On 21 November, the long awaited Planning and Development Bill 2023 (the Bill) was published by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The original Heads of the Bill were released in January 2023 and went through pre-legislative scrutiny. This, considerably amended Bill was approved by Cabinet in early October but was only published on Tuesday night. As detailed in our previous article (here), the Bill seeks to restructure An Bord Pleanála (renamed An Coimisiún Pleanála) and to improve development consenting processes by imposing strict time periods for planning decisions, as well as reforming the judicial review procedure.
In May, the Joint Committee on Housing Local Government and Heritage published its report on pre-legislative scrutiny and made a number of recommendations, some of which have been carried through to the text of the Bill. The resulting text is said to have been refined to ensure consistency throughout the Bill and is accompanied by an explanatory memorandum – a welcome addition.
Some key changes made to the Bill as drafted in January include more specific provisions on the operation of the judicial review system. These include allowing for unincorporated bodies to judicially review a decision in narrow circumstances and removing the strict procedural time limits set out in the draft heads of the Bill. In particular the 8 week deadline for delivery of a judgment has been replaced with an obligation on the Court to deal with the matter “as expeditiously as possible consistent with the administration of justice.” A welcome retention is the limitation that any appeal from the High Court can only go to the Supreme Court.
The Bill also provides for a scheme known as the “environmental legal costs financial assistance mechanism” whereby those taking a judicial review challenge can apply to the Department of the Environment for a “contribution” to their legal costs, to be paid whether or not they are successful. This is novel and will require detailed consideration.
Statutory time limits
The Bill also sets out mandatory time limits for determining planning applications as follows.
In respect of applications to local/planning authorities:
- 8 weeks where no Appropriate Assessment (AA) or Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required;
- 12 weeks where AA or EIA is required;
In respect of appeals to An Coimisúin Pleanála:
- 18 weeks where no AA or EIA is required, if an RFI is issued 6 further weeks from when the RFI is complied with or is required to be complied with;
- 26 weeks where AA or EIA is required, if an RFI is issued 10 weeks further from when the RFI is complied with or is required to be complied with
Our Environmental and Planning Team is busy reviewing the Bill. We will be updating this post and our website with further analysis pieces in the coming weeks.