Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill 1973: Second Stage.

Thursday, 1 April 1976

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 83 No. 18

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

Minister for Local Government (Mr. Tully): Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  The main purpose of this Bill is the setting up of a planning appeals board to deal with appeals, references and other matters arising under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963. All parties are agreed that it is desirable that the political head of the Department of Local Government should be relieved of responsibility in relation to [1632] appeal decisions in an area as controversial as land development. The National Coalition's 14-point programme contained a pledge to set up independent machinery to deal with planning appeals. Accordingly, the present Bill was one of the first to be introduced in Dáil Éireann after the Government came into office. Over the last two years, the Bill has been discussed in great detail in the Dáil and now includes a substantial number of amendments made in that House.

Apart from the provisions setting up the appeals board, the Bill contains a number of other provisions in relation to the operation of planning control at central and local level, including provisions strengthening enforcement procedure and provisions designed to improve some of the more positive powers in the 1963 Act. Account has been taken of the views of local authorities and of the many other bodies who made submissions to me. I feel, therefore, that the Bill goes a long way to remedy defects which have come to light since the 1963 Act came into operation and provides, for planning authorities and the general public, a sound basis for future progress in the area of physical planning.

This is a complex piece of legislation and I do not propose to comment on the individual sections, at this stage; these are adequately covered in the explanatory memorandum circulated with the Bill and can best be discussed on Committee Stage. I would, however, like to bring to the notice of Senators some of the main provisions of the Bill and what they aim to achieve.

The main provision is the setting up of An Bord Pleanála, an independent body to be chaired on a full-time basis by a judge of the High Court or a former holder of judicial office. The board will take over the appellate functions of the Minister for Local Government in relation to appeals, references and other matters under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963. Detailed provisions relating to the board are set out in the Schedule. Articles 4 and 7 respectively deal with the appointment [1633] and terms of office of the chairman and ordinary members of the board while articles 6 and 10 provide that in the event of the chairman or an ordinary member being removed from office, a statement of the reasons for removal must be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.

Physical planning does not, of course, operate in a vacuum and while I would stress the independence of the board in relation to the manner in which they carry out their function of deciding appeals and references, they must keep themselves informed on matters of public policy which could be relevant to planning and development. Experience in dealing with appeals shows that they frequently raise issues relating to national policy or development objectives, for example, achievement of the housing, industrial development, roads and sanitary services programmes, and conservation, environmental protection, airport and harbour development. A major purpose of planning control is to secure the implementation of such policies and objectives. Provisions in sections 5, 6 and 31 of the Bill cover this area. Section 5 requires the board to keep themselves informed of the policies and objectives of public authorities, planning authorities and the Minister for Local Government, while section 6 empowers the Minister to issue general policy directives to the board. Any such directives must be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the provision does not, of course, enable the Minister to issue a directive to the board in relation to any particular appeal or other case coming before them for decision. In order that there can be a two-way flow of communication, section 31 enables the board to make submissions to the Minister, either on their own initiative or at the Minister's request, in relation to planning matters.

It is my aim that the board shall come into operation as soon as possible after the passing of the legislation. I should stress, however, that before an actual transfer of functions can be made, a great deal of administrative work will have to be done [1634] and various new regulations will have to be made. Moreover, if there is to be a smooth transfer of functions, with minimal disruption of the work of deciding planning appeals, it will be necessary for the board to have some time to prepare for the task. Section 14, which transfers appeal functions to the board, will not therefore come into operation until “the appropriate day”— a day fixed by order under section 45. To facilitate the smooth transfer of functions, provision is being made in section 21 (3) to enable the board to make interim arrangements for the use of services which my Department can supply, for example, staff and accounting services.

The Bill provides for a number of changes in the existing appeals procedure. To discourage frivolous appeals, provision is being made for a deposit of £10 to be lodged with an appeal; on determination of the appeal, the deposit will be refunded unless the board consider the appeal is vexatious and direct the deposit to be forfeited. A further provision in section 18 will enable the board to deal expeditiously with any appeal or reference which, in their opinion, is vexatious or is being unnecessarily delayed by any party. And the regulations proposed under section 20 will allow the board greater flexibility in dealing with the details of appeal cases.

With the increased rate of development in recent years and the growing interest of the public in environmental and planning matters, appeals have been running at nearly 4,000 per annum or about 10 per cent of all applications for planning permission. It is no longer practicable to ensure that every appellant who demands an oral hearing will get one, unless we are prepared to accept very extensive delays. The board are, therefore, being empowered to refuse an oral hearing except where a direction to hold one is given by the Minister. A person whose request for an oral hearing has been refused by the board will, however, be able to apply to the Minister for such a direction to the board. It often happens that the [1635] issues in an appeal are clear but the decision is held up by a request for an oral hearing, sometimes to the detriment of the appellant himself. Where an application for an oral hearing is refused and the applicant considers an oral hearing is essential, a remedy is being provided. Accordingly, I have no doubt that in considering applications for oral hearings, the board will use their discretion reasonably and weigh the advantages which may result in any particular case from the holding of a hearing.

In an effort to improve the position at local level in regard to planning applications, I have introduced a number of new provisions and also provided for amendments of certain sections of the 1963 Act. Provision is being made, in section 29, for the “withering” of all existing planning permissions five years from the date of the coming into operation of the section and, in the case of permissions granted after that date, five years from the granting of the permission. The section does not have a retrospective effect and extensions of time may be given in particular cases. There are safeguards to ensure that developments which are substantially completed are not left unfinished and that conditions attached to a permission must be complied with unless the planning authority issue a waiver notice in that regard.

To encourage the resolving of difficulties by discussion at local level, I am making provision in section 39 for an amendment to section 26 of the 1963 Act, whereby the time for considering an application can be extended where the applicant gives his consent in writing. And in that section also, I am including a provision under which local planning authorities will be enabled to seek revised plans, and so on, relating to a particular development and to deal with the case on the basis of such plans.

An area where many problems have arisen in the operation of the 1963 Act is in the enforcement of planning control. In response to representations and suggestions made to me by [1636] planning authorities, residents' associations and other interested parties, I have introduced new provisions which should strengthen substantially the powers of planning authorities in this area. Section 25 will enable planning authorities to overcome problems which have arisen in securing the provision and maintenance of open space in housing estates in accordance with the terms of the relevant permission. To discourage unauthorised development or use of land and to protect trees and other features which are required to be preserved in accordance with the terms of a planning permission, section 26 enables a “warning notice” to be served. Failure to comply with a “warning notice” will involve substantial penalties.

A further strengthening of the position in relation to unauthorised development is contained in section 27. This provides that the High Court, on the application of the planning authority or any other person, whether or not the person has an interest in the land, may prohibit the continuance of any unauthorised development or use, or where development is not being carried out in accordance with the terms of the planning permission, direct that it should be so carried out. In addition, maximum penalties for non-compliance with enforcement notices under the 1963 Act are being increased by section 38: the maximum fine will now be £250 with a maximum of £50 per day in the case of a continuing offence. The legal advice available to me is that £250 is the maximum penalty which can be prescribed while retaining the offences within the category of “minor offences” which can be dealt with by the courts in summary manner.

The protection of the environment is a wide field in which many agencies are necessarily involved. As Senators will recall, the Wildlife Bill was recently passed by this House and a Water Pollution Bill has recently been introduced here. These two measures will expand considerably the powers available to preserve and improve environmental standards. Environmental [1637] policy is and must continue to be an overall policy and I consider that it would be neither practical nor realistic to attempt to make one Minister solely responsible for this wide area. What we need is effective co-ordination and I have set up machinery to achieve this. The physical planning system itself can, of course, make a significant contribution to environmental protection and, therefore, the planning authorities have a crucial role.

A number of specific provisions in relation to environmental planning were included in the 1963 Act and I am expanding these in the Bill. Section 39 contains a number of these amendments. It enables regulations to be made which will require, in the case of certain major developments, submission of an environmental impact study with the relevant application for permission. It also provides that conditions to reduce or prevent the emission or the intrusion of noise or vibration may be attached to planning permissions. And it includes such conditions, and conditions relating to air pollution, among those in respect of which a planning authority will not be liable for compensation. A new section is being provided to cover the making of special amenity area orders in order to encourage planning authorities to consider the making of such orders, to simplify the orders themselves and to enable the Minister to direct that an order be made. The law in regard to the making of conservation orders is also being modified having regard to the provisions of the Wildlife Bill.

