Strategic Housing Development Review: Discussion

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To our meeting to discuss the strategic housing development, SHD, review, I welcome: Dr. David Duffy and Mr. John Spain from Property Industry Ireland, PII; Mr. Joe Corr and Dr. Conor Norton from the Irish Planning Institute; and Mr. Paul Hyde and Ms Rachel Kenny from An Bord Pleanála. They are most welcome.

Before beginning, I draw the attention of our guests to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of that evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected to the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given. They are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside of these Houses, or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

Dr. David Duffy

I thank the committee for inviting PII to attend. I am accompanied by Mr. John Spain, chair of PII's planning and development committee. PII is an independent and inclusive representative organisation for all subsectors of the Irish property industry. Membership of the organisation is open to all professional firms across the property industry.

PII views the SHD process as a key part of its planning system and recommends that consideration be given to making it a permanent feature. Whereas the supply of new homes has improved, it remains below estimated levels of new household formation. The scheme has contributed greatly to speeding up decision-making processes on major housing developments at a time of major shortages in housing supply in Dublin and around the country. Up to the end of June, out of the 71 applications decided by An Bord Pleanála, 49 cases of permission have been granted, leaving an approval rate of just under 70%. This has resulted in 11,388 housing units being approved, comprising 7,038 apartments and 4,350 houses, together with 7,981 student bed spaces.

Given the very significant increase in large-scale housing planning applications since the scheme was introduced in 2017, we expect to see a commensurate increase in construction activity over the next 12 months, feeding through to a further significant increase in new housing completions over the next few years. The SHD process has been particularly successful in encouraging apartment developments in the more central areas of our cities, which will greatly assist in regeneration and result in a more sustainable pattern of housing provision, reducing the dependence on car-based, low-density housing in peripheral locations. This is particularly important if we are to achieve the Government's climate change objectives as they relate to urban development. Much of this increase in activity is funded by overseas investors, who find the certainty of the timescale for decisions on strategic housing development applications particularly encouraging.

There is inevitably a time lag between a grant of permission and commencement of construction. This applies to cases of strategic housing development permission just as it does to standard planning permission. There are a number of reasons for this time lag, including the need to obtain compliance approval from the local authority with respect to pre-commencement conditions, the need to agree Part V social housing provision details and the need to agree water and drainage details with Irish Water.

In some cases, commencement is dependent on upgrades to local infrastructure by Irish Water or the local authority. In other cases, amendments to elements of the scheme are required prior to commencement due to changing market requirements or it can take time to finalise funding arrangements for construction. Typically, it may take six months or more to get responses from a local authority to pre-commencement compliance submissions. The time lag between permission being granted and commencement of construction may be anything from six months to two years for these reasons.

As part of PII’s submission to the SHD review, we made several recommendations aimed at improving the efficiency and impact of the scheme. In light of time constraints, I will list only these recommendations, but we are happy to discuss them in more detail. An Bord Pleanála should be permitted to request further information where the only alternative is a refusal of permission and the potential reason or reasons for refusal are capable of being addressed by further information. Further information is permitted in strategic infrastructure development applications and is often requested. The occasional use of similar provisions in normal planning appeals under section 132 of the Planning and Development Act has proven very effective.

A higher proportion of commercial use to complement residential use should be allowed, especially for larger schemes. Additional resources should be allocated to Irish Water to reduce the length of time it takes to produce documentation. Prescribed bodies should be required to engage at pre-application stage. The requirement to refer to material contravention in notices and on the application form should be removed. It would be of great assistance to applicants if there were more specific comments in An Bord Pleanála opinions at pre-application stage in respect of what is or is not considered acceptable and what changes may be required to make a scheme acceptable. An Bord Pleanála should be encouraged to review its approach to requiring a minimum density level for SHD sites. The SHD system should move fully online and a section of the An Bord Pleanála should be dedicated to SHD applications.

There is a need for clarity on the procedure for amendment applications to approved SHD schemes. Amendment applications are best dealt with by local planning authorities. Resourcing and capacity at local authority and An Bord Pleanála levels should be reviewed. The SHD process should be optional for applicants. There is a need to clarify the treatment of SHD applications in strategic development zone planning scheme areas.

We are happy to discuss our recommendations to the SHD review in more detail with the committee.

Mr. Joe Corr

I thank the committee for the invitation to appear. I am joined by Dr. Conor Norton, vice president of the Irish Planning Institute. We will do all we can to assist the committee regarding the views of planners on the strategic housing development review. The Irish Planning Institute is the all-island professional body representing planners engaged in physical and environmental planning. Our mission is to advance planning in the interest of the common good by serving, improving and promoting the planning profession. We are the largest professional membership body for spatial planners operating on the island of Ireland. Our members work across the planning system, including in planning consultancies, for developers, and in planning authorities, semi-State organisations, An Bord Pleanála and central government. We are a broad church of professional planners and our membership has developed great collective expertise through its interactions with various stages of the strategic housing development process.

As our members work across the planning system, the views they represented to us are quite diverse. The institute has long argued in favour of the principle of subsidiarity in planning such that, insofar as practicable, local planning decisions should be made by competent authorities at local level. However, the institute acknowledges and supports the overall purpose of strategic housing development to accelerate the delivery of much-needed housing in accordance with the principles and objectives contained in Rebuilding Ireland and as a temporary measure. More than 16,172 housing units and 7,573 units of student accommodation have been granted permission through this process by An Bord Pleanála since SHD was rolled out. This is a considerable achievement. Despite the changes facilitated in the planning system and increasing numbers of planning applications, the institute shares the concerns of many present that figures for building on the ground remain modest.

There are, of course, numerous hurdles developers have to jump after planning permission has been granted before they can actually start building. The post-permission period is increasingly more complex, with numerous compliance conditions that must be fulfilled on each site before construction can start.

The Irish Planning Institute, IPI, has consistently argued that local authority planning departments are not adequately resourced to carry out their range of functions and responsibilities. We have pointed to areas where problems still exist in terms of process. We have suggested, for example, greater resourcing for matters of compliance with conditions of permission, and we have suggested to the strategic housing development review group that these compliance certificates could be secured if necessary from An Bord Pleanála. As with all permissions, delay can still result from the judicial review processes post permission.

Delivery is critical, and it must be driven at local level. At our recent autumn planning conference I called for planner-led delivery teams to be created in all local authorities to bring forward urban regeneration in urban centres, to engage in active land management, and to assist in unlocking strategic lands where planning permissions have been granted.

In summary, I would like to highlight here today, as I have on other occasions, that the successful roll out of strategic housing development shows that planning per se is not the roadblock to delivery of housing. Our membership is anxious to avoid a scenario where planning permissions granted under the strategic housing development process will be used by developers or speculators to increase the value of land rather than the delivery of housing. We very much want to be part of the solution in working with other professions in the construction sector to deliver the housing our citizens so badly need.

I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to come before the committee today. We will endeavour to respond to all of the committee's questions. If there is any additional information required arising from this meeting, we will be pleased to provide that information in a prompt manner.

I thank Mr. Corr. I now call Mr. Paul Hyde to make his opening statement.

Mr. Paul Hyde

Good morning, Chairman, and to committee members and colleagues from the planning and development sectors. I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to appear before the committee to discuss the important work of An Bord Pleanála in the context of the strategic housing development, SHD, review, and to respond to any questions the committee may have of SHD.

I am deputy chair of An Bord Pleanála and chair of the strategic housing division. I am joined by Ms Rachel Kenny, director of planning operations. With the Chairman's indulgence, I may ask her to address some of the issues raised, as she may be more familiar with such matters.

The board undertakes a critical role in considering and determining strategic housing development proposals, and we remain committed to delivering decisions as quickly and effectively as possible. The strategic housing development legislation has been in operation for just over two years, since July 2017. In that time a total of just over 100 cases have been decided, two thirds of which were decided in the past nine months. All cases have been decided within the mandatory timelines provided for, which is 16 weeks, except for two cases, where oral hearings were held. The board has also issued opinions on approximately 230 pre-application consultations, again within the nine-week period provided for in the legislation.

The role of the board is not merely to deal with cases as expeditiously as possible but also to promote the principles of proper planning and sustainable development. The national planning framework and the emerging regional spatial and economic strategies, as well as the various section 28 ministerial guidelines published over the past decade, set a clear priority for appropriate development in the right locations to facilitate the sustainable and orderly growth of our cities, towns and rural hinterlands. The board has a clear role in implementing such policies through the processing of case decisions.

In a constantly evolving and more complex legislative and legal context, where environmental issues and public participation are to the fore, it is also crucial that the board has all the information it needs to make sound decisions and gives people time to feed in their views on proposals during the deliberative process, reflecting our core principles of integrity, independence and fair-mindedness.

I will give the committee a little background on the strategic housing development division. The board was, on commencement of the legislation, provided with ten additional staff across planning inspectorate and administration, although during 2019 this was increased to 17 staff.

Four board members are assigned to the SHD division of the board, which is chaired by myself, and the members of this division are required to prioritise these cases, as is the case with all large-scale housing appeals that come to us. The board’s performance in relation to strategic housing developments has been very strong. The board, as I have already mentioned, has decided more than 100 cases, with 67 of these being a decision to grant and 34 to refuse. As of 30 September, approximately 16,500 residential units have been permitted and 7,500 student bed spaces. Pre-application consultation requests considered to date account for approximately 63,000 residential units and approximately 12,000 student bed spaces, so we anticipate significant and ongoing applications. However, it is not a rubber-stamping exercise. To date, approximately 5,460 residential units and approximately 1,360 student bed spaces have been refused consent. The board remains committed to the right developments in the right locations.

The board acknowledges the appointment of an independent panel to undertake a review of the performance, operation and structure of strategic housing development provisions. Representatives of the board have met with the independent review group to answer queries, provide statistical information and provide insight as required. Rather than go into the detail of this now, as I am conscious that I am taking up members’ valuable time to raise specific issues, I will leave it there. We are happy to take any questions and answer specific queries as they arise.

Yesterday, I took the time to contact councillors from all parties and none to tell them An Bord Pleanála was coming before the committee today, as has been customary for me since I became a member of this committee three and a half years ago. To say there was an avalanche of telephone calls and emails would be an understatement. Local communities feel disenfranchised by the SHD process and politicians - national and local - feel disenfranchised. Planners also, who are members of the Irish Planning Institute, have expressed concern. Its submission on 16 July was its initial submission and the nuances are slightly different now in terms of where it stands on the SHD. It was an excellent submission and I spoke to a number of planners across the 30 or so local authorities, who all agreed. They are under-resourced and under pressure and many of them are disillusioned and thinking of getting out. As Mr. Corr said, his membership comprises people who sit on local authorities and who work in State agencies, in An Bord Pleanála and in Mr. Duffy's organisation. It is a very impressive body of people who have a track record of delivering and they are saying "Enough is enough; it has got to stop."

I will cut to the chase and say it has failed the planning system. Subsidiarity means making decisions within communities and if the witnesses are telling this committee that this is a major infringement of the Aarhus Convention and undermines citizens' ability to make their views known in the planning process, we have to do something. I do not want this to be a box-ticking exercise. The witnesses have set out their credentials well but I will focus on the IPI as I have taken the trouble to look at its track record and to talk to its membership across the sector. What is the IPI's stance on the removal of the right to a third party appeal? What is the stance of An Bord Pleanála? It is important that local authorities are acknowledged as the best-placed people to make decisions.

I am not talking about councillors. I am talking about the unique relationship between councils, which have local knowledge, and expert planners who have trained in and have knowledge of planning matters. I want to hear what the witnesses have to say about that.

