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Fixing Ireland’s under-resourced planning system needs to be a priority

Amid the recent political wrangling over the ending of the rental eviction ban, the real issue at the core of Ireland’s housing crisis has been overlooked, that is, the lack of supply and a broken planning regime that is largely to blame. 

An Bord Pleanála has just 70 inspectors and 15 board members to regulate the entire planning system, compared to the Central Bank, which has 1,100 staff to regulate the financial system. Our planning system has been labelled one of the most bureaucratic in the world, and the delays and we know from our clients that the bottlenecks it causes are the single biggest obstacle to house building in Ireland.

The Government’s Planning and Development Bill promises to shake up planning in Ireland, but experts say that no amount of rebranding or mandatory timelines will make a difference unless agencies such as An Bord Pleanála are adequately resourced. At a recent industry conference the CEO of one of Irland;s largest homebuilders noted that An Bord Pleanála had never been scaled up properly, and with just 70 inspectors, it is struggling to cope with the high demand for housing. Planning expert John Downey described the Republic’s system as one of the “most bureaucratic” in the world, with the current process, from local development plan to specific project assessment, An Bord Pleanála appeals, and judicial reviews, taking up to four years and driving up costs.

The proposed overhaul of the planning system, which includes contentious measures such as limiting residents’ associations from taking judicial review cases and introducing fines for breaches of new mandatory planning deadlines, is intended to streamline the planning process and accelerate home building. However, in a recent submission, the IPI has called for a delay to the Government’s overhaul of the planning system, saying that key parts of the new regime are “unworkable”. The proposed regime’s “strictly defined timelines” appear “unworkable” and many of the measures will not be achievable without more planners and increased financial support. The IPI also expressed serious concern about proposals to restrict access to judicial review proceedings for unincorporated bodies such as residents’ associations, saying that there is no justification to limit access to justice.

Although other business groups have welcomed the Bill, the planning body said the draft law lacked an “explicit and evidence-based rationale” for many measures. The Department of Housing said it was “considering” the IPI’s submission and submissions from other bodies and stakeholders, and that the final Bill will be published and will commence in the Houses of the Oireachtas once the pre-legislative scrutiny report and submissions have been fully considered.

Enough distraction; fixing Ireland’s under-resourced planning system should be the main priority for the Government if they are seriously about tackling the housing crisis. The current system is the single biggest obstacle to house building in Ireland, and no amount of political wrangling or hastily implemented legislation will make a difference unless an efficient system is put in place and then properly resourced. The Government’s Planning and Development Bill may have good intentions, but it is essential that the proposed measures are achievable and that third-party rights to access justice are not restricted. A more efficient and effective planning system is crucial to solving Ireland’s housing crisis.

Ian Lawlor
086 3625482

Managing Director 
Lotus Investment Group