Local Government (Planning and Development) Regulations, 1994: Statements.

Wednesday, 25 May 1994

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 443 No. 2

First Page Previous Page Page of 89 Next Page Last Page

Minister for the Environment (Mr. M. Smith): Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  The Local Government (Planning and Development) Regulations, 1994, are an important initiative in the physical planning sphere. They bring subordinate planning legislation up to date and establish new procedures of public notice and consultation for certain development by State and local authorities. In addition, they have the considerable advantage of drawing all relevant provisions together between two covers, thus making life a good deal easier for planning practitioners and the public alike. The regulations are, by any measure, a positive and progressive step and are underpinned by the principle of ensuring that the planning process is as open, transparent and understandable as possible. I am surprised and disappointed, therefore, that the response of Fine Gael has been to table a resolution seeking to overturn the regulations, which would nullify the many improvements they have introduced. I do not believe that such a course of action can be justified by reference to the content of the regulations and I hope that [266] the statements will show that we are not witnessing an instance of opposition for the sake of opposition.

It will help to put the regulations in context if I look briefly at their background and the reasons they were necessary. A lot of the administrative detail under which the planning system operates is spelt out in regulations made under the Planning Acts — it is there, for example, that one will find the requirements about what has to be included in a planning application, what notice has to be given of an application, most of the exemptions, the fees payable for planning applications, appeals and so on. The basic regulations prior to the regulations we are addressing today dated from 1977, the last time there was a major overhaul of subordinate planning law. However, the 1977 regulations had been amended on numerous occasions in the meantime and we had arrived at a situation in which no fewer than 19 separate sets of regulations were in force. I do not need to emphasise how cumbersome and confusing this made matters, for people directly involved in the planning system and, more particularly, for members of the public. I decided, therefore, that the time had come to clarify and rationalise the position, by replacing the 19 sets of regulations by comprehensive new regulations containing all relevant provisions. I came to the conclusion also that it would not be appropriate simply to draw the existing provisions together in a single document, because experience since 1977 had shown that there were quite a number of provisions requiring modification or improvement. Accordingly, the 1994 regulations contain amendments considered necessary or desirable in light of experience, following consultation with planning authorities and other public bodies.

Taking an overview of the regulations before moving on to address some of the new provisions, I would make the point that all parts, except Parts X and XIII, correspond, with modifications and adjustments, to provisions of the regulations that have been revoked. Parts X and XIII, dealing respectively with [267] development by local authorities and Government Departments and the Office of Public Works, are new provisions which were signalled clearly when the necessary enabling powers were enacted last year in the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1993.

It would not be possible, in the time available, to go through the regulations point by point and to detail all the changes made. What I propose to do, therefore, is to highlight the more important alterations, concentrating in particular on new public notice arrangements for planning applications and appeals, changes in the categories of development exempted from planning permission requirements, alterations to the fees provisions and the new provisions concerning development by State and local authorities. I am confident that this exposition of the changes will show clearly that they will operate to the benefit of the planning system.

Looking first at the public notice requirements for planning applications, Deputies will be aware that, before the 1994 regulations, applicants generally had a choice between publishing notice of the application in a newspaper or erecting notice of the application on the site in question — the only case in which newspaper notice was obligatory was for applications involving an environmental impact statement. There were complaints, however, that these arrangements did not ensure that people would learn of applications of interest or concern to them. During the debate on this matter last year I gave a commitment to take account of the views expressed by members of the Progressive Democrats Party, Democratic Left and Fine Gael. I decided, therefore, that the existing provisions would have to be reinforced. I concluded, following careful consideration of various options, that applicants should be required both to publish newspaper notice and to erect a site notice. In other words, the choice between the two forms of notice no longer exists and both are obligatory for any planning application received by a [268] planning authority on or after 16 May. These new requirements, coupled with the new requirements for weekly lists, go as far as possible in ensuring public awareness of development proposals, thereby seeing to it that interested persons and bodies can avail of the extensive opportunities for participation which our planning system gives them.

There was already a requirement, under the 1977 planning regulations, for planning authorities to produce a weekly list of planning applications received. However, the 1994 regulations have extended the scope of this list and it must now give details also, among other things, of applications decided and cases in which the planning authority receives further information. This considerably more informative list will be more widely available than hitherto; as well as being displayed in the planning authority's offices, it also has to be displayed in public libraries. Moreover, copies will have to be made available to interested persons and bodies, free of charge or for a reasonable fee, as the planning authority decides. It will also be open to a planning aurthority to display the list elsewhere, or to publish it, or make it available for publication, in a newspaper.

The regulations also establish a new requirement for An Bord Pleanála to publish a weekly list of planning appeals received and decided. Like the planning authority list of planning applications, the board's list will have to be available by the third working day following the week to which it relates.

I would like to mention also another change that has been made in the regulations in the interest of openness and transparency in relation to planning applications. It will now be obligatory to make available for inspection, along with other relevant documents, any submissions or observations made to a planning authority in relation to a planning application. There has been no legal obligation up to now to make these submissions or observations available and, in practice, only some planning authorities have done so. I believe, however, that an applicant has a right to know of submissions [269] made about his development proposals. The new provision will ensure that the applicant has access to them. This is another matter which was referred to in the debate last year to which I have responded.

I do not believe that any sustainable objections of principle can be raised to these new measures aimed at maximising public information. I am satisfied, moreover, that they are practical and effective initiatives and I await with interest Deputy Barrett's rationale for tabling an annulling resolution, the effect of which would be to set these changes aside.

The next area I propose to address is the changes made in relation to exempted development. Exempted development is development which does not require planning permission and is specified in section 4 of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963 and in regulations made under that section. The 1994 regulations update and modernise this area by terminating some of the exemptions which existed under the previous regulations, placing restrictions on other existing exemptions and establishing some new categories of exempted development.

The existing exemption for the laying out and use of land as a golf course has been removed and any development of that nature commenced after 16 May will, therefore, need planning permission. This change has been made because the development of a golf course is significant in terms of the proper planning and development of the area concerned and should be subject to scrutiny by the planning process before it may proceed. Similar considerations underlay the decision to terminate the exemption for the use of land as a burial ground.

