Dáil Éireann - Volume 514 - 10 February, 2000

Planning and Development Bill, 1999 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage (Resumed).

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

Mr. Cosgrave: The consultation process is important but its existence is not a reason to take away citizens' rights to comment on and, if necessary, object to local development. My colleague, Senator Coogan, raised this issue in the Seanad. A family might live in a particular area and be quite happy with its surroundings and a neighbour might apply for permission for a development to which the family does not have an objection. However, the family may subsequently find, to its horror, that the local authority has altered a feature of the development as a condition of the permission which renders the development unacceptable. It would be wrong for any legislation to prevent such a family having its say and I hope the Minister and succeeding Ministers for the Environment and Local Government will recognise people's right to be heard if such a circumstance arises. I do not support the notion of frivolous or vexatious appeals which are designed to frustrate development. I promote the notion of early consultation in order that objections can be minimised.

While it is important to look at planning in local areas, it is also important that the regional dimension of development is planned for and that regional plans are nationally integrated, cohesive and reliable. It is important that that would happen given that serious questions have been raised in regard to the strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area which the Minister launched in Malahide last March. Studies suggest that population forecasts and the manner in which they impact on household formation are seriously underestimated and that the current level of housing need is far higher than the forecast. The necessary infrastructure is not in place to meet the demands of the number of people currently living in the region, not to mention projected population figures, and this is a cause of disquiet in the region.

The issue of staffing and the provision of support systems, not only in the planning departments of local authorities but also within An Bord Pleanála, must be addressed. The growth in development activity must be accommodated and facilitated by providing adequate staff to local authorities, not by removing people's entitlement to comment.

[334] The move to establish strategic development zones is welcome. However, I believe the concept is overly restrictive in terms of the area of application. All planning authorities should have the opportunity to prepare these development zones in conjunction with external interests.

It is important that counties have a financial corporate development plan whereby planning applications could be fast-tracked where the principles of the scheme are complied with. In this way, councils could confidently consult with industrialists on how they could assist with the speedy establishment of enterprises. In turn, industrialists would have to wait a shorter time to put their economic enterprises in place which, in the fast moving world of commerce, is all important.

There must be a focus on the development of clear understanding of detail, technology and strategic regional concepts and the manner in which they interact with local plans. It is important that inconsistencies between different counties' development plans are addressed and eliminated. There must be a clarity of purpose which demonstrates the integration from local action plan to county plan to regional plan and, ultimately, national plan level with a view to the sustainable long-term distribution of our population. The plans must also be practically attractive and capable of being implemented in the short-term.

The section relating to the taking in charge of housing estates is most welcome. On section 164, will the Minister clarify that if a developer does not complete an estate and a local authority takes enforcement action which, for whatever reason, is unsuccessful, the majority of qualified electors who are owners or occupiers may not request the local authority to take the estate in charge? For too long, house developers sold a dream of gleaming houses set alongside sweeping and superbly surfaced roads and smooth, crack-free footpaths on which to wheel prams and buggies. In preceding years, young people played on rolling acres of manicured park lands. Action to address this terrible scandal of deceit is long overdue. The timeframe within this section is unacceptable and provision should be made for sections of estates to be taken in charge within three years of their completion. It is unacceptable that any home purchaser could be obliged to wait seven years before being in a position to initiate action to address these problems.

The new system for the levying of development contributions is quite good. One of the ongoing resentments one encounters in developing areas arises where a self-sufficient village community which had adequate social facilities such as football fields, open spaces and community centres no longer has adequate facilities as a result of development. The established community is disadvantaged through the emergence of new estates, their social facilities are over-subscribed and their transport corridors are blocked with traffic. Development levies must be sufficient to [335] address the restructuring, repositioning and maintenance, if not improvement, of the quality of life of residents.

I welcome the obligation to give information on the ownership of all property to the relevant local authorities. In the past it has been found that in an effort to frustrate the interests of local authorities, occupiers have failed to co-operate by not being frank. The importance of protected structures is obvious. Too often we read of fast buck merchants endeavouring to destroy listed structures, rights of way, etc. The new section providing further protection for landscape features is appealing and will ensure the survival of hedges, ditches and other such features.

The section dealing with rights of way is welcome as it amends the 1963 Act under which local authorities were responsible for the maintenance of rights of way. Under section 49, it was unfortunate that when the planning authority sought the preservation of the public right of way, it was obliged to maintain it. There are many wonderful walks in the Howth peninsula, which I represent. We are awaiting the implementation of the amenity area order on which we have worked for many years. Fingal County Council has done a survey and submitted it to the Minister. However, there were objections and an inspector was appointed to hear them. This has caused some concern locally. I wrote to the Minister and he replied regarding the inspector's report. The residents' associations and other interested local bodies are anxious to have this report as soon as possible so they have an input before the Minister makes a decision. My constituency colleague, Deputy Broughan, put down a question on this matter. The Minister replied that the inspector's report will be submitted to him and he will make a decision on that basis. From the tone of the Minister's letter, the residents and I do not seem to be getting our way on this matter. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, can tell me if I would get the report if I made a request under the Freedom of Information Act. I ask the Minister to examine this matter.

The need for a housing strategy is important. It is appropriate that the potential housing need of every local authority should be assessed and a plan put in place to address it, on the basis of the housing list. There will be an account of those in reasonably paid employment who would be excluded from the opportunity to avail of affordable housing. It is reasonable to say this is a short change scheme which will not assist enough people to buy houses. The Government is failing to address the crisis in providing adequate housing for those who cannot afford to purchase a home for themselves and their families. The scheme, which will, to an extent, address social exclusion if implemented correctly, with affordable housing dotted throughout housing estates, fails to make adequate provision to meet the real demand for local authority housing. It excludes, [336] perhaps permanently, those whose incomes are above £25,000 to £30,000 annum and who are not earning more than £40,000.

The Government policy will be subvented by those purchasing on the open market. The indication is that the composite land purchase price remains the same, despite the notion of percentages of holdings being used to support social housing. If the land purchase price remains at the level it was prior to the publication of this Bill, or the inclusion of the Fingal County Council's development plan which is a similar concept, the only logic is that the land cost must be averaged over the remaining site units, thereby further inflating the selling price of domestic dwellings. This plan will not resolve the housing crisis. The poor will be in worse conditions and those earning above the average industrial wage will living permanently in rented accommodation. This Government, despite its considerable limitations, must be capable of greater things. This Minister, who likes to make the headlines, ought to consider how he can devise policy which will result in headlines regarding home contentment rather than feeding people illusions.

Mr. Roche: I compliment the previous speaker on an extremely thoughtful and very fair-minded contribution. This is one of the most important Bills which is likely to come before the Dáil. Major review and consolidation of our planning law is long overdue. Most fair-minded Members on all sides believe the Minister is to be commended on achieving in this Bill what so many before him failed to do because of pressure of work. It was not because they did not wish to achieve consolidation, the achievement of which caused considerable problems. The Minister and his staff are to be commended on bringing a great deal of work to fruition in this Bill.

The Bill came before the House containing 245 sections and six Schedules, which is, by any measure, comprehensive. However, I know Members will agree that its significance should not be measured by the number of pages or its weight. An important aspect of the Bill is the manner in which the Minister has handled it. He accepted a substantial number of amendments following the debate in the Seanad. This is appropriate because the Minister was demonstrating to that House and this one that wisdom on this matter does not reside in any particular party but with the elected representatives of the people. A number of the Seanad amendments were put down by Opposition parties. I commend the Minister on handling this serious legislation in such an appropriate way.

The Minister implemented a novel arrangement by establishing the regional seminars and using them as a sounding board for the views of planning officials, councillors and the public on planning matters. This is a progressive innovation and I commend it to other Ministers, particularly those dealing with comprehensive legislation which touches the lives of everyone, the protec[337] tion of the environment and the type of country we live in and which we will hand on to our children. The manner in which the Minister has handled the Bill is as close as possible to the ideal way to deal with complex legislation.

In County Wicklow, which I have pleasure to represent, we face unique challenges in the planning area. County Wicklow contains some of the most sensitive areas in the country. It is also to the fore in terms of population expansion, which has been phenomenal in the past 15 years. When I married and my wife and I moved to Greystones, its population was about 4,000 – it now exceeds 12,000 and is projected to grow rapidly in the years ahead. The population of Bray town which was contracting in the 1950s and 1960s has recently reached 30,000. It is literally chock-a-block. Planning is inevitably a major issue in my constituency. This growth gives rise to inevitable tensions between various factors – the necessity to provide new homes, workspace, protect the environment and in particular to ensure the built environment is what is desired. There is also tension because people who live in Wicklow, both natives and non-natives, find it difficult to maintain a standard of living and enjoy the environment they value because of the many pressures. This is visible in the debate on what density of development is acceptable. Experts suggest that towns such as Greystones and Delgany should have city centre levels of density, which are entirely inappropriate to those areas. There is, understandably, a constant anxiety about planning in the county which I represent. Wicklow is not unique in that.

Another tension which has arisen in County Wicklow and throughout the country is the issue of affordable housing. This problem is perhaps best exemplified by the picturesque village of Enniskerry. If one had £750,000, one could, without any difficulty, buy a house in a housing estate in Enniskerry. However, a young couple from the area, living on standard wages and trying to provide a starter home cannot reasonably expect to obtain a house in that area. This is entirely inappropriate. Communities are having their sons and daughters driven out because of escalating house prices. These young people must then go elsewhere, which puts pressure on other communities. This is entirely divisive and one of the major crises facing us at this time. Again, taking the example of Enniskerry, even if the council zones a substantial amount of new land in that village, there is little chance of houses coming on the market in the foreseeable future at prices which are within the range of local people. This problem was exemplified in Enniskerry but it is a feature throughout County Wicklow, particularly across the north, east and parts of the north west of the county. A councillor living on the County Wexford border recently spoke to me about the problem of affordability in the villages of Tinahely and Coolboy. He pointed out that although there had been housing developments in these areas, they were outside the price range of local residents. [338] Ironically, people from either south Dublin or north Wicklow, who were driven by house prices from their own areas, were now competing for the short supply of housing in those remoter towns and villages. This is fundamentally divisive and a challenge to us all.

There are also other problems. High on my list of problems in the area of development is that of rogue developers, developers who do not finish estates, who continuously breach the conditions attached to the planning permission and who are dishonest in the manner in which they sell a dream, as it were, which then turns into a nightmare. They employ bullying tactics and impose themselves on young people in a most unacceptable way. In addition, there are problems of capacity within local authorities to handle the building pressure. The population of this country has increased dramatically in recent years. The welcome influx of immigrants has put particular pressures on housing supply. The Bill is timely in that it addresses comprehensively many of these problems.

I will deal in detail with Parts III, VI and V of the Bill, and will comment on some other sections as I go along. Part III is of fundamental importance. When I first moved to Greystones the problem of the failure of developers to complete estates was the most pressing local issue. It was the issue which compelled me into politics. In one estate in that town the situation was so disastrous that residents had to get up in the early hours of the morning to do family laundry because there was not sufficient water in the system which had been provided by the developer for domestic use. One new household proudly erected a sign 'High and Dry' in the estate to commemorate road development and the problems of the early 1970s. Throughout the 1980s, it seemed the problem was being resolved. It seemed that builders were beginning to honour their commitments to their clients, the people who bought the houses they had built. The community as a whole also seemed to be moving away from this problem.

Unfortunately, this difficulty has made a very unwelcome reappearance in the 1990s. In Wicklow town, for example, the problem has been particularly acute, notably in a number of estates where a number of individual developers, albeit interconnected, have been in operation. There have been unfinished roads and poorly finished houses. In one estate an unfortunate house owner had to take a developer to court because a spring broke up in the front room in the house. Some of these problems have been subject to either court actions or threats of court actions by home buyers against rogue builders. This is not good enough; it is an abject failure on the part of the local planning authority. I realise the planning authority has difficulties in getting staff to police planning permissions but it is not good enough that people are left to their own devices in this matter.

I welcome the provisions of Part III. In towns such as Wicklow town, for example, where there are major problems in four specific estates, these [339] sections of the Bill will be of considerable help. The overhaul of the 1963 Bill is long overdue. Section 39 deals with the limit of duration of permission. Planning should not just have a start-up date, but a specific finish date so that people who move into housing estates are not living for an interminable length of time on a building site. A classic example of this was recently brought to the notice of the whole nation in an individual estate in Sligo. Specifying a finishing date and providing for a maximum of five years is, therefore, very welcome. I hope the powers to vary and extend periods for planning permission will be used sparingly. A planning authority should only invoke the powers to extend the period of a planning permission in very specific circumstances. Every planning permission should have a start-up date and a completion date and only in the most serious circumstances should the developer be allowed to move from the completion date without having major penalties imposed.

