Wednesday, 13 March 1974
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Callanan: When the debate was adjourned I was trying to give my ideas to the Minister about how important interpretation is in connection with planning regulations. I was trying to explain to the Minister that we had a case of a planning authority applying for permission for a plan for the environment of Galway. Suggestions were put up. I would be afraid the Minister would get people like this authority on the board. They planned to build villages or else ten or 12 houses in a certain area—a kind of tenement—and to service that area. Outside that, they said, you can build a farmhouse or a second family house, or freeze five acres. There are many backroads 20 miles away from any city.
Mr. Callanan: This is what the planning authority wanted to include in our new plan. Plans are being revised in every county at the moment. Public representatives did not agree with this plan. Ordinary country people want urban standards. If a man in the country has his group  water scheme and other services he can have all amenities while his house is still cheap. Do we want to depopulate Ireland?
Some time ago outside Galway city on the coast road a man applied for planning permission. He applied for a plot of ground that was under the road, and between that and the coast there were trees about 20 feet high. All that grew on the plot of ground was thistles and nettles. He applied for permission to build two bungalows which would not have been seen from the road. The coast was not visible because of the trees. His application was turned down because the building of the bungalows would interfere with an amenity. I want a definition of amenity. I was asked recently whether I wanted houses along the road. I do not, but I want to keep people in the country and I want to make sure that there is good planning. I want also to preserve the scenic beauty of the countryside. I do not want it abused by planners who think they know all about it.
There is the question of building along major roads. I wish to express my personal view. I have strong views about the traffic hazards, amenities and things which are out of character. I like driving around the country and meeting things which are out of character. I hate the sight of housing estates. They are a blot. They have been planned by town planners who have destroyed some of our towns.
In Galway city there is a little old thatched house near the Regional Hospital. Tourists take photographs of it. It is completely out of character with the houses around it but the tourists love it and I love to see it myself. Without variety the country will lose its tourist attraction.
I want to compliment the Minister on the idea of shifting office blocks out of the centre of the city. I am a countryman but when I come to the city I like to see life there. Office blocks should be built outside cities. There should be people living in the centre of cities.
Coming now to the question of the man building his own house, he finds  the planners almost tell him how to paint it. If a man is building a house in an amenity area he will be told the type of paint he must use and the type of roof he must put on. This is dictation in a democracy.
Mr. Callanan: If there are a variety of people planning houses in a countryside they have a variety of ideas. If one man with set ideas plans the whole landscape it is monotonous. I maintain that variety is better than having one man building houses which he has designed and which he thinks are the nicest. Variety is better than a set pattern.
I may be a little hard on the planners but I have very good reason for this because I have seen some of the things that were turned down and to me they were a common disgrace. As regards traffic hazards—these are private views; perhaps not many on this side will agree with me but I do not care who agrees or not I am putting them up—in regard to building along primary roads, there is the question of what is a traffic hazard here. You are not allowed to build except for a second family farmhouse or a replacement house on a national primary road but if you go a mile up a by-road you may build. When you want to come out on to the primary road you must come out from the by-road. If the primary road is properly hard-shouldered and these houses are built along the road with good entrances well set back and if you are coming out to go with the traffic, almost ten cars could get into the traffic at the one time. Admittedly, if they have to cross the traffic it could be difficult. If, however, you had to cross the traffic coming out of the by-road, you would stick out the bonnet of the car and watch for a chance to get across. The next car must move up and do likewise but if the houses were along the side of the road nearly ten of them could get in at one time. To my mind the by-road  is a greater traffic hazard. The suggestion that cars coming from houses along the side of the road would hold up traffic is wrong. It is the duty of the man coming out to watch his opportunity. The motorist on the national primary road has no obligation to watch the gate. This is my personal view and it is a cod to say that if you put a man up a by-road you keep him off the national primary road; he still has to come out and I maintain it is easier for him to come out if he has a good wide entrance and if the road is properly hard-shouldered. I believe the worst traffic hazard is coming off a by-road on to the main road.
I do not agree that a man should be charged any fee for applying for planning permission. It would not be very well accepted in the country. I do not think it is necessary to bring agricultural buildings within the planning provisions and I would not agree with it because in the case of any grants given by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries they make a fairly searching inspection of the site. It is well checked and if there is any danger of pollution or other objection you will not get a grant and will not be allowed to erect a building. Therefore, I do not think agricultural buildings should require planning permission.
