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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 15 Apr 1969

Vol. 239 No. 9

Housing Bill, 1968: Second Stage.

Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille don Tarna Uair anois".

Is soiléir le tamall anuas gur ceart comhachta níos éifeachtaí a thabhairt d'údaráis áitiúla chun cosc a chur le tithe a scartáil nó iad a n-úsáid chun crícheanna seachas mar ionaid conaithe. 'Sé is cúis leis an mBille seo atá ós chomhair an Tí anois ná forbairt dá leithéad a riarú go cothromúil agus i gcomhréir le leas an phobail i gcoitinne. Táim cinnte go dtaobhócaidh gach Teachta le bun phrionsabail an Bhille.

During the course of the Seanad debate on the Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1967, I indicated that I proposed to consider the introduction of legislation to control the demolition of habitable houses. This Bill has been prepared to give effect to that objective.

If the economy is to progress, as it has done in recent years, expenditure on industrial and commercial buildings is necessary in order to generate the capital resources to finance further development and the construction of the additional houses which, we all know, are needed. While it may be necessary in carrying out industrial development to demolish some fit houses or to apply them to nonresidential uses it is essential that the demolition or change of use should be controlled by the housing authority. The object of the Bill is to provide this control.

The explanatory memorandum circulated with the Bill outlines its scope in some detail. Apart from the exceptions referred to in paragraph 1 of the memorandum, the Bill provides that, in most cases, the permission of a local authority will be required for the demolition or change of use of houses. The local authority can refuse permission or they can give it subject to conditions either requiring the provision of alternative accommodation or the making of contributions towards the cost of providing it. In determining the application, the authority will be required to have regard to the state of repair of the house and the adequacy of the supply of housing available in their area. The Bill provides at section 4 for a right of appeal to the Minister by the owner against the decision of the authority.

The Bill will also strengthen the powers of authorities to deal with cases where an owner may deliberately permit a house to fall into disrepair in order to avoid the consequences of the Bill. Provision is being made for an appeal by the owner to the circuit court in such cases.

It is intended that the main provisions of the Bill will remain in operation until 31st December, 1972, unless they are continued in force after that date by an Order made by the Minister under section 13.

Deputies may ask why planning controls could not be used to secure the purposes of the present Bill. The main reason is that, under section 26 of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, local authorities are restricted, in dealing with an application for planning permission, to considering the proper planning and development of their area. These provisions would not enable a local authority to refuse permission for work involving the demolition or change of use of a habitable house simply because there was, in their area, a shortage of accommodation, or to impose the other conditions based purely on housing considerations for which the present Bill provides.

I commend the Bill to the House.

(Cavan): Notwithstanding what the Minister has just said, this Bill is in effect an amendment to the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963. We have been endeavouring to establish a proper system of planning and control here for a long time past. A Bill was enacted in 1934 or in 1935 and another one in 1939. I do not think either of those Bills ever got off the ground, so to speak. Then we had the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, which was finally passed on the 7th August, 1963. That Act set out to do a lot of things in the name of the common good. It is an Act which runs to over 90 sections and a few Schedules and it definitely did make very elaborate provisions for regulating planning and development and for the change of use of property. It dealt in detail with those matters. The Bill got a very full reading in this House and the Fine Gael Party attempted to improve it as best we could. We objected to the planning systems provided in the Bill but the Bill was passed by the Government despite objections to it by this Party and despite our efforts to improve it.

From time to time I have complained here about a tendency to implement rather far-reaching Bills by delegating to Ministers powers to make regulations. I am on record on numerous occasions as having said that, while I agree that regulations in minor matters may be necessary, they should be cut to a minimum and power should be given direct from this House. I have pointed out that it is no answer to say that regulations must be laid on the Table of the House and must be there for 21 days and if a resolution is passed annulling them within the specified number of days they cease to have an effect. I say that that is not an adequate protection. That Bill left this House with the huge machinery for implementing it by regulations made by the Minister and section 4 set out that certain developments should be exempted developments.

Now, it is worthwhile considering this section for a moment or two because it starts off saying:

The following shall be exempted developments for the purposes of this Act:

and it goes on to outline different developments in paragraphs (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), (f), (g), (h) and (i) and they are all substantial matters. Paragraph (a) refers to the use of land for agricultural purposes and (b) to development by the council of a county in the county health district. Paragraph (c) refers to the development by the corporation of a county or other borough in such borough; (d) refers to the development by the council of an urban district in such district. It means that any development by a local authority is regarded as an exempted development. Paragraph (e) refers to development consisting of the carrying out by the corporation of a county or other borough or the council of a country or an urban district of any works required for a construction of a new road or the maintenance or improvement of a road. That is perfectly reasonable. The paragraphs go on in that line but then we have subsection (2) which says:

The Minister may by regulations provide for any class of development being exempted development for the purposes of this Act and such provision may be either without conditions or subject to conditions and either general or confined to a particular area or place.