On the overall process, is it right that An Bord Pleanála should be judge and jury in a case? I note that the IPI strongly advocates the need for additional resources for local authorities to allow them to get on with their work. There was some suggestion regarding other groups and the establishment of a special planning and environment law court was also mentioned. Will the witnesses comment on that? It is wholly wrong and inappropriate that citizens are forced to take costly judicial reviews because this has an impact on communities and individuals. I know a man in one local authority area who is representing himself in a case as a lay litigant. I am familiar with communities in Dublin that are literally broke because they have initiated judicial processes and then some people have decided they cannot proceed with a case or put their homes on the line. That is an important issue.

The IPI talks about the introduction of a site value tax for sites that receive permission via the strategic housing development process. Will the witnesses clarify that? I would like to hear their comments on it because it is a very important issue.

In respect of An Bord Pleanála, there is much criticism of its website and the system it has in place. An applicant can put up a map, plans and a photomontage as he or she sees fit and advocate for his or her own planning application. In some cases, after the event, councillors cannot get access to application. I want to hear the board's view on all of that in terms of access to this information, particularly its websites.

We know there are issues with requests for further information and the mechanisms involved in that. There are serious concerns about that, abuses of the system and the way it which it prolongs the process. This is meant to be fast-track planning but I do not believe that is the case.

The strategic housing development process disenfranchises communities. It is not right or proper. It needs to cease, not next year or the year after that. It was a temporary measure, which has failed and did not deliver homes. It may have delivered student accommodation and in other areas but it has not delivered on the key objective of the Rebuilding Ireland programme, namely, to deliver homes. The most important comment I am hearing from local councillors and planners is that they are demoralised. They feel disenfranchised, as do communities. The SHD process is an attack on a sustainable, consultative planning process. There can be no place in a democracy for having proper open, transparent planning done by an elite group in Marlborough Street. The system is not engaging with those who are elected by the people to represent them. The citizens have the right to engage in the planning process.

I ask Mr. Hyde to respond.

Mr. Paul Hyde

On the technical issue around websites, the board agrees with the Senator that all of that information should be on a centralised website. We are working to provide that. We are in the middle of an ICT transformation process and a new portal and website are under development. We hope to have that in place towards the end of next year.

On requests for further information, the whole purpose of the SHD was to remove delay and, as the Senator stated, to deliver on Rebuilding Ireland.

We feel we have removed that delay and provided a certainty for applicants and the public in the context of delivery time. We have held oral hearings on a number of occasions, including in two cases in respect of which certain technical issues could be addressed. Otherwise, the quality and standard of the applications coming into us has meant that there has been no requirement for further information, and we do not think it would be beneficial.

Senator Boyhan made a point about An Bord Pleanála being the judge and jury. Strategic infrastructure has been in place since 2007. This has allowed for direct applications to the board in respect of strategic infrastructure. The temporary emergency legislation which has been introduced for strategic housing is just that, namely, it is temporary. This legislation is not meant to disenfranchise anyone, rather it is designed to allow for speedier delivery. There are two stages to the process, namely, the pre-application and application stages. The planning authority has ample opportunity at the pre-application stage to get its issues on the agenda for input.

Mr. Joe Corr

I understand Senator Boyhan's frustration. We have received similar feedback from our membership throughout the country. We carried out our own research some time ago and it uncovered that we needed in excess of 100 additional planners of all grades, which is a significant number. That needs to be addressed at local level. I will not reiterate what my colleague Mr. Hyde said, but we are aware that this system is not popular, due to the process involved which has no appeal mechanism. However, we also acknowledge that this is a temporary measure that is in response to a housing crisis.

I refer to the judicial review. It is expensive, and is not an appeal in its own right. It is a review of the process undertaken and is extremely expensive. We referred in our submission to a commercial court which would listen to judicial reviews of planning decisions as a more accessible mechanism which would not cost as much as the High Court for individuals or community groups wishing to have the process reviewed.

As stated earlier, local authorities are best placed to deal with these issues. We agree on that. They are best placed to make these decisions, which is why we want them adequately resourced. When compliances come to them after an SHD permission, they should not be holding up development by taking a number of weeks to come to a conclusion which would allow development to take place. We advocate a use it or lose it policy. Landowners or developers should not be able to speculate on their SHDs. This also relates to the Senator's comments on the site value tax, which we see as one measure in a number that would ensure delivery of housing into the system. I hope that adequately addresses the Senator's comments.

I thank Mr. Corr. I call Dr. Duffy to conclude.

Dr. David Duffy

As he is chair of our planning committee, Mr. Spain will answer the more technical questions on our behalf.

Mr. John Spain

In our experience, the role of the local authority in the process remains very important. There is a pre-application process with the local authority. That is taken very seriously by applicants. It might often involve two, three, four or more pre-application meetings with the local authority planning officers. It is important to seek to resolve all issues insofar as possible prior even to getting involved with the pre-application process with the board. In our experience, applicants seek to address fully the planning issues and concerns raised by the planning authority and, in that regard, also have regard to the development plan made by the elected members, the local area plans and so on. Those issues and concerns must be addressed in the context of Government policy.

We have seen Government policy move on significantly in the past two years with the national planning framework, the regional spatial and economic strategy and so on. Development plans are now going through a review process to reflect that. The local authority input remains very important pre-application. As Mr. Hyde referenced, there is involvement with the board at the pre-application stage. It attends the tripartite meeting, makes an initial report to the board and also submits a report to the board on the application. That report is an important part of the process and, in our experience, is given serious consideration by the board. That is the reason the pre-application process for the local authority is so important.

Ultimately, in terms of third-party appeal rights, the decision is made by the board in those cases. In strategic housing developments, the decision is also made by the board. All third-party ownership parties have the opportunity to make observations to the board, and those observations are an important part of the process. It is a faster and more efficient way to get to the end of the decision-making process and one that has proved effective in terms of encouraging much-needed investment in housing planning applications leading on to housing development.

As Mr. Corr mentioned, there have been concerns about the delivery rates of permissions. We referred to a time lag. One way to try to speed up that process would be to commence the provisions of the 2018 Planning and Development (Amendment) Act, which provide for a strict time limit for deciding on compliance applications. We would urge the commencement of those provisions, which are on the Statute Book but have not been commenced, as a matter of urgency. That requires the resourcing at local authority level, to which Mr. Corr referred.

I will make a final comment in respect of websites. We agree it would be beneficial, and I am pleased to hear that the board is putting in place, a system whereby the application is hosted on the board's rather than on the applicant's website. That is part of our submission on that.

In terms of further information, we note that the board has held focused oral hearings on two strategic housing applications relatively recently. We welcome that. That may be one way to address the concern about further information.

I thank Mr. Spain. The next speaker is Deputy Casey who will be followed by Deputies Barry, Ó Broin and Darragh O'Brien. Deputy Casey has five minutes.

I thank the witnesses for their presentations. Following a two-year period, this is our first opportunity to discuss the strategic housing development review, SHDR. It is critical that we get down to the nuts and bolts of the practical operation of this process. I will start by making some general statements. It is the consultation and the community involvement process relating to strategic housing developments, SHDs, with which I have a problem. I am not being critical but trying to be as practical as possible.

I will give an example of that from last week when the committee was discussing the Land Development Agency, LDA. It concerns local area plans. In Wicklow, a number of local area plans were adopted in 2006 but were not reviewed after the six-year period because of the economic crash. They were meant to be reviewed in 2018 but they were not reviewed because of the publication of the national planning framework. We then had to hold off for the regional strategic plan and now must wait for a county development plan, following which the authority's local area plan can be decided. A period of up to 21 years will have elapsed before the community will have a direct involvement in the way their community develops.

That is my fundamental problem with the SHDs. They now have the remit of national policy to force 35 houses to the hectare in small towns where that is completely inappropriate. The only vehicle a community has in that case is judicial review, which is unaffordable. Regarding the board, Mr. Hyde said in his opening statement that public participation would be to the fore. However, that is not the case with regard to whether SHDs are in line with local area and county plans. It might be so with regard to national plans, but not with any plan below that level. From a transparency perspective, I have a fundamental problem with SHDs. If local area plans were in line, that community involvement would have been there. However, it is not.

The approval of 67 of a total of 101 SHD applications is almost being promoted here today as a success. It is a failure when 34 of 101 applications are not approved in a process that has to go through pre-planning with the relevant local authority and An Bord Pleanála. There are two consultations and then a final application is submitted to the board. Mr. Hyde said in response to Senator Boyhan that there was no need for further information, which would delay the process. In that case, how did 34 of 101 applications fail? Was the principle of the application at fault? If the principle was not at fault, it was a minor issue which could easily have been dealt with by way of further information or a planning clarification. We are being told 67 approvals is a success in a process that was meant to streamline this. It is a failure that 34 applications failed and, as such, I question the assertion that further information is not needed. That is to state clearly that the application should never have been submitted. Is there, therefore, an issue with the pre-planning consultation with the local authority and the board? There was room in the legislation for either the board or the applicant to request a second meeting to discuss issues. Has such a second meeting ever been requested by a developer or the board given the failure rate of more than 30%?

Has any material contravention been invoked in relation to the applications which have gone through so far? We are all here to try to get the system working but the frustration is beginning to come. One or two of the witnesses might have said that. It is not necessarily the planning system that is the roadblock. It is what takes place after an application has gone through the system. I am hearing anecdotally that there are serious issues in relation to Irish Water and getting information from the company in order to proceed on site. To get planning permission and then to have to wait two years to get on site is ridiculous. The waiting time is between six months and two years. At this stage, I wonder whether these issues should have been gone through by the time the final planning permission is granted. Of the 67 applications that were granted, one wonders how many of the sites have been flipped and sold on the market for a higher value. This is where there might be an opportunity to ensure a developer makes a greater commitment to the planning system in having to engage in compliance, commit to Part V and obtain permission from Irish Water before obtaining planning permission. That would put us all in a position to say there is nothing to delay the development of the site. At the moment, however, we are issuing planning permission before all of these other issues have been dealt with. It is not necessarily a failure of the SHDs, but rather of the whole planning system which needs to be developed.

Regarding maximum densities, it goes back to the consultation process with communities. In some of our towns, they are not fit for purpose. Apartments must be included to achieve the target of 35 homes per hectare in respect of complying with public and private open space. It is not viable any other way. Apartments are not suitable in many of our smaller towns yet these national guidelines are being applied. I have probably gone way over time. I will come back in during the second round.

We will come back to the Deputy in the second round.

Mr. Paul Hyde

I will handle some questions while Ms Kenny will answer parts relating to the pre-application stage. Regarding whether SHD could be perceived to be a failure in terms of the refusal rate of 34% in 100 cases, with the normal planning application process under section 34 of the Act before SHD was introduced, the refusal rate hovered around 50% so we feel the value in the process is that we have moved from a 50% refusal rate on appeal of similar cases dating back to 2005 to a rate of 34%. I would not accept that this in itself is a failure. It is not a rubber-stamping exercise. It is very important that there is rigorous assessment of each and every case. This is why the grant rate on applications is not 100%.

It would be fair to say that in some instances at the pre-application stage, the applicants are given opinions that the applications require further consideration. In some of those instances, they applied without taking on board some of the recommendations made at the pre-application stage, which often led to a refusal. Some of the refusals would relate to technical issues that could not be resolved by way of clarification or further information. These things often involve environmental issues around appropriate assessment or environmental impact assessment and are simply not resolvable. The best outcome is a refusal and a fresh application.

Regarding the density target of 35 homes per hectare in some of our smaller towns and villages referred to by Deputy Casey, the reality is that policy on density is set nationally and is a matter for the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. We implement national policy, as is our mandate. It is not the case that we need to build apartments to achieve the target of 35 homes per hectare. Based on international experience and what we have seen in some of our suburban areas, it is possible to achieve this density with duplexes or townhouses. I will hand over to Ms Kenny, who will answer the questions about the pre-application process.

