Committee on Finance. - Acquisition of Derelict Sites Bill, 1940—Committee and Final Stages.

The expression "derelict site" means any land—
(a) which is unoccupied or is not being put to anybona fide use by the occupier thereof, and
(b) on which either all the buildings are ruinous or in disrepair or there have, for a period of at least two years, been no buildings, and
(c) which is or is likely to become injurious to health or to the amenities of the neighbourhood by reason of its objectionable or neglected condition or by reason of the deposit or collection thereon of débris, rubbish, or insanitary material.

I move amendment No. 1:—

To add the following word and paragraph after line 35 and at the end of the definition of the expression "derelict site":

"and

(d) which is not held or occupied by a local authority or any body corporate for the purposes of any railway, tramway, dock, canal, water, gas, electricity, or other public undertaking."

This amendment is the usual clause inserted in such Bills. It is intended to exclude places used for public purposes. There was a similar clause in the Industrial Alcohol Bill.

Mr. Brennan

I do not think the amendment is really necessary or reasonable. Here we are proposing to, omit from consideration, as far as derelict sites are concerned, any property which is held by such bodies as railways, tramways, dock, canal, water, gas, electricity, or other public undertaking. It does seem unfair that if a private owner has a shack of some sort or other, which we think is unsightly or unsanitary, we are going to take power to deprive him of it whether he likes it or not, whereas if it happens to belong to any of the parties enumerated here, we are going to allow it stand. Our experience of some people in charge of public undertakings is not so very happy that we should be prepared to exclude them in this way. If the Minister wants the amendment, I think he should make a case for it. I should like him to tell us why he thinks these public undertakings should be excluded from the provisions of a law that will operate against private individuals.

Are banks excluded by this amendment?

I happen to know of a site acquired by a bank a couple of years ago and it is left derelict still.

I do not think it would be protected by this amendment. To give an instance of a case in which the amendment would apply, you may have a railway station attached to which there is a siding. The local authority may consider that the siding is kept in an unsatisfactory state, but it may be kept in a perfect state from the company's point of view. You have, for example, tramway yards and such places, that perhaps may look sometimes unsightly but that are very necessary to maintain. These are a couple of examples I might give. Although I do not think local authorities would abuse that power very much, I think that in giving such a power to a local authority you would be giving them too comprehensive a power. It is intended that places like that, which are being used for a particular purpose and which, while not perhaps looking as if they were kept in a desirable way from an esthetic point of view, still are probably in keeping with the purposes for which they are intended, should not be interfered with. I have in mind railway sidings, tramway yards, and places of that sort.

Mr. Brennan

I do not think the Minister has really made a case for the insertion of this amendment. After all, the Minister must have very little faith in his County Managers Bill, according to this amendment. I do not think there is any danger whatever of a public authority abusing its powers in that respect. I do happen to know of a public undertaking, a gas undertaking, which, to my mind, has some surroundings that ought to be altered, and I do not think these people should be immune and do not see any reason why they should be. I think the Minister ought to have faith enough in public bodies, particularly under the new managerial system, to feel that they are not going to abuse any powers that they have, and it will be manifestly unfair to have such people as I have in mind exempt. After all, if there are railway sidings or other public undertakings that are unsightly, these people are better able to mend these places and put them into proper order than a private individual would be, and why they should be exempt I do not know. This is really a tidying-up Bill. Personally, I have very little faith in the Bill, and the Minister knows that, but at the same time I think that if a public undertaking has any property which requires tidying up they ought to be compelled to do so, just the same as an individual. If we have any faith at all in public bodies we ought not to insert this amendment, and I do not think there is any reason for it.

I rather welcomed this Bill on its Second Reading. I think it is a splendid Bill, because anybody going through our provincial towns and seeing a lot of these derelict buildings, half demolished and some of them not demolished at all, will realise the necessity for such a Bill as this. However, like Deputy Brennan, I think that you will take away a lot of the best part of this Bill if you insert this amendment. These people should be amenable to the law just the same as a private individual and, as Deputy Brennan has pointed out, these people have more money and are in a better position to remove such abuses than the ordinary individual. I think the Minister should leave the Bill as it stands because the insertion of this amendment will take away a great deal of the effectiveness of the Bill.

