The Government has approved a new bill to reform the planning system that is being described as the third-largest bill in the State’s history.
The Department of Housing said that the proposed legislation would bring “greater clarity, certainty and consistency” to how planning decisions were made, and would make the system more coherent and user-friendly.
The Government says that it will take “a number of weeks” to prepare the Planning and Development Bill 2023 for publication, due to its size.
Details on timelines
It contains a number of changes from the draft bill that was published earlier this year.
These include more detail on statutory mandatory timelines for all consent processes – including An Bord Pleanála (ABP) decisions.
The key time periods will range from 18 weeks for appeals of decisions of planning authorities to 48 weeks for strategic infrastructure developments.
These will be introduced on a phased basis.
The headline period for planning authorities to make decisions will remain at eight weeks, with an additional four weeks allowed for applications that require an environmental assessment.
If ABP, which is to be restructured and renamed as An Coimisiún Pleanála, fails to make decisions with these timelines, it faces a series of “proportionately escalating measures”.
These include mutually agreed time extensions, public notification and reporting, fines and intervention by the Minister for Housing in the form of a review.
Application for leave
The bill also sets out planned changes to the judicial-review (JR) process for planning decisions.
It proposes to remove the application-for-leave stage, to reduce time spent in court and legal costs, while it also limits the ability of applicants to bring amended grounds beyond those originally filed in their applications.
The new bill also requires all JR applicants to have “exhausted any available appeal procedures or any other administrative remedy available in respect of the decision or act concerned”.
Under the bill, residents’ associations can take JR cases if:
- They have a constitution,
- They take a vote of their members on whether to go ahead with a JR,
- Two-thirds of those voting agree to process with the JR, and
- The names and addresses of those in favour of the JR are filed with the application.
A proposal in the draft bill to curb the ability of residents’ groups to take challenges had drawn criticism from organisations such as An Taisce.
Urban Development Zones
The bill introduces Urban Development Zones (UDZs) in place of Strategic Development Zones, which were a feature of previous planning legislation.
The Government says that this will give local authorities the ability to designate areas with “significant potential for development” – including housing – as candidate UDZs, which must then be approved by Government.
The bill will extend the lifespan of local-government plans from six to ten years, with a review after year five.
It will also introduce an Environmental Legal Costs Scheme, aimed at ensuring that the costs of a JR are not prohibitively expensive.
Applicants who lose their case must bear their own costs, but can apply to the new scheme for legal aid in respect of the case. Regulations will set out further details of the scheme.
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said that the changes in the bill would facilitate increased housing supply and critical infrastructure.