Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1967: Second Stage (Resumed).

Wednesday, 5 July 1967

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 63 No. 8

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Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.

Mr. Garret FitzGerald: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  It is a great [675] surprise package. We never know what will happen next.

Tomás Ó Maoláin: Information on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  Zoom on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  It was announced. The Senator agreed to it. It is on the Order Paper. Surely to God we do not have to re-educate the Senator.

Mr. Garret FitzGerald: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  I had not noticed the change of occupancy of the Ministerial chair or I would have known. There is more to come.

Minister for Local Government (Mr. K. Boland): Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  Not much. When the debate was adjourned, Senators may remember I was referring to the very inconvenient but, unfortunately, very relevant question of cost which inevitably arises. Who is to pay in connection with the preservation of old buildings, particularly if they are generally considered to be no longer capable of being satisfactorily put to their original purpose or of being satisfactorily adapted to other uses?

I have not very much more to say on the subject. However, I found it necessary to intrude this mundane matter of finance and this seemed on the last occasion to have caused some annoyance to those Senators who wished to deal solely with the aesthetic principles that are involved. I found it somewhat regrettable that I had to bring this sordid question of cost into the matter but, unfortunately, somebody has to think of those things and they are relevant.

I say that, though the Senators who sponsored the Bill maintained that the question of cost was irrelevant. This is typical of the Fine Gael attitude. The question of cost is never relevant according to them. As we know, there is no difficulty in listing desirable things to do if cost has not to be considered. I admit the matter with which the Bill is concerned is desirable but it cannot be implemented without some cost. The public know that cost is relevant; they also know from bitter experience what comes of succumbing to the efforts of particular Parties to sweep the question of costs under the carpet.

Though I am quite certain that most [676] people would like to see as much as possible of our worthwhile architecture preserved, I believe they will be anxious to know the cost and just how it is proposed it should be met. It is an unfortunate fact that what were originally gracious Georgian houses in this city have passed through a phase as insanitary Georgian slums, and even though their facades may still be pleasing, especially to those who do not have to worry about what lies behind those facades, it is doubtful if they can be economically rehabilitated.

Therefore, I think the Senators who are sponsoring this Bill should indicate if they believe it will be possible to rehabilitate those architecturally attractive houses as dwellings, whether it will be possible to get people to live in them if they are rehabilitated; whether it is their proposal that those houses should be adapted to flats of an acceptable standard or used as offices; whether the outlay for those purposes will be economically advisable; or alternatively whether this preservation is to be at the expense of public funds in one shape or another.

From my point of view, I am afraid that however desirable preservation may be, if public money is to be involved I must take the stand that the cost must be within our scope without inhibiting the solution of urgent social problems. If those architecturally important buildings can be kept in existence only by eating into the capital available for housing or other urgent social purposes—in other words, if they can only be maintained by making the choice of some families continuing to live in insanitary and overcrowded conditions—then I am afraid it must be regrettably accepted that we just will not be able to afford their retention.

It has always seemed to me that a more effective way of ensuring the optimum degree of preservation by owners would be to provide that in those areas no buildings of greater height or floor area than the existing buildings would be erected and that they would have to conform with the existing ones. This at least would make it advisable to maintain the existing buildings as long as possible since there would be no prospect of increased [677] revenue from their replacement. I certainly think a provision such as that would at the very least be a considerable help in securing the preservation of such buildings by eliminating the financial attraction of demolishing and replacing them. I may say I fully agree with Senators that the avaricious speculator in lands and buildings who sees a well designed house in its own attractive grounds as an ideal site for the bulldozer and the erection of a money-making skyscraper is an enemy of society. I am just as much concerned to frustrate those people's activities as any Member of An Seanad but this Bill, well-intentioned though it is, will be no help in that respect. In view of the draft development plan and the fact, as I said, that the intervening time between now and the adoption of the plan will be covered by amending regulations, this Bill is not necessary. Without committing myself on the actual details of the proposals in the draft development plan, I can say that the objectives in regard to the preservation of buildings seem to me to be worthy objectives and, taking everything into consideration, I think the extent of the preservation which the planning authority hope to secure seems to me to be as much as could be reasonably expected.

It is to be hoped it will be possible to rehabilitate the areas concerned and effectively to preserve those buildings which are, as I have agreed, of architectural merit, but I must point out again that it would not be realistic to believe that a mere decision to control demolition will in itself secure preservation. I am satisfied that the complete control of all demolition proposed in this Bill is undesirable and it is ridiculous to apply such control in respect of buildings in regard to which no preservation objective has been laid down by the planning authority.