I welcome the fact that under the new provisions where a new development plan is introduced, an outstanding planning permission which has not been acted upon can be revoked or amended to bring it into compliance with the new plan. This section may require further attention from the Minister and his Department in light of recent court cases, particularly in relation to the court case involving Eircom versus Leitrim County Council. I am involved in another case against Eircom involving a mast near Kilbride, County Wicklow, where the county council has taken the view unanimously and properly that there has been a change in circumstances since the new development plan was introduced. Unfortunately, our reasonable requests to Eircom to desist in the matter have been ignored. Eircom is now raising the challenge in the High Court and before An Bord Pleanála. I ask the Minister and his officials to keep their eyes on this case as a test case. It is an issue about which we will be hearing more.

Of even more importance are the provisions in section 34(12)(a). This is aimed specifically at rogue developers and it makes the past record of such people the basis for a refusal. I welcome this section more than any other section in the Bill. It is an absolute perversion that individuals who have behaved in a way which is socially unacceptable and bordering on criminality with regard to the development of housing estates can register or pick off the shelf the name of a new company and do the same thing all over again. Planning authorities, particularly in my county, have long lists of rogue developers. The use of this section will bring them to a rapid halt. I ask the Minister, when the Bill is enacted, to ensure that planning authorities use to the fullest possible extent the provisions of section 34(12)(a). I am concerned that the Bill will run into difficulties with the courts, particularly when rogue developers hide behind a corporation. I hope, therefore, that the Bill has been proofed in this regard.

[340] Section 6 makes modifications to the board, which I welcome. It also provides for more openness in the board's decision-making. I welcome this, because the board has become not just removed from reality, but arrogant in the manner in which it performs its task. I understand and accept much of the criticism aimed at the board. An Bord Pleanála is now perceived as remote, its decisions are often inexplicable, notably when the board ignores either local democratically enacted development plans or, even more bizarre, when the board ignores the advice of its own inspectorate. I welcome the requirement under this section that the board will be expected to outline the considerations underlying its decisions and the reasons for those decisions. This is a major and positive development for which I commend the Minister and his Department. We live in a democratic republic and it is fundamentally wrong that any public body should be allowed to operate behind a shield of anonymity. The Minister is breaching that shield as far as the board is concerned and I welcome that move.

Will the Minister to consider a matter, possibly when he is making regulations? It is appropriate to make provision for county council and local council members, particularly those aggrieved by planning decisions taken by the council executive and which in the view of the members are contrary to the council's intentions as incorporated in the development plan, to be permitted to make a formal written submission to the board as of right. At present, if a councillor, who is a member of the planning authority and who made the development plan, wishes to make a submission to An Bord Pleanála, he or she may do so in the same manner as any member of the public. He or she is effectively treated as a third party and must make a payment with regard to such observations. This is fundamentally wrong. Despite all their warts and faults, councillors are elected by the people and they are the makers of development policy. When the Minister is making regulations, I ask him to consider ensuring that councillors have a right to have their views considered when the policy is being executed and considered by the board.

I welcome the provisions of section 7 on the disclosure of property and business interests. There is a disturbing trend of planning and council officials becoming involved privately in after hours work in the planning area. This is a dangerous development. There was a major case in Dun Laoghaire a few years ago which brought about a sworn inquiry. It appears we are heading in the same direction. It is difficult for a planning official to serve two masters. It is fundamentally dangerous and I ask the Minister to turn his attention and the eyes of his Department to this matter.

The major public debate on the Bill is focused on Part V and I welcome its provisions. If, as various vested interests are advocating at present, the matter of affordable housing supply was to be left to the vicissitudes of the marketplace, the [341] current crisis facing many young people will continue for many more years. I mentioned my concern for young people in places such as Enniskerry, Greystones and Delgany. They cannot afford to buy homes without landing themselves with ruinous mortgages. The free market has failed these people and it is spurious nonsense to suggest that the marketplace will resolve the issue.

For example, in Greystones, Wicklow County Council has recently zoned an incredible amount of additional land for house building. However, I guarantee, that left to the free market, there is no possibility the builders who have bought the bulk of this land would choose to put affordable starter houses on the market in the towns I mentioned. The council has provided zoned land and the Government and the EU has put in place the road network, for which the taxpayer is paying in part. However, the provision of the infrastructure will be worthless because the market will determine that high price houses will be built there and young people can join the queue somewhere else.

People in organisations who are praising the ideals of perfect competition in this area are, at the most charitable, guilty of self-delusion. Even Adam Smith, the founding father of perfect competition in his classic text, The Wealth of Nations, cautioned against the propensity of businessmen to conspire against the interests of the consumer. The Minister should be conscious of what Adam Smith said many years ago, notwithstanding all the academic nonsense which has been written over the centuries about the virtues of perfect competition. It frequently has imperfect results in the short and medium term. Aside from the academic argument about the imperfections of perfect competition, the Minister is right to include Part V in the Bill.

A number of local authorities, including Wicklow County Council, has made provision for a social housing content in housing development within their development plans. However, I draw the Minister's attention to a fact which disturbs me greatly. An Bord Pleanála is not looking favourably at present on such provisions and has on a number of occasions struck them down, in some instances suggesting that they are ultra vires. There was an alarming reference to this matter in the last report of the chairman of An Bord Pleanála. I am sure the Minister and Minister of State are aware of this and the concerns of local authorities about this matter.

I point out to the Minister that there is a case in County Wicklow under consideration by An Bord Pleanála at present. I believe this will be a test case. The council has indicated a willingness to pay the market rate for sites which have been designated for social or affordable housing and this gives the developer the option to either sell the land to the council or to build appropriate houses. Yet the issue is on appeal to An Bord Pleanála. I ask the Minister to keep this case under review.

I see pressure daily in County Wicklow on local [342] authority housing planning staff who are at the end of their tether. The councils in Wicklow, Meath and Kildare, which are on the periphery of Dublin, are under unique pressure at present and I ask the Minister to make as many resources as possible available to improve the conditions in planning departments not only because of a humane concern for the staff whom I respect, but also from the point of view of making progress on planning and development.

I have mixed views about development levies. Will the Minister ensure by way of regulation that all development levies are ringfenced in a manner which will prevent them going into the general expenditure for the local authority and ensure that the local communities benefit rather than inefficiency?

Mr. Deenihan: I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister and Minister of State on their work on it. Last year I published a national landscape policy and I am glad that many of its proposals have been included in the Bill. I will outline my proposals in the landscape policy before I refer to the Bill.

Ireland possesses a unique inheritance of scenic, ecological, geological and historic resources. All these traits and more go to make up our distinctive landscape. This has been moulded through natural processes over millions of years and through human activity over the past 10,000 years since people first came to Ireland. The 20th century has witnessed many changes to our landscape. Some have been positive but, unfortunately, many have been negative. As we are now in the 21st century, we cannot afford to repeat these mistakes. We must be more proactive regarding the proper management and protection of our landscape.

The sustained economic growth, which it is accepted will continue into the foreseeable future, will inevitably lead to more housing development in urban and rural settings. The provision of industrial, commercial and office accommodation, the building of large scale tourism products, including hotels, recreation facilities and holiday homes, and the provision of infrastructural facilities such as major roadways, etc, will be facts of life in the context of the sustained development Ireland is experiencing. According to the reports of the NCB and others, it is expected that the population of the country will reach 4.5 million by 2006 and that there will be approximately 40,000 new house starts every year. This figure could be exceeded. The landscape we know will change radically over the next five years and this is why planning matters are so important. We as legislators can have an impact on planning, control development and influence the landscape. We can ensure that it is protected for future generations. Planning is one area where we can have an impact as legislators and there is no reason we should not. The landscape as we know it will inevitably change as a result of these intrusions – we cannot expect to freeze our land[343] scape. The challenge is in how we manage this growth, not how we frustrate it. That is very important, as growth is inevitable. The challenge is ensuring that growth is sustainable and in how we can enhance the landscape for future generations. We have a critical role to play as legislators.

The objective should be to manage future change in a way that recognises the great diversity and quality of the landscape we have inherited and that sustains and even enriches that diversity and quality rather than allowing it to diminish. Apart from the inevitable changes that must take place and which must be managed, there are issues, mostly negative, affecting our landscape and which are addressed to some extent by this Bill, though not totally. These include the inadequate provision of parks and sensitively designed green spaces within our urban landscape and the erosion and destruction of our upland regions due to overgrazing and poor pasture management. As a hill walker I see this at first hand every weekend I go walking. The situation has improved and the provisions I put in place with the REPS plan to deal with this have helped considerably. There certainly has been destocking of sheep in our upland areas, but those areas have been damaged.

There is also continued insidious erosion and, in some cases, outright destruction of our architectural and archaeological heritage. Despite legislation and various statements made about the importance of our architectural and archaeological heritage, the destruction is still ongoing. Buildings are being demolished in Ireland this very day that should not be demolished and the planning system is not protecting them. Hopefully this Bill will do so, but time will tell. I am sure the Minister of State and Deputy Batt O'Keeffe could name a number of buildings of architectural significance which have been destroyed in the past ten years. We could have retained the facades of buildings and built behind them. There are solutions other than outright destruction. I read the very good brief we got from Mr. Michael Starrett of the Heritage Council, which I am sure the Minister received, which ran to 20 pages. I do not have time to outline all its contents, but he expressed major concern about the protection of architectural and archaeological sties. There is a very important archaeological site in Lisardboula in Kerry where a mast would have been built but for the vigilance of a local group, though it is a listed site. I hope this Bill will address numerous issues which arise from cases such as this, as there are various questions about the protection of our sites which remain unanswered.

The issue of masts, pylons and intrusive commercial signage must also be addressed. Cork Deputies will be aware of the problem in that county with pylons, but pylons are spreading across the whole country. If we are to use wind power, more pylons will be needed. We need to look at alternatives, such as going underground, [344] as pylons can be a blight on our landscapes. The Minister should respond to this when replying.

The unwarranted destruction of mature, broad leaf trees is another problem. Despite Ireland's acknowledged low levels of tree cover and the threat to our remaining ancient woodlands, we still see the destruction of broad leaf trees. We should have a very clear policy on this matter, as it is one of the reasons we have problems with roadways. Planners should be conscious of the importance of our remaining broad leaf forests and they should do everything possible to protect them and not destroy them. We must have road development, but planners should show sensitivity where there are alternatives.

Another problem is the changed management of our hedgerows in the wake of more intensive agricultural practices, which is probably the legacy of the farm development programme when we joined the Euorpean Community in 1973. Hedgerows right across the country, many of which were cared for by numerous generations, have been destroyed, whether they were along walls in the west or elsewhere. They have been taken out of fields and destroyed unnecessarily and nothing in this Bill relates to hedgerows. At present a farmer not involved with REPS can take down any hedgerow he wants, as I understand it. If he is in REPS he must protect them, but not all farmers are in that scheme. The Minister should clarify whether the Bill refers to hedgerows when he replies.

The Minister referred to homogenous housing estates, where every house and street looks the same. There is a general loss of village and town distinctiveness through the universal standardisation of shop fronts, street furniture, shopping centres, filling stations and so on. There is a proliferation of similar signage and the traditional uniqueness of villages and distinctiveness of shop fronts seems to be vanishing. The Minister mentioned that and I agree with him when he said he hoped to see the end of this type of building policy. He said he hoped the days of building vast tracts of one-class housing are gone, as we can all see the problems, inefficiencies and fractured communities that has created in the past. He is echoing more or less what I have said, that we must be far more creative in designing houses, villages and towns.

We should try to impress on local communities – I am glad there is provision here for local planning – that they should retain what they have. Ireland is distinctive because of its differences. Ours is a small country, so communities have to be different if we are to appeal to tourists. We should encourage local communities to hold onto their vernacular architecture. They should upgrade, renovate and restore it, but they should not destroy it, as has been the trend, either for financial gain or simple expediency. Certainly it is affecting our architectural heritage.

A matter that frequently arises at county council meetings and which will have to be addressed is the proliferation of new houses in the country[345] side where the designs are not in keeping with local vernacular architecture. This is happening especially in holiday areas, for example, in Dingle and south Kerry where there is the old traditional cottage and farmhouse. Before buying a site a person will come in with the plan of their ideal house which they saw in Hello magazine. They decide to build this house in Dingle and then get the site. They will not get the site first and ask what house would suit the site. People should be influenced to look at the site first. One cannot prevent people from building in any part of the country but they should look at the site, the landscape, the local architecture and design and try to build a house appropriate to that location. There are examples of this in Dingle but I do not wish to refer to anybody in particular. The richer people are, the more elaborate design they can put in place. That has happened and it is wrong. I hope the Bill will address that issue, otherwise the landscape will be destroyed.