Then it goes on to say that:

Regulations under this subsection may, in particular and without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing paragraph, provide, in the case of structures or other land used for a purpose of any specified class, for the use thereof for any other purpose being exempted development for the purposes of this Act.

Subsection (3) states:

Reference in this Act to exempted development shall be construed as reference to development which is—

(a) any of the developments specified in subsection (1) of this section, or

(b) development which, having regard to any regulations under subsection (2) of this section, is exempted development for the purposes of this Act.

The Minister did make regulations under that section and one would have thought that regulations under that section would have dealt with trivial matters, matters which the Minister and his advisers had really overlooked bringing before the House or matters which were so trivial and too numerous to write in in black and white. That is what the ordinary layman would expect because here we have a huge document running into 227 pages, that is over 113 pages in each language. One would have thought that the Minister would have had very little to do by way of regulations and that any regulations would have dealt with trivial matters.

The Minister did make regulations and if he had not it would not be necessary for us to consider this measure. The regulations which he made are known as the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, (Exempted Development) Regulations, 1964. They are very involved but it is set out in these regulations which were published on the very day after the Act came into operation that the classes of development specified in column 1 of Part I of the First Schedule shall be exempted development. There are many classes there and class 7 is worth reading because it is the portion of these regulations which made this amending Bill necessary. It sets out that any alteration consisting of the plastering or painting of any external part of a building shall be an exempted development. I understand that was specifically raised in the House at the time and it was said that it would be unreasonable to make it obligatory on a citizen to apply for planning permission to plaster the outside of his house or paint it. I agree with that. I want to read the whole provision without interruption. This class 7 specifies developments which shall be exempted and in respect of which the citizen will not have to apply for planning permission. It reads as follows:

An alteration consisting of the plastering or painting of any external part of any building or the demolition of any building, save where the preservation of such building is the objective of a development plan or, during the period prior to the making of a development plan, is declared by resolution of a planning authority to be an objective which they propose to include in a development plan.

Here we have tucked into clause 7 six words which make the demolition of a great number of the buildings in this country an exempted development and it meant that in villages and towns and cities you could have gaps, houses pulled down for one reason or another, without any permission from the planning authority. That is supposed to be done in the name of the common good according to the preamble to the Planning and Development Act of 1963.

That was nothing less than an obvious absurdity. Whether it crept into these exempted development regulations of 1964 accidentally or whether it was deliberately put in, I do not know. The Minister will probably say that there was a saving device here, in that it was not possible under the regulation to demolish a building where the preservation of such building is an objective of a development plan. We know that these development plans apply only to a certain specified number of buildings and they deal really with buildings with which we are not concerned in this Bill. They deal with buildings like the Georgian houses, buildings having an artistic or architectural value. The fact is that while a small farmer in County Cavan, under this measure, could not erect a pair of piers at the end of his lane without applying to the local authority and publishing a notice in the papers or attaching it to his property, a vast number of the houses of Dublin city could be knocked down for one reason or another. That was the result of the Act and the regulations. In my opinion it was the direct result of legislating by regulation, a glaring example of it.

We know in fact that at a time when capital was scarce and when housing conditions were appalling—as they still are—by virtue of this clause 7 many houses were in fact knocked down that should not have been demolished and many costly and expensive office blocks were built in their place unnecessarily, premises which could not be afforded in the then state of the national economy. It is difficult to know wheher they can yet be afforded having regard to the contradictory statements of the Minister for Finance on television and in this House today. However, that was the position.

Ministers and their advisers do not like to admit they make mistakes but this glaring mistake was discovered after the 21 days allowed for putting down a motion to annul. Let us face it —if we want to say that the opportunity was there to study these regulations within the 21 days during which it was lying on the Table, this is true but these regulations are mass-produced: it would need a special committee to sit on them and study them. I think I had to point out that on the passing of the Road Traffic Act something like 118 sets of regulations were to be made. They are made and ready for publication at the same time as the Act. It is certainly mass production. These exempted regulations run into 43 pages of closely printed material. But the mistake was discovered and it was found that houses in Dublin were being pulled down wholesale. The Fine Gael Party then introduced in the Seanad the Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1967, to remedy this outrageous provision in the exempted development regulations of 1964.

