In this instalment of our Housing for All Blog Series, we look at the new replacement to the Strategic Housing Development bill – the Large-Scale Residential Development bill (LRD) 2021. An ever-changing bill that finally came into law on the 17th December 2021.
The LRD process, much like the SHD process, is designed to fast-track the planning decision-making process, thereby allowing for the faster delivery of housing. It covers developments of 100 housing units or more, student accommodation developments comprising 200 bed spaces or more, or a combination of same. It also includes a three step process of pre-application consultation, planning application stage and an appeal stage, however the main difference with LRD is that the first two stages are carried out by local authorities and the third stage, where required, with An Bord Pleanála.
There is no doubt that change is needed – in the 5 years that the SHD has been in existence, it seems to have over promised and under delivered. Planning is still ranking number 1 in the obstacles to the delivery of new housing in Ireland*. Over 27% of decisions were held up in judicial review, adding further delay to final decisions and additional cost to an already costly process.
In fact, of the 223 development proposals granted permission under the SHD system, only a third (72 proposals/8,700 units) have commenced and 138 have yet to commence. And although 2021 has seen an increase in commencements, these are mainly from the lockdown backlog and this will most likely taper off in 2022, owing to the reduction in SHD planning permissions granted in the first 3 Quarters of 2021 (a 29% reduction in apartments and 73% reduction in multi-housing unit developments).**
The LRD is said to position itself to enable the planning system to become more responsive to the requirements and complexities around housing delivery at a local level and to tease out any issues at an early stage. The focus is on consultation at a local level and adherence to local development plans. In short, it should, in theory, reduce the number of LRD applications being referred for judicial review, which would fundamentally speed up the process and progress of developments.
Ironically, the process of creating the new LRD bill, with its various iterations, objections and speculation has in fact added to the uncertainty around large-scale residential development. The lack of clarity has made it difficult for developers and investors to calculate the viability of schemes and increased the risk of investment. It has, in some cases, led to developments being put on hold until certainty is provided.
These are delays which the Government can ill afford, with housing targets set at 33,000 new homes per year. We may well see a backlog of applications, now that the bill has been passed, adding further pressure to under-resourced local authorities and an already overstretched planning system.
But will the LRD bill lead to a more efficient process and the faster delivery of housing? Its success is very much dependent on the resourcing of local planning authorities. If not properly managed, this could potentially lead to an increase in applications being refused.
One wonders whether a fast-track system has a place in the planning process, or should it have been scrapped altogether? After all, the SHD arrangements were never intended to be a permanent development consent process.
Although delays and issues around planning in Ireland are much talked about, there are changes underway, with a major overhaul of the planning system, designed to make it more efficient and to speed up the end-to-end process. The digitisation of planning applications is expected to be rolled out on a county-by-county basis from early this year and in place by the end of 2022. An Bord Pleanála have also announced they intend to secure additional resources and increase staff numbers and the same has been promised for local authorities, with an emphasis on increasing the numbers of planning specialists. Unless these changes happen, the LRD process may very well suffer the same fate as the SHD.
The argument for replacing SHD with LRD is not entirely convincing, however the priority now has to be speed and clarity in the planning process and better resourcing at a local level, if the annual housing targets are to be reached.
Dates to Note and Transitional Arrangements from SHD to LRD
The LRD bill came into law on the 17th December 2021.
Proposed SHD developments which have already been the subject of an SHD opinion from the Board on the commencement of the Act will have 16 weeks to submit an SHD application from the date of commencement of the Act.
Proposed SHD developments in respect of which an SHD opinion is awaited from the Board on the commencement of the Act will have 16 weeks to submit an SHD application from the date of receipt of the opinion.
Development proposals which have not commenced the SHD process on the date of the commencement of the Act – 17 December – will be required to go through the new LRD process.
* PII Housing Completion survey (Nov 2021)
** CSO Planning Permissions
(This Blog article was updated on the 11th January 2022 to reflect the enactment of the LRD bill into law on the 17th December 2021.)