The general loss of bio-diversity in flora and fauna and the specific loss of wildlife habitats throughout the landscape is noticeable. That issue is being addressed I hope it will be effective. The list of issues I have mentioned is by no means exhaustive but it covers the main issues that need to be addressed in any planning Bill.

In facing up to the challenge before us I am convinced the only way to tackle such a powerful range of forces for change and their related impacts is in the creation and implementation of an integrated national landscape management strategy. A spatial plan has been mentioned for the country in two years' time but we have to go beyond that and be more visionary. Apart from the planning legislation we must have a broader image leading to a national landscape management strategy.

Regardless of the setting, whether urban, suburban or rural, the important contribution to Ireland's cultural heritage made by landscape quality must be recognised and whatever steps are necessary to safeguard the integrity of the landscape must be taken. The high standards of landscape management must be promoted in relation to those activities over which central and local government have direct control or over activities which are subject to the direction and influence of central and local government. We have the opportunity, the power and the instruments at our disposal to ensure proper planning. It is one area where we can all be effective. Economies change and our economy can experience ups and downs but planning is consistent and is something we can always influence.

I propose the creation of an integrated landscape management strategy that could be used as the basis for decision making at all levels of public administration. This strategy should combine the principles of creativity and aestheticism with that of sustainable development. Speaking about the aesthetics of any landscape policy, that should be a core part of it. Given that people, particularly young people, are now more discerning the aes[346] thetic aspect of the landscape is becoming more important for locals and tourists alike.

I welcome a number of aspects of the Bill from the point of view of central government, local government and regional level. I propose an input into the landscape policy at regional level. Landscape policy and planning in general is an appropriate area to be addressed at regional level. I am pleased that matter has been addressed in the Bill. Landscape co-ordinators could be placed within the regional authority structure and steer the activities of a number of local authorities and also provide executive support for their local authority counterparts.

The whole issue of education and information is important. I understand there is no under-graduate course here where people can be specifically qualified and obtain a degree in planning. They must go to Queen's University. There is a post-graduate course, a masters degree course in UCD, that is very good. We need planners with a broader view rather than engineers who may have a narrower view, so that matter should be addressed.

Perhaps the whole issue of public rights of way could be addressed as well. It is a complex matter on which I would welcome any progress within the framework proposed.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: As the Celtic tiger strides throughout the island this Bill left many people roaring in its wake because of the perceived impact it would have on them. The landowner was worried that he would not get the price he had heretofore succeeded in getting because of the one-fifth affordable housing concept. In Dublin developers who had hoarded 7,000 acres of land are worried because of the one-fifth affordable housing concept, that they would not get the profit margins they had expected. Local authorities suddenly came alive to the fact that this Bill would change their way of life and their approach to planning and development. This Bill seeks to give a timely boost to development.

The measures on affordable housing are in line with the economic boom and take into account those who cannot afford to pay the house prices being sought. The Bill seeks to bring together all the necessary strategies to ensure the implementation of the development plan 2000 – 2006 is achieved. The integrated package of proposals strikes a balance. The Bill which is crucial and critical for its time and purpose has seen many changes since publication. Credit is due to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, who have been open to suggestions. They have organised seminars and have listened to various groups and where suggestions worthy of consideration have been put to them, by and large they have been adopted. I am also pleased to note that many of the amendments tabled in the Seanad have been accepted. They improve the Bill.

The developmental role of local authorities has never been properly specified. For example, the [347] integration between the IDA and local authorities has never been clarified. IDA-owned lands get priority in terms of international mobile investment. In the 1960s and 1970s local authorities had large landbanks designated for industrial development which were not utilised. If local authorities are to have a developmental role there must be far greater integration between them and the IDA. Given my experience over the years, I am strongly of the view that the IDA should not be involved in the purchase of land. That should be the remit of the local authority.

Cork County Council received 3,600 applications for planning permission in 1993. By 1999 that figure had risen to 7,300, an increase of slightly more than 100%. In the light of such developments the issue of resources is critical. In the same year Cork Corporation received 1,000 applications. Given this, planners in the county are working at weekends to cater for the workload placed on them.

The appointment and training of planners is a crucial issue. Will the Minister ascertain if, in view of the Celtic tiger, third level institutions produce enough planners? I understand 40 planners per annum come through our universities and institutes. This must be remedied because there is a massive turnover in staff in local authorities where employees move from one authority to another. Furthermore, given that people in the private sector see the benefits of employing planners as part of their strategy teams, mobility is all the greater. It means that many new planners taking up work in a local authority must be reoriented to the area in which they have located only to move on within a short period of time. The kind of continuity we require is not there.

In the past the request for further information has been abused. I am pleased the Bill addresses this matter. The introduction of a four week period will allow local authorities to focus more on the issues before them. Perhaps the Bill should take account of complex issues which can arise in planning applications. For example, an applicant and a local authority may not be ad idem and the applicant may seek an extra period of, say, four weeks in which to have the application considered. Apart from that, requests for further information should not be tolerated because they are used to delay planning applications.

Section 26 of the 1963 Act deals with planning by default, an issue that has been often raised in the House. Here the local authority must give the applicant a decision within two months of receiving an application. Amendments proposed in the Seanad and accepted by the Minister remove the requirement that applications be notified within two months and it is now proposed that local authorities must make a decision within two months and that the delay in the post procedure will not apply.

We must, however, be careful in addressing the issue of planning by default. If planning authorities default in giving their decisions, who suf[348] fers? Is there a provision to reprimand the local authority that does not meet its commitment? If, for example, an application is submitted to build a complex and possibly undesirable housing estate the community will suffer if it is accepted by default because it will have to deal with a planning development that has no conditions attached to it. We should not allow such planning by default to be imposed on unsuspecting communities without conditions being attached.

It has been suggested that planning by default should not be allowed and that instead of the applicant getting planning permission the application should be automatically submitted to An Bord Pleanála. That would be a better way to deal with the issue. However, it would present a difficulty in that it would be unfair on the applicant who would be expecting a decision within two months. He would then have to wait six months before permission would be granted. Perhaps the Minister will consider the imposition of other mechanisms to ensure communities are protected and are not penalised in this way.

The Minister proposes to tighten the grip on local authorities with the two month provision requiring them to make a decision on an application. Yet, there is no similar imposition on An Bord Pleanála, where the Bill allows the board the customary four months to decide on an application. Perhaps this time period should be reduced to three months.

Part II deals with the preparation of development plans and guidelines. Once the planning authority publishes notice of its intention to prepare a draft an 11 month period is allowed for completion. While I am happy with this provision, local authorities are not. In my experience development plans tend to become protracted. In one instance in my county a five year development plan became an eight year plan. It is fair and proper that the Minister should specify a time period and that it should be rigidly adhered to.

Part V deals with affordable housing. There has been much brouhaha in this regard, but we are reaching a general acceptance of what the Minister is proposing, namely, setting aside one fifth of development land for affordable housing. I ask the Minister to note that the condition can only be attached after a planning application has been submitted. This raises the question as to which portion of a site will constitute the 20% of social housing. Will the local authorities come under pressure to pay design fees and expenses where the layout has to be amended following submission of an application? It might be far better for agreement to be sought in the course of considering a planning application. If this is not done, a larger number of decisions will be appealed to An Bord Pleanála. We could be creating a monster by unnecessarily increasing the number of appeals to An Bord Pleanála, the very thing we want to avoid in the Bill, and it might be worth examining these possible difficulties.

Yesterday on “Morning Ireland” a person [349] from the planning institute indicated they were very concerned about the cost of appeals. However, I do not think the cost of appeals – £40 or £50 in terms of a local authority and more in terms of An Bord Pleanála – are prohibitive. However, the right of appeal is imperative and the right to make an observation on planning permission is desirable. We should be conscious of and facilitate people who cannot afford to lodge an objection to an application. We might look at the waiver system being applied where an old age pensioner, for example, wants to lodge an objection to a largescale planning application beside his or her house. If a waiver is applied to such a person's service charges, perhaps the local authority could extend it in terms of making observations on planning applications.

I wish to deal with local authorities taking charge of estates. In my constituency there are housing estates which were built 20 years ago and which have yet to be taken in charge. It is an absolute disgrace that this has been allowed to happen, and as a member of a local authority I must take responsibility in this regard. It stemmed from rogue builders at a time when bonds were not in place. In south Cork we have estimated that the cost of taking in charge some of those estates would be £1.5 million. I am sure this also applies to other local authorities. In the same way that the Department of Health of Children dealt with outstanding local authority deficits, we should take cognisance of the fact that many of these estates must be taken in charge. I am delighted that rogue builders will be dealt with in the Bill. If a builder has a bad track record a local authority can go to the High Court to ensure they do not get planning permission. However, why should a local authority have to go to the High Court if it is satisfied the builder in the past left estates unfinished? The local authority should be entitled to refuse a planning application by such a builder. The builder could then take a case to the High Court if he or she so wished.

We know that a coach and four was driven through the retention scheme. I am delighted the Minister has taken this on board in the Bill, that the levies for defaulting in terms of non-application for planning permission is being dealt with, that the fines being imposed are extremely serious and that a person who breaks the law will pay.

In many instances development plans include constraints relative to where people can live. In Cork if one is in an urban area one cannot get planning permission for a rural area, even though many of us may have come from a rural area. Is this a denial of a person's constitutional rights? The same is happening in Clare, and I would like the issue to be examined.

Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin: I am delighted to be able to contribute to the debate. A blueprint on planning and development is long overdue. We live in a rapidly changing society where infra[350] structure simply cannot keep pace with the demand for housing, services and transport. A new Bill should be about realising the needs of people and should offer new ways of structuring our transport services, facilities and building programmes around these needs in a way which respects the environment and offers people the maximum convenience in accessing services and employment. Our booming economy has accelerated the haphazard development which is taking place in towns and villages throughout the country. The general quality of life for the majority of people, particularly those living in urban centres, has declined significantly over recent years. We spend longer going to and from work. Traffic problems have become so chronic that we must endure traffic jams on Saturdays and even Sundays when going to shopping centres, football matches, swimming pools etc.

My constituency, south Kerry, presents some of the best examples of urban pressures and rural depopulation and neglect. Planning and development strategies in the past have not adequately addressed the need to make rural Ireland more accessible by means of better transport and new incentives which would take some of the pressure from urban centres which do not have the infrastructure, facilities or services to support the rapid growth in populations.

The Bill fails to present the vision required to develop towns, cities and rural areas in a way which would bring about a dramatic improvement in the quality of life. In many respects it updates the planning laws to give backing to new practices which have been introduced as a result of local area plans, etc. This tidying up of existing practices and legislation is welcome in so far as it will assist in making the planning process more efficient and, to a lesser extent, effective.

The biggest barrier to efficiency and effectiveness is lack of staff. What has been the percentage increase in planning staff allocated to local authorities and the percentage increase in planning applications in the past few years? Those figures will highlight that the staff of planning offices are under severe pressure. Morale and pressure of work have become serious issues. The huge volume of work with which planning officers are expected to deal is forcing qualified and experience planners to move to the highly lucrative private sector. This has been referred to by many speakers and the more often it is said, the better.

I am a member of Kerry County Council and I am aware of the pressure on its staff. There has been a huge increase in planning applications in south Kerry, in particular, in recent years and I pay tribute to the staff for the manner in which they deal with such applications, the public and public representatives. The staff are barely able to keep their heads above water and that is why they write to applicants seeking more information.

More staff must be appointed to planning offices. We cannot expect planning officers to continue to tolerate the working conditions they [351] have experienced in the past few years. Towns such as Killarney, Kenmare, Dingle, Killorglin and Cahirciveen should have their own planning officers as that would take the pressure off the central office in Tralee. Pre-planning meetings between applicants and planning officers should be structured and files should be validated at them. That would eliminate the further information syndrome which predominates throughout the country. First time applicants, in particular, should be given more time to complete their applications. Young people who are in the process of getting married and building their first houses often must wait six months after they have applied for planning permission before they can start building.

A vision for planning and development should be underlined by both a rural and an urban plan, which should be prepared by each local authority. A simple booklet should be produced in which each local authority outlines the form of building suitable in urban and rural areas. Those who want to build can then refer to the booklet to find out what is permitted. Young people who wish to live in rural Ireland can purchase land with a view to building a house. However, when they seek planing permission they often discover the land is not appropriate for the type of houses they wish to construct. Well defined urban and rural plans will prevent many people from falling into the same trap.

