Judicial planning reviews need 'drastic' revision - minister

Critical: Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien

Niamh Horan

Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien has hit out at the excessive use of the judicial review system in order to overturn planning decisions.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent this weekend, he warned the system needs to be "revised drastically".

"The whole area of judicial review is something in the Programme for Government that there is a commitment to review and revise, and I think it needs to be revised drastically," he said.

"It is strange to me that we would have instances of one planning authority taking another planning authority to court by way of judicial review, and I think it should only happen in very exceptional cases.

"It is something that is difficult for people to understand. If you have experts of planning authorities that are all working for the State, then why would there be a conflict between them in relation to any decision?"

He said the issue was one of "taxpayer money" but added, "Frankly then, there is the general piece about how we plan into the future and deliver homes and infrastructure."

His comments come after the High Court recently overturned a fresh grant of permission by An Bord Pleanála for 500 new apartments or additional co-living spaces in the heart of Dublin docklands. Last December Ronan Group Real Estate (RGRE) had secured permission from An Bord Pleanála to develop the scheme adjacent to Salesforce's new European headquarters, which is under construction. In May, Dublin City Council (DCC) appealed the decision in the High Court and the judge quashed the permission and remitted the matter for fresh consideration.

Having carried out a fresh consideration, An Bord Pleanála again granted permission, which the council again challenged. This led to planning permission for the 500 apartments being overturned for a second time last week.

Minister O'Brien said: "I cannot speak about individual cases. That decision and others and how that might impact on legislation would be a matter that would have to be reviewed by the department and Government, which I expect it to be.

"All planning legislation is under review regularly as to how we might improve it to get to the stage of seeing whether we can deliver homes efficiently at an affordable rate where we need them. That's my priority as minister. And if planning needs to change to make sure that happens, well that is something I am very open to doing."

This weekend Rory Williams, chief executive officer for RGRE, said: "Understandably, the minister cannot comment on individual cases, but DCC's actions have implications that go well beyond one development.

"What DCC has done affects all SDZs [Strategic Development Zones] across the country - these are zones designed for intensive economic development - and will delay, if not prevent, the delivery of thousands of houses and apartments.

"The system is broken, and we call upon the minister and the Government to fix it and to put an end to the farce of one State body attacking another's competence in open court."

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