There are derelict sidings under the railways.

The railways operate under a certain code of laws and regulations, and I see a certain danger in trying to get another code of laws. They have, I think, to abate such things as a nuisance or something like that. There might be some stations closed down and there might be a case to be made there, but this is to some extent experimental. I believe this will cover at least 80 per cent. and probably 90 per cent. of these derelict sites that we see around the country. What I mean is that you very often have all the amenities of a place destroyed or taken away because of unsightly and derelict buildings beside it. You have such unsightly buildings near towns, and the amenities of such towns are taken away as a result of these sites, but I do not think that places such as Deputy Brennan has in mind, like railway sidings or something like that, do very much in the way of taking away from the amenities of a place, and I think they could be dealt with in some other way.

Those are the only places the Government has not attacked up to this.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 1, as amended, agreed to.
Section 2 agreed to.
SECTION 3.

I move amendment No. 2:—

To add at the end of the section a new sub-section as follows:—

(5) A preliminary order shall not be made in respect of land consisting of or containing agricultural land save with the consent of the Irish Land Commission.

This has been suggested by the Land Commission with a view to excluding agricultural land from the operation of this Bill. It might be construed that, in taking a derelict holding, we wanted to take agricultural land, which we do not want to do.

Mr. Brennan

What I should like to know from the Minister is this: outside the municipal authorities or urban councils what land is agricultural land? Is not all land agricultural land? Accordingly, in all cases, outside of pretty large towns where there are urban councils and town boundaries, in every village and town in the country all sites are, in fact, agricultural land and will have to be treated as if they were a farm. I think the Minister probably could find a happier way for dealing with that matter than the particular way he sets out here, because any person who has had any experience of dealing with the Land Commission will feel that having to look for the consent of the Land Commission in this matter is not going to hurry things up and that it is going to be the other way round. If the local authority has to get the consent of the Land Commission with regard to little plots and so on in every town and village in the country, outside the urban towns, you will hold up the whole thing.

I do not think these sites would come within the definition of agricultural land; at least I am advised that they do not. I think that land, to be agricultural land, must be used for pasture or tillage.

I do not think the Minister is right at all. If the Minister looks at any demand note he will find the rateable valuation set out as agricultural land. As Deputy Brennan says, in every town, except an urban town, the land upon which a house is situated is described as agricultural land. To my mind, the difficulty is that the phrase "agricultural land" there is what makes the weakness in the amendment, because it seems to suggest that that is subject to the Land Commission or, in other words, to a Land Commission annuity, and that is not so because the definition of agricultural land is land that is rated as agricultural land. You are up against two snags there: one is that you are going to give the Department power to acquire land that is actually not subject to their authority or, secondly, you are going to consider, under this amendment, that the only land that is agricultural land is land that is subject to a Land Commission annuity. You cannot have it both ways. The Land Commission are not at all interested unless the land is subject to a Land Commission annuity. If you go on the definition here of agricultural land you immediately come into contact with other portions of land rated as agricultural land. Now even the land on which houses are situated is agricultural land. If the Minister will look at his own demand note for rates he will find that it would be defined as agricultural land even where the house is built on. No matter how small the portion was, it would be so described; so obviously there is a catch there between agricultural land and the other definition.

Agricultural land is land that has been tilled. I knew a case where the owner tilled his land so as to avoid paying the higher rates on it.

If the Minister analyses this amendment he will find that it is only an amendment that is winding the Bill around with red tape. It is putting obstacles in the way of the local authorities dealing with this matter of derelict sites. It is dealing with two Departments that will make it much more difficult for things to be done. This amendment does nothing but put more obstacles in the way of local authorities. Every foot of land is agricultural land. This is a very loose definition. If it is passed as it stands you will be only setting up a new section in the Land Commission to deal with it and putting obstacles in the way. If you want anything to be done you cannot do it in face of these new obstacles and you will make no progress in this matter.