Ms Rachel Kenny

The pre-application process plays a very important role and the planning authorities participate in that to a significant degree. There has been a significant amount of pre-application consultation prior to it arriving at the board but when it comes to the board, we go through all of the issues not yet resolved by the planning authorities with the prospective applicant along with issues we feel ought to be considered to ensure that the correct and relevant amount of information, planning justification, etc., is submitted to us. Most of the 230 pre-application cases would require further consideration. Only a small number would have been considered to constitute a reasonable basis for the making of an application. Most of the pre-application consultations that come in result in a further consideration request that lists the issues that require further consideration. We are improving in terms of clarity regarding those issues to give as clear a direction as possible but as Mr. Hyde said, we do not predetermine applications.

It is very important that there is a distinction between the pre-application process and the application process. We have different inspectors at pre-application stage versus application stage in order to ensure that the process is transparent and open and that everybody has a fair opportunity to influence and inform the consideration of an application so that third parties would have that same opportunity to engage with the reporting inspector at first hand.

We have had second pre-application consultation meetings. That is possible. In other instances where the matters would be so extensive, they come in and restart the process. We have a second pre-application consultation where it is required and where somebody wants it, we will facilitate it. That is always available.

In terms of the grant rate and whether it is successful, obviously it started off as a relatively new process. We all had to get an understanding of where we were going in terms of the evolving planning policies that exist. In recent times, if one looks at the first 2018 decisions versus the 2019 decisions, the grant rate would be slightly higher in 2019 - in the second half or second operational period of the strategic housing development, SHD - as we begin to learn and understand where we are going with that. It is probably closer to 70% at present. It could be higher but it depends on the applications coming in. It is important that we had the opportunity not to rubber-stamp it to take into consideration all of the relevant information that comes in at application stage. In terms of public participation in local democracy and the involvement of the planning authorities, it is important that the public knows that it can influence the board in the making of a decision. It is a not a failure but a success that it is not 100%.

I thank Ms Kenny. I might go to Mr. Corr or Dr. Norton.

Mr. Joe Corr

Not to reiterate what my colleague stated previously, the feedback we get is that the public consultation process involved here is not popular. People believe that there is something taken away from them.

I might reiterate the point on density because there was specific mention of local area plans, LAPs, that are not in line with their core strategy. They should be really but perhaps that is not why they are reviewed or renewed, and that under those circumstances fresh LAPs are required.

The density, if I can go back to that, can be achieved. It does not need to be apartment blocks in the areas on the outskirts of towns or anything like that. Certainly, the density of 35 to the hectare can be achieved with terraces and duplexes.

In terms of what was mentioned, with the local authority and the public participation process, in the conclusion of our submission we urged the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to restore planning powers to local authorities for large-scale housing development on or before December 2021. We are watching this. As planners, we deal with what is presented to us. It is an unfortunate cliché that we are where we are, but that is the case. We must work with what we have.

On the reference to site constraints in terms of Irish Water, etc., there would be merit in a screening process. That is carried out somewhat in a pre-connection query or something like that with Irish Water. It is only a snapshot. It is not telling a person what he or she can do or anything like that. That comes at the person's application stage for his or her connection agreement. There are merits in a screening process for that, maybe during the section 247 or the pre-planning stage. I hope that answers that.

I thank Mr. Corr. Now, Dr. Duffy or Mr. Spain.

Mr. John Spain

Valid points were made by Deputy Casey on the delays in the local area plan review process and on density in smaller settlements.

These are issues that do not arise from the SHD process. They are there for all applications. The LAP update process will be addressed in the short term now that the regional strategies are in place. Although the delay is regrettable, it is now being addressed. LAPs will remain an important part of the process and the input of elected representatives to the make-up of those plans will also remain important.

The density policy is set by Government, not by the board, which just implements the policy. There is room to provide a review of policy as it applies to smaller settlements and those that are more remote from major urban centres. There are a lot of concerns about the viability of delivery of higher density schemes in some of these smaller settlements and more remote locations. That must be considered further.

The 34% refusal rate is high. Compared with all planning applications under the normal planning application process across the board, the local authority level refusal rate is 10%, for instance. I welcome that the refusal rate appears to be falling somewhat more recently. Our submission suggests several measures to address that and achieve a higher permission rate. No one goes into this process other than to achieve a permission. It is a very expensive, time-consuming process for applicants. However, it shows that it is a very rigorous process for developers and is risky. It also shows that the concerns raised by local authorities, planners and others making submissions and observations - third parties and statutory bodies - are taken very seriously and that has had a significant influence on that refusal rate. There are measures that could go further to bring that down, including oral hearings, which we would welcome. It has been used relatively recently. We also suggest introducing provisions similar to section 132 provisions in normal applications in exceptional circumstances in those few cases where refusal could be avoided by further information. That is an approach that is permitted. Second meetings with the board in exceptional circumstances at pre-application stage and greater clarity, which we are seeing being given at pre-application stage in the board's opinions, are very welcome.

I agree on the serious issues about resourcing and timeliness of agreements with Irish Water. That is an important matter that can be addressed to improve on delivery. Of the approximately 67 permissions we examined, around a quarter - 16 - exceed where they are in implementation from a detailed knowledge of the situation on the ground. The vast majority of those, 11 of the sample of 16, are at preliminary construction or full construction stages. The sample is across the board geographically in the types of scheme and type of developer. Three more recent permissions in the recent weeks are at compliance stage. We anticipate 15 of the 16 being implemented in the short term. All are likely to be implemented within the lifetime of the permissions, but the great majority will be implemented in the short term. We are only beginning to see the feed through of a significant increase in construction rates following from the increase in planning applications and permissions being granted. The system is delivering and will be seen to deliver very strongly over the next year or two.

I have a question for Mr. Corr and Dr. Duffy. I will begin with Mr. Corr. The whole purpose of SHD is to avoid delay, as Mr. Hyde told the committee. For a system aimed at avoiding delay, it seems there are many delays.

In September, The Sunday Business Post reported that planning permission had been granted on a little more than 16,000 new homes. The newspaper reported that in excess of 9,500 of these new homes remained unbuilt.

I listened carefully to Mr. Corr's introductory remarks. One thing he said stood out. He said that the members of the Irish Planning Institute were anxious to avoid a scenario where planning permission granted under the strategic housing development process would be used by developers or speculators to increase the value of land rather than the delivery of houses.

Mr. Corr has pointed to a danger. One does not point to a danger if the danger does not exist or if it is not a reality. I know this is a reality. I know there are developers submitting planning applications that are being fast-tracked. The permission is being granted. The value of the land increases and the land is sold on to make a quick buck. The people who are losing out on that are, generally speaking, middle-income working people who are looking for an affordable home but who cannot get their hands on one. That is unacceptable, disgraceful and a scandal.

I have my own opinion on this and I believe the scheme should be scrapped. Presumably, Mr. Corr believes this is happening and that it is a factor. Will he elaborate on how great a factor this is? How significant is winning planning permission and then flipping the land - selling it on - as opposed to building the houses? Does Mr. Corr reckon this accounts for a significant percentage or portion of those 9,500 houses that remained unbuilt when The Sunday Business Post reported on it in September?

My second question is for Dr. Duffy. The same report indicated that there had been a survey of sorts conducted jointly by two universities, University College Dublin and Queen's University Belfast, into the origins of the scheme and the level of influence that developers might have had in shaping it. One developer was quoted in the newspaper report. References to "him" were references to the then Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Coveney. He said, "We gave him our recommendations and they took it lock, stock and barrel and stuck it into the new housing bill." Effectively, what was being said was that the proposals from the developers were more or less 100% incorporated into the legislation that gave rise to this process. Will Dr. Duffy comment on the UCD and Queen's University Belfast report and the quote and give his opinion on how accurate or otherwise it might be?

We will start with Mr. Corr, given that the majority of the questions were directly addressed to him.

Mr. Joe Corr

In a nutshell, to address Deputy Barry's question, I do not have the statistics on how many sites would be permitted for the purpose of flipping on. In my earlier comments I said we need adequately resourced local authorities so that development teams can be established within the councils to monitor these situations, communicate with developers and the landowners of these sites and ascertain why delays are happening on these sites.

Unfortunately, I find myself referring back very often to the local authority to say that this is an effective level at which to monitor the things that happen. There are myriad reasons that sites do not commence promptly after the companies involved get permission under the SHD process. Even the previous process did not stop the practice of getting permission to increase the value on a site and sell it on. What we need is an adequately resourced local authority that can monitor the situation and communicate with developers to ascertain why things are not happening, for example, is it because they are waiting to sell it on or is it genuinely because there are site constraints.

Does Mr. Corr believe that those adequately resourced local authority teams should have been put in place before this special legislation was pushed through?

Mr. Joe Corr

In hindsight, yes.

Mr. Paul Hyde

In regard to the time delays, just over 100 cases have been decided and all bar two have been decided within 16 weeks. If they had gone through the normal section 34 process, we would be talking about a period of approximately 52 weeks, based on our analysis from 2016 up to the introduction of the scheme. It would be very unlikely that the 16,500 units that were granted would have been granted at this point if they had gone through the normal section 34 process. In terms of extant permissions, therefore, it has expedited the number of decisions that have been granted. Obviously, it is not for us to say what is delaying these from going on site but what Mr. Spain has said is certainly positive information to hear back.

Dr. David Duffy

I want to first address the issue of speculation. The home builders I have spoken to say their business model is to build houses. When they acquire land or get planning permission, it is to build houses, not for speculation.

With regard to the specific question on The Sunday Business Post article, I would have to say, in advance of any comment, that it predates both my involvement or John Spain's involvement with PII. In answering, I can only give the Deputy my understanding. It is fair to say that, at the time, there was a recognition that there was a huge need to increase the supply of housing into the system. PII, as a broad church for the property sector, representing all the different sub-sectors and being a policy-focused organisation, was looking at making recommendations to the Department or to Government as to how housing supply could be increased at that time. All of those were published in various documents which are available on our website.

My understanding is that the fast-track planning process was one of the ideas. It featured in our 2016 publication, Policy Reform to Increase the Delivery of New Housing, but it featured in a slightly different form to the one that was finally adopted in that the model we put forward included scope for requests for further clarification or further information. I am not aware of the particular interview to which the Deputy referred. As stated said, neither of us was involved in PII at the time. It featured in our recommendations, although a slightly different form was eventually adopted by the Department.

I thank the witnesses for their presentations. I have always been of the view that the purpose of the strategic housing developments was not in the first instance to speed up the planning process, and I will explain why in a moment. Their primary purpose was to bypass democratically agreed city and county development plans. There is a mounting body of evidence, to which I will come in a moment, which confirms this. The difficulty is that the people who initiated the lobby for this change could not come out and say they wanted to undermine the democratically agreed city and county development plans, so it was framed as a matter of speeding up the process. I absolutely accept that the planning process, as it was before the SHDs, was too slow. This committee spent a very considerable amount of time examining the cause of that slowness. It amounted to approximately 48 weeks for a large housing development, on the basis of the planning applications we were considering at that stage. However, when the Department gave us a breakdown of pre-planning, formal planning application with the local authority, request for additional information and An Bord Pleanála, the only part of the planning process that was happening quickly and in line with the statutory requirement was that undertaken by the local authorities. Pre-planning had no statutory requirement and could go on for ages. As for requests for additional information, it could take up to six months for industry to get back to the local authorities. An Bord Pleanála, because of a lack of adequate resourcing, was not meeting its time guidelines. If the primary objective had been to improve the efficiency of the process, there were very simple solutions: have statutory timeframes for pre-planning and additional information and give An Bord Pleanála the resources to carry out the reviews. The same timeline could have been met. It is not 16 weeks at present, in fairness, because one must count in the time from when the additional engagement with the local authority happens right through to the formal application and onwards. The timeline is approximately 22 weeks or something. However, An Bord Pleanála could have achieved this without bypassing the local authorities.