A number of the new restrictions on exemption will be important in conservation terms. As matters stood before the 1994 regulations, the demolition of any building other than a habitable house or a listed building could be carried out without planning permission. The exemption will not now apply, however, to a building which forms part of a terrace of buildings, or which abuts on another [270] building in separate ownership. This will allow the development control process to evaluate the streetscape and other implications of demolition proposals affecting such buildings. There is also a new restriction on placing advertisements on listed buildings. Planning permission will have to be obtained for any advertisements, other than small “brass plate” type signs or “For Sale-To Let” notices on such buildings. This will permit the planning process to adjudicate on the appropriateness of proposals to exhibit advertisements on buildings which development plans have identified as being important for architectural or historical reasons.

Other new restrictions include an overall limit of 25 square metres on the area of garages, sheds and similar structures that can be erected without planning permission in the curtilage of a domestic dwelling. This class of exemption was open-ended prior to the 1994 regulations and had on occasions given rise to problems because it was used to construct large and obstrusive structures. I have also placed an overall height limit of 40 metres on navigational aids, and any structure higher than this will need planning permission. This restriction was necessary because structures higher than 40 metres could have significant visual implications and should be subject to authorisation through the planning process.

The new exemptions in the 1994 regulations include the use of a house to accommodate up to six persons with a mental or physical disability and up to two resident carers. This provision was included because of a ruling by An Bord Pleanála, on foot of a reference under section 5 of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, that use of a particular house for this purpose needed planning permission. I considered, however, that this use of a house could not be regarded as significant in purely planning terms and should not require planning permission. The new exemption will facilitate the policy of care in the community being pursued by health boards and other bodies and [271] groups who assist persons with a mental or physical disability. Among the other new exemptions are minor works by Government Departments and the Office of Public Works, such as provision of temporary structures in connection with visits of foreign dignitaries, maintenance of inland waterways, erection of minor structures and provision of car parks in public parks, etc.

I have acted also to clarify the position of television satellite dishes, which were not provided for in the regulations replaced by the 1994 regulations. One satellite dish will be allowed on a house, but subject to a size limit and other restrictions aimed at minimising visual obtrusiveness. This exemption will not apply in the case of listed buildings.

A new provision which has attracted some comment is the exemption from planning permission requirements for use of up to four bedrooms in a house for bed and breakfast purposes. I would like to explain the background to this and to allay some of the unfounded concerns that appear to have arisen.

Before the 1994 regulations, the planning code contained no provision in relation to bed and breakfast accommodation. In practice, many such establishments had operated for considerable periods of time without planning permission. Their planning status came to the fore last year when An Bord Pleanála decided, on foot of a reference made to it under section 5 of the 1963 Planning Act, that planning permission was required for the use of a particular house for bed and breakfast purposes. While this decision strictly related only to a particular case, it created a degree of uncertainty as to the planning status of bed and breakfast accommodation generally. Against this background, it was decided to include a clarifying provision in the 1994 regulations, which were then in preparation. The regulations provide that the use of up to four bedrooms in a house for overnight guest accommodation is to be exempted development for planning purposes and, accordingly, [272] will not be subject to planning permission requirements. However, the exemption will not apply if the use for such purposes contravenes a condition attached to the planning permission for the house, or would be inconsistent with any use specified in the permission.

This exemption was granted on the basis that bed and breakfast operations of such a small scale will not have significant effects in terms of the proper planning and development of the areas in which they are located, and will not result in a significant change in the de facto position which has obtained for many years.

I want to emphasise that this new exemption relates only to planning permission requirements — it does not affect in any way the application of other statutory requirements to bed and breakfast accommodation. For example, the fire safety, ventilation and other relevant requirements of the building control code will continue to apply where there is a change of use of a house to use for bed and breakfast purposes, and the application of the fire safety requirements of the Fire Services Act, 1981 to premises providing sleeping accommodation will not be affected. Also, the requirements of the Food Hygiene Regulations, 1950 to 1989, apply to any premises on which food for public consumption is prepared and bed and breakfast operations, irrespective of their planning status, will have to observe proper hygiene standards. Accordingly, it is simply incorrect to say that the new exemption means there are no controls and standards for bed and breakfast premises.

To summarise in relation to exempted development, the changes made as regards exemption from planning permission requirements constitute a balanced and coherent package which will enhance the effectiveness of the development control system by focusing its attention on those forms of development which are most significant in land use terms.

In the case of fees, new rates have been established for development, such as golf courses, which has been brought within the scope of planning permission requirements. [273] Existing fee rates have generally been retained, but a higher fee has been imposed on applications for permission to retain development.

There have been suggestions over the years that retention applications should be discouraged by applying higher fees to them. I agree with this and believe that retention applications should really only arise where an applicant is seeking to renew a temporary permission, or where there has been an inadvertent departure from the terms of a condition of a permission. For this reason, the new regulations provide that any other retention application will be subject to one and a half times the standard fee and a higher overall maximum fee of £15,000. This will apply, for example, where an application is made to retain development carried out without planning permission and should act as a disincentive to such applications. It is not, of course, the only disincentive to carrying out development without the proper permission — anybody who does so faces enforcement action and prosecution under the planning Acts — but it will serve to reinforce the existing deterrents. The Opposition has advocated higher fees for retention applications on a number of occasions in this House and I find it strange that it now seems to have difficulty with this and many of the other progressive measures in the regulations.

Another change made in the fees area is a new exemption from planning application fees for voluntary housing bodies approved under section 6 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1992. Such bodies have an important role to play in the provision of social housing and I considered it inappropriate to require them to expend funds on application fees. While the change is important from the point of view of the bodies concerned, it will not have a significant impact on planning authorities' overall income from fees.

One of the completely new parts in the 1994 regulations, Part X, relates to certain developments proposed to be carried out by or on behalf of local authorities. It establishes a procedure of [274] public notice and comment for such development which culminates in the preparation of a report on the development proposal for submission to the elected members of the local authority.

Development by a local authority in its own functional area is exempted development for planning purposes, on the grounds that it would not make sense to require an authority to apply to itself for planning permission. Certain local authority development is nevertheless subject to public notice and comment through environmental impact assessment procedures. However, for most development proposals by local authorities, there are no formal procedures for public information and participation. Part X of the 1994 regulations brings about a significant change in this position, by applying a new procedure of notice and participation to a wide range of development proposals. The procedure will apply, for example, to construction of houses and other dwellings, certain road works, bridges and tunnels, waste water treatment works, water treatment works, swimming pools, burial grounds, landfill sites, fire stations and so on.