I am in full agreement with the three Deputies who have spoken against the amendment. If the Minister insists on it he will make the Bill inoperative. Instead of the words in the amendment could not the Minister say something like "land over the respective area" or something like that?

I put this amendment in as suggested by the Land Commission. I do not want to complicate the Bill or to make it nugatory in any way. I do not think there will be much loss to anybody if I withdrew the amendment altogether. I think it will be much safer to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Brennan

I was about to say that if you take agricultural land as a basis, that would decide the whole thing for you. On that basis not even the house itself or the premises would be exempt from the agricultural grant. The agricultural grant is only given to land which is agricultural land.

I am afraid that is not so.

Mr. Brennan

If I have ten acres of land and I am getting, say, £10 as the agricultural grant, if I built over on that land and covered half of it I would still get the agricultural grant even though I pay the rates for the house.

I take it the amendment is being withdrawn.

Deputy Brennan's experience is not mine and I have some experience in building.

Yes, but the Deputy's experience is in Dublin. There is no agricultural land in Dublin.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 3 agreed to.
SECTION 4.
(2) The justice by whom an application under this section relating to any land is heard may adjourn such application for any period not exceeding six months in order to enable the applicant to prevent such land from continuing to be a derelict site.

I move amendment No. 3:—

In sub-section (2), page 3, line 41, to delete the word "six" and substitute the word "two".

This was really a clerical error and we want to reduce the period from six months to two months. If we were going to have a six months' period of delay you would never get anything done.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 4, as amended, agreed to.
Section 5 agreed to.
SECTION 6.
Every vesting order by which a sanitary authority acquires any land shall be in the prescribed form and shall be expressed and shall operate to vest such land in such sanitary authority in fee simple free from incumbrances and all estate rights, titles, and interests of whatsoever kind on a specified date not earlier than seven days after the making of such order.

I move amendment No. 4:—

To add the following sub-section:—

(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in the immediately preceding sub-section of this section, where a sanitary authority has acquired by a vesting order land which is subject, either alone or in conjunction with other land, to a purchase annuity, payment in lieu of rent, or other annual sum (not being merely a rent under a contract of tenancy) payable to the Irish Land Commission, such sanitary authority shall become and be liable, as from the date on which such land is vested in them by such vesting order, for the payment to the Irish Land Commission of such annual sum or such portion thereof as shall be apportioned by the Irish Land Commission on such land as if such land had been transferred to such sanitary authority by the owner thereof on that date.

This is consequential on amendment No. 2.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 6, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 7.
Question proposed: "That Section 7 stand part of the Bill."

On this section I want to say there may be a whole lot of small portions of land acquired under the section and I want to point out that costs of arbitration have been found to be very expensive on local authorities. should there not be some simple way of awarding compensation than that followed under the present system? This would materially reduce the costs. These costs are very often one of the things that may deter a local authority from setting out to acquire a site.

That is a matter that affects a lot of other things besides derelict sites. It affects the acquisition of land for roads. To my mind it is a question of agreement.

Something more simple than the present system could be devised. At present the proceedings are too cumbersome. The site may very often not be worth 10/- or £1 and the local authorities find that the costs are ten times as large as the compensation itself.

Yes, I agree. Take the case of a house a portion of which has to be demolished. The local authorities take down that part of the house. They make the owner pay. In this case if a building is to be taken down it is not charged for?

The cost of taking it down is deducted from the award.