This is a really important point that has not been properly explored here: why would An Bord Pleanála want to bypass the city and county development plans? There is a difference legally in what An Bord Pleanála must do. The legislation states that it must have regard to the city and county development plans, whereas local authorities must comply with them. That is a big difference. One official in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government once said to me that part of the purpose of this legislation was to get around the "eccentricities" of the city and county development plans. In the research Deputy Barry quoted from UCD and Queen's University one developer, not PII, talked about the ridiculous "rubbish" that democratically elected members sought to put into their city and county development plans. We need to be honest here: this is not about efficiency; it is about a policy agenda that was led by industry and which the Minister of the day and some of his officials swallowed lock, stock and barrel.

What have been the outcomes of this two years on? Killian Woods from The Sunday Business Post has done incredible work spreadsheeting all the SHDs. He has told us that of the 15,000 units approved, 10,000 have not commenced, and that of the 64 schemes, 41 do not even have commencement notices. These figures were correct at the time he wrote. We have been told there are many reasons a development might be delayed going on site, and that is true. However, one can have a commencement notice and still be negotiating, for example, one's water infrastructure with Irish Water or one's Part V commitments. Therefore, most of the reasons Dr. Duffy's submission gives for the delay are in fact things that happen in parallel with, not before, a commencement notice. I am sure some of these developments are for legitimate reasons taking time, but I am also absolutely certain, since we know some of the companies that have these planning permissions, that they are stalling on developments for market and business reasons, not because of the kinds of delays Dr. Duffy talked about. The research, which I commend to all members of the committee, was done by Mick Lennon and Richard Waldron from UCD and Queen's University, respectively. They interviewed 39 participants involved in this legislation off the record. They are really interesting interviews. Those interviewed, including politicians and representatives from some of the organisations here today, spoke openly and frankly. When one reads it, it is pretty definitive that the account I am giving is what was actually taking place. We need a little honesty about the process. If the purpose of this was to speed up the delivery of homes, it has not worked. We have not seen a dramatic increase in the delivery of homes. Yes, we have seen an increase in the number of planning permissions, and that is fine, but we could have dealt with that in another way.

My first question is to Dr. Duffy. Notwithstanding the fact that he was not there at the early stages of the SHDs, is it not the case that one of the objectives of his organisation was to bypass the democratically agreed city and county development plans and have this go directly to the board?

While he might not have been interviewed for the research, I know Dr. Duffy is an assiduous reader of this type of material. I have no doubt, therefore, that he will have read this piece of research. Do the comments attributed to his organisation reflect its thinking in this regard? Regardless of whether Dr. Duffy was the person involved at the time, are these comments an accurate depiction of what PII was involved in during the lobbying? Is it not the case that some developers are clearly abusing this process? They have benefited from fast-track planning and are abusing it.

My next questions are more general and for the representatives from other organisations. I hope the SHDs do not continue and I hope the Minister also takes that view. If they do, however, do we not need some mechanism to be able to independently monitor what happens post planning permission? I refer to ensuring there is no abuse of the system. I will give an example. A significant number of SHD planning permissions are being sold. Do we not need to assess whether those sales are legitimate or speculative? If they are speculative, do we not need to withdraw planning permission to protect the integrity of the system? Would it be a good idea to have that kind of mechanism?

I pose this question to the representatives from An Bord Pleanála, in light of the system possibly continuing. There is a four-week turnaround from publication to submission of opinions and this process involves very large, complex files. They are so large and indepth, in fact, that when I go onto the SHD website it is almost impossible to download many of the files and print them off. Is four weeks enough time for genuine members of the public, who are not part of culture of reckless objecting, to engage in the planning process to try to improve developments? Is the present online interface sufficient? Are there not better ways to ensure that we can end up with better developments through a proper consultative process? I have not objected to a single large development in my constituency. I would, however, like to have opportunities to engage, if we are going to have large developments, to ensure those developments have proper traffic management, amenities and green space. Elected representatives should be doing that, but the process at the moment makes it very difficult for us to engage properly in that way.

I thank Deputy Ó Broin. I call Dr. Duffy first because a number of questions were directed towards him.

Dr. David Duffy

I think I have taken note of all of the Deputy's questions. As I stated, neither I nor Mr. Spain was there at the time. Anything in my response on this issue, therefore, is based on my understanding of what happened. I do not accept that it was an attempt to bypass democracy. I was involved in producing some of the estimates of new household formation in my previous position. Back in 2016, all of the estimates suggested that new household formation was running at 25,000 new households per year. Housing completions were around 5,000 to 8,000 units at the time, depending on the year examined. There was a real recognition, therefore, that housing supply had to increase and that was the motivation for PII to enter into the system to provide policy recommendations to increase supply.

Regarding the research itself, I examined it in respect of specific quotes and comments. I cannot remember the specific quotes, but I suppose-----

Are those quotes reflective of the corporate thinking of Dr. Duffy's organisation? Are they a fair reflection of what PII was up to at that time?

Dr. David Duffy

I do not think PII was up to anything.

I am sorry, I was referring to engaging in the lobbying process. Is the research a fair reflection of what PII was doing?

Dr. David Duffy

I do not know to which specific comments the Deputy is referring. It is fair to state that PII is a representative organisation for the property sector and it would have been involved in putting forward policy recommendations to the Department and to Ministers to try to improve the supply of housing coming into the market. As I stated, those policy recommendations are available on our website in our various publications. Everything we do, or have done, to try to have a more stable and smoothly-operating housing market is in the public domain.

Were those the questions?

The specific question was on the quote attributed to someone from PII describing the decisions of local authorities and, in particular, councillors in their city and county development plans as "ridiculous rubbish".

Dr. David Duffy

Sorry. I thought the Deputy said that was not a PII person.

I have just double-checked and it is. Does that accurately reflect how PII thinks about some of our elected representatives and the decisions they take in city and county development plans?

Dr. David Duffy

I have never come across that attitude.

Mr. John Spain

The role of planning authorities in the process and the role of local area development plans remain very important considerations and are given detailed consideration in the strategic housing process, just as they are in any other application. The policy framework within which the board makes decisions is in my experience the same for strategic housing developments as for non-strategic housing developments. National policy, regional policy, development plans and local area plans must all be taken into consideration by the board when deciding appeals under section 34 for standard planning applications and when deciding on strategic housing developments.

Mr. Joe Corr

I hope I am correct in my assumption that Deputy Ó Broin agrees with me that planning is not the roadblock for delivery of housing.

Mr. Joe Corr

I thank him for that because for a long time we have been held responsible for things that were not within our power. I am happy to hear him say that. Deputy Ó Broin referred to a review of the decisions and so on. I refer back to my earlier comments to the previous representatives. Development teams established at local authority level can do this. They can carry out that function. We need to take a serious look at the adequate resourcing of local authorities. I will leave it there.

Mr. Paul Hyde

Deputy Ó Broin made a point about the legislation. The board takes the legislation at face value and tries to operate it with integrity and fairness at all times.

I do not question that.

Mr. Paul Hyde

Absolutely. Before the SHD legislation was put in place, there were 800 decisions on applications involving more than 100 houses from 2005 to 2016. These were decided by the board on appeal at an average rate of approximately 80 per year. Under SHD, we are not increasing the number of cases but we feel we are dealing with them in a more efficient manner, as is our mandate under the Act.

With regard to the points on the website and accessibility, I mentioned to one of the other members earlier that we were in the middle of an ICT transformation project and introducing a new portal and website on which we will host all of the application details. It is hoped that will be done by quarter 3 of 2020. While that is not as soon as we would like, ICT transformation projects tend to take a lot of time. We hope to have the information more accessible and downloadable at that time. Ms Kenny might have some comments on the pre-application stage with planning authorities.

Ms Rachel Kenny

It is in respect of planning authorities being bypassed and so on. As Mr. Hyde said, we are probably not determining a greater number under section 34 versus SHD. I started my career in the local authority system and worked there for 20 years. As such, I have huge respect for the planners and those who work in that system for local democracy. Our intention has been to implement this with fairness, integrity and total respect for those within the planning authority system. A planning authority has three opportunities to influence and shape the applications that come before the board. These are the section 247 pre-application consultation, the pre-application consultation submitted under SHD, and the application stage itself. They influence those stages very heavily.

At pre-application consultation stage, which is where I am often involved, all opinions that have been issued would reflect the views, concerns and requirements in terms of information, further justification and further changes that planning authorities would express at that meeting and which they have been unable to advance, even at the section 247 stage. At application stage, we get a further planner's report and planning authority report, in terms of the chief executive's report, and a separate report from the elected members which also influences the determination. For the most part, the board and the planning authorities remain largely consistent in their views in respect of the proposals that come before the board. It is not the case that there is a 100% overturn rate and the planning authority recommends one thing but the board goes off in another direction. At all stages, the planning authority has a major role to play and has a further role to play even after the development. At no stage do we bypass or ignore. We try to strike a balance bearing in mind that we are often bound by local area plans which, as Deputy Casey mentioned, could be 20 years out of date. We try to strike a balance between that and the emerging changes in guidelines.

Is there not a clear legal difference in the legislation between the provision that the board have regard for the development plans and the planning authority having to comply with those plans? That is a fundamental difference. There may be a small number of cases where there is a disagreement between the planning authority and the board. However, the fact that it is the board that decides on the primary application weakens the strength of the development plan and, therefore, the democratic process. Is that not a fair assumption?

Ms Rachel Kenny

I do not know that I would necessarily say that. We had section 37(2)(b) and so on which relates to the board not being able to materially contravene a plan under normal planning appeals as well. That provision always existed and is not unique to strategic housing developments. I do not think the sole purpose for SHD was to facilitate that given that it already-----

I will revert to that issue.

I thank the witnesses for their presentations, which I have read. I apologise for my absence but I had to attend another meeting for a short time.

Some colleagues mentioned the work done by Killian Woods for The Sunday Business Post and also the academic report, De-democratising the Irish Planning System. Is it fair to say that PII and the builders it represents had unprecedented access to the then Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney? According to one newspaper article:

One PII member told the academics that then housing minister Simon Coveney heard one PII member discuss the fast-track concept in an interview on national radio, and rang him up. The pair met four times over a six or seven-week period, locked in meetings from 8pm to midnight.

The PII member went through what his vision was for the Irish planning property system. PII, as a group, had a vision for planning in Ireland and for changing the planning process. Were the meetings with the then Minister, Deputy Coveney, arranged in a very short space of time? Do the witnesses agree that this access to the Minister, where the PII met him six or seven times in six or seven weeks from 8 p.m. until midnight, was unprecedented for a specific group? Were all of the meetings held in the Department? Were other meetings held in other places in Dublin? Were all of the meetings logged in the lobbying register?

We supported this Act initially because we were told by stakeholders that the planning process was one of the main blocks to delivering housing. I was interested to hear Mr. Corr say that planning is not a roadblock for housing delivery.

Mr. Corr also called for adequately resourced local authorities, and I agree with him on that. I will talk to him about how those development teams work.

An Bord Pleanála is charged, first, with dealing with the applications. Last year, approximately 18,000 homes were constructed. This might not be a question for the board, but how many homes do Mr. Corr, Dr. Norton, Mr. Spain and Dr. Duffy believe will be delivered this year? What increase will there be on last year and do they believe any increase is attributable to the new planning process that has been put in place? My understanding from representatives of the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, and others who have appeared before this committee is that the original target of 25,000 for this year will not be met and that it will be closer to 20,000 or 21,000. It is a major concern that in a situation where there is a new process that is supposed to be delivering housing - I agree with Mr. Hyde on that - we are not seeing that delivery.