A local authority will have to publish newspaper notice of proposals for development to which the Part X procedure applies and give details of the proposal to specified bodies. Documents and plans describing the proposed development will be made available for public inspection and a period of at least a month will be allowed for the public and interested bodies to make submissions on the proposal. When the period for making submissions is over, the officials of the local authority will prepare a report on the proposed development. This report will include a summary of the points made in submissions, the local authority's response to the issues raised and an indication of whether it is proposed to proceed with the development, subject to variations or modifications or not to go ahead at all. This report will then be submitted to the elected members of the local authority and it will be open to the members, if they consider it appropriate, to direct under section [275] 3 of the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955 that the proposals are not to proceed.

This new procedure reflects the commitment to openness and transparency that underlies many of the new provisions in the 1994 regulations and it will lead to significantly greater accountability in relation to local authority development. How, therefore, is it possible to respond to an initiative of this nature by seeking to overturn it?

The other entirely new part in the regulations is Part XIII, which deals with certain development by Government Departments and the Office of Public Works to whom I will refer from there on as State authorities. Before addressing the specific provisions, I would like to remind Deputies of the position under planning law of development by these bodies. Following the Supreme Court's ruling in the Mullaghmore and Luggala cases this time last year that development by State authorities needs planning permission. The Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1993 regularised the position of development already carried out without planning permission by those bodies and established the framework for the future application of planning controls to their development proposals. Following a transitional period which ends on 15 June, development by these bodies will need planning permission unless it is exempted development and is covered by regulations under section 2 (1) of the 1993 Planning Act or is the subject of a ministerial order under that section declaring that it is necessary because of an accident or an emergency.

Section 2 (1) of the 1993 Planning Act provides that the Minister for the Environment may, by regulations, provide that the Planning Acts will not apply to proposed development by a State authority if the development has to be authorised under another enactment or if, in the Minister's opinion, it is in connection with or for the purposes of public safety or order, the administration of justice or national security or defence.

Part XIII of the regulations constitutes [276] the exercise of the powers under section 2 (1) of the 1993 Planning Act. The only development left outside the scope of the Planning Acts on the basis that it has to be authorised under another statutory procedure is arterial drainage works by the Office of Public Works, which must be approved by the Minister for Finance in accordance with procedures in the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945. The development excluded from the remit of the planning Acts on national security or related grounds includes courthouses, prisons, Army and Garda premises and installations, and office buildings used for the purposes of in connection with the business of the President of Ireland, Dáil Éireann, Seanad Éireann, certain Government Departments and the offices of the Attorney General, the Chief State Solicitor and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

It is evident that developments of the categories I have mentioned cannot be subjected to the planning system's requirements of public disclosure of detailed plans and particulars. To take just two examples, I do not think that anybody would seriously suggest that detailed layout plans of a prison or an Army barracks can be put on public display. Nevertheless, I was determined that there would be as much public information about, and involvement with, the excluded development as security considerations allow. Accordingly, I have provided in Part XIII that much of the excluded development will be subject to alternative requirements of public notice and involvement.

These alternatives requirements will oblige a State authority proposing an excluded development to which they apply to give public notice of the proposal and to notify the planning authority in whose area the development would be located. Outline plans and particulars of the proposed development will have to be made available for inspections and there will be a period of six weeks for making submissions. The State authority concerned has an express legal duty to have regard to submissions received, and must give public notice of its decision on [277] whether it will proceed with the development.

I indicated at the time of enactment of the 1993 Planning Act that it was my intention that development would be excluded from the scope of the planning Acts on security grounds only where this was unavoidable in the public interest. The limited range of development to which Part XIII applies shows clearly that I have operated within those parameters and we are moving towards a situation in which, as and from 15 June, most development by Government Departments and the Office of Public Works will be subject to the planning Acts in the normal way.

Parts X and XIII of the regulations, taken together, complete the process of movement towards greater openness in relation to public development started by the 1993 Planning Act and bring us into an era in which there will be greater entitlement to know about and be involved with development by local and State authorities. Once again, I feel compelled to express my puzzlement as to why there is an apparent wish on the part of the main Opposition party to set aside progressive changes of this nature.

The pursuit of openness and clarity in planning matters led also to a second initiative which I took in conjunction with the 1994 regulations. This is a series of 11 public information leaflets dealing with various aspects of the planning system. They cover a wide range of issues such as how the planning system works, completing an application form, the avenues available for commenting on planning issues, the planning requirements when building or extending a house and sectoral matters such as the planning requirements for farmers and business people. The series builds on the leaflet on the new planning appeals process which I published in 1992 following enactment of the 1992 Planning Act and which was instrumental in ensuring a smooth transition to the new arrangements. There was a considerable demand for that leaflet and this brought home to me the need for clear and readily available information on the planning process and how [278] it operates. In designing the new leaflets, the central objective has been to set out the provisions of the planning code in a concise manner which is readily accessible to all and free of legal jargon. I have aimed for a series that is as comprehensive as possible and which answers the questions most often asked by members of the public. The leaflets will promote a greater public awareness and understanding of the planning system, will explain the changes brought in by the 1994 regulations and should help to ensure that there is nothing mysterious or off-putting about the planning system for anybody.

The leaflets have been made available to the public through planning authorities and there has been a considerable demand for them. This is a clear demonstration of people's interest in and their desire to be informed about planning matters and underscores the importance of the many changes in the 1994 regulations which are aimed at public information and participation.

The 1994 regulations are a considered and comprehensive response to the need to streamline and update secondary planning legislation. They will facilitate the efficient and effective operation of the planning system, and will, in conjunction with the new leaflets, make it more comprehensible and less daunting for people generally.

A considerable amount of work went into the preparation of these regulations, including a consultation process with local authorities and the wider public. I am grateful to the planning section in my Department and my colleagues in this House for contributions which were of great assistance to me in determining the final layout of these regulations. I look forward to the widest possible participation in and the opening up of the system to make it as transparent as possible so that everybody can be more confident about the way State and local authorities administer their business.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  I will deal first with the questions posed by the Minister about why I had the cheek to table an annulling [279] motion on these regulations. Let me tell the Minister, without apology, that this Government, with its 35-seat majority, attempted to ram these regulations through without consultation and without opportunity for debate. We would not be having this debate if I had not tabled that motion.

From time to time the Government forgets that we live in a democracy, that this Chamber was designed for debate, that legislation is supposed to pass through it and that every Member elected to this Assembly has a right to express a view on any aspect of Government policy. That does not suit this Government, it believes that because it has a large majority it can ignore the rest of us and deal with the business as it sees fit.

