DEVELOPERS of large housing schemes will have to thrash out their proposals in detail with local authorities in a ‘dry run’ before making a planning application.
This pre-application consultation will be critical as local authorities will have only eight weeks to consider the formal application, and will only be allowed to return to developers with one further information request before making their decision.
The new arrangements will apply in the successor to the fast-track Strategic Housing Development (SHD) scheme for developments of more than 100 homes, which will put decisions back in the hands of local authorities but with an onus to speed up their determinations.
The SHD scheme expires next February and will be replaced by the new large scale residential development (LSRD) scheme
It will end the practice of SHD developers bringing applications straight to An Bord Pleanála, leaving judicial review by the courts the only appeal route for objectors.
Developers will instead enter an eight-week pre-application consultation with local authorities to iron out details of their proposal ahead of submitting their application.
Once an application is submitted, the public will have five weeks to lodge objections and observations, and the local authority will have eight weeks to make a decision.
The eight-week period can be extended by up to six months in regular planning applications if further information is needed from developers.
That leeway will not be allowed in LSRD cases, with planners permitted just one brief further information request.
A local authority’s decision can be appealed to An Bord Pleanála and a final decision there must be made within 16 weeks, with limited scope for extensions for further information here too.
Paul Hogan, senior planner at the Department of Housing, said the changes were being made due to criticisms of the SHD process.
The scheme had under-delivered on housing, with just 72 of the 210 developments approved under it commenced, he said.
Meanwhile, local authority involvement had been restricted and the number of judicial reviews had increased significantly.
“The re-introduction of an appeal mechanism to An Board Pleanála should assist in reducing the number of judicial review challenges against LSRD planning decisions,” he told the Oireachtas Housing Committee.
Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said it was “the understatement of the century” to say there were some criticisms of SHD.
“It has been an absolute disaster,” he said. “It has not delivered the housing it promised and it has exacerbated the adversarial nature of the planning system.”
The Green Party’s Stephen Matthews, said he was not clear why a fast-track system was needed at all, and said no limit should apply to further information requests as developers often provided insufficient detail at the outset.
“There must be a requirement that they come to the pre-application consultation with high quality documents and full environmental impact assessments, not dipping a toe in the waters with a vague proposal to see what the planning authority says.”
Mr Hogan said it would be in developers’ interests to come fully prepared as the pre-application consultation would be treated as a dry run for the formal application.
The committee will continue their scrutiny of the new arrangements on Thursday.