If we agreed on every measure, particularly on the constituencies, as we agree on this, I would have nothing but praise for the Minister. I think he is a hardworking man doing a good job as regards planning. I think it was the Parliamentary Secretary who said we should give credit where credit is due. I hope I always do. I ask the Minister to consider carefully what I have said. I hope I am not being too hard on the planning officials, but I should like to have some sort of committee of public representatives—it might be too much to ask to have an all-party committee—to discuss what qualifications these men should have irrespective of who appoints them.
Mr. Crowley: I welcome this Bill in the main. In this day and age when we are a developing nation and have the problems resulting from that development we should have pretty firm control over it. Because of its complexities and of the inter-dependencies between the social, economic and physical fields it calls for the input of a great number of skills which can be supplied by many trained planners, engineers, architects, sociologists, psychologists and, I suppose, economists but, like Deputy Callanan, I am very much in favour of the sound good sense of the layman. I do not think the Minister would disagree with that. I imagine that when he comes to appoint members to his board and to the back-up service that he intends them to have, he will not neglect the ordinary layman who in some cases has become very skilled in all planning matters.
I am a little disappointed that he has eliminated members of local authorities from becoming members of the board or being involved in the working of the board because many of these men—and I can speak with a certain amount of knowledge of them having worked in Cork County Council with them and they come from every political party—have made a tremendous study of planning and given a considerable amount of their own time to making themselves au fait with planning and all its complexities. Perhaps it would not be a tragedy but certainly it would be a mistake to ignore the vast fund of knowledge that many local authority members have between them. From a physical, economic and social viewpoint the erection of buildings is one of the important elements in the development of our society and of any man-made environment. These buildings must surely represent our greatest investment. It is for that reason and because of the tremendous importance I attach to that form of investment I feel this is too big a job and too vital from the national point of view  to be left to mere professionals. This is not to detract from the skills of the professionals of the necessity to have them available but the Minister should consider very carefully keeping some openings available for ordinary lay people.
I represent a constituency which, I suppose, is one of the most beautiful in the country. It has a considerable coastline. The Minister's constituency also has a coastline. My constituency runs from Kinsale almost to Castletownbere. There is no doubt that this is an amenity worth preserving. We have a considerable number of tourists who come there every year. The tourist industry is one of the most vital industries of the area. There are cases of victimisation. People living in areas which can only be described as barren soil were denied planning permission because they lived in such a sensitive tourist area. They should be given some concessions. Even £1,000 or £1,500 for a site can make a tremendous difference to some of the small farmers in my area. Because they might live in a place like Glengarriff, or between Bantry and Glengarriff, or in the area from Kinsale to Castletownbere, they will be differentiated against because they live in such a beautiful part of the country.
I have spoken on several occasions at local authority level and in this House about the social obligations we have to those people. Many of them are farmers with bad land. Some could have up to 100 acres of land but might have only ten, 15 or 20 arable acres. If they could sell one or two sites it would make all the difference to them between survival and non-survival. When planning we cannot ignore the fact that we want to keep our people living in rural Ireland. We do not want the depopulation of the country to continue. Such a concession would be a tremendous fillip and incentive, and in some cases it would be a necessity to enable them to continue to farm in those areas. After 12 months in office I am sure the Minister has heard all the stories about planning appeals and the sympathy which should be extended to certain people.
In other areas of high tourist value, e.g. some of the coastal areas, development can be restricted if that is clearly essential to protect the tourist attractiveness of the area, and does not create a “reservation”.
Mr. Crowley: They may be right. We should specifically insert a clause, similar to the clause we had in relation to the second family house on the farm, to enable any person in that category to qualify for one or maybe two sites. We would be doing a tremendous social service to the people of rural Ireland if we could ensure that that was written in specifically and without any ambiguity. Planners are not their own bosses. They have certain terms of reference by which they must administer their departments. They must operate within the scope allocated to them. Therefore we need to spell out  specifically what we mean and what we are trying to preserve, especially in relation to amenities.
