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Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland
planning reform

Strict timelines on judicial review times and who can take them in major planning overhaul

The draft bill will also see An Bord Pleanála reformed and changed to An Coimisiún Pleanála.

THE GOVERNMENT HAVE agreed on plans to overhaul the planning system, with new laws set to go before the Dáil in early 2023.

The planning reforms, which had been well flagged by Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien, was agreed at Cabinet this morning ahead of the planned rotation of the Taoiseach’s office this weekend.

Among the reforms are changes to how judicial reviews may be brought, with the draft bill set to exclude resident associations from directly bringing challenges to the courts.

However, opposition TDs have raised concerns over some of the reforms contained within the draft bill. 

There will also be timelines set out for the entire judicial review process, from pleading cases to the delivery of a judgement.

Judicial reviews are cases taken by citizens or groups to the High Court. Particularly in recent years, judicial reviews have been used to challenge decisions made by An Bord Pleanála around large-scale property developments around the country.

The draft bill will also allow for either An Bord Pleanála or local authorities to correct errors of fact or law in their planning decisions and will also allow them to make a stay on the decision of the judicial review while doing so. 

O’Brien, who faces a motion of confidence later this evening, previously told Morning Ireland that courts are not “in the main the right places to make planning decisions”.

He added that while the Government did not want to prevent people from taking judicial reviews, the draft bill would “provide clarity and transparency as to who is taking a case”.

Alongside reforms of the judicial review process, the draft bill will also introduce mandatory timelines for the consideration of planning applications and appeals, with fines if these are not met.

There will also be mandatory planning guidance issued by the Government, known as National Planning Policy Statements and National Planning Policy Guidance.

Changes to An Bord Pleanala are also included, with the planning body set to be reorganised following an Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) review earlier this year.

The body is set to have its name changed to An Coimisiún Pleanála and will have new organisational structures in place, including a Governing Executive which will be separate from the decision makers.

Under the updated body, there will be 14 Planning Commissioners, who will replace the chairperson and board members.

It comes following on from controversy earlier this year around the body, with Chairperson Dave Walsh opting to retire early in November.

The bill itself is due to be published by the Government in early 2023, with it to go through pre-legislative scrutiny early in the new year.

“These reforms will ensure we have a modern, efficient planning system, with coherence between policies, plans and decisions,” O’Brien said.

“They will ensure key infrastructure like housing and renewable energy systems can be built with certainty for those planning it, and with public participation and environmental protection informing the process.”

Reaction

Following the publication of the plan, business lobby group Ibec have welcomed the proposed reforms saying that it is an “important, necessary step in the right direction”.

Ibec’s Head of Infrastructure, Dr Neil Walker, said that developers were challenged by the “patchwork” of amendments to previous legislation.

“The complex patchwork of amendments to Ireland’s planning legislation, built up over the last two decades, has created costly uncertainty for project developers,” Walker said.

“Proposals for streamlining the Judicial Review regime are badly needed. In particular, we welcome the provision for the Planning Commission to be able to seek a stay on legal proceedings while it seeks to correct any acknowledged errors in fact or law.”

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