The Housing for All Plan sets out a number of potentially significant changes to planning and development in Ireland. We continue to review and reflect on what is (and may be) in store and the impact it could have on tackling the housing crisis and the many systemic challenges that exist presently.
There remain many aspects of Housing for All that require more detail to be published in order to gain a fuller appreciation of the potential contribution certain initiatives, interventions and endeavours could make.
With some components of Housing for All cautiously welcomed and others necessary to hold an “open mind” on pending further detail emerging, it is clear that the publication has nonetheless got many interested parties, and society in general, talking and debating.
Here are some initial thoughts on a selection of announcements relevant to planning.
With talk of “Kenny Report style powers”, can we realise an effective, equitable and efficient Land Value Sharing (LVS)? The 1970s report(s) had notable ambitions around how land values arising from zoning, development consent or becoming serviced could more readily achieve a “common good” and gain for communities, etc. Further detail and consideration will be needed - noting the complex (including constitutional) challenges that may exist, the significant risk that development projects inherently carry in any event, and whether a model that creates major uncertainty and unease can be avoided in any LVS introduction.
Housing for All speaks of LVS applying initially when land is newly zoned for residential development, so many questions arise around the different scenarios that can occur with continuity of zoning during statutory Development Plan reviews, etc. How will the uplift align with existing levy schemes structured to support local infrastructure delivery and upgrades, or how will it be used to secure land for social and affordable housing? This will be an important aspect of the Plan to keep a close eye on.
The Plan refers to “public participation” at an early stage of delivering on “Urban Development Zones” so that the community and stakeholders understand what development is planned for an area. Certainly, this is a laudable ambition, and could take a number of formats ultimately. Might we see the introduction of a requirement to demonstrate meaningful public engagement as part of the design of “large” developments, and to demonstrate how such a process influenced the final proposals, taking cues from the UK? How might Housing for All realise the ambitions of the Programme for Government to move away from token consultation towards a more inclusive and meaningful model? Indeed, what form will “Urban Development Zones” take in our settlement hierarchy and planning policy construct? With developers and other key stakeholders eager for certainty and consistency, a balanced approach will be important here.
Indeed, one of the apparent objectives of UDZs is to provide early certainty to developers as to the costs of required supporting infrastructure – from experience we know this to be a multi-faceted and multi-agency challenge, and particularly where lands may be zoned but have some caveats or timing constraints for development attaching.
Housing for All reaffirms the recent announcement that the Strategic Housing Development (SHD) process will be abolished in 2022 and replaced with a revised “Large-Scale Residential Development” process in the coming months. This process will see a return to local level decision making (to an extent) and the planning sector eagerly awaits detail around this forthcoming process alongside Housing for All’s promise of “planning reform” that will see decision-making on such developments made more “efficient”.
If the goal is to provide stability and certainty in process, and simplified planning legislation, surely consideration must be given to a statutory time limit for An Bord Pleanála decision making on appeals to s.34 planning applications (as opposed to a target)?
One could argue that, while imperfect, and undermined by Judicial Review trends, the SHD ‘regime’ has raised the bar on the quality and planning/design detail associated with large residential developments. How will the LSRD process retain the “best bits” and learn from the difficult experiences?
Wider reform of the planning system in Ireland will need concerted effort, and indeed resourcing of the system. When I wrote the Census of Irish Planners with the Irish Planning Institute in 2014, the under-resourcing of the system was already widely highlighted, and this has compounded in recent years. Housing for All does give a nod to increasing skills and capacity to deliver (moreso in the construction sector specifically) and opportunity may present to afford An Bord Pleanála and Local Government with necessary resourcing.
There has been much media coverage in recent months on reforming the Judicial Review process. With the SHD consenting process now “burdened” with such extensive undermining on foot of Judicial Review after Judicial Review, Housing for All advocates for a new division of High Court for Planning and Environmental cases, to reduce planning delays. It is crucial that legal recourse remains, yet the grounds on which such cases can be taken, and the balance to be struck in introducing an equitable framework much be sensitively developed. Notwithstanding same, perhaps there remains the need for a more fundamental appraisal of perceived impact, without compromising on access to justice.
A simplified slant is outlined in Housing for All whereby “new sanctions for inactivity on currently zoned land which is identified as suitable for residential development” will be introduced to boost supply.
Should land be zoned if it is not and cannot be serviced in the near term?
In reality, do we have adequate lands zoned for development (residential, commercial, other, etc.) when the complexity of bringing forward schemes and projects, dealing with infrastructure requirements and more is fully understood?
Should a developer be led to believe zoned lands could have the prospect of being developed when the reality might be (very) different – servicing constraints, infrastructural investment requirements that may be exorbitant, or a multitude of other barriers – indeed, the Plan also sees this new tax as replacing the Vacant Site Levy. Will we see a regional variance in sanctions to recognise the dominance of the city regions? Another very important space to keep a close eye on.
A new fund is announced in Housing for All, applicable to extant, non-activated planning permissions for apartment developments of four floors or more, above certain density thresholds (and to be for sale for owner occupiers). The fund is effectively to encourage greater activation of existing consents. Immediate questions arise – if it is subject to density thresholds, might there be many instances of inefficient use of lands; will some older consents fall far short of more recent standards and regulations; how might compliance and levies and other factors manifest, etc. The “Croí Cónaithe” fund will be an interesting space to watch, not least given the 70,000-80,000 non-activated consents across Ireland, half of which are in the Dublin area.
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