I do not think there is anything more I have to say. Possibly, in view of the length of time that has elapsed I should go back and recap the other observations I made on the Bill but I presume Senators do not want to be reminded of them. There is just one point. Senator FitzGerald claimed that the regulations are ultra vires the 1963 [678] Act. If that is so, it is remarkable that this point was not raised during the 21 sitting days the regulations were laid before the Seanad. The Committee on Statutory Instruments also accepted them as being in order but if anybody feels strongly on the point, the High Court will be prepared to give a ruling on it. I am quite satisfied the regulations are not ultra vires but that can always be established by the courts.

I think every Senator who spoke on the previous day this Bill was before the Seanad related his remarks to the situation in Dublin city which was climaxed by Senator Sheehy Skeffington's Jeremiad on the disappearance of Nelson Pillar. The Planning Act has wider horizons. It deals with the whole country. This Bill which I think is intended to deal only with architecturally important buildings does, in fact, seek to impose control for demolition of all kinds.

Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: Information on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  Zoom on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  I mentioned the whole country in point of fact and the necessity for planning in smaller towns like Birr as well as the bigger towns.

Mr. K. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  It mostly revolved around Dublin city. I want to point out that I consider the obvious way to deal with this matter is for the planning authorities to indicate which buildings they think should be preserved and then those buildings will be, in fact, controlled as effectively as possible rather than that we should have a Bill of this nature which would bring the demolition of every building for every conceivable purpose under control and which is completely unnecessary and would only make a great deal of unnecessary work and frustration both for me and my Department and for property owners in general. For those reasons and the other reasons I gave on the last day the Bill was before the House, I have to oppose the Bill.

Mr. Yeats: Information on Michael B Yeats  Zoom on Michael B Yeats  I should like to say a couple of words on this Bill. Having listened to this debate through the speeches made for the Bill and also to the Minister's comments, it seems fairly clear that, while the intention behind [679] the Bill is a sound one, at the same time, the Bill is not necessary to perform the things it sets out to perform. The other thing is that it goes a good deal too far and would prevent demolition of all sorts of buildings which by no conceivable means would come under the sort of protection which we feel is needed.

As the Minister, Senator FitzGerald and many others agree, it is obviously desirable that our heritage in Dublin city and other parts of the country of architecture from previous centuries should be preserved. We have in Dublin city areas of Georgian architecture which are not matched anywhere else. Not merely are those beautiful in themselves but looking at it from the meanest and most mercenary point of view, they are also very important tourist attractions and for that reason alone it would be worth while that the State would put a fair bit of money into preserving those squares and streets.

I hope in years to come something of that kind will be done if only as I say from the point of view of the tourist trade which undoubtedly is attracted to Dublin very largely by the architecture in such places as Merrion Square, Fitzwilliam Square and other areas in the city but it seems that this Bill goes a good deal too far and is not needed to control the demolition of buildings.

I sometimes feel with regard to this Georgian architecture and the desire of so many of us to preserve as much of it as possible, that those Georgian buildings need protection from their friends. One of the great difficulties in this whole question is the extraordinarily extravagant wild language indulged in by a number of people who are interested in this Georgian architecture. I was reading in a periodical in July, 1967, an article by an architect interested in Georgian architecture and it was written in wildly extravagant language. It talked about political thugs and it accused the dangerous building inspectors of Dublin Corporation of being corrupt and doing their jobs entirely in accordance with whatever bribes they received. It carried on [680] in this way and accused the Government of blowing up Nelson Pillar and blaming it on the Republicans.

Mr. Garret FitzGerald: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  The Government did blow up Nelson Pillar.

Mr. Yeats: Information on Michael B Yeats  Zoom on Michael B Yeats  The point made was that they blew up the original part and they were accused of using plastic explosives to blow it up.

Mr. Garret FitzGerald: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  The first part of the job was done too efficiently for that.

Mr. Yeats: Information on Michael B Yeats  Zoom on Michael B Yeats  The whole article was wildly extravagant.

Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: Information on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  Zoom on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  Could the Senator give the reference in relation to this article?

Mr. Yeats: Information on Michael B Yeats  Zoom on Michael B Yeats  It is in a magazine called Scene. It is worth reading. It is wildly ludicrous and extravagant. Those of us who are passionately anxious to preserve our Georgian buildings know that people are making those wild statements. We all agree that as much of Dublin as possible must be preserved. The question of demolition has been dealt with and the draft plan has now been published. It is intended to make an Order so that between now and the coming into force of the draft plan no demolition of valuable buildings will take place without permission.

