysis on schools to every county development plan, to try to ensure sufficient land was set aside for schools, the statement added.