The Government has approved a new bill to reform the planning system that is being described as the third-largest bill in the State’s history.

The Planning and Development Bill 2023, aims to introduce reform of planning judicial review, a timeframe increase in local authority development plans from 6 to 10 years, mandatory timelines for decisions within the new planning body, and new provisions for urban development zones. The Bill will also rename the scandal-hit An Bord Pleanála as An Comisiún Pleanála, change its corporate structure and introduce mandatory statutory timelines for its decisions.

The Department of Housing said that the proposed legislation would bring “greater clarity, certainty and consistency” to how planning decisions were made and would make the system more coherent and user-friendly.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the largest shake-up of Ireland’s planning system in more than two decades “will bring more certainty and consistency” to the process. He added, “It’s currently taking far too long for applications to get through the system and it’s in all our interests to make sure the planning system is resourced properly.

“We have much to do – from housing to renewable energy, to regional development, and this legislation will be a real step change.”

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the Bill will bring about fundamental planning improvements for the delivery of Housing For All and major infrastructure projects.

Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said the Bill’s environmental considerations mean it can be a “cornerstone to our sustainable and balanced development as a country”.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said the legislation would facilitate increased housing supply. The mammoth Bill is the third-largest piece of legislation to go before the Oireachtas, with the Government promising that it will make the system fit for purpose and more consistent.

But when it first was briefed to the Cabinet last year, Green Party Ministers flagged concerns. While the issue of vexatious challenges is often identified as one factor slowing planning decisions, critics of the legislation, including within the Green Party and some environmental NGOs say steps to limit the grounds for a judicial review are not compliant with rules on public participation in decision-making.

The key time periods will range from 18 weeks for appeals of decisions to 48 weeks for more complex strategic infrastructure developments. The Bill, sources said, will set out “proportionately escalating measures” for the commission if it doesn’t stick within the time limit, including fines.

The bill also introduces Urban Development Zones (UDZs) in place of Strategic Development Zones, which were a feature of previous planning legislation. The Government says that this will give local authorities the ability to designate areas with “significant potential for development”, including housing, as candidate UDZs, which must then be approved by Government.

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