I refer to the issue of providing grant assistance to people who move to rural areas and invest in the refurbishment of derelict houses to an acceptable standard. The Labour Party, through its agriculture, food and rural development spokesperson, Deputy Penrose, proposed a once off grant of £15,000 to those who wish to purchase unoccupied homes in rural Ireland. There are many such homes and if an incentive were provided young people would be prepared to move from towns and cities to rural areas. That would benefit urban and rural areas. Such a grant would go towards alleviating the housing crisis throughout Ireland. Young people can no longer buy a site or a house in my constituency. Some townlands, which only ten or 15 years ago sustained many families, are devoid of population. Rural depopulation needs to be addressed before many local communities cease to exist, which would be a disaster for Ireland.

Many voluntary organisations which organise local festivals are concerned about the provisions in the Bill. I received a letter from the organisers of Puck Fair, the oldest and most famous festival in Ireland, which stated:

The proposed Planning & Development Bill is a cause of concern for many voluntary organised festivals. Whilst we recognise the thinking behind the Bill and can understand the need to regularise the staging and organising of special events we feel that events such as our Puck Fair will be severely affected by the implications of the new bill.

[352] We are a voluntary group who organise the running of Puck Fair in co-operation with the local council and statutory bodies, on a very tight budget. The proposed extra expenditure on items such as licence, litter, sanitation, transport, etc., will have a serious detrimental effect on our budget and eventually could sound the death knell on our festival and many other similar community orientated events throughout the country…

I call on the Minister to examine this issue again. There is a tourism imbalance in Ireland and many voluntary organisations in small towns would have no way of attracting tourists but for their festivals. It would be a shame if festivals, such as Puck Fair, could not be held because the organisers could not afford to run them.

I call on the Minister to re-consider the shared ownership scheme. When it was introduced it was worthwhile, but it is not feasible now for many couples who cannot afford houses because the income limit is too low. The limit must be raised so that more people would be enticed to buy their own homes.

Each local authority needs to have a structured urban plan which provides details of areas in which house building is permitted and the type and scope of house. The IDA has sites in many towns and when an industry is attracted to such towns it is automatically located on an IDA site. Local authorities, however, must plan for industry. Factories and so on should be located on the outskirts of major urban centres. Many IT companies have been attracted to Ireland and have sought suitable locations to start up their enterprises.

We have to put our minds to this and each local authority will have to prepare plans so that the towns outside the major urban areas will become more attractive.

With the current building boom, local authorities will have to devise overall plans for quarrying and other major developments which require environmental impact studies etc. If a person applies for planning permission to quarry a site and sand is badly needed, it can cost up to £25,000 before even one load of sand is obtained. We need clear guidelines on where quarries can be located so as to ensure that we have a consistent supply of quarry products. We should not have to import these products because we have many of them here but we have to make plans in that regard.

I want to return to the issue of planning. Many people have complained to me about the number of conditions attached to a planning application, but when an application is refused, only one reason is given. If the person wants to make another application for planning permission, that one reason is not sufficient for them to deal with the problems. People who are refused planning permission should be given the full reason for that decision.

The fee for making an objection is causing concern, particularly among the elderly and people [353] on disability and invalidity pensions. These are vulnerable people who may not have the money to object if something is happening around them that they do not like. We have to protect the vulnerable people in our society and I ask the Minister to consider if such people could be exempt from these charges because the elderly and the ill are not quick to object to a planning application. They could find themselves in a situation where their homes could be destroyed and they would not have the wherewithal to object.

Mr. P. Carey: I welcome the Bill. Apart from the fact that it is extremely necessary, it fulfils the Government's commitment in An Action Programme for the Millennium to deal with planning. The legislation aims to co-ordinate the structure of the planning process as well as consolidate different Acts which have dealt with it in the past. The Bill is comprehensive and its specific elements are important to overall good planning and development. It incorporates a structured approach to planning nationally, locally and on a regional and county basis.

The introduction of the Bill is also timely. Now that we have new local authorities following the recent local elections, there is an opportunity to fundamentally underpin the importance of development plans. The Bill provides members of local authorities with the opportunity to realise the importance of their functions for future planning. Members of local authorities sometimes do not realise the significant role they play in working up the development plan, and it is welcome that the concept of subsidiarity, which is now the buzzword, is being reinforced in the Bill. The Bill co-ordinates national and regional planning in addition to setting out the agenda for proper planning and development generally.

In the planning process, the Bill establishes the importance of sustainable development as part of the agenda for modern planning. In its structure and implementation, the legislation should do away with the concept of peripherality from a national and regional point of view, but that will occur only if we utilise the Bill and the opportunities provided in it to local authorities. The Bill will also enable us to build a holistic approach towards the environment whereby we can plan our future to work towards the agenda that deals with peripherality and sustains people's needs in an ordered way.

To put the Bill in context, I want to refer to a number of points, but before doing that I want to quote from a report given to Dublin City Council in the past few days because it gives a good idea of where we are at in terms of need and the issues which have to be addressed. The report states:

The Strategic Planning Guidelines [they were published in April] forecast that the Greater Dublin Area would increase from 1.4M in 1996 to 1.65M by the year 2011. The Guidelines estimated that the number of households in the Greater Dublin Area would increase from 450,000 in 1996 to 660,000 in 2011. The Guide[354] lines state “to meet this need the number of houses in the Greater Dublin Area would need to increase by almost 50% representing a major challenge to the local authorities and other development agencies as well as to the construction industry“. The forecasts in the Strategic Planning Guidelines are being reviewed at present in the context of updated census information and it is likely that these forecasts will be revised upwards.

Undoubtedly, and following the discussions we had the other night, it is more likely that the census will show a much higher figure than we had anticipated. The report goes on to state:

At the time the Strategic Planning Guidelines were published, a joint report entitled “Housing in Dublin – A Strategic Review for the Dublin Local Authorities” was prepared for Dublin City Council. This Strategic Housing Report, which deals with the Dublin region (as distinct from the Greater Dublin Area) estimates that housing outputs for the region would have to increase to approximately 13,000 per annum to meet existing and future demand. A full time team, representative of the four Dublin local authorities, was set up to progress the infrastructural and other issues needed to achieve this objective. If this can be done the supply situation should improve to the extent that the market can be stabilised. To do so will require sustained co-ordinated action by all four local authorities in the region.

That is the task we must achieve.

As a result of these reports, a number of new initiatives have been taken by local authorities and the Government to tackle the problem, including additional funds to provide roads. I welcome the announcement by the Minister and the National Roads Authority on the important King Street, Cork Street and the Coombe roads etc. which, in one case, have been on the drawing board for the past 28 years. Additional funds will be provided also for water and drainage to release lands for development; the affordable housing scheme; the 20% social-affordable requirement provided in Part V of the Bill – I will return to that later; and the planning density guidelines increasing density for local development.

New development plans with substantial additional zoned lands and increased densities have been adopted by each of the four local authorities, and in this case we managed to get our development plans completed in record time. As Deputy O'Keeffe said earlier, in one case here in Dublin the city development plan was not reviewed for about 11 years. Nevertheless, the corporation still has approximately 6,500 applicants on its housing list, the cost of ordinary houses is out of reach for many young single people and couples who are prospective first-time purchasers and costs continue to rise.

The strategic planning guidelines report estimates that nearly 13,000 units of housing per year [355] will be needed in the area of the four Dublin local authorities over the next five to six years to balance supply and demand, with the city's contribution being 4,000 to 5,000. Output in the city over recent years has been in the region of 3,800 so an increase in output of 10% to 15% in the city is required.

There are only three large reservoirs of undeveloped land left in the city. They are at Pelletstown, on the north fringe of the city, which includes Ayrfield-Donaghmede, and the docklands area. Other than these, all that is left are miscellaneous, small, brownfield sites which will become available for redevelopment over time and institutional lands, some of which may not become available.

There is a degree of disappointment that some of these institutional lands, if they become available, will not be made available to the city or the State as readily as we had hoped. It is, therefore, imperative that the lands be developed with an optimum balance between the following factors, which are key to any discussion on planning: sustainable high density, quality design and quality materials and workmanship. If these are right, many other things will be right. It is also essential that these be fully integrated developments with shopping, social, recreational and community facilities provided concurrently with housing. The new Bill provides for development levies for the provision of community facilities. The manager's report concludes by stating:

As identified in both the strategic planning guidelines and the housing in Dublin strategy report, top quality public transport is a vital key component of the solution to the housing issue. Low density housing and quality public transport are mutually incompatible and low density with individual private car commuting is simply not achievable in the Dublin situation. The city is at capacity for traffic.

The report gives a sense of the complexity of the issues that need to be addressed in the Bill. By and large, they are being addressed. We might quibble with certain aspects but the Minister is willing to accept new ideas and amendments. The reforms envisaged in the legislation are geared towards improving planning services within a specified time frame by tightening the existing time limits governing planning applications. These reforms will place an onus on planning authorities to deal with planning applications within an agreed procedure and time frame. In addition, it creates a structure which will provide customers with a better service by opening up the planning process.

Dublin Corporation has a record of transparency in the planning process which should be lauded and copied. It has a dedicated team of planners headed by the assistant manager and the chief planner, who have always taken a proactive approach to planning in the city. As a result, the decisions which are handed down are generally [356] acceptable to the broader community. I am aware there is a preliminary hearing before An Bord Pleanála today so I will not prejudice what might happen by commenting on it. However, it should be pointed out that decisions by Dublin Corporation have, by and large, been enlightened.

The Bill recommends pre-planning discussions in relation to some applications. Those discussions have proved beneficial in the past and I am glad they are recommended in the Bill. It is an important development in customer service in the context of development plans. In this way, planning applications can be developed to the benefit of the applicant and the environment. This is a worthy aim although it will place substantial pressure on the resources of planning authorities. The Minister should take this into account.

Pre-planning meetings will be time consuming and if they are to be worthwhile, they will have to be meaningful. They take up planners' time. Members of Dublin Corporation will be aware that plenty of interesting development is brought before the corporation but it takes time to deal with it. However, the Minister and the Ministers of State are sympathetically disposed to providing additional resources to the local authorities to ensure these pre-planning meetings are meaningful.

When he introduced the Bill in the Seanad before Christmas, the Minister said he had carried out an assessment of the planning requirements of local authorities. He established that a substantial increase in demand for services had been created by recent economic growth. He is dealing with that issue by providing increased funding for the overall development of local services. The requirement for more planners needs to be addressed. I will return to the issue of fees later, if time permits.

The Bill establishes strategic development zones, thus providing a new concept of proper spatial planning for the future. Such zones will be set up where there is a need for them and where they would prove suitable from an environmental viewpoint. Strategic development areas will be established in line with population growth and educational facilities, for example, for students in close proximity to institutes of technology or where well qualified young people can take up positions offered in areas of industrial growth, such as the high technology sector.

In Pelletstown in my constituency the serviced land initiative has recently had an effect. We are in the process of approving an area plan which is innovative and wide ranging. There has been considerable consultation with the local community and public representatives, and amendments to the plan are being accepted. A relatively small area of land, 60 acres out of 160 acres, is being developed. Taking on board the new strategic planning guidelines, between 3,000 and 4,000 housing units, some of them in relatively high rise developments but many in the traditional housing model, will be developed along the banks of the Royal Canal.

This development is being built around other [357] infrastructural development. The rail link to the airport, for example, will mean we can build two railway stations and it will be possible for future residents to be car owners without having to take their cars into town. They will be able to take the train to the airport or to town and to Maynooth. The development will be a model of best practice if we can get it together. Provision is being made for a primary school on the site. I grew up in an era when the primary school and shopping facilities were the last things to be provided in a development.

There are also plans for office and hotel development as well as recreational developments, all of which are important. The plan takes account of the sensitive environment beside the Tolka where the Tolka Valley linear park is being developed by the two local authorities, Fingal County Council and Dublin Corporation. It also takes account of the importance of the canal and its potential for recreational development.

The legislation establishes parameters for enforcing decisions of the planning office, an element which had been lacking in the past. This has been costly to local authorities. Often there has been reluctance on the part of administrators in local authorities and professionals as to who should do what. The Bill is to be welcomed if for no other reason than it puts a structure on how enforcement should be carried out. This country has an appalling record of enforcing planning authorities' decisions. It gives me no pleasure to point out that some people in the building industry believe they have a right to drive a coach and four through the conditions of a plan and to walk away from unfinished estates.

I have been a member of a local authority since 1985 and not one year has passed since then without the authority having to tackle some instance in Dublin – five of them in my ward – of unfinished estates. One case was settled on the steps of the High Court but it set the corporation back tens of thousands of pounds in legal costs in its attempt to bring the rogue builder to heel. The same builder was able to re-emerge in two further incarnations and do the same thing in two other estates. That type of activity must stop. Builders must realise that we will not stand for it any more.

I drove past one such site this morning. The corporation, at the expense of the commercial rate payer,is putting down footpaths that should have been provided by a builder.