As Deputy Callanan said, “amenity” can mean anything to the person who is using it as a basis for turning down planning permission. The education of the public is as important as the skills available to us in our planning departments. If the public are educated in the values of planning there will not be as many appeals and debates as we now have. The best way of educating the public is to show them that everything is straight and above board. My colleague, Deputy M.P. Murphy, and I fought this for a number of years. We considered that the files of all planning applications which were turned down should be available and if necessary should be published so that everybody can see why they were turned down, who turned them down and if any of the planning officers were in favour of planning permission in those cases. Very often it happens that planning applications have been turned down on a majority vote. While that is a democratic way of doing things, the people should be made aware of how those decisions came about and what qualifications the men had who were for or against them and the reasons which led to those decisions.
We have been fortunate in the people we have had in our various planning sections. A number of our officers in local authorities quickly acquired planning skills and that is a great compliment to them and the people responsible for their selection. Many of them came into the county councils as clerks and suddenly found themselves as important officers in planning departments. Without receiving any form of training they quickly acquired the basic skills necessary to process the vast number of applications coming before them. We were fortunate in having so many people who could take the brunt of it when the pressure was really on. Now of course there is a little more enlightenment about the whole thing but——
Mr. Crowley: I have no real fault to find with the Minister for Local Government. He may not always be the best behaved Deputy in the House when he is in the seat opposite but that is no reflection on his ability as an administrator. We realise very well that we must protect our amenities and develop our tourist and recreational facilities. Because of that, planning must be of direct concern to all of us. Throughout the world there are governments, especially in the developing economies, endeavouring to protect their natural and historic heritage and to enhance the living environment of their people and, as in Ireland, to assist their natural economies by attracting tourists. We should, in the main, endeavour to preserve all the amenities that attract tourists but I think we have been going about it in some cases in the wrong way. The herding of people into towns and villages was a mistake. I can see the economic justification for this very clearly. You bring people to where the services are available. However, nowadays when people are endeavouring to get away from the rat-race of the cities and go to the peace of the countryside, rather than discouraging them we should be encouraging them. This is one positive way in which we could ensure that the population of towns and villages and the environs of those towns and villages are brought back to their former level.
When the Minister speaks about Government policy and transmitting it to the board, he is touching a very important subject because we must have a coherent process of thought in dealing with a subject like planning which is very complex. As the pressures grow, and no doubt the more we develop the more the pressures will grow, we will have calls upon our scarce resources of money and manpower so it is essential that we put that money and that manpower to the best possible  use. I hope this Bill will co-ordinate and ensure that we have the best possible return on our investment.
Mr. Crowley: One must accept the fact that you do have an invasion of the environment when you have any progress. The quality of life suffers to a certain degree. There is no doubt about that. It is not the perfect answer, perhaps, to have a refinery in Bantry Bay but, nevertheless, it is very important for the people there that they have employment available to them instead of having it in the sewers of Coventry or Birmingham. I do not think anybody can deny that there can be a certain invasion of the environment but I think it is a calculated decision we have got to take.
Mr. Crowley: Was the Parliamentary Secretary afraid that I did not? He is very much misinformed. His intelligence service is not as good as it used to be. Of course, this is what happens when you get promotion. You become remote from the people. I hope that will not happen to the Parliamentary Secretary.
Mr. Crowley: I am being perfectly reasonable about it. It is a vital position to be filled. The qualifications and, indeed, the demeanour, the outlook and the approach of the man appointed are of paramount importance. I only hope that the Minister will not fall into the trap of his colleague, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, of appointing a relative or a party hack to do the job.
Mr. Crowley: I am not being petty. We do not like to be compared with the people of Red China. We are very concerned in west Cork that a Minister of Government would come in and make the type of allegation he did make about his hosts for that night. I know he could have been very disappointed with the reception he got there.
Mr. Crowley: I know that the chairman the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs would have in mind would be Chairman Mao. There is no doubt about it. We are talking about a much more important chairman—the chairman the Minister will be appointing in the near future to this most important and sensitive post.
Mr. Crowley: I have several suggestions and it is a man of commonsense like Deputy Callanan that we need in the position. The Minister knows my position now and I do not think he will appoint a party hack.
Mr. Crowley: If the Minister does he will be doing a disservice to the  Irish nation. The system of political patronage has not spread to the Department of Local Government and I hope it does not.
