I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Obtaining planning permission is one of the key steps in enabling housing providers to produce the homes we all need. The process of obtaining planning permission takes time, reflecting the importance of getting the location and design of new development right. Once permission is granted, it normally lasts for five years to enable the relevant development to be built out. However, due to the economic recession of recent years and the resulting downturn in construction activity and slow pace of sales, many approved housing developments could not be built out within the timeframes attaching to their original permissions. This is the case even where some of these benefited from an initial five-year extension of duration, which is already facilitated under the Planning Acts. Recognising these extraordinary economic and market conditions, and to avoid time-consuming and pointless repeat applications for planning permission at a time of unprecedented housing need, pillar 3 of Rebuilding Ireland committed the Government to amending planning legislation to temporarily allow for a second extension of duration of planning permissions over the period of the action plan to 2021.
Section 28 of the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 was originally drafted to amend section 42 of the principal Act and address the extension of duration provisions.
Specifically, section 28 of the 2016 Act provides: under section 28(1), a permanent change to section 42 of the 2000 Act, providing that extensions of duration would no longer apply where environmental impact assessment, EIA, or appropriate assessment, AA, was required in respect of the original planning permission. That is to bring the planning code fully into line with EU law requirements.
Under section 28(2), a temporary change is being made to section 42 of the 2000 Act, providing that a second extension of duration of planning permission could be approved for a development of 20 or more homes in certain circumstances and where development had substantially commenced within the original permission period. It was always intended to commence these provisions separately, as the first was drafted in response to EU requirements, and as is the norm with such new legislative requirements, there needs to be a transitional period for practical arrangements to be made to meet them. Developers need time to consider and comply with the new EU law requirements, and, as the case may be, apply for an extension of duration or a new planning permission. That is the reason I am not commencing this provision immediately but expect to do so by the end of this year.
The second provision is more urgent. If a second extension of duration is required to deliver housing that is in short supply, I am anxious that this be acted upon as soon as possible. However, due to the legal construction of section 28 with these two separate provisions, as I have outlined, legal advice received indicates that it is not possible to specifically commence the second provision without also commencing the first. Accordingly, this Bill seeks to allow us to commence this second provision separately, and without delay.
Another reason to quickly enact this Bill before the House is to address a further issue that came to light during consideration of amendments to the 2016 Act during the debates on the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016 - currently on Report Stage here in the Dáil. Some housing providers are not able to avail of a second extension of duration in cases where the development had substantially commenced but had done so within the period of the extended planning permission, that is, after year five, as opposed to during the original five-year planning permission period.
During discussions on the Bill, the Government tabled amendments and signalled that it would consider other changes to the 2016 Bill, taking account of the constructive and helpful views from Opposition Members. We are eager to facilitate as broad a cohort of house builders as possible to be able to avail of this temporary flexibility to deliver as much new and permitted housing stock into the market as early as possible. However, recognising that the 2016 Bill will not be enacted until the autumn, I have moved to bring these changes into effect as soon as possible. That is to minimise any delays and provide certainty to developers, their financiers and planning authorities, as well as to citizens who need homes. The provisions before the House today are therefore not new, but are in fact simplified and allow for greater flexibility for already eligible permissions seeking a further extension.
I will briefly run through the provisions in this Bill. Section 1 proposes to delete section 28(2)(a) of the 2016 Act and substitute new text to address the issues outlined above and enable separate commencements to the different parts of section 28. Section 1 also extends the opportunity for second durations of permission to those developments whose permissions have expired, or are due to expire, regardless of whether the developments commenced during their initial period of permission, or during the first extension period.
Section 2 contains standard provisions of a general nature, dealing with such matters as Short Title, collective citation and construction. As the Bill contains no commencement provision, the enacted provisions will come into force upon the date of signature of the President.
While I appreciate that consideration of such a provision would normally make its way through the legislative process in the traditional manner, we do not have the luxury of waiting for the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016 in the autumn. We are aware that there is a substantial number of commenced housing projects, between 50 and 100, throughout the country that could be built without further delay, if the amending legislation and relevant commencement arrangements are expedited. If not, that building activity may be obliged to cease. As soon as it became clear from scheduling arrangements that the Oireachtas would not be able to conclude its deliberations on the 2016 Bill before the recess, I acted to seek to progress this key provision by means of this fast-track, stand-alone Bill.
I did not want to rush the wide range of issues in the 2016 Bill, including the important proposals around the establishment of the office of the planning regulator, which require the careful scrutiny of this House. This Bill ensures that the affected housing providers who had substantially commenced development in an extended planning permission period would be able to apply for a second extension of duration, without the need to cease work while they apply for a new permission. It also means that those whose projects had substantially commenced within the original planning permission period would be able to avail of a second extension. It is important to note that this provision will apply only to projects that have substantially commenced and will not apply to projects that have not commenced. That is to discourage the hoarding of planning permissions without going ahead and actually delivering the homes. As facilitated under the original provisions in the 2016 Act, any qualifying permitted development that has expired between the publication of Rebuilding Ireland on 19 July 2016 and the commencement date of this provision will still be eligible to apply for a second extension. I commend this Bill to the House. I thank Members on all sides for considering this important matter at such short notice.