Government's fast-track housing scheme to be revamped

Government's fast-track housing scheme to be revamped

The Government's fast-track housing scheme is expected to be revamped if it is extended beyond the end of the year, with permissions likely to be limited to just one year to encourage construction.

Currently, the Strategic Housing Development (SHD) scheme is due to expire at the end of 2019. The scheme, administered by An Bord Pleanála, has been in place since July 2017. It was introduced to motivate the construction of large-scale housing projects, with developments of more than 100 housing units or apartments or 200 student beds submitted directly to An Bord Pleanála to accelerate the planning process.

However, despite more than 100 applications being submitted under the scheme, there have been commencement notices lodged for just 23 of the approved projects. For a number those which have started, the projects are in the very earliest stage of works and most of the schemes are not expected to be finalised until 2022 or later.

Currently, a review group is assessing the operation and efficiency of the SHD scheme and this group is due to report back to the Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy imminently. Mr Murphy is then required to report his conclusions based on this review to the Houses of the Oireachtas before the end of October.

Under the current legislation, there is a possibility of the scheme being extended until the end of 2021, depending on the outcome of the review.

However, while it is understood that Mr Murphy is positively in favour of expanding the SHD scheme, it is expected that he will seek to include a number of changes to the scheme to boost its efficiency.

These include the imposition of a clause limiting planning permissions to one year - essentially forcing developers to act quickly on their permissions rather than sitting on sites.

In addition, Mr Murphy is understood to be considering a fast-track process for utilities, such as water, gas and telecommunications, to help open up sites more quickly. Several funding streams for such works have been in place in recent years and it unclear how this would differ from these.

There is also believed to be the possibility of further restrictions for local objections, including, in particular, for Traveller accommodation.

A spokesman for the Department of Housing noted that any potential changes to the scheme are dependent on the outcome of the ongoing review. The spokesman also defended the purpose of the scheme, emphasising that obtaining planning permission is just one element in the complicated process of bringing major housing developments to the market:

"The purpose of the SHD is to significantly speed up the planning decision-making process, thereby providing greater certainty for developers in terms of the timeframes. They are temporary arrangements to apply up until the end of 2019, with the possibility of an extension of a further 2 years to end of 2021, subject to a review of its operation and effectiveness."

"While obtaining planning permission is an essential step in any project, there are other factors at play that may impact on the commencement of any project, such as phasing of development (having to complete an existing project before commencing on another) and finances, etc. Separately, local authorities may avail of measures, such as the vacant site levy, to incentivise the activation of serviced sites suitable for housing where such sites continue to remain vacant and undeveloped."

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