What have we given up instead? We have given up an input from communities into the planning process. That is what I hear on the ground when communities have applications foisted upon them. This week, coincidentally, I was in Rush to listen to members of a community on a SHD application that has been made. It is an increase on the original one and they feel that aside from making a submission to the board, with all due respect to the board, they do not have a process that enables them to discuss it with their councillors. When this was introduced, the then new Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, sent a circular to all local authorities stating that members were not allowed to call planning files to public meetings at the county council. Not only did we have a situation where there was a roadmap for going over the local authorities and allowing An Bord Pleanála under the legislation to disregard a development plan, a master plan or a local area plan, we were also taking away any type of consultative power the local authority members had in each local authority to call planning files to meetings and to raise points on behalf of communities.

I say that as somebody who rarely objects to things. However, when one sees some of the applications that are going to the board, one can understand the concerns of communities. Even the councillors they elect do not have a say at a formal public council meeting and can only make submissions to the plan. Has this increased housing delivery in real terms? Can it be attributed to SHD? I do not believe so. We need properly resourced local authorities that have the know-how to make those decisions at local authority level. It is reverting to what we had previously, because I do not see the evidence when there are 15,000 permissions granted and approximately 5,000 of the permissions granted have been started, but 10,000 have not.

I also have a question on reapplications. These are applications that come to the board that already have planning permission for lands, such as the Chivers site in Coolock and the like, where there is a change from housing developments or homes to intensifying and increasing the density on particular sites. Does the board keep an eye on applications that go to it for lands that already have a live planning application? If that is tracked, one will potentially see where sites are being flipped and where new applications are going to the board just to increase the value of a site but not to deliver homes on the ground. A number of examples have been outlined. I see it in my area of Dublin Fingal, which is a very active county where over 82 sites are open. My concern is that through this process we are allowing people to flip sites and increase value.

Does Mr. Corr see this legislation as having brought about a substantial increase in the build-to-rent developments that we see in urban areas, in particular? I look at certain applications and where people are looking to get their foot on the ladder the permissions being sought and granted for swathes of our towns and cities are for build-to-rent only. We need to have more regard for housing mix.

The Deputy's time is up.

I will conclude now. We do not believe that this process has worked as intended. It has not brought about the requisite increase in the number of homes built, and what we have given up is communities having a real say in the planning process on the ground. That is why this review is useful. I remain to be convinced, so if witnesses want to rebut what I have said, that is fine. Fianna Fáil will be formally calling on the Minister to revert to the local authorities for this process, to resource them adequately in that context, and to allow An Bord Pleanála to do the work that it was doing prior to this, which it does very well and in a very competent way.

I thank Deputy O'Brien who can come back in on the second round of questioning if he has further points to put to our witnesses. I will begin with Mr. Hyde from An Bord Pleanála. Some of the points made by Deputy O'Brien relate to issues which predate Mr. Spain's and Dr. Duffy's time with Property Industry Ireland, which we will take into consideration.

Mr. Paul Hyde

I will respond to Deputy O'Brien's point about elected representatives' participation in the process. At the application stage, elected representatives have a committee meeting and have an opportunity to feed into the CEO's report. Almost all of those reports-----

On each application-----

Mr. Paul Hyde

Yes, on each individual application-----

-----instead of having a planning meeting, to which they can call files. They are part-time, public representatives and I am not sure they can go thorough each individual application.

Mr. Paul Hyde

That is the way it has been structured to date. We see applications with the views of elected representatives in nearly every case.

I will ask my colleague Ms Kenny to respond to the issues raised about density and housing mix.

Ms Rachel Kenny

This is still a relatively new process, but we are monitoring the mix of units coming through. We are retrofitting a lot of areas and increasing the numbers of one, two and three bedroom units where previously there were only three and four bedroom semi-detached units being built. Obviously, changing demographics are changing the nature of housing provision. Strategic housing development applications only form a small component of the different types of housing applications that go before the planning authorities or before An Bord Pleanála. The process is only for developments of 100 units or more. In the two years in which it has been in operation, only 100 applications have been decided upon. There have been numerous other applications decided upon by the planning authorities that are below the 100 plus threshold. It is only a small element and it is not the solution for all housing delivery.

Again, the mix would change depending on the nature of the application coming before us but we do keep an eye on that. In terms of planning histories, the fact that there might be repeat applications is not exclusive to the SHD process. Prior to SHD, under section 34, there could be several applications on the same site relating to different types of housing development. Obviously, when developers have permission, they can nuance or change their proposals depending on the market, difficulties when they go on site, or funding, for example. There has always been planning history relating to section 34-----

To clarify, I was asking specifically about live applications where developers seek to increase the number of units over and above what has been permitted already. Does An Bord Pleanála have regard to that or watch it?

Ms Rachel Kenny

We do watch it and have regard to it. Every single report will have a section on the planning history and any changes to proposals coming before the board. We look at that at the pre-application stage in the first instance. Where permission has been granted through section 34 or the SHD process and changes have been proposed, we would query why that is the case and ask whether it is to the benefit of the area in question and the development itself. That is something that is very much considered.

I thank Ms Kenny and invite Mr. Norton and Mr. Corr to respond.

Mr. Joe Corr

I was trying to listen and take notes at the same time, so I may need some clarification from Deputy O'Brien. He spoke about the de-democratisation of the planning process and referred to the centralisation of planning. The Irish Planning Institute does not want to see one planning authority for the whole country.

We refer back to the point that subsidiarity is best at local level and on a permanent basis, bearing in mind that we are in a temporary situation with SHD. Development teams would be multidisciplinary teams. Planners would not be the only people on the teams. The parks department and the transportation department would be involved. Those teams would communicate with developers to find out why housing is not happening and to assess how they can assist in a way that might lead to the removal of site constraints and to the delivery of housing.

I do not have any data with me with regard to the number of houses to be built. I do not want to speculate. I do not want to throw a figure out to the committee by saying I think it might be this or that. There are many unforeseen circumstances that we have to consider, such as those relating to Brexit. We do not know how Brexit might affect house-building. While I accept the figures that have been mentioned, I do not want to comment on any figure.

I suppose I was asking whether the delivery of more houses on the ground can be attributed to the new process. Is that the view of the members of PII? Would Mr. Corr make such a statement?

Mr. Joe Corr

I refer back to what I said to Deputy Ó Broin. The SHD permissions are coming, but they are not breaking ground. The houses are not being delivered quickly enough.

There are enough planning permissions.

Mr. Joe Corr

Exactly. Perhaps the development team mechanism could work. We should have a look at it to see if it is something that might work. We must bear in mind that this is a temporary measure. We expect it to be extended up to 2021. We should be looking at how An Bord Pleanála is managing this process as a model that might eventually be transferable to local authorities. This has not been touted as a permanent measure. Maybe that is what we should be looking at in the context of the SHD process as well.

The Deputy also asked about build-to-rent. It is going to happen anyway under normal development management section 34 planning applications. I think An Bord Pleanála is best placed to manage SHDs. They are being applied for as build-to-rent projects. They are not being applied for under section 34. It is not as if those involved will develop them as build-to-rent projects, but without saying that is what they are.

Mr. Joe Corr

It would be very difficult to manage at local level.

I invite Dr. Duffy and Mr. Spain to respond.

Dr. David Duffy

I hope I have taken down all the questions. As we set out in our submission to the SHD review and in our opening statement to this committee, we think the process has worked. We have made a series of recommendations for reform. Planning permission is a step in the process. This was covered earlier in the discussion. Planning permissions are being granted. We expect to see the commencements follow.

A question was asked about a forecast for 2019. We do not do forecasts. We have heard numbers in the order of 21,000, which has been mentioned again today. There are a number of influences on completions. There was caution this year because of the review of the help-to-buy scheme. The SHD review would have caused a pause.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked about the formation of the SHD policy.

I am not sure whether he was here when Mr. Spain spoke about it. Neither Mr. Spain nor I was involved in PII at the time.

Dr. David Duffy


Since then, has PII had six meetings with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government over a six-week period? I suppose that is what I am asking. Has PII met the Minister six times in six weeks since that happened? I am asking about the period during which Dr. Duffy has been in situ.

Dr. David Duffy

Since I have been in situ, I have not met the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government six times in six weeks.

How regularly does Dr. Duffy meet the Minister? It is not six times every six weeks.

Dr. David Duffy

As I have said, it is not six times every six weeks. I have mentioned that there was a view at the time that we were in a very serious housing crisis. That remains the view. It was estimated, from a household formation perspective, that 25,000 units would be completed each year, but completions were significantly less than that. My understanding was that PII was developing policies to increase supply. Some of these policies were mentioned in a radio interview. Subsequently, there was contact between the Department and PII. This was followed by meetings with the Minister at which all possible suggestions for increasing supply were covered. Our recommendations were in our policy documents, which are publicly available. Those documents were published at the time to feed into Rebuilding Ireland. All meetings were put on the lobbying register. In responding to the Deputy's question, I am going back to the records that are available. I have set out my understanding.

Mr. John Spain

I will address some of the policy matters that have been raised. I will begin by setting out what the experience has been as a result of two very important initiatives relating to the planning process and the delivery of housing supply. The review of the apartment guidelines has been instrumental in leading to a switch from a tendency towards peripheral housing estate-type development to a much greater emphasis on increasing the proportion of housing coming forward that is in more central urban areas in apartment-type developments. This switch and the strategic housing process have led to a significant increase in investment and interest in housing development. Many international investment funds are looking carefully at Ireland and putting a lot of money into the Irish housing system. This money is going into planning applications and into delivery. We are seeing a follow-through. They are not spending money to speculate. They are spending money to deliver the product on the ground. We are now moving very much into the delivery phase. I think we will see that coming forward on the ground.

I referred earlier to some examples of cases we have looked at. It is the case that some sites are sold on after planning permission is obtained. That is part of the funding process. In two of the sample cases we have looked at, sites were sold on to fund development. Those schemes are now going on site or are on site. In all types of housing applications, including SHD applications, amended applications come forward as developers seek to respond to changes in market requirements. Again, that helps the delivery process. The combination of those two measures has been highly successful in levering in funds for housing supply and delivery. I believe we will see the benefits of that coming through very strongly over the next year or two.

As Senator Murnane O'Connor is a member of the committee, she can go next if she wishes.

Absolutely. I thank everyone for coming to this meeting. During the many years I spent as a councillor, I saw the role that local authorities played in planning. I believe the local authority is the best place for planning. I am concerned about the possibility of this initiative being extended. Everything relies on local authorities. The mechanism used by local authorities always involves the type of house, the size of build and the kind of infrastructure, including schools, community facilities and doctors' surgeries, that is needed in local areas.

This is a major issue for local authorities and needs to go back to them. I firmly believe that the Minister needs to address this by staffing local authorities more. The biggest issue we have with our local authorities is understaffing. I have concerns about the number and types of houses that are being built. Local authorities need to be appropriately staffed. That is where I fundamentally believe we can get better results. I listened to what the witnesses said. They have done their job, but I think we need to go back to local authorities. Local authorities can play that part.

Would anyone like to address the points made by Senator Murnane O'Connor?

Mr. Paul Hyde

I have a few comments. I do not disagree that the planning authorities and local authorities play a critical role in planning in this country. We share that view. In the process that has been established, the planning authorities still have a section 247 pre-application consultation with the applicants, and then one with us and the applicants. There is then the application stage, at which time the local authority has, for the third time, an input, as do elected representatives. I do not disagree that the planning authority is vital to the process. We could not complete the process without it and have a wider relationship with all of the planning authorities-----

People have expressed to me their concerns about communication. Most of us have said that today. Like everything else, everybody needs to work together, including local authorities and other bodies. People's concerns need to be addressed. All of us need to work on that together.

