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 Header Item National Spatial Strategy (Continued)
 Header Item Water and Sewerage Schemes Provision

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 841 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Olivia Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell] Otherwise it will not be an alternative attraction to Dublin for young people. The Government talks about the need for more houses, stimulus packages and construction strategies. We recognise that more is good, but where jobs and houses go is at least as important. I am not sure there is an acceptance, either politically or publicly, that we simply cannot spread housing, hospitals, post offices, jobs and Garda stations into every town and village in Ireland. If we try to do so, we will fail and will destroy rural Ireland as well as destroying Dublin.

During the Celtic years, one in three houses was a one-off rural house. I see no let-up in the historic attachment to that kind of planning. We are trying to stimulate building, both infrastructure and housing, private and public, in the absence of a national strategy. The Minister of State has done a scoping report on a future spatial strategy which is planned. I am raising this due to the seeming acceleration in investment and because we need to bring it forward now. Even if we bring forward the bones of it, we do not need to cross every "t" and dot every "i" at this stage. We do require a plan, however, in order that the State and private investors can take informed spatial planning decisions when making investments.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O'Sullivan): Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan I thank Deputy Mitchell for raising this matter and I agree with her that it is very important.

The current national spatial strategy, NSS, was published in 2002 and was Ireland's first national strategic spatial planning framework. In essence, it introduced the concept of spatial development to the public policy agenda and set an overarching framework for the planned spatial development of the country. In this regard, it aimed to provide the spatial vision and principles to achieve a better balance of social, economic and physical development and population growth between regions through the co-ordinated development of the gateway cities and towns and hub towns together with complementary policies to activate the potential for lasting economic development in their hinterlands and wider regions. The NSS has since served as a strategic context for spatial planning in Ireland by regional authorities in their regional planning guidelines role, for planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála in their statutory planning functions, and by influencing investment priorities, particularly in transport, housing, water services, communications, energy, health and education infrastructure.

The current NSS was drawn up at a time of unprecedented economic growth and transformation in terms of economic output, population growth and their various interactions in generating demand for travel and other necessary infrastructure. The economic circumstances now facing the country are significantly different from those in which the first NSS was drawn up. The economic outlook from now to the end of this decade sees Ireland attempting to move from fragile recovery to sustained renewal, as it addresses the challenges of achieving sustainable long-term economic stability and growth. In this changed context, it is timely to consider the development of a new successor NSS to provide a spatial framework complementing wider efforts to support sustainable long-term national economic recovery.

Against this background, and while the existing NSS remains in place, I and my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, established in August 2013 a successor national spatial strategy scoping group comprising three experts with extensive experience of spatial planning and economic and social development, to prepare a short scoping report on the development of a new national planning framework to replace the current NSS. I received the experts' scoping report earlier this year and I intend to bring proposals to Government shortly on the roadmap to develop a new national planning framework. It would be my objective that this new national planning framework will be finalised and in place by the end of 2015.

I take Deputy Mitchell's point that we need to engage in a national conversation about this. We intend to have public consultations with various bodies and individuals. We will seek to have a balanced development in the country, as well as examining the strengths of various regions and population centres to build on those strengths. The scoping document has been received and we will shortly bring proposals to Government. We will then go out to public consultation. I hope there will be a genuine national debate on this matter because it is about what kind of country we are going to create. Spatial planning is very important in that regard.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell I am pleased to think we will have a full strategy by 2015. In the meantime, investment decisions are being made so perhaps it will be possible to publish the broad outlines at the beginning of next year. That would be very welcome.

It is hard to believe, but we have the fastest growing population in Europe and it will continue to be the fastest growing until 2060. The population was forecast to reach 4.5 million by 2020 but we had already exceeded that by 2011. We are well on our way to 5 million and by 2060 it will apparently be over 6.5 million. It is a good thing to have a growing population because it offers the potential to obtain the kind of critical mass necessary for sustainability in a number of growth centres, rather than having fragmented development as in the past. We can get it fundamentally right or wrong, so it is important to grasp this window of opportunity as investment growth continues. It would be an absolute travesty if we made the same mistakes as in the Celtic tiger years when we were putting 500 houses into villages that had 50 houses. We somehow expected that it would be sustainable, but that played no small part in the economic collapse. We do not want to go down that road again.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan I absolutely agree with Deputy Mitchell. We have a lot of data now, including information on likely population growth as well as the need for schools, transport and other infrastructure. We must ensure the hierarchy of planning, from the NSS downwards, will all fit into what is actually required. We have started work on reducing zoning for housing in areas where there is clearly not a demand for it. That is the kind of planning we require. We need to get the top of the pyramid right, which is the national spatial strategy, and ensure everything down the line fits into that. Whether decisions are made by local or national government, they must be made within the parameters of population growth and with the potential of various regions. I would like to have a debate on it in the House when we reach the next stage in the process.

Water and Sewerage Schemes Provision

Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for selecting this matter which is of importance to the people of Kildare town as well as many residents in the mid-Kildare area. Having listened to Deputy Mitchell, I was struck by the correlation that exists between this matter and the planning issue she raised. Together with Monasterevin, Kildare town was identified as a secondary growth centre in the last regional planning guidelines. The reality for local residents, however, was that we had no growth at all. Thankfully, we have no derelict sites or boarded-up houses.

We got no new houses during the Celtic tiger period, however, because our sewerage system was inadequate. It took considerable effort by politicians, including myself, and the local community to convince the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government that such a sewage treatment system should be provided. It was provided, however, and something in the order of €18 million was spent on a sewage treatment plant. We now have a state-of-the-art plant but we need a network of pipes to deliver the effluent to the treatment plant. Effectively, one will not work without the other.

The treatment plant has been built and the network was at tender stage prior to the establishment of Irish Water. In fact, I believe a tender had been accepted and approved and that a preferred contractor had been identified. Therefore, I read with great interest this week about Irish Water's proposed capital investment plan. I went through it and found the Kildare sewerage scheme network with the comment "Continued planning and business case review".

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