On another estate, the builder seems to have decided to take winter holidays. His containers are still on site, the roads are not finished and I am told he can be expected to return in March. That is not good enough and is an abuse of the process. They should not be allowed get away with it.

The legislation co-ordinates previous planning Acts in a positive manner and amalgamates the best elements in a concise Bill. This has not been attempted in the past and is welcome in our developing economy. The Bill deals with the problems of our booming economy such as [358] affordable housing. Part V of the Bill has been the subject of a great deal of discussion. Developers and builders must realise that we are serious about enforcing it and that we will not downgrade it. If one visits Helsinki or anywhere in northern Europe, one finds affordable and social housing alongside conventional housing.

One worrying trend has emerged. I received a letter from the Community Information Centre in Finglas which stated:

We are writing to inform you of the major crisis, which is current in today's housing market.

At present, the Dublin Corporation will give “Shared Ownership loans” of up to £100,000.00 (which is the maximum amount of loan available from Dublin Corporation under this scheme). Unfortunately, it has come to my attention, in my capacity of CIC Development Manager; of the inappropriate way some Estate Agencies are dealing with clients who are buying houses under this scheme.

A client has informed me that when he went to view a house priced in the region of £89,000.00 he was informed by the Estate Agents that no offers had been received on the house (the current owner confirmed this). However when the Estate Agent found out my client had a Dublin Corporation loan – the price gazumped to £100,000.00 (the Estate Agent immediately claimed he had a prior offer). However, the following day my client's father rang the Estate Agent asking about the property and was informed that no interest or offers had been made on this house. The Estate Agent asked where he was sourcing his loan when the father said Dublin Corporation; the Estate Agent said, “well if it's a Dublin Corporation loan we would be talking about £100,000 – it's the Dublin Corporation who push the price up!!”

In light of this situation and other situations similar to this, the housing crisis in this area is going to remain at the current high level.

The idea of Shared Ownership is to make housing affordable for young couples and couples who are on the housing waiting list. If the above situation is going to recur time and time again, couples will find themselves in a catch 22 situation.

That is a serious matter and it is not isolated.

The Irish Home Builders Association submitted a document which suggested amendments to the Bill. One claim it made was that only 915 transactions were completed under the shared ownership scheme last year. The number of shared ownership loans advanced in 1999 in the Dublin Corporation area was almost double that of 1998 at 539 and the processing time was reduced by approximately 20%. When bodies such as the Irish Home Builders Association put information in print, they should make sure it is accurate. I commend the Bill.

[359] Mr. Kenny: This is enormous legislation. I do not know what involvement the Minister had in terms of giving guidelines but the work which has gone into the Bill will have a fundamental bearing on the type of country we will have for the next 100 years. It is fine to draft plans five years in advance, but decisions taken in the current economic climate can mean that even carefully thought out plans can go by the board very quickly. The Bill is enormous and it affects every town, village, street and person in the country now and in future. In that sense, it is to be welcomed. However, it requires thorough and full discussion and treatment on Committee Stage and that should be open-ended enough to deal with the changes which will occur in Ireland in future. This country has moved on and the old days and ways are gone forever in many cases. The Ireland of five, ten and 20 years ago and beyond belongs to the archives and is delved into by students and people with memories of the way things used to be.

The moneys allocated in the national development plan for the development of the country in the different regions are mind-boggling and are figures people are not used to. Much of that money will be wasted and not used for the purposes for which it was intended unless there is a clear system of management, responsibility and accountability for the way things are done. Local authorities have been gross wasters of money over the years. Unless there is a clear management structure, much of the hard-earned money given by European and Irish taxpayers for the national development plan will not be used effectively and for the purpose for which it was originally intended. I am sure the Government is conscious of that.

Those involved in technology, the scientific area, the information age and research and development say that Ireland's future will be built on the brain power of its young people. That requires investment in education, research and development at an enormously high level and the equal development throughout the country of facilities, infrastructure and investment. Regarding the impact of the national plan on the so-called BMW region, the Border, midlands and western region, £12 billion will be invested there over the next six to seven years, which works out at £6 million a day, with no central co-ordination or tracking system of what is being spent and where and if value for money is being achieved.

For example, all that is allocated for the worst sections of the national primary route from Longford to Charlestown is money for detailed planning and design. Obviously that is very important and will be dealt with by computer aided design systems. However, we live in a litigious society and everything is objected to, be it a hen house or a white line on the road. Someone will object and that is the type of society we live in. It means that unless there is a drive from the Government, a great deal of straight talking and a demand for answers and action, the plan will never be [360] achieved and the consequences for the rest of the country will not be what we want.

Dublin is choked. About 700,000 to 800,000 young couples live within 20 miles of the city centre. They live in little houses for which they are mortgaged to the eyeballs and both usually work to pay off this crucifixion of 30 years. If they are blessed with children, the couple may choose for one of them to stay at home to rear the children. They are then in a position where one salary must pay for the mortgage. All the Government can do is influence interest rates to keep them low. Any change will have serious social consequences.

Our media glamorise those who achieve wealth and who move up the social ladder. They create a need in people to keep up with the Jones's and to have the instant gratification of success and wealth. This instant gratification is not possible. Hundreds of thousands of these people are to be found jammed into “little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same”. They catch the train in the morning and come to Dublin where they run to their offices and work all day. They have a sandwich in the middle of the afternoon and go home on a bad train service in the evening. They have no interaction with their neighbours and no knowledge of the nature of the place in which they live. Interaction with their community does not begin until their children go to school. They do not spend in the local shops or walk around the local village or town. They are pressurised every minute of every day to pay for what they have got. The principal weight around their necks is a 30 year mortgage and they struggle, on one salary or two, to meet their payments.

We are talking about balanced development and moving things out from Dublin. I support decentralisation. It has worked in my own town of Castlebar for 25 years. People who live in Castlebar appreciate a quality of life which is far superior to the rat race which has developed in Dublin. Local authorities should be challenged by this Government decision and present plans to the Minister for Finance. For example, a local authority might acquire 100 acres of land, service it and offer it to Government as a site for a departmental office. Preferably, such sites should be beside railway lines so that trains can be used by people who need to do business in other parts of the country.

We say we wish to keep rural Ireland alive and develop small towns and villages but the issue of planning is central to this objective. There is no spatial plan. We do not have a picture of what any town or village will be like in five years time. Picture a farmer who owns a 35 acre farm. When I was a child a farm of that size could have sustained a family. It cannot do so now. He decides to leave the farm to one son while another works in a local high technology industry. The son who works in the local factory earns £200 per week, drives a car and enjoys holidays and free weekends. The other son must work with an uncertain science in a messy environment, fill endless forms, wait for the cheque in the post and will [361] not receive a real financial return. The farming son decides to sell his land and get out of farming. A speculative builder with a large sum of money to hide buys the land and applies for planning permission for 50 or 100 houses. Without a water or sewerage scheme, proper road access or street lighting, he proposes to build a housing estate which will be bigger than the existing village. Picture the planners dealing with this application. Planning departments outside the Pale deal with similar applications every week.

Staff in planning offices are pressurised. They are young, bright and intelligent but they are naive. Commonsense is missing in many planning laws. On the one hand the Government wishes to keep rural Ireland alive. Objective One status has been granted for this purpose. Emigrants are encouraged to come home. Irish people are now being encouraged to return from Newfoundland. However, when a returned emigrant applies for planning permission to build his home he will find that his application is turned down, because the proposed site is in a special area of conservation, a national heritage area, beside the sea or near a lake. When an emigrant comes back to Erin, takes up the challenge of the Government and wishes to live in his own locality he finds his application to build a home is turned down. The missing element in the equation is common sense.

The EU Habitats Directive 92/43 states that the aim of the European directive is to “promote the maintenance of bio-diversity, taking account of economic, social, cultural and regional requirements and also contribute to sustainable development”. The preamble to the directive states that “the maintenance of such bio-diversity may, in certain cases, require the maintenance, or indeed encouragement, of human activities”.

I do not know, sir, if you have ever visited the barony of Erris. If you go beyond Belmullet where, as the truck driver says, if you cross the bridge you will be in Manhattan and if you do not you will be in Ireland, go through Aghleam, Blacksod and Fallmore – beautiful country, wild and free – and on down to the Atlantic you can talk to mothers who will tell you they have six sons, five in America and one in England. A mother might tell you that the lad in Boston wants to come home, live at home and keep rural Ireland alive but has had his planning application turned down. Everywhere along that road, land where one might build a house is either close to the sea or in an SAC, a candidate SAC or an NHA.

Mr. Durkan: That is right.

Mr. Kenny: What do we want? The planners say we must not build houses while the Government says we must populate rural Ireland. This is a contradiction and what is lacking is common sense.

The county development plan in Mayo and in every other county allows that a son or daughter of a local farmer or tenant should be entitled to [362] build a house where he or she wishes to live if he or she has no other land. This recommendation is not being followed in many places in rural Ireland. This contradiction requires Government attention. The European directive itself says that in many cases the maintenance of bio-diversity is not incompatible with human activity and that people should be allowed to live in such areas.

When I was in Government I had the opportunity to deal with the seaside resorts scheme and I was severely criticised by many people. The Government designated 15 areas, some urban and some rural, which needed an injection of investment. It provided the environment and the local authorities decided the quality, quantity and type of development. The scheme worked wonderfully well in some places. In Westport, for example, more than £100 million was invested from private sources in three years although it had the effect of driving up house prices for local buyers. However, in other places ridicule descended on the local population because of the decisions of local authorities to allow a particular type of housing development or sometimes to allow too much of the same type. We now speak in derisory terms about the Courtown syndrome. Planning authorities decide the quantity and quality in these cases.

They should say to contractor Dempsey that instead of 100, they will allow him build 45 houses of various types in respect of which proper levies will be charged to meet the cost of providing footpaths, water and sewerage and public lighting. Many of the cowboy operators are still around. There is still a need, therefore, to exercise very strict control.

Sections 49 to 78, inclusive, deal with the architectural heritage. The blade of a bulldozer can remove in 30 minutes something that has remained untouched for 500 years. Dúchas, the heritage service of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, has insufficient archaeological staff to deal with the 3,000 planning files which remained untouched and unexamined and which will be returned to local authorities with the words “noted” written on them. What this means is that potentially very valuable parts of our archaeological and architectural heritage are being lost weekly. It takes seven weeks to obtain a licence to excavate. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government and the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands need to deal with this matter. The new Ireland – the Ireland of the future – has been built on the Ireland of the past. The Government should, therefore, see to it that the necessary resources are provided.

Today I met representatives of Enterprise Oil, the company which has acquired the exploration licence for the development of the Corrib field off Achill Head, the extent of which reputably is 1.3 trillion cubic metres of gas which will be brought ashore on the north coast of Mayo. The Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands does not have an underwater archaeolog[363] ical section. Judging from the recent survey conducted by the Irish Wildlife Trust of habitats along the north-west coast, the environmental aspects of the project will require detailed analysis, although I am sure the company has a very good environmental protection record. I hope the Government will rise to the challenge when the gas is eventually brought ashore.

The extra time allowed for the submission of observations is not long enough. While an extra month may be sufficient for a county council planner to consider a planning application for a house or bungalow, it may not be sufficient in the case of a major factory or huge development. The necessary resources are not available. One cannot lodge an appeal if one has not submitted observations to the county council. What happens in the case of a person who only hears about an application by chance at the last minute? Local radio stations should include in their weekly schedules a planning programme which would include details of contentious planning applications and provide advice on what is possible or achievable in a particular area. This should be taken into account in pre-planning discussions.

This is a Bill of enormous consequence and we have the opportunity to get it very right or very wrong. I hope common sense will prevail.

Mr. M. Moynihan: I have been relieved to discover since being elected two and a half years ago that nearly every public representative, be they a Member of the Dáil or Seanad or a local authority, has had problems in negotiating their way through the planning process. I welcome the Bill and commend the Minister on introducing it. It is both enormous and detailed and indicates the road we intend to take in the future in relation to planning which has become a contentious issue in this booming economy. Some of the decisions made in the past left much to be desired and highlight the need for regulation.

In the planning department in County Hall in Cork all one will see is people running helter-skelter carrying heaps of files which are often only dealt with at the last minute of the last day and then only to include the observation that further information, which has to be submitted within two months, is required. They are then returned for redrafting. Staff should have sufficient time to deal with files. This would enable them to make contact with the individuals concerned or the person who devised the plans a week or two before the deadline to have amendments made to enable permission to be granted.

While one can make an educated guess if one studies planning laws well and seeks the observations of the local area engineer, in general it takes two months to get a definite line on a planning application for a house or factory in a rural area. In this context pre-planning discussions in County Hall in which everybody concerned is guided along the right path would be well worthwhile.