As the Minister says, we are faced with the question of how much money ought to be spent on our architecture. In so far as this Bill is concerned, I would suggest that while Senator Garret FitzGerald has done a good day's work in bringing it in in order to have this discussion, and we have got a good deal of clarification from the Minister, I think the Senator will agree that, as it stands, it goes a good deal further than is needed.

Mr. Garret FitzGerald: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  There are a number of points which the Minister made to which I should like to refer. He said that the Bill would create far too much work, that it was too broad and, therefore, was unacceptable. The answer to this, I think, is that the Bill is, of course, capable of amendment. In so far as the Bill is wider than is [681] necessary for the purpose, it could be amended and I and my colleagues would be more than willing to consider any amendments designed to narrow the scope to ensure that it does not extend beyond the area needed, as long as we maintain and preserve the Bill in its application to the buildings we want retained.

The Minister said that there would be no exemption where preservation is the objective of the development plan or is declared by resolution to be an objective which it is proposed to include in a plan. There are no development plans in existence at this time. It is by no means certain that all development plans will be in force next October and the Minister may have to extend this period in some cases. In fact, local authorities have not declared buildings to be objectives which they have proposed to include in the development plans, whatever the reasons for this may be—whether they fear that this might involve them in extra expenditure—no such resolutions have been passed. As things stand at the moment, there are no buildings in the country which are, in fact, covered either by development plans in force or that it is proposed to include in a development plan. The fact is that at the moment any building can be knocked down. If various people had done various things at various times in introducing development plans or in passing legislation this might not be the case but these things have not been done. The Minister is really raising a hare there.

The Minister went on to say that it is not true as Senator Sheehy Skeffington says that the demolition of any building is listed as “sundry minor works”, and so on. I assert that it is true to say that the demolition of any building is, in fact, listed as “sundry minor works”. When that Order was made there was not, and could not have been, in force a development plan because the Order was made immediately after the coming into effect of the Bill. What the Minister did was to exempt all buildings in the country from any controls and, in fact, they remain exempt.

The Minister's reference to the [682] amount of work that would be involved in clearing applications is unsound also. It seems to me that proposals for demolition of buildings should go hand in hand with proposals for re-development. I do not think that any proposals for demolition of buildings should be agreed until the person concerned says what he intends to put in its place, if anything. An exception could be made in the case of dangerous buildings but otherwise one should not permit the demolition of buildings, other than industrial buildings, until it is clear what is to go in their place. Otherwise, many buildings of architectural merit and many houses would disappear without any idea, of what will take their place. Once they are gone any proposal put down to replace them might have to be accepted because nobody at that stage would say to the person concerned: “You must restore the building you have destroyed.” No local authority would be prepared to impose such a requirement.

In view of the definition in the Bill of minor works as excluding plastering, painting, and demolition, I should like to hear from the Minister what, in fact, are major works. It is not clear.

Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: Information on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  Zoom on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  Blowing up Nelson Pillar.

Mr. Garret FitzGerald: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  It seems to me that Nelson Pillar was exempted by the Minister. The Minister made various references the last day, before the local elections, and today after them, about insanitary conditions and the putting of aesthetic considerations before human considerations. These are the arguments of people who I remember during the war would argue —and I am sorry to say many of them Americans—that no GI's life was worth losing to preserve anything of the past; the whole of Rome could be levelled if that were to preserve a single human life. We are not faced with that kind of dilemma and to try and pose it in those terms is to try to reduce the whole argument to a plane which may have been appropriate before the local elections but which we need not get back to now.

[683] The Minister said the references in this debate were confined to Dublin. They were not confined to Dublin but very properly concentrated in Dublin because Dublin is where most of the damage is being done, where the destruction is being wrought, because Dublin as the capital of this country, being the largest city and the most rapidly developing area, is attracting speculators who find they can make money most rapidly here. Therefore, the examples we gave related to Dublin, but the Bill is of general application, because the problem is of general application. It is relevant, indeed, to the whole question of what the Minister has said about his proposal to bring in an Order which would remove this demolition exemption in respect of buildings, in respect of which a plan has been prepared because, in fact, outside Dublin there are many areas where no plan has been prepared. If that is, in fact, the way in which this Order is to be phrased then this Order, while it may have some useful effects in Dublin for buildings covered by the draft plan, will not, in fact, operate elsewhere.

