Obtaining planning permission is one of the key steps in enabling housing providers to produce the homes we all need. The process of obtaining planning permission takes time, reflecting the importance of getting the location and design of new development right. Once permission is granted, it normally lasts for five years to enable the relevant development to be built out. However, due to the economic recession of recent years and the resulting downturn in construction activity and slow pace of sales, many approved housing developments could not be built out within the timeframe of their original permissions. We discussed this last December in this House. This is the case even where some of these benefitted from an initial five-year extension of duration, which is already facilitated under the Planning Acts. Recognising these extraordinary economic and market conditions and to avoid time-consuming and pointless repeat applications for planning permission at a time of unprecedented housing need, pillar 3 of Rebuilding Ireland committed the Government to amending planning legislation to temporarily allow for a second extension of duration of planning permissions over the period of the action plan to 2021.
Section 28 of the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016, that is, the 2016 Act, was originally drafted to amend section 42 of the main Act and address the extension of duration provisions. Specifically, section 28 of the 2016 Act provides, under section 28(1), a permanent change to section 42 of the 2000 Act, providing that extensions of duration would no longer apply where environmental impact assessment or appropriate assessment was required in respect of the original planning permission. This is to bring the planning code fully into line with EU law requirements.
Under section 28(2), a temporary change is being made to section 42 of the 2000 Act, providing that a second extension of duration of planning permission could be approved for a development of 20 or more homes in certain circumstances and where development had substantially commenced within the original permission period. It was always intended to commence these provisions separately, as the first was drafted in response to EU requirements. As is the norm with such new legislative requirements, there needs to be a transitional period for practical arrangements to be made to meet them. Developers need time to consider and comply with the new EU law requirements, and, as the case may be, apply for an extension of duration or a new planning permission. This is the reason we are not commencing this provision immediately but expect to do so by the end of this year.
The second provision is more urgent. If a second extension of duration is required to deliver housing that is in short supply, the Government is anxious that this be acted on as soon as possible. However, owing to the legal construction of section 28 with these two separate provisions, as I have outlined, legal advice received indicates that it is not possible to specifically commence the second provision without also commencing the first. Accordingly, the Bill before the House today seeks to allow the Government to commence this second provision separately and without delay.
Another reason to enact the Bill before the House quickly is to address a further issue that came to light during consideration of amendments to the 2016 Act during the debates on the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016 which is currently on Report Stage in the Dáil. Some housing providers are not able to avail of a second extension of duration in cases where the development had substantially commenced but had done so within the period of the extended planning permission, that is, after year five, as opposed to during the original five-year planning permission period.
During discussions on the Bill, the Government tabled amendments and signalled that it would be considering other changes in the 2016 Bill, taking account of the constructive and helpful views from Opposition Members. The Government is eager to facilitate as broad a cohort of house builders to be able to avail of this temporary flexibility to deliver as much new and permitted housing stock into the market as early as possible. However, recognising that the 2016 Bill will not be enacted until the autumn, it has moved decisively to bring these changes into effect as soon as possible. This is to minimise delays and provide certainty for developers, their financiers and planning authorities. The provisions before the House are, therefore, not new, but are, in fact, simplified and allow for greater flexibility for eligible permissions seeking a further extension. We discussed this issue during the debate in December and the need for this. Most people, while they had other issues with that Bill at the time, were quite supportive of this situation to allow common sense to prevail with respect to planning applications that were moving through the system.
I will briefly go through the provisions in the Bill. Section 1 proposes to delete section 28(2)(a) of the 2016 Act and substitute new text to address the issues above and enable separate commencements to the different parts of section 28. Section 1 also extends the opportunity for second durations of permission to those developments whose permissions have expired, or are due to expire, regardless of whether the developments commenced during their initial period of permission, or during the first extension period.
Section 2 contains standard provisions of a general nature, dealing with such matters as Short Title, collective citation and construction. As the Bill contains no commencement provision, the enacted provisions will come into force upon the date of signature of the President.
While I appreciate that consideration of such a provision would normally make its way through the legislative process in the traditional manner, we do not have the luxury of waiting for the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016, which will extend into the autumn. There are many issues related to that Bill that Members will wish to discuss at length. Rather than trying to rush the taking of that Bill last week, it was important that we separate out the most urgent amendment, which is what we are discussing. We are aware there are a substantial number of commenced housing projects, possibly between 50 and 100, throughout the country that could be further built out without further delay, were the amending legislation and relevant commencement arrangements to be expedited. If not, that building activity may be obliged to cease. We have heard of cases where people have been told they would have leave a site as their time is nearly up because the planning permission in due to expire. That is what has happened with housing developments. Some of those houses are badly needed. Some of them involve social housing developments and others involve private housing developments. Also, many people who plan to build houses this summer are of the understanding that we passed this measure last December. They do not get to follow all the ins and outs of what we do or how we do our business here. They assumed that when we had the debate before Christmas that this measure is in law already. Some people think their permissions are up to date and they are making plans to build in the months ahead. Therefore, it was important that we got this dealt with. As soon as it became clear from scheduling arrangements that the Oireachtas would not be able to conclude its deliberations on the 2016 Bill before the recess, the Government acted immediately to seek to progress this key provision by means of this fast-track stand-alone Bill.
We did not want to rush consideration of the wide range of issues in that Bill.
They include the important proposals on the establishment of the Office of the Planning Regulator which require the careful scrutiny of this House. That planning Bill took a long time on Committee Stage also. I know that people are genuinely interested in that Bill. It is an important one. It also reflects some of the results of the tribunal and it is important we give it proper consideration and time.
This Bill ensures the affected housing providers who have substantially commenced development in an extended planning permission period are able to apply for a second extension of duration without the need to cease work while they apply for a new permission. It also means those with projects that had substantially commenced within their original planning permission period would be able to avail of a second extension. It is important to note that this provision will apply only to projects that have substantially commenced and will not apply to projects that have not commenced. This is to discourage the hoarding of planning permissions without going ahead and delivering homes. I know much of the discussion would have happened here in December and in the Dáil subsequent to that in the past week, where this was discussed. There is a fear of hoarding and we do not want to do anything to encourage more hoarding. This is the opposite. It is to try to get people to bring forward their land and to activate it as quickly as they possibly can. As facilitated under the original provisions of the 2016 Act, any qualifying permitted development that had expired between the publication of Rebuilding Ireland on 19 July 2016 and the commencement date of this provision will still be eligible to apply for a second extension.
I commend the Bill to the House. I thank Members on all sides for facilitating this important matter at short notice. I know that we have had conversations with many about this and appreciate people's efforts in the past two weeks to try to facilitate this Bill to come through to be discussed and debated in a common-sense manner, which I think is important to doing our job here. Everyone has issues we have to debate, but it is also important that we be effective on the ground where there are people who are on site, have their jobs and are working. They want to continue to finish those houses and we have to facilitate that as well as we can, but it requires proper planning to do so.