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

Thursday, 1 April 1976

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 83 No. 18

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

Mr. Horgan: Information on John S. Horgan  Zoom on John S. Horgan  Before we adjourned, I was urging on the Minister the importance of having inspector reports published. This would make available a large volume of planning reports which would be of considerable interest, even important. It would mean that with each planning appeal decision we would have the reasons for the decision. Therefore, we would be [1690] able to compare the reasons given for the decision on the appeal with the inspector's report and make up our own minds about it. We are hopefully moving into a whole new era in planning in which instead of the famine of information we have had up to now, we will have a vast amount of information about planning decisions. Such a vast amount of information cannot but be helpful to people who are interested and concerned about preserving and legitimately developing our physical environment.

I would now like to move on to a third point of ambiguity in the Bill about which I am not altogether happy. “Ambiguity” is perhaps not the right word. What I would like to do is to pose a question to the Minister as to whether he has really worked out in detail the implications of one particular aspect of the Bill. That is the one which empowers local authorities to acquire and carry out work on open space which has been left unfinished by developers. I am very conscious of the fact that this particular power is something which many residents' associations and local associations ask the Minister to give to local authorities.

It seems to me to have implications which might not be altogether desirable. For example, it seems to imply that local authorities in this situation will virtually have to set up their own parks Departments. They will have to expand employment in order to service these areas and of course will have to recoup the expenditure from the local ratepayers in respect of this. This could become a very costly exercise for local authorities.

I wonder why this particular change has been made at this time other than in terms of the requests from local resident associations and so on. As I understand the situation, the usual mechanism adopted to ensure that development was carried out in an appropriate manner is the posting of a bond by the developer — an insurance bond which more or less guarantees that he will carry out the final work, the landscape of the open space and so on, in accordance with his planning permission. The Minister [1691] should tell the House whether this system has been weighed in the balance and found wanting and if this new provision is now intended to take the place of the bond system. To my mind the bond system, in that it was the financial and administrative responsibility of the developer, is a better system if it can be made to work. We should be slow to pass legislation which would more or less encourage developers to skimp on their responsibilities in the knowledge that the anger of the local residents will be turned not on them, as it should be, but on the local authorities.

There are a couple of matters I would like to refer to which I am sorry not to see included in the Bill. There are many aspects of this Bill which represent a tidying up of the 1963 Act and an addition of various matters which were not covered in the 1963 Act. I think it a pity that there are not more of them. There are a couple of specific ones I would like to bring directly to the Minister's attention. The first and perhaps the most important one is that there is still no provision in the Bill or in our planning legislation generally for having special inquiries for major planning applications. I am thinking especially of major planning applications which are made to relatively small understaffed local and planning authorities.

This is a matter which is, if anything, going to increase in the very near future with the development of our offshore resources, whether oil or gas. These are quite likely to take place off the territory of relatively small local authorities and may indeed in some cases affect more than one local authority. At the moment there is no provision for a special inquiry at the point of initial application for a major scheme like this. I am thinking of a scheme such as the gas one in Cork or if oil is found in the Irish Sea or in the Atlantic on the Continental Shelf—a scheme which will be of national importance. It is absurd to expect a very small local authority with little or no planning expertise available to it to sit in judgment on what is fundamentally a [1692] planning application of national rather than local importance.

As things stand at the moment most local authorities face this kind of situation. They will almost always refuse development permission on the grounds that it will then go to appeal and the ball will be out of their court and into the court of somebody more qualified to deal with it. This is to my mind putting an unnecessary step into the process. It should be possible to handle national applications other than by way of continual appeal— applications for schemes of national importance.

I should like to see the Minister writing into the Bill a provision that the board themselves, perhaps on request by a local authority, may institute a special inquiry for major applications. This sort of special inquiry would be held on terms and conditions decided by the board. This would be a form of assistance to the local authorities concerned, especially smaller and poorer ones, and would produce a much better standard of discussion at the level of the initial application.

The second problem—and this is one which has been referred to by other Members of this House—is the delay in deciding appeals. The Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland in their initial submissions on this Bill, of which I have been given a copy, call very strongly for a time limit on decision. There is a very strong case to be made for this. Every architect who individually contacted me about the Bill also made the case for a time limit on appeals.

I would be grateful if the Minister would let us know what the average delay on appeal is at the moment. One figure I have been given by a practising architect suggests that there is an average of 32 months between submission of appeal to the Minister and the decision by the Minister on this appeal. We are obviously moving into a different situation with the establishment of the planning board. We must not ever allow this sort of situation to happen again. I would urge very strongly on the Minister to consider either a directive to the board or [1693] to write into the Bill that planning appeals should be deemed to have succeeded unless a contrary decision is given within a stated time. The board already have power in the Bill to take applications out of sequence if they considered this necessary for any reason. This underlines the possible value of having a time limit on appeal. It can be done by ministerial directive. It might be better to do it that way than to write it into the Bill. One way or the other, I believe it should be done.

A third area which I am sorry the Bill has not touched in more detail is that, in spite of its initiative with regard to the preservation of house interiors, it still contains no provision for conservation areas as such. It is possible for local authorities to identify individual buildings which they would like to see preserved; but it is not yet possible here, as it is in Northern Ireland, for a local authority to specify a whole area as being worthy of special consideration in terms of planning and development. Such an area might be a townscape like Upper Leeson Street; it might be a Gaeltacht village; it could be in any part of the country.

It is important that we have some kind of provision to allow local authorities to establish conservation areas like this. I am not suggesting that these areas should be preserved in aspect for all times, because it is obvious that some development has to take place at some time in almost all of these areas. But the areas should be regarded as of such importance from the point of view of environment generally that no development should take place without special scrutiny and, in particular, that demolition within these areas should not be exempt.

