Thursday, 14 October 1999
Seanad Éireann Debate
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): I apologise if my opening remarks are a little longer than usual but Members will appreciate the Bill is comprehen sive and requires some explanation or elucidation.
Just over two years ago I launched a review of Irish planning legislation in fulfilment of a commitment in the Government's programme, An Action Programme for the Millennium. After much anticipation the Planning and Development Bill, 1999, has been published and people in all sectors have been familiarising themselves with it proposals. Many have already given initial reactions and, as one would expect, these reflect widely differing viewpoints. However, all accept that the Bill represents a genuine effort to reform in a fairly fundamental way and to update our planning laws. The Bill is the outcome of a great deal of work in my Department and has been greatly assisted by views received from all quarters. I acknowledge that everyone involved went into great detail in assisting the consultation process. It has also been subject to a lot of advice from the Attorney General's office. While some people may quibble with individual aspects of the Bill, it should be seen as an integrated package of proposals which strikes a fair balance that is right for today's world. When I commenced the review I said the planning system of the 21st century must be strategic in approach, be imbued with an ethos of sustainable development and deliver a performance of the highest quality.
In relation to the strategic approach, for the first time the Bill introduces a structured hierarchy of plans from the broad national picture down to local development level. The local authority development plan retains its status as the anchor of our planning system. However, it will be informed by regional planning guidelines which will provide a long term strategic framework for the development of the whole region. These guidelines will in their turn be placed in the context of a national spatial strategy. My Department will undertake the strategy as part of the Government's policies for balanced regional development to be set out in the forthcoming national development plan. Local area plans will bridge the gap between the broad objectives of the development plan and actual development proposals.
The concept of sustainable development is my second principle and it has been woven into the fabric of the Bill. On first glance it can be seen that the “proper planning and development” of an area has been replaced as the Bill's touchstone by “the proper planning and sustainable development”, but it goes deeper than a change in terminology – the principle of sustainable development has been woven into the fabric of the Bill. For example, the development objectives to be contained in development plans reflect the environmental concerns of the modern age. Environmental assessment of regional planning guidelines, development plans and local area plans is provided for. The interface between pollution control licensing and planning control has been revised to allow a more holistic approach  to be adopted in considering development which requires IPC licences.
The Bill introduces new measures to protect the landscape, simpler procedures to draw up tree preservation orders, measures to facilitate the protection of public rights of way and so on. We gave a good deal of thought to the question of defining sustainable development in the Bill. However, it is such a dynamic and all-embracing concept, and one which will evolve over time, that any legal definition would tend to restrict and stifle it. Weaving it in to the fabric of the Bill, as we have done, gives effect to the concept in a holistic and comprehensive way.
My third principle was to ensure that the Irish planning system delivers a quality service. I am seeking quality development plans, quality and timely decisions, an accessible planning service and proper enforcement; the Bill makes many changes to ensure that these can be delivered.
The local authority remains the key decision making body in relation to planning control. In order to strengthen this position the Bill establishes for the first time in Irish planning law statutory recognition for any submissions or observations which members of the public make to a local authority regarding planning applications. This is an important new right. In turn, the Bill provides that an appeal to An Bord Pleanála will only be available to those third parties who showed an interest in the initial application. The position regarding the right of appeal for third parties will still remain the most liberal in the European Union.
The Bill places an emphasis on timely decision making and tightens up a number of time limits under current law. However, these proposals should not adversely affect the quality of local authority decision making, once they are factored into the authority's procedures. The statutory recognition given to pre-planning discussions in the Bill should also aid the decision making process. Strategic development zones are being introduced to provide greater certainty in planning for development which is of strategic importance to the national economy, especially where we have to compete for internationally mobile investment.
The forthcoming publication of the national development plan will provide for further huge investment in infrastructure and the Bill will help us to deliver that infrastructure in faster time scales than we have been used to in the past. As is the case for any law, if people are to respect the planning laws they must be assured that they will be enforced. This Bill introduces major reforms to the enforcement code. It has been simplified and strengthened to respond to people's genuine concerns on matters such as unfinished estates. The enforcement provisions of this Bill will make people think twice before ignoring planning law and in the future I hope to see the widespread use of retention permission being used only to rectify genuine mistakes, not as a  means of circumventing controls, as seems to happen currently.
At the moment, primary planning law is contained in nine Acts dating from 1963 to 1999, and five sets of environmental impact assessment regulations from 1989 implementing EU directives. This Bill will consolidate all the Acts and much of the environmental impact assessment regulations in one Bill to the benefit of all users of the planning system. As well as consolidating existing provisions, the Bill contains many significant changes and new initiatives.
The Bill is very large, with 245 sections set out in 18 parts with six schedules, each of which will receive detailed consideration on Committee Stage. I intend today, therefore, only to outline in general terms each Part of the Bill. The explanatory and financial memorandum will give more details and, in particular, it indicates where new provisions have been introduced and where old ones have been re-enacted; almost all provisions of the existing planning code have been subject to some revision.
I will deal with Part V, housing supply, first and in greater detail since it introduces a major new dimension to planning legislation and contains the most radical and probably the most contentious provisions of the Bill. The provision of adequate housing for all members of society has been a major issue of public policy for Governments of all shades since this State gained its independence. It has further been a traditional aim of Government to facilitate people in buying their own homes where this is possible. This has had a beneficial, stabilising effect on Irish society and home ownership is an aspiration which the vast majority of people hold dear. This Government will continue to support that aspiration. We believe the people of the nation also support that aspiration fully, but the State has a responsibility to assist those who cannot afford to house themselves in the market and this has been done through the provision of local authority or other social housing. Part V of this Bill is designed to underpin these two planks of our housing policy. The increase in house prices in recent years has now put the aspiration to home ownership beyond the reach of many people on reasonable incomes. Average new house prices in Dublin doubled between the December quarter in 1994 and the December quarter in 1998 to £133,000, and increased nationally by over 80 per cent to £107,000. On the basis of traditional mortgage lending criteria of two and a half times principal income and once second income, the maximum mortgage available to a couple earning, say, £20,000 and £15,000 per annum would be £65,000. The average industrial wage is currently around £15,000, yet one index of house prices shows the average price paid by first-time buyers nationally as £93,000. This points up the affordability gap which has developed for first-time buyers over recent years.
The effect of price escalation on first-time buyers is also reflected in a reduction in the pro portion of mortgage loan approvals to first-time buyers. For example, it is estimated that, in Dublin, the figure fell from around 60 per cent in 1994 to about 40 per cent in 1998. Social housing needs, the figures for which were published last week, show that the number of households in need of local authority housing rose by 43 per cent between 1996 and 1999 to a total of almost 40,000 households. This rise is being driven to a great extent by the increase in housing costs and is not a sustainable or acceptable position.
This Government will not stand by while housing is priced out of the reach of thousands of people and local authority waiting lists continue to mount rapidly. In the long run these trends are profoundly damaging to social cohesion and our future economic well being. They are no less damaging to the construction industry which builds the houses and the people who work in it. They will be reflected in wage demands from these and other workers who see the very houses they are building being priced out of their reach. Part V of this Bill will make a very positive contribution over the years to come in providing sustainable housing supply for all segments of the market. However, I must stress that the Government is not shifting its housing responsibilities on to developers. What we are trying to achieve is to bring about a situation where the shortage of social and affordable housing for the lower and middle income sections of the community, is addressed in the context of the planning system when decisions are being made about the zoning of land for housing development.
Builders will not be required to build houses and hand them over gratis to the local authority, as some have suggested. However landowners/developers will know that a pre-set share of land designated for housing development will have to be reserved for social and affordable housing. The share to be so reserved must be based on actual assessments of the existing and projected needs by local authorities in their areas and is not an arbitrary figure, as some have suggested. That is a reasonable intervention and is very far from pushing responsibility from Government on to builders.
It is important to state that the Government is not simply relying on this legislative initiative to tackle the housing problem. This must be seen as one of a wide ranging series of fiscal, taxation and administrative measures. I will mention just a few. For example, this year has seen the social housing programme brought to its highest level in 13 years. A new four year multi-annual programme providing an additional 22,000 local authority houses will commence next year, representing an increase of over one fifth on the existing local authority housing stock. We are providing enhanced support for the voluntary housing sector. A new local authority affordable housing scheme has also been introduced. The Government introduced the serviced land initiative with a budget of £39 million over three years and 167 schemes have been approved under the  initiative which will open up 100,000 additional sites for residential development. The Government commissioned two housing reports by economist Peter Bacon and has acted swiftly on the recommendations of those reports. Among these were the steps to increase residential density and to lower the capital gains tax on land zoned for residential development.
Part V of the Bill fully integrates housing supply into the planning system. Each development plan must now contain a housing strategy which means that the plan must provide for the housing needs of the present and future population of the area, and ensure that adequate land is zoned for this purpose. In particular, the strategy must assess the needs for social and affordable housing, the mix of house types that will be required to meet the needs of the different households, including, for instance, the disabled, and it must also make provision to counteract social segregation in housing. Society in Ireland has paid too high a price for the segregation of the past and we must now seek to support more inclusive and better integrated communities in the future.
The needs and policies indicated in the housing strategy must be reflected in the development plan which must include objectives to give effect to the strategy. These objectives must be based on specific assessments to be made by the planning authority in relation to the need for social and affordable housing over the period of the plan and, on this basis alone, they must then require that a percentage of the land being zoned for housing development be reserved for social and affordable housing. The specific percentage will depend on the needs identified in the strategy but cannot exceed 20 per cent in any case. I expect that this percentage will vary throughout the country reflecting actual conditions in different local authority areas. It will not be a national figure but must be based on the individual housing strategies of each local authority.
In order to ensure that the quota of land to be reserved for social and affordable housing does not, in any case, have a disproportionate impact on landowners and developers, or on the normal operation of the market, the legislation places an upper limit on that quota. The limit of 20 per cent stipulated in the Bill is quite moderate by reference to the fact that, historically, between one quarter and one third of net new households have obtained accommodation from local authorities since the 1930s. While the share of total housing output represented by local authority and social housing in recent times has been in the order of 10 per cent, the number of households currently in need of local authority housing is almost 40,000. Against that background, the total housing units, both public and private, completed last year was 43,000. This shows the relative scale of social housing needs and does not take account of the many households affected by the affordability gap that are not represented on local authority waiting lists. On that basis the 20 per cent is, if anything, a conservative cap but one that  strikes a reasonable balance between the different interests involved.
When planning permission is applied for in respect of this land the local authority will impose, as a condition of permission, a requirement that the stated quota of land be reserved for social and affordable housing and transferred to the authority. The authority will pay the owner a price based on its existing use value. In the case of land purchased before the Bill was published on 25 August the actual price paid for the land, if greater, will be recoverable together with any holding charges.
The rationale for setting the compensation at this level is that the zoning of land is in the grant of the local authority. This is done as part of the development plan, the so called environmental contract with the community, according to the Supreme Court. A decision by the local authority to zone land for residential development could increase the value of that land between ten and one hundred fold. No one is entitled to have his or her land rezoned. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable that the greater community, through the local authority, should be able to reap for the public good a relatively small proportion of the gain they confer on the land owner. Furthermore, local authorities should be able to ensure that by their decision on zoning they are not severely restricting their capacity to provide social or affordable housing for those who need it.
I cannot believe, as some have suggested, that these considerations of the common good are not of the kind contemplated by the Constitution in Articles 40 and 43. Hence it is not onerous or unfair to provide that the increased value is moderated to a limited degree by requiring that up to 20 per cent of the land can be acquired by the local authority at the existing use value. Full development value will, with the benefit of the zoning, still apply to over 80 per cent or more of the land involved. The landowner suffers no loss on the transferred land and continues to make a significant gain on the non-transferred land. It may also happen that some housing strategies, either initially or in the future, will show no need for social or affordable housing. The Government's policy to increase residential densities will stand to the advantage of land owners and developers.
After the land is transferred to the local authority it can then build or arrange for the building of houses on the land for qualified applicants for social and affordable housing. This housing can be made available by straight sale or shared ownership lease in the case of affordable housing, or in the case of social housing the land can be built on by the local authority or given to a voluntary housing body. There is also the option of sites being sold to qualified individuals. I will introduce an amendment on Committee Stage to make it clear that, in lieu of transferring the land, a developer and the local authority will be able to make arrangements whereby the developer will  provide houses in the development at an agreed price to the local authority or a nominee of the authority.
Affordable housing may only be sold to eligible persons, defined as persons whose relevant income would be inadequate to obtain a sufficient mortgage to purchase on the open market a newly built house to meet their accommodation needs. The relevant income is based on accepted industry norms of 2.5 times income, plus once the second income in the case of a couple. The local authority will determine the order of priority of eligible persons in the allocation of affordable housing by applying a proper fully transparent scheme of priorities, just as in the case of local authority housing allocations.
There is provision for a claw back where a house is sold on within ten years to prevent profiteering. In the case of such a sale the seller must pay to the local authority the proportion of the selling price represented by the initial free equity, that is, the difference between the market value of the property and the actual initial purchase price. There is an abatement of 10 per cent for each year of occupation.
There has been some comment that allowing the purchaser of an affordable house to retain the full value of the property after ten years is unfair. However, I consider this a reasonable compromise in ensuring there is no profiteering while at the same time allowing purchasers to retain the full benefits of ownership after a reasonable period. Much of the comment has been based on the assumption that the significant house price increases of recent years will continue at the same rate. That would be an erroneous assumption. Interventions by the State for reasons of the common good are not unusual and give rise to significant benefits on occasion. For example, many people have benefited from having land located in areas designated by the State for urban renewal incentives. The fact that a benefit may accrue to a particular person does not negate the validity of a scheme.
I am anxious to ensure Part V will have effect at the earliest possible date. Local authorities share that interest and I ask them – and I have already asked managers – to start right away on preparing the groundwork for their housing strategies. The Department intends issuing guidelines to local authorities on the operation of this part of the Act. Work on that will start shortly and there will be no delay in bringing this part of the Bill into operation.
