The ongoing focus of Government in increasing housing supply, as detailed in the recently published Housing for All Plan, requires numerous actions by Government including the passing of new legislation. This includes, the Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021 (the ‘Bill’). The Bill was approved by Ministers recently and as of 12 November 2021 is currently before Seanad Éireann, Third Stage.
The Bill gives effect to action 12.3 of the Housing for All Plan, which commits to the introduction of a new planning process for Large-scale Residential Developments (“LSRD”) to replace the Strategic Housing Development regime (“SHD”). The SHD regime, which is due to lapse on 25 February 2022, was introduced in 2017 and allowed for the making of LSRD applications direct to An Board Pleanála, with no appeal except by way of judicial review to the High Court. The aim of the Bill is to promote the timely delivery of new housing in both the public and private sector, while restoring the decision-making powers of local authorities in the first instance. What’s changed? Under the new regime outlined in the Bill for LSRD applications, there will be a three-stage process as follows;
- An eight week consultation phase with the planning authority.
- A standard application to the planning authority and an eight-week decision timeframe and
- The final appeal stage where the decision may be appealed to An Bord Pleanála ("the Board") with a mandatory 16-week decision time frame (save for where it is determined by the Board that an oral hearing should be held).
The Bill’s explanatory note refers to the new ’tailored pre-application consultation’ arrangement as being designed to identify and tease out issues at an early stage, improving the quality and efficiency of the process. The effect of the Bill will be to revise the process of applying for planning permission for a LSRD under Section 34 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 ("Principal Act"). This involves the proposed applicant engaging in pre-application consultation with the relevant planning authority under Section 247 of the Principal Act. Following these consultations, the applicant must request a "final consultation meeting" and receive an opinion from the planning authority before proceeding to planning application stage. Under Head 6 of the Bill a new section 247A is to be inserted into the Principal Act which aims to supplement the pre-existing provisions under section 247 requiring the holding of pre-application consultation between a developer/prospective applicant and a planning authority in respect of development of more than 10 units prior to the submission of a planning application. The Bill further sets out the general procedural arrangements, actions and timeframes for the "final consultation meeting" which it is necessary to complete prior to the proposed applicant making a LSRD application. It further outlines required documents and information that should be submitted (to be further prescribed in supplemental regulations). Who is affected?
Under the Bill, large scale development includes developments: (a) of 100 units or more houses on land zoned for residential use or for a mixture of residential and other uses or (b) of student accommodation units which, when combined, contain 200 or more bed spaces, on land the zoning of which facilitates the provision of student accommodation or a mixture of student accommodation and other uses thereon. This is in the most part similar to the SHD definition, save for the introduction of a 30% cap on the allowable gross floor space for commercial use in developments seeking to avail of the new LSRH procedure. This is a sizeable change from the previous 15% cap. The Bill also provides for an exception to the proposed framework where the application is located within a Strategic Development Zone. In such cases the applicant will be required to submit the application directly to the planning authority. As a result, the proposed pre-application consultation process will not apply and no appeal to An Bord Pleanála will ensue.
Head 8 of the Bill provides for a new paragraph to be inserted in section 33(2) of the Principal Act whereby a Minister may limit the number of further information requests that may be sought by a planning authority in relation to a planning application for a LSRD.
While the Bill has some way to go before it is be enacted, and there are indeed possibilities of numerous amendments as it passes through the stages, it is reassuring to developers that there will be a transition period from the SHD arrangements to the new LSRD arrangements. Both planning consent schemes will operate concurrently for a limited period as developers already in the SHD system will be able to continue to decision-making stage. While the Bill's aims are indeed ambitious and could play a significant role in achieving housing supply goals, much will depend on the resourcing of local authority planning departments to allow them engage in a meaningful pre-application consultation process and keep within the timeframes outlined in the Bill.