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Sasko Lazarov

Housing Minister says planning applications should not be decided by courts

Darragh O’Brien also said that people need to stop objecting to planning applications for housing developments.

THE MINISTER FOR Housing Darragh O’Brien has said the courts should not decide planning applications, and he is hoping proposed new legislation would ensure this power is given to local authorities and An Bord Pleanála.

Minister O’Brien also said he supported comments made by the Taoiseach in the Dáil yesterday that, too many people and political parties are objecting to planning applications for housing developments – which O’Brien said was unhelpful to the government’s pledge to end long-term homelessness by 2030.

“We have a housing crisis that is resolvable and solvable, we need people to stop objecting, frankly,” O’Brien said during a visit to Limerick today.

O’Brien said he could not comment specifically on a report yesterday that the High Court quashed planning permission granted for 300 student bed development on the outskirts of Limerick City, after it found that An Bord Pleanála had failed to send a submission by an objector to the local council within the required time limit.

However, speaking generally, he said: “I don’t believe planning decisions should be made in the courts, it’s not the right place for them. Planning decision should be made in our local authorities and in An Bord Pleanála.”

O’Brien is hoping to bring a “consolidated planning bill, the most extensive change to the Planning Act 2000” before the Cabinet within the next two weeks “which will be published before the year end, which is going to deal with a lot of the grey areas and anomalies that we are seeing”.

“We need more student accommodation, we need more accomodation full-stop, and I agree with the Taoiseach, that people need to stop objecting to housing developments, and that goes for opposition political parties that try to find reasons to object to things and sometimes give in to to pressure groups,” he said.

“All court cases and decisions that are made, we see them, and see what impact they may have on planning, and we are feeding them all into our planning review.

“I am not saying that someone doesn’t have a right to take (a case) to court – of course they do – but courts are not the right place to make planning decisions,“ he reiterated.

O’Brien said the government’s housing delivery plans was “not impacted” negatively by the present scale of overvaluing of the housing market, which the ESRI said in its report published Wednesday was in the region of 7%.

He said he was “confident the ‘housing for all’ plan is gaining momentum and is robust enough to be able to withstand external challenges”.

“The housing plan we have is multi-annual, and we are fully funded – €4.5billion into next year – to deliver social and affordable houses and other initiatives around (vacant properties).”

“I’ve read with interest the ESRI report, I think the second-hand market is quiet hot, the good thing is the housing supply and new homes is increasing substantially, and we are going to have a good year this year, so my focus is on the delivery of new homes.”

He said, despite the recent challenges of Covid-19, and inflation due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the government had “actually been able to this year deliver more new build social homes in the history of the state, and will deliver affordable homes to purchase for the first time in nearly a generation”.

Homelessness is at a record-high under O’Brien’s watch, however he said he remained committed to “ending long term homelessness by 2030”.

Despite introducing mitigatory measures such as extending notice to quit periods, purchases of properties with tenants in situ, providing more social housing stock, and refurbishing vacant properties, there will always be “new arrivals” into homelessness, “it can’t be planned for, but it’s our duty to help them and we will”.

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