I want to be candid about it. The Bill introduced in the Seanad in 1967 dealt with houses that some people might respect as architecturally worth preserving, and at the same time dealt with habitable dwellings. Senator Garret FitzGerald and Senator O'Quigley introduced the measure and made it perfectly clear that they did not regard the drafting of the Bill as the last word and that they were prepared to accept amendments to it but the Minister took the attitude that he was not concerned with what some people might regard as architectural gems and that in so far as habitable buildings were concerned, the Bill introduced by us did not attain its object. As far back as 5th July, 1967, the Minister opposed this measure in the Seanad and his Party voted it out of the Seanad against the votes of all other Parties there.

This is the position and it is necessary that the record be right in respect of it. What the Minister now proposes in this measure was covered in precisely the same way by the measure introduced by Fine Gael in the Seanad in 1967. If the Minister did not wish to fall in line with the Georgian Society or with these other societies interested in culture, he could have introduced amendments and said that he would not prohibit the wholesale demolition of houses but that he was prepared to accept their proposal to prohibit the demolition of habitable dwellings. However, he did not do that. He objected to the whole measure and said simply that it would not work.

If this Bill is, in effect, what we sought in 1967, I agree with it in principle as does this Party. It is wrong that it should be possible to tear down habitable dwellings and replace them by expensive and luxurious office blocks at a time when the housing conditions in this city and in the rest of the country are appalling and need a crash programme to clear them up— a crash programme that has not been in evidence in recent years and which is not forecast in the famous Third Programme for Economic Expansion. Why it took the Minister so long to introduce this Bill following the July, 1967 debate in the Seanad is beyond me. Of course, the Minister is only a man: he is not superman and having regard to the very full programme which he inflicted on himself last year—a form of self-torture—I do not suppose that he had time for trivialities like this but I would remind the Minister that Fine Gael also introduced another measure dealing with town planning at the beginning of last year before the Minister literally and metaphorically lost himself in the referendum and that was a local government planning and development appeals Bill to revise the system of hearing planning appeals. That system which we objected to and exposed in this House was very much coupled and interwoven with these exempted development provisions that I am speaking about.

I should like to ask the Minister why he is introducing these two Bills. Although this Bill is called the Housing Bill, the Long Title of it is:

An Act to make provision to control the demolition or use otherwise than for human habitation of certain houses, to amend Section 66 of the Housing Act, 1966, and to make provision for other matters connected with the matters aforesaid.

Notwithstanding the Short Title of the Bill—Housing Bill, 1968—the Long Title makes it abundantly clear that this, in effect, is a planning and development Bill and nothing else. At the same time, there is another Bill on the stocks of the House known as the Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1969. In so far as I know and in so far as I can ascertain that is a Bill to change the present system of planning appeals. I do not know why we could not have the two at the one time because the Bill which we are discussing now is introduced because the Fine Gael Party introduced the Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1967, in the Seanad and the Bill known as the Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1969, which is on the Order Paper is introduced because Fine Gael introduced and had a long discussion here on our Planning Appeals Bill of last year. The Minister should have dealt with these two measures as one measure.

If there were no Title to this Bill anybody who had experience of the Planning and Development Bill would regard this as an amending Bill. The provisions for appeal which apparently the Minister is going to change through another Bill which he expects to introduce later on, are to continue in this Bill. The Explanatory Memorandum sets out here:

A person who wishes to demolish or change the use of a habitable house will be required to obtain permission from the housing authority unless the demolition or change of it is——

and this is followed by certain conditions. The next paragraph says that an appeal may be made to the Minister by the applicant against the decision of an authority within three weeks from notification of a decision. It is provided, according to the Explanatory Memorandum with the Bill, that the housing authority who will have one application to the housing authority and an application under the Planning Act to the planning authority should make them to the same person. Those appeals have one thing in common. The authority, whether it be the housing authority or the planning authority, must give its decision on the application within five weeks beginning on the date of the receipt by them of the application or of such further particulars as they may require.

I think that is a very worthwhile provision in a very undesirable system. It is undesirable in so far as the appeal end of it is concerned but paragraph 2 of the Explanatory Memorandum dealing with the provisions contained in the Bill which we are discussing today and the similar provisions—the time may not be exactly the same— contained in the Planning and Development Act, 1963 acknowledges that it is unreasonable that an applicant for planning permission should be held up indefinitely. I could not agree more. So long as we have this undesirable system of appeal, there should be a statutory obligation on the Minister or his inspector to give a decision on a planning appeal within a reasonable time.

