Dermot Lacey: Residents have no option but to object if developers insist on bad planning

Objectors are being accused of nimbyism and of blocking much-needed housing, but a lot of the time they have a point and deserve to be listened to

‘Nimbyism is said to be the biggest obstacle to Ireland developing a modern housing infrastructure and it is claimed that unrepresentative residents associations are trying to stop lots of worthwhile developments.’ Picture: Getty

In recent months, the right of community groups and councillors to ensure the proper planning and development of their areas has come under increasing attack. They are accused of causing planning delays, creating cost overruns and of stopping developers from delivering much-needed housing.

Nimbyism is said to be the biggest obstacle to Ireland developing a modern housing infrastructure and it is claimed that unrepresentative residents associations are trying to stop lots of worthwhile developments.

Could these include the 210 apartments that, some of us, including Eamon Ryan, the now Environment Minister, stopped from being built on a flood plain along the Dodder? Or maybe a reference to the objections to the proposed 671 units at Milltown Park in Dublin with 604 of those being “build to rent”, a staggering 90 per cent.

In his recent column ⁠— Serial objectors don’t help in trying to solve the housing crisis ⁠— Ian Guider joined a long line including ministers, the Construction Industry Federation and other journalists suggesting there should be a reduction in planning objections from residents.

“This country is in the grip of a housing crisis, and has been for roughly a decade now. There are problems just about everywhere, be it affordable homes to buy, affordable rental properties or affordable student accommodation. At the same time, we are also seeing growing opposition to developments that would alleviate some of the pressure,” Guider wrote.

“The emotive language being used to challenge residential developments is treading a fine line between legitimate concerns about the transformation of the character of areas of Dublin and farce. We’ve reached a stage where, unless a planning application has the purest of motives, it will attract opposition,” he added.

It is easy to accuse objectors of nimbyism, and there can be some unfair objections, but the real issue is this: good planning is as easy to deliver as bad planning. It may take a little longer and the profit may not be as substantial but it is still well worth aiming for.

Over my years as a councillor I have opposed very few developments and have often encouraged developers and local communities to engage with each other.

However, we now have a situation where developers hold all the cards.

Long before a site notice is erected, developers will have spent months discussing their plans with the local council. Residents will then have, at most, five weeks to analyse, criticise and submit a commentary to the local authority.

They will often have to organise, collect funds, hire a planner or architect and make a concise planning submission. The odds are hardly stacked in their favour. Yet somehow these voluntary groups are accused of hindering the plans of the great and the good.

In the current draft city development plan for Dublin a proposal to limit build to rent units to a maximum of 40 per cent of any development has come in for criticism as somehow inhibiting the building of new housing.

Yet, this is about building homes, permanent and sustainable homes. This is about best use of land and existing infrastructure. It is not nimbyism to want to see schools protected, youth and sports clubs enhanced, churches with sustainable congregations and medical and shopping facilities in place. It is good planning. Planning must be based on what is good for society and not how much profit can be achieved for a developer.

So, what should be done? Developers should engage with local representatives and community groups long before the planning site notice goes up. Those planning applications should respect the integrity of agreed development plans and be in accordance with them.

Ministers should also stop interfering with carefully calibrated development plans. Their interventions have lowered standards and increased suspicions that the system is not fair.

Meanwhile, An Bord Pleánala should respect development plans and have clearer time lines for decision making.

Dermot Lacey is a Labour councillor for the Pembroke area of Dublin. He is chair of Dublin City Council’s Housing Strategic Policy Committee and a former Lord Mayor of Dublin