Developers ‘intimidate’ community groups over planning, committee hears – The Irish Times

Property developers have been accused by a number of residents’ groups of threatening local groups who object to proposed developments with defamation lawsuits and massive legal costs.

Robin Mandal, chair of the Dublin Democratic Planning Alliance (DDPA), said he was aware of cases where people had been “intimidated” into withdrawing legal challenges to planning decisions.

Mr Mandal said people holding judicial reviews against approved developments had been threatened that they would be taken “to the cleansing” in court if the case went ahead.

A “classic” tactic was to threaten to launch a defamation case against anyone who expressed concerns about the proposed developments, which he said “scares someone to death”.

The Dublin Planning Group, which represents 75 residents’ associations, spoke to the Oireachtas Housing Committee as it considered the forthcoming government overhaul of the planning system.

The DDPA’s Cliona Kimber said developers have issued threats to record defamation cases in response to residents who were distributing leaflets to neighbors about planned developments in their area.

Ms Kimber said it has a deterrent effect and causes people to give in, as the threat and potential cost of fighting a legal case is “too scary”.

Pauline Foster, of the Recorders’ Residents Association in south-west Dublin, said in one case a developer was “very adamant” when a residents’ association raised a legal challenge to a development.

Mr Mandal said the idea that the current planning process is holding back housing developments is “untrue”.

The draft Planning and Development Act would result in “uninformed changes” that would reduce the powers of individuals, local representatives and councils in the planning system.

Mr Mandal said there was “little explanation as to the reasons for these changes”. The shortcomings of the current system stem from its “contradictory nature,” he told the committee.

Any attempt to exclude citizens from the planning system is a threat to democracy and the rule of law that “could lead to a breakdown in social stability”.

“We are also concerned about the false narratives behind some provisions of the bill, such as the idea that objections stop development which is not supported by evidence,” he told politicians.

Ms Foster similarly said that community groups were blamed for the “major delays in the planning system”.

Delays and procedural errors in An Bórd Pleanála’s decisions are largely due to the agency’s under-resources, she said.

Residents’ associations would “completely oppose” suggestions that they should be barred from judicial review of planning decisions, Ms Foster said. It would be “like taking the slingshot away from David in his fight against Goliath,” she said.

Brendan Heneghan of the Terenure West Residents’ Association said requiring associations to list all their members in any appeal against a decision at An Bórd Pleanála is a “stupid provision”.

He told the committee that half of the people involved in an association would have “consent” if their name was mentioned in an appeal against a planning decision.

However, he said he rejected any suggestion that the community groups consisted of just “two crackpots” who opposed the developments. Developers ‘intimidate’ community groups over planning, committee hears – The Irish Times

Dais Johnston

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