We are all familiar with what happens in towns and in the country with regard to demolition. The demolishers move in and it is a matter of knock down the house and ask questions afterwards. This is a form of blackmail because once the house is gone the planning authority is committed more or less to accepting something in its place, irrespective [1694] of how much out of character that new something may be. This form of blackmail could be defeated by, first of all, giving local authorities the power to create conservation areas and, secondly, by insisting that demolition in these areas would not be exempt. Thus a developer who wished to develop in a conservation area would have to approach the local planning authority and say: “I want to knock down No. 16 or No. 25 to 28, and this is what I want to put in its place.” The planning decision on the application can then be taken in terms of the whole context of the situation and not in terms of a gaping hole which somehow has to be filled.

It is important also that opportunity should be taken in the Bill to simplify the special amenities order procedure. This was introduced in the 1963 Act. It has not been widely availed of or indeed availed of at all, so far as I am aware, up to now. If this power has not been availed of by local authorities something is wrong. Perhaps it is the wrong power. I suspect that the procedures suggested for it are too complex and perhaps require unnecessary ministerial approval.

Related to the question of conservation areas is the unfortunate fact that there is no provision made whereby scheduled buildings and interiors can be supported financially by local authorities. It is not good enough for local authorities just to schedule a building or an interior and say that they should be preserved. It is possible for the owner, if he happens to be an unprincipled developer, to let the building collapse. Statutory powers should be given to local authorities to contribute, if necessary, in a modest way and perhaps, with the approval of the Minister, to the maintenance of scheduled buildings.

Another matter that has been brought to my attention by members of the architectural profession is the continuing dismay at the way in which section 4 decisions are still being made by some local authorities. This causes alarm and despondency and in a sense [1695] undercuts the whole idea of planning and the purpose of the Planning Act. It certainly undercuts anything like a national or regional policy. It appears that this loophole has not yet been stopped up in the Bill and I urge the Minister to give it serious attention.

The lack of planning expertise, which I spoke of earlier, has two main effects in our planning situation generally. The first is that there is a dearth of planners. Few people working in local authorities have planning qualifications and these are concentrated on the eastern seaboard. They are very often not to be found in areas in which the greatest damage is being done to the environment. This is directly related to the fact that there is no proper career structure for those with planning qualifications. Highly qualified people who enter employment with planning authorities as planners often find that their avenue to the top, their career structure, is blocked at a relatively low level. If they want promotion they must move into another area, such as engineering. There are people with excellent planning qualifications who are occupied now solely in engineering or sanitary services. These are estimable services but they are services that are not directly related to the qualifications and particular abilities of these people. There is a real need to open up a career structure for planners, right up to the level of county planning officer. The Minister, through his Department and his relationship with the local authorities, should encourage this. If we do not do this, we will be left with the situation that planning is a low level activity within each planning authority and in which real responsibility never really attaches to the people with planning qualifications.

Section 15 of the original Act allows a local authority to pay for the education of planners. It is a good section and one which has been availed of in the past. Unfortunately it is possible for a young planning student, who has got support from his local authority—say in the west of Ireland —to follow a course in Dublin, to [1696] take a position when he qualifies with an eastern seaboard local authority. The section should be amended or directives should be issued in some fashion to ensure that people whose education in planning is supported by their own local authorities will return for a certain period to that area and give it the benefit of their planning expertise. This is a modest proposal. It would not cost any money. It would be a simple administrative arrangement to carry out and I strongly recommend it to the Minister.

One of the biggest gaps in the Bill is the areas of exemptions, which are still very large. Agricultural development is still exempt from planning permission. In the old days agricultural development meant perhaps putting up an outhouse or a shed or a haybarn. There was a good reason for exempting it from planning permission. There are about 40,000 planning applications every year and obviously if all farming developments were to be included it would make the burden of planning authorities even more impossible than it is at present. But we have reached the situation where some identifiable farm developments are so large and have such an overwhelming effect on the environment that we are cutting our own throats if we allow them to continue without planning permission.

There are controls on major agricultural development relating to pollution and so on, but I question if these controls are enough. The best control is by the Planning Act and some of these major developments should be brought in under its scope. If a factory is set up to deal with 3,000 pigs it will produce roughly the same amount of effluent as a town with 12,000 people and it can be done without planning permission. For the sake of the environment and the community generally, this must not be allowed to continue.

This leads me to a fundamental point which the Minister, as one who comes from a largely agricultural constituency, would, I hope, appreciate. There is not enough connection made in the Bill or in planning policy generally between agriculture and planning. Planning policies for the [1697] rural areas, and especially the areas reasonably close to towns, take little or no account of the special character of agriculture. Planning decisions given on a completely piecemeal basis have the effect of creating urban fields, little pockets of bricks and mortar right in the middle of agricultural land for individual dwelling houses, which not only affect the general aspect of the environment but may have in the long term a very deleterious effect on our agricultural production. It is very tempting for a farmer who is temporarily short of cash — if there are any such nowadays — to realise a bit of capital by selling off a field, or half a field, for a house and making a couple of thousand pounds on the transaction. This is killing the goose that lays the golden egg. There is no way in which the return to that farmer from selling the land will ultimately make up for the loss to him in cash terms of the agricultural produce which it could support over an extended period.

Another important aspect of the relationship between planning and agriculture in rural areas is that planning policy in general seems to be careless and heedless of the need to establish sensible settlement patterns. There is a strong tendency nowadays for people to move five or six miles out of town to the peace and solitude of the country and build their little house in a corner of some kind farmer's field. We ignore the fact—if we continue to allow this to happen — that by allowing and, in some cases, encouraging spot development like this we are encouraging a settlement pattern which will have an enormous effect on our energy consumption in the future. For a family living in that kind of house having two cars is not a luxury. It would be an absolute necessity. At a time when we are trying to reduce our overall consumption of energy, it seems we are adopting, without too much thought, patterns of settlement which are almost designed to increase it. I would ask the Minister in his exercise of his general political function with regard to planning to bear these matters in mind.

I welcome the point raised by the Minister and incorporated in the Bill [1698] relating to the declaration of interest. I welcome this proposal and I should like to think I am partly responsible for it. I wish to point out that requiring individuals involved in planning decisions to disclose their interest is really only tackling one-third of the problem. The web and the nexus of influence and of vulnerability in connection with matters of this kind involve not just individuals. The political associations of which they may or may not be members are involved. Also involved are the people who may seek to influence their decision.

