In response to the realities of the impact of the Covid-19 emergency, the Government has just published the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020 which, among many other emergency steps, will immediately suspend all statutory deadlines mandated by:
- The entirety of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended) - Sections 3 – 25A of the [Strategic Housing Developments] Act 2016 (these are the operative application/permission sections) - The Derelict Sites levy provisions (Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015) - Sections 4(4), 6 and 17(6) of the Building Control Act 1990
The deadlines will be set aside indefinitely, for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency. Once commenced, the Minister is required to decide on a period of duration and has powers to amend this during the period, as necessary in the public interest. Back stop date of November 9 2020. The Bill will be put before the Oireachtas imminently. See section 9, which introduces new section 251A into the Planning Acts. With regard to planning matters, the announcement states: “This is to avoid statutory deadlines being breached and the planning and building control systems being compromised in the event of further impacts of Covid-19 on the community or workforce”
What is the effect of the legislation?
Statutory deadlines for all matters in the Planning Acts will be immediately suspended. This means that the deadlines for applications for permission in train, observations on such applications, decisions, environmental assessment screening deadlines, etc, will all be set aside indefinitely for the duration of the emergency.
This will allow for a sudden and indefinite suspension of consideration of any development applications in the application process, or about to be lodged. Crucially, it does not provide that work must cease, although having regard to the current working restrictions, that will be the practical reality in most cases. There is nothing to stop planning authorities continuing with work on files, subject to each authority's own working arrangements. There will just be no deadline that can be applied during the emergency period. Similarly, there is nothing to stop planning authorities receiving new applications.
The legislation will of course be subject to a vote in the Oireachtas and the Seanad and will require to be signed into law by the President. These steps will be a mere formality.
This very significant development reflects the realities of the Covid-19 emergency, where public health simply comes first.
For the development community, the music is about to stop.
What about challenges to recent decisions?
For parties intending to challenge a decision made within the last 8 weeks by way of judicial review, the 8-week period within which you must apply to the High Court for leave to apply for judicial review, will be suspended.
This legislation has no effect on any proceedings already commenced – they remain under the management of the High Court, which itself is largely adjourned for the time being.