Early in the debate on the legislation I tabled a motion that all regulations made by the Minister on local government matters should be brought before this House and confirmed or annulled in accordance with its wishes. That is cumbersome for any Government because it cannot then get away with anything and it is difficult to come here and explain why it is doing certain things. It is interesting that the Minister said: “It would not be possible, in the time available, to go through the regulations point by point and to detail all the changes made”.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  In the time available to me.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  Why should we not go through the regulations point by point and detail the changes? Many people will be seriously affected by these regulations and the Minister is admitting that he does not have the time to go through them. The Government could have given two or three days to this debate if they wished because this is secondary legislation, 172 pages, changing all regulations under all the previous planning Acts.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  It is not.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  Let me quote the Minister whose memory seems to be failing him. [280] When the Minister published these regulations it was stated:

Mr. Michael Smith TD, Minister for the Environment, today 19 April announced that he had made major new planning regulations entitled “The Local Government and Planning and Development Regulations 1994” to replace all existing regulations under the planning Acts.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  To replace but not change. It does not change them.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann should have the opportunity to debate major changes like these, some with which I agree. However, the Minister decided, when dealing with the so-called reform of local government Bill, to vote down an amendment tabled by me on behalf of the Fine Gael Party proposing that regulations made by the Minister would be brought before both Houses of the Oireachtas for confirmation. The reason he voted it down was that it would be very inconvenient for him. Lest the Minister be under any illusion about these regulations, I will cite various bodies who wrote to me about this matter.

The Construction Industry Federation stated:

In democracies there is often a delicate balance between participation and efficiency. The 1963 legislation which introduced the Planning Acts was an attempt to meet this balance but with the exception of the Planning Appeals System introduced in 1992 most of the changes introduced since then have resulted in a more cumbersome and inefficient planning system.

As the representative body of the construction industry, the CIF is very concerned that the Department of the Environment did not believe it was worth while to consult with it before introducing the changes in the regulations. The Minister did not bother to consult with the [281] federation which, on a daily basis, deals with these major issues.

I will also cite a letter received from a large hotel in Cork. It states: “As a Hotelier, and member of the Cork Chamber of Commerce and Cork Business Association, I am appalled at this anti-business decision, taken without consultation with the industry and in direct conflict with the decision to `licence all accommodation' in the Programme for a Partnership Government”. The letter goes on to state that the hotel pays £80,000 a year in rates. In a letter to a local Deputy the hotel manager stated: “As one of my local representatives, I urge you to take up these points with the Minister for the Environment, Minister for Tourism and Trade and the Minister for Finance”.

The Minister for the Environment seems confused as to why Fine Gael had the cheek to table a motion on the planning regulations. I have given a couple of examples of what the public thinks of the introduction——

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Is the Deputy against the bed and breakfast provision?

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  I will speak on that issue in a moment. Throughout the Minister's speech he took a swipe at me and wondered why I had the audacity to table this motion. He spent most of his time wondering what Deputy Barrett is about. Deputy Barrett represents the public and the Fine Gael Party represents the people outside who are being totally ignored by the Government. If the only avenue open to me to have a debate on an important issue such as this is to table an annulling motion, I will do so.

Having tabled the motion I asked for Government time to debate it, but the Government did not have the guts to allow it to be put before the House this morning. It decided we would have statements and, if I want to move my motion, I should do so in Private Members' time. That is codology; the motion should have been taken in conjunction with this debate. The Minister wonders why we have taken this step, but the reason is [282] quite simple. It is the only avenue open to the Opposition to have a debate on 172 pages of new planning regulations introduced by the Minister, who attempted to push them through without any debate whatsoever. The legislation states that within 21 sitting days the Opposition may table a motion to annul the regulations. I do not wish to annul all the regulations, but this is the only avenue open to us and it is up to the Minister to decide whether he will change the position. He had the opportunity in introducing the new regulations to bring legislation before the House where we would have teased out, section by section, the various changes proposed. The debate today simply allows us express a viewpoint. It does not allow us to change the regulations.

A number of people are seriously concerned about the regulations. I wish to point out some of the main issues that should be mentioned, particularly as they relate to development plans. The introduction of the new regulations provided an opportunity for the Government to make available to the public the development plans adopted by each local authority, but the Minister missed that opportunity. I am not satisfied that the public is fully aware of the development plans and zonings on parcels of land or of major road proposals that may be in the pipeline, not necessarily national primary routes but secondary routes that affect the ordinary individual, the estate they live in and whether they should buy a house in a particular place. This information should be regularly on display and available to the public. Unless people pay a fee to the local planning office they do not know what the future proposals of a local authority may be,.

I ask the Minister to consider introducing regulations to make it obligatory on each local authority to put development plans on public display in convenient places where the public can examine them. The plans for each area should be on display in public buildings so that people will know what is proposed for their area. That would cost nothing and it would be a simple way of passing on [283] information to the public who regularly complain that when they bought their house they were unaware that a road would be constructed or a development would take place in the area. Perhaps one would say they should have checked further before buying the house, but the public by and large accept what they are told. It should be possible for people to go to their local library or other public buildings in their area and see the development plan for that area. It would involve no cost to the Exchequer.

I would like to deal with the bed and breakfast issue. Under the regulations, all homes may be converted for use as bed and breakfast accommodation, without any control system being put in place.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  That is untrue.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  This is an extraordinary decision given the push that has been made for years to improve standards for visitors in a tourism dominated country. What regulations will be put in place to ensure proper fire, safety and hygiene standards? The Minister said in his speech that we are only talking about planning permission. Since I do not need planning permission, I can advertise my home as bed and breakfast accommodation, but what regulatory body will know that I am in the bed and breakfast business?

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  How does the Deputy expect the tourists to find it if the local authority cannot?

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  We are talking about control or public expenditure. Is the Minister telling me there will be an army of inspectors touring the country looking for bed and breakfast signs and inspecting all those premises? Will they put those people out of business? Will they inquire whether planning permission has been sought and obtained previously? Who will provide for all these new inspections? The reality is that they will not take place.

The Minister is well aware that in urban areas in particular these regulations [284] will cause untold problems. In quiet residential areas there will be parking and traffic problems, with the added pressure on services which, in many cases, are already below acceptable standards. In housing estates in towns and cities people with four bedroom houses can set up a bed and breakfast business without planning permission. They can advertise in the local papers and abroad which will attract visitors, many with cars, which will result in major traffic problems.