I again emphasise that these proposals are designed to meet a clearly identified concern of public policy and the common good. The measures are well targeted, clearly defined and will have regard to the prevailing and anticipated housing needs and situation in any local authority area. The measures are proportionate and relevant to the issues being tackled. The proposals have been prepared having regard to the constitutional principles of fairness, equality and proportionality. The detailed nature of the proposals  in Part V is quite deliberate and is necessary to meet the constitutional imperative that the intention of the Legislature is spelt out precisely in matters such as these.
I will now deal with the other parts of the Bill much more briefly. Part I contains provisions of a general nature and amends provisions from the 1963 Act. An important amendment in this area is to the exemption of agriculture from the planning control system. This allows for the introduction of planning controls over initial afforestation and peat extraction. The general exemption in legislation will be replaced by more appropriate exemptions in regulations.
The development plan system, which provides the framework within which all planning decisions are made, is set out in Part II. It includes the important provisions to streamline the production of development plans, while enhancing public consultation at the initial stages, and places the development plan within a system containing regional planning guidelines and local area plans. The objective in relation to development plans is to develop a sense of ownership of the plan within the community which it serves. Local area plans will assist local authorities in ensuring adequate facilities are provided for major new developments. The Minister's power to determine general policy and require changes in plans have also been clarified. The provisions in this part radically reform the provisions of the 1963 Act.
Part III deals with the development control system and amends the provisions set out in the 1963 Act. The Bill provides that planning decisions must be based on the proper planning and sustainable development of an area. The Bill tightens up a number of time limits for making decisions. The right of third parties to make submissions and to have them considered is set out for the first time in planning law. In return for that and to make a contribution towards the administrative costs involved, there is a provision for the charging of fees for third party submissions. The amount of the fee will be set out in regulations. I intend that the fee will not be such as to discourage genuine submissions, which I readily acknowledge can assist in ensuring full consideration of all issues. Third parties will have to make a submission on a planning application in order to exercise a right of appeal to An Bord Pleanála.
The provisions of the Planning and Development Act, 1999, on the protection of our architectural heritage, which was considered by this House before the summer, are re-enacted in Part IV and will come into effect on 1 January 2000. The provisions relating to An Bord Pleanála contained in the 1976 and subsequent planning Acts are set out in Part VI subject to modifications. The permanent membership of the board has been increased from six to seven members and the procedures of the board have also been simplified. The openness of the board's decision making is being enhanced also. The board will  have to state the main considerations and reasons for its decisions. Where the board grants permission in contravention of a development plan it will be obliged to state why it contravened the plan. The board has been given new powers to dismiss appeals where appeals are made with the intent of extracting money from a developer or solely for the objective of delaying a project. The Bill also provides that the board may operate in separate divisions and, therefore, maximise the efficient use of its time and resources.
Part VII restates the requirements from the 1976 Act on members and officials of planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála to disclose any property and business interests. It also contains a new provision for codes of conduct to be drawn up for staff and members of planning authorities and the board. These will be complemented by comprehensive ethics provisions for local authorities in the local government Bill, which I will be bringing forward shortly.
New provisions on enforcement are contained in Part VIII. They aim to simplify and build on the existing provisions to respond to genuine concerns about past failures in enforcing the planning code. Maximum fines have been increased to £10 million and it will no longer be possible to use retention permission as an escape hatch when enforcement action is threatened. I should also point out that section 34 will allow a planning authority to seek a court order to refuse permission based on a developer's past record where that developer has been in previous breach of a planning permission. This matter has been the subject of Private Members' Bills in the Seanad and Dáil in recent years and I have responded in a constitutional manner to the concerns raised in the debates on those Bills.
A major innovation under the planning code is the establishment of strategic development zones under Part IX. A streamlined planning process will operate in specific sites selected by the Government for reasons of strategic importance to the national economy. These zones will offer more security in planning terms for potential investors in making decisions on location because of the certainty regarding the outcome of a planning decision and the time taken to make that decision in these zones. There will be full public consultation when drawing up planning schemes for SDZs with an appeal to An Bord Pleanála. However, once a scheme has been made there will be no appeal to the board in relation to the decision on developments which wish to set up in an SDZ in compliance with a planning scheme. Environmental licensing, where required, will not be affected. In other words, IPC licensing, etc., will continue in the present manner.
Part X incorporates in primary legislation provisions on environmental impact assessment which were previously contained in European Communities regulations. Major changes include the transfer to An Bord Pleanála of the Minister's powers to approve local authority development subject to EIA. This Part will also facilitate future  changes to be made to the present system of identifying projects for which an EIA is required. In this regard, I should mention that my Department will be carrying out a review of the EIA system in Ireland over the next few months.
Part XI concerns development by local and state authorities. Under section 163, councillors will in future receive a full planning report on local authority development, that is Part X developments and processes, and will have the power to reject or modify a development. The persistent problem of unfinished housing estates will be settled finally by this Bill. Local authorities will be under an obligation to take the estates in charge if they do not take action against the defaulting developer.
The provisions of the 1990 Act on compensation are consolidated into the Bill in Part XII. A number of additional instances when compensation will not be payable are outlined in the Fifth Schedule. One important change arises out of the new principle in the Bill that zoning lasts only for the lifetime of the plan. Compensation will, therefore, not be payable as a result of “down zoning”.
Part XIII includes a number of provisions from the 1963 Act concerning amenities, for example, on designation of special amenity areas. The decision on whether to confirm a special amenity area order will be transferred from the Minister to the board and such orders will no longer have to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. This part also contains new powers to protect valuable environments, for example, through the designation of landscape conservation areas and through revised and simplified tree preservation orders.
Part XIV transfers responsibility for approving compulsory purchase of land, local authority EIA projects and road schemes from the Minister to An Bord Pleanála. Procedural deadlines have been introduced to ensure that the process happens within a set timeframe. The board will have an objective to deal with CPOs and EIAs within 18 weeks, the same period that applies to planning appeals.
A new system for licensing outdoor events and regulating funfairs is set out in Part XV. Licensed events will in future be exempt from the requirement to seek planning permission. Part XVI amends the financial provisions from the 1963 Act. Section 222 re-enacts the power to provide for fees in regulations with the additional provision to allow for fees to be charged for making submissions or observations to a planning authority regarding a planning application.
Part XVII contains certain miscellaneous provisions, many of which are re-enacted from the 1963 Act. The Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992, and the Waste Management Act, 1996, are being amended to allow planning authorities take a more holistic view of developments which require an integrated pollution control licence or a waste management licence. A new provision  will allow the Minister to monitor the performance of planning authorities and, if necessary, to appoint a commissioner to carry out the planning functions of an authority where there have been serious inefficiencies in performance or other problems have arisen. Part XVIII contains standard provisions on commencement, repeals and transitional arrangements.
There are six Schedules to the Bill. The First Schedule sets out the objectives that a planning authority may include in its development plan. This has been substantially redrafted to take account of the principles of sustainable development. The Second to Fifth Schedules concern compensation, including the rules for determination of compensation and reasons for which compensation is excluded. The Sixth Schedule, as is usual, sets out the Acts which the Bill repeals.
I acknowledge the fact that new functions are being given to local authorities and An Bord Pleanála, and the greater demands of the Bill in regard to some existing functions will require the allocation of greater resources and the ongoing development of planning skills. If a good planning system is seen as an essential guarantor of our future quality of life, and I think it is, there will be general acceptance that these resources should be provided.
I look forward to debating the detail of this Bill on Committee Stage. Many organisations are studying the Bill and will be making submissions to me over the coming weeks. I have also had good feedback from the seminars which my Department organised on the Bill. The last of these will be held in Cork tomorrow. Senators, in particular, will be familiar with the planning system and I look forward to a good debate in the Seanad. I am open to any suggestions which will improve the Bill. I want to assure Senators that their views and amendments will receive the fullest and most positive consideration by me. I will table a number of amendments which are based on the comments which I have already received during this process. I encourage Senators to be constructive and positive in their views and to bring forward their ideas to improve the Bill. It has been suggested that Part V might be modified, somewhat limited or more limited than it is. I must say to Senators and anyone else who may be thinking that there will be any row back on that part of the Bill that it is not my intention. I am prepared to discuss openly how it can be implemented but not any type of row back on it.
Tugann an Bille seo uirlis éifeachtach dúinn chun córas pleanála níos fearr a chur i bhfeidhm sa tír seo: córas pleanála a ligfidh don fhorbairt atá riachtanach dul ar aghaidh go tapaidh ach i gcónaí i slí a chosnaíonn ár dtimpeallacht agus ár n-oidhreacht. Dá bhrí sin, molaim go láidir an Bille seo don tSeanaid. Go raibh maith agat.
 Let me welcome the Minister here again. He is introducing a Bill of a substantial nature which took some reading. When he introduced it I am glad he said, “We recognise the conciliatory nature of the Bill and the attempted integration of a number of previous planning Acts.” He also pointed out in his introduction that there will be particular aspects of the Bill on which people may hold a different opinion. He requested that we be positive about it and I intend to try to be positive.
The 1999 Planning Bill which we are discussing today introduces a number of substantial changes. It is also intended to accelerate the processing of planning applications. Another major feature is the restrictions on the rights of objectors. With regard to these new restrictions on objectors An Bord Pleanála will not entertain any third party appeals unless the people making them have first made their objections known to local authorities and paid a fee of £20. I understand the Minister's intention in this regard, both from the point of view of financing all the additional paperwork and cutting out frivolous complaints. However, I wonder about the constitutionality of the removal of appeals by third parties. For example, someone who is affected by a proposed development could be away, perhaps on holidays or in hospital, for a number of weeks, fails to see the applications in the newspaper or on the site and returns too late. If they have not made their appeal by that stage they cannot appeal to An Bord Pleanála because of factors that are outside their control. This is not just unfortunate but it could be the removal of a constitutional right.
The General Council of County Councils has written to the Minister regarding aspects of sections 34 and 222 of this Bill. They pointed out that they would have difficulty with the prospect of a fee for making observations on or objections to planning applications. At first they see the problem being at the level of a principle, it is the applicant and not the objector who is the one who initiated the application. It is the applicant who is changing the status quo. For example, a householder quite happily lives in his or her house when an applicant applies to build an intensive dairy unit across the road. Naturally the householder will be concerned and want to make an observation to the planning authority about it. Why should the householder be forced into an expense, no matter how nominal, as a result of a third party unsolicited proposal? I know the Minister will say it is merely £20 but things start out at £20 and in a few years accelerates to substantial sums. A constituent of mine gave me an excellent example. They observed that this is like a citizen seeing a crime taking place, decides to ring the police and is charged not just for the telephone call but given a fee because they rang and carried out their civic duty. An objector may be carrying out their civic duty so why should they have to pay for it?
A further example would be someone who has an interest in the planning application. After they have examined the plans they find that nothing  impinges upon them or their rights, that it will not affect their residence or business and allows the matter to rest. Subsequently, the local authority in deciding about the planning application decides in favour of it but may add conditions. These conditions might then adversely affect a person who has an interest but now it is too late for that person to make an appeal. An example of this could be someone who applies to set up a nursing home and the person living beside the proposed home says there is nothing wrong with it. They have looked at the plans and have no problem with it. The local authority then adds a stipulation that they want additional car parking and they want to turn a green area into a car park which might then affect the person living next door but they now have no right to appeal. I am sure the Minister will respond to this issue when he returns. He should re-examine this aspect. In cases like this where an individual is affected by a decision we should be able to make changes and allow that person to make an appeal on that basis.
Site notices may be another reason a person with an objection does not object. I am sure the Minister and councillors going around the countryside have often seen site notices. They are often pushed up against a tree; when the site notice is put down the tress may not have any leaves but by the time the application comes into effect the notice may be well covered up. I have often seen notices where mist and moisture crept inside and they are unreadable and sometimes they are located so far away they can only be seen by using binoculars. I know the intention is to have them in clear view and beside the roadside but if you go around the country you will see that in most cases they are located in places to make them almost invisible. I am not saying all this is done deliberately but there are times when it is deliberate. I recommend that the Minister ensure that a proper sign of a substantial size – perhaps in colour – properly protected from the elements should be placed on sites or, if it is a substantial site, a number of different notices could be placed around the site. In other words, you could have a measurement to a degree and decide how many notices should be placed proportionate to the size of the development plan.
I would make another recommendation to the Minister with regard to the notices in newspapers. A notice should be carried in two newspapers if possible, not just one. Another thing that should be done is to print all planning notices on one page. This happens in my local newspaper, the Connacht Tribune,but that is not true of every local newspaper. Notices can be dispersed throughout the newspaper with the result that an individual reading them will often miss one.
Another aspect which may cause a little controversy but I would still recommend it is when an applicant submits their application in Irish. This happens quite often down my way. In most cases they are genuine but occasionally it is an attempt to prevent the planning from being noticed so that no appeal can be lodged against it. In such  cases additional notices should be supplied in English to facilitate people who are not bilingual. Certain people who place a high value on the Irish language may object to this recommendation and they have every right to do so. However, notices should be in both Irish and English.
Another consideration raised at the General Council of County Councils executive meeting was with regard to local authority members who wish to make representations on behalf of local residents or organisations. I am sure the Minister is aware that local authority members and Oireachtas Members are called upon to make representations on planning applications, sometimes supportive and sometimes objective. This activity has become a major facet of the councillors workload. It could be argued that the theory of the planning system allows councillors to have their say at the development stage, nevertheless, the fact remains that individual residents' associations expect councillors to make representations on their behalf. That being so, because it is a large facet of their workload, councillors should be exempt from this fee and granted the right to appeal to An Bord Pleanála after the decision. The General Council of County Councils is aware that the fee is to assist in the administrative costs of local authorities when dealing with planning policy. However, they go on to point out – and rightly so – that to impose a charge on a person's right as distinct from a charge for services is neither fair nor logical. It would be remiss of me not to point out to the Minister that the general county council executive body comprises members of all political parties. I am reflecting here on the conclusions reached. Members of the Minister's party, my own and other parties had difficulty with these points. They felt councillors have a genuine concern that they should have the right to continue making representations.
