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Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016: From the Seanad (Continued)

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 971 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath] I look forward to the Minister of State's reply and engaging with this. Will the functions and their implementation be toothless, useless and fruitless as many other regulators are?

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy-Rae Zoom on Danny Healy-Rae Make sure there is someone in charge of the regulators.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I ask the Minister of State to respond briefly.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I will be as quick as I can. Most of the questions are not related to the amendments being discussed so I will move on.

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin: Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin Really?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl We noticed that.

Deputy Pat Casey: Information on Pat Casey Zoom on Pat Casey Stick with the answers relating to the amendments otherwise we will be here all night.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I ask the Minister of State to address the amendments.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English It is important that we stop a message from going out that is not true.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl If the Minister of State is let off in the wrong direction, we will be here for a very long time.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I certainly cannot have everybody else going off in another direction either.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Fair enough.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English It would not be true or fair and it would not affect the policy of anyone in here. To be clear, Project Ireland 2040 does not stop anybody from building a one-off house in the country. I cannot be clearer than that.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath It can.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English It encourages proper development in all our towns and villages, and tries to encourage more people to live outside the pressure zones, and to live in the other regions, which one wants to see developed. We recognise that people need a choice. Some want to live in one-off houses. Some would like to live in a village or town. If planned and constructed properly, using Project Ireland 2040, one can plan nicer and better towns, and give people the option and choice to live in a village or town. If they want to live in a one-off house, that is facilitated too. There is no cap on that or confusion. It is asked in the regional plans that when population predictions are planned for in counties under this Bill, the number of houses that are going to be built are counted and one-off houses are allowed for. With regard to the notion that this Government or any Government is stopping one-off houses, thousands of one-off houses are built every year in this country. Some years it is up to 6,000. Please do not tell me that we do not allow one-off houses. It is not true. There are restrictions in some areas with regard to people's safety, and rightly so. If one proves that it is safe and that one needs to live on or farm that land, one generally gets the planning permission. There are reasons that there are restrictions. Roads and national roads can be dangerous places to be or to have entrances. There is a reason for it but there are ways of doing that.

With regard to the planning of an area and people wanting to live in areas, Deputy Michael Collins spoke about re-energising and renewing towns and villages. People have to have a reason to live there, which means having a job, which means companies need to be allowed to be there. Companies that want to work in and develop rural Ireland are objected to. That does not help rural Ireland. It is about the combination of planning for houses, industry and companies. All of that together, worked right and planned, helps rural Ireland. It is a two-way process. People object to different things, not always houses. They object to other things too. Bear that in mind. The kelp issue was raised again. I would be happy to sit down and go through this with Deputy Collins. I did not grant the licence. I had a role relating to the conditions of that. I take that role very seriously, as does my Department, and we made some very strong conditions there relating to the monitoring of that. It is now in front of the courts which will do their job too. Sometimes Deputy Collins portrays a different reality here from what happened. It was granted ten years ago. The planning laws are updated on a regular basis. Since that planning decision was made, planning laws have changed and things will be different for the next applications but it was granted at that time. This Bill is to update the planning laws. Please do not try to paint me in a certain light for doing my job quite seriously. It is a role I take very importantly.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins I met the group. It tried for a year and a half and the Minister of State refused to meet them.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl No, Deputy Collins. Please let the Minister of State answer.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins Do not mislead the Dáil. It is on the record.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I would be very happy to discuss it with the Deputy and go through all of that. With regard to one-off housing, this legislation probably came a little late for the planning framework development for Project Ireland 2040. We tried to honour the spirit of the law. We discussed it in this House and at committees, including the Joint Committee on Rural and Community Development and the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. We discussed at length the issue of one-off housing. If one takes a particular year in Galway, 77% of the houses built in Galway in one year were one-off houses. That is not sustainable and it is not good for rural Ireland. It is about allowing the people who want to build and have a right to build their houses but one cannot have it for every building in the country because that would not protect the country or make it sustainable. This is about getting the balance right. That is what we are trying to do. That discussion was separate from this. I want to clarify that we are not capping or restricting one-off housing in rural Ireland. We changed the wording to reflect the necessity for economic needs and social needs to continue building one-off housing. Members of this House and councillors requested that we change that wording and we clearly changed it. Please do not misinterpret what is in Project Ireland 2040.

  Seanad amendment agreed to.

  Seanad amendment No. 5:

Section 4: In page 9, line 16, to delete “Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2015” and substitute “Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2018”.

  Seanad amendment agreed to.

  Seanad amendment No. 6:

Section 4: In page 9, line 22, to delete “Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2015” and substitute “Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2018”.

  Seanad amendment agreed to.