Something along the lines of what the Minister is suggesting for members of local authorities has already been incorporated in the law of the United Kingdom and has helped to spotlight a situation in which very many public representatives have outside interests and are required to declare these outside interests in order that their actions may be seen to be completely above board. I should like to see us going even further in this direction than the Minister has gone. I should like to see us going in the direction that would require similar disclosures of interest by political parties. Several countries, including Belgium and Italy, already have legislation which requires political parties to publish their annual balance sheets in order to qualify for the very substantial State subvention they at present get to help them carry out their business. Political parties in this country do get a substantial subvention from the State and I see no reason why they should not be asked to disclose reasonably detailed balance sheets as a precondition for receiving a State subsidy.

The third area in which I should like to see more progress is to require people who actually make contributions to individual politicians or to political parties to identify themselves, or at least to require the recipients of these gifts to identify themselves. Many countries have adopted legislation along these lines. We are very much in arrear in legislation in this field. In the United States, for example, every political party and political individual has to publish the identity of any person who gives him more [1699] than £30 by way of a political contribution in any one year. While we have here the beginning of an attempt to require disclosure of interest related to individual public representatives, which is welcome, I should like to see it extended into the area of political parties and the sources from which the political contributions come.

There are particular problems for local government because local government public representatives are unpaid. Therefore, they are especially vulnerable to the sort of pressure that can be brought to bear on them. I am not suggesting that public representatives who are paid are completely invulnerable to the same sort of pressures. That is obviously not true. There is a special pressure on the unpaid public representative.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Senator Horgan should not make that statement.

Mr. Horgan: Information on John S. Horgan  Zoom on John S. Horgan  I apologise to the Minister if he took it amiss. It is not intended as a reflection on any public representative, paid or unpaid.

Mr. Russell: Information on George E. Russell  Zoom on George E. Russell  Senator Horgan is not a member of a local authority.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Senator Horgan may not mean it in that way, but it will be taken up and published as such. It is unfair that it should be made at all.

Mr. Horgan: Information on John S. Horgan  Zoom on John S. Horgan  If the Minister is of that opinion, I would unreservedly withdraw that suggestion. It was not my intention to make it. Like the Minister, I saw the provision as being a safeguard and not a threat, a safeguard against the kind of allegation which, as he says, has been made.

I would go even further if I could to suggest that, now that a safeguard is to become part of our law, we should give even more power to local representatives. We should recognise the fact that local government is an absolutely essential part of our democratic structure. We should be devolving real power—more power than they have at the moment—to our local representatives. Having said that and having apologised for what I believe is a misunderstanding, I would commend the Bill to the House.

[1700]Mr. Cowen: Information on Bernard Cowen  Zoom on Bernard Cowen  Like other members of the Seanad, I would like to welcome this Bill. This Bill has had a long airing in the Dáil. It was first introduced in March, 1974, because it has gone through many sitting days since and has been probed very well, and the Minister has accepted many amendments to this legislation, we can be assured that the Dáil has done a very good job on the Bill. I do not intend to detain the Minister or the House too long in speaking on it.

As we are all well aware, there are industrial development zones in most towns of which, naturally, the local authority have control. I noticed while driving through Britain—the few times I was there—that they seem to have their industrial zones well separated from the actual towns and villages. The reason for this may be the fact that it is a long established industrial country. Here it is quite the reverse. The towns are there and we try to develop the industries within the vicinity of those towns and villages. When travelling through the country, I notice that it is a bit lop-sided in that respect. We seem to have industries pitched in the centres of villages and towns. It may not be the case everywhere, but there are isolated cases of bad planning.

Anyone involved with local authorities will realise that the judgment of the person in charge of planning can be over-ridden by the county manager. I had hoped that the final decision would be left with the planning personnel. It is quite probable that a county manager, for some unknown reason, might not be on the best of terms with a planning officer and might have very different views with regard to the decision of a planning officer. This legislation does not alter decision making at local authority level.

When appeals went before the Minister, irrespective of who was Minister for Local Government, they took a very long time. I welcome the three main changes in this legislation. The main one is the establishment of An Bord Pleanála which takes over the work of the Minister. The second main change is the strengthening of provisions in the 1963 Act relating to unauthorised [1701] development. The third change amends various provisions in the 1963 Act which need improvement to make them more flexible and effective. I welcome the fact that public representatives will have to make disclosures in regard to owning property in the area in which they serve. From my own experience, I know that people involved in local authorities are very open-minded in this and I have never come across anyone who was reluctant to reveal his involvement in any land developments in the area which he served. I suppose there was a general sense of suspicion that planning was a political decision. For that reason I welcome this proposal.

Senator Horgan referred to planning permission not being essential for farm development. I know of one particular case myself. Three or four people had built modern bungalows where there was an actual housing site left between two or three of them, and a farmer came along and built an outhouse. That farmer should not have been allowed to erect an outhouse on that site. He had plenty of space at the rear of the site. The fact that he did not have to get planning permission to erect that farm building is wrong. Action should be taken to ensure that this does not continue. Another point to be raised is that of planning permission being granted in the business centres of small towns and villages. A pre-cast bank was built in the centre of a business street in a village, which spoiled the environment in that village. The Minister should do something to ensure that buildings are in alignment with their surroundings.

The Minister should investigate these matters, particularly in regard to farm development. In most cases, the farming community do not interfere with the existing housing structures in an area, but, on the other hand, farm buildings have been erected which do little to enhance existing building development. Perhaps the Minister could do something to alleviate this problem.

I welcome the Bill. Any legislation with regard to planning development must be short-term, particularly in such a small developing country as [1702] this. It is quite possible that further changes may be needed within another five or ten years. Although the 1963 Act has functioned fairly well for the period of its existence, this legislation is needed at this time and I totally welcome it on that basis.

Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  I have not got a lot to say on this Bill. Generally speaking, I think my views would run counter to those of Senator Horgan. I approach this measure and planning control generally on the basis that, while I do not think it can be questioned that it is a necessity, it can be very much overdone. I am afraid that we are becoming too planning conscious. Having said that — and my views as expressed will, no doubt, be misunderstood by some and possibly misrepresented by others — I want to make it quite clear that, generally speaking, I do recognise the necessity for planning control. I think we should be on our guard against overdoing it.

I have a number of things in mind when I say that, which distinguish my point of view from Senator Horgan's. It is quite right that in our approach to planning generally we should go as easy as possible on agricultural property. The Minister has made it quite clear that, since he became Minister, he wanted planning authorities to approach the question of planning permission on a sensible and realistic basis. That is the correct approach. I would feel that, particularly in times of economic difficulty and recession, in so far as planning authorities can do it, they should be encouraging development, certainly in times of economic difficulties, in times when there are large numbers of unemployed, where you have the entrepreneural type of developer who is prepared to take a chance in development. He should be encouraged because of the additional money that will be put into circulation by his efforts, the additional employment he is going to give. In times of economic difficulties we should to some extent back-pedal as far as being too rigid on planning control is concerned.

I do recognise the necessity for planning control. I do recognise the [1703] undesirability of allowing harmful types of development, or allowing what I might describe as disfiguring types of development, particularly in scenic areas. The more planning control we have the more it is necessary to increase vastly the planning staff of local authorities if the entire works are not going to get bogged down. When I say that, I have a number of things in mind. Most of us know, roughly speaking, the procedure to obtain planning permission for any development at the moment. It is necessary to give notice in the newspapers, to make the application where the planning authority have a couple of months to come to a decision, where possibly there are going to be negotiations or an exchange of views between the architects and the planning authority, and where plans submitted are considered and alterations of one sort or another suggested. All that in itself takes a great deal of time and eventually permission is either granted or not granted. I would have no idea of the percentages, but certainly in a very substantial number of cases where planning permission is either granted or refused the whole matter ends up in an appeal to the Minister for Local Government. Some time ago the Minister must have had between 2,000 and 3,000 appeals on his desk for decision. These are not all appeals by people who have been refused permission because it is nearly as common a practice for local residents' associations, in particular, to appeal when development permission is granted for housing development adjoining them.

This brings me to another of the points which I think will be resented by some people, but I think it should be said. I do not think the pressures on members of local authorities by people who are interested in getting planning permission are nearly as numerous as the pressures exerted on members of local authorities, certainly in the Dublin and County Dublin area, by residents' associations. Residents' associations can and, I think by and large do, play a very useful part in community life but I have the impression that residents' associations [1704] are frequently urged by their members to object to residential development taking place in estates or fields and so on in their area because they have become accustomed to living in an area with large open spaces near them which are right for development. Members of residents' associations who have become accustomed to living in that kind of comparatively free area so far as development goes do not like to see houses going up. It does not seem to occur to them that they would never be in their own houses had objections been made to the development proposals when their houses were being erected. Members of local authorities are continually being subjected to pressure. There is nothing undemocratic in it. Quite the contrary. But being subjected to pressure with regard to planning decisions by residents' associations is very hard for a member of a local authority to withstand. Certainly in new residential areas, where there is an active residents' associations with a big membership, the attitude of the residents' association at the time of an election may be of crucial importance to the candidates. I merely mention this as one of the pressures that are there and it is more important in many ways than the pressures from people seeking permission for development. It is something that has to be noted. Perhaps it would be as well if at some stage we thought about it in the context of what is being done in this Bill.

The idea of setting up the planning board is an excellent one. It removes what might perhaps be described as the dangers that exist in the pressures that I am talking about. It is provided in the Bill — I questioned this in my own mind when I read it first — that the chairman of the board will effectively be either a judge or an ex-judge. I wondered if it might not have been better to have provided that the chairman of the board would be someone with practical experience as regards planning but, on balance, I think the Minister has done the right thing. This whole area of planning appeals is one that requires a judicial approach. It requires the kind of approach that will be able to set at one side and consider appeals for what they are on [1705] their merits — the local opposition on the one hand and the vested interest of the developer on the other hand. A calm, judicial kind of mind brought to bear on the pros and cons of that situation is probably the right approach.

Another aspect of the Bill which is good and very necessary is the provision which is being made to give a life-span to planning permissions. The position heretofore has been that a planning permission had no particular life. Unless a condition was attached to the planning permission providing that it would remain extant for a particular period only and that it would cease unless development took place within the period specified in the planning permission, a planning permission once granted remained there indefinitely, whether or not the development which had ben applied for was ever undertaken. It is necessary and an improvement in the law to provide for the five-year life as is done in this Bill with provisions for extensions where appropriate.

Also, mainly from the point of view of their own protection, it is a good thing to bring into this Act the provisions regarding the declaration of interests which is provided for in the Bill. There were two points, one of detail and one of what I would regard as of general importance, that I would like to ask the Minister about. This Bill does not tackle the question of planning authorities or local authorities being required to take in charge new estates when they are completed. I know this is a difficult problem. I want to put to the Minister that it is not merely a difficult problem from the point of view of the local authority but also it is a very difficult and frustrating problem from the point of view of the developer.

Senators will be aware in general terms of the procedure which exists in endeavouring to have estates taken in charge. When an estate is completed, an application is made to the local authority to have the estate taken in charge. It is a general procedure then for local authorities to carry out an inspection and to submit to the developer a list of their requirements. [1706] They will inspect the roads, sewers, public lighting and the open spaces, footpaths and so on. They will draw up a list setting out any defect which they see existing in the estate and they will ask the developer to attend to these matters before they consider making an order taking the estate, the roads, and services and so on in charge.

The problem from the developer's point of view is that if the developer carries out the requirements of the local authority he has no assurance whatever that the estate will be adopted by the local authority within a reasonable time. What can happen — and what has happened more than once in the Dublin area — is that the developer, having been furnished with the requirements of the local authority and having attended to their requirements, then finds that the services are not taken in charge, and meanwhile the estate roads, footpaths and so on come into general use. I know of one case in which I was concerned in my professional capacity where a private estate road that was not taken in charge was used as a bus route for a period. There were repairs on the normal bus route and buses were diverted along this road. Look at this from the point of view of the developer. This was never intended to be a bus route. Admittedly, it did not last for very long, but if that kind of thing happens the extra weight which is carried when heavy traffic is diverted from its normal route along an estate route, because of repairs or something else, it is likely to damage the estate road even though that road is fully up to the standards of the local authority.

