It is unlikely to surprise many people in the industry that the number of proposed new housing units delayed by judicial reviews has increased over the past two years. This is something we have mentioned here, in frustration, on a number occasions, usually in the context of poor local planning or outright NIMBY-ism (‘not in my back yard’). However, it might shock people to learn that the actual increase exceeds 1,000 percent (not a typo). Earlier this week, construction consultants Mitchell McDermott issued a report that details this massive increase in the number of objections to planning decisions and the number of potential new homes impacted by these objections. The Mitchell McDermott annual report examined the incidences of large scale housing developments in Dublin, which had successfully received planning permission through the Strategic Housing Developments (SHD) process, only to have that grant of planning either quashed or delayed by judicial review. The SHD scheme, which was created in 2017 in an attempt to speed up the planning process for vital new homes, has certainly attracted criticism from both political and community groups. The primary point of criticism is that the process circumvents local authorities by allowing developers – who are seeking to deliver in excess of 100 homes – apply directly to An Bord Pleanála for planning. Anecdotally, we know that developers are increasingly frustrated to see this supposedly fast-track process being derailed by judicial reviews of the planning decisions. Often, the basis of these reviews are relatively minor issues. As mentioned here previously, there is little financial commitment required to bring forward these judicial review proceedings, yet An Bord Pleanála spends 10s of millions dealing with them. The average SHD application takes approximately 40 weeks. Subsequent judicial review proceedings can add a further four to six months to this overall process.
In real terms, according to Mitchell McDermott’s annual report on the construction sector, the number of potential Dublin housing units impacted by the judicial review process back in 2019 was 508, whereas by 2020, that figure had skyrocketed to 5,802. Nationally, the figures have increased from 1,048 potential homes impacted in 2019 to 6,969 in 2020. This means that more than 10 percent of all of the residential units that have been granted planning permission under the SHD process since its introduction four year ago – 65,000 – have now been challenged. This 10 percent rate is concerning enough itself, however, when we consider that the annual rate of objection has increased from 4 percent to in excess of 30 percent, it is truly alarming. The report author rightly refers to this as a “worrying trend”, particularly in light of the revised downward figures for expected housing outputs in 2021. With construction costs continuing to increase year-on-year and with the value of output expected to fall by €3 billion this year, it is critical that any unnecessary delays or derailments of much-needed housing delivery are addressed swiftly and decisively by the Government.
Lotus Investment Group