The Minister is saying that if I want to add a 23 metre extension to the back of my house, I must leave 25 square metres of open space. Ordinary individuals, therefore, wishing to add on a small kitchenette and an additional bedroom to the back of their house will require planning permission unless they leave 25 square metres of public open space. Under those same regulations the Minister is saying that if one establishes a bed and breakfast business in the same estate, one does not require planning permission. That is not an improvement in the planning laws. The Minister should outline clearly how he intends to ensure that the necessary standards in relation to fire, safety and hygiene will be put in place. He has the responsibility to tell this House how these controls will be implemented.

In rural areas, the outskirts of many towns have been changed by a proliferation of premises offering accommodation with associated advertising. In addition, there are major implications for pollution controls on underground water supplies with the possibility of old septic tanks or cesspits not operating to current standards. The Minister will now allow householders with septic tanks to establish bed and breakfast businesses without the necessay additional capacity which may cause pollution.

Bed and breakfast accommodation is an essential part of our tourism industry but there is an obvious need for controls in relation to standards, traffic and parking problems, the protection of our underground water supplies and the prevention of pollution. People who run [285] hotels and guesthouses pay heavy rates to local authorities. I received a letter from the owners of a major hotel in Dublin who will pay £350,000 in rates this year to Dublin Corporation. They are attempting to employ people, they are controlled by the need for standards in relation to fire, safety and hygiene and they will now have to compete with people who do not even need to apply for planning permission. The Minister has not told us how these standards will be put in place, which is his responsibility. There is little point in him asking me for my opinion because he is charged with the responsibility.

I am in favour of hotel, guesthouse and bed and breakfast accommodation but if Ireland is to develop as a major tourist attraction, and to provide high standards and encourage visitors to return we must have proper controls as well as adequate facilities. There is little point in the Minister telling me that people can wander into unsuitable bed and breakfast accommodation. Equally, I believe in the rights of the individual who bought a house in a quiet residential area only to find now that they cannot get in or out of it because of parking problems. People's rights must be upheld in addition to improving bed and breakfast accommodation. The Minister must find solutions to the problems he is now creating by this regulation.

In relation to the exemption for the satellite dish, while I note that planning permission will not be required where the diameter of the dish does not exceed one metre, or where the dish is not placed in front of the wall of the house, on the front roof slope or higher than the highest part of the roof. I understand that if conditions remain as they are it would mean that in certain cases it would be impossible to place a satellite dish in such an area. For example, under these regulations a satellite dish cannot be erected on a terraced house facing south with a high pitch roof. The same seems to apply to a house with a flat roof. The Minister must clarify these points because some houses have flat roofs and some terraced houses face south. The owners of such houses may wish to erect satellite dishes [286] and they want to know whether they need planning permission to do so.

I wish to refer to extensions to the rear of houses. The previous exemption, which allowed for an extension to the rear of a house provided it did not exceed 23 square metres and there was a height limit equal to the eaves or parapet of the dwelling house, was appropriate. It did not cause any major problems and there was no demand for change in that regard. The Minister is now removing that exemption unless the person in question can satisfy the planning authority that 25 square metres of open space have been left at the rear of the house. That is quite ridiculous.

The 25 square metre provision is completely arbitrary and has no regard for the wishes of the owner of the house who may not want a large back garden who may want a small patio or who may simply find it impossible to provide 25 square metres of open space. Many houses including terraced houses in towns and cities have small back gardens. There are also houses with no front gardens because of layout or design and it suits many people not to have a large back garden because they may not be in a position to care for it. Why did the Minister introduce a requirement that one now must have 25 square metres of open space at the rear? It simply does not make sense. Why did the Minister choose a figure of 25 square metres? The Minister must explain to us why this change is being made and why it will be necessary to send in these applications, with the appropriate fees, to a local authority to obtain planning permission for something that caused no problems in the past.

I want to deal now with the new provisions in relation to the notice of planning applications. It is now proposed that a notice be placed on the site in addition to the usual newspaper notice. The notices in the newspaper are very small and tucked away in a part of the newspaper which is not usually read. If the newspaper is not read, the notice is, by definition, not public. As is the case in Northern Ireland, a weekly list of planning [287] notices should be published by local authorities on a specified day in prominent newspapers in their areas so that the public are informed of each application lodged. This would obviate the necessity for individuals to publish notices which may nor may not be seen by the public. The planning authority could charge a reasonable fee to the applicant for advertising the application.

I am sorry the Minister has to leave the House. Since he castigated me for having this debate it is rather unusual that he should walk out in the middle of my contribution. So much for this debate. It is insulting for a Minister to pose questions to me and ask why I had the cheek to put down such a motion and, before I have an opportunity to make my case, to walk out. This is another example of the Government's arrogance. The Chamber means nothing to it — it is an inconvenience and a hindrance. The sooner it cops itself on the better for the democratic system. The Minister should not ask any questions if he is not prepared to stay and listen to the answers. Many people take the new regulations seriously.

It would be far better if local authorities advertised a weekly list of notices on a specified day on a prominant page in a prominent newspaper. They could charge an advertising fee to the applicant who would be free from the hassle of inserting notices in newspapers.

The site notice proposal appears to be popular. There is a lot to be said for it but before it is made mandatory in these regulations the Minister should explain how the system will operate. Under the regulations it is obligatory for a site notice to be displayed for one month. What happens if the notice is vandalised, damaged or deliberately removed? How is the local authority to know if the notice is on display for a month? Does the application fall because the applicant has not complied with the condition that the notice be on display for a month? Will the Minister say who will carry out these inspections? Are local authorities expected to examine each site and ensure [288] the notice is on display for a month? If the notice is removed for a day or a week will that render the planning application invalid? There will be many court cases concerning this issue. It may not be popular to question these regulations but at the end of the day they must be capable of implementation.

I am disappointed there is no provision in the regulations which would prevent An Bord Pleanála contravening a development plan. It is an appeals board and should not have power to contravene the development plan of a local authority. Effectively it can rezone land without being answerable to anyone. The requirement for An Bord Pleanála to display a weekly list at its office is a bit of a joke. Their office is in the centre of Dublin. Who will see the list? It will be difficult enough if one lives in Dublin but if one lives outside it, one will never see the list. Why not require An Bord Pleanála to advertise in the way I suggested for local authorities? Will the Minister include the Irish Architect Society in the list of bodies to nominate candidates to the architectural and planning panel of An Bord Pleanála?

