The legal services industry in Ireland has come under increased pressure in recent months to modernise its conveyancing process. Under the current paper-based system, property transactions can take many months to close, allowing time for either the vendor or the purchaser to renege on a sale before the agreement becomes legally binding.

Since 2006, the Law Society have been developing an e-conveyancing model which, when operational, and where the buyer has the funds available, could reduce the time to close a property sale to five days. The urgent need to introduce e-conveyancing was re-emphasised in the Government’s recent Construction 2020 document. However, progress on the proposed e-conveyancing model has stalled somewhat in recent months.

In an effort to resuscitate the Law Society’s e-conveyancing initiative and maintain focus on the delivery of a modernised conveyancing system, Senior Vice-President of the Law Society, Patrick Dorgan, floated the idea of pardoning breaches of planning permission where no complaints have been levied against such breaches for a period of seven years or more.

It is not yet clear exactly what amendments to the current law will be proposed by the Law Society, as the Planning and Development Act 2000 already provides for a statute of limitations at Section 160(6), whereby local authorities are precluded from issuing enforcement proceedings after the expiration of a period of seven years from the commencement of the development.

It is unlikely that any changes to the current legislative framework could be made to “take those blockages out of the system”, without introducing a genuine “planning amnesty” upon the expiration of the seven-year period [1]. One potential route would be to adopt a system of automatically granting retention planning permission after seven years, which may hasten the conveyancing process.

As the law currently stands, the owner of a property with an unauthorised development wishing to sell his property is obliged to apply for retention planning permission, which may or may not be granted. In the event that the application is unsuccessful, the owner has no choice but to demolish the development, in order to ensure a clean title.

So, while local authorities are statute-barred from prosecuting planning violations after 7 years, owners are unable to transfer title without embarking on a cumbersome and uncertain pursuit of retention planning permission. The issuance of retention planning permission by default would introduce clarity for property owners, while the corollary is that certainty of reprieve would serve to incentivise unauthorised development as a system that rewards those who manage to keep under the radar for the requisite period.