The main point I am making is that once the local authority are notified that their requirements have been carried out they should then carry out another immediate inspection and if the inspection shows that the requirements have been carried out there should be an obligation on the local authority then to take the estate in charge and not to allow the matter to drag on to an extent where in the course of years and — sometimes it is a question of years and not of months — ordinary deterioration takes place. Then it is necessary for the local authority [1707] to send out another list of requirements. That is not tackled in the Bill. Possibly it was never intended that it should be, but it seems to be a matter which is vital in connection with planning legislation, and I would be glad to hear the Minister's mind on it.

Another point I want to raise is in connection with section 19. This is a good provision which enables the planning appeals board to award costs against the unsuccessful party to the appeal. But I am wondering how people stand in relation to section 29 of the Principal Act vis-à-vis section 19 of this Bill. The Minister will be aware that section 29 of the 1963 Act is the section whereby a person, if an appeal is disallowed by the Minister, can serve a purchase notice on the local authority, and then the local authority can accept the purchase notice or they can serve a notice of unwillingness to comply with it. If they are unwilling to comply the matter is back with the Minister and he has roughly six months to decide what action to take. The point I want to make is that that procedure can only be operated provided that the matter has been determined by the Minister on appeal and the purchase notice machinery in the 1963 Act becomes operative only provided an applicant has gone to the trouble of first of all putting in his planning application, getting it turned down by the local authority, then going on appeal to the Minister and getting it turned down by the Minister. It is necessary for him to do that before he can begin to operate the purchase notice machinery under section 29 of the 1963 Act.

It would seem unfortunate if a person who merely wanted to comply with what is necessary in order to operate section 29 of the 1963 Act were to be penalised in costs for doing that. The answer may be that it is entirely a matter for the board, and if it appears to the board that the applicant is doing what he is doing merely for the purpose of operating machinery which is open to him to operate under the Act, possibly the attitude of the board would be that [1708] it was not a proper case in which to award costs against him.

Generally speaking, the Seanad has shown its appreciation of the Minister's work in relation to the Bill and has particularly expressed its appreciation of the idea of the planning appeals board. I am sure it will be a relief to the Minister personally and to his Department once this legislation is through and the board are established.

Mr. Markey: Information on Bernard Markey  Zoom on Bernard Markey  If any country or any Government were to indulge in planning in the ideal way they would have had to start planning from the year of one. Unfortunately we are a bit late in the day for that. While the 1963 Act was a commendable effort in its own way towards trying to bring some order and cohesion and co-ordination into what had been a rather haphazard development up to then, there were many defects and loopholes which have come to the surface in the intervening 13 years and the purpose of this Bill is largely to close those as far as possible.

It has, of course, included a number of admirable provisions, a number of new ones as well, namely as regards the protection and preservation of interiors of buildings which is a new one and which is certainly to be welcomed. But in the main the Bill revolves around the setting up of an appeals board. This is an admirable decision on the part of this Government. It was part of its 14-point plan in 1973 at the general election. It is a Bill in fulfilment of that programme. I think it is an effort on the part of the Minister to take, as it were, the politics out of planning or to take the planning out of politics, whichever way one likes to look at it.

Having said that it is commendable effort, there are a number of points we should look at and there are a number of reservations I have in regard to certain matters in the Bill. With regard to the composition of the appeals board, I wonder whether a judge is the right person to have as chairman of such a bord. [1709] Certainly I do not think any judge would have practical experience at local authority level as to what are really the sensitive issues involved in planning. Planning is a very sensitive matter. It is only the party who is directly involved in a planning application who finds his emotions really involved in that matter. An outsider looking in cannot gauge the full extent and depth of the involvement of that applicant's emotions.

As regards the numbers on the appeals board, the provision is that there shall be not less than four and not more than ten. Ten, to me, would seem somewhat large to arrive at a decision, but the Minister probably has in mind that they would divide themselves up into separate committees and so on, to deal with different aspects of planning. Perhaps he would make some confirmation on that point.

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 of the policies and objectives for the time being of the Minister, planning authorities and any other body which is a public authority whose functions have, or may have, a bearing on the proper planning and development (including the preservation and development of amenities) of cities, towns or other areas, whether urban or rural.

This seems to me somewhat optional on the part of the board. There is no requirement on them; they may, only if they feel in need of some information, go to the Minister or the local authorities to seek guidance.

Under section 6 the Minister is retaining his authority to give general policy directives to the board but he is precluded from exercising any control over the final resolution of the appeal. Weighing up both these sections, it appears that the Minister is perhaps giving away a little bit more than he is getting back in return from the appeals board.

Section 16 and a number of other [1710] sections appear to form the basis of what I feel are deterrents to appeal by any person. First of all, we have the question of a deposit being asked for. A person can say that a deposit is not going to be a deterrent. In many instances it will not. In the case of a large corporate body or a large business firm a £10 deposit is nothing. But in the case of an individual, some person who may have a certain emotional involvement in regard to a planning application by another party and certain objections to make to that planning application, the question of a deposit can be a deterrent. I wonder whether it is right to have a deposit in the case of an individual.

The appeal board can refuse an oral hearing. This again smacks somewhat of being slightly bureaucratic. One of the great things about the 1963 Act was that a person could look for an oral hearing and while it might have involved a delay in the determination of the appeal it was a good right for any individual appellant to have.

The situation now that the deposit is liable to forfeiture could also be a deterrent towards an appellant putting in an appeal. The wording, “when the board feels an appeal is vexatious”, to me is typical of the situation where a person looking at a planning case from the outside may not be able to gauge the depth of the emotional involvement of a party to that planning application. The appeal board may well at times put aside the emotional involvement some appellants have. The appellant if he is unsuccessful in his case would have to pay the expenses all round. This is somewhat burdensome and onerous. Exception should be made in the case of individual applicants, or else they may not go ahead with what they would know in their hearts to be a very genuine case.