Mr. Crowley: Members of local authorities have acquired a tremendous amount of knowledge and, more important still, they are in touch with people and are aware of what the people want. That is what we should be doing here, looking after the interests of the people. Some of our planners, and I stress some, have been so remote and removed from the feelings of the people that we have some monstrosities erected. A local authority should also be subject to the stringencies of the Planning Act. We have a monstrosity erected in Glengarriff between the sea and the road. It is a structure to house a water pump and it is situated opposite a hotel. If any private individual attempted to erect such a house, even in the vicinity, he would be locked up in jail almost.
I should like to see a situation coming about where local authorities would also be subject to all the controls that are on the individual. Local authorities have, through their functions, many buildings to erect, a lot of road widening to carry out and a lot of other detailed type of developments but, nevertheless, they are not subject to the same controls as the ordinary individual.
Mr. Crowley: We do not all kowtow like the Deputies in the coalition parties. The poor Deputies on that side of the House are not permitted to open their mouths at all. The Deputies on that side who were vociferous when on this side of the House should visit Lourdes to get a cure for the complaints which have befallen them.
Section 9 states that a person shall not vote or otherwise act as a member of the board in relation to any matter with respect to which the person has a material, financial or other beneficial interest. That would appear to be plain and clear. However, the information being supplied to the member of the board could necessarily come from an official or officer of any description who may have an interest. What way have we of ensuring that those people will not be able to influence the matter?
The annual report and information to the Minister is dealt with in Section 8 which states that the board shall in each year make a report of its proceedings during the preceding year and the Minister shall cause copies of the report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas. Subsection (2) states that the board shall supply the Minister with such information relating to its functions as he shall from time to time request. These reports will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas which means that we will, possibly, have an opportunity of debating them each year.
Mr. Crowley: But will the information sought by the Minister from time to time relating to the board's functions be laid before the House and will that information be available to the members of the Oireachtas? Will this information be private and confidential information only for the Minister's eyes? The Minister is not answering.
Mr. Tully: I will consider, under section 5, whether directives will be made available to the House or not. This is a matter which I would like to hear discussed fully on Committee Stage. I am anxious to be helpful and that is why I do not wish to interrupt the Deputy very much.
Mr. Crowley: In a sensitive area like planning everything should be seen to be above board. Any information sought by the Minister is obviously information arising out of a situation where he is not completely satisfied with the facts that have been made available to him and because he may be showing more interest in that area we should have available to us the contents of those requests.
Now that we have got away from the political entity that was involved in planning appeals we should make sure that we can avail of all the advantages that a lay board have available to them. It would be a pity if  at an early stage the credibility of that board was called into question.
Mr. Crowley: Did the Deputy ever have any representations made to him about planning applications? Maybe the Deputy is not available to his constituents as I am but I make no secret of the fact that I have had numerous representations made to me about planning appeals in my constituency.
Mr. Crowley: Deputy E. Collins is trying to be mischievous in his usual fashion. It is so long since I heard Deputy Collins in this House that I am glad to hear him, even if he is interrupting me. Those of us who are in touch with our constituents are continuously being requested to contact the Minister about planning appeals. I suppose we will be asked to contact the board also and to do so through the Minister's office.
Mr. Crowley: Few of us will shed any tears on account of that aspect of it. I have no objection here to very stringent clauses being applied in relation to what I have mentioned. Indeed, it would be to the benefit of all of us if such clauses were implemented and that if we had any complaints or objections to make we would make them here in the House so that the Minister could have them investigated.
Mr. Tully: The Bill to which the Deputy is referring was being prepared in 1967 following a Fine Gael Private Member's Bill that was before the House, but for some reason nothing further was done about it until last year.
Mr. Crowley: We have before us, during the passage of this Bill, an opportunity of ensuring the proper enactment of planning policy. The Minister should spell out, first, the type of man he has in mind to act as chairman of the board and, secondly, details concerning the qualifications of members of the board. As proposed, the Bill is vague in this respect. I hope the Minister will assure us that conditions for appointment to the board will be more definite than they would appear to be at present.
While it may be said that governments endeavour always to get money from every source possible, the section dealing with payments in respect of appeals discriminates against the less well-off members of the community. Between now and Committee Stage the Minister might have another look at this matter to see what can be done to tighten it up. Big corporations and business will have no problem  in paying all the expenses involved in relation to appeals but the smaller man could not do so. It would be wrong that a person would be forced, by reason of his circumstances, to withdraw an appeal.
