On 18 December 2012, the Government designated the North Lotts and Grand Canal Dock areas of Dublin city a Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) pursuant to its powers under the Planning and Development Act 2000 (the 2000 Act). This was the first step in establishing a new framework to facilitate development in these areas. It will replace the regime overseen by the soon to be dissolved Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA). On 16 May 2014 An Bord Pleanala approved the making of a planning scheme for the area subject to modifications as set out in its decision. Most of these modifications were made in the interest of clarity as recommended by the Board's Inspector's report.

The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has published draft Heads of Legislation entitled Dublin Docklands Development Authority (Dissolution) Bill 2014 (the Bill) which makes provision for the dissolution of the DDDA and in particular for the abolition of the Section 25 Certificate planning regime pursuant to which most of the IFSC was developed.

What is an SDZ?

SDZs are designated by the Government on the basis of proposals from the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government (the Minister). Special rules apply to planning and development in an SDZ. These rules make it significantly easier to obtain planning permission for development which is consistent with a Planning Scheme in force for an SDZ, and prohibit planning permission for development which is not consistent with such a Scheme. There is no right of appeal (either for the applicant or any third party) to An Bord Pleanála against a decision of a planning authority on an application for planning permission in an SDZ. So the process of application is quicker and more certain. The Planning Acts also give the planning authority the power to acquire land in an SDZ, compulsorily if necessary.

What is the new Planning Scheme?

The Planning Scheme replaces the DDDA North Lotts and Grand Canal Dock Planning Schemes. It prescribes preferred heights, 'set backs', and densities; the prioritisation of car parking and open spaces; and the interplay between commercial, residential, retail and recreational uses in the area amongst other things. High architectural design will be sought as will the use of high quality, durable materials and the integration of social  infrastructure. The Planning Scheme can be accessed on www.dublincity.ie.

Dublin Docklands Development Authority (Dissolution) Bill 2014

In his press release dated 30 April 2014 the Minister announced that the Bill would be brought forward as a stand-alone piece of legislation with the following main aims:

  • To provide the necessary legal arrangements for all aspects of the dissolution of the DDDA;
  • To ensure continued local community and business sector involvement in Docklands regeneration through the Docklands Consultative Forum;
  • To provide for the transfer of certain responsibilities, rights and liabilities to Dublin City Council primarily, as a consequence of the dissolution; and
  • To provide certainty as regards the planning and development framework in the Docklands area.

What will happen to Section 25 Certificates issued by the DDDA?

One of the key issues addressed in the legislation is what is to be done with existing Section 25 Certificates. Under the previous regime, the DDDA developed master plans for the Docklands area and could issue a Section 25 certificate in respect of a development, which was consistent with that plan and which had the effect of exempting the certified development from the requirement to obtain planning permission. A number of these certificates still exist but have not been developed.

Part IV of the draft Heads of Legislation deals with the cessation of Section 25 planning.  Crucially, the draft legislation proposes in respect of existing Section 25 Certificates that:

  1. where Section 25 applications were submitted to the DDDA but have not yet been determined, the application will be treated as abandoned from the date to be designated by the Minister (Head 18);
  2. where a Section 25 Certificate has issued but where "substantial works" have not been completed or where development has not yet commenced, it is proposed that the Certificates would no longer be valid again from a date  appointed by the Minister (no guidance is available as to what this date might be) (Head 19); and
  3. where a Section 25 Certificate has issued and "substantial works" have been carried out, it is proposed that these Certificates would be capable of being implemented for a period of 3 years and, if not completed by then, the Certificates would no longer be capable of being relied upon.  No definition of "substantial works" is provided in the draft Heads of Legislation.

Heads 21 and 22 of the draft Legislation propose that (1) an application for planning permission can be made by a holder of a Section 25 Certificate in relation to the completion of any works exempted under a Section 25 Certificate and (2) any alterations or amendments to a development completed pursuant to Section 25 Certificate will be required to go through the usual planning process. 

What happens next?

The Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht considered the Bill in May 2014 and the draft Bill will have to pass through the various legislative stages. Applications can be made in the meantime to Dublin City for permission pursuant to the Planning Scheme.