(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.