  Seanad amendment No. 7:

Section 4: In page 12, line 35, to delete “Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2015” and substitute “Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2018”.

  Seanad amendment agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Amendments Nos. 8 to 11, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

  Seanad amendment No. 8:

Section 4: In page 13, to delete lines 6 to 9 and substitute the following:
“31W. (1) Subject to this section, the Planning Regulator shall be appointed by the Minister and shall hold office upon and subject to such terms and conditions (including terms and conditions relating to remuneration and superannuation) as the Minister may determine with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.”.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English These amendments address section 31AA and section 31AC of the Bill and will provide that the staff will be civil servants in the Civil Service of the State. Having examined the matter further since the Bill was initiated, it is clear that there are likely savings to be made through the use of shared services for areas such as payroll, human resources and IT, which can be accessed if the office of the planning regulator staff are employed as civil servants. Providing that the staff of the office shall be civil servants will also enable speedier recruitment of staff through the Public Appointments Service and access to panels from open competitions, as well as ease of staff secondment in the initial phases of the set-up, which will facilitate getting the office up and running in a shorter timeframe. This amendment does not affect the independence of the regulator, which is already clearly provided for in section 31R.

  Seanad amendment agreed to.

  Seanad amendment No. 9:

Section 4: In page 16, to delete lines 7 to 14.

  Seanad amendment agreed to.

  Seanad amendment No. 10:

Section 4: In page 16, line 38, to delete “under section 31AC or otherwise.”

  Seanad amendment agreed to.

  Seanad amendment No. 11:

Section 4: In page 17, to delete lines 6 to 43, and in page 18, to delete lines 1 to 7 and substitute the following:
“Members of staff of Office to be civil servants

31AC. A member of the staff of the Office of the Planning Regulator shall be a civil servant (within the meaning of the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956) in the Civil Service of the State.”.

  Seanad amendment agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Seanad amendments Nos. 12, 13, 15, 16, 18, 20, 21, 23, 25, 26, 28, 33, 37, 39, 40, 43 and 44 are related and will be discussed together.

  Seanad amendment No. 12:

Section 4: In page 22, lines 2 and 3, to delete “provision of statutory observations or submissions” and substitute “provision of observations, submissions or recommendations in accordance with this Act”.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English This group will amend sections 10, 12, 13, 20, 38 and 31 of the principal Act, as well as amending sections 31AL, 31AM, 31AN, 31AP and 31AR in the Bill. These amendments are proposed to strengthen the provisions in the principal Act relating to the adoption and derogation of statutory plans, that is, local authority development plans and local area plans, as well as regional, spatial and economic strategies. These amendments relate directly to the proposed establishment of the office of the planning regulator pursuant to this Bill and to the powers of the Minister to issue directions based on a failure by a planning authority to implement a recommendation made by the regulator or a recommendation made by the Minister prior to the establishment of the office of the planning regulator. The effectiveness of the regulator will be much stronger as a result of these amendments. Under the existing provisions of the Planning and Development Act, when adopting or varying statutory plans, in addition to setting out the usual objectives regarding zoning, etc., local authorities are required to take sufficient account of the proper planning and sustainable development of the area, the statutory obligations of the local authority and any relevant policies or objectives for the time being of the Government or any Minister.

The existing wording, which obliges the taking of sufficient account by authorities with regard to certain requirements, can give rise to issues where, for example, elected members do not necessarily implement the spirit of such requirements in the final adopted version of the plan. In such instances, these requirements will have been recommended to the planning authority in submissions by the Minister following his review of the draft plan, a function which is to pass to the regulator upon establishment. Consequently, the provisions in this regard need to be strengthened to clarify the need for statutory development plans to implement as distinct to taking sufficient account of national and regional planning objectives, all of which have been the subject of specific recommendations from the regulator to the planning authority. These changes require a number of consequential amendments to the existing provisions of the Planning and Development Act, including amendments to ensure compliance with strategic, environmental and appropriate assessment requirements. The ultimate effect will be to require local elected members of local authorities and regional assemblies to more fully incorporate and respect national policies and objectives in the final adoption or variation of statute development plans.

Since the question was asked, it is the gift of local authority members to pass and adopt their county development plan. That is what local authorities are elected to do among many other things. When doing that, they have to respect national planning guidance and guidelines. We are asking them here to respect them. It will be the job of the regulator to oversee that and do it with some clarity.

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin: Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin I oppose amendments Nos. 18, 23 and 28. I have a couple of contextual points. I will repeat my central criticism of the Bill that I have been making since we first debated it almost two years ago, that the way in which the planning regulator is designed and would be set up in this Bill is absolutely contrary to the spirit and to the letter of the Mahon tribunal recommendation.


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