[364] Much of the debate in this House on planning has concentrated on the way Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and other large urban centres of population have grown. Because of traffic congestion it can take up to one and a half hours to get to and from work. The Government and State agencies are trying to entice people to live in rural Ireland by highlighting the benefits such as a better quality of life and by endeavouring to provide under the national development plan the same leisure and other facilities that they enjoy in urban areas. However difficulties are being encountered.

A planning application might be refused because the development relates to a different area or would spoil the countryside. We must decide to put serviced sites in small villages and towns in rural Ireland. I know of two villages in which that has happened, one in Churchtown in north Cork in which a developer is developing sites on a ten acre field and the other in my home town of Kiskeam. That type of development provides an orderly structure for the villages and ensures the provision of lighting and sewerage facilities, footpaths etc. This type of development avoids the construction of ribbon housing for which lighting and sewerage facilities must be extended at a later date at considerable cost.

Agriculture, the traditional industry which has kept rural Ireland alive over the years, is in decline and is no longer attracting significant numbers of young people who can avail of far better opportunities elsewhere. If we are serious about repopulating rural Ireland and taking people out of logjammed cities and urban areas, we must provide the necessary facilities and infrastructure and develop serviced land initiatives.

Anyone involved in the planning process will be aware of the anomalies involved. The N72 links Mallow to Killarney. On the Kerry side, the county council has no difficulty in allowing site access onto the road whereas access is not allowed onto the road from the Cork side. It is very difficult to explain that disparity to people. I realise that two separate county development plans are in question here but we need a unified policy in regard to these matters. The words “common sense” have been used on numerous occasions during the debate on this Bill and common sense must be applied in this area.

There is a very high staff turnover in planning authorities. One could end up dealing with up to three or four different planning officers. I know the Minister intends to provide for the recruitment of additional staff in this area and that must be done as quickly as possible. The local roads engineers who must attest to the suitability of sites should be located in local county council offices and should be provided with staff in order that people do not have to trek off to county hall to obtain planning information and information on any other aspects of county council business.

We are experiencing particular problems in regard to the county development plan where two towns are located within five miles of each other [365] and the three mile overlap is cutting off the intervening countryside. It is very difficult to convince people that they should build around towns which have necessary facilities and infrastructure when they cannot obtain planning permission.

I am aware there has been a great deal of consultation on the Bill but perhaps that process could be extended. People who have obtained or been refused planning permission should have the opportunity to make observations on the planning laws and those observations should be duly considered.

In rural areas where houses are located up to a mile apart, people are being refused permission to have red brick on the front or back of their houses because it might destroy the landscape. That does not make sense. It is very difficult to explain to people that those types of laws must be conformed with.

There is a huge explosion of house building in Dublin but we should give careful consideration to rural areas. I note in this morning's newspaper that the smallest houses available in Dublin cost £120,000. If one was to build a house for that money in Duhallow, it would be a mansion and would be talked about for a long time. There are plenty of sites available and some people can obtain sites from their parents. Labour costs have soared in Dublin because of the volume of work but they are somewhat lower in rural communities. If this Bill can encourage even one in ten people to relocate in a rural area, that is to be welcomed. The trend is towards large urban centres in which the facilities are better but we should seek to encourage some percentage of people to live in rural areas.

More than 1,500 post-primary students attend school in Kanturk and Charleville. Watching the number of young people in town at lunchtime, one wonders if something could be done to encourage 10% of them to stay in their community. Traditionally, when we were poorer, people left rural communities to go to England and America and they never returned. We must ensure this is dealt with although some measures in this Bill refer to the problem. Deputy Kenny referred to special areas of conservation and natural heritage areas where development is not allowed. In the 1960s and 1970s we bulldozed architecture and archaeological sites. We are now living to regret it. We must ensure that we do not destroy our heritage. However, there must be progress although people will ask at what cost? We need to ensure the viability of communities. Deputy Pat Carey mentioned how some communities in Dublin are dying. I hope this Bill will help preserve small urban and rural communities – I like to champion the cause of rural areas. Some measures in the Bill cover these areas although there are outstanding issues which I hope will be dealt with on Committee Stage. I appeal to everyone to support initiatives which ensure that rural communities survive.

Mr. Durkan: I give the Bill a qualified welcome [366] because I am not sure it addresses the issues we are facing. The last two speakers referred to some of the issues which do not come within the radius of planning, development and their associated considerations. Deputies Kenny and Moynihan referred to rural areas. I was born in the west and I know the territory well. When one travels along the narrow roads which are no longer regularly used, it is amazing to see on the hills the remains of cottages built 150 or 160 years ago, the occupants of which emigrated to the four corners of the world. The chances of someone living there again, albeit with better employment prospects and a different environment and future, are slim to none because someone has decided those houses should not have been built in the first place. We are refining the roundness of the wheel.

One issue needs to be taken on board as regards planning and development. We had a population of about nine million 150 years ago whereas we have about half that number now. The population will increase if economic expansion continues, which is likely. Planners, experts and consultants say that people should only live in urban settlements – that is the jargon. That is true to a point because it accommodates a greater bulk of population. However, the tradition of living in rural areas should be borne in mind. It should also be borne in mind that we were able to accommodate a population of nine million 150 years ago when the cities and towns had a minuscule population in comparison to now. There is a lesson to be learned from that, which we are not taking on board.

In the UK and Europe small settlements are interspersed throughout the countryside where people have traditionally built houses. They have managed to blend urban and rural living quite well – they have the advantages of space and the countryside while still having access to jobs and services. One area the Bill has not addressed, notwithstanding the Bacon report, is housing and where we will accommodate people in the future. I note what is happening in west Cork and other places. I am sure it will be only a short time before the dramatic spiral in house prices hits even the remotest parts of the country. It gets worse with each month. I despair when I go to my clinics on Saturday and find the same people who were there this time last year and two years ago. They have an income of £25,000 or £30,000 and no chance of acquiring a house. It is now at the stage where some people working here have bought a house in the UK and live there at the weekend. It is a disgraceful indictment on our planning and development process. It is incredible that it should happen here, the least densely populated country of all the EU member states.

I find it difficult to tell young couples that we are trying to make it possible for them to get a house, whether through the local authority, purchase or whatever. As the Acting Chairman will know, in my constituency, a Dáil Deputy's salary – according to the critics we are supposed to be [367] well paid – is not sufficient to fund the average mortgage for an ordinary three-bedroom house. It is not the kind of mortgage I would advise anyone to take out because in the event of slippage in the market, the person concerned would not have a chance of paying it. The Bill does not deal with this serious problem, notwithstanding the proposals regarding land zoning and the 10% or 20% figure. I am afraid it is too little too late. Its impact will not be sufficient.

There is another area to which I want to refer and which I cannot understand. Any country one goes to, even the former communist countries in eastern Europe, have fairly good arterial road structures. They have wide roads, some of them built with concrete or whatever. Some of them have been there for years and they seem to have stood the test of time. Yet, in this country for some reason we are told we cannot and should not build roads because it encourages more people to drive and fills the roads with cars. This is a peculiar logic invented by the former UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. It had the added benefit of ensuring there was no necessity to spend capital on that type of project because it was environmentally unfriendly to do so. One only needs to drive in the mornings in this city to see we have a problem with traffic jams.

I cannot understand, given modern transport methods and the need to provide goods and services at speed, how we can provide these services with roughly the same infrastructure as existed approximately 150 years ago, even though there have been a few improvements. I am sure the Minister of State will recognise that the road to Cork, with the exception of the area going through my constituency and one or two other areas such as Portlaoise and perhaps Kildare town, where a miniature slug held up progress for the past few years, is essentially the same as it was 100 years ago. It has been widened and improved a little but it is essentially the same, and this is a disgrace. Such a road carrying such a heavy volume of traffic between two major cities would not be tolerated in any other country. If one compares our roads structure with comparable population sizes, even in communist countries, we are way behind. I cannot understand this, it is incredible.

One can scarcely enter a town or village at present without experiencing a traffic jam. There are traffic jams in towns with populations as low as 500. This is occurring because we are using the same road structures that were in place 150 years ago. If people wish to travel to any part of the country which involves the road bypassing the town, people go right through that town. I cannot understand this. I presume we wish to be friendly towards the people of these towns, go right up through the middle of the main street and blockade the traffic when the children are leaving school. All the converging services arrive at the same spot at the same time and a set of traffic lights is erected to help things a little further and [368] enable people to cross the street in reasonable safety. I cannot understand why it has not become a prerequisite to build a ring road and divert traffic around most towns and villages. When travelling throughout the UK, it is not necessary to go into the centre of any town or village unless one wishes to do so. One can travel throughout the country without the slightest difficulty. The British system has many disadvantages – we should know more about this than anyone – but they have certainly managed to master the road system, notwithstanding Margaret Thatcher's performance in that area.

The same applies to general services whereby people tend to look for more infrastructure. The word “infrastructure” covers a multitude, it is being used regularly at every opportunity. Every public representative is familiar with the word. This essentially means services. Very often people fail to get into the nitty gritty of what it means. It means water and sewage facilities and the provision of utility services required by the population on a daily basis, and this country is way behind in this regard. There is very little in the Bill to deal with this issue, even though there is a little bit of movement here and there.

Mr. D. Wallace: The Deputy is using the word “little” too often because it does not apply.

Mr. Durkan: I am not sure about that. I have toured the country as often as anyone else and in approximately 70% of locations there is either an insufficiency of services or a lack of services entirely. We compare very badly with other countries in this regard, notwithstanding the fact that we have received European funding for a number of years. I am not accusing the Minister of State because he was not responsible for all this.

A couple of other issues need to be considered. I was interested yesterday morning to hear the President of the Planning Institute speak on radio. He was waxing lyrical about planning permission delays, my favourite subject. He suggested – I bow to his superior knowledge – that the £20 fee proposed in the Bill for third party objectors could be a deterrent to attracting objectors. There is no need to worry in that regard, there will be plenty of them anyway. I observe the right of the objector because there is a need to ensure that a development is not objectionable, intrusive, overpowering or inconsistent with the aesthetics of the area. However, my imagination is somewhat stretched when I see some of the grounds for objection which are clearly vexatious or mischievous. I fail to understand why An Bord Pleanála or the Department of the Environment and Local Government, in the context of this Bill, has not come up with a means of identifying the nitty gritty in terms of these objections which cost the State millions of pounds. This seems to be a growth industry. If one decides to build a golf course in Cork, for example, someone from the other end of the country might decide to object on the basis of their environmental [369] interest or whatever – they may well have such an interest – but I would like to know to what extent is the person familiar with the aesthetics of that particular area. I cannot understand this.

A regular occurrence in rural areas is where a person applies for planning permission to build a house for a son or daughter or whatever and a third party objector appears on the scene, usually on the 30th day, the last moment before approval is given. Lo and behold, after a little while the person gets the impression that if he or she pays a visit, there could be the possibility of a financial arrangement whereby the objector will back off. These are not isolated incidents, they are happening on a fairly regular basis and with a consistency which is a little alarming. Not only is this intruding seriously on the right of the individual to go through the planning process without being impeded, but it suggests that perhaps a business arrangement could suddenly grow up around this area.

I am not decrying the valid objection or objector, of which there are countless cases. I was involved in a case recently where the objection was genuine. However, in some of the cases I have examined from time to time, there seemed to be an extensive use of jargon which was hurriedly learned and which appeared to smack of nothing more than the decision by someone to say, “Well, I have arrived at this particular location, I am here now and I will make sure that nobody else arrives here”. This is what happened in the United States in the days of the land rush when a means had to be found to register property in advance so that people could not claim-jump and so on. I am concerned about this aspect which the Bill does not seem to deal with. If it is intended to streamline planning permission and to meet the needs of the country in the future, if one is obstructed for long periods by the sudden appearance of a small snail, which may well be unique to one particular area but not necessarily to the country, and if vexatious objections are entertained, this will have a negative impact and will eventually bring the whole system to a halt.

I regularly criticise An Bord Pleanála because that is part of my job, it is what I am elected to do. It is essential that the board is provided with sufficient facilities to ensure it deals adequately and on a reasonably rapid basis with the applications coming before it.

A period of two rather than three months should be used. This is the position with regard to local authorities. The final decision should be available in two months because there is no need to replicate in its entirety the process the local authority has already undergone. Services and facilities need to be provided.

It is common practice for the board to subcontract to private enterprise various technical inspections in planning applications. Although such outside operators are approved by the board and signs a disclaimer, I am not entirely happy about it. It leaves the system open to question because the person or persons involved are not [370] permanent employees of the board. They are employed on a one off basis. Such people should be permanent employees of the board.

