The Government’s Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness – Rebuilding Ireland was published on 19th July 2016 (the “Action Plan”). The overarching aim of the Action Plan is to significantly increase the supply of social and private housing by providing 25,000 new housing units per annum and 47,000 social housing units by 2021.

In this regard, the Action Plan proposed legislative changes around the planning process.

The introduction of the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016, which was enacted on 23 December 2016, gave effect to the commitment contained in the Action Plan to provide a fast-track planning arrangement in respect of large-scale housing developments. The associated regulations, the Planning and Development (Strategic Housing Development) Regulations 2017, came into effect on 3rd July 2017 (the “Regulations”). The Regulations set out the process and requirements on applicants, local planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála (the “Board”).

Planning Process for Strategic Housing Developments

The Act amends the Planning and Development Act 2000 to create a new category of permitted development called “Strategic Housing Development” (“SHD”). A SHD is defined under this legislation as the development of 100 or more houses or 200 or more student accommodation bed spaces.

Planning applications for such developments are made directly to the Board and not to a local planning authority with a right of appeal to the Board, as was the case previously.

This new streamlined planning process applies initially until 31 December 2019 with the possibility to extend that period by a further 2 years to coincide with the timeframe of the Action Plan.

Before an applicant makes an application to the Board for determination, they must follow these steps:

  1. Consultation with the relevant planning authority

An applicant must first consult with the relevant planning authority. The consultation must be held within 4 weeks of the date of the request for such a meeting. The planning authority must submit to the Board, a report from its chief executive setting out its views on the proposed development and its opinion on whether permission should be granted or refused along with copies of the records from the consultation to the Board.

  1. Pre-Application Consultation with the Board

Following submission of a request for a consultation to the Board containing the required information, a consultation meeting will be held within 6 weeks of the date of the request with the applicant, the Board and the relevant planning authority. Following this meeting, the Board will form an opinion on whether the documents submitted constitute a reasonable basis for an application or whether further consideration and amendment is required. This opinion is required to proceed to the next stage.

The Board anticipates that this pre-application consultation process will be concluded within 9 weeks.

  1. Other Pre-Application Requirements

Before making an application to the Board, an applicant must publish in one or more newspapers (that are circulated in the area of the proposed development) a notice indicating the location as well as a brief outline of the proposed development and erect a site notice (on or before the publication of the newspaper notice).

Article 295 of the Regulations lists the prescribed authorities to which a copy of the application and a notice inviting submissions or observations must be sent to prior to making an application to the Board.

  1. Application to the Board

There is a dedicated Strategic Housing Division within the Board that conducts the pre-planning consultation arrangements and makes determinations on planning applications in respect of strategic housing developments.

The Board is required to make their determination in respect of a planning application within a 16 week period from receipt of the planning application if no oral hearing is held. If the Board does not make its determination within 16 weeks, they must proceed to make a decision notwithstanding that the period has expired. In these circumstances, the Board must pay, within 4 weeks, the sum which is equal to the lesser amount of either €10,000 or 3 times the prescribed fee paid by the applicant to the Board in respect of their application for permission.

An applicant may request an oral hearing on their application however, the circumstances in which these will be held is strictly limited to the Board deciding, having regard to the particular circumstances of the application, that there is a compelling case for such a hearing. If there is an oral hearing then a determination must be made within a 24 week period from receipt of the planning application.

Conclusion

The introduction of this new planning process could potentially result in a decision within 25 weeks of commencing the process as against the previous two step process which, in certain circumstances, could take up to 18-24 months to get ultimate approval if appealed to the Board.

Developers should note however that once the pre-application consultation process has taken place, no further information can be submitted to support their application.

With the Regulations only recently implemented and developer’s only starting to avail of this new process, it remains to be seen how successful this process will be in practice. However, given the continued growth in the construction industry and potential reductions in timelines, it is likely to be welcomed by developers and the public sector to fast track planning permission for large scale housing developments.

Guidance documents and forms for the fast track planning process are available on the Board’s website – http://www.pleanala.ie/shd/general/index.htm .