Mr. Paul Hyde

The board is happy to engage as constructively as possible with the local authorities as much as we can. Does Ms Kenny want to comment on that?

Ms Rachel Kenny

No. I reiterate and reaffirm our involvement with the planning authorities at every stage in the SHD process and outside of it in terms of collaboration among fellow senior planners and those working in the planning sector we engage to improve our engagement level and processes. Before the board sees anything, the schemes that come before us are very much influenced by the planning authority, local area plans and so on. By the time we get to something, it has gone as far as it can go with the planning authority, which continues to work at our meetings and the application stage. I reiterate the fact that we are seeing no more of an increase in activity than we had with the appeals. All of the SHD applications that were submitted were objected to and, therefore, we assume they were appealed and decided by the board. The board is not engaging in any greater level of activity than would otherwise be the norm, and we feel the planning authorities are still involved at those three critical stages, namely, the pre-application stage with themselves, the pre-application stage with us, and at application stage. We very much listen to and take on board all of the views of the planning authority and local representatives, and we also consider the local area plans.

I welcome that, because as we all know, and I saw this during my time working in a local authority, appeals can take a long time. They are complicated and we all need to examine the process because time is of the essence in things like this. Fast-tracking planning is important.

I thank Ms Kenny and Mr. Hyde.

Mr. Joe Corr

As I run the risk of being perceived to be a cheerleader for local government, I will let Dr. Norton respond.

Dr. Conor Norton

The general position of the Irish Planning Institute, as we stated, is around the principle of subsidiarity.

The important point is that local decisions are best made locally. We have made our submissions, etc., on the basis of the recommendations made in Rebuilding Ireland, especially those relating to fast-tracking SHD. In essence, we have not supported them but at this point we are seeking to be pragmatic. It is now October 2019 and there is a proposal to extend the process for two years. From a planning point of view, two years is very short-term. We support it as an emergency measure but it is certainly not in line with our overall policy on the planning system.

Having said that, it is important to put some things into context. The Irish Planning Institute and other parties really need to look at the planning system, especially the balance between the national, regional and local levels. In recent times there has been considerable development at national level, and much of it has been positive. I have in mind the national planning framework, the developing of planning guidelines, as referred to earlier, the Office of the Planning Regulator and the Land Development Agency. Many of these developments are positive. We need to work with them and develop them. They will have a positive impact on the planning system.

On the other hand, we need to look at local level, as we mentioned earlier. Expanding the resources and capabilities of local government and local planning authorities to enable them to carry out their planning functions is critical. This means not only increasing the numbers of people in planning authorities but looking at the expertise that is there as well, especially in the context of the issues relating to delivery and development. As planners we need to be far more engaged with the idea of delivery. We need to see ourselves as partners in the development process as well, rather than leaving it at the planning permission stage, etc. We need to look at our planning system.

As was mentioned earlier, good development management decisions cannot be made if good plans are not in place. We need to put more emphasis on good local area plans and good development plans and so forth. Other possibilities need to be explored outside this context. SHD is really an issue within the planning system. We could look down the line at the role of the regional assemblies, the regional spatial and economic strategies and the strategic plans at that level and their role in this.

Is it just the application process? Where does the Irish Planning Institute see the root of the problem? There is always a problem when we have a review like this. Where does Dr. Norton see the problem? Is there one particular problem? Is it the application process? Is it an overall problem? Do we need to change the system? As someone who has been reviewing this for some time, what changes does Dr. Norton believe could be made overall?

Dr. Conor Norton

I wish I had the answer to that. It is a complex issue. One point about the planning system is that it is inter-related. The processes of plan-making, policies at national level, appeals, decision-making and delivery are closely related to each other. I do not think anyone can simplistically take one aspect of the planning system and see it as solving a particular issue. The roots of some of the problems in development management lie perhaps in the nature or robustness of the plan that sits behind it. I do not believe that there is any one aspect of the planning system that operates in isolation. Most people are familiar with permissions. That is a real part of the planning process but many of the problems in the process go back to the plan-making process. Perhaps the plans are not prescriptive or flexible enough. Perhaps they could be out of date. There are many areas affecting the delivery or ultimate outcomes. There is no one thing. That is why I am suggesting that we may need to take a more holistic view of the planning system.

I thank Dr. Norton. My apologies for the fact that I have been demoting him for the entirety of the meeting so far. We will now hear from Dr. Duffy or Mr. Spain.

Mr. John Spain

I fully agree that there is a significant issue with local authority resourcing and staffing. As we understand it, the problem is not simply a matter of creating the places. There is a fundamental skills shortage in the profession and right across the board, as with other professions. That needs to be tackled jointly by the institutes, the education sector and the Government.

Local authorities have an important role to play and a significant contribution to make in the context of the strategic housing process. In fact, they may have more direct input to the decision-making process for strategic housing applications than for a standard appeal. In fact, a third party puts in the appeal and the applicant responds. There might be minimal input from the planning authority. There is experience of relying on a previous assessment of an application. In contrast, under the SHD process, the local authorities meet the board at the tri-party meeting at the pre-application stage. They put in far more detailed reports at pre-application stage than they would normally provide to the board at the application stage compared to what they would normally submit at appeals stage. The evidence is that their views are taken seriously by the board.

We have one Deputy who is not a member of the committee present and who wants to ask some questions. However, we are obviously due to take a break if that is what people wish. I propose that we fire straight into Deputy Lahart's questions and then go to the second round of members, if that is agreeable and amenable to all. That way we can work towards a deadline of 2 p.m. However, if people wish to leave the room at any stage for a few minutes, that is fine.

Can we make it a fast-track process?

That is very good. We will note that on the record. Deputy Lahart has four minutes.

This matter has become extremely important for people in my constituency, Dublin South-West, which comprises areas which continue to be developed and in which there is ongoing construction in growing suburbs such as Ballycullen, Knocklyon, Citywest and Tallaght. I am grateful for the insight into some of the mysteries of An Bord Pleanála - they are mysteries to the public in terms of how it works. An Bord Pleanála has made some decisions that have had a positive impact and I will discuss these briefly. However, others defy logic. I am keen to impress a message on all the contributors to take away today. None of them mentioned quality of life or the families, couples and individuals involved. Many in my constituency are in their mid-20s or mid-30s and have returned home to live with their parents - who were not expecting that to happen - in order to save to purchase homes. They have discovered many of the planning applications in the constituency are build-to-rent. We do not seem to pay any attention to the struggles and challenges that people face. It is all very technical, cold and sterile language. What we are about really is the provision of homes. I will say a little more about that.

As my colleague, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, stated, we supported the SHD process on the basis that it would put homes into play more quickly. As a long-standing local authority member for close to 20 years, I have views on that. It is an imperfect system. We know that of the 16,000 odd units granted permission under the SHD process, some 6,000 odd have been constructed. The experience in my constituency is that this process has not delivered homes. It has delivered housing units, if it has delivered anything at all. However, co-living, student accommodation and build-to-rent applications are predominately the nature of the applications that have been made. We need to bring the human element back into this.

Rents for modest homes in different parts of my constituency start at €2,000 and rise. Of course, it is in a developer's interests and in the interests of speculators to build to rent. The equivalent mortgage is between €1,000 and €1,100. I know of multiple examples of constituents who have managed to comply with Central Bank rules and who may have been paying €1,800 or €1,900 per month for rent. Then they succeeded in getting a mortgage because they had a substantial down payment or deposit with the banks. They found they were paying €1,050 to €1,100 per month for the mortgage, saving €700 or €800 and increasing disposable income.

An Bord Pleanála must listen to this. We are talking about people's lives. It is not a question of units, construction or speculation. It is the biggest investment for these people in their lifetime. Most of the witnesses look close to my age. An Bord Pleanála needs to bring some humanity to the decisions it is making. It needs to understand there are people behind this.

Constituents of mine include parents in their mid-60s who were looking forward to retirement. They do not begrudge their adult children coming home but it was not what they anticipated. Since their children cannot afford rents, they are coming home. One mother told me her son was coming home and she did not know what he was doing but he had come home to reflect on whether to save or leave. It is very much in the hands of the designers, planners, overseers and implementers to come up with ideas and practical plans for people rather than for speculators, builders or developers. It should be for the end users, the people who are going to make their lives in these places.

There are several specific issues I want to raise relating to my constituency that concern planning applications.

The Deputy is already over time.

I will make it quick. Reference was made to local area plans. I have a specific question relating to Citywest. What if the local area plan is hopelessly out of date? In the Citywest area there was a local area plan dating from 2012. It never envisaged the density that has been applied for under the strategic housing development process. Now we have multiple planning applications for high-density apartments that are built to rent. One particular application related to Tallaght. An Bord Pleanála dismissed it and said there was no context. The board explained that if it granted permission, there would be development by stealth. I would like to see the board look at Citywest and put it to South Dublin County Council that the 2012 local area plan for Fortunestown is hopelessly out of date and needs to be updated quickly. Planning applications are going in for all the amenity land that was outlined in that local area plan. The amenities envisaged under the 2012 plan are hopelessly outdated too.

No reference has been made to amenities today. An Bord Pleanála may say it is not within the board's remit. If an application is lodged and it doubles, triples or quadruples what was envisaged in the local area plan, then the decision-makers must look at doubling and tripling the amenities and obliging developers to provide amenities.

The same goes for the Scholarstown area. The only reason people knew that a strategic housing development was being lodged for potentially more than 600 units, 500 of which are build to rent, in a settled mature residential area is that that pre-planning request appeared online by accident.

The main issues I have with the strategic housing development process are the lack of visibility and democratic input, aside from writing a letter. There is no forwards and backwards with officials like this or like we used to have at planning meetings in the local authority.

The deputations said the local authorities were highly involved in the process, and I take that point. The local council may be closely and intimately involved in a detailed way, but local councillors are not and they represent the democratic mandate. This all seems to the public to be invisible. There is a complete lack of transparency. Decisions are made without any apparent context. I will leave the deputations with three messages and I thank them for their forbearance.

We are talking about people. The witnesses have not mentioned people and in their commentary regarding increases in density, they did not mention amenities. People and amenities do not appear to be on their minds at all. People in mature residential areas will justifiably question what is in this for them. Many of them have lived in these areas for years and made their homes in them. I am speaking not about new urban areas, but mature residential areas in which people are used to a quality of life and a particular way of living. They will have this imposed on them without any consideration of their needs in the context of the desire to expand densities in their living space. I wish I had more time because there is a lot more I would like to say.

I invite Mr. Hyde to respond first.

Mr. Paul Hyde

I refer the Deputy to our opening statement. The importance of the right developments in the right location is paramount for us. We are very much aware of the issues around quality of life. This is, in part, the reason there are so many refusals. We do not rubber stamp applications. Where the quality is not there or the quality of life issues are not addressed, we are quick to refuse. There is a suite of section 28 ministerial guidelines around design and quality issues. We have regard to those as much as possible at all times.

On the build-to-rent issue, in the overall context of all SHD applications only about 10% to date are build-to-rent. This is an area we are monitoring. On the point regarding student accommodation, we have noticed a significant drop in student accommodation applications in the last nine months. In terms of mix, approximately 50% of the applications have been for houses and 50% have been apartments, including build-to-rent. There is a significant mix being provided. Obviously, I cannot comment on any specific cases or specific plans for local areas.

Am I correct that all of the housing under SHD is, in the main, outside of Dublin. All of the SHDs of which I am aware are apartments.

Mr. Paul Hyde

There is a mix. The vast majority of the housing is in suburban areas.

They are outside the M50 area.

Mr. Paul Hyde

No, there is a good deal within the M50 as well. In certain parts of the city the sites are smaller and so they are more suited to apartments or duplexes.