I do not want to interrupt the Deputy but in the piece of legislation before the House we are concerned with the demolition of habitable houses and the amendment of the Act in so far as that is concerned. It is not possible under this Bill to deal with planning generally.

(Cavan): I respectfully agree but I am drawing the attention of the House to the fact that provision is made in the Bill that if a man is going to knock down a habitable house he must apply to the housing authority to do so and the housing authority must give a decision on that application within five weeks of the receipt of the application or within five weeks of the receipt of any further information which it thinks necessary. Then I am going on to point out that if the citizen is not satisfied with that decision he has a right of appeal to the Minister for Local Government but I am pointing out that the Minister is not statutorily bound by any such provision nor is it sought to bind him in this measure by any such statutory limit.

I am pointing out that that is highly undesirable. I am pointing out that it is undesirable because of my experience of the operation of exactly similar provisions within the Planning and Development Act, 1963, operated by the same Department and in that I say I am entirely in order because I know from my experience that under the Planning and Development Act where we have exactly similar appeal provisions to those which it is sought to write into this Housing Bill where a citizen found it necessary to appeal to the Minister for Local Government against a refusal by the planning authority of his application for planning permission there was delay—I am not precise in this—over several months between the lodging of the appeal and the original hearing. I am specific in this because I have a file not very far away. The case was heard on 30th June, 1968, and no decision has yet been given unless it was issued since Easter—I want to be absolutely fair and accurate about this—because I have not been in touch with my office since Easter. I am not attributing any ulterior reason for that decision not being given. Probably it just is not possible to consider the case in the time but I say it is quite unreasonable. In fact I say it is more than unreasonable in this case because the man involved had committed himself to over £1,000 expenditure. He is a man in a small way of business. I want to submit that if in this measure we are going to have the same system of appeal as we have in the Planning and Development Act we should impose on the Minister, to protect him from himself, a similar time limit to that which applies to the authority of first instance, which in this measure will apparently be the housing authority, and which in the Planning and Development Act is the planning authority, but which in fact is one and the same person in most organisations, the county manager or the county council.

I do not think that is an unreasonable request. I want to be as delicate as I can about the case I have been speaking about as I do not want to say anything that might prejudice an innocent person whose only anxiety is to get the decision and get on with his work. It is quite unreasonable that there should be delays of that type. If we adopted the suggestion I make here that the appeal tribunal would have to give a decision within a certain time there would not be such delays.

This Bill will require further consideration in Committee. I see there is a right of appeal here to the circuit court against certain decisions of the housing authority. I regard that as a move in the right direction, as being desirable. That is the sort of provision we sought to put into the Planning and Development Act, 1967, and that is the type of provision which I hope the Minister has in mind in his Planning and Development Bill, 1969, which, I notice, is second last in the queue on the Order Paper.

We are now discussing the principle of this Bill and, as I have said, I accept the principle. I am glad the Minister has accepted the clear and well thought out arguments put to him in this respect in the Seanad and I am sorry it took him so long to bring in the Bill. I suppose he has a legitimate excuse because the Minister, God knows, did more than his share of legislative work last year. This House, according to my best calculations, devoted about 330 hours to legislation and the Minister for Local Government occupied 119 hours of that time——

I do not see what relevance this has to the Bill.

(Cavan): I am blaming the Minister for not bringing the Bill before us earlier. If he had not devoted so much time to so much tomfoolery last year he could have brought this Bill in earlier. The pity is that this Bill did not come before us at an earlier date. I hope it will now get a Second Reading and that we can get on to the Committee Stage when we can do our best to improve it. I am sure the Minister will have learned from experience that all the suggestions that come from this side are not without something to recommend them. If he had accepted some of the suggestions from Deputy Treacy and myself last year on his referendum proposals he would have saved himself the embarrassment, and the country the expense, of that exercise. If he had accepted the Bill in the Seanad and if he had accepted our Planning Appeals Bill here, both measures would now be law and would be the instruments by which we could be doing the same thing as this Bill proposes.

This is an important measure, long overdue. It is a brief but important Bill because it will provide for the control of demolition of habitable houses. Those of us who are members of local authorities and are particularly concerned with rehousing our people and with the maintenance of historic beauty in our towns and cities have been appalled by the wanton indiscriminate destruction of so many houses in the hearts of towns and cities.

