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New planning laws and dedicated planning court to be delivered within a year


Stock image.

Stock image.

Stock image.

Major changes to the planning system will be in law by the end of the year as the Government moves to reduce the number of legal challenges to large developments.

Planning Minister Peter Burke set out the time scale for business representatives, telling them the number of judicial reviews granted in Ireland was “frightening” compared to other European countries.

He told a gathering hosted by the British Irish Chamber of Commerce and energy firm Statkraft that a new unit with additional staff was being set up within An Bord Pleanála to handle large energy-related developments.

By September a review of the planning laws and the current appeals mechanisms would be complete.

It was intended to have a new planning and development act in place before the end of the year.

A dedicated new environmental and planning court would then be set up next year.

Details of the new legislation have yet to be revealed, but a draft drawn up by Fine Gael in 2019 before the current Government was formed, sought to restrict access to the courts for objectors by applying strict criteria to who could seek judicial reviews and in what circumstances.

The plan then was also to make the cost of taking judicial reviews much more prohibitive.

Mr Burke said he had very strong personal views around costs but they might not make the final cut.

“Some coalition partners have a particular view and they’re very firm on that view,” he said. He was referring to the Green Party.

But he said the current provision for ‘ex parte’ applications which allows objectors ask a judge for leave to appeal a planning decision without inviting the developer along to oppose the request, was “not sustainable”.

Mr Burke said in other European countries, less than 25pc of applications for judicial review were granted while in Ireland the figure was 96pc.

He said the delays were holding up housing, bypasses, greenways and other essential infrastructure.

“That gives us a very bad reputation as a country for investors looking in,” he said.

Attendees urged the minister to apply mandatory decision times for planning decisions.

They also called for activation of powers that would allow the Government direct An Bord Pleanála to prioritise decisions on planning applications of strategic national importance.

Mr Burke said however the approach of boosting planning authority staffing and resources should speed up procedures without recourse to emergency powers.

He urged the gathering to speak out in debates on the upcoming changes to the law, and to better articulate the benefits their developments would bring to communities.

“It's so important that we have business leaders, business voices to the forefront,” he said.

He acknowledged that judicial reviews highlighted flaws in the law and said a lot of work was being done to consolidate the existing planning act which had been repeatedly added to in piecemeal fashion over the last 20 years.

He also said work was under way to ensure EU directives were properly transposed in Irish law.

Failure by developers to comply with EU environmental laws have been a major cause of judicial reviews in recent years.

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