I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this really important Commencement matter related to planning. I welcome my colleague and friend the Minister of State. It is good to see him in particular, as he has a strong record on planning and environmental considerations and is a major champion of the Aarhus Convention. It is important this Commencement matter is dealt with in this way. It is very timely we are dealing with this item today because there is a very substantial piece in this morning's edition of The Irish Times by Mr. Colm Keena, the legal affairs correspondent, on new proposals around judicial review. I have a copy of the edition to hand, which I can give to the Minister of State later when we leave the Chamber. The article suggests new proposals would see an individual having to pay up to €5,000 and a legal entity €10,000 towards a notice party’s costs when a notice party successfully defends a judicial review. That is outrageous and a disgrace and I hope it will not happen on the watch of the Green Party in government. I do not think it will. I am confident enough in the Green Party to know it will resist it and I again call for this to not happen. The fact that this has even got life and been published in this morning's edition of The Irish Times must be of concern to environmentalists and to the Green Party. I opened the newspaper this morning in my office and read of these proposals.
I return to the kernel of the matter. We know the housing planning system is in crisis over judicial reviews; the Minister of State knows it, I know it and we all know it. However, it is not the objectors who are the problem but the fact that there are major concerns about strategic housing developments, SHDs. Submissions were made in an interim report on SHDs and all of them were ignored. I have engaged exhaustively with An Bord Pleanála and its documentation and correspondence and have also gleaned knowledge from my active involvement in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I will state three things: An Bord Pleanála has lost 90% of completed judicial reviews lodged against its decisions on SHDs; An Bord Pleanála has been the subject of 33 completed judicial reviews since the SHD fast-track process was launched in 2017; and An Bord Pleanála has lost 29 judicial reviews, 14 of which it conceded without a hearing and 15 which it conceded following the full court hearings and judgments. That is the reality I want to put on the record of the House.
There is a problem with the SHDs and we need to address it. There are concerns about development, industry, jobs and homes, and I share them. The process is flawed; it is a disgrace and should never have been put into the programme for Government but the Green Party had to compromise. I engaged with the Green Party and it told me it had to compromise, which I recognise, but let us see the end to the SHD process. Let us not take it out on environmentalists or citizens. Let us empower city and county councillors and citizens to engage on an SHD application or any other. The current SHD plan process excludes individuals from a third-party appeal in their local planning authority. It excludes environmentalist groups, such as Friends of the Earth and An Taisce, which have a view. It might not always be the right view but it should be aired. I acknowledge I am talking to a Minister of State who is fiercely committed to all the engagement to which I refer so let us have that engagement. If we have to have reform, let us have it on the timelines but let us not penalise or punish people for engaging. Let us adhere to the principles of the Aarhus Convention, to which the Green Party, including the Minister of State, is committed.