In common with other speakers, I agree it is important to retain our heritage. Many aspects of our heritage, particularly our built heritage, in cities and towns were demolished years ago and we lost out as a result. It is important to protect and preserve, but that is not as difficult as people assume. Modern internal aspects can be incorporated into buildings. They can be adapted to make them aesthetically pleasing while also ensuring they reflect their historical past. Changes can be kept to a minimum while also meeting modern requirements.

The issue of development would take hours to discuss in detail and therefore only a few minor aspects can be debated in the time available. However, there is a lack of architectural flair in the country. I heard a comment recently that there has been no worthwhile architectural development in Ireland in the past 40 years. Although I do not agree entirely, there is some merit in that point. There is an ongoing attempt to quell any architectural flair which may exist. If the planning system in local authorities encounters any flair in architects, it appears to kill it off.

I do not suggest developments which are inconsistent with our heritage or the aesthetics of the area should be encouraged, but this aspect needs to be considered. We must move away from the notion that the only type of house one can build is one with two gables, a front and a back, one window on each side, two chimneys and doors at the front and back. It is time to make improvements and to incorporate a little flair.

A suggestion was made by a much more eminent person than me some time ago that a house, which was built partially overground and partially underground and had the appearance of an historical monument, should have received an architectural award. The house had some merit but it was not consistent with modern requirements. If everything remained as it was 1,000 years ago, there would be no sense in making improvements and life would be idyllic.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace): Deputy Durkan is wrong in suggesting the Bill does not do anything to facilitate the provision of infrastructure. On the contrary, the Bill provides that the responsibility for approving the compulsory purchase of land, local authority EI projects and roads schemes will be transferred from the Minister to An Bord Pleanála.

Procedural deadlines have been introduced to ensure 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. The board has shown in the past that it can meet strict objectives when it has the resources to meet the demands placed on it. I am confident the board will perform its new tasks equally well.

[371] The Deputy wants a provision included in the Bill to prevent vexatious objections. Section 123 gives new powers to the board to dismiss vexatious appeals or appeals which are made with the intention of getting money from the developer.

Some 37 years since the enactment of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, the Planning and Development Bill, 1999, marks a milestone in the development of planning in Ireland. It is modern, progressive legislation which places the concept of sustainable development at the heart of the planning system. The Bill consolidates primary planning law which is contained in nine Acts dating from 1963 to 1999 and a number of regulations implementing EU directives on environmental impact assessment. The consolidation in itself will be of major benefit to all users of the planning system. The Bill is very large, containing 245 sections and six Schedules. It is much more than a consolidation of existing law. It introduces many significant changes and new initiatives.

At the start of the review process which led to the new Bill, my colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, said the planning system for Ireland in the 21st century should be strategic in approach, imbued with an ethos of sustainable development and deliver a performance of the highest quality. These are the principles on which the Bill is based. Given the size of the Bill, it is impossible to consider all its aspects in the time available. Therefore, I wish to concentrate on the strategic focus of the Bill and its implications for sustainable development.

The workings of the Planning Act, 1963, were built around the central importance of the development plan. The development plan informed all decisions on planning applications and the local authority's own proposals for development. Under the Bill the local authority development plan retains its status at the heart of planning. It will be informed, however, by regional planning guidelines which will provide a long-term strategic framework for the development of the whole region. The regional planning guidelines will deal with such issues as projected population trends, settlement and housing strategies, economic and employment trends, transport and infrastructure.

In turn, the regional guidelines will be placed in the context of the national spatial strategy which my Department is undertaking as part of the Government's policies for balanced regional development set out in the national development plan. We are all aware of the dominance of the greater Dublin area and its power to drag in people and investment. The national spatial strategy will aim to bring about more balanced regional development, including counteracting the dominance of the greater Dublin area. This will bring great benefits to all regions.

As I represent the second largest city in the [372] State, I consider that Cork is well placed, along with the other major urban centres, to play a pivotal role in achieving more balanced development throughout the State. The national spatial strategy will be prepared by my Department over a two year period. It will have a 20 year time horizon and will set out the blueprint of how the Government's policy of balanced regional development will be achieved. The strategy will be prepared on the basis of developing a consensus among the social partners and sectoral and regional interests. This represents the best way forward.

There have been suggestions from the Opposition benches that the strategy is too late. It has also been put forward that perhaps three, six or 12 towns should be immediately identified as growth centres and investment directed to those centres. While I understand the desire to move quickly, to do so without the necessary preparation and study would be a major error. To do so without consultation and proper investigation would be correctly seen as high handed and a recipe for controversy and dispute. There will be no untoward delays in preparing the national spatial strategy, but it will be carried out in a proper manner.

Turning back to the legislation, the Bill also provides for local area plans which will bridge the gap between the broad objectives of the development plan and actual development proposals. This will ensure that, for example, new developments are provided with the services and amenities required. For the first time, therefore, we will have a structured hierarchy of plans from the broad national picture down to local development level.

In addition, the adoption of development plans has been strictly time tabled to ensure that development plans are renewed every six years and therefore remain relevant to current needs. The Bill recognises the value of public participation and strengthens the role of democratically elected councillors. Making development plans is one of the most important and most onerous functions of elected members of local authorities. The Bill makes it clear that a single development plan must be produced for each local authority, setting out the overall strategy for the development of its area. The only exception to this is where an urban authority includes its environs in a development plan with the agreement of the county council. Piecemeal plans for different parts of a local authority's area will not suffice.

The Bill includes important provisions to streamline the production of development plans, while at the same time enhancing the role of the elected representative and improving public consultation. The objective in relation to development plans is to encourage a sense of ownership of the plan within the community which it serves and amongst the councillors who adopt it. The draft development plan has in the past been seen as a manager's or planner's document to which councillors react. This in turn can result in the [373] planners becoming defensive about the draft plan and councillors and the public reacting negatively against it. Under the Bill the whole thrust of the new procedures is to get councillors and the public involved at the earliest stages of plan formation – before the draft plan is produced. The Bill provides that four years into the lifetime of a development plan the manager must initiate the procedures to review the plan and to prepare a new plan. This involves early consultation with interested bodies to get their views on what the new plan should contain. After five months of initial consultation the manager must prepare a report arising from the public consultation and submit it to the elected members. The elected members can make recommendations to the manager regarding the preparation of the draft plan with which the manager must comply. Councillors are therefore in the driving seat regarding the initial drafting of theColour RGB 171,0,0 plan.

Preparation of the draft plan must be completed within 11 months of the manager commencing the review. Once that is completed another formal round of public consultation must take place. The procedures involved are similar to the existing procedures under the 1963 Planning Act except that they are strictly timetabled. The draft plan must be adopted by the end of the year, that is, within two years of the review commencing. There is no further provision for extensions of time. This will ensure that development plans are renewed on time every six years and remain relevant to current needs.

In addition, regional planning guidelines will be adopted by the members of the regional authority and local area plans will be adopted by the members of the relevant local authority. There has been some criticism from Members on all sides of the House regarding development carried out by local authorities. There has been a suggestion that local authority development is not subject to the same rigorous consideration as planning applications from private developers, but in general, local authorities have a good track record of carrying out development in a sensitive manner. The results of the various urban and village renewal schemes are testament to that. However, there is room for improvement in the transparency of the decision making process. Since 1994 local representatives have had a greater say in development carried out by their own authorities through the Part X procedure under the planning regulations. The Bill restates the Part X procedure in section 163 while addressing some criticisms that have arisen with regard to it. It requires the submission of planning reports to local authority members on proposed development, to a similar standard to planning reports on planning applications. The report must show how the proposed development is consistent with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area having regard to the provisions of the development plan. This is the same criteria which applies to evaluating a planning application. The elected members must consider [374] any report before the development may proceed and may vary or modify the development. Given my responsibility for environmental awareness and protection, I am particularly pleased with the way the concept of sustainable development has been woven into the fabric of the Bill. The term “proper planning and development” of an area has been replaced as the Bill's touchstone by “the proper planning and sustainable development”, but this is more than a change in terminology. 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 simpler procedures to draw up tree preservation orders and new measures to facilitate the protection of public rights of way and so on. All these measures envisage a greater role for local authority members than was provided for in the 1963 Planning Act. An important new power in the Bill is the provision to designate landscape conservation areas. Tighter planning controls in relation to the natural environment can be applied by local councillors in these areas. Section 187 enables the Minister, by regulation, to determine that planning permission may be required for certain works which are normally exempted development where such works are undertaken in a landscape conservation area. Works consisting of the removal of hedges or ditches or land reclamation would be typical of the type of works that could be covered in these regulations. A planning authority will then be able to propose the designation of an area as a landscape conservation area. Following the normal process of public consultation, the elected members of the planning authority may make the designation.

Enforcement of planning law has long been a concern for many people and in particular, the issue of unfinished estates has been a bone of contention in many areas. 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. The enforcement provisions of this Bill will make people think twice before ignoring planning law and I hope to see the widespread use of retention permission being used only to rectify genuine mistakes, not as a means of circumventing controls.

There have been suggestions during the debate that the Bill does nothing to deal with the problem of existing estates which are unfinished. However, I draw Deputies' attention to section 164, which makes provision for taking estates in charge when a majority of the residents request that the authority do so, through the procedures set out in the Roads Act, 1993. Where the estate [375] is finished to the satisfaction of the authority, this can be done at any time. However, when the estate is unfinished, the authority will be obliged to take it in charge at the request of the residents if enforcement action has not commenced within seven years of the expiry of the planning permission. The obligation to take an estate in charge will apply to estates that are unfinished at the moment. This provision will end the problem of estates being left unfinished for once and for all.

On the problem of unfinished estates, there have also been suggestions from some Deputies that the bonding system as applied by local authorities is inadequate as potential loss of the bond is not an adequate deterrent to ensure that a developer will finish an estate. However, it is clear that many local authorities request adequate bonds and ensure that the bonding system works. Where there is a problem with bonds not being applied the local authority should look at its practices. This is not a problem with the legislation.

Once enacted, the Bill will be followed up with comprehensive regulations and guidelines so that the benefits of this new legislation can be applied by local authorities and by all who interact with the planning system. I assure the House that the Government is committed to giving this Bill full effect as soon as possible.

Mr. Broughan: I commend the officials of the Department of the Environment and Local Government for bringing forward such a comprehensive Bill. It has been said many times in recent decades that many aspects of planning law had come about in an ad hoc way through ministerial regulation in response to individual problems in the planning process and that there has not been a coherent overview since the planning system started in 1963. This comprehensive approach is welcome. I welcome the inclusion of the concept of sustainable development, that is, that planning and sustainable development should be the hallmark of our approach to general development from this period onwards.

The greater Dublin area, which my city manager characterises as running from Drogheda through Navan, onto Naas and Wicklow, has a population of 1.65 million, shortly increasing to two million. It is important that its fundamental needs are met in a sustainable way and in a way that ensures those who live in that territory can have the best possible quality of life. The Bill is timely in relation to the National Development Plan 2000-2006 which is critical for the country's development. As one who has advocated the use of local and regional plans in my local authority for the past decade, I welcome the structured hierarchy of plans for each locality.

Most of the responses I received on the Bill dealt with the fees payable to planning authorities [376] in respect of planning permission in section 222. There is a strong reaction against the idea of local authorities imposing fees when neighbours and local residents associations are making representations. To make an effective appeal to An Bord Pleanála, as I have had to do recently on an issue in my constituency, there is the general cost of submitting a structured and well thought out appeal, the cost of which we have had to bear. We can make ordinary representations but if we make a proper submission to the board we have to follow the usual rules, the cost of which is £36 each time. Given that we want citizens to take the deepest possible interest in planning matters and to respond quickly to a particular application in the locality, I suggest we leave the first stage, permission stage, with the local authority. In my constituency major campaigns have had to be mounted in particular areas, one of which was about the Eircom and Esat masts for microwave transmission for our well used mobile phones. There have been instances where if communities did not have the current flexibility, the major responses to planning applications could not have been made, in my case, to Fingal County Council and Dublin Corporation.

I am disappointed that in Part III, which deals at length with permission, the Government did not go as far as my colleague Deputy Seán Ryan went in the Bill he introduced towards the end of the last Dáil in relation to the completion of estates. Section 34 provides that residents, through plebiscite, will have the option of taking in charge and that subject to a High Court provision the local authority will be able to take into account the history of a particular developer. We have had cases in the Dublin area where estates have been left unfinished not only for five or ten years but in the areas I represent for 25 years, 30 years and 35 years where developers left derelict sites. In Donaghmede an estate was left as it was and the company, Connaught Estates, went into liquidation. In this case the Chief State Solicitor takes over the land. There is a long protracted process before the local authority can put the land, where there is anti-social behaviour night after night, to good use. Perhaps the Minister will look again at section 34 with a view to strengthening the requirement that developers complete estates within the specified period. The Labour Bill provided that otherwise they would not get another planning permission. That is what is necessary given the type of rogue development we have had to endure. We have had good developers but some rogue developers left us high and dry and left bits and pieces of land in a terrible state with all the anti-social consequences that follow.

