The bill, which will be published in January, would give ministerial guidelines and policy directives stronger legal status, while it would also extend the lifespan of local-government plans from six to ten years, with a review after year five.
Local plans would be “more strategic in nature”, according to the Department of Housing, in order to focus public debate on the plan-making, rather than the planning-application, stage of the process.
The bill would introduce statutory mandatory timelines for all consent processes – including An Bord Pleanála (ABP) decisions.
Timelines are being introduced for appeals and consents applications made to ABP – including strategic-infrastructure developments.
ABP would face fines if it failed to make decisions with these timelines, which are yet to be determined.
There would also be changes to judicial reviews – including timelines for various steps in the process.
“The bill will bring clarity to the role of different parties in accessing justice. In the case of applications for judicial reviews by certain organisations, these will be taken by an individual or individuals,” according to the department.
ABP itself would also be restructured, and renamed An Coimisiún Pleanála. Its decision-making and governance structures would be separated.
A Chief Planning Commissioner and up to 14 full-time Planning Commissioners would replace the current chairperson and board-member roles.
The bill will include costs protection for judicial-review cases, with no order for costs, except where the court considers that the proceedings are “frivolous or vexatious, or an abuse of process”.
The proposals also give local authorities greater capacity to use Compulsory Purchase Orders.
“These reforms will ensure we have a modern, efficient planning system, with coherence between policies, plans and decisions,” said Darragh O’Brien (Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage).
“They will ensure key infrastructure like housing and renewable energy systems can be built with certainty for those planning it, and with public participation and environmental protection informing the process,” he added.
IBEC, An Taisce respond
Welcoming approval of the draft legislation, IBEC said that capacity constraints must be addressed to underpin ambitions to make Ireland a better place to live and work.
"Efforts to address such policy areas are being hindered by an existing planning regime that is unnecessarily costly and cumbersome, and fraught with delay," the body said.
Head of infrastructure Dr Neil Walker said that proposals for streamlining the judicial-review regime were needed.
"In particular, we welcome the provision for the Planning Commission to be able to seek a stay on legal proceedings while it seeks to correct any acknowledged errors in fact or law," he said.
An Taisce, however, warned that the proposals were likely to “significantly curtail the right to challenge unlawful planning decisions in court, meaning communities could lose access to the fundamental checks and balances intended to protect our environment and communities”.