Ireland’s Best Law Firms 2023: There is an urgent need for more robust decision-making in An Bord Pleanála

For a solicitor, planning law is both challenging and rewarding – there are many deadlines and hurdles to overcome, but you will be working on developments and projects that will shape Ireland’s future. So I want to encourage the next generation to get involved in this growing area of ​​law.

reland continues to develop important new energy resources, and the country is in dire need of an expansion of our housing and dormitory offering. I share the view that an immediate overhaul of our planning laws, including the establishment of a new accelerated planning court, similar to the commercial court, is urgently needed to achieve government goals for such future development.

As more and more land is acquired for sustainable bus corridors, greenways, freeways, and ring roads, my experience is that many landowners are unclear and uncertain about the steps of a forced purchase process and their legal rights in relation to the processes adopted by the procuring authority. Clients are particularly unclear about their right to representation, not just legal representation, but also valuation and other expert advice such as planning and engineering.

Plans are often proposed by the purchasing authorities and discussed with landowners before the plan is even approved. Property owners must be advised not to settle on any issues that arise regarding their land until planning permission, usually from An Bord Pleanála, has actually been obtained. This is because An Bord Pleanála can change a program, decide that certain plots of land are not required and impose conditions that can have a significant impact on landowners.

I find that many landowners are unaware of their right to arbitration before a property arbitrator or that the acquiring authority is responsible for the reasonable costs of legal and expert representation, which is very unfair in a process in which their land is forcibly acquired is . Numerous aspects need to be fully considered including the value of the land purchased, damage to the retained properties, disruption and costs or reinvestment. Customization work such as border treatments and fencing must also be considered. All property owner claims can be either agreed or arbitrated.

With the proposed introduction of new bus corridors in Dublin, the expansion plans for a new ring road around Galway City, the upgrading of the Cork to Limerick motorway and proposals for new greenways and leisure trails across the country, I find many more clients having their property owned by the state. The majority of them are totally unaware of their rights and entitlements in a forced procurement process.

I am also involved in many complex planning cases involving large plans and developments, including student residences with 200 beds or more and large-scale developments with 100 houses or more, for which An Bord Pleanála has granted accelerated planning approval for such strategic infrastructure development projects – but many of these permits are challenged through judicial review.

An Bord Pleanála’s legal expenses increased to €8.2 million in 2020, almost a third of its annual budget, mainly due to the increase in judicial review challenges against board planning decisions. One in four housing developments is now the subject of a court challenge, with a 375 percent increase in such legal challenges since 2018. I see many of the recent challenges from unincorporated community groups being made without visibility of their membership or meetings — a problem that is more significant Importance for those who want to build such developments.

I believe that a change is urgently needed in An Bord Pleanála to ensure that more robust decision-making procedures are put in place, with strict decision-making deadlines imposed in the future to ensure that complex planning and environmental issues are thoroughly reviewed and decisions made are legally reviewed before An Bord Pleanála makes final decisions.

At the same time, I share the concern that in order for there to be transparency as to who community groups are, there needs to be some level of verification at the court level of the identity of those bringing court challenges. This would ensure that these groups have identifiable members who represent their local community and hold regular meetings to advise the local community on the ins and outs of such litigation.

Many of the challenges relate to domestic law, and European litigation and local community groups need to be fully aware that cost protection in relation to domestic litigation can no longer be guaranteed. A decision from the Supreme Court is awaited following the Heather Hill case heard on the issue last July.

The planning work has increased significantly for me as Ireland moves towards more renewable energy to combat climate change. Wind farm and solar farm development has increased and will expand significantly across the country, creating a need for specialized legal advice for developers and landowners contracting for the onshore placement of wind turbines and solar panels.

Developers often have contractual rights even in relation to retained land and this needs to be clearly articulated and understood. The impact on local communities must also be considered to avoid nuisance and adverse impacts on residential properties when planning the location of such a development.

The development of offshore wind farms brings new challenges with implications such as: B. Losses to local fishing communities – an issue I advise clients to consider.

Deirdre Courtney is a partner at Augustus Cullen Law Ireland’s Best Law Firms 2023: There is an urgent need for more robust decision-making in An Bord Pleanála

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