On the notification procedure, perhaps the Minister should consider the procedures for planning applications in the North, where they seem to work effectively. Another point by the executive was that local authorities should be actively encouraged to make use of modern display techniques and to make an exhibition of development plans which would be open and accessible to all. The current situation, which is maintained in the Bill, is that such plans and maps may only be displayed in the paper format. However, as we are aware, planning is a three dimensional process. It deals with elevations, shapes, streetscapes and buildings. It is possible, through the provision of video formats, to show plans in a three dimensional form. I attended a presentation in the National Building Association in which a submission was being made for a development plan and it was shown in a three dimensional form. This can be done very easily with modern technology. People can see the elevation and what effect it might have. Smaller local authorities might have a difficulty with this but it is not too  expensive. Technology exists and it is the way forward for the people. A video could be running in the hallway of the local authority and it could be a repeating cycle so that people could see what it contains. They would know more than the written word. Some people have difficulty reading plans but seeing them on video would give them further encouragement and a better view. It might even give views that would be helpful. The opinions I am expressing are those of the general council. As the Minister is aware, I am their representative in the Seanad. We strongly believe that these should be taken into consideration and I will be proposing amendments on Committee Stage.
The provision in this Bill that the planning decision should be made within four weeks rather than the present two month period is certainly one that deserves support. However, this may cause problems in regard to finance and staffing. The Minister has refuted this in the past and believes the local authorities are processing more plans than they did heretofore. In my experience, it is often the case that when a local planning office comes under pressure they have a tendency to seek further information in the hope that the next month's planning applications will be less and they would be then able to deal with those of the previous month. If the Minister wants to streamline the time it takes for a planning application to be decided upon, then the obvious answer is not to legislate but to provide financial and staffing support for local authorities to enable them carry out their statutory duties in a shorter period than eight weeks.
Owing to the short time available it is not possible to touch on every factor in this Bill but I will refer to section 5 which sets out that a person “may seek a declaration from the planning authority on what, in any particular case, is or is not development and is or is not exempted development. A planning authority, or the person who made the request, may refer the question to the Board for a decision on the matter. . . ”. This is a new procedure and is an additional workload for local authorities as they have to make a decision inside the four weeks.
We, on this side of the House, support the provision in the Bill that the Supreme Court be given a right to reject appeals in cases where it has reason to believe they are being made with the aim of delaying a development or for the purpose of blackmailing a developer into paying off objectors. This might sound startling. I tried to investigate a case in Galway where I was told that a developer was being held up with a substantial development, having incurred a substantial debt on it, by frivolous and light objections. Suddenly the objections were withdrawn and I was informed that the objectors had expended so much money on their objections that they said to the developer, “If you cover our fees and our costs we will withdraw our objections or else we will leave them there.” I am aware this happened but the developer did not want to say he made  such a payment. That possibility exists. It is unfortunate I could not prove it, but I am clear that the majority of objectors are genuine. In many cases, the objections and the recommendations made by these individuals and groups may be helpful to a planning officer.
I support the Minister's proposal that, further to information being sought, the decision will be made in four weeks rather than the present two months. One of the main difficulties with planning, even on a small scale, is that from the beginning of the planning it could take more than a year until the foundation is laid.
On the provision curtailing the right of third parties to seek a judicial review of any decision by An Bord Pleanála, and where these third parties must show they have a substantial interest in the matter, I understand this to be a property interest. Will the Minister indicate if the provision is constitutional? It is unfortunate that in the limited time available I will be curtailed from dealing with the role of An Bord Pleanála to a substantial degree. However, in many previous debates – and the Minister was present – I had asked that if an inspector makes a decision in favour of an applicant and the board refuses, the inspector's report should will be available in totality at a low cost. The Minister has made changes in that regard on which I commend him. If the inspector has come down in favour of the development and the board rejects it, there should be a right of appeal, not necessarily to the Supreme Court which is expensive. I am sure the Minister could find some level whereby that appeal could be made on the basis that the inspector's decision was different from that of the board, either for or against. I am sure other speakers will raise this issue with the Minister.
In case the Minister thinks I am being negative about this Bill I assure him there are many aspects of it that will receive full support from all Members of this House, one being the concept of sustainable development. While it is difficult to give a clear cut definition, the ethos it is trying to create is one we all understand. It will network into other aspects of the developments. It redefines the current standard governing proper planning and development and is worthy of complete support. The drawing together of many disparate planning acts are also worthy of support. I continue to support the provisions being made for the protection of amenities, the designation of special amenity areas and the landscaping of conservation areas. I also support the changes in the requirements of the members of the planning authority and of An Bord Pleanála and of officials employed in the planning area to disclose any property or business interests and the provision for a code of conduct to be drawn up by members and staff of the planning authority. This is to be welcomed because of recent events where the public, rightly or wrongly, think everybody who has anything to do with planning is open to being on the make.
 Section 5 of the Bill is attracting the most public attention – the provision for housing supply being made as part of the planning system. This is a provision for housing strategies to be purveyed by a planning authority for inclusion as part of a development plan in order that the planning authorities can ensure that adequate land would be zoned for housing and sufficient social and affordable housing would be provided in the plan. The provision states: “That the local authority will be required to estimate the amount of housing requirement in this area for the period for which the development plan is to be enforced and that 20 per cent of the land for residential purposes must be provided for social and affordable housing.” Developers and builders will be required to enter agreements with the planning authority to transfer 20 per cent of any land on which the objective applies and the compensation for the land to be paid at the existing use value of the land prior to being zoned. This provision comes as a result of the failure of the Government to provide adequate social housing. I can do no better than to quote an article by Mr. James Young, a research fellow at the University of Ulster. He is a director at the Edmund Blake institute, an independent property economist and Secretary of the European Real Estate Society, which might be inclined to show that he has a certain bent in one direction. Mr. Young wrote an article in a newspaper asking the why the housing list is growing. Referring to the statistics released by the Department of the Environment and Local Government, indicating that local authority waiting lists had risen by over 43 per cent in the past three years, Mr. Young asks rightly, “How could this happen in an economy that is growing?” He states that the Department of the Environment and Local Government pushes the belief that this is a result of greedy developers pricing houses so high that the ordinary working person cannot afford them. As a result of the present tribunals developers are being seen as greedy. However, that tars all developers with the same brush. While some developers are, undoubtedly, making substantial sums of money from rising house prices, it is unfair to those who are just making an ordinary living. I wish to point out that I have no axe to grind on behalf of any developer.
Mr. Young goes on to point out that if one is to find out the reason for the growth in the housing list it is necessary to look at the Government's statistics and actions or, indeed, inaction over the last few years. Local government and voluntary organisations only built over 10,000 houses between 1996 and 1998. Successive Governments have not kept up with the growing housing list. A mere 10,000 houses were built between 1996 and 1998, compared to 22,000 houses between 1995 and 1997. Between 1984 and 1986 local authorities built 19,000 houses. With only half as many local authority houses built in the past three years it is no wonder local authority housing lists are increasing.
 As a further condemnation of the Government's inaction or limited action, Mr. Young pointed out that as a percentage of all houses being built the numbers are even more startling. At its peak in 1975 the number of local authority houses as a percentage of all houses built was over 32 per cent. In 1994 the percentage of all houses completed or built by local government was 12.5 per cent. In 1998 the figure was closer to 5 per cent for all completions. Mr. Young does not make this argument in order to support the view that the answer is for more local authority housing. He points out that if there were adequate supplies of zoned and serviced land for private housing and a much simplified planning process – which this Bill may introduce – we would not have reached the present crisis. Mr. Young put the argument that the Government has taxed the first-time buyer into oblivion with VAT and levies, which were supposed to be used for the development of infrastructure. He also asked where all this money has gone? It is his belief that it has not gone into infrastructure. This is a major cause of the current housing problem.
Mr. Young reminds us that in the mid-1980s the local government was broke and local authorities sold as much land as possible to raise funds and that if these lands had not been sold at the then market value we would not be facing this present problem. The intervention in the market by the Government arises as a result of these factors – the sale of local authority land, the failure to provide infrastructure over these years and the failure to keep pace with waiting lists.
The intervention proposed in this Bill, which might be described as the most radical ever, may face a constitutional challenge. The Minister believes that if such a challenge is made section 5 will stand up to it. Article 43.2.1 of the Constitution acknowledges the right to private ownership of external goods and guarantees to pass no law attempting to abolish the rights of private ownership or the general right to transfer, bequeath or inherit property. On the other hand, however, the Constitution recognises that the exercise of these rights “. . . ought, in civil society, to be regulated by the principles of social justice”. Article 43.2.2 states: “The State, accordingly, may as occasion requires delimit by law the exercise of the said rights with a view to reconciling their exercise with the exigencies of the common good.”
It is because of these two Articles of the Constitution that I raise the question as to whether the provision will be challenged. If a legal challenge is mounted it is more likely to succeed on the grounds of alleged discrimination rather than straightforward invoking of property rights. One senior counsel pointed out that it can be argued that it is wrong to require one category of people to subsidise social housing when this should be done by the State. However, it is quite possible that builders might not mount a challenge as they will have recourse to the quid pro quo of being  offered planning permission. I would be surprised if the President, Mrs. McAleese, did not refer to Bill to the Supreme Court to have it examined for its constitutionality as her predecessor, Mrs. Robinson, did with the Employment Equality Bill which was found to be unconstitutional as it infringed constitutional property rights.
I wish to tease the following matter out with the Minister and perhaps he might clarify it for me. In a case where a local authority has sufficient land bank, the issue regarding the 20 per cent provision may simply not arise but, as the Minister is aware, the majority of local authorities have either little or no landbank left. I might be right in saying Cork has 120 acres and I know that what we have in Galway would only hold a few houses. That leads to difficulty. It is my understanding that it is the manager who makes the decision on the distribution of the 20 per cent provision. I am aware that the total amount need not be subscribed to by any single developer, which could mean that some developers would not have to provide any land for social housing. It is conceivable that the decision about distribution is open to the accusation of abuse or favouritism if some developers have to provide a social housing mix and others do not.
I propose that that decision should be made not by the manager, who might be open to this type of criticism, but by councillors and not by a simple majority but in the same way that one would use a material contravention of the development plan, whereby one would deal with three-quarters plus one of the total council. I make this proposal because a major party may have a simple majority on a council and may decide on a particular direction. To avoid such accusations I propose to the Minister that this provision be decided as are material contraventions and not left in the hands of the manager. I am sure the Minister is aware that we can be criticised for decisions which enhance one development and bring down another.
We, on this side of the House, recognise the critical necessity for the provision of social housing. However, we are not sure that the Minister has discovered the panacea or the way forward and we call on him to provide a minimum of 10,000 houses per year, either through direct funding of local authorities or providing the infrastructure and housing. The Minister should look at the possibility, if he wishes to release land, of tax concessions to people who have land and who might find it more attractive to release it to local authorities than local developers. We would then, at least, have the advantage over the local developer in trying to acquire land. That is only an alternative. The Minister said that he will not rollback on Part V and so be it. We support the concept of social integration. We find it difficult to believe that the proposal in this Bill will be the answer to that integration.
The Minister proposes to introduce an amendment whereby local authorities can arrange with the developer to purchase houses in a develop ment. That will have only a limited effect. I am concerned that what might occur is that where a developer has to provide the full 20 per cent, there will be a tendency to build a wall around the larger houses and exclude the others – almost like a walled city which kept out the poor. This is one of the dangers we must watch for. We must take into account that the Bill could have the opposite effect to reducing house prices and actually increase them. The 20 per cent social housing provision raises the question whether it is a form of taxation. That question has been put to the Minister before. A further question arises as to who pays the tax, the landowners, the developer or the buyer? The Minister is aware that if demand outstrips supply it is the buyer who will have to pay for this 20 per cent provision. This will not only raise house prices, it will create uncertainty in the marketplace. As a result, the amount of development land coming on the market will be reduced. Another possibility of which the Minister must be aware is that developers are becoming concerned about this matter and they will be making submissions to local authorities before those authorities draw up their plans in order that they will not have to provide the 20 per cent.
I wanted to deal with a number of other issues but I will not have time to do so. I compliment the Minister on introducing the concept of retention in the Bill because it is too easy to use a retention subsequently in respect of major changes. I support the introduction of planning controls in respect of afforestation and peat extraction. If time been available to me, I had also wanted to discuss strategic development zones – again, I compliment the Minister in this regard – the role of the EPA and An Bord Pleanála in development plans and a number of other aspects of the Bill.
I welcome the provisions in section 34 relating to developers who do not complete work on housing estates. I have raised this issue on a number of occasions with the Minister and I believe further legal action should be taken against developers who fail to complete estates. Effectively, the Minister is informing local authorities that if, after seven years, a developer does not complete an estate, they must take responsibility in that regard. That will place an additional burden on local authorities. There must be some way to resolve this problem. I accept that developers can change very quickly the titles under which their companies operate.
Mr. Coogan: I do not disagree that they should ensure or attempt to ensure that the work is carried out. However, if a developer changes overnight the title under which his company operates, there should be a way to pursue that individual.  When a contract is drawn up the main developer's name should be listed, not that of the company. He could then be pursued, regardless of the company to which he belongs.
Acting Chairman (Dr. Henry): Before calling Senator Kiely, I compliment the Minister and his staff for printing his speech on both sides of the paper. I suppose the Department of the Environment and Local Government is conscious of the amount of paper generated by the Houses of the Oireachtas. I call Senator Dan Kiely who has 30 minutes.
Mr. D. Kiely: This legislation is worthwhile, large, complex and long overdue. I compliment the Minister, his Department and his officials on working on the Bill during the summer when many people believed they were on holiday. A great deal of effort was put into its drafting.
The purpose of the Bill is to revise, extend and consolidate the local government planning and development Acts in order to provide for proper planning and development in all areas. In the programme for Government – I welcome Senator Coogan's comments in this regard – An Action Programme for the Millennium, the Government gave a commitment to update and consolidate the planning laws in order to ensure proper planning and development in all areas, facilitate maximum participation in the planning process and ensure that the principle of sustainable development is placed at the centre of the planning process. The Bill is intended to revise and modernise the planning Acts, having regard to the commitments in the programme for Government and the other conclusions that emerged from the comprehensive review of the planning Acts which was launched in August 1997.