The absence of such a measure as this has been responsible for the blitzing of the heart of this city, for the destruction of the centres of towns and cities and the pushing outwards of their populations. There has been indiscriminate destruction of houses which could have been made habitable if an effort had been made. Consequently, we have lost much historical and architectural beauty by the operation of bulldozers. We have seen swept away in this city buildings of the greatest value, historically speaking. It is a pity someone was not there to cry halt. Therefore, I enthusiastically support the Minister in this measure which will control in some way interference with buildings of the kind I have mentioned. It will act as a challenge to change of user with particular reference to rehousing needs.

The lack of legislation of this kind has had disastrous consequences and has been primarily responsible for the eyesores to be seen in towns and cities. Buildings were allowed to crumble for want of repair and maintenance and this led to their eventual condemnation. They had been allowed to stand in a ruinous condition for years, the local authorities being unable to do anything about them because of lack of financial accommodation. There is no doubt that hundreds of these buildings and houses could have been repaired and utilised for rehousing. Instead, they were condemned indiscriminately and the sites provided a unique opportunity for land speculators to move in by surreptitious means.

We know the land speculators moved in surreptitiously and eased people out of tenement houses in the heart of cities. They pressurised them out with the support of the law and arranged a situation through which properties were condemned as dangerous by local authority officials. The areas were cleared eventually and built thereon were large glasshouses—skyscrapers— for business purposes, offices and the like. It would have been a far better thing if these buildings were retained for the rehousing of the native people of these parts, if the historical beauty of these Georgian buildings and the like were retained, rather than that we would have seen the emergence in this city and in other cities and towns in this country of all these glasshouses, these skyscrapers. It is to be greatly deplored that so much public money has been allowed to be spent on the erection of such lavish, grandiose buildings at a time when we had not resolved at all the problem of the slums, of the hovels, here and elsewhere throughout the country.

There were certain pieces of legislation which assisted local authorities in repairing houses of the kind covered in this measure. There was section 19 of a previous Housing Act which was availed of by very many housing authorities; and in instances where the landlord was unable or unwilling to carry out repairs stipulated by the local authority the local authority was empowered to step in and carry out repairs to the house or houses in question. Valuable work was done in this regard in the purely short term, but the work was very largely negatived by reason of the fact that the local authority did not own the property concerned and also by the fact that the local authority was not empowered to continue the maintenance of these houses which they repaired. So it was that the money expended on the initial repair was very largely wasted because deterioration set in again. The good work went by default and the houses eventually crumbled away and were condemned.

One of the reasons why we have had demolition within the heart of our communities is the policy of the Department of Local Government down the years in respect of their requirements for new house premises— the amount of square footage required for the house, the depth required, the stipulation that gardens should be provided front and back. The difficulty in securing planning permission from the local authority to build houses in street formation was, in particular, responsible for the demolition that has gone on down the years. It seems to have been a policy of the Minister's Department and of the Minister's predecessors —I do not blame him particularly in this regard—that there should be extensive gardens back and front, green belts and the like.

I do not want to interrupt the Deputy but this Bill does not enable us to discuss planning generally. We are confined in this Bill to the question of habitable houses.

I accept the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's ruling but I am seeking to make the point, and I submit with respect that it must be relevant, that in the conservation of houses of this kind we must be backed up with effective regulations from the Minister's Department to empower local authorities not merely to renovate and repair such houses but to rebuild if necessary in street formation. I am pointing out the conflict in respect of planning whereby we visualise the erection of houses on virgin land on the outskirts of our towns and cities with little regard for the feasibility of repairing existing buildings in our community centres and assisting local authorities by way of planning approval to have houses built in street formation.

I am submitting to the Minister that it is very important, if we are to conserve the important centres of our community life, that he gives approval to housing authorities to build without too much regard to depth and to the desirability of amenities such as gardens. If this had been done in the past we would not have so many houses indiscriminately demolished as has happened in several centres throughout the country. It is also my experience as a member of a housing authority for some considerable time, that engineers and architects, when asked for reports in respect of housing generally, with particular reference to the feasibility of repairing houses at a reasonable cost invariably say that in their opinion the house or houses referred to could not be repaired at reasonable cost. They seem to opt all the time for the erection of a new structure rather than the repair and maintenance of the old.

