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 Header Item Communications Regulation (Postal Services) (Amendment) Bill 2016: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)
 Header Item Topical Issue Matters
 Header Item Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016: Second Stage (Resumed)

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 935 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne]  Deputy Danny Healy-Rae mentioned the programme for Government. The Government is committed to this and the programme for Government is the template. In every Department there are regular reviews of priorities and commitments under the programme for Government and proposals regarding credit unions or the Kiwi banking proposals are being pursued under that programme. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked a range of questions which I am not able to answer now but I will send the answers to him. Deputies Pringle and Joan Collins mentioned the increases to wage costs. The figures provided by An Post indicates that a 1% increase equates to €4.5 million. Deputy Collins referred to the conflict involved in ensuring there is money to pay An Post workers going forward while at the same time considering the impact that postal increases can have on consumers.

Deputies Fitzpatrick and Durkan commented on a number of opportunities for savings and Deputies Nolan, Cullinane and Martin Kenny spoke of an attack on rural Ireland. All of us, including every rural Deputy, wants to ensure that An Post survives in both rural and urban Ireland and this emergency legislation ensures there is enough funding to keep it going.

A number of Deputies referred to the impact of closures and Deputy Casey mentioned Laragh post office. Some 288 post offices closed between 2005 and 2010 and there have been a number of closures since. It is regrettable whenever any post office changes and there will be an opportunity for that particular post office to undertake a review.

I thank all Deputies for a very good debate last night, which shows the importance of our postal services and our postal network. All Deputies support it and nobody wants An Post to go to the wall. There are opportunities, particularly in the parcel service, for a better and brighter future for An Post, notwithstanding the decline in mail volumes. I ask Members to support this emergency legislation to ensure An Post survives into the future. I will pass on to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, the goodwill messages of Members yesterday.

  Question put.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 26 January 2017.

Topical Issue Matters

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 29A and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Dara Calleary - concern for jobs, employment conditions and services at Bus Éireann; (2) Deputy Frank O'Rourke - difficulties in regard to orthognathic surgery at St. James's Hospital; (3) Deputies Noel Rock and Stephen S. Donnelly - the touting of event tickets; (4) Deputy Eugene Murphy - the appointment of a child psychologist for north Roscommon; (5) Deputy Catherine Murphy - Prime Minister May's comments regarding a common travel area between Ireland and the UK; (6) Deputies John Curran and Maureen O'Sullivan - the withdrawal of funding by the HSE north Dublin for Tiglin rehabilitation centre; (7) Deputy Louise O'Reilly - overcapacity difficulties with children under six years for GPs in Balbriggan (8) Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire - the issue of increasing social housing income limits; (9) Deputy Imelda Munster - provision for a mobile dental surgery unit for school children to cover Drogheda and south County Louth; (10) Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice - delays with processing GLAS payments across the country; (11) Deputy Seán Haughey - the provision of ambulance services in Dublin given the current threat of strike action; (12) Deputy Catherine Connolly - Gaeilge a bheith ag an chéad uachtarán eile den ollscoil i nGaillimh; (13) Deputy Maurice Quinlivan - urgent need for emergency accommodation in Limerick city; (14) Deputy John Lahart - the decision to close St. Brigid's nursing home in south Dublin; (15) Deputy Brian Stanley - the future of the Bord na Móna plants at Kilberry County Kildare and Cuil na Móna County Laois; (16) Deputy Carol Nolan - the provision of assessments for children with special educational needs; (17) Deputy Ruth Coppinger - access to the drug Nusinersen for children here with spinal muscular atrophy type 1, SMA1; (18) Deputy Jan O'Sullivan - when the new emergency department will open at University Hospital Limerick; (19) Deputy Martin Kenny - the closure of the Solas respite centre in Sligo; (20) Deputies Anne Rabbitte and Timmy Dooley - conditions in hospital emergency departments; (21) Deputy Eamon Scanlon - the suggested closure of the Sligo regional veterinary laboratory; (22) Deputy Clare Daly - the crisis in the administration of defined benefit pension schemes; (23) Deputies James Browne and Mick Wallace - HSE report on cancer diagnosis in Wexford General Hospital; and (24) Deputy Bríd Smith - the EU Commissioner and the expert commission on domestic public water services.