The Bill is sizeable and contains many provisions. That will be of benefit to consumers, which is important. I would criticise a number of the comments made by Senator Coogan. Despite the fact that he supports the overall thrust of the Bill, the Senator criticised the system of displaying planning notices and referred to people who were ill or in hospital not being in a position to see them and make objections if they so desired. I have been a member of a local authority for 20 years, during which time the rules regarding the display of notices and those which govern planning restrictions have been enhanced  in order to help those making objections. Not only is a person now obliged to display a planning a notice in the newspaper, they must also display a second notice on the site of an intended development.
I am not sure how it works in large cities but I can guarantee Members that, in rural areas, if a bird perches longer than 15 minutes in one spot the entire community will know about it. If a house was being built and those responsible for its construction thought they could get away with publishing the notice in Irish or Greek, they would not succeed because people keep a constant watch for such behaviour. The rules governing the display of planning notices are sufficient and I cannot see why developers should be obliged to pay the additional cost of placing a second advertisement in a second newspaper. That would be totally unfair. Senator Coogan also referred to Mr. Young. I would not like to go down that man's road and the Senator might be better to return to the House and restate his case in that regard.
I welcome the inclusion in the Bill of statutory powers for objectors. People have been critical of the introduction of a fee in this regard. However, it is only right and proper to charge a fee because this will stop bogus objectors putting a halt to legitimate developments. Senator Coogan stated that the fee should be £20 but in my opinion we should charge £200 because those who are serious about making objections will be willing to pay. If there is a real need for an objection and people are obliged to pay a large fee, perhaps a clawback system could be introduced so that they could be reimbursed if their objection was successful. Charging a fee will ensure that “cowboys” do not make bogus objections.
Senator Coogan also referred to elected council members. Most councils hold planning meetings on a regular basis, usually every two months, at which all planning applications are brought before the elected representatives to be discussed at length. Councillors can then make their views known to the planning authorities and the chief planning officer. This process was streamlined under the regulations introduced by the Minister's Department and planning meetings, which are quite lengthy, deal with all developments within a county on a regional basis. Local authorities are empowered to invite regional groups to attend such meetings in order to hear their views, which is a worthwhile exercise. No fee is charged for this because that is what democracy is about. Therefore, people should not gain the wrong impression in that regard.
I agree that if a person will not go to the trouble of objecting at local level, they should not be entitled to object to An Bord Pleanála in order to stop a development. I am concerned about some of the developments in train in a number of seaside resorts. These developments were submitted under the seaside resorts renewal scheme and people raised objections to what I believe to be  good developments. These objections have now been placed before An Bord Pleanála for consideration. Work on these developments is supposed to be 50 per cent complete by February of next year. Perhaps the Minister should give consideration to the cases of people who made genuine applications to initiate developments, the progress of which has been delayed for at least four months at council level because additional information was required after the initial eight week period. I know of two such applications from seaside resorts in my own county which are with An Bord Pleanála. We have been trying to persuade An Bord Pleanála to make a decision so that the developer can proceed with the development. Some concession should be made to a developer when permission that has been given by a local authority is appealed to An Bord Pleanála. Such a developer should be compensated in some way and given an extension of time for the completion of the work in order to qualify for benefits.
All local authority members are concerned at the time it takes to process a simple planning application. There are many new aspects to planning, such as the protection of our national resources and cultural heritage. These are important. However, planners frequently write to developers at the end of the eight week period requesting further information and holding the project up for a further eight weeks. At the end of the second eight weeks, the planner might, yet again, request information. It is good that the second period is to be reduced to four weeks. This is only right. I would go further and say that after this four week period the local authority should decide whether to allow or disallow the application rather than holding it up for a further period.
The proposal to retain 20 per cent of land for affordable housing has aroused controversy. This is a good and novel idea. The 20 per cent is a flexible figure. In areas where there is a shortage of land the local authority will be able to take 20 per cent of land to build affordable houses. In other areas where there is a large land bank and where there is not a great demand for housing, there might be no need to retain 20 per cent of land and 5 per cent or less might be sufficient. I cannot foresee a local authority taking 20 per cent of land simply for the sake of taking it and having it lie idle. In an area where the full quota of land is taken up and the local authority develops 20 per cent of a site, the local authority should oversee the development of the other 80 per cent to ensure that the developer complies with planning regulations. A clerk of works or some similar person should be appointed to supervise the work of the developer to ensure that it is of the same high standard as the local authority development.
This Bill is a step towards reducing house prices and dealing with the housing crisis. The most recent surveys show that the cost of house building has not increased greatly in the past ten years. The increase has been in the cost of pur chasing and developing land. The price of a house rises considerably between the time it is built and the time it is sold. A good house can still be built for £30 per square foot while many years ago it would have cost £27 per square foot. This increase has not caused the great increase in house prices. The rise in house prices has come about because of the increased cost of land and the increased profit to those who buy houses from builders and sell them on to the final purchasers. This question must be tackled and I hope the Minister will do so, although I know he cannot do everything. One sees a big discrepancy in the price of a house between the time it is finished and the time it goes on the market.
An excellent effect of the retention of 20 per cent of land for affordable housing is that a person on a housing list will be able to buy an affordable site from a local authority and build his own home on it. We introduced such a scheme in Kerry years ago. We offered sites on council land banks for sale at reasonable prices. The scheme was quite successful and we sold the properties to applicants at the going rate, that is, what they cost the local authority plus our interest and the cost of the services we had provided. Everyone was happy and we now have some lovely estates of affordable housing. I am glad to see such a scheme included in this legislation.
The county development plans seem to be the bible for the future. It has been like a bible in my county for at least the past 20 years. I am glad the Minister proposes to reduce the period of development plans to six years with a review and the drafting of a new plan after four years. If there are criticisms of a county plan they should be brought before the county council and if changes are to be made the elected members of the local authority should make them. They should not complain that they cannot build houses in certain places because it would not comply with the county development plan. Elected representatives, rather than administrators, should draft their own plan and implement it. All local authorities should eagerly and enthusiastically compile their plan so that they can confidently say it has been compiled by elected representatives on behalf of the people and is not something which has been written by a bunch of bureaucrats and imposed on the people. This is the single most important element of this Bill and must be welcomed.
Senator Coogan mentioned the requirement that developers complete estates within seven years and the fact that if this is not done, the local authority will finish the development. This is a very good thing and something I proposed to my own local authority years ago. Local authorities should keep an eye on cowboy builders who build estates but leave footpaths, lighting and other services in total disarray and simply walk away. Public representatives are then faced with residents  demanding that the local authority do something. Local authorities have been obliged to introduce bonding systems and to try to confiscate other estates from builders in lieu of those which were not completed. This involved huge amounts of red tape.
I return to the point I made earlier about the development of 20 per cent of land by a local authority and of the other 80 per cent by a private developer. Local authorities should appoint an overseer or a clerk of works to make sure that 80 per cent of the development is completed. If the estate is not complete within seven years, the council should be held responsible. It is only right and proper that local authorities complete such estates because many estates have not been finished by cowboy operators throughout the country. I am glad that local authorities are compelled under the legislation to complete such estates as it will enhance and improve the environment. Many people live in cul de sacs on estates which have not been finished and do not have the necessary resources to install lighting or finish roads and footpaths and I am delighted that this provision is being introduced.
Restrictions are proposed to prevent developers who do not finish building projects from forming a new company. They bank as much as they can and then run away. I am glad a licensing system will be implemented whereby such builders will be prevented from attaining planning permission on the basis of their records. If local authorities can prove that developers did not finish estates or other projects, they can go to court to prevent them from participating in further projects. This is a significant and important move. I am amenable to the creation of a new section for compulsory acquisitions in the Department because it will reduce the time involved for planning applications and aid future development.
Sometimes developers apply for planning permission to build factories, etc., but then withdraw their applications because there are so many objectors who are intent on blocking them and as a result significant developments are held up. However, the Bill proposes that such applications must be dealt with within eight weeks, which is a step in the right direction as it will attract developers into the country. They will be guaranteed that within eight weeks of submitting their planning applications, a decision will be made.
There have been numerous unauthorised developments and many local authority members are not saints in this regard. People build extensions, for example, without planning permission and when they contact their public representatives they are told it will be taken care of, but the Bill proposes to deal with unauthorised developments, although on a bigger scale. Those who entertain such unauthorised building face a fine per square foot and this is an important provision.
Under the legislation, local authorities can place a levy on large developments and then spend the money on infrastructure in the vicinity of such developments thus improving access.  Planning permission for outdoor entertainment events has been a bone of contention for many years. All of us are involved in the organisation of town carnivals, fairs and local entertainment events. However, under current planning law there is a restriction on such events whereby one must apply for planning permission to hold an outdoor event. It is proposed to abolish this restriction. That will be welcomed by those involved in organising and running community events, etc. They can now apply for a licence which will be awarded by the local authority involved.
As public representatives, we will be able to apply for these licences on behalf of these groups and that will get rid of much of the red tape. Events cannot be planned overnight; months of thought and preparation are involved. I recall many big concerts where planning permission was granted and then refused. The concerts were cancelled and, ultimately, our young people were disappointed. I am glad this provision has been included in the legislation.
Some people want to design their homes and are told by the local authority that they cannot have brown slates but need dark slates. Within a week the dark slates are discoloured or multicoloured. I have discussed this with planning authorities in the past. They also tell people that they cannot use bricks for the front of their houses but at the same time one can paint the house red or blue or yellow. One can paint it 50 different colours because there is no restriction on that but if one wishes to use brick, one cannot because one is told that it does not blend in with the surrounding area.
This aspect of planning is not dealt with in the legislation and I will table amendments in this regard on Committee Stage. Many planning officials should be sent abroad to examine architecture and house design in other countries. People pay to visit beautiful houses which have nice designs. If these planning officials had been around when stately homes and castles, such as Muckross House, were built, we would not have these buildings today. We are trying to preserve such buildings nowadays as thousands of tourists arrive each year to visit them. If people want to put a little imagination into the design of their homes by adding lean-tos or redesigning the roof rather than building an ordinary, drab house, they should be legally entitled to do so.
I will be taking up this issue shortly when the new county development plan is finalised for Kerry. If a person wants to use brick or slates instead of tiles, it is his or her prerogative because they are paying for it. It is their constitutional right. I love to visit quaint little villages in Europe to look at the different sized houses and their design. The planning authorities would say that one cannot have a two storey house because of the bungalows in the area or one cannot have bungalows because there are only two storey  houses in the area. This is wrong and will have to be examined at local level.
I look forward to making more contributions on Committee Stage. It is very worthwhile legislation and I compliment those who worked on it, including the Minister, the Minister of State, the Department and officials. It is not perfect but is not far from it. Some changes would improve it. It is badly needed because it is the biggest single problem that we, as elected representatives at local authority level, have. As someone remarked to me recently, we spend our day off in our local authority office, where eight out of ten queries we receive involve problems with planning such as delays, red tape and so on. We should remove these and make some progress. I welcome the Bill to the House and I look forward to making further contributions on Committee Stage.
Mr. Caffrey: I welcome both Ministers and compliment them on this initiative in the form of the new Bill. Whether this initiative will solve this problem, or housing crisis as it has now become known, is another question. We all hope it will but I have my doubts. Of the 245 sections in the Bill there are probably only a few which will impact directly on the new house market in the coming years. Given the timescale involved, some of the measures that are designed to solve this problem, or at least alleviate it, will not come into effect for four to five years. Statistics released by the Department, which I will not rehash, show that local authority housing lists all over the country have risen by about 43 per cent in the past three years. If this rate continues, what type of a crisis will we have in three years time? I forecast that we will be back next year discussing new measures because, as with many things in Irish society, the problems had taken deep root before we even started debating them or introducing measures to solve them. This is evident in our traffic and health services problems, all of which are urgent now but nevertheless should have been foreseen with the growth in our economy over the past few years. The Celtic tiger is putting a whole new generation of Irish people on to the local authority housing lists, which is evidenced by the available statistics. The Celtic tortoise, which is the collective name for the entire local authority system, ensures that these people will wait on the housing lists.
This Bill could be looked at in two ways: firstly the current situation and secondly the new proposals. As a member of two local authorities I find the delays in the current system inexcusable. Developments in my own county that were mooted this time last year have still not been given clearance for one reason or another, sometimes flimsy reasons. The impression is that the local authorities as so understaffed that they are looking for excuses to postpone a decision by sending out a letter asking for more information. This takes another four months as the authorities will not accept a two month period, which means that six months passes before an application is  processed. Even after that more information may be requested.
This pertains throughout the 26 counties, both at county council and urban council level. I am a member of an urban council and if ever I have a reason not to stand for the urban council in the future, it will be the housing crisis and the frustration endured by the urban councillors every week, dealing with people whom we know we cannot accommodate, trying to find excuses and tell them there is hope. This is becoming frustrating for local councillors.
Many local authorities are imposing excessive charges on development in areas such as counties Mayo and Sligo. It is not unusual to have to pay £6,000 for infrastructural development services. The developer bears not only the price of the site but also has to pay the local authority £5,000 or £6,000 on each site before he even turns a sod. This is raising the cost of houses.
The Department of the Environment are doing their best to streamline the system. Sandwiched between the Celtic tiger and the Celtic tortoise is this new generation of people who cannot afford to buy a house on the open market, cannot get a local authority house and are now at their wits end. The number of these people is increasing daily, which is why the situation is urgent. Whether the measures proposed in the Bill will solve it is questionable. Only hindsight will reveal if a 20 per cent allocation for social housing provided for in the Bill will work, but my conviction is that it will not and there are several reasons. Large areas of land would require to be rezoned, for which full planning permission would be needed before any of these measures commenced. The developers will try to make projections allowing for the possibilities within this Bill and in doing so they are going to have bigger landbanks before the coming into effect of some of these measures.
There is in the Irish psyche a great desire to own your own home wherever you choose. People have an inbuilt resistance to a particular type of housing within their own local housing structure or environment. This resistance will be manifested when this Bill comes into force. Social housing has not worked and all kinds of measures will be devised to circumvent this section in the Bill. It will be interesting to see how imaginative they will be.