The Minister, in his concluding remarks, made a useful reference, I thought, to the idea of some limitation on the re-development of property of this kind, for example, the Georgian buildings or buildings of that kind— that in re-development the floor area might not be increased because this would reduce the attractions to the speculator of rebuilding. It is an excellent idea but I am wondering what the Minister had in mind in throwing it out in this way. I am sorry he has had to depart but perhaps his colleague would convey to him the question as to what he had in mind when he made this suggestion. Does he propose to implement it in any way? How could it be implemented under present legislation? It seemed to me to be a very constructive suggestion, one we should all like to follow up and about which we would like to hear more from him.

Less constructive were his references to the cost element. These were, again, emotive in character and, as we endeavoured [684] to point out by a process of interruption the last day, irrelevant to the Bill.

This Bill does not require that any building be preserved. It merely requires that people who want to demolish buildings should clear that with the Planning Authority first. It will then be a matter for the Planning Authority to decide what buildings should be preserved and, in taking that decision, the Planning Authority will, no doubt, be guided by considerations of cost, as by other considerations. When a draft plan is put to a Planning Authority, they will naturally examine it to see what commitments are being entered into as regards the preservation of buildings. If these commitments involve the preservation of buildings which are in a declining area, where property values are going down, where buildings are deteriorating, where, in fact, private interests concerned may not be prepared to preserve them and where, consequently, the local authority may be involved in some costs, they will, no doubt, take that fully into account in deciding whether or not to adopt the draft plan. It is a matter for the local authority concerned. It is up to them to decide whether they are likely to incur any costs through nominating any particular buildings for preservation and whether, if so, they consider that these buildings are of such value as an amenity in the area, as a tourist attraction, or under any such heading, as to deserve preservation and as to warrant the expenditure of public money on them.

This Bill imposes no obligation on anyone to spend a halfpenny of public money. It simply requires that before buildings be demolished, an opportunity be given to a local authority to decide whether they should be preserved, whether that preservation will or will not be likely to involve increased costs and, if so, whether that local authority wants to carry that burden. The fact is—as I pointed out in my initial speech—most of the buildings concerned are in areas where property values are being well maintained and are tending to move upwards. I gave an example of a building in one particular square in Dublin [685] where the people concerned, who are now using it as an office, purchased it for a substantial price and spent a very substantial sum on it, so that, in all, they have invested in a straightforward, ordinary Georgian building in a Dublin square a sum in excess of £50,000. They did that, not as speculators—they did not buy it to knock it down and build a larger place. They bought it because that building, in its present form, with all the defects of a Georgian building—to which, indeed, the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary made reference from time to time—in that shape, and with those defects, was worth to them an expenditure of over £50,000.

The fact is that these buildings— not all of them; there will be marginal areas; there will be difficult areas; I suspect that Mountjoy Square would be a difficult area where there is probably a cost problem—are in areas where the tendency of property values is to move upwards, where if it were provided that they could not be replaced, where if the buildings could not be replaced by larger buildings out of which speculators could make profits— in those circumstances, private interests would be willing to accept these limitations on these buildings, even though often very large sums, indeed, may be required to preserve and maintain them in good condition.

That is the evidence we have before us as we look around this city and these areas. If an issue arises in respect of some marginal area which is going down the hill, if there is such a problem—perhaps in the case of Mountjoy Square—then it is a matter for the Planning Authority to decide whether they wish to risk the possibility of incurring costs by nominating such an area for preservation. I suppose it is open to them to decide to do so and to change their decision subsequently if they find the costs involved rather too heavy for them to carry.

This Bill imposes no burden of costs on anyone; it merely enables local authorities to take action which conceivably, though improbably in some cases, might involve expenditure, if they wish to take on the burden of the costs involved. All this emotive language about costs is unnecessary [686] and, as we said by way of interruption the last day, irrelevant.

Tomás Ó Maoláin: Information on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  Zoom on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  Money never mattered to Fine Gael.

Mr. Garret FitzGerald: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  The Senator has obviously not listened to a word I said.

Tomás Ó Maoláin: Information on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  Zoom on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  I have been listening here very carefully.

Mr. Garret FitzGerald: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  Well, the Senator obviously did not take much heed.

Tomás Ó Maoláin: Information on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  Zoom on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  The Senator did not answer the question put by the Minister.

Mr. Garret FitzGerald: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  I have now answered the question put to me by the Minister, fully, as Senator Ó Maoláin well knows.

Tomás Ó Maoláin: Information on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  Zoom on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  The Senator has not.