As regards unauthorised development it is scandalous that people erect buildings and then apply for retention. The only penalty imposed under the regulations is to charge one and a half times the normal fee. That is a joke. Anyone who erects a structure without planning permission should be made pay for the untold problems they cause others. How many times have structures been knocked down? The truth is they are not. People break the law and should have to pay a price for doing so.

I am sorry I do not have more time to debate the issue but it is typical of what is happening in this area. We discussed a local government rerform Bill but we only had time to deal with half the section on Committee Stage. We are discussing 172 pages of planning regulations and I am told my time is up. The Minister of State fought long and hard when in Opposition for his voice to be heard. I warn the Government that there are many people who are angry at the behaviour [289] of the Government and the way it treats the House. They are angry at the appalling treatment of the Opposition and the fact that debates are carried on in back rooms——

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. Stagg): Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The Deputy's Whip agreed to the terms of the debate.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  Is is distasteful. The sooner the Government cop on to what it is doing and the system the Minister of State——

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The Deputy's party agreed to the terms of the debate.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  These regulations should have been introduced as legislation in the normal way. We should have had a Committee and Report Stages. This debate gives me and others an opportunity to voice our concern but the regulations will not be changed. It will cost the public £22 to purchase a copy of the regulations. Who can afford that? Who knows it is available? It would have been convenient for the Government to slip these regulations through the back door without any debate but for the fact that this motion was tabled. We are told that if we wish to proceed with it we must do so in Private Members' time. That is a disgrace and I protest on behalf of the main Opposition Party at the manner in which the Government is treating this Chamber and the whole establishment.

Ms O'Donnell: Information on Liz O'Donnell  Zoom on Liz O'Donnell  I share Deputy Barrett's concerns about the toothless nature of the debate on these regulations which are of fundamental importance to our planning laws. This raises questions about the need to set up a special committee of this House to consider secondary legislation. I understand that previously such a committee was set up to consider the implementation of directives and the requirements on this State to implement them. At present there is no adequate debate in this House on EU directives and their implications for jobs [290] and certain aspects of Government policy. The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs has some responsibility in this area but it has not debated any EU directives since the Government came into office. These regulations will have a major impact on planning in cities and towns. Yet we do not have an opportunity to debate them in any great detail.

I welcome the decision to replace the 19 sets of regulations by comprehensive new regulations in one booklet. However, I found it very difficult to get a copy and asked the Government Chief Whip's office to send me one. I was told by the Department of the Environment that I would have to buy a copy of the regulations in the Government Publications Sales Office. This is the sort of ridiculous disrespect shown by the Government to the Opposition in regard to the procedures of this House.

The world is divided into people who care about planning and think it is politically important and those who think it is a matter for the local authorities. As a member of the planning committee of Dublin City Council I believe planning is very important. For that reason I welcome the limited opportunity afforded to us to debate these regulations. Residents associations, particularly in Dublin city and the greater Dublin area have taken it upon themselves to be constantly vigilant about the enforcement of planning regulations. As Deputy Barrett said, one can put in place hundreds of regulations and a seemingly cohesive set of laws on the built environment but it is only through the enforcement of those regulations and laws that any difference can be made. There is widespread concern that the regulations governing the built environment do not have teeth and that sufficient staff are not available at local authority level to investigate complaints.

I welcome some of the regulations, which are an improvement on previous regulations. While I welcome the requirements in regard to the display of notices on sites, why will the sign have to be displayed for one month only and not two months as in the case of planning applications? How will the requirements [291] in this area be policed? If the one month requirement has been met before the inspector visits a site this may raise procedural problems as the planning application will still have to be processed.

Under the regulations bed and breakfast establishments will not be required to seek planning permission. This exemption may be too liberal as no account has been taken of the off street parking implications, particularly in built-up areas close to the city centre. Many of the residents in residential streets in Rathmines and Ranelagh are constantly fighting to retain the residential status of these streets. The liberal exemption of bed and breakfast establishments from the requirement to seek planning permission will impact adversely on these areas in terms of traffic. While it will be profitable for people to open bed and breakfast establishments close to the city centre, there may be a proliferation of such establishments on many beautiful residential streets in the suburbs. Further consideration needs to be given to this liberal exemption and its effects on the Dublin area.

Leaving aside the hygiene and fire and safety regulations, this exemption is much too loose from the point of view of planning and needs to be tightened. It is a political sop to try to resolve a section 5 problem, as happened recently in Galway, by referring to the status of bed and breakfast establishments. This exemption also has an implication for jobs in the hotel sector as bed and breakfast establishments are normally run by families. There is a good aspect to this in that it enables women to earn money within their own homes. However, all these matters have to be considered on the basis of proper planning and the impact on jobs in the hotel sector. Deputy Barrett referred to the concerns expressed by major hotels in Dublin about the increase in the number of bed and breakfast establishments in Dublin city which will impact badly on their business and their capacity to compete. In many ways, it may be regarded as unfair competition.

[292] I wish to refer to the height restrictions on extensions to the rear of houses. Instead of fine tuning the requirements in this area the height restriction on eaves or parapets will give rise to the building of more flat roofs instead of extensions which fit in with the existing structure and are architecturally pleasing to the eye. This restriction will not improve matters, and I share some of the concerns expressed by Deputy Barrett about the 25 square foot requirement which does not seem to have been fully thought through.

Part II which deals with exempted developments in regard to advertising on commercial premises, the type of signs which can be erected on business premises and the quality and size of the signs has always been confusing from an operational point of view. It would take a mathematician or a very patient person to work out the combination of signs which can be erected on commercial premises. The proliferation of signs on buildings around Dublin is of major interest from a planning point of view. Dublin Corporation felt it was necessary to issue guidelines on shop front design so that there would be clarity of identification and simplicity of form which was aesthetically pleasing to the eye and would not interfere with streetscapes.

This section remains difficult to read and comprehend. It does not clarify guidelines on what is permitted or not. It is not sufficient to restrict one, when selling a premises, to one sign — one cannot have Jones Lang Wootton, Sherry FitzGerald or a whole proliferation of auctioneers advertising one premises, which does have a deleterious impact on the streetscape. The streetscape in Rathmines is destroyed by the proliferation of gaudy signs, some illuminated, some in Celtic letters, some others in horrible sixties aesthetic letters, the whole a total mess. It has caused planners in Dublin major difficulty endeavouring to introduce some cohesion into the streetscape; “streetscape literacy” is the term they use throughout the city. Many commercial enterprises do not have an [293] understanding of the importance of signage to the streetscape. Apart from the brass plaque, all other signs should be regulated in some manner, principally by way of planning permission and, in precise detail, by way of licence.