Local authorities should streamline their systems and take the initiative in building local authority houses. In the mid-1980s there were three times the number of local authority houses built than are being built at present, despite our Celtic tiger economy. When I was a member of Ballina Urban District Council there were not enough tenants to fill the houses for two consecutive years. This indicates how dramatically the situation has changed over the years.
Several factors impinge on the housing crisis. We are examining the role of the local authorities. The Department of the Environment and Local Government is trying to streamline the  entire system. The planning departments of local government are understaffed. At a recent Mayo County Council meeting we approved the appointment of six or seven new planners in the planning office but the county manager has said it will be difficult to recruit them. Staff in the planning offices are overworked because of the volume of new planning applications. Applications to Mayo County Council increased dramatically by 50 per cent over the past three years. Inconsistencies in planning decisions at local and national level are causing widespread dissension among the public. In some counties the rejection rate runs from 7 per cent to 10 per cent. Overall this figure may appear small but it amounts to a substantial number of people who are denied the right to build a family home. It is difficult to understand why some of the applications are rejected as we cannot see a valid reason. Only the possibly contentious applications, referred to by Senator Kiely, are shown every month to the councillors. He will agree that recommendations and protestations are made to the planning office. Nine times out of ten our suggestions, ideas and representations are not considered. The planning officer in his almighty wisdom and autocratic power will make the final decision regardless of what I say or Senator Kiely says in Kerry County Council.
Mr. Caffrey: Modified yes, but most of the county managers do not accept it. They reject it on technical grounds. A High Court decision has strengthened their hand in this area. Section 4, for practical purposes, has gone from the agenda. It has been suggested that many counties abused the system. In County Mayo we were careful and used it in extreme situations only when we, as a body, considered the decision justified and when environmental, health, sanitary and other considerations would not render it unsuitable.
The Minister cannot be responsible for every decision made by every planning officer. The Department of the Environment and Local Government is anxious to ensure that people get houses built. Applications are often refused on flimsy grounds. The planning offices are using the poor quality of roads, particularly in rural areas, as an excuse for rejecting planning applications. If a white line or a bend is within one or two hundred yards from the proposed housing site, the application is rejected, even if the road is a secondary one. Older houses, built pre-planning,  are situated on the edges of roads or at turns where accidents never occur because, in general, people are careful. The standard of negligence is higher on highways. A person who emerges from a site or driveway with a restricted view exercises more care and vigilance which reduce the risk of accidents.
The view of the planning office is that the car is king and that anything that causes the motorist to slow down is given the utmost consideration. That way of thinking is false. We should have more traffic controls and traffic-calming measures where there are houses. It is impossible to get a local authority to introduce a 30 or 40 mile an hour speed limit because its thinking is not geared this way. When it is obvious a 30 miles per hour speed limit should be imposed, the engineers for some reason will not go along with such thinking.
We must look at the local authorities. The Minister hopes this Bill will solve the problems but there are only a few measures in it out of the 245 sections which will have any significant impact on the housing situation. Many of the other sections are worthwhile but, although they are necessary, are minor in the context of the Bill and planning legislation.
At present people can ignore a planning application going through a local authority and then go to An Bord Pleanála to lodge an official objection which then slows development. This will be eliminated by the Bill and that is to be welcomed.
The setting aside of 20 per cent of land for social housing could be a problem constitutionally. There is an Article in the Constitution which states that the right to own property comes before positive law. The Bill could be challenged in the courts on that basis. That is a hurdle which the Minister will have overcome in the future.
I hope the Bill will work because we are all anxious to see these problems which cause so much frustration to councillors and local authorities eliminated. The local authorities should also be examined. It is a two-fold process – economic success creates a problem which bureaucracy then has to deal with.
Miss Quill: I welcome the Bill. Reform of the planning system is long overdue. Perceived improprieties in the planning system have done much to damage public trust and confidence in the political system at national and local levels. Bad planning has also given rise to considerable social and economic problems. Zoning decisions were made in the past which took little cognisance of the need for adequate services and proper infrastructure in new developments, in housing estates in particular. Administrative delays in the planning process are slowing progress in many residential, commercial and industrial projects and are now becoming a barrier to continued economic growth.
A lurid example of how the planning system has failed is the way in which the coast of Donegal has been developed over the last quarter of a  century. Some of the most wild and wonderful scenery in western Europe has been scarred by poor development. If we compare that coastal area with the equivalent area in Antrim, we see the difference in the value the two different jurisdictions place on their scenery and natural environment. People travelling along the coast of Antrim will see signs everywhere which say that the area is protected by the National Trust. There are no buildings between the road and the sea. That should be compared with what has happened in Donegal, where there is visual testimony to the way in which planning in this State has been abused, how discredited the present system is and how necessary a new system has become. Not alone should there be new legislation, but new structures should be put in place so the new legislation is properly implemented.
It is not necessary to go to Donegal to see puzzling planning decisions and inconsistency between decisions in the same locality. It defies logic to see what can happen. It is not my style to be personal about these matters but I take this opportunity to point out an experience a member of my family had this year. This family member applied for permission to build a two storey house on the land on which our great-grandfather built the first two storey slated house in that locality but he could not get permission. He was required by a planning officer to build a bungalow. The application was not in my name but, if it had been, the decision would have been taken to a higher court. Thus a rural landscape which had a built environment heritage of two storey houses will only be permitted bungalows now. Bungalows have no place in the tradition or heritage of the locality that I describe. I can find no reason for such planning decisions in the county development plan or any other plan but this is what has happened and this is what this Bill should set out to remedy.
In the same parish there are numerous ribbon developments with houses of obscene size cutting up the landscape. How can anyone justify that kind of erratic and inconsistent application of planning laws? I cannot. If this Bill does nothing else except root out that approach to planning, it is to be welcomed. With this Bill we must put in place a system which will never allow such a thing to happen in the future.
In a State which is so proud of its scenic beauty, a planning system which allows that beauty to be scarred by bad planning decisions should not be tolerated. It is high time that a radical approach was taken and a new Bill put in place the aim of which should be to make the system more responsive to the needs of people and a rapidly growing economy. Specifically, we should aim to streamline planning procedures to cut delays and shorten the time period for the processing of applications, providing additional staff resources where necessary. Not alone are additional staff required to achieve the objective of this Bill, there should be training in new skills for staff in planning departments.
 In the past when planning new housing estates there have been major mistakes which must be avoided in the future. All new housing estates must be developed as communities with full service provision ab initio so we do not throw up large estates and return ten years later to build a branch library, a sub-post office, a child care centre or community centre. These elements must be built into a housing estate or a cluster of housing estates in a given geographic area. That is the proper way to develop a living environment as opposed to building a cluster of houses and allowing a builder to move on to the next development as fast as he possibly can.
Miss Quill: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, to the House. We have had a tapestry of Ministers in the House today on this Bill. This Minister of State is the third – maybe the last but certainly not the least – to grace us with his presence. I hope I have not lost over lunch my zeal for discussing planning issues.
In the context of a new planning regime we should have the proper integrated planning of estates and not the bad old practice where houses were built but only years later it was recognised that there was a need to build child care facilities, libraries and perhaps a post office if we were to have communities. If these housing estates are to become integrated communities, we must build in the provision of public services. That should be done from the outset. It should be an in-built feature in the planning of housing estates from here on, under what, I hope, will become the new planning regime.
I was about to make this point to the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, since the environment is his special responsibility. I was going to say to him that if we are serious about recycling and such issues, we should seek to locate bottle banks, recycling receptacles and facilities near housing estates. If we are to achieve sustainable development as well as proper physical development, we must make better provision for communities in order to have a proper recycling system in place. That is sustainable development at the micro level, but it is important.
I am glad that, in the context of this Bill, the running sore of unfinished estates will be dealt with for good and for glory, and not before time. The problems which have arisen for house purchasers and householders in relation to unfinished estates have been real and harrowing. Problems have been created for local authorities as well. Henceforth, local authorities must make proper provision at the planning stage to ensure developers fulfil all their obligations and do not walk away from an estate until they have met all  those obligations and the planning requirements, which must be built-in at the planning stage. If they walk away, they should be prevented from taking on further contracts. Often in the past a coach and four was driven through planning laws and developers often assumed new trading names and made further applications. They ran from estate to estate and left behind a trail of dereliction. That cannot be allowed to happen in the future. If planning laws are there to serve the interests of the community, as opposed to furthering the profits of developers and speculators, then planning laws must be framed in such a way that unfinished estates will not be a feature of the future. It is one of the welcome aspects of the Bill that provision will be made in law to ensure that will not happen from here on in.
We must ensure local communities are fully consulted at the initial stages of all zoning applications. Our approach to the zoning process will have to change. More land is needed if we are to meet the housing needs of the nation but that land must not be zoned in a haphazard way which takes no account of the common good. At present zoning is an ownership orientated process. It works to deliver what is best for the owners of the land involved. We now need a people orientated process that makes responsible rezoning decisions based on the needs of the communities directly affected and those of society at large. We need a planning law that is a citizens' and communities' charter, not a builder's or developer's charter.
Inconsistencies in planning decisions have been mentioned. Often when these decisions are questioned we are told that local authority planning departments are grossly understaffed, and that may be so given the scale of development all over Ireland, but if the Bill's provisions are to become a reality, proper provision will have to be made for the full staffing of local authorities and, moreover, local authorities will have to be staffed by properly qualified planners. If needs be, we must invest in employing more planners at local level but we must also invest in upskilling those planners. We will not have a proper planning regime unless we have sufficient fully qualified planners to ensure that a planning system that commands respect is put in place.
I welcome the emphasis that the Bill places on the local development plan. That is very important. The development plan must be the bible for all planning in a five year period. It is the most democratic instrument in the planning system. It is put in place by locally elected representatives and I am glad the Bill gives it priority. An Bord Pleanála must be made accountable to the public for its decisions. Detailed records, reasons, explanations and minutes of board meetings in relation to decisions should be made available to the general public. An Bord Pleanála, as an appeal board, must not have any power to sanction contravention of a development plan under any circumstances. That is a total denial of democracy. A development plan has been described as an environmental con tract between a local authority and the people in an area and, as such, it must be adhered to. The only people who ought to be allowed to vary a development plan in any way should be the democratically elected representatives and if An Bord Pleanála decides that a plan must be changed or varied in any way, that must not and should not be done without its being referred back to the people who made the plan in the first instance. The only people who ought to be allowed to change or vary a development plan are those who made the plan in the first instance – the locally elected councillors.
The idea of planning permissions being granted contrary to development plans is totally undemocratic, particularly when those who think they can decide such matters have not been in on the making of the plan in the first instance and are not accountable to the community to which the plan applies. That is a critical point and the local development plan should not be made lightly. It ought to be approved only after widespread consultation with the community and different interest groups within that community. It should be a blueprint for furthering the welfare of a community and should be the preserve of those elected by the community to further proper planning in their area. That is very important and no manager or appeals board should be allowed to interfere with that.
Elected representatives should be given more power to control and exercise sanctions. I know of cases where locally elected representatives were browbeaten by officials into accepting decisions they knew to be incorrect for their areas. They were threatened that if they did not go along with management's decision they might have to suffer the loss of their houses as they could not be indemnified. That is wrong and the Minister of State should look at this. If we are to put a planning system in place to serve the country in coming years, this should be looked at. Locally elected representatives should be given more power.
I am glad local plans will be put on a statutory basis. This is a good idea because the principles adopted in a county development plan that are to be applied locally must be applied in accordance with a plan for a given locality that is well worked out. I spoke earlier about the inconsistency of planning permissions in a given area. People ask me how one family can be allowed to build a three storey building when the family next door is compelled to build a bungalow; that is happening. There may be total inconsistency in an area as small as a parish. We must stress the fundamental importance of the local plan and planning decisions will then have to be justified in the context of a local plan that is democratically agreed and adopted. I am glad this Bill recognises local planning.
I accept that in the past there have been unnecessary and vexatious objections to planning applications and that this is a factor, though not  the sole factor, in delaying decisions. Decisions are often delayed at an earlier stage for administrative reasons, as I have said. This Bill proposes a charge for anyone who wishes to object to a development and that is wrong. It will have to be looked at again. If a charge is introduced it should be for certain types of development only. If I am living on a pension, as I will be in 20 years, if not sooner, and my neighbour wants to put up a garage that takes from my light and detracts from my comfort, it is not fair to expect a pensioner to pay in order to lodge an objection. A small planning matter like that can distort someone's life and home and may adversely affect the value of a person's home. It is not right that an ordinary person dealing with a planning application such as I have described would have to pay to make an objection. It is undemocratic. I know we must deal with objections that are purely vexatious or that may have a hidden agenda, but this is not the way to deal with them. We are using a steamroller to break an egg. We must find ways of dealing with vexatious objections, but we must do so without removing the democratic rights of citizens to object to a development without charge. The Minister should apply his skills to this issue to see how we can amend the Bill to achieve a certain set of objectives without doing damage.
I will not refer to housing even though it is a large element of the Bill, because the issue has already been discussed in much detail. The housing provisions in the Bill will find widespread support and agreement and I will not repeat the comments of previous speakers. I fully support the provisions.
I received some representations from people living in the Gaeltacht. Ceapann siad gur cheart an Ghaeltacht a chur san áireamh nuair a bhíonn athruithe áirithe á tabhairt isteach sa chóras pleanála. Iarraim ar an Aire Stáit a bhfuil suim ar leith aige sa Ghaeltacht féachaint ar sin arís agus deimhin a dhéanamh de go ndéantar soláthar ceart do mhuintir na Gaeltachta sa Bhille seo. Tá mé cinnte go mbeidh tuilleadh cainte ar seo nuair a bheidh na leasuithe á mholadh ag Céim an Choiste.
The planning system has been discredited. We have an opportunity to address and redress that in law. Planning laws must be used to protect the environment and not to pollute it. The environment is the greatest asset we will pass on to the next generation. We must have planning laws and a planning system which seek to avoid and avert the gross and crass mistakes of the past, and which work to the benefit of this and future generations.
