The Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 (the 2016 Act) introduces a number of changes to planning laws in order to combat the shortage in housing supply.

One of the fundamental changes is to provide for a temporary arrangement to fast-track planning applications for large-scale housing developments.

This section of the 2016 Act has not yet commenced so the new process is not yet in force but it is expected soon. While the new process will be welcome news to developers of such developments, it is important to understand the strict requirements and timeframes introduced before making such an application.

Fast-tracking – what types of development qualify?

The 2016 Act provides for a new streamlined planning process for large “strategic housing developments”. A “strategic housing development” includes:

  1. The development of 100 or more houses on land zoned for residential purposes or for a mixture of residential and other uses;
  2. The development of student accommodation units which contain 200 or more bed spaces on land the zoning of which allows the provision of student accommodation, or a mixture of student accommodation and other uses;
  3. Development that includes developments of the type set out in 1 and 2 above; and
  4. The alteration of an existing planning permission where the proposed alteration relates to development specified in 1, 2 or 3

on lands with appropriate zoning and subject to limitations on the extent of other uses.

Fast-tracking – what is the new process?

The new process will be in place until the end of 2019 with provision for extension by the Minster for a further two years. Under the existing process, the planning application is made to the local authority with the right to appeal to An Bord Pleanála (the Board). The 2016 Act provides for applications for “strategic housing developments” to be fast-tracked directly to the Board.

Under the fast-track process, the Board will be required to complete pre-planning application consultations with the relevant local authority and developers within a period of no more than nine weeks. Once the pre-planning consultations are complete, the Board will then be required to make a final determination within 16 weeks of receipt of the application (provided there is no oral hearing) or within such other period of time as the Minister may prescribe. There are penalties for the Board if it fails to meet this deadline and it will have to pay the sum of €10,000 or 3 times the prescribed fee, whichever is lesser, to the applicant.

In order to accelerate, the process oral hearings will only be granted in limited circumstances. In addition, the powers of the planning authorities and other prescribed bodies to object are more limited under this process. It is important for developers to note that once the pre-planning consultations have taken place, there is no opportunity to submit further information even if merely to rectify or clarify a point. This may result in the rejection of incomplete applications which would otherwise easily be remedied.

Where planning permission is granted under this new process, there is a restriction on an extension of the permission which will only be granted if substantial works have been carried out during the original time period of the planning permission.

Further extensions for existing planning permissions

Section 22 of the Act aims to deal with large developments which remain unfinished since the recession and provides that a further extension of the duration of a planning permission which has already been extended may be granted by the planning authority for housing developments which consist of 20 or more houses where the authority considers it necessary for the development to be completed. This avoids the necessity for developers to go through the planning process again and will speed up the completion of such developments. The extension must not exceed five years or extend beyond 21 December 2021, whichever occurs first.

The future of the planning process

According to the Minister the short supply of new housing is a “crisis situation“ and the new provisions in the Act will help to combat this problem as well as provide greater certainty for developers. For developers, it is important to ensure that complete and correct applications are submitted in the first instance as there will not be an opportunity to rectify the application post the pre-planning consultation process. Developers should ensure that they seek legal advice in advance of any applications to ensure the best chance of success.