Derelict Sites Bill, 1989: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Cúis sásaimh dom an Bille seo i dtaca le laithreáin thréighthe a thabhairt os comhair an Tí. Is geall le tríocha bliain ó reachtaíodh an tAcht is deireannaí chun socrú a dheanamh ar an gceist dheacair seo. Tá sé go maith in am iarracht nua a dhéanamh chun slacht agus eagar a chur ar ár mbailte móra agus beaga.

One of the earliest and most enduring concerns of Irish local government has been to minimise and control, in the public interest, the impact of ruin and dilapidation on our cities, towns and villages. The various towns improvement Acts of the last century, and the public health provisions of this period also, all deal with various aspects of what we now know as urban decay or blight.

The concern of these earlier statutes was principally with the physical or health dangers to the public arising from neglected buildings. This focus still survives in sanitary services legislation, which remains the competent code in relation to these non-amenity aspects of land dereliction. However, with the Acquisition of Derelict Sites Act, 1940 and its successor the Derelict Sites Act, 1961——

On a point of order, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but could he confirm that the text of his speech is being circulated?

I understand that has been arranged. With the Acquisition of Derelict Sites Act, 1940, and its successor the Derelict Sites Act, 1961, legislative provisions were designed with a focus primarily on the amenity and visual aspects of land dereliction. Derelict sites were to be cleared and rendered aesthetically acceptable not because of their immediate danger to health or safety but because they detracted from our enjoyment, and that of tourists, of our cities, towns and villages.

It would be wrong, of course, to give the impression that measures to deal with land dereliction are, in Irish law, the sole, or even the principal, preserve of specialised derelict sites legislation. Our physical planning system envisages, as one of its most important objectives, the presentation of amenities by planning authorities and the renewal of obsolete areas. It is mandatory on urban planning authorities to harness all possible effort and resources to achieve these ends. The recently enacted urban renewal legislation is also designed to make more intensive provision for the renewal of certain urban areas, with rates and tax incentives available for this purpose and, as announced in the recent budget, a new £2 million scheme for works of environmental upgrading in designated areas.

In a sense, derelict sites legislation stand to the planning and urban renewal codes rather as does the Litter Act to more pollution. In theory, if development plans, planning enforcement and urban renewal incentives were doing their job, we would not have dereliction at all; just as if waste licensing and enforcement were operating perfectly there might hardly be any need for certain provisions of the Litter Act. Both are necessary fall-back systems to deal with imperfect situations which arise despite the existence of more ambitious legislative provisions.

On the other hand, it would be wrong to build too much complexity into derelict sites or litter legislation. Their basic purpose is to prevent and quickly remedy situations which are immediately and clearly offensive from an environmental point of view. Longer term measures and structures to secure amenity and development are by and large proper to planning, urban renewal and other environmental legislation.

The Acquisition of Derelict Sites Act, 1940 enabled local authorities to secure the clearance of derelict sites but only by acquisition or the threat of acquisition. Apart from the absence of other mechanisms to tackle the problem, the definition of derelict site in that Act was also very restrictive. The Derelict Sites Act, 1961 introduced a different approach by widening the scope of this definition and by attempting to facilitate voluntary clearance and improvement of objectionable lands and buildings by property owners. This latter objective was never comprehensively fulfilled and although the 1961 Act provided also for statutory notices requiring the carrying out of works by owners, these were not availed of to any great extent. Another limitation of the 1961 Act was that it did not apply to dwellings and could only be used when the sites had actually become dangerous or injurious to health or to the amenities of the neighbourhood. In effect, the Act became relevant only when the site was totally derelict, and no mechanism existed for preventing the running down of many a fine neighbourhood.

Before examining the details of the present Bill, I wish very briefly to sketch the contemporary background of dereliction against which its main provisions should be viewed.

Urban decay is an extensive reality of our times and is dealt with at some length in the EC Fourth Environmental Action Programme (1987 to 1992) (Official Journal, 7 December 1987). That programme notes that population and new investment have sought locations away from the older, industrial conurbations which have been badly affected by structural change in the economy, leaving high levels of unemployment, derelict or contaminated sites, vacant buildings and an ageing stock of housing and infrastructure. As a result the situation in 1985, according to the EC was that, in many European cities, conditions are substantially worse than they were 10 or 15 years ago. The action programme concludes from this that urban environmental problems must now assume an increased priority in Community environmental policy.

