That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Planning and Development Act 2000 to ensure that every appeal or referral is determined within a period of 12 weeks beginning on the date of receipt by the Board of the appeal or referral, or, such other period as the Minister may prescribe in accordance with section 126(4) and section 221(4), either generally or in respect of a particular class or classes of appeals or referrals.
I welcome the opportunity to introduce this Bill to the Dáil. It is a Bill to amend the Planning and Development Act. It specifically obliges in law a statutory time period of 12 weeks by which An Bord Pleanála is obliged to make a decision on planning applications it receives or appeals made to it on foot of local authority decisions. Local authorities themselves have eight weeks to initially grant, refuse or seek clarification on files, and a further four weeks in the case of receipt of further information thereafter. The applicant has no more than six months to respond to further information requests. Therefore, an application process can take at least 13 weeks, or three months, and at most 37 or 38 weeks, which is nine or ten months.
There is no way that An Bord Pleanála should be taking so much longer and, in many cases, 18 months, two years or three years. What happens in local authorities in three months should take that long with An Bord Pleanála. Therefore, this Bill seeks to rectify that fact and this is the means by which it can and should be done.
We are in the midst of a housing crisis. Everyone accepts that solving the housing crisis is complex and multifaceted. We appreciate that a major issue is supply. We recognise that a major solution is increasing supply. Supply is restricted, slowed down and impacted by planning, by cost of construction and by bureaucracy in the way in which local authorities liaise with the Department on the construction of homes. In this Bill, I can only seek to rectify An Bord Pleanála’s role. I want to ensure it does not continue to unduly delay the provision of supply. Similarly, the Government could and must put statutory time periods and constraints on judicial reviews and subsequent appeals.
Despite the best-laid plans, policies, initiatives, Bills and motions by the Government and the Opposition, they are all subsequently at the behest of the planning process. I do not want to disregard or belittle the process of adjudication and deciding on applications. It is transparent, independent and cognisant of development plans, strategies and provisions relating to best practice in design standards, engineering, architecture, health and safety, environment and many other aspects. I do not want either to disregard the subsequent right of appeal, which can further challenge the initial decisions. However, all such aspects of the system must be time-limited and, therefore, not unduly delay or put in danger the very projects which are seeking to address these issues.
I mention An Taisce in regard to the debate that has ensued this week as a result of the High Court decision and the subsequent threat of appeal on a point of law on the part of An Taisce to that decision.
An Taisce, any of its staff, supporters or members of the public who support it can, of course, have an issue with Government policy - that is fair play, it is understandable and as it should be - but to change Government policy, it has a remit is to lobby and advise. Anyone else who wishes to change Government policy can influence it by being elected to this House. It should not be allowed to usurp and frustrate the likes of the Glanbia project which was approved on merit, pertaining to planning laws, resolutions, regulations, guidelines and provisions by Kilkenny County Council, by An Bord Pleanála after a protracted delay, and by the High Court which in its recent decision stated that An Taisce's issue is one of Government policy.
Such procrastination and delays have a major impact on this country's ability to respond to housing supply shortages and to our regions' efforts to provide investment and sustainable development to replace other industries and, in this case, to deal with the implications of Brexit.
I ask the Government to accept this Bill and to address other issues mentioned too, not simply asking An Taisce not to proceed with an appeal but by addressing and putting in place the correct measures in law and in legislation to ensure that nobody has the right to usurp or procrastinate or delay worthwhile developments, as was the case in this instance. I commend the Bill to the Dáil. I hope that all parties would support it and contribute to make it better and do we wish it to achieve.