Before completing this general review of the Bill, I should like to refer to the provisions in sections 32, 33 and 34 relating to pecuniary or other beneficial interests in certain matters. The provisions as originally introduced related only to local authority members because it was hoped to deal on a more general basis with the position of officials and others. The sections were debated at length in the Dáil and, to meet suggestions made by Deputies, I introduced amendments on Report Stage extending the provisions to board members and other persons in so far as the matter could appropriately [1638] be dealt with in the present Bill.

Briefly, the requirements of section 32 cover the making of a declaration of any interest in land, any business of dealing in or developing land and any business, profession or occupation which relates to dealing in or developing land. Planning authorities and the board will keep registers of such interests and these will be available for examination by the public. Failure to comply with the requirements of the section will be an offence with a penalty of up to £250, or six months' imprisonment, or both. The requirements to be met where a person has a pecuniary or other beneficial interest in a planning or land acquisition matter coming before the board or a planning authority are set out in section 33, while section 34 contains supplemental provisions in regard to the taking of proceedings and disqualifications arising from conviction. Since planning is an area where decisions can involve considerable amounts of money and where people engaged in the implementation of planning control can be subject to considerable pressures, I see the provisions in the Bill as more in the nature of a safeguard for public representatives and officials than an imposition, they should help to preserve those concerned from any taint of personal suspicion in regard to decisions involving the development of land.

In the course of this Bill's passage through the Dáil I endeavoured to meet as many as possible of the suggestions put forward there. I feel we now have a comprehensive and worth-while piece of planning legislation, and I have no hesitation in commending the Bill to the House and asking for its early enactment.

May I conclude by repeating what I said in the Dáil when introducing the Bill? If any worthwhile amendments are put forward by any side of the House I will be only too glad to consider them. I believe the function of Parliament is to ensure that the best possible legislation will emerge at the end of discussions. Finally, with reference to the question of the declaration of interest, that is there as much to protect the characters of people in [1639] public life as it is to ensure that somebody who wants to be smart in public life does not get away with it. We have had, unfortunately, in the past wild allegations made, both in the media and otherwise, against people when no proof whatever was subsequently produced. In order to ensure that this sort of thing will not continue it is necessary for us to have in a Bill such as this the type of sections which have been included.

Mr. W. Ryan: Information on William Ryan  Zoom on William Ryan  I welcome the Bill. We on this side of the House do not wish any delay in the passing of this Bill because it is overdue. The last Local Government (Planning and Development) Act was passed in 1963 which is 13 years ago. While that was a good Bill we feel that it is only right that after such a period of time there is need for change, so that progress may continue.

I cannot understand why there has been such a delay with this Bill. Immediately after the Minister took office he told us it was his intention to introduce a Bill because he felt that there was a need for it. He introduced this Bill in the Dáil on the 13th November, 1974, more than two years ago. I can think of no other Bill in recent times which has taken that length of time to work from one House to the other. It is not even law yet and will not be for quite a while.

Many mistakes have been made, by the Minister in particular. The proper authority to make decisions as far as planning is concerned is the local authority, the local county council, corporation or urban body. I know that from time to time they make mistakes and it is only proper that people should have the opportunity of appealing to a higher authority, which is at present the Minister. The previous Minister for Local Government as in most cases upheld the decision of the local authority. Most, not all, appeals which came before him were turned down. I did not altogether agree with him in that. I felt that there were some appeals which came before him which should have been upheld. When the present Minister took office there was a complete about-turn and most [1640] appeals against the local authorities have been upheld.

I know of a few cases in my own county where the decisions were not proper. A garage was erected in Tipperary town at a very dangerous bend in the road and I questioned my local planning officer about it. He said that he did not give permission, he turned it down, but the man got it on appeal to the Minister. When that garage is opened I can foresee accidents happening there every other day. I have heard that quite recently some people bought a piece of land on the Dublin road outside Cashel, a road on which we feel houses should not be built. A group of houses will be built there where there is no water or sewerage. That was turned down by our local authority also. When it came on appeal to the Minister he granted the appeal. I feel sure that the reason the Minister was so anxious to grant those appeals was that he was trying to ensure that his traget of houses would be built each year. I honestly believe that, no matter where one asks the present Minister to build a house, one will be allowed to build it.

It is a pity this Bill was not made law 12 months ago or possibly two years ago and a lot of the mistakes made throughout the country would not have occurred. It is a good thing to see in this Bill that there will be an independent board to make decisions in future apart from the Minister. Any Minister of any party will naturally be pressurised. A board will be independent of politicians and everyone else and will be able to make a fair decision.

In this Bill it has been suggested that in future anyone lodging an appeal must also lodge £10 with the appeal, which could easily be lost. I believe that £10 is not enough. In the old days there were people lodging planning objection without any real grounds whatsoever. I know of a case concerning a garage where a man applied for planning permission to erect petrol pumps, and across the road there was another garage. The man across the road objected and he had no grounds for his objection. He held up the planning appeal for 12 months, and eventually the other man got his planning [1641] permission. I remember telling the person who was objecting that he could not hold the other person up for ever. He said he knew that but if he held him up for 12 months he, the objector, would do a good business for that 12 months.

This is a frequent practice. There are farmers who, not too friendly with their next door neighbours, when the neighbours applied for planning permission later put in some frivolous objection and held up planning permission for maybe 12 months. That is why I think £10 is far too low. Today £10 is not much money. It should be at least £100.

Another thing which worried me about the old Act related to farm buildings. If these were built without a roof—such as silage pits and so on —no planning permission had to be applied for. The result was that they were built alongside our main roads. A silage pit is something which is not too nice to have alongside main roads. I hope that in the new Bill steps will be taken to prevent buildings of that kind being built close to a public road.

Something else in the old Bill with which I disagreed with was that people could build anywhere they liked on old accommodation. In other words, if there was some wreck of a house on the side of a main road a farmer could decide to knock that down and build a new house there on the old foundations. We have all seen a number of these buildings on the side of the road. I hope that the new Bill will take steps to see that that does not happen.

We in Tipperary at the moment are having some trouble as regards the old Local Government (Planning and Development) Act and I am wonderin whether in the new Bill anything can be done about cases of this kind. I refer to the American industry which was to be set up two miles south of Clonmel, a clean industry which would give employment to at least 600 people and a major industry for this country. A group of people in that area decided to object to the planning permission. Their objection [1642] was over-ruled by the local planning authority. They appealed to the Minister and lost the appeal. I think that the Minister did put in some new conditions that the firm would have to accept. We felt very happy about that. We felt that at last, after almost 12 months, the industry would go ahead. Then, to our dismay we learned that those objectors were going to the High Court. Immediately the High Court was mentioned, the firm decided to go elsewhere and to build their first factory in Puerto Rico instead of Clonmel. We know that the industry is not yet completely lost to Tipperary. We hope that something will be done in the near future to see that we get the industry. What really worries me—and I suppose the same could apply to the new Bill— is that a person after being over-ruled by the local authority and the Minister — or by the proposed board — could say: “I will take it to the High Court”. The people who propose to put their money into the industry will not take a chance then. I hope that something will be done in the new Bill to prevent that happening.

That is all I have to say on this Stage. When it comes to Committee Stage we will have a good deal more to say on it.

Mr. Russell: Information on George E. Russell  Zoom on George E. Russell  I would like to give a very warm welcome to this Bill both as a Member of this House and as a member of a local authority for more than 30 years. Nobody in this House can complain about the length of time this Bill has taken to pass through the other House. Indeed, anybody who takes even a cursory glance at the Dáil Debates will understand the main reasons for the delay. The Bill was circulated in 1974, just two years ago. The Dáil Debates confirm that some 140 amendments were put down with which the Minister had to deal. There was generous praise from three of the Deputies who pursued the Minister for most of the time when the Bill was in the Dáil — Deputies Haughey, Faulkner and Molloy — at the conclusion of the debate on the final Stages of the Bill. I think we can say that it is legislation that was considered at very great length [1643] in the Dáil which was proper for legislation of this type which includes very many important amendments and additions to the 1963 Act. The Minister, true to his word, did give responsible and constructive amendments the fullest consideration and did include, both on Committee Stage and particularly on Report Stage, certain significant amendments to which I propose to make a short reference to in my contribution here.

