Fast-track fiasco: property developers get €1m in payouts as An Bord Pleanála takes too long on planning decisions

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Former ABP deputy chair Paul Hyde

Gabija Gataveckaite

An Bord Pleanála (ABP) has paid out more than €1m in fines to developers because of a backlog in processing applications for developments.

The board, which is undergoing reform, has been forced to hand out €1.05m this year due to delays in processing their Strategic Housing Development (SHD) applications.

It said it had made 105 payments of €10,000 to 84 developers this year.

If ABP takes more than 16 weeks to make a decision on an SHD application, it is liable for the €10,000 fine.

For comparison, a total of just €10,000 was paid to a single developer last year.

“There is currently a backlog of cases on hand, which means some cases are not being dealt with within the statutory objective period,” an ABP spokesperson said.

Paul Hyde, the body’s former deputy chairman, is facing criminal prosecution after a review was commissioned following allegations of his having a role in decisions in planning cases involving people, places or projects to which he had connections he failed to disclose.

The fast-track planning system set up in 2016 to facilitate SHD applications is in the process of being abolished by Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien.

The system allowed developers to bypass councils when applying for planning for housing schemes of more than 100 units, student accommodation of more than 200 units and certain other developments.

Under this process, applications would go straight to ABP, leaving judicial review by the courts the only appeal route for objectors.

The SHD process is also used for changes of existing permissions from planning authorities or ABP itself.

The minister has moved to scrap the system, but applications for SHDs could be submitted up to the end of last month, despite an initial deadline of last December 31 for the fast-track process to end.

ABP said that from August last year to the end of August this year, 178 SHD applications had been received.

The minister said scrapping the system would mean a faster, more “efficient process for large-scale residential developments”.

SHDs will be replaced through new legislation by large-scale residential developments (LSRDs).

These will restore decision-making to city and county councils.

ABP has long been the focus of controversy.

The minister commissioned barrister Remy Farrell to carry out a review and write a report, which was forwarded to the DPP, the Standards in Public Office commission (Sipo) and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris.

After the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau conducted an investigation, gardaí submitted a file to the DPP.

Mr Hyde, who resigned last July, has always denied any wrongdoing.

The website OnTheDitch has since reported further allegations about other board members, and the procedures governing decision-making by ABP have come under sustained criticism.

Problems plaguing the planning body were raised in the Dáil yesterday, and the spotlight has also fallen on the level of resources and expertise available to it.

More than 1,000 homes planned for Dublin and Kildare will not go ahead, because of legal challenges the board had to concede because they were linked to Mr Hyde.

The Government has also since moved to reform ABP, with the recruitment of board members being changed from a nominations process to a panel of experts who will examine candidates.

The customer complaints procedure is being changed and more members will be hired.

The Government has often spoken of “blockages” within the planning system and has promised to bring in new planning legislation shortly.

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