Ms Rachel Kenny

It is a mix. Within the core city centre areas, namely, the canal, it would be apartment living but outside of that there is a mix of apartments and housing. Sometimes, a scheme would have a combination of apartments and housing. As one moves out further, the scheme can be housing only.

On the build-to-rent question, the 10% is in respect of apartment units, which is 5% of the overall numbers rather than 10% of the overall numbers. As stated, it is 50:50 between the apartments and the housing. We are mindful of the role that we play in terms of SHD and the delivery of the right quality housing in the right locations but we are also mindful that this is emergency legislation, providing for new guidelines and policies about compact growth and so on. For us, it is always about balance. In regard to all of the applications granted, all of them were objected to by elected members. If we were to go on that, no houses would have been permitted. We have to strike a balance in regard to the delivery of housing. Notwithstanding that some of these schemes are purely housing, they are still opposed. There has to be a balance and that is what we try to do. As Mr. Hyde said, 30% of applications have been refused because of the views that have come in from the planning authority, the elected representatives and local communities. Issues arising from an environmental impact report or a natura impact statement would dictate a refusal was appropriate in a particular instance.

I thank Mr. Hyde and Ms Kenny and I invite Mr. Corr to respond.

Mr. Joe Corr

Dr. Norton and I will share the response if that is okay.

Mr. Joe Corr

On the issues raised by Deputy Lahart, unfortunately, we are here to discuss a process rather than the communities in which housing will be delivered. As planners, we are focused on ensuring that we can deliver sustainable development and on place-making and building communities. These have the highest impact on quality of life for those people who seek stability through having a home established for themselves and their families. In terms of recreational space, amenities and so on, we do not want to see a return to the payment of a financial contribution in lieu of open space, such that when a local authority attempts to buy an open space it finds it is beyond its financial capabilities to do so. There are mechanisms in place to ensure that cannot happen in the future. I will now hand over to my colleague, Dr. Norton.

Dr. Conor Norton

I will make some general comments. The coldness of the language is based on the fact that we are talking about processes. Planners are driven around the idea of sustainable development, which, of course, we understand as having social, economic and environmental objectives. Sometimes, it is a difficult balancing act. Planning often is about trade-offs. I am encouraged to note that practice is improving in some areas, particularly around plan-making. Good local plans are informed by good principles of place-making and the application of key skills such as urban design. In recent times, we have seen very good examples of this. It is only in this way that we will get the proper development management outcomes. The plan is extremely important. We often forget about that. Development management is ultimately based on good plans. Obviously, there are other matters to consider, such as planning guidance, etc., but the planning guidance is integrated into good plan-making and that is a process in which there is consultation and the involvement of the community and local elected representatives.

I thank Mr. Corr and Dr. Norton and I invite Mr. Spain and Dr. Duffy to respond.

Dr. David Duffy

I will make a few comments and Mr. Spain will respond to the policy issues. I agree with previous speakers that planners are focused on and recognise the impact of the housing crisis on society and the population. This is a particular process. One of the goals of this process is to deliver homes into the market. I tend to talk in terms of units so that there is no distinction between houses, apartments and so on.

It is important that build-to-rent is delivered to the market. Supply is an issue across the market, not only in owner occupancy terms but also in the rental market. As well as accommodation for owner occupants, we need accommodation in the rental market. All of the different tenures have a role to play in addressing the supply issue. We need not only build-to-sell but also build-to-rent.

Mr. John Spain

I welcome Deputy Lahart taking us back to the key issue of quality of life. As he said, this is not just about numbers, it is about quality in terms of sustainable housing development and what that means for people's lives. In terms of the strategic housing development process, while the policy framework remains the same as for the standard application process, from the outset there has been more emphasis by An Bord Pleanála on qualitative issues and compliance with good planning practice, as set out in sustainable residential development guidelines. We have seen some applications refused purely on grounds of the development not being of adequate quality in terms of design, layout and so on.

It is inevitable that there is a degree of friction as we move towards a system that involves densifying our urban areas. We are seeing this friction, which is reflected in many of the comments we are hearing. Many established urban areas consist predominantly of low-density two-storey housing. We are introducing a greater variety of housing types. Our efforts to introduce higher-density apartment schemes are causing friction with the established communities. Such efforts are essential if we are to achieve our overall sustainable development objectives, such as the achievement of a more compact urban form and the maintenance of a more sustainable pattern of development which supports public transport and road facilities, etc. That needs to be managed carefully. We can continue to develop and improve many aspects of the management of this process. Fundamentally, I think we are heading in the right direction in this regard.

In light of the time constraints we are facing, I propose to give each member two minutes during the second round of questioning. We will go in groups of two, beginning with Deputy Casey and Senator Boyhan.

I thank the Chair. All of the contributions we have heard contained references to the democratic process involved in the SHD process. Most of us feel that what is happening is not adequate. I do not think it is right. It is not fair on communities. We are governed by the national planning framework, which is a Government regulation. We must remember that nobody in this House had a democratic right to vote on the framework. There was no democratic input into the national planning framework. We are now asking communities that have not had their local area plans reviewed for many years - Newtownmountkennedy, for example, has not had a review for 20 years - to accept that they have no right of appeal when an SHD application is made. All they can do is make a submission. It is unfair because no community can afford a judicial review. This brings me back to the extent to which this whole process is subject to the democratic process. I cannot support this whole process because it is fundamentally flawed. Our communities are our heart. If we do not bring them with us, we are wasting our time. This is a reflection on the process, rather than on the board itself.

I would like to mention a few specifics. We spoke earlier about the second round of consultation. I want to tease this out. I have to say I still consider 36% as a failure. Are the witnesses telling us that these developers were informed at the end of the second part of the public consultation process - I am not talking about the part with the local authorities - that they would be wasting their time in the absence of serious significant information, such as an environmental impact assessment? If, as it seems, the developers proceeded to submit an application directly to the board, can they be said to be serious about delivering homes or are they merely interested in getting planning permission to flip the land?

I ask for the indulgence of the Chair because I have been sitting here since this morning. I think I am entitled to a bit more than two minutes. Having spent three years on the whole housing issue, I keep coming back to the question of local democracy. I am increasingly of the opinion that local authorities, local area plans and county development plans need to be taken to another level completely. Local area plans and county development plans set out how communities will be delivered and what type of infrastructure is needed. As somebody said here a week ago, there is a need for 3D planning that allows people to see how their communities will develop. That would allow us to start penalising developers who do not deliver. The infrastructure, the zoned land, the densities and the height are there. Too many unknowns are going into the SHDs. People have no input into them.

We all want to see planning working. We all want to see homes delivered. That is our purpose here. To be quite honest, I do not know whether the SHD process has delivered that at the end of the day. Ms Kenny said there has been an increase of 16% from the normal process. The success rate or approval rating for what has been put in has increased from 50% to 67%. I do not think that is a good return in light of the effort that has been made.

The Deputy has spoken for more than four minutes.

On public information and IT, the board appeared before the committee and stated that it would upgrade its website. It still has not done so. We have the same concerns about the Residential Tenancies Board, its new platform and the need for IT when it comes to processing information relating to landlords. I will leave it at that, but I have concerns about the IT unit and the structure.

I fully understand. I apologise that the Deputy cannot have more time but everybody is running a little over time today, as I am sure he will understand. His contributions are always appreciated and accepted.

I thank all of our guests for coming. Will they indicate how many of them are members of the IPI? I am somewhat disappointed with Mr. Corr because I have picked up mixed messages from him in the context of his written submission to the committee versus his oral contributions during the meeting. I get a sense of milk and water, although I do not mean that disrespectfully, as to how he made his case for IPI members, some of whom I know personally. Each guest might identify whether he or she is a member of the IPI because some members are observing the meeting. I am disappointed because what Mr. Corr has told the committee is not altogether consistent with what other members of the organisation have told me.

I stated earlier that the centralisation of planning function is fundamentally at odds with the principles of subsidiarity. The IPI cannot, therefore, stand over any extension of the time for SHD. Let us remember, we are discussing a review of the SHD process.

Where does each member of the committee stand? In a simple "Yes" or "No" answer, are they in support of an extension of SHD for a further two years?

I asked a question earlier but did not get a response. I would be particularly interested in Mr. Spain's and Dr. Duffy's responses. I would like a specific, focused answer on the introduction of a land value tax for sites that have received permission via SHD. I doubt PII's members want it and, therefore, Mr. Spain and Dr. Duffy might believe they are unable to respond. Nevertheless, I ask the question on behalf of the committee and would like a response today.

SHD should be scrapped. It is an affront to democracy and to the democratic planning process. It does not permit elected representatives on local councils throughout the country participate in the development of sustainable communities or represent their constituents or their people. That is fundamentally wrong and runs deeply contrary to the Aarhus Convention. I will challenge it and, leaving the meeting with more resolve, I undertake to engage with the Green Party, which is very much to the fore of the political movement in the House, as well as in Europe, in the run-up to a general election. We need to examine whether the Houses of the Oireachtas support something that is at variance with the Aarhus Convention. I believe that it is at variance and we Members need to get political about it. We must mobilise our communities and say enough is enough. We live in a Republic, with a capital R, and in a democracy, with a capital D, and we must respect and allow our public and local representatives to engage, but this is an affront to that.

Let us remember that SHDs exist because the Oireachtas voted for them, although I voted against them. I say that only in deference to our guests.

To return to what Mr. Corr said earlier, I believe we do need cheerleaders for local authorities, which were wrongly blamed for the delays in the planning process even though they were due to the design of the planning process, which is a central government matter. Industry, too, had a responsibility in respect of its engagement with the process.

Not all of us who object to SHDs are opposed to increased densities. I am a strong advocate of increased densities in urban centres. I live in the suburbs and believe there is a role for increased densities in the urban cores of suburbs, a position I will defend even if I lose votes over it. Nevertheless, it concerns me sometimes that any politician who wishes to engage in the planning process through third party submissions and appeals is automatically branded as nimbyistic. While I do not mean that anyone at the meeting has suggested that, it is part of the public debate. Many of us, in advocating for increased density, also want to ensure there is adequate infrastructure, public transport and so on. The difficulty is that while the board or planning authority can make a decision on the plan, it cannot control whether adequate investment in public transport, amenities and so on will follow. I wish to defend the rights of members of the public and politicians to engage in the process because that is important.

I challenge Mr. Spain on one point. He is correct that the SHDs and the new apartment design guidelines have increased the level of investment in the sector, but they have also reduced standards. The new apartment design standards will significantly reduce the size of apartments, including for families. I am not against build-to-rent in principle but there is increased flexibility for more studio apartments, for example, and there will be increased numbers of smaller apartments in areas where they are not needed. In the urban centre of Dublin, for instance, what are needed are more two and three-bedroom apartments to allow families live there for life, rather than small apartments.

I return to the legal difference between the planning authority and the board in respect of county development plans. It is important we understand the matter. Am I correct that the board has to have regard for the development plan only when a planning authority has to comply with it? For example, in the controversial case of St. Anne's Park, a city manager can oppose the proposition but the board can approve it because there is a legal difference in respect of the approach. Will Ms Kenny confirm that?

I asked Mr. Corr a question and it may have slipped his mind. If SHDs are to continue, although I would prefer if they did not, are there mechanisms we could put in place to monitor them independently, in order that the kinds of abuses about which some of us are concerned could be identified and teased out?

Finally, I turn to Dr. Duffy. If fast-tracking applications is the only measure that concerns him in respect of this issue, rather than undermining the city and county development plans - I will take him at his word in that regard - I presume he would have no difficulty with local authorities being given the primary responsibility to make such decisions if the same period, namely, the all-in 22 to 24 weeks that is currently dealt with under SHDs, was dealt with by local authorities. I presume that the problem is with the 22 or 24-week period rather than whether it is the local authority or An Bord Pleanála that makes the primary decision.