Mrs. Jackman: I welcome this timely Bill. Its remit is to revise, extend and consolidate local authority planning and development Acts from 1963 to 1999. It is in all our interests to provide for proper planning and sustainable development. Over the past number of years councillors have been discussing the idea of quality planning and sustainable development and this issue has been  on the agenda of meetings of the Local Authority Members' Association. Senator Coogan is our representative on the General Council of County Councils and can confirm that the issue was addressed during the last council and dominates much discussion within the current council, of which I am a member. I would prefer to have had an opportunity to discuss the issue before the Planning and Development Bill came before the House but there will be plenty of time to do so before Committee Stage.
I am concerned about the structured hierarchy of plans. There are thousands of planning applications lodged with local authorities and it will be essential to provide resources to deal with them. It is impossible to get even young planners to work for local authorities and members have reduced access to planners. It is impossible for members of the general public to get an appointment to meet a planner because they are inundated with applications and under pressure to deal with them immediately. I am concerned about this new hierarchy but feel that the Minister must have received support from the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, to ensure that resources will be made available to manage and service this hierarchy.
The Minister spoke about quality development plans and assuring quality in planning. This is an ambitious and aspirational objective which I support. I am also delighted to see the provisions regarding the protection of the landscape, particularly those concerning the preservation of trees. Councillors have been to the fore in trying to ensure that developers take heed of the sites they acquire and in being vigilant that trees are not cut down during the night when nothing can be done about it. This is an important provision.
I am concerned about the position of non-governmental organisations who worry about their lack of opportunity to appeal if they do not lodge objections during the initial period. We are expecting the public to be the watchdogs of the planning process. A voluntary housing group recently approached Limerick County Council to build an additional 36 houses in an area which already had 78 houses, but no one in the area concerned saw the pink notice, which is supposed to be displayed in an prominent place. Instead of placing the notice in the local newspaper it appeared in The Examiner which few Limerick people read. It is a bit much to expect people to spend their days checking whether a planning application has been lodged with the council. It is difficult to get through to councils on the telephone let alone to see a notice on a proposed site. This situation has not been worked through.
We sometimes forget that the inclement weather can blow down notices within an hour or two of their being put up. Local authorities have confirmed that they do not check these signs. Why not? I am concerned that councils are relying on developers to place signs in prominent locations. One could be on holidays and not see these signs. One might also not object to initial  planning applications for an institution such as a school because one did not think things would work out. Planning applicants can withdraw their applications and revise their plans. They can also look for retention. I did not see retention referred to in the Bill and I am concerned about the proliferation of retentions. Builders take the attitude that they will not receive planning permission but go ahead and build in the knowledge that no one will tell them to demolish the building. I have never seen a building or even a wall taken down because it did not have planning permission. Senator Coogan informs me that this issue is included in the Bill. I am glad that retention is provided for because it is a sore point at this time.
The Bill also provides for a tightening up of the decision time but, again, I would refer to the need for staff resources. Staff cannot deliver on the timeframe if there are only a few engineers to check everything. There are suburban and rural areas in my electoral area but only one engineer to look after two electoral areas within Limerick County Council. This district includes a huge suburban area in the city as well as rural areas. I do not expect this engineer to work 24 hours a day but he has no back-up because, apparently, no one wants to work in local authority planning as there are more lucrative positions in development.
I welcome the provision for strategic development zones and am glad to see all the major players, such as IDA, Enterprise Ireland, SFADCO and so on, involved. I am also pleased that there will be public consultation, that the councils will deliberate and that decisions will be made by elected members. If members do not make decisions, then the county manager will do so. There is also a Bord Pleanála aspect to the provision but no appeal. Licences must be obtained but I would like to see the EPA involved. There will be an agency to deal with this issue but I would have liked the decision to ultimately come back to local authorities. Local authority officials should be involved in the process from the beginning as it will fall to them to make decisions.
There are a few other aspects to the Bill, the most controversial of which is the 20 per cent of development land provision. With every Bill, one section is more controversial than others and there is a danger that good parts of the Bill will not be considered or other areas which need to be tightened up may not be addressed. This aspect has affected the general public and is open to many interpretations. People, including developers, are scared and there has been talk of constitutional rights and court appeals. I am interested in and concerned about this.
Perhaps I am incorrect, but my initial understanding was that it would be for affordable housing, but somewhere along the line the wording “social and affordable” housing emerged. My first understanding of the 20 per cent arrangement was that it was to provide affordable housing for young civil servants, teachers, gardaí and industry employees. I do not wish to be misinter preted as saying that there should not be a social mix. However, the affordability aspect was being considered and then it suddenly became the social and affordability aspect.
I have listened to the views of suburban dwellers in my area. It is not that people have a problem with a social mix in the country or towns but the suburbs have traditionally been middle class because local authority housing has been in the city areas. It will be difficult and there will be a reaction. For example, in my area a person living in a £200,000 house could have had to conform very closely to the planning requirements when building a bungalow – perhaps there might have been a small concession and a dormer bungalow was allowed – on a half acre or acre site and that person would have paid more to develop the site to ensure it did not create a problem. In a high density area beside seven or eight such houses, there is a planning application for almost 400 detached, semi-detached and terraced houses, including duplex apartments. This is in a suburban area overlooking a homeowner who sweated to conform to the planning requirement. Is this fair to such individuals? They will always be concerned about being overlooked and devaluation of their property but they might not be too concerned if the housing was for families or single people.
However, because Limerick is a university city this affordable housing is not going to people who need housing. The vast majority of the high density housing in Castletroy, which is close to the University of Limerick, goes to students. Three bedroom houses house ten or 11 students. What about the rights of the individuals living beside high density student villages. They are created under the guise of affordable housing for individuals and couples but they are bought not just by Limerick people – at least then we could argue there is an economic boom to the purchasers of the houses – but by people from Kildare, Ballyhaunis, Castlebar, Dublin and other places. It is not a case of social and affordable housing for real need, rather it is an investment bonanza and I am worried about the rights of those living beside these duplex apartments and semi-detached houses full of students. Will they have redress? I repeat that they had to conform to very stringent planning regulations.
There is concern about the 20 per cent provision. I will use the example of Castletroy again as real examples are useful. Five or six developers may be fighting for their piece of the cake in a dog-eat-dog scenario. They may have speculated, bought the land when it was cheap and now look forward to a bonanza. I had understood there would be an equity element in that each developer would be asked for 20 per cent of the development land but apparently that is not the case. Only one or two developers may be asked or, perhaps no developer in that area will be asked for land. The land may be sought in another electoral area. I thought there would be  equity with each developer giving a percentage. It would be like each village taking a traveller family to try to do something about the traveller problem, although it is not as simple as that because they do not like to break up and go to different villages.
I am worried about the arrangements and I support Senator Coogan's point about not leaving the decision to the county manager as it puts him in a stressful position. It should go back to the council which does not have a vested interest and would be removed from the situation which may emerge where the manager will be plagued by developers not to look for the 20 per cent. I am very worried about this because there is confusion. I would like equity in relation to where the 20 per cent of land will come from – apparently, it could come from just one electoral area and leave other areas without any such demands on them.
I do not have time to refer to many good points in relation to reselling after ten years but we can consider them on Committee Stage. Given the Irish psyche, I do not think people can be forced to integrate. It happens naturally and the more one forces people to integrate, the more they dig in their heels. It is not snobbery, rather it concerns property and resale of property. Circumstances can change and I am concerned about how the Minister intends to deal with this.
Another aspect of concern is the lack of definition. This measure seems to be urban based. I have argued that Dublin certainly needs it. In Limerick young people are not benefiting from affordability. This brings me back to the issue of speculators, but I wish to also consider the rural aspect as this is a very comprehensive Bill. Limerick County Council is faced with a high pressure zone surrounding suburbia. One cannot get planning permission in a high pressure zone, unless one has lived there since 1990, is the son or daughter of a landowner and has contributed economically and socially to the area. Will the Minister comment on this? A development plan was adopted which made this statutory. Many people had applied for planning permission before this development plan was adopted and because of delays due to lack of resources, those planning applications were considered as being post-development plan and were outlawed. The applications were made before the high pressure zone existed. What rights have these applicants? They do not have planning permission. Perhaps they spent two years looking for a suitable site. They were not going to pollute the area but they were setting a change in direction for this high pressure zone.
I understand the needs but I also see the other side of the equation. If small towns cannot be provided with sewerage schemes so that people can live where there are services, where does the Minister expect rural people to live? They cannot live in towns without the sewerage schemes. They cannot live in high pressure zones which are open rural spaces because they do not conform to the  criteria. Where should they go? Will they be pushed into social and affordable housing and add to the demoralisation and rural decline? There is no reference to that important issue. We are trying to stop rural decline and I do not know where people who want to live in those areas can be housed. Certainly they would not be able to afford the houses to which we referred within the environs.
On environmental impact studies, if there were too many local authority houses in an area where there were immense problems, this might exacerbate a situation from a social viewpoint. I am arguing for mixed housing in this instance and I wonder whether EIS or An Bord Pleanála take into account the problems which emerge when there is too high a concentration of local authority areas where there are already social problems as a result of unemployment and drug addiction. Building more local authority housing in such areas only adds to the problem. Can an EIS be undertaken on social grounds?
Regarding the inspectors and An Bord Pleanála, many people approach me to know what is wrong with a decision since an inspector agreed with the person and then sent his or her recommendation to An Bord Pleanála. The inspector's report should not be shot down and one should not have to go through a laborious and costly appeal to the courts. There should be room within An Bord Pleanála to look at that status of the inspector. I always find it strange where he or she gives positive support to the applicant who appeals a decision, it does not seem to be taken into consideration. It seems the county manager says to his planner “You have given me your ideas and recommendations but I am going to turn them down”. I ask the Minister to look at that area.
I appeal to the Minister, who has built 7.5 per cent of all houses – I should say that he did not build them; it was the local authorities who built them – to look at this. Fine Gael policy is that local authorities should be providing about 15 per cent of the total annual housing output, which would be about 10,000 houses. This would have a bearing on this Bill also.
Mr. O'Brien: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, to the House. This is one of the most important Bills to come before the House in recent times. I compliment the Government and Minister Dempsey, in particular, for preparing the Bill as it will benefit each of us and the communities in which we work and live.
In recent years economic growth has brought a massive boom to the building industry. This benefited everyone, creating employment and increasing wages. However, economic growth has pushed up the price of houses massively in urban and rural areas. Prices have trebled in a few short  years. This huge increase in house prices places enormous strain on young people setting up a family home for the first time so it is important that radical new measures to address the supply of houses are introduce to provide affordable housing in every area.
Over the years Members have expressed their concerns, as I have on many occasions, about people leaving rural Ireland. They do so for many reasons – the depressed state of farm incomes, the lack of job opportunities in rural Ireland and the fact that there are better prospects in the bigger cities. One of the drawbacks of this move to the cities is the shortage of housing, which results in huge price increases. Many people now want to return to rural Ireland where housing is affordable, and I urge the Minister and the planning authorities to ensure that housing developments in small villages are encouraged and assisted in every possible way. No obstacles should be placed in their way. New housing brings new life into these areas.
As we approach the new millennium, we must plan in a better way for an Ireland which is growing faster than the rest of Europe. With a young population, our plans must take account of the economic and social needs of the country.
The Bill contains the most radical housing provisions to be brought forward by a Government. These provisions are absolutely necessary due to the present conditions which prevail in the housing markets. With demands for local and other social housing, I welcome the provision for drawing up a housing strategy by each local authority. This will ensure new housing developments involve a mixture of housing types for people with different levels of income – families, one person households, the elderly and the disabled. This type of planning is socially acceptable.
Local communities should be involved in the early stages of development plans. This would avoid difficulties and objections which cause delays at a later stage. Areas belong to the local communities and the people must have a major say in any proposed developments. The Minister said earlier that his third principle is to ensure that the Irish planning system delivers a quality service. He is seeking quality development plans, quality and timely decisions, an acceptable planning and proper enforcement. The Bill makes changes to ensure that these can be delivered.
Mr. Quinn: I welcome the Bill and the fact that it is being introduced in this House. As the Minister may be aware, I have been a member of an international organisation for some years and it has been so interesting to witness the changing view of Ireland over the past few years. Ten years ago when I met people from the US and other parts of Europe and they heard I was from Ireland, this did not cause a stir. However, in the  past few years, and the past two years in particular, when I mention I am from Ireland, I see people's eyes light up. Our economic success is envied by so many around the world and the people I meet ask two questions, the first of which is how did we achieve this success. Funnily enough, I am not just talking about success in economic terms but about success in every other sphere also, although I am not so sure about our success at football. Their second question is can we keep it going. I welcome this Bill because it looks to the future of planning and how we can continue this success.
The current buzz word is “sustainability” and it hangs over everything we talk about here. It is interesting that the British have a very jaundiced view of our success and ask when it is going to collapse. I welcome this Bill because in it we are grabbing hold of opportunities and challenges.
If I have one criticism of this Bill – and the Minister will be happy to hear my criticism – it is that it was not introduced ten years ago. If it had we might have learned a great deal. That is a gentle criticism and I know the Minister will welcome it.
About ten years ago I came back from Argentina. It was around this time that the Prime Minister of Canada was visiting Ireland and we both attended a chamber of commerce lunch where I joined him at his table. When I mentioned that I had come back from Argentina some of the Canadians and people with Irish links sitting around the table asked me if, having decided to emigrate and live somewhere else at the time of our independence in 1922, I would choose Canada or Argentina. At that time both countries were equal. They both had a similar population, a similar size in natural resources and a similar opportunity for success. In 1990 or 1991 one country was part of the G7 and the other was a Third World nation. Thankfully, Argentina has solved that problem now. The only difference between these two countries is what the people did with their country. They were in control of their country and said to themselves “we can do something about this”. That is why I look at this Bill and ask: does it give us sustainability? Does it give us the opportunity to continue what we have been doing in recent years? Does it give us the opportunity to make sure that we succeed?