The Minister said this morning that the main provision, the one which undoubtedly would receive most publicity and would probably get the warmest welcome from members of local authorities and I think generally from the public is the establishment of an independent board to deal with planning appeals. I think most members of public authorities—they have confirmed this from time to time—have felt critical of the decision of successive Ministers for Local Government. They felt aggrieved. Indeed, individuals and corporate bodies from time to time have been often incensed at what they thought was a decision wrongly made by the Minister. All sorts of accusations, amounting almost to bribery and corruption—certainly what I would describe as the least of them was political influence—have been hurled around the place. I would like to say that my experience over a long number of years has been that generally the successive Ministers have upheld the decisions of the planning authorities throughout the country. There have been what appeared to be inexplicable decisions from time to time by successive Ministers. Then the Minister's side of the case has hardly ever been, as far as I am aware, put to the local authorities or put generally to the public. A mystery has inevitably surrounded these decisions.

This independent board will do two things which I think are essential, perhaps because we tend to be a suspicious people by nature and we do not tend always to give credit where credit is due and bad words often seem to travel more swiftly than good words. This independent board will give an independent judgment on [1644] appeals referred to it and it will appear to be giving justice, which is equally important.

The second provision in this Bill which I like and which I welcome again as a public representative is that it does give some extra powers to the local elected representatives in particular under section 26 (3) whereby the elected representatives of local authorities may decide to amend their development plan because logically they are responsible for a development plan in their own local authority. I hope that members of local authorities will be responsible in their use of this new power. I would not like to see them taking advantage of this to make drastic or undesirable alterations to their own development plan. I can recall being chairman or Mayor of the Limerick City Council when the 1967 development plan went through after months of discussion. I would be very sorry to see drastic amendments to that plan which included many desirable sections, particularly those for the preservation of historical buildings and the provision of open spaces and amenities for residents in new housing areas. I would like to see all these things maintained as a matter of principle. I hate to think that the dictates of commerce—and I speak as a business man—would induce a local authority to make any unworthy changes in their development plan.

As a corollary to that new section 26 (3) the Minister has provided that the appropriate period for deciding the planning application to which the new procedure applies should be calculated from the day the notice required under the new section is first published, the relative period being two months. That is a welcome addition to the new powers being given to members of local authorities.

A further matter of contention for many years, and one on which I have expressed strong views from time to time, is adjusted or rectified in section 29, which provides for the withering of existing planning permissions five years after the Act comes into force or in regard to future planning permissions. That is a very worth-while [1645] amendment. Those of us who are members of local authorities have experience of land being purchased for alleged development of one kind or another and left there and in some cases subsequently resold at substantial profits.

Leaving aside the question of reselling and making a substantial profit, due in no way to what the potential developer has done — because he has done nothing — there is the question in the older cities, such as Dublin, Cork or Limerick, of open spaces acquired for certain developments and left there and constituting an eye-sore in the heart-centre of these cities. This provision will put a stop to that. The only comment I would make is that five years is too long. I regret that there is no retrospective element in the legislation. The Minister and very few people would agree but, from personal knowledge, it is one case in which retrospective legislation might be justified—possibly the only one because normally I am opposed to retrospective legislation.

On the general question of the lack of powers of members of local authorities, I wish to make a few comments. Perhaps some of these points are seeking clarification rather than making any striking comment. I am not quite clear—though I should be—exactly who or what is a planning authority. When the 1963 Act came into effect in 1964, with a great fanfare of trumpets, one of the things we were told in the Limerick City Council was that the effect of this measure was to put the planning powers firmly in the hands of the people's representatives. We were not long in finding out how untrue that suggestion was. It was not long after when the city manager was asked who was the planning authority and he replied cryptically and truthfully “I am”.

I do not intend to go through the Bill section by section, as this is obviously a matter for Committee Stage, but I would like to ask who are members of the planning authority. I know the Bill provides as to who the officers of the planning [1646] authority are but I am not clear from the terms of the Bill, or even before it was introduced at all, who are the members of the planning authority apart from the city or county manager. Are the elected local authority members members of the planning authority or is the planning authority confined to the manager and/or assistant manager and his officials? Following on from that, what rights have elected members of local authorities vis-á-vis the planning authority? The planning authority is the manager and/or his officials. I say this from past experience when the members of a local authority disagreed with a decision of the planning authority—the manager in this case. What is the position of elected members of local authorities if they disagree with the decisions of a planning authority? When I say “planning authority” again I am assuming the planning authority to be the manager and his officials.

Getting back to this new independent board, I would like to ask the Minister—again this question has relevance to experiences I had on one local authority over the years—if elected members of local authorities can appeal to the planning board against decisions of the planning authority, the planning authority again being the city or county manager and his officials? Unless the elected authority members are members of the planning authority, they should have equal rights with anyone else to appeal to the planning board against a decision of the city or county manager as the case may be. I know they can invoke section 4 and so on. That is not always a satisfactory procedure.

In regard to the proposed new board which will have a chairman, a former holder of judicial office or a holder of such office and not less than four and not more than ten ordinary members, what qualifications will these ordinary members have? I hope when the appointments are being made that people with the requisite qualifications to make decisions in regard to planning appeals will be appointed. I am sure the Minister will [1647] have in mind people retired from the architectural profession or even from local authorities, perhaps former members of local authorities with long experience. I have great regard, and I know the Minister has also, for the ordinary public representative who has freely given his time, energy and intelligence over the years to serve the public. I do not think enough appreciation is given to the lesser public lights in our public life. People who serve on even the smallest local authority, urban district council, town commissioners and so on, year after year give of their time at the expense of the time they should be devoting to their wives and families and to their work and recreation. They are unpaid and unsung heroes and, to my mind, they are the basis of our democratic local authority system. I am sure the Minister would agree with me in that regard.

I am using the memorandum as I find it more convenient than the Bill. It says that the term of ordinary members shall not exceed three years. I take that to mean that members will be appointed from time to time for different periods not exceeding three years. That may not be the sense of the Bill. The Minister might clarify that point.

Not only I but other Members from time to time have raised this old query —and in this regard the memorandum reads rather differently from the Bill but I will quote the Memorandum. It says in relation to appointment to the new board:

Any employee nominated as a member of Seanad Éireann or for election to either House of the Oireachtas or who becomes a member of a local authority shall stand seconded from his employment without pay.

I can understand the reason for the nomination because this would probably apply to the Taoiseach's 11. But when a person is nominated—this is repetition on my part but I will go on repeating it until something is done about it by some Minister, I hope, sooner than later—to either [1648] House of the Oireachtas he should not suffer any disability unless and until he is elected. He could fall between two stools. By standing for election he might sacrifice an appointment, promotion or even a job. If he fails to be elected, he has lost in both ways. Something should be done about this and, sooner or later, I hope it will be done.

As I understand the situation at the moment anybody can apply for planning permission over any land and need not necessarily be the owner of that land. In fact more than one person or one company or corporate body can apply for permission. Indeed, that has been done. I am aware of certain cases where owners of land were unaware of the fact that somebody else had applied for planning permission over their land. I wonder if that matter could be rectified if I am correct in the statement I have made, and I am sure that I am. I think that unless a person has some recognisable title to land or property he should not be allowed to apply for planning permission.

Any permission, as we all know, adds considerably to the value of land and it has not been unknown for people to apply for planning permission and, having got it, to sell the land for a substantial profit. I am all in favour of private enterprise, but I think there should be some reasonable time limit — the Minister has partly covered this — when a planning permission is given and something is not done. Five years, in some instances, could be too long. Incidentally, a point I would like to make to the Minister is that we see all along our main roads today, and outside cities and towns in Ireland, signs saying: “Land for Sale with Planning Permission”. In many cases they have received only outline planning permission; they have not received full planning permission. Some steps should be taken to safeguard a potential purchaser from this sort of misleading notice which does not fully explain the type of planning permission.

I am particularly pleased about the trouble the Minister has taken to ensure [1649] that planning authorities and local authorities will be encouraged to make proper provision for amenities and open spaces. I cannot over-emphasise — again from long experience—how important it is that every time a housing estate is developed adequate open spaces are provided. Even the present minimum requirement, in my view, is not enough and compares, as far as I am aware, very badly with the legislation in other countries.