Dereliction has, unfortunately, become a growing problem in many towns and cities of Ireland also and is taking away from their attractiveness to the inhabitants, to tourists and to potential industrialists. The problem in Dublin is more extensive and apparent, and has been more fully documented. A recent report prepared by Dublin Corporation in connection with the review of their development plan revealed that the total land area derelict within the Canal Ring was some 160 acres — or almost seven times the size of St. Stephen's Green, and that it numbered some 600 derelict sites in all. While the urban renewal programme is now making considerable inroads into this problem in the Quays and Christchurch area, There is clearly much more work to be done.

Decline and change of individual areas is of course an inevitable feature of the life of cities and towns but at the same time it should be the duty of all public authorities to do whatever is possible to mitigate its worst effects. There is a need for positive and aggressive action if the dereliction is to be overcome in the foreseeable future and a principal objective of the Bill will be to give local authorities a legislative framework within which to do so.

The main purpose of the Bill is to provide more effective arrangements against land dereliction. The Bill also repeals the Derelict Sites Act, 1961, and restates its relevant provisions, thus consolidating the law on derelict sites, and provides for an annual levy on certain derelict sites in urban areas.

The main new provisions of the Bill are: to require local authorities to maintain a register of all derelict sites; to place a general duty on owners and occupiers of land, including statutory bodies, to prevent land from becoming, or from continuing to be, a derelict site; to provide improved enforcement and preventive powers for local authorities in relation to derelict sites; to give the Minister for the Environment reserve powers to direct a local authority to take enforcement action or to improve a derelict site in their own ownership; to enable the Minister for the Environment, after consultation with the appropriate Minister, to direct any statutory body to dispose of derelict land in their possession which is not necessary for their functions; to improve the procedure for compulsory acquisition of derelict land by local authorities; to provide for an annual levy, based on market value, on certain derelict sites in urban areas; to increase penalties.

I now propose to comment on some of the individual provisions of the new Bill. Since a fairly comprehensive explanatory and financial memorandum has been circulated, I will approach this task summarily and selectively.

Part I contains mainly standard provisions related to the general implementation of the Bill. It does however provide certain important definitions in section 3, to which I will draw attention as they arise in later substantive sections of the Bill. Section 4 sets out a new and wider definition of "derelict site". This improves on the earlier definition in a number of ways: it includes dwellings, which as I have said were excluded from previous derelict sites legislation, and it adds to the previous criteria for dereliction considerations such as the neglected, unsightly or objectionable condition of structures. Taken in conjunction with sections 11 and 12, the new definition of "derelict site" will also allow action to be taken against potential or incipient dereliction, as well as against actual dereliction.

Part II of the Bill deals with the range of measures being provided to prevent and control derelict sites. Under section 9, local authorities will be obliged, within a year of the commencement of the Act, to establish and maintain a register of all the derelict sites within their area. This is a mandatory provision which will secure the active involvement of all local authorities in administering this Bill. It is a matter of record that only a minority of local authorities were active in administering previous derelict sites legislation. We cannot afford such an optional approach faced with the importance of the problem which I have earlier outlined.

The register of derelict sites will clearly establish the scale of the problem of dereliction in each area. It will facilitate suitable follow-up action, and in the case of relevant urban land, it will provide a basis for applying the derelict sites levy.

Section 10 establishes it as a general duty on every owner and occupier of land to ensure that their land does not become or continue to be a derelict site. This obligation will rest not just on private landowners, but on statutory bodies also, that is, the full range of semi-State and public sector bodies with the exception of Ministers of the Government and the Office of Public Works. I will explain this exception in a moment when I deal with section 14.

Section 11 places a concurrent general duty on the local authority to use their powers so as to prevent land within their functional area from becoming or continuing to be a derelict site.