One must respect their views as professional men but I have known their decisions to be confounded on many occasions and the dwellings which they said could not be repaired or renovated at reasonable cost were in fact and are standing up to the stresses of time. In many instances if their recommendations had been challenged many of the colossal eyesores we have to contend with nowadays would not have been created and the vast working class population of this city would be rehoused very largely within the confines of the Liberties and would not be pushed out at great inconvenience and expense to an alien area, an alien community in such areas as Ballyfermot, Coolock, Ballymun, and so on.

I appreciate that it is not opportune at this juncture to develop this important subject of housing. The housing of our people must be our first responsibility. This measure, short as it is, will do something towards that end. It will not do the things we would like to see done in respect of a crash programme to solve this problem but it will ensure, I hope, that many of the dwellings of architectural beauty, buildings which have been such a pleasure and a joy to our people, will be preserved. I said earlier that I have seen bulldozers sweep away houses which contained memories of great men, great literary men, great patriots, places of very great historic interest swept away for the erection of some glasshouse. It is time someone said stop to public vandalism of that kind. This Bill does something in that regard and, therefore, I have the honour on behalf of my Party to indicate our full support for it. That is all I wish to say at this juncture, but I shall have other observations to make on Committee Stage.

I had not the opportunity of being here during the contributions of the Fine Gael Party, but certainly, in common with the Labour Party, we thank the Minister for introducing this Bill. It is a very important measure from the point of view of the city and county of Dublin. As a public representative I have seen a number of dwellings which, if they had been maintained, there would be no need to demolish. The main purpose of this Bill is to secure more effective control over the demolition or change of user of houses, and under it any person who wishes to demolish or change the user of a habitable house will be required to obtain permission from the housing authority. I intend to be very brief on this Bill. I should not like to let it go through without saying a few words on it; and, possibly, on Committee Stage I shall have some more to say about it. As a backbencher of the Fianna Fáil Party, I accept this as more of the progressive legislation which at all times has been forthcoming as a result of the philosophy of the Fianna Fáil Party.

I do not know whether I am within the scope of the Bill in making this point, but may I say that, in the main, the landlords in the constituency I represent do maintain their houses in good condition; however, there are the exceptions to the rule. I do not believe in being personal in public life, but it should go on the record of the House that there are a number of landlords who have houses which they are allowing to deteriorate to the misfortune of the families who live in those houses. This is one of the main reasons why I am making a contribution to this debate.

I know of a house which has been allowed to deteriorate and in which there are ten families. This Christian gentleman is bleeding the flat dwellers in this so-called house to the extent of £3 10s 0d, or £4 in some instances, per family. I hope this Bill will do something to bring that type of landlord to his senses. This is not the type of Christianity we want in this country, where ten families are allowed to dwell in squalor to the benefit of a landlord without a social conscience. We welcome this Bill as evidence of the progress of the social conscience of the Fianna Fáil Party.

As a Dublin man I have seen this city deteriorate and some of our more beautiful Georgian dwellings being pulled down for the building of skyscrapers. I hope this Bill will prevent, to some extent, the continuation of a policy for which, by the way, the Department of Local Government are not responsible. Speculators have come in and knocked down quite beautiful, habitable houses. I am not suggesting that all office blocks are ugly or that they are not needed, but certainly to my own knowledge a number of office blocks have been built to the detriment of people who were living in habitable houses. I trust this Bill will do something to curtail that type of anti-social behaviour.

May I take the opportunity once more of congratulating the Minister for this piece of progressive legislation which has received a welcome from all sides of the House?

This Bill needs no further commendation from me in the light of what Deputy Andrews and others have said, but there is a long-term aspect of this which I should like to mention to the Minister from my own experience. I am talking specifically about the centre of Dublin City of which I have some little knowledge. There are two classes of buildings existing. There are the local government new flats and dwellings built in relatively modern times. Some of these are let in flats and are in relatively good condition. The provisions of this Bill are, I think, essentially for the preservation of these, because such dwellings have a good potential life and can be satisfactory for the tenant.

However, there is another type of building involved here which is of vital importance. It is the building which has come to the end of its life, the building which has already deteriorated. Indeed, many of them have been pulled down; they were usually referred to as tenements. Although for the moment, while there is pressure on housing, the application of a Bill of this nature is vital and necessary, there is in the long-term a danger that this might be considered a solution of the problem. I do not think it is. In order to avoid controversy, let us take buildings that are already gone: there was a block of houses in Upper Dorset Street, the whole area around Queen Street, which were hardly in a habitable condition. But if, for instance, those buildings were still there and the conditions of this Bill were to be applied in any practical sense to them, they would not operate to the advantage of the tenants except purely as a temporary measure. It might have the long-term adverse effect of giving the impression that the problem was solved and not providing for buildings that have to be erected to cope with the housing situation.

