‘Housing has to be based on community needs’

By Maurice Garvey

INTRODUCED in 2017 to speed up the planning process for large-scale housing schemes, the Strategic Housing Development (SHD) system, or fast-track as it is commonly known, has flattered to deceive.

The system was to allow developers to submit planning applications for large housing developments, comprising 100 or more new dwellings or student or shared accommodation of more than 200 bed spaces, directly to An Bord Pleanála.

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An artist impression of the Vincent Byrne site to build 250 build to rent apartments 

In the process, this would bypass local planning authorities.

However it soon became clear that it was anything but fast, and by 2019, construction had only started on a third of units given the go-ahead through the scheme.

In November 2020, the Sunday Business Post reported that it has delivered fewer than 700 dwellings – despite a total of 43,000 homes been given the go ahead through the SHD system.

Originally the scheme was to expire at the end of 2020, but the then Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, extended this to the end of 2021, and Covid related lockdowns will likely extend this further still into 2022.

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Eoin O’Broin, TD

The scheme has come under criticism from people like People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett who described it as “nothing more than a license for property speculators to speculate, to hoard land, to flip land and to print money.”

Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin TD, believes the purpose of the SHD “was always to undermine the local democratic process” and wants to see better reforms and statutory time frames in place for pre-planning when the scheme expires.

“Local authorities have to abide by the local Development plan. With the Development Plan, there is an open democratic process, there are rules, with regard to issues like height, density,” said Deputy O’Broin.

“The Vincent Byrne site in Palmerstown (250 build to rent apartments) is a good example, something that was not in line with the Development Plan, there were issues surrounding height, it is bad planning.”

Deputy O’Broin criticised FF/FG for not implementing proposals to improve rules around large scale builds, and for allowing the SHD to extend into early 2022.

He accepts there can be mitigating factors as to why many builds have not yet commenced, with developers who may not have access to finance, be “speculatively looking to flip” the site, or “never had any intention” and wanting to keep the “prices where they are”.

“Has it assured me there would be an increase in housing – no it hasn’t,” said Deputy O’Broin.

“City planners and councillors want to implement the appropriate needs for their community, with structures set by Central Government. Developers don’t like that. In Dublin City Council, one in four people are renting, so they structured their housing needs to focus on that. In Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, there was more of a green tinged approach. Developers don’t like the democratic process. It impacts their job but the community should have a say in the plan.

“Do we need more houses, yes we need a lot more to be honest, as our population is growing. The problem is that this government and the last government, were bad at meeting the infrastructure needs of the community, transport, amenities, economic opportunity.

“We are now at the stage where Clondalkin, Rathcoole and Saggart are under enormous pressure for school places. Transport and the BusConnects has been delayed for three years. The Clonburris SDC has made strong attempts to bring all these things in, but that involves a lot of government departments.

“Housing has to be based on community needs and take place in parallel with infrastructure to keep pace with residential development.”

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