Minister says there should be 'clarity' about who is taking cases against planning decisions

Darragh O’Brien denied that resident groups are being targeted by a new bill.

HOUSING MINISTER DARRAGH O’Brien has said that courts are not “in the main the right places to make planning decisions”. 

O’Brien made the comments as he prepares to bring to a new consolidated planning bill to Cabinet tomorrow for approval. 

The bill will represent a massive overhaul of Ireland’s planning system and O’Brien told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today that it was “a radical piece of legislation”. 

O’Brien said the planning system “has become very unwieldy” and needed to be more efficient.

He also highlighted the judicial review system and said that, while the bill will not be restricting people’s right to seek one, the government plans to “provide clarity and transparency as to who is taking a case”. 

Judicial reviews are challenges taken to the High Court that question the legality of a public decision, such as a planning decision. 

The number of judicial reviews taken in planning cases has shot up in recent years, with fast-track Strategic Housing Development planning laws. SHDs allowed certain applications to bypass local planning authorities and go straight to An Bord Pleanála for a decision.

O’Brien said he has removed the SHD laws so that consultations are taken at a local level. 

“People will be able to have a better say in their own local authority area and that’s what’s needed,” the minister said. 

I think the system has become very unwieldy and a lot of our big planning decisions have been taken in the courts and I don’t think the courts in the main are the right places for planning decisions to be made.

He added: “I understand why that has been the case and I fully respect the right of people to have their view and to take a challenge and this Planning Bill will continue to respect that. But we need a more efficient planning system and that’s what this is about, bringing that into the 21st century.”

During a Dáil debate in October, Fianna Fáil’s Dublin South West TD John Lahart said that the planning system was becoming “bogged down and tangled up” in part due to local residents’ groups who could “hold ten cake sales” to finance a judicial review. 

Lahart said such groups were “now queueing up” to take judicial reviews. 

Asked about those comments today, O’Brien said that there should be “clarity and transparency as to who is taking a case”. 

“I want people to have a say in our planning system and an efficient planning system. I think people will also say we’ve got to balance that versus decisions,” he said. 

“What we’re doing is clarifying who those groups would be and who those individuals are and I think that’s important for transparency. But I don’t want to restrict anyone and we won’t be. I just want to be clear on this, it won’t be restricting anyone’s right to take a case or to take a judicial review.”

O’Brien said that the consolidated bill would be brought before Cabinet tomorrow and if approved it would then head to the Dáil for pre-legislative scrutiny. 

“The last consolidated Planning Bill we had was in the year 2000, so we need to update our planning guidelines,” he said.

“There are elements within it, like obviously we’re looking at the restructuring of An Bord Pleanála, about how we would split that between planning decisions and governance.

“Also the issue of time-bound decisions, that we’ll very clearly, in our planning system, set specific timeframes for decisions to be made.”

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