Recently I met newcomers to Irish business, some of whom were Irish nationals. The big threat they saw to our sustainability was the difficulty of being able not, interestingly enough, to be able to pay people but to be able to pay them and attract people to live here because they could not afford housing. That was one of the challenges facing them. It was not a question of economics. It was a question of whether they could coax people to come here, coax Irish people to come and work with them, manage to succeed on the world market with these people and then discover that they cannot coax them to stay because they cannot afford housing. One of the challenges  we have to face up to in looking at this problem is whether we can manage in this planning to achieve what is possible, and what could be achieved 60 years ago, but which Argentina did not achieve. Luckily, that is behind us now and the question of whether we can achieve it is being asked in many ways. Planning for the future is one of the principal ways of achieving it. When I say “planning for the future” I am wearing a number of different hats.
This kind of Bill, which is long, detailed and highly important, is precisely the type of Bill I am delighted to see introduced in the Seanad. I hope we will be able to give it detailed scrutiny on Committee Stage. In a real sense this is an historic Bill because it sets out to take a fresh and comprehensive look at one important area of national life. It is more than 30 years since we tentatively dipped our toes in the planning waters. It is absolutely right at this time that we should stand back and take a long look at the way we have been doing things over the past 30 years. However, this Bill is so fundamental and wide ranging that is almost inevitable that it will be controversial. There will be opposition to almost everything the Minister attempts to do in this Bill and in most cases that opposition will be sincere and rationally grounded. It is our duty, when we come to examine the details of this Bill – we are not doing that today – to assess those arguments on their merits and help the Government choose the best way forward. This task is difficult because creating a planning regime inevitably means striking a balance. I have a colleague who says “when you have two conflicting principles what do you want me to do?” The answer is to be a juggler, to strike that balance that will keep both balls in the air at the one time.
We have a basic desire to plan well for the sake of future generations and to preserve our environment. We have a desire to make so important a process as open, as transparent and as democratic as possible. At the same time we have a strong desire to encourage economic development and facilitate change, particularly the changes that will have to occur in the future. This is where the need for balance comes in. If we put economic progress on a pedestal and say it is the most important thing above all else, we will tend to make decisions at the expense of the environment. There is little doubt now that we made wrong decisions in the recent past. There was a period when our attitude was jobs at any price; let us get jobs, it does not matter what the effects are, but often part of that cost was the environment.
The pharmaceutical industry is one of the bridgeheads into the sunrise industries of tomorrow, where the future economic success of this country lies and where the jobs will come from. If we were starting now rather than 30 years ago, it is debatable whether we would have allowed the pharmaceutical industry in here. I do not think we would. In deciding to go after pharmaceuticals 30 years ago we paid a price in environ mental terms that we might not be prepared to pay today. Today we might look for balance between the conflicting principles in a different way.
We also need balance between the need for democratic involvement in the planning process and the need to provide a reasonable environment for progress. In recent years there have been times when we have not got that balance right. I have been involved on a personal basis with retail developments where we have a planning process that can be drawn out almost indefinitely. More importantly, we have a process whose eventual outcome can be highly uncertain. If you are seeking an investor you cannot guarantee what will happen because there could be so many different outcomes. This can have two bad effects. First, planning decisions take longer than they need and that holds up progress and change and adds to cost. Second, uncertainty over the outcome, the doubt about how it is going to come about, can act as a deterrent to potential outside and inside investors. They can cope with the delay better than with the uncertainty. They can put up with the delay if they know what the outcome is but they have great difficulty putting up with uncertainty. No one likes to invest in a project and, after all that effort, see it aborted.
In recent years Ireland has got a reputation abroad as a country that imposes difficult planning regimes on incoming investors. The same applies to indigenous investors, not just incoming investors. But this is not a question of how strict we are about environmental protection. We should not, and we do not, need to compromise our environment to attract investment. That is not the problem I am talking about here. The problem is that an incoming project has to go through a planning process whose length and eventual outcome can be uncertain. This is something we should aim to improve and set ourselves a target. I want us to look at this Bill in that light. We should ask ourselves if it will achieve that objective.
The problem is that we can only improve matters by reducing the present level of freedom to object to a planning proposal. We must approach this issue carefully. We are coming back to balance and keeping both balls in the air. We must see if we can be fair and democratic and seek what is best for the environment at the same time.
Another problem has come to the fore recently. The dogs in the street know that there has been corruption in the planning process – not occasional, petty corruption but large-scale, systematic corruption. In creating an improved planning regime, we must ask ourselves whether we have lessened the possibility of corruption in the future? That should be one of our central aims in the planning programme. We should not go into denial – I do not think anybody is – about this element in public life. We must face up to it, recognise the reality that has emerged and deal with it decisively. Corruption is a matter we have  been shy of talking about until recently and as it has now come to a head something should be done about it.
We want to reduce as far as possible the likelihood that planning decisions can be bought. We want to increase the likelihood that anyone doing so will be caught and will be punished severely and decisively. We should punish impartially those who give bribes and those who accept them. It is not a question of being a one-sided challenge – people should not only fear the consequences of taking bribes but also of giving them. In every corrupt transaction there is both a giver and a taker. I am not so idealistic as to believe that corruption could ever be legislated out of existence. Through legislation, however, a regime and an atmosphere could be created in which corruption could be greatly reduced. If it could be seen to be so unwelcome it would be unlikely to happen. We have a clear responsibility in that regard. Close attention should be given to this when the Bill is scrutinised in detail on Committee Stage.
Looking at the planning process from a national perspective, one of our greatest needs is for a more strategic approach. I spoke about others who look at Ireland and say, “Can we sustain and maintain what we have managed to succeed in achieving in recent years”, and the word “sustainability” comes immediately to mind. That is the reason I am trying to establish whether there is a strategic approach to planning and considering how it can be encouraged. When we embraced planning we thought of it at the atomistic level, as a multitude of individual decisions which would be based on a fixed set of general planning principles and inside the loose framework of an overall development plan for each local authority area. That is the way we thought it would work. I do not think enough attention has been paid to a number of aspects. The first relates to the fact that planning needs to be harmonised through local areas to the country as a whole. The second is the way factors in planning interact with one another. For instance, where houses, shops and factories are built determines the volume of traffic. Has consideration been given to that? In other words, the knitting together of the different planning processes.
More importantly, our original planning regime ignored the need to constantly adapt to change. People talk about change as though it never happened before, but it is happening much faster now. In the past we have not always recognised the speed of change. The planning environment is no longer fixed and is so highly dynamic that it is difficult to keep abreast of it. Measures must be put in place that are capable of reacting to the changing environment. Town centres that were virtually deserted a decade ago now enjoy the dubious benefit of traffic congestion throughout the day – we all know what it is like. Some years ago towns were deserted but now they are full. One will recall people's reaction to by-passes. People thought towns would be damaged by by-passes but now every town is looking to have one  to ease traffic. The change has been huge and it will become even greater in the future. Some of it was brought about by the sheer weight of economic growth but more of it comes as a result of deliberate policies, such as urban renewal, which have been greatly successful in most cases.
Planning strategies must be constantly evolving, changing and adapting to extensive and rapidly changing needs. Our planning system should aim to be fully responsive to those changing needs and this demands a strategic approach. We must take a long-term view to see where we are going, if it fits into our general plan and if we have taken into account how those changes can be adjusted. For that reason, I welcome the provisions in this Bill which are aimed at improving our planning in that specific direction.
I wish to draw attention to a serious limiting factor on our ability to plan properly and that is the shortage of qualified people in the planning authorities at local level. The planning function is seriously under-resourced and it is important to realise that if we are to succeed with this new regime. We can legislate until the cows come home, but if people are not there to carry out our wishes and those of the communities, then we are indulging in wishful thinking. Something must be done in that regard. I am not sure it is recognised in the Bill, although legislation may not be the place for this recognition. We must recognise it ourselves because that action has to be taken elsewhere.
The history of planning has been one of a chronic and persistent shortage of planning skills. I do not think they existed 30 or 40 years ago and, perhaps, it was difficult to anticipate them. This problem is becoming greater, not only because the amount of development is increasing but because the issues are often more technical. There is an increase in the need for quality planning because all the factors that influenced developments are intertwined. By under-resourcing this sector our environment is being damaged. The quality of our planning is being affected by the lack of resources and the fact they are not available because we have not been willing to invest in them in the past. At the same time, we are stunting economic growth because decisions take longer than they should and are not, necessarily, the best and most far-sighted.
I welcome the Bill and am delighted that it has been introduced here. I am pleased it will get the attention it deserves and look forward to the scrutiny that it will receive in the weeks ahead. We must ask ourselves whether we are willing to put our money where our mouths are and whether we are willing to invest in planning. Are we legislating for hopes, aspirations and wishful thinking or are we legislating for action? I hope we will choose action. I believe the Minister has grabbed hold of an opportunity and that his team have said, “Let us get to work on this.” I welcome the thrust of the Bill and the efforts which the Minister's team will make to achieve his objectives.
Ms Ormonde: I welcome the Minister to the House for this debate. I am sure I will be repeating many points already made. It is great to see such a comprehensive, integrated Bill before the House.
The experience of the 1989 development plan in Dublin has left many of us ill at ease with our planning laws and it has resulted in the setting up of the Flood tribunal. It has certainly made me think clearly about planning. We should move into the millennium with a new concept of planning which should be integrated not alone with public representatives, but with the community at large who, to date, have not had a say in how we should shape our future. The Bill will tackle that problem and it will be welcomed by the community. I wish to represent the community here today, to protect it and see how best we can provide a sustainable future for our society.
We have spoken about a hierarchical plan which is an integration of the national plan, regional plans, local development plans and, an interesting concept, local area plans, which have been in operation for some time but have never been on a statutory basis. That is hugely welcomed. It means that before any development plan is completed an action plan for a particular area will have to be drawn up incorporating infrastructure, schools, crèches and the other necessary facilities required to create a wholesome community. We will no longer have large isolated housing schemes as a result of this provision. That aspect of the Bill is greatly welcome and is one which I will be speaking about more in my local authority. It is, in my view, a holistic approach to reform.
Another important aspect of this Bill is the streamlining of the system of planning applications, third party objections and the introduction of a fee for that service. That is to be welcomed. I welcome the idea of extending payment of that fee to all of us – making representations on behalf of our constituents will cost us money but we can still support them by supporting their objections. We can overcome that problem. I have no difficulty with the extension of that fee to local representatives. There is one problem with third party objections and I think it was mentioned by other Senators. If one views a planning application and is happy with it and raises no objections, but in the process of assessment that application is amended by the planning officer etc., it may be too late for the introduction of a third party objection at that stage and, as such, the person cannot appeal to An Bord Pleanála. I ask that the Minister review this so that interested parties are informed if a change is made to the plan. I do not know how that could be worked out. It is not fair that a person is prohibited from making a third party objection if an amendment has been made to a plan after his initial sighting of it. I would like the Minister to look at that again. The streamlining of the planning process by reducing it to eight weeks and, for additional information, another four weeks is  to be welcomed. Many of us have had to wait long periods for the planning process to take its course.
If we are to streamline the planning process there is no doubt but that we will have to employ skilled planning officers. We have many young qualified planners who do not know their areas. Often they are sent out to assess applications in areas they know nothing about and they make isolated decisions about them. They also take their personal views into account. We must look at this. We have an inconsistent approach to the assessment of planning applications which makes life uncomfortable for everyone. Often planning permissions are given in a particular area but when similar planning applications are made in another area, with the same characteristics etc., another planner may decide it will not work and rejects the application. We will need to employ skilled and experienced planners. Drawing up a development plan is a very skilled operation and often we do not possess the necessary staff or resources to do the job. We must take that into consideration when streamlining this area.
The introduction of a new regime on enforcement is well overdue. We have had a huge problems with retentions. Many unauthorised buildings are erected and the developer knows well that he will get away with it by applying for a retention. The bigger the fee the better. I would not spare any builder or developer who takes such a chance. Sharp practice that has developed in this regard over the past number of years should be eliminated.
I have no sympathy for rogue developers who do not complete housing estates. Planning conditions should be so stringent that a steep security bond should be confiscated if they do not complete such estates. That is the only way to get at these people. They must be made pay that security bond once planning has been granted and all the conditions have been laid down. We should waste no time with these people. I spend most of my time dealing with problems in relation to unfinished estates. There is confusion between the Church, for example, the developer and the planning department. Nobody knows who has what rights of way or who is responsible for what. Everybody is at fault – the developer, the planning department and whatever third party is involved.
Let us tidy up this matter once and for all. Many young people who buy a house are told the estate will be completed within two years, it will be taken in charge and that lighting, footpaths, sewerage, landscaping, etc., will be put in place in a short period. Lo and behold, 11 years later they are still in court because a decision cannot be made with regard to who has responsibility for completing these various tasks. It is disgraceful that we allow ourselves to be subjected to that kind of treatment. It is not acceptable that people who paid large amounts of money for houses should find themselves in that situation.
 Planners have a role to play in this area and they are not doing so. While discussing planning and local development reform, we must take into account that community and parks departments also have a role because taking in charge involves landscaping and community orientation. A co-ordinated plan must be drawn up because co-ordination lies at the heart of any development plan. Planning officials often state that they will be satisfied if the roads section agrees to a plan. There is something wrong with that because a co-ordinated approach is not being taken. They also state that they cannot take a development in charge because they are obliged to wait for the parks section to become involved and until that happens a job cannot be completed. The result is that a piecemeal approach is taken to having work carried out.
The planning process should take account of the matters to which I refer so that when planning permission is granted, the tasks to be carried out – be they the responsibility of the community and parks sections, the roads sections or the environment sections of local authorities – will be clearly defined and the work can be completed. It is only then that we will arrive at the finished product and people will be able to see the stage of development their new homes have reached.
Another group of people not mentioned in this wide-ranging Bill, to which reference should have been made, are those responsible for selling houses. These people often state that a housing scheme, once completed, will remain intact and that no further zoning will take place in the surrounding area. There is a lot of misinformation abroad and I ask those responsible for drafting the legislation to bear in mind, when we come to deal with Committee Stage, that it will still contain loopholes, regardless of how hard we try to tidy up the loose ends.