Mr. Garret FitzGerald: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  The issue of cost is not relevant on this Bill and if Senator Ó Maoláin would like to explain to us in what way it is relevant on this Bill, I shall momentarily sit down and give him an opportunity of doing so.

Tomás Ó Maoláin: Information on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  Zoom on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  The Minister asked the Senator a question.

Mr. Garret FitzGerald: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  I am asking a question now of Senator Ó Maoláin.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Liam O Buachalla  Zoom on Liam O Buachalla  Perhaps the Senators would address the Chair.

Mr. Garret FitzGerald: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  Having disposed of Senator Ó Maoláin, I should like to quote one reference from the Minister's speech which gives some indication as to the extent we can take seriously his protestations of concern for the city of Dublin. He said:

If a practical and economical use cannot be found for them, then we have to face up to the fact that the number which can really be effectively preserved will have to be comparatively small and, regrettable though it may be, we will have to accept as a fact that eventually it may be possible to visualise old [687] Dublin only through such means as paintings and photographs.

That is not the attitude the people of Paris take up on their city, and the Government of France nor is it the attitude—as I mentioned the last day— the Government of Poland take up with regard to the city of Warsaw, which they have rebuilt with such care where it was destroyed, rebuilding it in the form in which it was before the destruction. I do not see why we alone among those countries should adopt this attitude. Indeed, I could run through almost all the countries in Europe—Holland, Denmark, Britain, Italy. All those countries are prepared to spend very large sums, indeed, to preserve their past, to preserve buildings and rebuild buildings where this is necessary, so that future generations may have the benefit of what has been inherited from the past. Why, alone among the peoples of Europe, have we to adopt this ignorant attitude of rejecting our past heritage, of happily being willing to do away with it and not being prepared even to tolerate the idea of spending any money on it because all these interruptions of Senator Ó Maoláin, the Minister's snide remarks about cost—what they show is the same attitude of mind all the time —that if this costs any money we cannot afford it, never mind the past. This is something which we alone among European countries do not care about. Never mind the past; there is nothing in our heritage worth preserving. That is an attitude of mind I do not accept.

[688]Seán Ó Donnabháin: Information on Sean ODonovan  Zoom on Sean ODonovan  The Senator knows he has not said that.

Tomás Ó Maoláin: Information on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  Zoom on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  We do not have the Alladin's lamps Fine Gael have.

Mr. Garret FitzGerald: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  That is an attitude we do not accept.

Tomás Ó Maoláin: Information on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  Zoom on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  We are ordinary people, not magicians.

Mr. Garret FitzGerald: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  What the costs are is something which has to be determined. This Bill does not involve anyone in costs. In most of the cases where the local authorities will nominate buildings as requiring preservation there will be no cost involved to the public purse. If there are costs involved, these must be considered on their merits in each case but certainly in many cases I would be prepared to vote the necessary money so that we shall not stand out in the 21st century as the one European country that threw away the past, when other countries were prepared to spend the necessary money to preserve it.

The Minister has told us he intends to introduce an Order to deal with this matter. Several weeks have passed since we met before on the 14th June— three weeks, in fact. Today he did not, in concluding his speech, tell us more about this Order, the drafting of which he told us was almost completed. I am somewhat concerned about this, because we are talking now of a fairly brief period between now and October next.

Question put.

Conlon, John F.
Davidson, Mary F.
Dooge, James C.I.
FitzGerald, Garret M.D.
McDonald, Charles.
Malone, Patrick.
Mannion, John.
Murphy, Dominick F.
O'Reilly, Patrick (Cavan).
O'Sullivan, Denis J.
Quinlan, Patrick M.
Rooney, Éamon.
Sheehy Skeffington,
Owen L.

Boland, Gerald.
Brennan, John J.
Browne, Seán.
Dolan, Séamus. [689]Honan, Dermot P.
Killilea, Mark.
McGlinchey, Bernard.
McGowan, Patrick.
Martin, James J.
Nash, John Joseph.
Ó Donnabháin, Seán.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
Ó Maoláin, Tomás.
Eachthéirn, Cáit Uí.
Egan, Kieran P.
Farrell, Joseph.
Fitzsimons, Patrick. [690]O'Reilly, Patrick (Longford).
Ryan, Eoin.
Ryan, James.
Ryan, Patrick W.
Ryan, William.
Teehan, Patrick J.
Yeats, Michael.

Question declared lost.

The Seanad adjourned at 9.45 p.m. until 11 a.m. on Thursday, 6th July, 1967.

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