I can remember a time when the whole emphasis was on building houses. It did not matter where you built them so long as you built houses. In fact, I can recall in one instance a long discussion as to whether or not houses should not be built on a playground because houses were more important than playgrounds. That thinking has changed for the better and now people are more interested in homes and by homes they mean houses with adequate open spaces available where children and young people can play and exercise themselves. These spaces are absolutely essential; it cannot be too often emphasised that a house is not a home unless you have these essential amenities around it: adequate open spaces, places where little children, or mothers with prams can go and take their children and see them play around in comfort. Then as the children grow up into teenagers they have room for football, hurling, soccer, rugby and tennis, to let off their surplus energy, because if they do not let it off that way they will let it off in some other and less desirable way.

I do not know whether this is covered in the Bill or not; I cannot pick it out specifically—when a housing estate is built it often seems a very long time before the roads are brought up to a proper standard. Most members of local authorities from time to time in their own areas have seen nice housing estates completed with the roads almost impassable. If you take the matter up with the local authority or city or county manager or town clerk as the case may be, you will be told unless and until the developer brings the roads up to the required [1650] standard they will not be taken over by the local authority. If the developer is delaying in that regard there should be some form of penalty. On the other hand, if he had brought the development up to the minimum requirements, the local authority should be required without delay to put the roadways and footpaths into proper repair. I mention this because nowadays when so many people have cars young couples rush in and buy houses and are no sooner landed in than they find the roads and footpaths almost impassable.

This is a very comprehensive measure. It is a great improvement on the 1963 Act, and in case the House should think that I am being too critical of the 1963 Act, I do not in any way wish to impute that. It was a very fine piece of legislation in many ways; it was the first significant step forward in planning legislation. It was a major step and all concerned with it, deserve the highest praise, particularly the former Minister, Deputy Neil Blaney. This is a further step forward in our planning legislation and it takes in areas wider and more comprehensive than the former legislation. The Minister is to be heartily congratulated on that. I only hope that the local authorities, particularly the public representatives on local authorities, will avail to the full of the powers in this measure.

I should just like to end on one note which I emphasised while I have been speaking. I want to re-emphasise it. It is the fact that I am concerned to ensure that local public representatives, the people who go before the public to be elected, will have the ultimate power, if such power is necessary, to appeal to this new board. Generally, local representatives work very well with their city or county managers. I think the whole viability of the local authority system depends on a close co-operation between the two, but occasionally a conflict can arise.

For instance, take my own native city of Limerick with which the Minister is familiar. Last year he came down there in connection with certain works which we had done on the occasion of the European Architectural Heritage Year. The centre of [1651] Limerick has been destroyed by the erection of unworthy commercial buildings and that has been going on for at least two decades and the local representatives seem to have no powers to prevent this. They can object to the type of building that is going up. They are told that this is necessary commercial development. I am all in favour of commercial development. I am a businessman myself. I see the necessity for replacing old buildings with new buildings. But in our cities and towns one of the great things we have, one of the things we can offer to outside visitors, the people who come here, is a tradition in our cities, of mainly Georgian-type buildings and a certain unique quaintness where there was never any town planning. Buildings grew up in a sort of natural affinity, one cottage, two houses and so on. They had a particular quality of their own which should be preserved.

Sooner or later some steps will have to be taken to answer the question: what type of cities and towns do we want? Do we want little Leeds or little Manchesters or little Coventrys? Or, do we want Ye Olde English Village copied here in Ireland or do we just want to turn the country into a poor replica of what has been done outside the country? I do not want that and I believe the Minister does not want it. I believe that the people who live in the towns and cities of Ireland do not want it either. We want to preserve what is worth preserving. We want to preserve the unique qualities of our cities and towns, their traditions.

We do not want to be obstructive or reactionary. We want to see progress, but I believe the two go hand in hand. We all have seen magnificent examples of new, modern buildings blending in with older buildings in cities and towns in Ireland. It is that type of sympathetic blending that I am appealing for. I should like to see some units set up in the Department where you would have qualified town planners—people who have “a feel” for cities. I am saying nothing against the competence or qualifications [1652] of the staffs of local authorities. I had reason on many occasions over the years to praise them for the work they have done. Most of them are not natives of the local authority administrative area in which they are employed. They go on from a small urban council to a county council or city council, as the case may be, and eventually they get to Cork, Dublin or elsewhere. That is as it should be, but they have not got the same feel for the local city or town as the people brought up in it. The local public representatives have a feel for it and they understandably may resent developments which in their estimation destroy the tradition and the appearance, quality and uniqueness of their native town or village. That is something we will have to measure up to because we have seen all over the place efforts to bring in beautiful model buildings, new modern glass and concrete structures, and shove them in among lovely Georgian buildings.

I am not against modern buildings. Some of them are magnificant and very fine structures and I hope people will go on building them, but they should be made compatible with the existing environment in which they are erected. They should not be taken out of some plan in Leeds or Manchester and stuffed into Merrion Square in Dublin or O'Connell Street in Limerick or Patrick Street in Cork, or more important still, on the outskirts of these cities. I hope some steps will be taken to restrict this type of development. Even if the local authorities want to do it, somebody in the Department of Local Government with an overall responsibility for the development of cities and towns in urban centres in Ireland should say: “No, we are not having that. This is unique. People come to see this place and it is good business to preserve it. If you are going to build new buildings make sure that they conform with the existing buildings”.

I am sorry to have been a bit long winded, but it is a bit of a hobby-horse of mine because I have grown up in an old city and seen many changes over the years, some good and some not so good and some appalling. I cannot [1653] resist the temptation to make my views heard by, I hope, a sympathetic Minister. This is a good Bill. It is to be generally welcomed. Apart from the comments I have made, which I hope the Minister will accept as being constructive and concerned, I have nothing else to do except to repeat my welcome for the Bill.

Mr. Brennan: Information on John J Brennan  Zoom on John J Brennan  The local authority to which I belong happen to be one of the first to accept town and regional planning when it was first introduced. At the time not so many of the local authorities were anxious to accept this. I happened to be one of the people who was enthusiastic about this because I realised the great damage that could and might be done and had been done to quite a lot of the structures that had already been erected — road alignment and so on. Had I known at that time that afterwards I would weave for myself a web of trouble I would have been long sorry to be so enthusiastic as I was then.

Far be it from me that my comments regarding the town planners or local authorities and Departments should do away with ordinary common sense. The fact is that the physical structure of the county to which I belong needs something of a special treatment rather than Meath, Dublin or Kildare, because they are flat country. Mine is a hilly country.

We were assured by our county manager and his officials and advisers, the people in charge of town planning, that we would not be given a world of trouble afterwards. It was given by the manager on the advice of the people in the planning office. I am glad to say, or maybe I should say sorry to say, that there has been a vast improvement in the attitude towards town or regional planning in recent times. People with more experience or vision have taken a different view. It would take a couple more hands than I have to count all the appeals that are made to us. It looked to me as if the people in the county council office took the line of least resistance. For fear they would make a mistake, they turned the appeals down.

I see that the Parliamentary Secretary [1654] to the Minister is here. His office was one of the offices that dealt with this. Those appeals reached such enormity that it would take a twoton or even a 10-ton truck to carry them. Those appeals lay there for years, not months. The result was that houses that should have cost a person a modest £4,000, £5,000 or £6,000 cost them £12,000 to £15,000.

However, I welcome the Bill because it is a step in the right direction. There may be parts of it that I do not completely agree with. I was very interested in Senator Russell's statement about maintaining the architecture that the people of Limerick were used to down the years. The city was famous for its architecture. I think that the cities, especially, fell flat on their faces for chrome. Public buildings like post offices and railway places had nothing only chrome staring you in the face—a chrome front here and a chrome rail there.

We in our town were assured by the county engineer and his advisers at the time that they would give us a link road around our town. They came along with a prepared plan which was very acceptable — at least I thought it was and my colleagues on the urban council thought so too. To our amazement, when this plan came to be revised we found that it had been completely scrapped and that they had allowed buildings to be erected which put paid to any worthwhile plan to relieve traffic in the main thoroughfare in the foreseeable future.

This has happened in many towns, and the people protested at the density of traffic in the main streets. This traffic brought no extra business to the towns and villages and, in fact, it proved to be a hazard which discouraged the local people from coming in to do their shopping. They could not get parking space for their cars. Link routes should be provided for every city and town to divert traffic from the main thoroughfares. At present is it almost impossible to drive through Clones, Monaghan, Castleblayney or Carrickmacross. There have been many accidents but, [1655] of course, they were not all caused by the density of traffic.