Such signs have been a major blight on rural landscapes. There is no cohesion vis-à-vis their erection. Individual commercial enterprises should be entitled to reasonable identification. That test of reasonableness should be the task of the planning authority; it should not be done by means of these regulations. Signage is too diverse and not properly planned or through out.

In relation to exempted developments undertaken by State authorities, I note that these regulations exclude buildings such as courthouses, prisons, the Houses of the Oireachtas and so on. I am concerned that these should be excluded from the strict planning process. While there is an alternative planning arrangement, the bottom line is that the £10 million development in the grounds of the Houses of the Oireachtas is to be excluded from the planning process. I do not believe that is justified on security grounds. The alternative process mentions a requirement that there should be public notice and consultation. If there is to be a development between Agriculture House and the back of the National Museum, fronting on Kildare Street, that will be a huge issue for the planning authority. It will be a major development in terms of changing the Kildare Street streetscape and will have an impact on this building, which I would regard as a national monument.

We should not allow any slippage from or dilution of the planning process on nebulous security grounds. The security argument does not wash in relation to the Houses of the Oireachtas. There should be clear guidelines laid down and strict adherence to the development plan. In the press release issued by the Minister it was stated that this lesser planning process should be sufficient to accommodate views that might be expressed by organisations such as An Taisce or Dublin Corporation. The decision whether to [294] proceed with the development and the finer detail of the facade fronting on Kildare Street should be pored over and subjected to the most rigorous planning scrutiny. There is the proposal for another development which will have an impact on that side of Leinster House fronting Leinster Lawn. The stonework and everything to do with that facade should be subject to the same rigorous planning scrutiny.

I do not accept that, on security grounds, courts and buildings related to them should be exempted from the strict planning process. Many courthouses are absolutely beautiful buildings, in some cases the main building of heritage value and architectural beauty in a town.

I do not trust the Office of Public Works always to get it right, although it has to be acknowledged they have undertaken and completed some excellent work in the development of Government projects. The whole spirit of the Supreme Court decision in the case of the Mullaghmore interpretive centre was to the effect that State development should be subjected to the planning process. In introducing this range of exemptions, we are undermining the spirit of that decision. The Minister should reconsider that, particularly as it relates to the development plans for Leinster House.

In relation to restrictions on exemptions in Article X, page 86 of the regulations, I note that listed buildings are not included in exempted development. This is good, although we must begin to examine closely what is and is not listed. The only way to deal with that is by way of comprehensive conservation legislation. Notwithstanding the fact that listed buildings are not included in exempted development, section 4 (1) (g) of the 1963 Local Government (Planning and Development) Act refers to any structure and allows for works on maintenance, improvement or other alteration. Is this section not in conflict with the regulations? In other words, does the 1963 Act take precedence? Is that to be regarded as the superior Act? Perhaps the Minister would clarify that point. For example, in a major Dublin Corporation [295] case, the courts held that aluminium windows did not constitute a bad maintenance conversion in relation to listed buildings. The State actually encouraged people to instal aluminium windows in their houses, but they have had a devastating effect on many listed and other buildings in Dublin, particularly in residential areas.

The Minister should re-examine the problem of the shopfront. The regulations are not sufficiently tight and do not give sufficient leadership on the matter of the proliferation of signs on shopfronts. Anybody who travels through O'Connell Street will have observed that — on the recommendation of a specific task force established by Dublin Corporation — much of the awful signage has been eliminated, particularly on upper storeys of buildings in that street. A lot of work remains to be done. The guidelines on shopfront design issued by Dublin Corporation amount to a recommendation which is not being enforced in any practical manner.

While I welcome some of these regulations I would be concerned about the proliferation of bed and breakfasts. I am glad to note that the list of notices has been clarified. I know that members of Dublin Corporation receive lists of various planning applications weekly, whereas in England notification of planning applications is issued by the relevant local authority to occupants of buildings on that street. It is not left to the vigilance of residents associations to contact their member of parliament or local councillor, drawing their attention to the fact that such and such a development is going on. Whenever a planning authority is notified of a planning application all of the people living on the street who will be affected by the proposed development should be notified in writing by the relevant planning authority, which would be a channel imparting relevant information to the people who really care about it.

I appreciate the difficulty Deputy Barrett experienced in having these matters raised, his only procedural route being to table a motion to annul the regulations. [296] While some of us welcome some regulations and recommendations, merely to introduce a major set of regulations without any opportunity to debate them is no way to change the planning laws. Perhaps some Dáil committee would be the more appropriate forum within which to examine and debate such secondary or subordinate legislation more fruitfully than in this toothless debate by way of statement.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  I dtús báire, tá an-áthas orm seans a bheith agam labhairt ar na rialacháin mar atá siad, ach, ag an am céanna, bhí sé deacair iad a fháil — £22 a bhí orthu, agus bhí éileamh orthu sa leabharlann. Tá sé an-íorónch ar bhealach go bhfuilimid ag caint ar níos mó eolais a phoibliú agus caoi a thabhairt don phobal bheith páirteach ach ag an am céanna £22 an costas atá ar an méid sin amháin gan trácht ar an reachtaíocht eile a bhaineann le cúrsaí pleanála agus nach bhfuil cuid acu ar fáil sa leabharlann fiú do na Teachtaí féin. Ar aon chuma, I appreciate Deputy Barrett had difficulty in putting down many of the amendments which I too would like to see. There are many good parts in the regulations and I would not wish to see them nullified but some aspects should be clarified and applied in our respective constituencies. If these regulations had been in force a number of headaches could have been avoided and the public spared the expense of challenging decisions. It is high time many of those issues were addressed.

One aspect which has come to my attention and to that of the public is the impact which the regulations will have on the hotel and guesthouse industry. Their letters did most to alert me as little had been expressed publicly on many of the other aspects. The hotels federation does not begrudge anybody the opportunity of opening a B & B but they are competing directly with people who are able to circumvent the expense of going through the planning process. I can understand how they are affected. I tabled a question on the subject and I look forward to dealing with the matter further. The EU [297] regulations governing people who wish to make home-made jams, bread or yoghurt are strange. I am aware of requirements to install stainless steel kitchens and other expensive items by people who would not be competing directly except perhaps with multinationals importing to Ireland. They are seeking to enhance our local economies by providing produce but they are penalised. There is a need for a balanced approach. Perhaps we should deregulate some of the severe restrictions on the small scale operator while bearing in mind the importance of the hotel industry. I am anxious that that industry would not be jeopardised in any way.

