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, which will replace the regime overseen by the soon to be defunct Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA). As part of this process, Dublin City Council (DCC) has recently published its Draft Planning Scheme for the SDZ and is seeking submissions and observations on the Scheme by 10 May 2013.

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). A number of 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 to An Bord Pleanala against a decision of a planning authority on an application for planning permission in an SDZ. The planning authority may also acquire land in an SDZ, compulsorily if necessary.

Under the 2000 Act, the Order designating the site must specify a person or a body to prepare a Planning Scheme for the SDZ. In this case, DCC is the body specified and it envisages that a final Scheme will be in place by November 2013. The current Draft Scheme states that of the 66 hectares comprising the SDZ, 22 hectares are available for development. It envisages that 305,000 square metres of commercial floorspace and 2,600 residential units could be developed in the SDZ.

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

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. The Minister has indicated that appropriate measures will be adopted to deal with developments granted such certification and which are under construction and has promised a "smooth transition" from the Section 25 procedure to the SDZ planning process. A detailed account of these measures has yet to be published and legislation will be required to deal with this issue. However, it is likely that a period will be given during which development works must be completed in order to continue to avail of the Section 25 planning exemption.

No guidance has been given as to how Section 25 certificates, which have been granted but where development works have not yet commenced, will be treated. Again, in order to give effect to the SDZ properly, it is likely that a legislative provision will be introduced to provide that these Section 25 Certificates will lapse either immediately if no construction has commenced or within a designated time frame.

What happens next?

The Draft Scheme is available on DCC's website and DCC is accepting submissions and observations until 10 May 2013. After the consultation closes, the Dublin City Manager will prepare a report on the public submissions for consideration by DCC's elected members before they decide to adopt, refuse to adopt or vary the Draft Scheme. Only those persons who make submissions on the Draft Planning Scheme will have the right to appeal DCC's decision in respect of the Draft Scheme to An Bord Pleanala. Any appeal must be lodged within 4 weeks of the date of DCC's decision so the time frame is extremely tight.