As part of the actions under the Government's Action Plan on Housing and Homelessness – Rebuilding Ireland, the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 (the Act) introduced new streamlined arrangements to enable planning applications for strategic housing developments (SHDs) of 100 housing units or more, or student accommodation or shared accommodation developments of 200 bed spaces or more, to be made directly to An Bord Pleanála (the Board) for determination.
As of end September 2019, the Board had granted permission for a total of 16,195 housing units (comprising 5,410 houses and 10,785 apartments) and 7,573 student bed spaces under the SHD arrangements. However, the recent review of these arrangements highlights that while they have generally been a success in providing a fast-track development consent process for developers of large-scale housing developments, the number of SHD permissions that have commenced development is less than might have been expected for the benefits being provided.
The Review Group noted that, of the 49 SHD permissions granted between January 2018 and 30 June 2019, only 18 (37%) had been activated in some way, either through enabling works or commencement of housing construction. While the majority of the SHD permissions granted are less than one year old, and this could be a relevant consideration regarding the current low activation rate, the Review Group recommended that the Department should continue to monitor the rate of activation of SHD permissions for a further period and if the activation rate does not increase, to circa 80%, consideration could be given to the introduction of a policy measure such as a “use-it-or-lose-it” provision to incentivise the commencement of works.
I have noted the finding of the Review Group regarding the lower than anticipated activation rates on foot of SHD permissions granted to date. Given the benefits for developers with regard to time savings and consistency in decision making, and taking into account the significant public resources invested in the SHD arrangements, I consider it appropriate that developers should be sufficiently motivated to commence development on foot of an SHD permission, in order to ensure the objectives of the SHD arrangements are more clearly met.
Taking account of the relatively lower than expected activation rate of SHD permissions to date, and with a view to reducing the scope for the potential hoarding of sites with SHD permissions for the purpose of increasing site values, and notwithstanding the Review Group’s recommendation to continue monitoring the activation rate for a further period, I consider that it would be timely to introduce a “use it or lose it” measure now. Arising from the introduction of such measure, developers in receipt of an SHD planning permission will be required to commence a certain level of development works within 18 months of the grant of permission, otherwise the permission will lapse. The necessary legislation to bring this into effect will be urgently progressed.