By way of comment, and this is comment only, there are still in certain parts of the centre of the city buildings to which this Bill, if it becomes an Act, will apply and must apply as a short-term or emergency measure, but in the long term, I suggest that another view must be taken. I subscribe to the principle that, if these buildings have to come down, then they should be replaced by dwellings for human habitation rather than by office blocks. I am not to be taken as going against in any way the intention to preserve the area for human habitation but the point is that some of these buildings, although they can be maintained for the moment, would not in the long term be a satisfactory solution to the housing situation. I know one area in which renovation was tried on a pretty expensive scale. I had an opportunity of comparing the conditions in some of these reconstructed and renovated houses with the conditions in the new flats. I think most people will agree that where you have a properly designed flat in the centre of the city— as a Dubliner I sympathise with those who say: "Keep them in the city area"—the conditions in that flat are infinitely superior to the conditions in what I call the experimental section where houses have been renovated. These houses are, in fact, well on the way to becoming tenements. One must differentiate between the solution of the immediate problem and the long-term social solution.

There is, too, the problem that in these doubtful areas there are buildings still inhabited, buildings which would properly come within the scope of this Bill; these are areas in which ultimately local authority building should take place. One Deputy referred to shifting people from their own areas. How can one develop a site unless one first clears the site? In Dorset Street there are flats on one side. I presume the opposite side will be developed in due process of time. When the flats were being constructed those who lived in the houses the flats replaced had to be accommodated elsewhere. One of the things that strikes one about housing is how quickly people react to their improved social circumstances once they get proper housing. It was fashionable 30 years ago to be cynical about the housing drive and to say that new slums were being created. That has not been the evolution. In all these new housing areas one is struck—there are exceptions of course—by the way in which the houses are kept. I just make this point in passing.

This Bill is necessary and desirable. One sees empty buildings which will presumably be demolished and replaced with office blocks. These empty buildings could accommodate a sizeable number of people. The question is how effective will this measure be. We are thinking in terms of an effective number of people and speculation about office blocks, and so on, is hardly justified. The Minister is quite correct in bringing in this legislation and that is why I make these comments in regard to the long-term view of the housing situation.

I suppose Deputy Fitzpatrick had to say something derogatory about the Bill. It would not do to be completely in agreement with it. That may be why he based his speech on the allegation that this was, in fact, an amendment in disguise of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act. Deputy Fitzpatrick knows, I think, that that is not so. As I pointed out, the Planning Act could not be effectively used for this purpose. Under that Act it is already possible for planning authorities to decide that a house, a group of houses, or buildings which they deem worthy of preservation must be preserved. It is only possible to deal with houses from the purely housing aspect under a Housing Bill. Even if permission for demolition were required under the Planning Act, the mere fact of a house being a habitable house, and there being a shortage of houses in the area, would not be a valid planning consideration. It is only under the Housing Acts that we can hope effectively to control the demolition of habitable houses.

I pointed out that during the period from 1948 to 1962, when the old planning controls were in operation, there were approximately only 450 applications received by Dublin Corporation for permission to demolish or change the use of habitable houses under the 1948 legislation. Both Deputy Fitzpatrick and Deputy Treacy tried to make it appear that there was a wholesale knocking down of houses in Dublin and in other cities and towns throughout the country. The facts are otherwise.

The evidence is there to be seen.

Deputy Treacy spoke about the wanton, indiscriminate destruction of very many houses in the centre of the town.

That is right. The evidence is all around us.

Deputy Fitzpatrick said many houses had been knocked down which should not have been knocked down.

(Cavan): Why did the Minister introduce the Bill?

I do not know of any case in which houses were knocked down in respect of which approval for the development of the site had not already been obtained. I do not think anybody can show that there has been any indiscriminate knocking down of houses, irrespective of planning approval having been obtained for the development of the site. It seems to me to be quite clear that, if this matter were to be dealt with as Deputy Fitzpatrick demands it should be dealt with under the Planning Acts, these houses would, in fact, have been knocked down because permission would have been granted if it were only planning considerations that had to be taken into account. It is only under housing legislation that the demolition of habitable houses can be effectively controlled. Deputy Treacy, as was to be expected, went on with his usual allegation that this "blitzing" of the heart of the city had been carried out in order to provide lavish, glasshouse skyscrapers and that State and public money was spent on the building of these grandiose skyscrapers. I do not know of any case in which the State has been involved in the erection of any lavish and grandiose skyscrapers. In fact, I know of only one building in this city that qualifies for that description of being lavish, grandiose and a skyscraper.

