A major loosening of planning laws will enable county councillors to approve major planning projects without sanction from the Government, on foot of a controversial order from Environment Minister Alan Kelly.
The Irish Examiner can reveal that Mr Kelly is allowing local councillors to fast-track smaller housing projects, in a desperate bid to deliver more social housing.
However, there is concern that the loosening of the rules may lead to bad planning decisions by councillors, repeating the mistakes of the Celtic Tiger period.
Mr Kelly and his junior minister Paudie Coffey have issued a directive to councils that they no longer need departmental approval for projects worth under €2m, or which amount to fewer than 15 homes. Details of the order are contained in a memo, sent by Mr Kelly’s department to local authority chief executives at the end of last week and seen by the Irish Examiner. In the directive, the department says it will be up to the local council to maintain control on costs.
“It will therefore be the responsibility of the local authority to exercise appropriate cost control and to deliver the project within the approved budget,” the new rule states.
Previously, projects of this nature had to go through a six-stage approval process, but that is now reduced to one, with responsibility for proper standards falling to local authorities.
“Ordinarily, new social housing construction projects go through a more extensive, multi-stage approval process. Accordingly, the new arrangement for projects up to €2m/15 units will enable local authorities to progress these projects more quickly to construction stage,” Mr Kelly told the Irish Examiner.
“I have been keen to identify options to accelerate the time involved in advancing new projects, to ensure the best possible implementation of the half a billion euro of new social housing capital projects that I have so far approved,” he said.
Mr Kelly is adamant that the loosening of the rules is not a cause for concern and said the councils will have to be responsible in operating the new rules.
“This new arrangement strikes the right balance between that oversight and the need for maximum efficiency in project delivery. It puts a stronger responsibility on local authorities to deliver these projects within budget,” he said.
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