In section 34 the planning permission period has been reduced to eight weeks. There are some recommendations in relation to An Bord Pleanála later in the Bill on the timeframe within which a permission can be granted. In my area we were faced with a major development from Gannon Homes for 2,000 housing units with ancillary com[377] mercial developments – a whole new village or parish in my constituency. In adjoining areas there are proposals for three or four new parishes of up to 5,000 to 6,000 housing units. In the case of Gannon Homes the permission application was placed on the register of Dublin Corporation on 23 December, hours before Christmas eve. The result was that two and a half weeks passed while the officials had been on holidays. There had been some brief noticing of the permission but most citizens, for obvious reasons at Christmas, were not aware of it. Two and a half weeks of the eight or nine weeks had passed before councillors could react to this enormous development on our doorstep. Almost 30% of the time had elapsed before I got a chance to read and look through the detailed plans in Dublin Corporation.

Perhaps the Minister would specify that submitting applications the night before Christmas is not acceptable and should not be permitted. I realise people could be working on plans for months and be in a rush towards the end of the year. Nonetheless, I do not see the necessity for that type of behaviour. On the completion of estates, I would welcome a stronger approach.

Part II, chapter I, sets out the procedure in relation to development plans. I have been involved in drawing up two development plans in my local authority and in submissions to other development plans as a representative for an adjoining local authority. I wonder about the six year timeframe within which every planning authority shall make a development plan. I understand the Minister will shortly bring in a detailed Bill on local government and the reform of local government which will include the kind of supports that Deputies should get from councils in terms of information and so on. Why is the life of the plan not coterminous with the life of the council? If it is five years, why do we not have a precise five year plan? From my experience in 1991 and 1999 there was an incredible rush in Dublin Corporation and Fingal County Council to get plans completed. In the case of the city plan councillors, many of whom were part-time politicians who had to get off work to attend meetings, had to make representations on a host of books and amendments to the plan. In view of this there is a need to re-examine the timeframe provision.

I welcome the framework to be applied to the making of plans, especially the requirement to include infrastructure, conservation and facilities for the community. Previous development plans failed to make adequate provision for infrastructure. In recent weeks I was strongly critical of the Minister because over the Christmas period the water supply to the northern fringe of the city was cut off night after night, starting on Christmas Eve. This was done because of fears over a physical Y2K problem and the possibility of a disaster over the Christmas period.

I have told the House on several occasions that the water supply to Dublin is poised on a knife edge, yet people are making massive planning [378] applications which will need huge additional amounts of water. Unlike almost every other major capital city in Europe which has a 10% to 15% reserve supply, the Dublin region has none. I am glad, therefore, the Bill makes it a requirement to include this in the basic development plan for each area.

I was unhappy with the rushed approach to finalising the 1999 plan for Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council and with the level of public consultation and the supports available to councillors in terms of maps and models. For example, in the two counties to which I have referred, incredibly, maps did not include housing estates built in the last three, four of five years, although they were part of the draft plans.

I welcome the parts of the Bill which refer to co-operation between local authorities. The major developments on the northern fringe of the city require ongoing co-operation between Fingal County Council and Dublin City Council, which has been lacking heretofore. While Dublin City Council decided to demolish 3,200 apartment units in the Ballymun area, just up the road in adjoining territory in the Santry Woods area our colleagues in Fingal County Council decided to erect 1,100 apartments. Dublin City Council was not consulted by Fingal County Council on this. Similarly, across the northern fringe of the city, in Coolock, Donaghmede, Baldoyle and down to the sea, there are major proposals for development on both sides of the line dividing the two councils. It is only because of motions I put down in Dublin City Council in recent months and following discussions with the Fingal County Manger, Mr. Willie Soffe, that, at long last, co-operation has started. The Minister is right to make this mandatory because adjoining local authorities should work closely together, especially in a small area like the Dublin region.

I welcome the provision for a local area plan set out in Chapter II. We have informal experience of this in the Dublin city region. For example, there have been local area plans for Finglas and Raheny, which were started by local people. More recently there has been the beginnings of a local area plan for the Donaghmede area. Before preparing these plans, a complete environmental audit of the locality should be undertaken. For example, thanks to the Northside Partnership we have a detailed environmental audit in the Coolock area which covers every house, garden, street and lamp-post. This kind of detail is needed to see how areas should be developed in terms of infrastructure.

I also welcome the provisions on regional infrastructure because it will help to end the lack of co-operation between many of the localities I have mentioned. I am a member of the Dublin Regional Authority since last June-July. It is serviced by a hardworking but small number of staff and appears to be nothing more than a talking shop with no input into anything. Following enactment of this legislation, I hope a start will be [379] made on proper regional planning for the Dublin region.

While the proposal to set aside 20% of development land for affordable social housing, set out in sections 79 to 86, is to be welcomed, it is only a drop in the ocean when it comes to dealing with the massive housing crisis. I am proud this proposal originated with the Labour Party. With the help of my colleague, Deputy Gilmore, the party has presented the only coherent plan to address the housing and homeless crisis. The Minister has off-loaded onto his hapless Progressive Democrats colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Molloy, one of the two most important problems facing the country, leaving him to carry the baby.

When we meet our constituents at weekends Deputies repeatedly hear of heart rending, horrendous cases involving the sufferings of families on the streets of this city. When I visited the housing department of my local authority yesterday I discovered that a family whose son has a severe disability – a woman who is waiting for eight to nine months for a home – has been given some kind of priority, but there are no houses available. In my local authority there have been 600 house starts this year and there are 7,500 people on the Dublin City Council housing list. Fingal County Council has approximately 3,000 people on its housing and homeless list.

The housing commission established by my party estimated that last year 135,000 families are homeless in this State. What is the point of having a Celtic tiger economy, an economy that will be worth £100 billion or the equivalent in euros – provided the euro does not fall any further in value – where average incomes have supposedly overtaken those in Germany, if we have so many families on the streets? If the Minister does not take a more vigorous approach this will be one of two issues on which he will be harshly judged.

My party has taken a much more rigorous approach. We established a housing commission, which the Minister's colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Molloy, should have done. We have also proposed a series of policies which we would like to implement. If we had between 45 and 50 seats in the Dáil we would do so.

Mr. D. Wallace: The Deputy is dreaming by day and night.

Mr. Broughan: We once had 33 Deputies and we are still very ambitious. If we were in power our approach would include the provision on social housing as one of approximately ten. The Government's failure to adequately implement the recommendations in the Bacon report has led to the enrichment of greedy speculators and investors with two, three or more properties while young couples with a combined salary of £35,000 [380] cannot buy a house. After almost three years in office that is the legacy the Government is leaving and it will be judged harshly on it.

Our programme is simple. We are prepared to build 50,000 local authority houses over the next four of five years and, if necessary, we will CPO land to ensure that. We are also prepared to embark on an urgent housing crisis development plan, to cap rents if necessary and to allow for a fair rents environment. As Deputy Gilmore has outlined several times in the House, we are prepared to take a very strong approach. While the section providing for social housing is welcome, it is not enough.

My colleague, Senator Costello, provided the Minister with the opportunity to implement this provision a few months ago. Why did he not avail of it? Nevertheless, I welcome the efforts made by his officials to introduce this measure, although I am critical of many aspects of it. On Committee Stage I hope to encourage the Minister to rethink aspects of the Bill.

Ms M. McGennis: I am glad of the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill which is important and weighty in terms of volume and its objectives of reforming our planning laws and assisting with the implementation of the national development plan.

At a recent meeting of Dublin City Council a report, “Major Infrastructural Projects in Ireland and Europe: a Comparison”, was presented to members. Our planning laws must serve us well and cannot be used in delaying developments. The report says:

Major public infrastructural projects in the Dublin area, such as the southern cross route, are often dogged by delays prior to the actual construction stages, thus exacerbating the problems they were designed to alleviate. Often the delays are predicated on legal challenges which can literally add years to the completion of a project with a simultaneous opportunity cost both in terms of funding and in public service provision. After commissioning reports comparing the Irish and European experience in this area from both a planning and legal perspective, the following observations and recommendations appear relevant to the development of major infrastructural projects in the city. Generally, the European Union has had an influence on the planning initiatives in member states…

The report mentions in this context legislation, policy initiatives, etc. It also states:

The European Commission has further identified three contextual factors which play a fundamental role in determining the characteristics of spatial planning systems in member states:

1.constitutional law [which plays quite an important role in our deliberations]

[381] 2.Government structure and responsibilities for spatial planning

3.the legal framework.

I do not wish to read the entire report, but it continues:

The comparison between the apparent progress which our European partners are making in the development of major public infrastructural projects and the delays experienced in Ireland are highlighted when one compares the following: the southern cross motorway, not yet finished; the second Severn Bridge between England and Wales, opened in 1996; the Oresund Bridge and Tunnel between Denmark and Sweden, to open in July 2000; and the Vasco da Gama Bridge across the Tagus, Lisbon, opened in 1998.

The report gives the timescales for these projects, saying “the longer timescale for the southern cross project in comparison with three other case studies is clear”, stating that the Vasco da Gama Bridge, which spans 18 kilometres, took seven years to complete, the Oresund Bridge and Tunnel, which spans 18 kilometres, took 12 years and the second Severn Bridge, which spans five kilometres, took 12 years while the southern cross route, which involves eight kilometres, has taken 30 years.

The manager draws conclusions from the report, two of which are:

At the start of each project a timescale should be established within which it is to be completed. A fast-track system should be developed for all stages of the project from initial consultation stages to completion.

In order to satisfy the requirements of natural and constitutional justice, it is necessary to have a consultation process so that those who are affected by the development can feed into the process at as early a stage as possible. If the concerns of interested parties, for example, local residents, businesses, etc., can be assuaged at an early stage, this should lower the number of objections considerably and thereby shorten any public inquiry into the matter. The need for an expeditious inquiry must be emphasised, possibly by legislating for a mandatory maximum period.

I think this latter provision is included in the Bill.

The review was conducted by John Martin, Dublin City planning officer, Terence O'Keeffe, law agent and Michael Philips, city engineer, each of whom the manager thanks.

It is worth reading these sections of the review into the official record given the major problems which have been identified. Deputy Broughan mentioned housing as a problem on which the Government will be judged. Traffic is also a problem, and I mentioned the report specifically as it highlights the need for public consultation and allowing individuals and groups make their views [382] known in relation to infrastructural projects. There are a huge number of infrastructural projects outlined in the national development plan which we hope will come to fruition, given that we have a few bob. The southern cross route and the port tunnel are examples of such projects. I argue that we have gone too far down the road of public consultation in terms of resulting delays. The public must have a right to make their views and objections known and to have them taken on board. In the context of planning applications the Minister stated that the objections or observations of the public have a statutory basis, which they did not previous have, something I welcome. However, it is equally important in the context of major projects that we reach a point where we can say we have exhausted the process and a decision must be made. Every development will be contentious, but a point must be reached where a decision is made.

The report I mentioned refers to the constitutional right to property ownership and how this delays CPOs and it mentions that EISs and EIAs are part of how our European colleagues approach issues. Legal challenges in terms of property rights seem to result in Ireland taking an additional 15 years in making decisions. I presume the report has been sent to the Minister; if not he is welcome to have my copy.

I welcome the Bill and have read most of it. In 1994 subsidiary was the buzz word when we were examining local government. I now note that “sustainable development” has replaced “subsidiary”. The Minister said he has not precisely stated what sustainable development involves as he does not want to narrow the definition too much. I would prefer if it was defined as we may leave ourselves open to delays and queries.

The Bill has been discussed at length in the Seanad and will probably be considered at length in the Dáil. I think this is related to the fact that 80% of Oireachtas Members make their way to both Houses through local government and therefore have a very hands-on approach and experience in terms of planning legislation and bring with them to the Chamber, hard earned knowledge and experience. I think the Minister recognises this by virtue of the number of amendments he brought forward on foot of consultation in the Seanad.

Under section 9 dealing with development plans, the period for drawing up a development plan has been changed to six years where previously it was five years. I wonder what was the rationale for this. For 14 or 15 years I was a member of Dublin County Council. I understand that the council's first development plan was presented in 1972. A review commenced in 1977 and was completed in 1983, an outrageous and ludicrous amount of time to review a plan. I am very pleased that under section 11(5) a development plan must be completed within one year.

Debate adjourned.