Sections 12 and 13 provide for specific enforcement powers in relation to the general obligations established by sections 10 and 11. The standard method of enforcement will be a notice from the local authority requiring specified remedial works to be undertaken. Failure to carry these out will be an offence. If this notice is not complied with, then the local authority will also be empowered themselves to carry out the necessary measures and to recover the costs from the owner. All remedial works of this kind will be exempted development for planning purposes.

Section 13 gives back-up powers to the Minister for the Environment to ensure proper enforcement of the Bill. He will be able by direction to require a local authority to issue an enforcement notice in a particular case, to require them to act further on a notice already issued, or to make the local authority remedy a derelict site in their own ownership.

Section 14 enables the Minister to require any statutory body to dispose of its interest in any derelict site where he is satisfied that the land is not necessary for the performance of its functions by the statutory body. Before making any such requirement, the Minister would first consult with the appropriate Minister as regards that statutory body. Apart from the blight issue, the holding of land by public bodies can affect the land market in urban areas by restricting the supply and encouraging overpricing of urban land. In their report on urbanisation in Dublin (No. 55 of 1981), the NESC commented on this aspect in the following terms: "Local authority actions contribute to high values in that the absence of a development or sales policy for derelict sites acts to restrict supply and induce blight" (para. 3.10). The Bill therefore aims at bringing about a situation where land owned by public authorities is properly utilised and brought forward for development as quickly as possible.

The definition of "statutory body" does not, as I have said, extend to Ministers of Government or the Office of Public Works. It would be inappropriate, and inconsistent with the concept of the collective responsibility of the Government, that the Minister for the Environment should be in the position of issuing formal statutory directions to fellow Ministers regarding disposal of their land interests or any other matter. While such a provision might, in the narrow context of this Bill, have an appealingly robust character to it, it would not be conducive to responsible Government. If I have a problem with the policy of another Minister regarding the use of his land, then that is a matter to be raised and settled by Government.

Did the Minister have the same success with the property tax?

Robust is the word.

I am certain that, on reflection, Deputies will see the sense of this view.

Sections 15 to 20 deal with the powers of local authorities to acquire derelict sites outright, whether by agreement or compulsorily. The provisions involved differ mainly in respect of drafting from the 1961 Act and do not require comment at this stage.

Part III of the Bill goes beyond previous derelict sites legislation by attempting to deal with the economics of urban dereliction. Environmental economists point out that all pollution involves a degree of market failure, in that the polluter is encouraged to act anti-socially by the fact that he bears no financial responsibility for the external costs which he imposes, through his polluting activities, on others.

This general principle finds ready application in the case of much urban dereliction. Because for economic or other reasons, redevelopment of a site is not attractive to an owner in the short term, he has ready encouragement, reinforced by the fact that unoccupied property cannot be rated, to let his property run down. The public rather than the individual is the loser.

Various proposals have been mentioned over the past 15 or so years for some financial disincentive to be applied which would discourage owners from letting properties run down and so redress the market failure underlying much urban dereliction. The Bill's provisions in this regard are fairly simple ones. In all urban areas, or in such county council areas as the Minister may prescribe, an annual derelict sites levy will be imposed by local authorities on so called urban land. Urban land is defined in section 3 to mean any derelict site in an urban area which is not in the ownership of the State or the levying local authority, is not an occupied dwelling and is not affected by a CPO or a local authority planning reservation.

All urban land will have a market value placed on it by the local authority, with appeal to the Valuation Tribunal, once every five years. Each year the Minister for the Environment will prescribe a proportion of the market value of land for the purposes of the levy. This may be prescribed nationally, or for particular local authority areas, but in no case may it exceed 10 per cent. The proportion applied to the market value will give the annual amount of the levy.

As the Explanatory Memorandum emphasises, the primary purpose of the derelict sites levy is not to create additional revenues for local authorities, but to operate as an efficiency tax and secure better use of urban land. Consistently with this principle, if a site is rendered non-derelict within a particular year, the levy for that year will be refunded or waived. Special arrangements may also be operated, at the discretion of the local authority, forbona fide site assembly. If the local authority agree, a developer will be able to tender a bond for five years of the levy instead of actually paying the levy. Provided the full development is completed within the five year period, no levy would then be payable. Finally, provision is made for the waiver of the levy by local authorities in cases of hardship.