When I approached the Department of Local Government about some of the planning appeals I received a very sympathetic hearing. The officials were extremely helpful and eventually about nine-tenths of the appeals were granted. I was quite satisfied with the decisions and justice seemed to be done all around. When notices are inserted in newspapers about planning permission being sought for extensions to existing buildings and so on, it often causes owners to increase considerably their prices for land. I have a reasonable degree of confidence in the Department. They have gained much experience over the past years.

When this Bill comes before us on Committee Stage any shortcomings in it can be put right by amendment. Common sense will prevail. Planners, particularly those in the younger age group, often seem to take particular delight in turning down suggestions or altering them in some way, but all law is based on common sense. If common sense does not prevail no amount of legislation will improve our situation.

I do not know whether the matter I wish to raise now is proper to the Department of Local Government. Some objectionable industries have been allowed to develop in the proximity of local authority housing schemes. Perhaps this comes within the scope of the Department of Health, but the Department of Local Government should be concerned with it also. Senator Willie Ryan spoke about silage pits alongside county roads. I am not perturbed about the odour from these pits. I remember a story about a cruelty to children inspector who called to a house following a complaint about neglected children. He found the children in an extremely dirty condition and in due course a case was brought against the parents in the District Court where the father was fined. He appealed, and when the inspector was giving evidence about the condition of the children the Circuit [1656] Court judge asked him: “Was this dirty dirt?” and when the inspector replied that it was not, the judge remarked “Oh, I see, it was clean dirt”. I say the same about the silage pits. That is clean dirt, and I have no objection to it.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  I, like most Senators, welcome the new planning board which, as the Minister said this morning, is to be chaired by a judge of the High Court for the hearing of planning appeals. I agree with my colleague, Senator Willie Ryan, when he said that all planning should, in the initial stages, be at local level. It is only when unreasonable objectors are not satisfied with either their local legislators or with the decision of their local planning authority that matters should be taken further. This Bill will help to overcome problems which arose over a number of years. The Minister found himself in difficulties at times in the examination of planning appeals where objections had been made to planning appeals which had been granted by the local authority. Over the past 12 months County Tipperary has experienced the most extraordinary set of circumstances that anybody could ever tolerate in a democracy.

The Minister has tremendous courage in presenting a Bill such as this to the Houses of the Oireachtas. It gives away the sole right he had in the powers vested in him as Minister for Local Government to planning developers, the right to have decisions made by an independent board. We advocated this for many years while in Opposition. I am glad the Minister complied with our commitment to the public, that we would, as it were, grasp this nettle and put the area of planning outside the area of petty politics, be they party politics or otherwise, at any level, and into an independent board, chaired by a person of the calibre and standing of a judge of the High Court.

In future this appeal board will listen to the rights of people who they consider have a genuine right of appeal against a planning permission given by a local authority. I should [1657] like to outline further what Senator Ryan referred to in Tipperary. A major application from an American pharmaceutical company was intimated at a public relations exercise within the county, to which we as the planning authority brought the best brains available in the country to the offices, with the extra assistance of the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards, and in the process of that public relations exercise—we invited all the people we felt would be interested, not alone in the environment but in the industrial development, including the trade union movement and all the various prescribed bodies such as An Taisce, the fishing industry, all the people who had various and relevant interests in a planning application of this magnitude — we proceeded to have a public hearing before there was any objection. We bent over backwards to ensure that all their worries and any cause for concern they might have had would have been aired on that day. Many of them refused to turn up at that exercise.

We, as a planning authority, in the interests of the public allowed the planning application and an objection was lodged to the Minister. Following long and serious consideration of their objection, the Minister laid down the most stringent planning regulations ever laid down in this country for a pharmaceutical company, to such an extent that even the developers were concerned whether it was physically possible for them to achieve some of the Minister's requirements. Despite all that, they lodged with us a threat of a High Court action. That is where the matter lies today. They do not have to make any further move if they intimate that they intend to take the Minister to the High Court. They do not have to show cause for their threat.

As Senator Ryan said, the moment the Americans heard of a possible High Court case they sat on the fence. It is difficult to blame them when people are so blinded by their personal hobby-horses that they are not prepared to accept the best advice [1658] available, legal and otherwise, to the Minister and the planning authority: they just leave it in abeyance as a threat. This is a most extraordinary situation. Any Bill that allows this kind of situation is not a good Bill. The Minister is personally aware of this matter and I am sure he will agree it is imperative that we tidy up this situation to the best of our ability.

I hope this new board will make use of their powers to refuse an oral hearing unless a direction to do so is given by the Minister. This would eliminate these petty objections. References have been made to the fines it is intended to apply to objectors which would be refunded if their objections were legitimate. It has been said that this fine is too small. This is an area where we have to be extra careful. We cannot make the fine so large that it would do away with a person's legitimate right to object, if there was a legitimate objection. Provided that the fine is applicable to each individual signature to an objection, I think that £10 is probably a sufficient amount. To overcome some of these problems, planning authorities should make more use of the type of public relations exercise we had in Tipperary to help to dispel doubts in the minds of local residents.

Under the existing Act people have a constitutional right to object. We must also remember that under the Constitution people have a right to earn their living. This should not be denied to them by any small section of the community who, for vested interests or otherwise, continue with threats.

I have no time whatsoever for professional objectors who live in areas completely removed from the area of development. The objection in County Tipperary to which I referred brought forth objections from people living in Cork, Waterford and Louth who are just professional objectors to every planning application in this country. They have no interest whatsover in the area or the people who require work in the area or to people who are genuinely concerned with the environment.

[1659] An Taisce are an exception to this rule. They are a prescribed body under the Planning Act. They usually play a significant and responsible function in all planning applications, especially those affecting the environment. I compliment An Taisce on the attitude they adopted in Tipperary. They made no comment until they examined the area and then came out in favour of the planning application. They have members in most areas who possibly have a mandate to interest themselves in the development of all areas. They have proved a useful conscience for members of local authorities who are members of planning boards as well. They have reminded them of their responsibilities.

I should like this Bill to clarify in the minds of developers that in future once a decision is reached, whether by the Minister or by this new board, unless this decision can be looked upon as being repugnant to the Constitution objectors would not have the right to intimate their intention to appeal to the High Court. Would the Minister agree that, once a threat is initiated against us when planning permission is granted, whether on appeal to the board or by the local authority, there would be some limit on the time by which the threat would have to continue its course into the High Court, where at least a decision would be given, or whether a period of time to be stipulated and agreed by the House would be set down when they would have either to put up or shut up? This is not an unreasonable proposal, particularly when you find that the chairman of the council who issued an appeal to the final handful of objectors has been threatened by the objectors to be taken to the High Court for intimidating them for objecting. This is the situation we find ourselves in. I do not think any member of a local authority should be held up to ridicule by people like this.

Section 27 is a most important section. It provides for the right to go to the High Court in the event of [1660] planning conditions not being adhered to. It is a section which local authorities will welcome because it gives them the right and the power to implement the restrictions they have on unauthorised development, whether it is agricultural or otherwise. All development should be subject to planning rules. It is not just the smell, as Senator Brennan said, that concerns people, but the unsightly appearance of some of these buildings. We must ensure that the effluent from silage pits and so on does not get into rivers and streams and cause tremendous damage, as we know it does. So it is a vital section for planning authorities. It ensures that the regulations laid down by the local authorities or by the Minister will be adhered to by the developers and that indiscriminate development does not continue. If the board, on appeal, laid down regulations under this Bill I would be concerned that the authority would have to answer in the High Court for the implementation of a decision in which they were not involved in making. We like to defend people's rights, to ensure conditions are adhered to. If people had a reasonable regard for other people's rights we would not have some of the problems we now have in various counties with regard to industrial development.