I welcome the provision for the issue of warning notices in regard to unauthorised development. Should we not consider that that warning notice should include the provision that the unauthorised development should be restored to its original condition? I have seen far too many instances where a person undertook unauthorised development and then [1711] aggrieved people made their case, the country council stepped into the scene, but much damage had already been done. The unauthorised development continued for a very lengthy period. Ninety-nine times out of 100 it was allowed to continue in existence and was possibly completed at a later stage when some compromise was arrived at. I should like to see some provision here as regards that development having to be removed—in other words, to restore the area to it former condition.

The withering of permission after five years is also welcome, but I wonder if five years is not a little bit too long. In my own county of Louth we have a provision in our county development plan that outline planning permission would lapse after two years if further progress had not taken place within that period. Two years is perfectly adequate for anybody who has any intention of developing an area for him to make a move in a positive way.

The inclusion of the paragraphs regarding register of interests of both elected representatives and employees of the board and also certain officers of the planning authorities is good. It should not be misinterpreted. There have been very few abuses, if any, in regard to people really playing upon their interest in land. Their responsibilities as elected representatives will always outweigh such considerations. It is no harm to have it included, as long as we remember that it is there simply as a safeguard and as a cautionary note and not as a penalty now imposed on account of past malpractices in that regard.

The figure of 4,000 appeals or roughly 10 per cent of all applications for planning permissions might seem hefty enough, but I have often felt that that figure of 10 per cent or 4,000 would have been much less if local authorities had done either of two things. Certainly I can vouch from my experience as an elected representative on Louth County Council that on many occasions the planning officials did not act in accordance with the recommendations of [1712] the Minister for Local Government as regards easing up on restrictions with regard to planning applications. Planning officials should have, perhaps, brought local representatives and the elected representatives into the issue at a much earlier stage than at the time of refusal to a proposed development. I do not think that 4,000 appeals, while it may involve an awful amount of work for officials in the Department, is all that hefty a figure. The fact that a person could always make an appeal on a matter in which he felt there was going to be a certain infringement of privacy or of his rights was one of the corner stones of our system.

My last point concerns planning officials. They have certain aesthetic attitudes, even ideal attitudes towards planning and they have often come into friction with elected representatives on this score. I appeal to those planning officials to remember that the elected representatives are people who have their ear to the ground as regards what people in their constituencies have to do as regards development and their needs in regard to development. It is all very well having idealistic attitudes towards planning, but the pressures of the age in which we live, the pressures of living accommodation and the pressures of an increasing population mean that some sacrifices will have to be made in regard to having such attitudes.

All in all, the Bill is commendable. It is an improvement on the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act of 1963. No doubt it will not fill all the loopholes. We will discover through time that there are some defects in it. The procedures in regard to the appeal board will be proved only through experience either to be correct as they are laid down in the Schedule to this Act, or they will need further improvement and further enlargement.

In concluding, I welcome the Bill. It is a fulfilment of another point of the 14-point programme which this Government went into the general election of 1973 with. I think it will be generally welcomed by all parties and by the citizens as well as by the planning officials.

[1713]Mr. Keegan: Information on Seán Keegan  Zoom on Seán Keegan  This Bill could well be described as legislation that has received adequate airing in the other House. It has been on the Statute Books for almost two years now. That so many amendments have been accepted during the course of debate is a clear indication that every effort is being made by the Minister and all the parties and all the participants to the debate to have the best possible legislation to deal with and control planning in this country. Planning is one of the most important issues facing the country at present. We hear so much about the environment, about pollution and good and proper planning that it is necessary and important that every aspect of the Bill be dealt with adequately. The other House has dealt with this Bill in a most adequate manner.

There is little left to be said with regard to the Bill. This measure, like every other piece of legislation, will not be final in dealing with local government planning because changes take place from day to day. It is 13 years since the last Bill was introduced. Many changes have taken place in that 13 years. Thirteen years ago we heard very, very little about the environment and pollution. In fact, we did not have any pollution problem in 1963 compared with those we have today. Therefore, the success of this legislation will depend entirely on the wholehearted co-operation of everybody involved in the environment and in planning, from the local officers up along to the new planning board which the Minister proposes to establish.

It is difficult at this stage to hazard a guess as to whether the planning board will be the success that it is hoped to be, but at least it will relieve public representatives of a great deal of anxiety and pressure with regard to planning appeals, because the real bone of contention in the last few years has been in the matter of planning appeals. Many of those appeals have been regarded as political decisions. As long as elected representatives have any say in planning it is natural to expect that lobbying will [1714] occur from time to time. Public representatives will always be susceptible to the wishes of groups, especially in their own constituency.

It is for that reason that I welcome the channelling of the work over to the new planning board. However I am not satisfied with the composition of this board. Their chairman should be a man or a woman who has been associated with somebody who has had long and detailed studies carried out of the environment, of pollution and long-term planning in general. While I do not wish to cast aspersions on judges, we should not have somebody of that calibre: the responsibility is so great that something more is needed. I would like to see someone on the board who had the interests of the environment at heart. But we must await the setting up of the board before we can comment on it composition.

Local authorities could play a greater role in the smooth running of planning within their jurisdiction. In the past many local authorities did not take an active interest in planning. The work was left to the planning officer. He and the county manager always had the final say and members of the local authorities were seldom involved. Planning decisions often had to be questioned. In recent years, possibly because of the interest of community groups or residents' associations, members of county councils have become aware of the role they can play in planning. They know that in the final analysis they are the planning authority.

Sometime last year the Westmeath County Council, of which I am a member, set up a planning committee which will enable appeals to be dealt with. Members of local authorities know of the problems associated with a particular planning application and they are able to assist and advise planning officers. In this way the number of refusals in County Westmeath has been cut to a minimum. In March there were only three refusals and I do not think the Minister or any planning board would have given permission in the three cases in which we refused it.