The impact of parking regulations has been referred to. I expect that the parking regulations for a four bedroom B & B would have a greater impact than that required for an ordinary domestic dwelling. These matters should be taken into account and that is why planning permission is sometimes required.

I recognise there are many good aspects of the regulations. For example, the erection of signs on the site as well as a notice in a newspaper is one of those commonsense suggestions that has been around for years. I often wondered if there was a difficulty in implementing it but now I find there is not. I thought there was an amazing labyrinth of technicalities that I did not see.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  The Deputy does not miss much.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  I was amazed that that regulation was not in force before now. I recall the Minister's predecessor, the former Deputy Flynn, promising it but, or course, he took the road of the wild geese. The erection of signs is dealt with in some detail. I know from my experience with planning applications in Dublin County Council that certain things happen and people are not held responsible because it is difficult to pin anybody down. I refer, in particular, to signs being taken down, disappearing or obliterated. Has any procedure been put in place to deal with the problem when the public complain that there are no signs and [298] when the landowner claims there was a sign but that somebody took it? Can that issue be dealt with in a way that avoids the necessity of a court appearance? These loopholes are fertile ground for legal action which do nobody, apart from the legal profession, any good. I would like to see that regulation spelled out. How can we deal with difficulties concerning the disappearance of signs? These signs should not apply to planning applications only.

We have had the long painful experience of the rezoning controversy in County Dublin on which the Minister promised to take strong and courageous action. The rezoning proposals should also be subjected to a similar notification. Frequently they are known only to the councillors and those interested in proposing the rezoning. Few people can take the enormous amount of trouble and organisation to visit the county council offices or other places where plans are displayed to examine them. It would be preferable to ensure that the signs are erected at the site. In view of the amounts of money earned through speculation and land rezoning, it would not be too expensive to get some hardboard, nails and a few poles to erect a sign. Perhaps the Minister will have a more direct input in regard to motorway reservations “desire lines”, as they are known, which go through undeveloped green field sites. These green field sites are attractive and are used for marketing purposes by various builders and developers who present the area as a tranquil, sylvan setting for houses.

People who are gullible enough to buy houses where plans are already in existence for motorways which will drastically alter their environment should be alerted by their legal advisers. A number of people who have contacted me are wringing their hands but it is too late. I refer particularly to people living in the vicinity of the Broadmeadow estuary in my constituency, near Swords. This is a very important estuary in its own right. A great deal of soul searching has to be done about alternatives to destroying it. People spent £70,000 to £80,000 on [299] houses in that area and, until it was brought to their attention at a public meeting, were oblivious of the fact that this large structure would form part of the M1 motorway. We need to go further and ensure that local people are made aware of the plans of councils, other public bodies or the private sector. As far as possible, diagrams should be included. Members are expected to be able to read and write given the volume of paperwork involved in their work but many people are illiterate and would be very embarrassed if they had to ask someone what is written on a sign. We should issue guidelines and encourage the use of diagrams in presentations.

Although I have an affection for the Irish language I would be the first to admit that it is used as a smokescreen to distract attention from details of a planning application in newspaper advertisements. They are meant to be obscure. This matter needs to be addressed through the use of diagrams on site, wherever possible.

It is good that details of planning application will be available in libraries and contained in newspapers but this is being done already to a large extent. I am trying to separate the existing regulations from the new ones——

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  In general it is not being done.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  In that case I compliment my local authority, Fingal County Council, whose policy is to ensure that details of planning applications are available in libraries and published in the local newspaper. I take my hat off to it. Perhaps I am speaking to the wrong person but there is great mileage to be made by local councillors in acquiring information from the council for residents associations. The local councillor who acts as a messenger and does nothing else is credited with pulling a stroke when such information is public knowledge. The people directly affected should be notified and they should not have to depend on councillors to sift through the information to [300] see whom they should tell to gain political advantage.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  That day is fast disappearing.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  Fianna Fáil is still in power. I can still see the evidence far and wide.

The regulations dealing with golf courses are long overdue. As the Minister appreciates, a vast number of golf courses have been developed. There are many in north County Dublin, many of which are doing well, but I am anxious not to reach saturation point when they may no longer be viable.

A proposal to develop a golf course in Portmarnock is linked to the issue of funding the county council in the sense that it involves a land swop. As the Minister is aware, An Bord Pleanála overturned the decision of the council to grant approval for this development as an environmental impact assesment had not been carried out. Because of a lack of funds — the Minister may indicate the reasons for this — the council was encouraged initially to swop public land and in so doing the public lost the right of access at a number of points to the shoreline. This matter is dealt with in the regulations. Will the Minister take a close look at the arguments made by people in Portmarnock, in particular by the three women who went to the trouble of challenging a multinational giant as well as the council?

The regulations state that development to which Article 9 shall not be exempted development for the purposes of this Act if the carrying out of such development would consist of the fencing or enclosure of any land habitually open to or used by the public during the ten years proceding such fencing or enclosure for recreational purposes or as means of access to any seashore, mountain, lakeshore, river bank or other place of natural beauty or recreational utility. This does not apply to Portmarnock only, it is happening throughout the country. The Keep Ireland Open organisation is trying to [301] ensure that this does not become the trend.

The land in Portmarnock has been open to the public for much longer than ten years. The Jameson family lived in the area and were happy to allow the public to use it as open space. However, a multinational, because of a legal loophole, decided that the public should not have a right of way. I hope the Minister will protect this right.

The regulations constitute fire brigade action; these three women have been pouring buckets of water on the fire to keep it under control. An Bord Pleanála has decided that they have a case and the matter needs to be addressed. I ask the Minister to ensure that we are not closing the stable door after the horse has bolted as there is a great deal at stake.

Individuals have managed to delay desirable developments such as the linear parkway between Swords and Malahide and on to Portmarnock by insisting that the council should make provision for vehicular access. I do not think that this matter is dealt with in the regulations. I ask the Minister to carry out a case study into how one person can insist on the council making provision for vehicular access to a linear parkway which is not required or necessary when access may be gained from other directions.

It is important in making regulations that we are not seen to be helping the speculators or the legal profession to profit in interpreting them. We ought to make it a priority that decisions can be made without reference to the courts. Rights of access will continue to be an issue as pressure builds to close off public land.

Debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.


Last Updated: 22/05/2011 01:24:19 First Page Previous Page Page of 89 Next Page Last Page