Ballsbridge residents challenge fast-track planning laws 

Three plaintiffs take High Court action over system they claim is ‘wrong in every way’ 
 
Three residents of Ailesbury Road, in Ballsbridge, Dublin, are challenging the constitutionality of the strategic housing development system, which allows for the fast-tracking of major residential projects. 
Businessmen Chris Comerford and John Gleeson, and Pat Desmond, wife of the billionaire businessman Dermot Desmond, are challenging a system they say is not solving the housing crisis but is “creating even more problems that will impact all of us for generations to come”. 
 
The strategic housing process lacks transparency and excludes public participation, they said in a statement. 
 
It is contributing to “a housing system that is over-reliant on, and controlled by institutional investors, generations that will be locked into long-term rent servitude to international private equity and property funds, and a future pension crisis where the State will have to continue to subsidise rents as a result”. 
 
In October, An Bord Pleanála gave approval for a 611-apartment development in Donnybrook to be processed through the fast-track planning process. 
 
The proposed development, by Cairn Homes, is on land bought from RTÉ for €107.5 million which extends to the back of houses on Ailesbury Road. A planning application has not been lodged for the project. 
 
The High Court action which is being taken by the three Ailesbury Road residents is not aimed at the Cairn decision but at the legislation generally. 
 
“We are challenging the legality of the Strategic Housing Development legislation, the impact of which will not just have a detrimental effect on our homes but also on many communities around the country,” the plaintiffs said. 
 
They said they believed the scheme was undemocratic and unconstitutional and “wrong at every level for all of us”. 
 
The strategic housing process, which is designed to assist the fast-tracking of projects involving 100 homes or more, or blocks of 200 student or co-living spaces, was commenced in June 2017 by Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy. It allows for the bypassing of the local authority planning phase. 
 
Statistics issued late last year by An Bord Pleanála showed that permission was granted under the system for 44 proposed developments, involving 10,564 houses and apartments, and 3,094 student bed spaces, in the first three quarters of 2019. 
 
‘Not suitable’ 
The plaintiffs, in their statement, said current housing and planning policy was flawed. 
 
“Instead of delivering appropriate and sustainable housing for families, first-time buyers and downsizers, it favours build-to-rent schemes and development types that attract investment funds and financial market speculators. This housing model is not suitable for building sustainable communities.” 
 
The system operated outside a normal democratic planning governance framework that was subject to checks and balances, transparency and accountability, they said. 
 
“The right for us, the public, to participate in the process in any meaningful way, and the right to appeal against the planning decision, has been removed.” 
 
The plaintiffs said that, by promoting high-density, high-yield apartment developments, mostly at the top end of the market, and in particular by favouring the build-to-rent sector, the law has attracted institutional investors into the housing market looking for high returns on rental income for their shareholders. 
 
“It has effectively commoditised housing, basing its value on its yield versus other financial assets, rather than its affordability to tenants and potential owner occupiers.” 
 
According to a recent report, 95 per cent of the 3,644 apartments completed last year were bought by investment funds and were therefore not available to home buyers, they said. 
 
The process “is creating windfall profits for land owners, developers and institutional investors, outside the established process for public participation and accountability.” 
 
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