The machinery is slightly cumbersome. In the case of a small man where the site would be worth only 10/- or £1 the local authority would have to go through the whole of the costs involved, advertising and so on, just as if they were acquiring sites for building cottages. That is where the difficulty comes in. Take the acquisition of sites when we give £25 or £30 for an acre of land. The amount of trouble which the individual has to go through as compared with the local authority makes it very difficult. I will take a classic example of one Department of State, the Estates Duty Department. When an estate is being probated, the local auctioneer says it is worth £1,000, the valuer for the Estates Duty Department says it is worth £2,000. To give them their due it is quite easy to come to an agreement with them. What usually happens is the two sides come together and they do agree without any process of law. It strikes me that in this particular matter of the acquisition of derelict sites there could be some such method adopted. If my auctioneer says the place is worth so much and the Department's auctioneer says it is only worth one-third of that, there should be some means of getting them together. Other Departments of State do this.

I would like to support that point of view. There is an extraordinary amount of work attached to the taking over of any land. I remember that in one case in Wexford the board of health found it necessary to get a site. Before they could do anything they had to take out administration for the whole estate, a very expensive proceeding to the board of health. It added considerably to the costs. I would suggest that the Minister ask the Department to go into this again and see whether they could provide some means for simplifying the acquisition of land in such cases. I do not know whether the Minister has time to do it; I suppose he wants to get this Bill through; but I would ask him to go into the whole question of the acquisition of land in order to find out if some simpler and easier method could be adopted which would take less time.

Might I point out that what Deputy Corish says is quite right? Under another Act, the Soldiers and Sailors Act, there is a procedure by which they get a statutory receipt, and the body taking it over get a good title no matter what the title was before. I think that ought to be done in the case of the acquisition of any site by a local authority—that they would pay the person in occupation if they are satisfied that he is obviously the person entitled, and that they would get what is called a statutory receipt, as under the Act I have referred to, and get their title.

All local authorities welcome this Bill, but there will be a certain amount of hesitancy about it owing to these matters.

The case mentioned by Deputy Corish does not arise directly under this Bill. You go in and acquire the site in the ordinary way; you post the notice on the place if there is no one on whom to serve it, publish it in the newspapers and, after making all reasonable inquiries, proceed to acquire it. The question of making title is a matter for anybody who wants to come along and claim compensation, which will be less the cost of clearing the site and putting it in a proper condition. I want to get this Bill through; I do not want to keep it over until October. But there are other difficulties that may arise from time to time in this matter of fixing the compensation or finding the proper person to whom compensation should be paid. You might have obscure titles in various places, and it is very difficult for a Government Department to try to get what might be called a "near cut" without having some sort of official arbitration upon it. They want to get a good title and to see that the person who is properly entitled to the compensation will get it. While I am anxious to see some way of short-circuiting it, I do not see any way in this measure, or in some of the other measures affecting local government, except by the method of arbitration, where there will be an inquiry and all that. I do not think that these are matters which will arise very often in the case of people who have neglected sites for so long.

They are bound to arise. Solicitors will get a hold of it when the local authority is there. That is quite true.

I know it.

I know of a case where a site for an agricultural labourer's cottage that cost £15 actually cost £80 in law costs to acquire. The whole estate had to be administered; they had to go back for generations, and the local authority had to pay full compensation for the acquisition of the site.

Yes, but the sites we are dealing with in this Bill are sites which have been neglected for years and would not be worth bothering about.

There is money in them still.

I agree that the less that is done in the way of simplifying the machinery the better for my profession.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 8 to 17, inclusive, and Title put and agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Agreed: That the Report and Final Stage be taken now.
Question proposed: "That the Bill, as amended, be received for final consideration."

I was out of the House when Section 1 and the amendment were being passed. While I entirely agree with the amendment, I should like to ask the Minister how far he can see his way to safeguard the interest of two classes of people that are not mentioned. One would be a builder who would have acquired an estate which would take years to develop. You might have one end of the estate lying derelict for a couple of years while the builder would be quite honestly proceeding to develop that estate. The other case would be that of a business or factory with a small portion of land next to their premises which they intended to take in in the course of normal development. How far could both these cases be safeguarded from what I call undue haste to make these people proceed beyond their normal rate?