Senator Ryan also made reference to certain developments within our county. I am personally aware of each house, garage and roadway which he talked about. Many of these roads would not have been restricted by anybody with any sort of a reasonable approach to people's efforts to either build a house for themselves or to better themselves. Certainly there were restricted roads under the previous Government. None of us agreed with them, not even the Minister himself. But because they are different, I know it is an embarrassment to Deputy Molloy and his followers in my county that we have now opened up the specific roads and have allowed reasonable development there. They are not national primary routes; there are no problems. In other areas in which planning permission was given under which the authority refused it, I am sure the Minister's [1661] officers looked at these with all due concern, and if permission was given, the people were justified in lodging their objections. To overcome that problem the local authority planning engineer and the county manager should take the local representatives' views more into consideration before he signs a refusal order, because once the manager signs an order refusing planning permission it can only then go to the Minister. Consultations between local representatives and the planning officer—indeed, with the developer on the site—can solve many problems. Initial problems can be overcome by discussion, and reasonable planning permission can be given without involving the Minister, or appeals or any other board. This should be looked for more so by members of authorities. Instructions should be given to planning engineers and managers not to refuse planning permission without consulting local representatives, because they know their own areas, know the developers involved, and know what the feeling of the people would be to a particular development. It goes on in some counties and is beginning to go on in our own county. I know it happens in Cork where they have relatively no section on planning. If this is how you get planning permission, the public will not view us with any great love as democrats. They see it directing a manager, by section 4, against his will, to give permission to a particular person. This creates attitudes in the mind of the public that local representatives must have a vested interest in planning applications. Therefore, I agree to remove the anomaly and I agree that there should be this declaration of interest. If they have any interest whatsoever in land or the development of land, they should certainly not sit on any planning committee or county council. Their consciences will be clear and the public will have been served notice by representatives that their decisions are usually given for the benefit and interest of the community as a whole.

Dr. Martin: Information on Thomas Augustine Martin  Zoom on Thomas Augustine Martin  Perhaps the Minister will forgive me if I do not concentrate on the positive elements of the Bill to start with, but voice a few criticisms [1662] of sections in which the Bill seems to be vulnerable. The Minister has heard nothing but praise for the Bill since we sat this morning. He is a modest man but perhaps too much praise, even for him, would be excessive.

My main point is that the Bill, while it is a good Bill and takes out of, as Senators said, the area of petty local politics the whole question of appeals about planning, because it removes the Minister from that area, is defective in not going far enough. Senator West and I have a motion on the Order Paper of considerably long standing which states:

“That Seanad Éireann, in view of the present rapid increase in urbanisation, mining, industrial development and other sources of pollution, is of opinion that a separate Department of the Environment should be set up with responsibility for the preservation of the country's scenery, wild life, fisheries, architectural and archaeological riches and other cultural and tourist amenities.”

I still hold the view that a Department for the Environment is required. The Minister has already referred to the Wildlife Bill which is under the supervision of the Ministry of Lands. It is certainly true that the environment, which, as Senators admit, is constantly and increasingly under threat, concerns at least the following Departments: Agriculture and Fisheries, Lands, Industry and Commerce, Local Government and Transport and Power. All of these have a bearing on the environment. It is inevitable that there will be, and have been, clashes of interest between these different Departments. The only way in which these clashes can be harmonised, or obviated, in the future is to have an over-arching Department or Ministry which will, more or less, take in in a much larger way the role of this Bord Pleanála. In other words, it would be a Ministry to which all other Departments, and particularly industrial development projects, would have to submit their plans before they went ahead. I know that this will certainly fall on hostile ears in so far as a great number of Senators are members of local authorities, [1663] but they will forgive me for pointing out that local authorities throughout the country have been successfully prosecuted for pollution of the environment and for water pollution. In a recent report of An Foras Forbartha, they have been named as the second worst offenders in the country in terms of water pollution. That makes one pause a little. How can planning and local authorities be the proper and final custodians of our environment if they are among the worst offenders?

It seems to me anomalous that the Water Pollution Bill, which has recently been passed in the Dáil and which will soon be coming to us for consideration, is under the purview of the Department of Local Government. In other words, the Department themselves, which have been named as one of the worst offenders in the matter of pollution, are vested with responsibility for the very offences which they have been found guilty of. That seems to be an unavoidable anomaly. It seems that a far more long-term, wide-ranging approach towards the environment involving a Ministry for the Environment would solve our problems far more successfully than this Bill sets out to do.

When one thinks about the whole range that might fall within such a Department, one thinks immediately of the very things that have been mentioned by Senators already: historical buildings, the landscaping of the countryside, unsightly buildings, the mutilation of our cities, particularly Georgian Squares, of which we have had some ferocious examples of late. There is one very distressing example at this moment in Fitzwilliam Square. You have the whole question of archaeological sites. You have the vacillation of the Minister over the Wood Quay site which has caused much trouble. An examination of all these matters can properly be carried out only under one authority concerned with the environment and the environment only.

That having been said, the positive aspects of the Bill have to be stressed. It is certainly an improvement on the [1664] situation where the Minister himself was the sole authority and the sole source of appeal. That has been very unsatisfactory, and I agree with the Senators who say that the removal of that aspect of the Minister's ministry, so to speak, is a good thing. I am as surprised as other Senators are that it has taken so long for the Bill to reach us in this form.

Before finishing I should like to deal with one question. The Minister has gone to great pains in this Bill to define who the chairman and employees of the board will be. He has very little to say about the ordinary membership of the board except that they can be planning officers. I would be interested to learn from the Minister what kind of person he has in mind for ordinary membership of the board, by what criteria will they be chosen? It is in the Bill that they will be appointed by him, but one would like to know what criteria would apply in terms of their qualification, otherwise the Minister might be open to the charge that he was appointing his own men anyway and that the board's independence was ensured only by its chairman. I am not suggesting that the Minister would do anything of the kind, but I should like to hear from him what criteria would be used in appointing members of the board.

The matter of declaration of interest, in regard to which Senator Horgan and Senator Higgins have a motion on the Order Paper, is dealt with in sections 33 and 34 of the Bill. That is particularly praiseworthy. It will obviously remove not only abuses but also suspicion of abuses. That is extremely valuable. I like very much the clause with regard to planning permission. There has been a good deal of unscrupulous profiteering in fraudulent outline planning permission of late.

Finally, I should like to compliment the Minister on the fact that he has shed power. That is always a sacrifice on the part of a politician. I suppose they are in the game largely for power and want to exercise it, as they think, benignly. In this case the Minister has been very scrupulous indeed and in [1665] section 6 has limited himself to giving the board a general direction. That is an admirable decision. However, the relationship between the Minister and the board and his issuing of general directives seems extremely vague. I look forward to the Minister's explanation of this on Committee Stage. Over and over again we see in the Bill “The Minister shall give directives”, “The boards shall take account of”, but do they have to obey the directives and what does “taking account of” mean in hard facts? It is very hard to say. There is a grammatical difficulty. Perhaps I am being too pedantic here, or maybe not legal enough. Section 5 (1) states:

The Board shall, so far as may in the opinion of the Board be necessary for the performance of its functions, keep itself informed ...

The board “shall”, that is prescriptive; that means the board must. It shall, but it need not. That formulation seems to cancel itself. However, it is a small point and it belongs to the Committee Stage.

By and large, the Bill is to be welcomed and I compliment the Minister on it. I should like to reiterate my belief that it is not the answer to the problem. The answer to the problem resides in a far more radical approach towards the environment and indeed in the creation of a ministry for the environment, as has happened in so many other countries.

Mr. Kilbride: Information on Thomas Kilbride  Zoom on Thomas Kilbride  I welcome the introduction of this Bill, which is long overdue. The Minister has done much to take a lot of suspicion from decisions made at local or ministerial level in regard to planning appeals. When the boards are established they should be representative of the various interests in the nation as a whole. It would be wrong if the people of purely urban or city background were to have the opportunity of making decisions in regard to matters of rural location. It would also be wrong to allow a situation to continue where somebody in a Department could tell a Minister that he had examined an appeal and that was his recommendation. The Minister, being human, [1666] would have to delegate very many of the decisions based on recommendations made by people like this. He would not be able to deal with every appeal, even if he were to devote all his time to it.

For that reason I feel that this board should be broadly based. It should be comprised of people with rural and urban backgrounds. All the personnel should have qualifications in regard to rural difficulties, pollution, and landscaping of the natural beauty of certain areas. The interests of the people should at all times be protected.

It is very important that local authorities be given the power to revise industrial planning from time to time and I welcome the provision where the local authorities may, in the light of experience, vary a planning scheme already adopted. That is a very good thing. A situation can arise where industry of a particular kind may be objectionable in a particular area, or on the other hand, a suitable location for a certain industry might have been designated as an intended residential area. Local authorities should have the right to alter residential and industrial planning.