[1715] An inland county never has the same problems as a city or a large town or a coastal county. Westmeath is a county of many scenic attractions. It has pollution problems which can be associated with planning. Lough Ennel, one of our most beautiful lakes, has become polluted by sewerage from Mullingar and its hinterland. This has happened because adequate steps were not taken to have a proper sewerage system before the town was allowed to grow and develop in recent years. The Minister is aware of this and I ask him that, in future, before long-term planning is carried out he would ensure that the sewerage system in the areas concerned is examined and brought up to a standard that will cater adequately for such development, both private and industrial. There has been considerable industrial development in Mullingar in recent years and that also has added to the problem of sewerage disposal and the pollution of our lakes in general.

When we speak of pollution and the environment we must also question the role of the developers. In recent years it has become common practice for a developer to move into an area, acquire land and build a scheme of houses. In the granting of planning permission provision has always been made for a proper road network, footpaths, public lighting and so on. A great deal of controversy arises as to when the developer's responsibility ceases and when the local authority takes over. This contentious problem has arisen many times because developers either did not know their duties and obligations or preferred not to know and the result in many cases has been that housing schemes were completed and when the residents moved in, after some time a road or a footpath fell into disrepair. Then the residents lobby the local authority to have footpaths and roads provided or repaired, and it usually emerges that under the planning permission the developer should have carried out this work before leaving the scheme. It should be clearly defined when the function of the developer ceases and when the local authority can take over. Our engineers tell us that they cannot [1716] move in until the developer has finished his work. A specified time should be written into all planning agreements to ensure that the work is completed within that time. This would enable the residents and the local authorities to know where they stand.

The role of the local councillor has never been fully appreciated here. They are the last group of unpaid servants we have. When I see mention of a declaration of interest I feel that I must make the case for the county councillor who carries out an enormous amount of work and receives no remuneration whatever. Take the case of the county councillor who is resident in the headquarters of the administrative area. He gives his time free of charge. If he has any pieces of property around that town he should not be under an obligation to declare his interest in them. This may not be an opportune time to mention it, but if an effort was made to remunerate county councillors for their work, it would remove a great deal of the misunderstandings and misconceptions that exist regarding the members of local authorities. They give a voluntary and worth-while service and they are among the few people who are prepared to give so much time and effort free of charge. I doubt if the members of the proposed planning board will be expected to give their time without some remuneration.

If the members of the planning board move on circuit through a given group of local authorities they would be able to reduce the time factor in processing appeals. We know the amount of overlapping and communication that must take place in regard to planning appeals. Those who have been refused send their appeals to the Department of Local Government. It lies there. The Department of Local Government will go back to the local authority on more occasions than one seeking further submissions and so on. This vicious circle operates of one communicating with the other all the time before a final decision is reached. Therefore, if this planning committee was set up in groups, and if they moved from one local authority to another, their work would be speeded up to a great extent. When they visit the headquarters of a [1717] local authority, they will have access to maps and files and to a great deal of background information which would be hitherto unavailable to them in this capital. I do not know how valid this point is or whether it would be effectively implemented or not but I feel it is worthy of consideration. It would help especially with oral hearings which still take place at local level. It would help in the administrative aspect of planning appeals.

I must mention those who object for the sake of objection only. We have a case of two people in an area, one not on speaking terms with the other, one will object to the other. The result will be that planning applications can be dragged out for a long time. Then, perhaps, there is someone in an area who is prepared to object to anything and everything without any valid reason for doing so. I know a case of a man in an area who did not want another businessman to secure planning permission for a small project. He collected lists of names of people asking them to object. Some of those people did not even know what they were signing or what they were objecting to. They thought it had something to do with the environment, or a green belt in an area. These are aspects of planning appeals that have to be fully dealt with and could be very adequately dealt with at local level. I am just throwing out those suggestions to see if they are worthy of consideration.

I agree with the guidelines set out in the Bill to try to achieve the highest degree of flexibility in planning. I feel that there must be flexibility if we are to have a fully acceptable planning system in any country. It is important that all our planners make a special effort to exercise the fullest degree of flexibility. It is only in that way we will make any plan work.

I would like every effort to be made to ensure that maximum development takes place in our towns and villages. It is deplorable at present when we see increasing demands for development in urban areas and discover that many of our towns and villages are falling into decay. The people are leaving them. All local authorities should [1718] be encouraged to induce people to establish homes in towns and villages because it is only in that way we will protect the environment.

People should always come first in any environment. The needs of people should be foremost in everybody's mind whenever a planning application is being dealt with. Every local authority should be instructed to give the fullest assistance and co-operation to people who want to establish their homes in rural areas. Progress has been made in recent years in regard to the installation of regional water schemes. Those schemes should make it a great deal easier for people to carry out group building in rural areas. But, unfortunately, the county development plan which is often in operation prevents this type of development. I am sure the Minister is fully convinced that we should encourage this type of development. There is nothing nicer in our countryside than to see well-developed housing schemes in our towns and villages, and new towns and villages created by continued development in rural areas. We can have planners who are only concerned with urbanisation and more density in urbanisation. I believe that if we want to improve the quality of life we must try to distribute our population as evenly as possible back in the rural areas. It is frightening to realise the number of people who have left the land in recent years.

Now, with regional water schemes, with rural electrification and the reasonably good standard of our road network, it should be possible to get more people back into rural Ireland. It is very important because the more urban developments we have the more costly it becomes on the local authority. I mentioned the case of the Mullingar sewerage system not being adequate to meet the continued development which had taken place around the town in recent years. If we had more rural development, if we had properly constructed septic tanks we would relieve local authorities of a great deal of expenditure.

Planning is necessary in the expansion of any area. Housing schemes should be adequately planned to ensure [1719] that open space is available, that places of recreation are available and that, in general, the planning authorities by their efforts in planning would play a positive role in the improvement of the quality of life.

Therefore, the full co-operation of all sections of the community is necessary in order to see a programme of successful planning carried out. I feel that the points I have made are worthy of consideration. I may introduce amendments later on on Committee Stage if I feel they are necessary.