I do not think there is any danger about that, because it is a matter for the District Justice to say whether such a site is derelict or not. It must be derelict for two years. It is for the builder who is brought up before a District Justice by any local authority which is so unreasonable —if there were such an unreasonable local authority—to show that there were difficulties in one way or another to prevent him from going ahead. It would be for the District Justice to decide the matter, the builder having given evidence that he intended to develop the estate, and to annul the order or do whatever he wanted in regard to it.

I take it the same thing would apply to a factory?

Yes, the same thing.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

According to the definition, a derelict site means "any land which is unoccupied or is not being put to any bona fide use by the occupier thereof.” Does not that apply to practically all the bog land in the country?

If the Deputy reads paragraphs (a) (b) and (c) he will see that they are connected by "and" not "or".

They read into one another?

As to the matter raised by Deputy Dockrell, would it be a good defence to say that the building development was being carried on at an economic speed? Would it also be a good defence for the factory owner to say that he was holding the site in reserve for an extension of the factory as business developed? I want to eliminate the need for paying guineas either to Deputy Linehan or the Minister or their fraternity, because if there is one profession in the country that is a pure racket it is their profession. People are being fleeced and local authorities are being fleeced.

Not in this Bill?

I hope that it will not be a Bill to fleece the local authorities and the public further. I know that local authorities with which I am connected, and which have a good deal to do with matters of this kind, have been so bitten that, unless they meet with an impossible man on whom they can make no impression, and even then, unless the scheme was a huge one, they would not dare use compulsory powers because they are so expensive. I am not sure that there is machinery in this Bill to improve that. Having some experience of this kind of work, I appreciate the Minister's point of view that it would perhaps be very dangerous to try to short-circuit these matters. I am afraid it will be a good Bill for the lawyers.

I do not think so.

To my mind this Bill does not meet the necessities of the hour at all. I said so to the Minister on another occasion. In so far as the Minister, or anybody else, thinks it is going to be a success, I give it my blessing, but I shall be very much surprised if much advantage is taken of it. My objection to the Bill is that a local authority cannot do any cleaning up, or compel any cleaning up to be done, without acquiring the site. That brings me to the objectionable matter mentioned by Deputy Allen and Deputy Belton. The site must be acquired. At present I cannot see the local authority of which I am a member wishing to acquire five or six little bits of sites in a village down in County Roscommon, because they do not want them. They want authority to clean them up very badly, and now they are getting that authority, but they must acquire the sites, and if they cannot get them by agreement, they must adopt this round-about method of compensation by arbitration which has in the past held up quite a lot of important work.

The Minister pointed out to me that the Bill as it stands will be very useful for dealing with towns in which houses require to be built and in which sites have been allowed to go derelict, and that in such a case, the sites should be acquired. I say certainly that the local authorities ought to have the power of acquisition, but they ought not to be compelled to acquire, and that is the fault I find with the Bill. I had hoped that when a Bill of this nature was brought before the House, it would deal in an omnibus fashion with the matter of clearing up nuisances all over the country, because, in most small towns, we have dead-ends of streets with old motor cars and debris of every description and condition piled on them.

This Bill will clear them up, but the site must be acquired, and in order to acquire the sites certain conditions must be complied with. The owner must be found, or, at least, an endeavour must be made to find him, and in that respect there are three conditions laid down here. One of these conditions is that you may publish the matter in the local paper. I hope that the district justices, in taking the view which Deputy Belton hopes they will take of another matter, will agree that that is sufficient notice because it is the notice I should like to see given in the cases of some of the small towns in which there are dead-ends which do not belong to anybody, but which did and may still belong to the landlord, wherever he or his representative may be at the moment. I hope the Bill will be useful and will be availed of, but, to my mind, it does not meet the necessity of the hour. In so far as it is useful, I wish it Godspeed.

I appeal to the Minister to do something in this matter. I know of a case involving about 12,000 square feet of ground and 11 solicitors sat round the table contesting the claims to it, all having to be paid out of Cork Corporation funds. Like Deputy Allen, I think that if anything could be done in a matter of that kind, it should be done. It is appalling what we have to pay for derelict sites in slum-clearance areas. We find claims coming from London and from as far away as Australia in respect of letting, subletting and so on, and something should be done to save local authorities from expense of that kind.