The matters raised by Deputies Calleary and Munster, respectively, Browne and Wallace, together, and Jan O'Sullivan have been selected for discussion.

Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016: Second Stage (Resumed)

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

Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick: Information on Peter Fitzpatrick Zoom on Peter Fitzpatrick I very much welcome the opportunity to speak in today's debate on the Planning and Development Housing and Residential Bill 2016. Everybody from both sides of this House recognises that there is a housing crisis in Ireland. There is a lack of housing stock, either new or second-hand. The current Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, has made excellent progress to date and he is also the first to admit that a lot more needs to be done. The Bill has a number of main provisions including more fast-tracked planning for certain developments; further extension of existing planning permissions; amendments to Part 8 in respect of local authority-owned land; changes to the requirements for an environmental impact assessment on proposed developments; amendments to the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004-2015; and making provision for the housing finance agency to lend to higher education institutes for the purpose of providing student accommodation. I would like to deal with each of these provisions individually.

I welcome the proposals for fast-track planning for certain developments. As it stands the majority of large housing planning applications are appealed to An Bord Pleanála. It makes sense that in order to speed up the process these planning applications go straight to An Bord Pleanála. Instead of having a two-stage process we can now have a single-stage process. In real terms the Department estimates that the total process for obtaining planning permission can be reduced from 77 weeks to 25 weeks. This will be a major improvement and will be a factor in bringing houses to market more quickly. Some stakeholders have reservations in regard to this provision but if we have a situation whereby the planning process is streamlined it will be to the benefit of all involved.

The Rebuilding Ireland plan committed to extend certain planning permissions that have already benefited from one extension for a further period. The second provision in the Bill tackles this commitment in relation to permissions already granted for 20 or more housing units. Again this provision will facilitate the early delivery of housing by the fact that it will remove the requirement for a developer to re-enter the planning process. Another provision in the Bill which will fast track the delivery of housing units will be the amendments to the Part 8 process for local authority own developments. The new provisions will mean that a local authority own development proposal will take place a maximum of 20 weeks from the time of public consultation. This provision will make the process more efficient with the net effect being housing units delivered more quickly.

On a recent visit to Dundalk the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and I met with the CEO of Louth County Council, Joan Martin, and members of her staff. During that meeting Joan Martin outlined the current situation in Louth. At present there are 710 vacant properties in Dundalk and a further 758 vacant properties in Drogheda. An innovative pilot scheme developed by the council under the guidance of Joe McGuinness, director of services, has already seen approval for 24 vacant properties acquired under CPO. Of those CPOs, two have been allocated to tenants, seven are at refurbishment stage and 15 are at survey and tender stage. I have been calling for this innovative approach for the last eight months and am delighted that it has proven so successful. With nearly 1,500 properties in County Louth vacant, surely these present an opportunity to reduce the housing list with ready made homes in established neighbourhoods.

During our meeting with Louth County Council it was outlined that the council had the potential to deliver over 3,300 housing units under the local infrastructure housing activation fund. These housing units are planned to be delivered in Newtown, Drogheda, the northern environs, Drogheda and the Mount Avenue in Dundalk. At present Louth County Council has 25 schemes at various forms of approval which will deliver almost 550 housing units over the next three to four years.

In addition to the above, Louth County Council has other substantial lands but have substantial loans attached to them. This issue is one that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency and I note that the Minister is supportive of innovative solutions, possibly a public-private partnership, in order to free up the lands and the corresponding debt attached to them and, at the same time, deliver much needed housing stock.

The next provision on which I would like to comment is the new screening arrangements for certain types of works to see if environment impact assessments need to be carried out. The Bill provides that an application can be made to the planning authority before making a planning application as to whether or not a proposed development is likely to have a significant effect on the environment. The main benefits of this provision is that we will be in a position to fast-track planning applications and as a result deliver much needed housing immediately.

The amendments to the Residential Tenancies Acts as outlined are ones that I welcome with caution. The measures to provide more security to tenants are very welcome. We must prevent a situation where large numbers of tenants in a single development are evicted at the same time, such as happened in Tyrrelstown earlier this year.

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