Fast-track ABP system used to bypass local area plans

By Aideen O'Flaherty

LOCAL councillors have voiced their frustration about how a number of planned large-scale residential developments in the county have been able to bypass Local Area Plans by using An Bord Pleanála’s (ABP) fast-track system.

The fast-track system applies to Strategic Housing Developments (SHD), where developers who are planning to construct SHDs can apply directly to ABP under a fast-track system after consulting with the council.

Airton Artists Impression 1 compressor

An artist’s impression of plans for the former Cable and Wireless site at the junction of Airton Road and Belgard Road

The Commencement Order for the fast-track legislation was signed by Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy, in 2017.

At the time, he said the aim of the new legislation would be “to facilitate the provision of increased housing supply through greater streamlining efficiencies in the planning system” and it would allow large-scale developments to be “built more quickly”.

However, planning applications that are lodged directly to ABP under the fast-track legislation don’t have to adhere to South Dublin County Council’s area plans, including South Dublin County Council’s Development Plan 2016-2022, the Tallaght Town Centre Local Area Plan 2006-2016, and the Draft Tallaght Town Centre Local Area Plan 2020-2026.

Area plans are compiled by local authorities and county councillors, outlining plans for infrastructure and future development in the area, while members of the public can lodge submissions on the plans in a clearly defined time-period before they are adopted by the council.

There are concerns that these plans are being ignored by developers, as when they use the fast-track planning system, they are not required to adhere to them, as they can bypass South Dublin County Council.

Louise Dunne, a Sinn Féin councillor for Tallaght South, told The Echo: “A huge amount of work went into these plans, [compiling them] is one of the most important remits of the council, but SHDs totally bypass them – it’s scandalous.

“When the TDs who brought in the national policy for the fast-track system are gone, the residents of places like Citywest will still be living with [the consequences of the legislation].

“I think we’re going back to a time where we’re just constantly building but having no infrastructure in the areas at all.

“This is going to have huge negative consequences for existing communities and the communities that will be moving into these developments.

“It’s demoralising for us to put so much time and effort into these area plans, and for developers to be prioritised over us.”

Fianna Fáil councillor for Tallaght Central, Charlie O’Connor, has also expressed reservations about the level of SHD development in the area, telling The Echo: “I am increasingly concerned about the number of these proposals coming forward.

“A huge number of apartments are being proposed and it raises concerns in relation to the parallel development of amenities and how these areas will cope if these developments take place.

“On Airton Road, and particularly in Citywest, you can see the effect the current building work is having on the area, and a lot of these additional proposals don’t make any sense – they’re getting a lot of negative reactions from the community.”

Solidarity councillor for Tallaght Central, Kieran Mahon, has praised local communities for coming together to voice their concerns about SHDs, and has criticised the nature of the developments that are being developed under the fast-track system.

“Essentially it’s developer-led planning,” explained Cllr Mahon. “It’s overstepping the council in terms of how they want to see the area being developed.

“A lot of these developments have a lot of one-bed apartments, so it’s clearly about maximising profits instead of developing sustainable communities.

“The reality is that private land was being hoarded throughout the crisis, and now [as a result of the fast-track system], they’ve opened the doors for vulture funds to build these developments.

“In every crisis, whether it’s health or housing, the real strength is when people organise on the issue and put pressure on the government.”

Independent councillor Mick Duff described the fast-track system as “one of the worst decisions to come out of the Custom House”.

“I don’t agree with the SHD process at all,” he said. “It was a charter to give developers the edge when it came to providing homes.

“Large developments like these should be brought to the local authority and councillors for opinion. I think that there’s a rush to develop here, and that standards have dropped and have been allowed to drop.

“To have central government making these decisions on behalf of local authorities…it’s a nonsense.”

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