A number of measures were taken by the Irish Government during 2017 in an effort to tackle the country’s housing crisis. These included the potential for a further extension of planning permission for developments of 20 houses or more together with a streamlined planning process for large “strategic housing developments”. Increased use of longstanding Local Authority compulsory purchase order (CPO) powers and the initiation of the vacant sites registers also featured prominently.
Part 2 of the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015 introduced with effect from 2017 a vacant site register within each local authority area and, with effect from 2018, the payment of a levy by the owner of each such vacant site. The registration and levy requirements relate to residential or regeneration land. It is intended that the proceeds of the vacant site levy are to be spent by planning authorities where:
- The vacant site comprises residential land, on the provision of housing on residential land in the vicinity of the site, and
- The vacant site comprises regeneration land, on the development and renewal of regeneration land in the vicinity of the site
The vacant site levy will take effect from 2018 and be payable to the planning authority by the owner of a vacant site that appears entered on the register on 1 January of that year. The levy will be payable in arrears each year, beginning in 2019. It will not be payable on any land currently subject to the derelict sites levy. The vacant site levy amounts to 3% of the market value of the site. Following Budget 2018, the rate will now increase to 7% in the second and subsequent years.
Compulsory Purchase Orders and Local Authorities
Local authorities have significant powers to compulsorily acquire land. Recently, there has been a marked increase in certain local authorities compulsorily acquiring vacant properties for the purposes of the provision of social housing. Part V of the Housing Act, 1966 gives local authorities a general power of compulsory purchase.
In order to acquire land or property, the local authority must serve on every owner, lessee and occupier of the land or property to which the CPO relates a notice stating the effect of the order. It must state that it is about to be submitted to An Bord Pleanála, Ireland’s planning authority, for confirmation and it must specify the time within which and how objections can be made. If no objection is received by An Bord Pleanála, it issues its decision to the local authority. The local authority may then confirm the order with or without modification, or may refuse to confirm the order. A confirmed order becomes operative at the expiration of three weeks after the date of publication of the notice. An application can be made for leave to judicially review the decision to confirm a CPO under section 50 of the Planning and Development Act 2000. This must be done within eight weeks of the date of publication of the notice confirming the CPO.
Extension of Extended Planning Permission
Section 28(2) as amended by section 1 of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2017, commenced on 9 August 2017. It allows for additional time, up to the end of 2021, to complete housing developments on which substantial work is done during the extended duration of the planning permissions concerned. This goes towards increasing much-needed housing supply. The new legislation amends section 42 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 which sets out provisions relating to a planning authority’s power to extend the appropriate period of a planning permission. This enables completion of developments, once certain requirements are complied with.
In order to avail of the new provisions, the planning permission must relate to a development of 20 houses or more and for which an environmental impact assessment or appropriate assessment was not required before the permission was granted. Reasons as to why the development cannot be completed within the appropriate period must be submitted to the relevant planning authority.
Once the various requirements have been met, the planning authority may further extend the appropriate period by an additional period that does not exceed five years or until 31 December 2021, whichever occurs first.
An application for a further extension of the duration of a planning permission for a qualifying housing development that expired on or after 9 August 2017 must be made within the last year of the extended duration of the permission and before that extended duration expires.
Fast Track Planning
The Planning and Development (Strategic Housing Development) Regulations 2017 came into effect on 3 July 2017. The Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 provides for a new streamlined planning process for large “strategic housing developments”. A “strategic housing development” includes:
- the development of 100 or more houses on land zoned for residential purposes or for a mixture of residential and other uses
- 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
- development that includes developments of the type set out at 1 and 2 above, and
- the alteration of an existing planning permission where the proposed alteration relates to development specified in 1, 2 or 3
The “strategic house development” applies only to lands with appropriate zoning and subject to limitations on the extent of other uses.
The new process will be in place until the end of 2019 with the potential for extension by the Minister for a further two years.
Under the fast-track process, an application for permission for a strategic housing development must be made directly to An Bord Pleanála and not to a local authority. Pre-application consultation must take place before an application is made. The Board must make a decision on the application within 16 weeks of lodgement of the application, provided there is no oral hearing, and within 24 weeks where an oral hearing is held.
2017 saw a number of developments in the Irish planning sphere in response to the country’s housing crisis. None of these measures individually are a silver bullet. However, in time the measures should result in distinct increases in housing becoming available. Developers and investors in the property sector need to be aware of the opportunities, and also the obstacles, for their business presented by these developments.
What’s on the horizon for 2018?
- Sustainable Urban Housing: Design Standards for New Apartments, Guidelines for Planning Authorities 2018 are expected early in the year. The focus of the Guidelines is on the planning-related aspects of both the apartment building and the individual units within it. The intention of the Guidelines is to increase apartment provision and to provide greater policy clarity to the ‘build to rent’ and ‘shared accommodation’ sectors.
- The Vacant Homes Strategy is due to be implemented further with more local authorities issuing vacant site notices. The vacant sites levy will also begin to apply on 1 January 2018, becoming payable in 2019.
- The Minister for Housing has announced that proposals for exempting vacant commercial premises from the requirement to obtain planning permission in certain circumstances are to be brought forward in order to tackle the housing shortage. These proposals will, if approved, allow for the change of use of certain vacant commercial premises such as empty shops and “over the shop” type spaces to residential use without the need for planning permission.