I do not know if this Bill will seal all loopholes. It is never possible to seal all loopholes in any legislation: it would be wrong if that were the case. We live in a changing world and changes will take place. There must be room for manoeuvring. There must be room for flexibility at all times. I feel that this Bill, which has been debated for so long, will go a long way to alleviate any misconceptions that have occurred in regard to planning. Nobody will regret the transfer of planning appeals from the Minister to this planning board. I hope that the planning board will ensure that wise decisions are taken.

Recently, an appellant in County Westmeath got planning permission on appeal for housing development in an area. When the local authority got back to re-examine that development they discovered that it would be necessary to instal a 24-hour pumping plant for the sewerage system if that area were to be properly sewered. They went back to the developer and asked him if he was prepared to meet the further cost of development and, if so, they would accede to the Minister's decision. Unfortunately, the developer was not prepared to accede to their request for payment of the cost of those services and that development has not taken place.

Therefore, it is important that local people become more and more involved in local planning because they know the problems of the area, they know the contours of the area and they know what piece of land is suitable for development and what is not. [1720] I would impress upon the Minister the importance of giving full recognition to the members of the local authority and assisting them in discharging their duties in so far as planning is concerned. When we talk of planning we talk of one of the most important aspects of the environment. Good planning plays a major role in providing us with an environment that will be worthy of the representatives and the people in general.

Mr. M.D. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  I should like to join those who welcomed this important legislation. In a legislation like this it is important to be generous in paying tribute where effort has been made in draftmanship particularly. It was with great interest that I watched the passage of this Bill through the other House. I noticed something about the debate in that House: there was a tremendous spirit of co-operation, particularly on Committee Stage. Senators on the other side have commented on the number of amendments which were accepted by the Minister. The Minister, in his introductory speech today, said that he would consider further amendments if they were necessary. I pay tribute to the Minister for having this attitude to legislation.

Concerning this Bill, it cannot be considered in isolation from other legislation which has come before this House. It is interesting that today we are discussing the third piece of legislation which affects the environment in a very important way. In this House we had one of the finest debates since I became a Member of the House. Contrary to what another Senator has suggested, the Water Pollution Bill has been introduced in this House and we are yet to debate it. These two Bills need to be taken together with this amending planning Bill. We should probably look back also to one or two other measures. It is useful in commenting on this Bill substantively to speak of the corpus of legislation which affects planning and the environment in general.

There is much I like about the Bill in a number of ways. I should like to [1721] feel that its effect will be to remove pressure and suspicion from members of local authorities. I should like to feel that the Bill will make a substantive and very real contribution to the erosion of bureaucracy within the State itself. A Minister for Local Government of the day has a tremendous task. The occupant of that ministry in the near future of this State will be one of the most important members of the Cabinet in so far as we are living at a time when the structure of the population of the State is undergoing massive change.

A birth rate which ran at a relatively static rate in the 1940s increased dramatically in the 1950s, changing the structure of our population and thereby giving a huge increase in the proportion of people under the age of 30. This means that not only have we a huge increase in the number of young people but, naturally, we will have to make infra-structural provision for such people. In a narrow sense this means that there will be a huge demand for housing. Decisions will have to be made as to the quality of housing, housing estates, and their general design. If the Bill, through the establishment of An Bord Pleanála removes from the Minister, the obligation of having to deal with huge numbers of appeals—I know he has tried to do it—it will have been worth while.

For that reason the establishment of An Bord Pleanála is to be welcomed. It will speed up decisions on appeals and will set the Minister of the day free for urgent social tasks. I am sorry Senator Russell is not here for he may be surprised to hear me say that I was very impressed by his contribution earlier in this debate who spoke as he said as a man of commerce. I pay tribute to the fact that he spoke as a man of commerce with extraordinary sensitivity. In his comments on this Bill he said that he particularly welcomed section 29, the section which spoke of the withering of existing planning permission five years from the date of the coming into operation of the instrument of legislation and in the case of permissions granted after date, five years from the [1722] granting of permission. He said that in the absence of the provision which is now being made in section 29, city centres had moved into decline. He spoke of Limerick city and later said that the heart had fallen out of city centres. I live in Galway city and I might say that it is a city which, when one looks at its aerial photograph, is amazing. More than 40 per cent of its households are contained in relatively newly-built suburbs. Yet an aerial view will show the city centre itself in massive decline. Therefore, I am glad the Minister is bringing in this kind of provision.

Some years ago, planning application was made to redevelop portion of that city centre. Planning application—let me not mince my words— was made for window-dressing purposes. Once the application had been made, the local authorities—on both of which, the corporation and Galway County Council, I serve as an elected member—were precluded from taking any very significant action about the usage of this space. The result was, therefore, that irresponsible commercial attitudes—as against sensitive attitudes—were reflected in an application to hold the line. Holding the line meant that portion of the city went into serious decay. Galway is a city which is striking in that respect. Viewed in any way it is a city that will benefit immensely from section 29 of this Bill.

There are other points of merit in the Bill itself. I have referred to the impact the board will have at the central level of reducing bureaucracy and at the more general level of removing suspicion and dreariness from local representatives. I thought that it might be usefully taken with those other measures—the Wildlife Bill, which we discussed earlier, and the Water Pollution Bill. Then it will be seen as a serious and very reasonable contribution towards protection of the environment.

I am glad that the Minister has defended the Houses of the Oireachtas in a significant way. He has defended the principle of accountability—the board will be accountable for their actions to the House. If [1723] the chairman or an ordinary member is removed from office a statement of the reasons for such a removal will be made in these Houses and will be justified in these Houses. This means to the public that nobody can say that you have the Minister for the day interfering for his own petty reasons with the board he has established. That is an important constitutional principle and it is one of the merits of the Bill.

I hope the Minister will excuse me if I might reflect a slight note [1724] of cynicism in regard to any difficulties of the Department of the Public Service in being able to promise us a smooth transfer of functions from parts of his own Department to the new boards. This was referred to in his speech earlier today. He stated that staff and accounting services will be made available.

Debate adjourned.

The Seanad adjourned at 5 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 7th April, 1976.


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