40 July-August 2024
Wht the Plnning Bill ignores nd wht
its opponents didn’t explin tht it could
hve promoted
Greens and experts outmanoeuvred on
Planning Bill which sells public interest
in quality of planning very short
By J. Vivian Cooke
he Planning and Development Bill
shows far more evidence of the
influence of builders and
developers than of the Green
Party. But it is not surprising that
this is a builders’ bill – it was set up to be
that from the very beginning.
Paul Gallagher, the then Attorney General,
and the Department of Housing, were eager
to ensure that the construction industry
would have active roles in the very earliest
stages of the drafting of this once-in-a-
generation legislation. Speaking at the
Construction Industry Federation’s annual
get together earlier this year, Darragh
O’Brien cooed that “Industry engagement
was paramount to the drafting of the Bill
and I thank you all for this”.
By contrast, he and his department were
not solicitous of the opinion of the Green
Party, their nominal colleagues in
government. Like too many experts and
professional bodies who were formally part
of the consultation process, the Greens
were not invited to sit at the cool kids’ table.
By the time anyone in the Department of
Housing bothered to ask their opinions, the
drafting process was too far advanced to
allow them any meaningful input.
Despite 26 months of preparation,
O’Brien initiated an incomplete bill,
requiring his department to table 389
amendments to its own proposed
legislation, bringing the running total of its
word count to a staggering 306,600. Many
are dramatic additions to the law: one, for
instance, introduces 37 subsections and
Moreover, the explanatory memorandum
to the bill contained so many errors and
gaps and arrived so late that, unusually, the
Ceann Comhairle made formal inquiries into
the matter.
Because the developers’ lobbyists had
been extensively consulted from the very
earliest stages, they knew in advance what
was in the bill. They had seen the script in
advance and were well placed to
immediately welcome individual provisions.
Despite many protestations of
enthusiasm, primarily for the length of the
bill and for its perceived expedition of the
planning process, government
backbenchers were blindsided. At least the
Green Party TDs who spoke on the day
acknowledged their lack of knowledge and
promised to read the thing in full over their
Christmas holidays - for all the good it
would do.
Unlike other government TDs on the
Committee on Housing, who only bothered
to turn up to cast their votes as they were
instructed, at least Steven Matthews, the
chair of that committee, participated in the
charade of parliamentary scrutiny with
sincerity and enthusiasm. He submitted
244 amendments even in the knowledge
that he would be obliged to withdraw them
all without a vote. In contrast, Fine Gael’s
Emer Higgins, committee member until her
promotion to a junior ministry, registered
zero amendments, attended only to vote
and made a handful of contributions to
But this is how the legislative process
works: scrutiny is cursory; opposition TDs
are ignored; government backbenchers are
lobby fodder. Everyone knows how this
unedifying process works.
The rationale for the Greens holding their
collective nose and joining this coalition
has always been that they could advance
their environmental agenda. Planning and
development, as a vehicle for enhanced
quality of life, is third only to climate and
biodiversity action on that agenda.
The puzzle is not that a Fianna Fáil
minister should deliver such a builders’
charter to a quiescent Green Party.
The bill, as Village has reported before,
carries forward the often-unenforced logic
of the existing system based on a clear
hierarchy for strategic planning and policy
in which subsidiary plans are obliged to be
materially consistent with all policies that
are above them in the hierarchy. The
Minister sets out certain aspects of
important policy in National Planning
Statements which contain directives that
purport to be binding, termed National
Planning Policies and Measures.
The bill purposefully requires speedier
but, pointedly, not better planning decisions
for individual applications - primarily by
using deadlines and by diverting public
participation in the planning system to the
strategic, high-level phases.
Coverage of the bill has overemphasised
the (admittedly undesirable) way it curtails
third-party rights of appeal and judicial
review. In fact, experts predict the
uncertainty new provisions will introduce is
likely to increase satellite litigation,
confusion and delay.
Excellence could have been enshrined as
a specific planning criterion and
sustainability and excellence made the
objective of the system. But, because speed
and eciency have been preferred instead,
they continue to be treated as minor
concerns. Perhaps the ineectual Greens
should have pushed more, and more clearly,
for what they think a planning system
should aim to achieve.
A grown-up solution in the era of climate
change, biodiversity collapse and housing
crisis is consistency, sustainability,
excellence. The deficiencies in what
legislators, vested interests and unyielding
State lawyers have envisioned from this bill
will be regretted for a generation.


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