Mr. Tully: Would the Deputy be opposed to any sum, even a nominal amount, being payable? I should like to get this clear because there has been a suggestion of a figure from a member of the Deputy's party.
Mr. Crowley: Nobody would object to the payment of a nominal sum but the point I am making is that nobody should have to withdraw an appeal because of lack of money. Therefore, I am asking the Minister to ensure that the less well-off members of the community should not be discriminated against in this respect. I welcome in general the whole spirit of the Bill and I hope that from now on there will be more planning in relation to development and that no longer will there be situations in which accusations are made from all sides against politicians. The majority of the accusations that have been made against successive Ministers have been groundless in any case.
Mr. Crowley: I do not suppose Deputy Coughlan would be too severe on Mr. Lipper should that gentleman wish to build an office in O'Connell Street, Limerick. While welcoming  the Bill I trust that the Minister will take notice of the reservations we have expressed in relation to it.
Mr. E. Collins: I, too, welcome the Bill and am pleased to note that it has received a general welcome in the House. The question of planning applications and appeals is one of which most Members of this House are familiar as are also members of local authorities. Any amending legislation designed to speed up planning appeals especially is to be welcomed. The establishment of the appeals board, if it is to be an independent body, is very welcome.
There are a few points I should like to bring to the Minister's attention in relation to the whole question of planning applications and appeals and I shall be grateful if he will reply to them. First, I think the whole concept of planning development in local areas should be properly centralised in a local development plan for an entire area. Such a plan would require to be started and amended every five years. Development plans for urban areas particularly should be carefully undertaken. The need for this is obvious when one considers rapidly expanding cities, such as the city of Waterford. In such rapidly expanding urban areas, if development plans are not put down on paper and understood by everybody concerned, there will be bad planning and an even higher level of appeals.
According to the Minister's opening statement, 10 per cent of all planning applications are subsequently appealed by the planning authority or by third party appellants. The intake of appeals is approximately 4,000 per year, a very high number, representing about 10 per cent of all applications. This high level of appeals is probably the result of late planning at the development stage and I urge the Minister to ensure that when a local authority development plan is being reconsidered and amended, more attention should be given to examining the existing development plan and allowing it to be discussed not only by the local councils concerned but by outside bodies. If there was consultation with  outside bodies before plans are amended there would be a significant contribution to the whole question of planning and a considerable reduction in the necessity for appeals.
In order to ensure a proper development plan for an area and to see that planning applications are dealt with properly, there is a very good case to be made for improvements in planning staffs in county councils and borough councils. These staffs grew up under severe pressure under the 1963 Act and existing staffs have been there since the beginning. It is my belief that more expertise should be brought in by way of qualified personnel in local authority areas. There is need for a better qualified expert in most local authority areas. I do not say this because of any lack of respect for existing staff, but more qualified people would be welcome within the existing service.
I also suggest there should be available in the Department a central consultancy service which local authorities could call on in relation to any of the problems they may meet. Generally speaking, Departments in Dublin do not want to take on problems that do not concern them directly —anything that can be dealt with locally, they feel, should be dealt with locally. However, in relation to planning problems in general there is a case for a qualified consultancy staff within the Department of Local Government which would be available in cases where awkward problems arise. I hope the Minister will try to make such a service available.
Most local authority planning applications are relatively of minor importance. Only 10 per cent could be considered to be major applications outside Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Waterford and Drogheda. All other applications are of a minor character and this in itself is a good reason why an information service should be available to applicants. Small companies and farmers do not want to go to the trouble of employing solicitors and quantity surveyors or some such experts to deal with their minor applications. I agree that in most cases there would be no need to employ an  expert to handle such applications. For this reason the local authority should have an advisory service available. I do not think it would cost a great deal of money. The service could be drawn from the existing local authority planning department on whom it would not be a great burden to give advice to applicants and to suggest amendments to applications before submission. This would reduce the number of appeals enormously.
One section of the Bill deals with vexatious appeals. There is no doubt there are such things as vexatious appeals and I am glad to see the board will have adequate powers to deal with such things. I regard the 10 per cent level of appeals on planning applications to be very high. I do not think that one in ten applicants needs to appeal. There is something wrong somewhere. I would suggest that a five per cent level would be more realistic.
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