Local authorities, in acquiring land for house-building, experience more difficulty than in any of the other work they do and there would have been thousands more houses built by the State but for this trouble in regard to acquiring sites. I think that the Local Government Department has no appreciation at all of the cost and the trouble to which local authorities are put, and with the burden of work which sanitary authorities have at present, I can see them not being able to touch the Bill at all. I think it will not be operated, except in very rare cases. The Minister should have made provision for the acquiring of sites by some more easy means—some Deputy mentioned the Sailors' and Soldiers' Land Trust. There must be some easier system of acquiring land, but local authorities have the most tortuous system in existence of acquiring even an acre of land. I have no objection at all to the legal community, but every Bill passed here makes work for them and gives them endless trouble and work, for which they may very often go unpaid; but when local authorities are paying out the ratepayers' money, there are tons of money in it for everybody.

At the risk of making Deputy Allen and Deputy Belton feel that I am taking the ground from under the feet of my own profession, I put one suggestion to the Minister. It is that when acquiring land or derelict sites compulsorily for building houses, do not investigate the title. Pay the last person who paid rates for it and pay nobody else.

I certainly do not agree with that.

That is a fair offer from a solicitor.

Deputy Linehan would be one of the first to object if that proposal were put before us in a Bill here. I wonder if it is not feasible to make it compulsory to register all titles to land in the country? We would then have a land certificate for all land and need recognise no other title.

That only makes it worse.

It might make it worse for the Deputy, but not for the man who has his land registered, because, on a small slip of paper, he would have an unassailable title and would not have to be delving back through old leases, death certificates and marriage settlements for hundreds of years. I suggest that you have a land certificate and register every man's title.

We are all getting more confused as the discussion goes on. Deputy Allen and some other Deputies seem to think that all this array of counsel and solicitors is concerned with the acquiring of sites. It is nothing of the kind. The simple procedure as to how to acquire sites is set out in the Bill and we are all talking now about something which will happen afterwards. If a site is such a marvellous site that he can afford to employ counsel and solicitor to get a little compensation fixed, after a council has cleaned up the place, the individual who had the site for years——

The local authority pays all the expenses, remember.

Why should it?

They do not in the North Cork area. The Minister is right.

It is a matter for the person who employs them. Does the local authority say to an individual: "You employ counsel and solicitor and we will pay them?" Not at all. The man employs the solicitor and counsel himself, and if he satisfies the arbitrator as to the reasonableness of his case, it is a matter for the arbitrator, in his absolute discretion, to decide whether he is going to award costs against the counsel or not.

This is different altogether. The site is acquired first.

That is so. With regard to the matter referred to by Deputy Hickey in Cork, that was a site well worth looking after. If it were not, they would not be so anxious about it. I do not think it very likely that if there is a valuable site, if an individual discovers that a site is valuable, when served with notice, he will not clean it up and put it into proper condition, instead of allowing the council to come in and acquire it. I think that the very threat of acquisition that is in the Bill, and the measures that can be taken if the person himself does not clean up the site, will have considerable effect. There was mention of the difficulty of making title and all that. That arises only when the site has been acquired. The Bill leaves you the method for acquiring the site and the only question afterwards is as to who gets the compensation or who can make a title to compensation when that site has been acquired. So far as acquiring the site is concerned, however, there is a simple, easy and direct method in this Bill and there is no necessity for an array of counsel. The matter goes before the district justice in the last resort and he determines as to whether the preliminary order should stand or not.

I believe that there are numerous sites all over the country, which we can see going into any town or village, and which are regarded by the occupants or whoever is entitled to them, as being so valueless that they do not think it worth while doing anything about them. There is going to be no difficulty, so far as the legal end is concerned, and there is no justification for any members of local authorities saying that it is a costly measure and one impossible to operate. It is a simplified measure, and whatever delay may arise will arise after the site has been acquired by the local authority.

Question put and agreed to.