(Cavan): What about O'Connell Bridge House?

I do not think it can be described as a skyscraper. Certainly, it cannot be described as being lavish from the point of view of being obviously a building that could not even remunerate the capital spent on its erection. I know of only one such building where the percentage of floor space taken up by the service corps is obviously so great that the building itself has not even got the merit of being an economic undertaking. I have the doubtful pleasure of spending the greater part of my life looking at this example, which is the only example I know of in the city, of waste of money.

The Minister has his political blinkers on all the time.

It is quite clear that it is only under housing legislation that we could hope, effectively, to control the demolition of habitable houses. I have just as much dislike as any Deputy here of the erection of these expensive office blocks. As the Minister responsible for housing, I hate to see comparatively scarce capital being in my opinion wasted on this type of construction. There is no point in exaggerating the position. The estimate of the amount spent in 1968-9 on office blocks is £4 million and, in that year, the amount expended on housing was £57 million. There is no useful purpose served by Deputies in pretending that the proportion of our capital resources being spent on office blocks is as great as they pretend it is. That is the estimate for last year. I am quite certain that, in other years, the proportion would not be significantly different. While I certainly should like to see even that amount also available for housing, there is no reason to believe that, if it was not spent on the purpose for which it was spent, it would in fact have been made available for housing.

We had to wait until Deputy Fitzpatrick was almost concluding to find out his real complaint. Apparently, his real objection to this being done in the way it is being done— which is, in fact, the only effective way —is that it does not secure the preservation of every building that any individual or society would like to have preserved. It does not set out to do that. It sets out to control the demolition of habitable buildings only. The only realistic way to provide for the preservation of buildings either of historic interest or architectural merit is the way it is done and that is that the planning authority should make a survey of their area and decide what buildings, either individual buildings or groups of buildings, it is both desirable and practical to preserve.

The idea that any individual should be able to demand that particular buildings or groups of buildings should be preserved at somebody else's expense is just not practical. The preservation of buildings is not the simple proposition some people like to pretend it is. Unfortunately, the question of cost is involved. Buildings which have outlived their usefulness cost money to be preserved.

Deputy Fitzpatrick complains that application for permission to demolish a habitable house must be made to the local authority whereas application for permission to develop the site of the habitable house must be made to the planning authority. It is obvious that considerations with regard to demolition or otherwise of the house are housing considerations and that it is the housing authority that should consider them. Equally, it is obvious that it is in the housing departments of local authorities that they should be processed.

I am in full agreement with those Deputies who have referred to the desire of people, families, who have lived and grown up in the city of Dublin or in the centre of other towns, for that matter, to continue to reside there. I fully support the efforts of Dublin Corporation to provide as much accommodation as possible in the centre city area. It must be quite clear to everybody that the housing problem in Dublin city or elsewhere could not completely be solved—certainly within any kind of a reasonable time— merely by the provision of centre city flats. We must depend to a very great degree on the building of houses on new sites. To get a sufficient area in the city to clear and develop as a flat site requires, in the first place, the transfer of the population from there to somewhere else. Apart from that altogether, it is a fact that the average cost of a centre city flat in Dublin is between £5,000 and £6,000 whereas the suburban type of Corporation house, giving roughly the same accommodation, now costs in Dublin from about £2,700 to about £3,000.

While I agree that the greatest possible number of centre city flats are required in order to enable as many people as possible who want to live in the city to live there, it is obvious that if we are to tackle the housing problem purely on the basis of providing dwellings at the rate of one dwelling for what you could provide two for, it will take much longer to deal with the problem satisfactorily.

This Bill is being brought in because it is the only effective way in which this problem could be dealt with. It is one that is not appropriate to the Planning Acts and as I said I do not know of any case in which houses have been demolished and in respect of which permission for the proposed development had not already been granted. So it is obvious that if planning considerations only are to apply, the question of the house being a habitable one and there being a housing shortage would not and could not receive the consideration we desire it should receive. That is why this matter is being dealt with in this manner by a Housing Bill and I would ask the House to pass it.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 22nd April, 1969.
The Dáil adjourned at 8.35 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 16th April, 1969.