One of the most objectionable aspects of previous legislation was that in many cases in countries and towns we had vested interests. As Senator William Ryan indicated, one person could object to another person pursuing his reasonable purpose in life—his reasonable industrial purpose —for the sake of certain opportunities. This meant that more wealth would accrue to a particular person in the immediate vicinity who felt that he was likely to come into competition with the proposed planner, industrialist or builder. The greatest abuse was exercised by way of objection. It is certainly necessary to have provision for objections. At the same time, it is very wrong to prevent people from doing the reasonable things they have a right to do. If reason and charity had obtained these objections would never have been made. Very often the reverse situation arises. For instance if somebody wants to curry favour with a certain section of the community, he can object to an industry. That industry [1667] is then shyed away from a locality because the people who have the application for planning permission are offered easy access to other areas and are welcomed into them. These practices make the objection provision very objectionable in itself.

The right of the individual should always be preserved. The people of a particular area should always be helped to better their positions. There is a considerable danger in that a person who does not own property might have the right to make application for planning permission. A person might feel that refusal of an application on the basis of an objectionable structure would have the effect of lessening the value of a property he wished to buy. That person could then buy the land, perhaps at a lesser price, and then submit different plans which would be accepted by the planning authority. The Minister should look into the danger of how that section could be abused.

We should have a more elevated method of finalising appeals than the see-saw methods we have, where the local authority can reverse an appeal, but the applicant can continue appealing. Section 27 refers to the rights of access to the High Court. There should be a judicial finality in regard to planning, not necessarily the High Court, but the right of the individual to go to the High Court should always be open. It is a constitutional right. If somebody went to the High Court as often as they served notices on individuals, not to speak of Ministers acting in the judicial or ministerial office, if anyone were to shy off from doing his legitimate functional work because such a notice had been served, a lot of work would be held up and a lot of people would be shying away from what they have done successfully. The Minister should not, in any sense, feel threatened by reason of High Court proceedings being taken by a planning authority or any other person.

Planning is vital at this time. The well-being of our children will depend on good planning. The landscape, the structures we have in our cities and towns, the health of the community [1668] and the well-being of the people generally depends very much upon it. The Minister has gained experience during the last few years from witnessing the initial working of the Planning Act. I am glad to see that he is removing planning appeals from the political arena. He is creating a situation where confidence and trust will obtain in planning decisions. When a decision is given nobody will be saying it was done through influence with a particular Minister. Planning will have as much weight as the Land Courts, or other courts where decisions are made. When that day comes we will have more respect for planning. The sooner the Minister gets to this stage, the higher the level of authority dealing directly with planning, the better for the people. I wish the Minister every success with this Bill.

Cáit Uí Eachthéirn: Information on Kathleen Ahern  Zoom on Kathleen Ahern  I welcome this Bill. The Minister very kindly said that he is quite prepared to take any suggestions or any amendments that we in this House can give him. But seeing that the Bill took so long in the other House, that it was so fine-combed and that he accepted over 100 amendments, the Bill will have a fairly fast passage through this House.

Like all other Senators I welcome the setting up of Bord Pleanála and I hope that this will expedite appeals, because my experience is that appeals took very, very long when they came to the Minister. This is only to be expected because he says that he had to deal with about 4,000 a year. I hope this new section will expedite the hearing of those appeals. Somebody made a point about the standards and qualifications of the people who will be on this board but I am confident that any Minister, including the present Minister will put on this board only people who have the good of the countryside at heart and a knowledge of planning.

Planning and development is an area where we should have great vigilance. I am just thinking of even my own village and I regret that our Government, whatever Government were in power 20 or 30 years ago, did not have the vision and the foresight [1669] to set up a planning authority because many of our villages have been spoiled by indiscriminate buildings and additions to the fronts and so on. We can do nothing about it now. All we can do in our time is to see that whatever is left, whatever is good, will not be further spoiled by indiscriminate buildings and structures and monstrosities and so on.

In the Minister's memorandum he said that it will take quite a while to transfer the functions from the present set-up to the board, but I hope he will do this as speedily as possible. I am glad also, like other Senators, that steps are being taken to deal with frivolous objections and frivolous and vexatious appeals. It is very good also that the board have the power to refuse oral hearings when they see the nature of the appeal.

Section 29 which deals with the withering of planning permission after five years, is a sensible section to have because the whole area for which a planning permission would be got, say, this year may have completely changed in five years' time.

Senator Martin believes that we should have a more comprehensive Bill. At the same time, this is a start. We are dealing with the physical side mainly in this Bill but the Minister has incorporated in it a section which deals with imposing conditions to protect us against noise, against pollution and cable and pipelines here, there and everywhere, the protection of trees and the protection of amenity areas. Even though he has not gone into those in detail Senator Martin does not have to be too worried. These things are looked after in the Bill, if not in detail.

One matter that I am very interested in is rights of way. I see that there is to be an amendment requiring that planning permission be obtained for the fencing or the enclosure of land which has long been open or used by the public. The Minister might specify there what length of time would be reasonable before the fencing in of these areas can take place. Only last week at our county council meeting I said that we should have a list or maps in our areas showing old, existing rights of way. Quite a few of these [1670] rights of way that people enjoyed for generations have been closed off. We should protect those rights of way.

It is only in places like Kerry and other tourist counties that we have very great difficulty because we have to ensure that the building blends in with the scenery in the area and that it does not upset the skyline or interfere with scenic views. That is to be welcomed, but we all know that there are hardship cases where somebody has perhaps just two acres of land in a very scenic spot and cannot make a living off them. He gets the chance of selling a couple of sites and the man cannot just part with them although it is probably the one and only time in his life that he could get a few bob. It does contain hardship cases like that.

Senator Martin referred to An Foras Forbartha, saying that the local authorities were the second worse offenders as regards water pollution. We can all be very critical but we cannot be blamed for something that happened 30 years ago and everybody thought that once sewerage was discharged into the sea or into a river it disappeared, unfortunately that is not the case. These sewerage schemes were laid 30 years ago without any consideration of pollution or the damage to beaches and marine life. It will cost thousands of pounds to treat the problem. Quite a few beaches and lakes are affected.

We are going to be in a very difficult situation within the next four or five years when the EEC regulations regarding beaches come into existence here. Whilst we have 3,500 miles of coastline we have only about 350 miles of beach and many of those beaches are going to be polluted. The water will have to be monitored and if there is a certain level of pollution those beaches and seaside resorts will not get a licence. They cannot. They will not be sanctioned as seaside resorts. I hope that the question of giving substantial grants to the local authorities concerned to enable them to combat this menace will be seriously considered. I have two places in north Kerry in mind. Their only industry is the tourist industry. We are spending millions of pounds bringing in foreigners to build factories [1671] and so on. We have a ready-made industry in those areas in Kerry. If they cannot get a licence to run a seaside resort they will be in a bad way. It will be their one and only industry wiped out.

I welcome the Bill. Naturally, after 13 years the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1973 needed many revisions. It is only in the working of many of our Acts that we can see the loopholes. All the loopholes have been closed now. I hope that local authorities and county councillors will give every co-operation and that the suspicion and favouritism bandied around here are gone. Whatever decisions are given by our local planning officers will be sensible decisions and I hope the councillors in every area will stand behind their planning authority.

Mr. Horgan: Information on John S. Horgan  Zoom on John S. Horgan  I welcome this Bill for two main reasons. First, while in planning terms it is a relatively minor Bill, the administrative procedures it sets up are very, very good and deserve to be welcomed by us and by anybody concerned with development whether public or private.

Secondly, for the first time in this country it writes into legislation the idea that there should be a public disclosure of any interests of elected representatives or, indeed, of public officials which might be held to reflect their judgment in planning matters.

I have had a motion on the Order Paper for over a year now urging the establishment of just such a register for Members of the two Houses of the Oireachtas. I am delighted to see in this Bill the beginnings of a move towards that. I am delighted to see the beginnings of a move towards full disclosure. I believe that in a democracy we should have nothing to hide. I will come back to that later. I wanted to bring it in at this point as part of the general reason why I welcome the Bill.