I have concerns that in the past two years, there have been 100 cases. Sixty-seven were granted and 34 were refused. There is a housing crisis and the reason the committee invited the board to appear before it was to sort out issues. We all agree on the need for proper planning but there cannot be a system where 67 cases are granted and 34 refused when the board is the body that exists to try to work with the system. It was a big let-down. I live in County Carlow, which is classed as rural Ireland, and we need houses to be built. Given that the board deals with planning and housing, I am sure that it understands the need for local authorities to build houses. I hope that, following the process, there will be some sort of recognition that we need to fast-track housing applications and build houses. Recently, as our guests have probably encountered, local authorities seem to use more approved housing bodies, which have become very important. Will our guests comment on that?

My greatest concern, which was raised, is that the issue relates to people's quality of life and their home. One's home is like one's castle. Local authorities understand the need in a given area, as well as area plans. We need to examine the matter in the round but there has been a break between the board and the local authorities and they do not work together. Will our guests comment on the 34 refusals? Can anything be done for us in County Carlow? The problem is unreal. I have never seen so many homeless people or people who believe they have been left behind. Unless we, planners and local authorities take action together, it will not work.

I am not a member of this committee and that is why I have been left until last. I had to attend a meeting of the Business Committee but I was here for the delegates' presentations. I thank them for those. I will keep my contribution short and will try not to repeat anything.

The Deputy has two minutes.

I do not believe that SHD should continue. I disagree with the representatives in that regard. I very strongly support the points made regarding the importance of subsidiarity and of local public representatives and local planners, who are professional planners who know their area. I appreciate that there is a certain element of inclusion, but they are largely kept out of the decision-making process. This is a really important point.

I shall now ask questions because that is what the Chairman wants me to do. My first is for the representatives of the IPI. I am not asking Mr. Hyde to repeat himself. He stated very clearly that planning is not the major cause of delay; rather, it is not moving on planning permission given. Mr. Hyde made two points of note, one being on development teams and active land management. I am not asking him to repeat anything but I wonder whether he has anything more to say about the active plan-management proposals. On the use-it-or-lose-it element, Mr. Corr stated that, in addition to the vacant site levy, other measures could possibly be introduced that would address this element of the delay. While I agree we absolutely need houses, we also need to deal with where the delays are rather than where they are not. That is an important point.

My other questions are for An Bord Pleanála. One follows on from what Deputy Ó Broin said about having regard to development plans versus complying with them. Could Ms Kenny outline how she balances the provisions of development plans and area plans with Government policy, which is clearly supportive of this particular measure? How does she make the judgment in her decisions?

My final question relates to the point made by Deputy Darragh O'Brien on applications that are changed. How many approvals have been superseded by new proposals? I have an email from a Dublin councillor on an application for a shared-living development. Originally, there was planning permission granted for regular apartments. Are there any statistics on this?

Mr. Hyde and Ms Kenny may answer first. I appreciate they have many questions to answer.

Mr. Paul Hyde

I believe Ms Kenny will answer the questions of Deputies Casey and Jan O'Sullivan on refusals and opinions. I shall answer Senator Boyhan's question before I hand over. I am a member of the IPI. I will let Ms Kenny answer Deputy Ó Broin's question, on which we have already touched.

Ms Rachel Kenny

I am also a member of the IPI.

It is like being asked whether one is a member of the Communist Party.

Ms Rachel Kenny

I know, and now we are going to be taken outside and shot.

I am not, nor have I ever been.

That is a supplementary round of questions.

Ms Rachel Kenny

Guilty as charged.

I, of course, have not asked any question yet so-----

Has the Chairman ever been a member of the Communist Party?

They call me Red Rock for a reason.

Ms Rachel Kenny

I can check the exact statistics but, at present, there is a grant rate of approximately 70%. In the past 18 months, it has risen from 50% to 70%. Where there is a new process, that is a good level of improvement in 18 months. It is not to say we could not improve further; we most definitely could. We have said on numerous occasions, however, that this is about making sure we grant permission for the right developments in the right locations and listen to everybody, including the planners in the local authorities, the elected representatives and the public.

I was a planner in a local authority for 20 years prior to being on the board so I am aware of the importance of local planning, local democracy and subsidiarity.

Let me refer to the reason for the refusal rate. Under section 247, which relates to the planning authority, and in our own process, there should not be a rubber-stamping exercise. It is the wrong approach to rubber-stamp an application and indicate it will definitely be granted permission before the public has any chance to have an input. We should not be looking for a rate of 100%. The public should always feel it can influence the decision. In fairness to the board and the planning authorities, the public most definitely influences the decision on so many applications. It influences all of them. To certain extent-----

I agree that we need proper planning, but we also need compromise. We are experiencing a housing crisis. I totally agree with proper planning for everybody but I sometimes wonder where certain refusals come from. I am always in favour of proper planning but I also believe the system needs to be examined because it is hard to understand some of the refusals. There needs to be some compromise. Overall, however, I totally agree with proper planning.

Ms Rachel Kenny

Some 70% of applications are granted permission. I hope the rate will be higher. As I said at the outset, 100% are objected to and opposed by the elected representatives. It is about balance. We talked about that balance and the balance between local plans, national plans and national guidance, but there are also site-specific circumstances to be accounted for. It is impossible to say 30% this way or 50% that way. Each proposal is examined on its merits. The board cannot control the proposals submitted to it. We can give advice but it is up to the individual applicants to make applications that they regard as fitting and to push the boundaries as much as they believe is appropriate. There will always be issues outside their control, particularly regarding environmental or infrastructural deficits. We cannot always control these.

On Deputy Ó Broin's point regarding the legal difference between the board and the planning authority in terms of development plans, a planning authority cannot materially contravene its own plan without going through a specific process relating to material contravention. If it submits an application that it supports and gets three quarters of the councillors to vote in favour of it, then it can do so. Therefore, there is a mechanism for the planning authorities to grant permission for developments that materially contravene their plans. It is just a different process than the one the board goes through. There are often nuances within a local area plan. The planning authorities interpret them as they do but they will not materially contravene a plan without going through the process. It is available to them, however, so they can materially contravene their own plans.

Equally, the board can materially contravene a plan only if it has regard to the provisions regarding inconsistencies or ambiguities in a development plan, a local area plan, national policy or the changing circumstances in the specific environment. Again, it has its own procedure. In both instances, there is full transparency as to what is considered in materially contravening a plan. I do not know whether that assists.

I shall proceed to Dr. Norton and Mr. Corr.

Mr. Joe Corr

Dr. Norton will respond later. I will proceed in chronological order. I hope I do not leave anything out.

Deputy Casey made reference to the national planning framework and the democratic process involved, or lack thereof. He referred to the lack of a right to an appeals mechanism and stated not everybody can afford a judicial review. Much of that is a matter for the Government and we would not have an influence. The Deputy probably made his points out of frustration.

If applicants do not take advice given or offered in respect of section 247 when submitting applications, they do so at their peril.

The IPI has made clear that it does not like SHD. It exists and we must work with what we are given. In our submission, we call for the powers to be returned to local authorities before December 2021. We are practical about this matter. We expect it to be extended and wish to have an input into it. That is why we are calling for the powers to be brought back to local authorities by December 2021.

On Deputy Ó Broin's question regarding the monitoring that can be implemented as part of the SHD included in this review, the board has its reporting mechanisms. Again, this is temporary for two years. As I stated, we do not want it to be as a permanent solution; we want the powers to be returned to local authorities. As we outlined there may be a monitoring function for our development teams. An Bord Pleanála releases statistics and data on the matter on a regular basis. It is adequate in terms of our current need.

Senator Murnane O'Connor asked about affordable housing. The IPI wants everybody to be adequately housed to bring stability to their lives. We do not want anyone to be under pressure of homelessness, temporary accommodation or anything of the kind. As I outlined in our opening statement, we want to be part of the solution. We are part of the solution. I hope that answers the Senator's question.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan stated that she does not support an extension. I have laid out our position, namely, that we do not want it but it is there and we live with it.

It is not there.

Mr. Joe Corr

It is there at the moment. It is up for review.

Fianna Fáil will get to decide this one. There will be legislation.

Mr. Joe Corr

Dr. Norton will deal with some of the other issues raised.


Dr. Conor Norton

My fees, etc. have been paid and I am up to date.

I am not qualified.

Dr. Conor Norton

I am a member and the vice president of the Irish Planning Institute. The issues of quantity, timing and so on were raised, but what is often forgotten is the quality of decision making. It is far more difficult to monitor the quality of outcomes in the planning process, particularly in development management. On monitoring outputs in this process, it may be useful to have a qualitative analysis of some of the outputs of strategic housing development if it is to continue. The SHD regulations came into effect in July 2017. As Mr. Corr stated, we advocate that strategic housing development should be a temporary measure and that these functions should be returned to local authorities. However, it is acknowledged in the conclusion that there is an understanding it is an emergency measure. We suggest that if it is to continue to 2021 as suggested, the powers would revert to local planning authorities at that stage. That is the view of the IPI. As I stated, we wish to be pragmatic about this and supportive of initiatives made within the context of a larger review of the planning system which may be needed.

The more specific issue of active land management was raised. Planners have a particular role in that regard in terms of planning and getting more engaged with its delivery aspect. There are some examples of good practice evolving around the country although they have not been codified. Active land management is probably all about understanding in a better way what sort of land is available, its ownership and the level of activity on it, such as whether it is inactive or undeveloped. On a deeper level, consideration could be given to the reasons land is inactive or underdeveloped and seeking to understand that on a site by site or parcel by parcel basis. Further, one could identify strategies for individual parcels of land within a larger area-based approach. IPI members have asked us to provide continuing professional development training on that on and we are working on a programme for planners in the area of active land management.

Dr. David Duffy

I am probably unique among the witnesses in that I am not a member of the Irish Planning Institute.

There you go, Senator Boyhan. I am not a member either.


Dr. David Duffy

It is fair to say that PII is in favour of the SHD process but, as I stated, we have made recommendations for its reform. The site value tax is not something we proposed.

The PII is in favour of it.

Dr. David Duffy

We have not developed a policy on it. We have not looked at that specific issue.

On the rental market, we think build to rent has an important role to play. On the mix of apartments, our view is that in supplying rental accommodation we need an appropriate mix of apartments, for families of various sizes as well as one or two-person households. If we are to have a sustainable and stable rental market, it should cater for accommodation across the various family types.

On the specific question on local authorities making the decisions, the key is how it will be achieved. This comes back to me not being a planner. I am not sure how it would be achieved but the key for the delivery of housing units into the market is the length and certainty of the timescale. That relates to appeals and so on as well as the overall process. I make that point as an economist; not a planner.

I thank Dr. Duffy and call Mr. Spain.

Mr. John Spain

I have nothing further to add.

Is Mr. Spain a member of the IPI?

Mr. John Spain

I am a member of the IPI but I am appearing in my capacity as chair of the PII planning and development committee.

I thank the delegates for their contributions.

I note that the SHD legislation provides that on the outcome of the review the Minister may, by way of an order, extend the period up to 2021. I ask that the clerk to the committee clarify prior to the next meeting whether that order, which is made under the Planning and Development Act, needs the approval of the committee. Ordinarily, such an order is made by way of a motion that we cannot amend, but the approval of the committee must be obtained. I make that point because-----

That is a course that is worthy of consideration. The clerk and his team will look into it. I thank the delegates for their time and for sharing their expertise. I acknowledge it was a long session and I appreciate their forbearance in sticking with us. I thank members also. I trimmed my contribution to one question in order to allow them make their contributions. The next meeting of the committee will be an engagement on the Housing (Regulation of Approved Housing Bodies) Bill 2019.

The joint committee adjourned at 2.10 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 24 October 2019.