The Government is planning to rush through planning legislation in order to amend the structure of An Bord Pleanála and to impose emergency social housing rules with a minimum of legislative scrutiny next week.
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien on Tuesday evening wrote to the leader of the Seanad Regina Doherty to request its “cooperation” in order to consider all stages of the Planning and Development and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill 2022 within the space of a week from next Monday.
Mr O’Brien said the measure is necessary in order to expedite “urgently required changes” to An Bord Pleanála and introduce “emergency planning power provisions to help address the housing crisis”.
He wishes for the bill to proceed in lieu ofpublication of its formal pre-legislative scrutiny report, which was only initiated as recently as October.
The Housing Minister said the issues addressed in the bill are “a matter of immediate priority for the Government”.
The social housing provision mentioned will function via an amendment for committee stage of the bill which the Minister said he is currently “working to develop” in order to provide“in exceptional circumstances for the accelerated delivery of social housing on local authority lands” without the normal planning prerequisites such as environmental impact assessments .
He said this is necessary due to “the extraordinary pressure on our broader housing system”.
He said the strain on housing supply had been exacerbated by the “demographic shock of the humanitarian disaster unfolding due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine”.
Mr O’Brien acknowledged in his letter that a week is an “unsatisfactory amount of time” for its debate in the Seanad.
Typically debating legislation can take many months.
The Minister said the legislation must be rushed due to the need to “address the serious dysfunctionality in An Bord Pleanála as a pressing concern”.
The bill will give legal standing to the Department of Housing’s action plan for the scandal-ridden planning authority.
Actions planned include expanding the maximum size of the board to 14 members from its current standing of 9 (plus the chair), allowing for internal investigations to be undertaken by the chair of the board without their having to form a prior opinion regarding the nature of the complaint, and amending the manner in which board appointments are recommended to the Minister.
The bill will also remove the option for two-person board quorums for planning decisions.
“Continued planning delays due to inadequate structures and membership numbers in An Bord Pleanála will exacerbate housing supply issues at a critical time for our country,” Mr O’Brien said.
While the Housing Minister’s letter mentions that the bill must be progressed by the end of next week, the Dáil is not due to break for the Christmas holidays until Saturday December 17 when the role of Taoiseach is officially to be taken over by Leo Varadkar for a second time.