There are a number of good things in the Bill to which I should like to draw attention in some detail. The first is the Bill's explicit recognition of the fact that planning is a political process. We have had a lot of talk today—and [1672] I agree with much of it—about the importance of taking planning appeal decisions out of the hands of the politicians, specifically out of the hands of the Minister for Local Government. It is quite logical for us to agree with this and at the same time maintain that the Minister's overall powers with regard to planning must not only be retained but must be respected and built into whatever machinery is being set up by this Bill to consider appeals against the decisions of planning authorities.

There are few things which are more political, in the best sense of the word, than the quality of our physical environment. This is what planning is about. This is why I am so glad to see in the Bill the Minister's power and responsibilities with regard to setting down the broad outlines of a planning policy from time to time and making the new planning board aware of these policies and of requiring the planning board to operate within the general guidelines set out by him. It is a very good thing. I do not think we need to apologise for stressing the value of having planning in the political arena in this context.

Ultimately it is the Minister for Local Government, the Government themselves and, at another remove all our public representatives who are responsible for the kind of planning policy we have. They and we are the people who can be removed by an electorate who disagrees not only with planning but with other policies. It is important that the people who make overall planning policies should be answerable to the electorate. Ultimately, as I said, this person is the Minister for Local Government. He is answerable to the electorate. Because he is answerable to the electorate he has the power and the responsibility to determine overall planning guidelines.

At the same time, it is important that a lot of the detailed work of planning should be removed from his shoulders. This is what this Bill does by setting up a planning board. In general, the idea of the board and the composition of the board is a reasonably good one. I went to the length [1673] of circularising a great many Irish architects when this Bill was first published and asked them for their views on the Bill in general and on the board in particular. I was rather surprised initially to find out that many architects were rather doubtful about the wisdom of having a board instead of the Minister as the final arbiter on appeal. They tended to worry, for example, about the possible remoteness of a board and about its lack of involvement in day-to-day political, administrative and social affairs and that this lack of involvement might make decisions on planning matter to a greater or lesser degree irrelevant to the real need of the people making the applications or the areas in which they live.

There was also a certain amount of criticism of the Bill based on the originally suggested composition of the board. I think that many of these objections have been met by the amendments made to the Bill in the other House. I imagine that if I were to circularise the architects again I would have a more positive response to the general idea of a planning board. The board will be judged ultimately on their record. We look to the Minister to make it the best possible board so that their record will be something which will very rapidly win the confidence not just of architects but of people involved in planning and development at any level.

The second aspect of the Bill which I think is important — not necessarily in order of importance — is the withering clause for planning permissions. There have been occasions, and there still are, where the granting of very large-scale planning permissions, for example, for large housing estates, has put many local authorities in a very difficult position. If planning permission exists for a very large housing estate in a certain area, the local authority have to bear in mind the necessity and, perhaps, the obligation to service this site. They have to either earmark funds on a contingency basis or prevent other schemes from going ahead until a decision has been made on the one for which [1674] initial planning permission was received. This has tied local authorities in knots in one or two instances. The idea that planning permission should wither after a period of 5 years is a useful one.

The third point which is useful in the Bill is the Minister's power to make regulations for planning authorities. There are many things in the Bill which at first sight seem to give the Minister unnecessarily wide powers but in so far as planning is, and should be, a national exercise it is very important for the Minister to have the power to make these regulations for planning authorities so that we can have some kind of uniformity, some kind of conformity as between one area and another.

The fourth point which is good in the Bill — I really cannot overrate the importance of this — is its explicit statement to the effect that an inspector who prepares a report for the board or for the Minister can make recommendations. In the past, under the system of administration, the inspectors have been rather shadowy figures. They are supposed to write reports on which decisions are made but it has been doubtful whether or not they could make recommendations. The way in which the evidence was presented in many of these reports effectively amounted to a recommendation, but their inability explicitly to make recommendations must have hampered many professional inspectors in the proper exercise of their functions. They will be helped considerably in their work under the provisions in the Bill and I would hope that their reports will be a significant addition to our general approach to planning. We must accept that the inspector, as the professional on the spot, is likely to make a good assessment of a situation. The assessment of the situation may not necessarily carry the day but if he is allowed to make recommendations any decision which goes against the recommendations will have to be explained in its own terms, for very good reasons.

The fifth point which I find valuable is that the board can examine matters which have not been raised on the [1675] appeal. This is an interesting development, in so far as judicial or quasi-judicial bodies usually proceed only on the basis of evidence presented to them. The Bill widens the scope for a particular planning board and enables them to study anything which, in the opinion of the members of the board, is relevant, as long as they give notice of this to the people making the appeal or to those who are resisting it and afford them an opportunity to comment on it. Good planning depends on the maximum amount of information, of discussion and disclosure available. This is well catered for in the Bill.

A sixth point—although it is a relatively minor one—relates to the power of planning authorities to make orders for the preservation of materials. This was sought for very keenly by various interests, An Taisce and other people involved in the general preservation area, and the way in which it has been met by the Bill is generous and whole-hearted. It is no small thing to say that, whatever about our exterior townscapes and our countryside, some of the physical interiors of buildings are among the most precious part of our heritage and I am glad to see that the Bill encourages their preservation.

A final point I should like to make in this part of my contribution about the basically good things in the Bill is that it will make the whole business of drafting development plans much more meaningful than it has been up to now. We are all familiar with the experience of the Dublin draft development plan to which there were no fewer than 15,000 objectors. In this type of situation the danger is that none of the objections is taken seriously because the mechanism for considering the problems is inadequate and unequal to the task. Under the new procedure being set up under the Bill the formulation, publication and debate about development plans on an area or even a regional basis will be a more positive and useful exercise.

I now refer to some matters which are, perhaps, debatable and to which the Bill should have given more attention. [1676] Is it entirely appropriate that the chairman of the planning board should be an acting or a former judge? I have not got any strong views on this but there is a substantial body of opinion which would urge that the nature of planning is really indicative rather than legal or administrative; that, fundamentally, it is a policy matter, something which not only requires but demands flexible interpretation. There is hesitation in some quarters about the idea that the chairman of the planning board as a judge or a former judge might be encouraged to view planning simply as a matter of determining law. There have been some decisions in the not too distant past when judicial decisions in planning areas have raised this problem because the judges as, perhaps, strict constructionists have tended to look only at the letter of the law and have allowed no latitude for its spirit. One case, the Bray Urban District Council versus Finn, was a judicial decision on a planning appeal which has now been reversed by one of the sections of this Bill. I understand why it was decided to choose a judge, especially in view of criticisms made in the other House and indeed, outside both of these Houses. It was seen that it was essential that the chairman should be of maximum impartiality. I put it to the Minister— and I should be glad to hear his comments on this—that if the chairman is to be a judge, perhaps, the Minister's directions to the planning board should include a direction or directions which would enable such a judicial person to act, not in a strictly judicial way, but in a way that will take account of more of the circumstances and of more of the context of planning decisions than a judge, strictly as a laweyer, could or would do.

The other point I make is about membership of the planning board. It is a pity that it is not stated in the Bill that at least one member of the planning board should have planning qualifications. I accept it is unlikely that the board would not include somebody with planning qualifications but it would be no harm to give statutory force to such a requirement. [1677] People with planning qualifications are thin on the ground so it is all the more important that a planning board should have the services of the best planning minds available. I urge the Minister to give statutory recognition to the importance of planning qualifications among members of the board by writing in that at least one member should possess such qualifications.

With regard to inspectors' reports, it is not clear whether or not the board will have power to publish or release reports drafted by inspectors at its request. If it is necessary to give the board statutory authority to do this I would urge that it be included in the Bill. If the Minister is of the opinion that it is not necessary and that the inspector's report may be published by the board at its discretion, then I would be happy with such an assurance.

One of the great weaknesses of the planning system in the past has been that the inspectors' reports have not been published. Because they have not been published applicants and planning authorities have been left very much in the dark about the reasons on which planning decisions are based. This has produced a climate in which allegations of political favouritism have flourished, even when, as in the huge majority of cases—I am convinced — the decisions were made on genuine planning grounds, very often in line with the report of the inspector.

I would like to see emerging from this Bill and from the establishment of the board the publication from time to time of inspectors' reports which would add up to a substantial corpus of planning guidelines, if not planning law. These would be an enormously helpful guide to applicants and to planning authorities. Some of the more well-known planners in Great Britain have, in fact, initially created their own reputation as public inspectors whose reports on major development schemes were published over their names. This would also do something to underwrite the importance of the inspectorate in the general area of planning.

Debate adjourned.

[1678]Business suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.


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