I welcome the provisions in the Bill dealing with the protection of the environment, our heritage, the landscape, rights of way and the preservation of trees. However, I would have liked those provisions to cover mass paths. Are such paths considered rights of way? I do not know if Members have heard of mass paths but there are a number in my area and problems arise if a tree falls across one of them because no one knows whose responsibility it is to remove it. Perhaps these paths are considered rights of way. I do not know and no one in my area knows who has responsibility for their upkeep.
I welcome the fact that in the future An Bord Pleanála will be obliged to explain all decisions it makes. I have always been concerned about the role of An Bord Pleanála which is supposed to be an independent body responsible for watching everyone. I always felt threatened by An Bord Pleanála, for whatever reason, because it was like a secret society, the activities of which you were never meant to question. If you contacted them by telephone to discover when a decisions would be made you gained the impression that you had  no right to do so. I am glad that its activities will now be open to scrutiny and that it will be obliged to provide reasons for making a particular decision.
The major concern surrounding the Bill relates to inadequate housing provision. Current prices have put buying a house out of reach of most young adults. There is a need to provide a sustainable supply of houses for all sections of the community and the issue of social and affordable housing must be addressed. Attempts have been made to incorporate that into the legislation. This matter has attracted a great deal of controversy and we have been teasing out the problems in recent weeks. I understand that the Confederation of Irish Industry has made a submission in respect of it. The Minister stated that the provisions in this area are not absolute and negotiations can take place in connection with the 20 per cent of housing being allocated as social or affordable housing. That is great, provided that it is left to developers and planners to negotiate a solution which reflects the needs of an area. Such a system would be acceptable. We must not remove control over housing developments from builders. Plans must be drawn up for them. Planning permission must include information with regard to what is required of these people. I am not convinced that a system where 20 per cent of a development must automatically be given over to social and affordable housing will work.
I like the idea of social inclusion and social integration. I come from a small village and I have never advocated the concept of segregated housing where large, beautiful houses cannot be built beside smaller ones. I have never accepted that policy from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s because it did not work. I favour the idea that small is beautiful. I welcome proposals that, for example, 60 social and affordable houses could be spread among an overall scheme of 300 because we want an integrated society. If we take the other route, we will develop more housing estates on existing lines which I would not like to impose on future generations. It should be left to local authorities, the planning authorities and developers to draw up plans which reflect the needs of areas in which developments are taking place. The provision of an integrated supply of housing is extremely important.
Those are my main points. The provisions relating to streamlining and the introduction of a fee in respect of planning objections are excellent. I ask the Minister not to balk at dealing with rogue developers and I suggest that he come down heavy on them. With regard to retention, I would not spare a person who takes a chance in that regard. The Minister must also be firm with these individuals, unless the work in question involved putting in a new window and only contravened a minor by-law. However, people should not be spared for inflicting eyesores on the rest of society.
 Finally, if we are to reform the planning area in the way advocated in the Bill, the necessary resources must be provided. Planning permission is sometimes delayed because the roads section of a local authority must make a decision before a plan is implemented. These sections are often short staffed which leads to further delays, as can the fact that plans may also have to be submitted to the environment section. Resources are required across the board, as are staff with the necessary skills to deal with every planning application. If we are to streamline and speed up the system, the proper personnel must be in put in place to do the job according to the way it is laid out in a particular plan.
Ms Ormonde: I accept that. I had only intended to speak for five minutes. There are rural areas where, although families have lived there for several generations, the present generation cannot be housed. Allowance should be made for special cases such as these and officials should not be allowed to make all the decisions.
Mr. Costello: I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I compliment him and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government on introducing this legislation in the Seanad. Most Members of this House were elected by members of local authorities and have, therefore, a keen interest in matters relating to local authorities and a wide knowledge of all the aspects of the Bill. I am delighted the Minister has fulfilled his promise to bring reforming and consolidating legislation before the Oireachtas in the centenary year of local government in Ireland. Because this Bill consolidates legislation passed between 1963 and 1999 and because the country is full of experts who are local public representatives, the Minister should seek the views of local authorities on this matter. Councillors could make valuable contributions to this legislation. The legislation would, therefore, not merely be debated at national level but also by the locally elected representatives who will be charged with implementing it. I hope some mechanism can be put in place to enable local authorities to make known their views on the Bill.
Because the Bill both consolidates previous legislation and introduces new reforming elements, its success will be judged on the effectiveness with which it is implemented and the degree to which it extends the democratic mandate and gives a voice to citizens in local government decisions. The Bill makes provision for living accommodation and for industrial,  commercial and administrative buildings. The residential aspect has received most media attention because Part V of the Bill makes the radical proposal that 20 per cent of all residential development should comprise social and affordable housing. We will be discussing the detail of how this proposal will be implemented for a long time. This is a central and courageous measure which I am delighted to see. I am sure many builders who may have made financial contributions to various parties in the past are not pleased to see this restriction imposed on what they might regard as their assets. I am delighted to see this measure put on a statutory basis for the first time. Dublin Corporation, in its development plan of this year, made provision for 50 per cent social and affordable housing in all residential developments and the Dublin Docklands Development Authority has provision in its master plan for 20 per cent affordable housing. Much consideration has been given to this matter but enshrining the proposal in legislation represents an important step forward. This is particularly true when one considers that the Dublin Docklands Development Authority provision has already been constitutionally challenged.
I read in today's newspaper that the population of Ireland has increased to its highest level for more than 100 years and that immigration for the year ending April 1998 was 44,000. Immigration for the year ending April 1999 was 47,500. This is a huge number of people, mostly Irish families returning from abroad. These figures do not take account of the number of births which last year was approximately 21,000. Yesterday the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform gave us the latest figures for asylum seekers. In the months of August and September these figures reached almost 1,000 per month. There is no doubt that we face a housing crisis. The Labour Party estimates that the combined number of people seeking local authority and private housing is approximately 135,000.
We have a major problem and I am concerned that this legislation does not provide a system to reflect its urgency. It will take the best part of six months to debate this legislation in the Oireachtas. The Bill contains 245 sections and six or seven schedules. The Labour Party, for example, will table a wide range of amendments so that I will be surprised if it is passed before Christmas. The Minister must then issue a ministerial order to have the sections commence and we do not know when this will take place. Local authorities must then draw up housing strategies and we do not know how long that will take. Housing strategies do not happen overnight. All local authorities complain that they are under-resourced, given the demands of special strategy committees and new local government structures. It will be necessary to amend development plans and that will take many more months. Local authorities will need to spend a great deal of time putting the mechanism of this legislation in place. Then, of course, there will be legal and consti tutional challenges to this provision and these could drag on for a long time. When they are concluded, the houses must be built, which takes another year or two. The 20 per cent will do nothing to provide social and affordable housing or to resolve the current crisis. My main concern is that this provision should have been dealt with separately and not incorporated in this legislation.
Dublin Corporation has just approved its development plan while Fingal County Council will discuss its plan next Monday. Virtually all local authorities have agreed their development plans and, therefore, the rezoning which they consider desirable over the next five or six years has been outlined. Every developer with land the areas which have been rezoned for residential housing will make planning applications immediately, before these legislative provisions are implemented. All the applications will be acceded to without the 20 per cent provision and, therefore, nothing will happen in regard to social and affordable housing over the next number of years. That is a fatal flaw in the legislation. If the Minister of State is serious, he must remove the provision from the Bill and re-introduce it on its own quickly, so that it passes both Houses before Christmas. I am sure we would facilitate that. The 20 per cent should also apply to existing development plans and all new planning applications for residential development. That is my modest legislative proposal and I am sure the Minister of State will agree with it. Will he address it when he concludes the debate?
Will he define “social and affordable housing”? We have beaten around this bush, so to speak, for a long time and I do not know where we are. Will he also provide a definition of “sustainable development”, which peppers the legislation, but is not included in the interpretation section? Does the social and affordable housing concept apply to persons on the average industrial wage? Two and a half times their wages seems affordable. The legislation suggests nothing in regard to an individual's means to purchase a house, whether through shared ownership or without local authority involvement.
Subsidising the cost of the site, materials and labour so that the house costs less than the market price is a nebulous approach. Will we take the approach of looking at the matter in terms of the private sector or certificates of reasonable value, which were used in the past by local authorities? These certificates included the total cost of labour, materials and the site with 10 per cent added on for the builder and that was considered to be affordable. Will the purchase of land be examined and offering the market price prior to rezoning? None of those approaches will be adopted and there still will not be social and affordable housing.
I am glad that the legislation proposes area plans. Integrated area plans are in place, a number of which are exciting. I do not know why a distinction is made between integrated area plans  and area plans because all such plans should be integrated, but here is a less profound approach to area plans and fewer resources are allocated to them. I welcome the provision which means that all towns and villages with populations of 1,500 or more will have an area plan, but it should be extended to all communities. There are traditional urban communities in cities such as Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. Why should that concept not be developed for them? Instead, there is a general view that cities should adopt citywide schemes, yet different areas of the cities are like chalk and cheese.
We have had the experience of the problems in Ballymun and in flat complexes in the north inner city. Those areas became undesirable and ghettoised and it was not possible to develop a community spirit which resulted in the areas being run down. Community based developments must be examined in conjunction with area plans for towns and villages in rural areas. While it is not forbidden, community based plans should be introduced on a statutory basis, where there is an identifiable community in an urban context. It would be much healthier for everybody concerned.
There are undesirable restrictions on individuals who have an interest in planning applications. A charge is imposed and there is a requirement that any submission or objection in regard to an application must first be sent to the local authority before reaching An Bord Pleanála. I do not see any reason for that. The number of maverick builders who have made planning applications is greater than the number of people who have questioned the merits of those projects. One should not unduly restrict a citizen's right, and, in particular, that of a public representative, to appeal against any proposed development in their community.
Why should public representatives be obliged to pay a fee in order to make a submission on a proposed development in their area? That is what they are elected for and they are members of local authorities, which are planning bodies. The Bill should provide that public representatives should not be obliged to pay a fee nor should there be any restriction at any stage of the planning process in making their views known. Anybody with a direct interest in a development should not have a fee imposed upon them nor should they be subject to a two stage process when making a submission. Sometimes people do not become aware of developments until it is too late to make a submission. Often site notices for many developments are published in a way that makes them very difficult to see. That is a question of enforcement but enforcement is not the best either. Public representatives and any neighbours should not have any restrictions on the expression of their views on a development and this Bill provides hurdles and obstacles to that.
Senator Ormonde spoke on enforcement, which is my bugbear as well. Enforcement is atro cious. The planning system has reached the stage where people with existing developments who are seeking a conversion from one purpose to another do not use the planning system at all. They simply go ahead and do it. They convert a premises from its current use and when somebody inquires about it they will put in an application for retention. That is a total flouting of the planning laws and there should be a specific provision in the legislation, not for residential property, because if somebody has a home with an extension they should still be entitled to apply to retain that, but for business operations. A person should be prohibited from converting a premises from one business to another or converting a former residence into a retail outlet or for some business activity. Retention should not be allowed. It should be simply banned, with no leeway at all. There are illegal unauthorised conversions taking place around the city. Everybody knows it. All of the Senators in the city are quite aware of it and enforcement is so slow that one is blue in the face from pursuing the matter. The conversion takes place, then somebody is concerned about it and the application goes in, the business continues to operate while the application is in process, the decision is made and if it is negative or positive it probably goes to An Bord Pleanála. When that process is over, there is a fresh application put in for retention on slightly different grounds and the whole process starts again.
A gentleman in my constituency, who is operating in a residential development of 60 units, has opened an international office and puts front page advertisements in the Sunday newspapers advertising his activities. He has been doing this for the past three years. He is now on his second application but is still going through the procedures. It really is ridiculous. It is just not good enough that councillors and the local authorities seem to be helpless in dealing with this matter. Enforcement should be strengthened considerably. Retention should not be allowed at all from the time of implementation of this legislation.
The provision for unfinished estates is very welcome. We had a motion some time ago when Senator Sean Ryan introduced a Bill on this matter and the Minister quite generously considered it and has now incorporated it in the legislation. It was a bone of contention for all city estates. The corporation has been unable to take charge of estates in its area for up to 30 years because there is still outstanding work to be done on them. Although the bond system is in place now, there should always have been a bond that could have been estreated and that should be implemented very stringently. There should have been extra pressure on the local authority to estreat the bonds if the unfinished estates were not finished but this legislation will resolve that problem.
The levying of contributions is welcome and was sought by us for a long time. It is a pity it has  come so late in the day because so much incentive-based development has taken place where builders received huge tax incentives for their developments but did not give anything back to the community or the infrastructure of the local area.
We are forever discussing disability and trying to make provisions for it but the planning process should incorporate some requirement to consider the needs of disabled people. That is left to the health and safety legislation, which is not good enough. It should be incorporated in the Bill. We were discussing previously a number of blocks of four-storey apartments which had no provision for lifts. The majority of those apartments are one bedroomed and eventually will be occupied by a considerable number of elderly people, yet there are no lifts or ramps in them. This should be a requirement of the planning process. The response we received was that the health and safety legislation deals with that matter. I do not think it does. It should be obligatory to consider the nature of a development in respect of disability needs. At a later stage the width of doors in comparison to wheelchairs should be considered. One cannot get a wheelchair into any apartment in Dublin. That is not part and parcel of the requirements as far as I know.
Planning permission will not be required for pop concerts. I am not sure how this will work in practice. Proposals were made for a major series of pop concerts in the Phoenix Park and the residents in the whole area to be affected certainly wanted to have their say in that. The Lansdowne Road proposal was the same and there were difficulties with the planning application there. Sometimes unreal objections are raised but it will cause mayhem if there is not a consultative process that addresses the needs of local residents.
I welcome the Bill, which has many good parts. There are aspects of it about which I would be concerned and I will be presenting amendments to those. My main proposal at this stage concerns the 20 per cent social and affordable housing which is the most pressing of all the needs. Could the Minister consider fast-tracking that section of the legislation or restructuring it? If it could be separate legislation or be put in such a form that it would be implemented within a very short time, certainly within a twelve month period, then it would certainly be a very good day's work.
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