Superficially, the structure of the new levy may appear to have much in common with site value rating, that is, a system of rating property on the basis of its optimum rather than its actual use. However, the new levy will not pressurise owners to realise the fullest economic development of derelict properties; it will only require them to make their lands aesthetically acceptable and consistent with other sound neighbouring properties. The Interdepartmental Committee on Local Finance and Taxation rightly concluded in their report (PRL 89) of some 20 years ago that "ownership of land in our society does not carry with it the ability or the obligation to realise the full potential profit from that land" (page 43 of report). The new levy respects this important principle.

Part IV deals with prosecutions and offences. These have been deliberately designed to keep within the limits of District Court jurisdiction, given the desirability, which I mentioned earlier, of confining this Bill to fairly simple measures and procedures. Part V deals with miscellaneous and largely routine measures in support of the main provisions which I have already described.

I would hope for the support of the whole House for this Bill, which provides a workable machinery for tackling dereliction in a manner reasonable to landowners and to the community alike. I wish to emphasise that I am open to all constructive suggestions for its amendment on Committee Stage.

I now commend the Bill to the House.

First, I welcome the Bill. All of us who have had the opportunity of being members of local authorities not only in the city of Dublin but throughout the country would like to see the outdated legislation brought up to date to do something about the real problems of dereliction. Dereliction has been one of the greatest scourges of the scenic beauty of our country. Tourists visiting Ireland see many derelict sites — the Minister mentioned 600 in this city — and I am sure there is no other city in Europe where so many derelict sites can be seen. That shows how serious the problem is. The owners are not entirely to blame when we consider how the Department and the county councils have dealt with the problem. It must be admitted that they did not deal with this problem and they were the people who were supposed to implement a type of policy that we, as Members of this House and as members of local authorities, could be proud of.

This Bill was initiated by the former Minister for the Environment. No doubt the present Minister has put his stamp on it and I do not see anything wrong with that. He would be failing in his duty if he did not put his stamp on it.

There are a number of points I would like to deal with and the Minister referred to a few of them in his speech. He referred to the 1961 legislation and the fact that it did not include private dwellings. The abolition of the pre-1940 grant scheme led to an increase in the number of derelict dwellings and derelict sites throughout the country. But there could have been a big reduction in the number of these houses and derelict sites if, over the last ten years the owners had been given grants to develop the derelict sites and to make the derelict houses habitable. A positive approach should be adopted if we are to successfully tackle this problem.

Another point I would like to make relates to the Department of the Environment and their lack of decisiveness. For instance, in my constituency 12 or 18 months ago, Navan Urban Council made an application to the Department for permission to sell one or two old houses — roughly 100 years old. Customers were available for the houses when they became vacant, but it took 12 to 18 months for the Department to say we could sell that property. Because of the delay the houses in St. Patrick's Terrace were ransacked and turned into derelict sites. I would like to put it on the record of the House that that is one of the reasons there are so many derelict sites in towns and cities. If this was the case in the town I mentioned, it must be the same throughout the country.

We must put our house in order. The officials in the Department who deal with those requests should not allow ten, 12 or 15 months to pass before making a decision. As a result of the indecisiveness in the Department, that site is worth nothing. It is a derelict site, and as such is a loss to the Exchequer. I have many queries, along those lines and I am sure other Members have too.

There are a few points on the Bill to which I would like to refer. Will acquisition under the Derelict Sites Acts be regarded as simple and free of the extensive and lengthy provisions of the Housing Act 1966? Perhaps this Bill would afford the Minister an opportunity to update and simplify the 1966 procedure of acquisition. The information I have is that that procedure is very lengthy and drawn out, and that it takes an incredible amount of time to deal with the particular problems of the site. If we are introducing legislation like this we should make it as simple as possible.

While we are updating the 1961 Act we should be simplifying the problem.

Section 19 (3) refers to annuity on land acquired and vested by the local authority and in my view, this will only serve to add an unnecessary and complex burden on the local authority. I believe that the procedures for tha annuity on land acquired and vested by the local authorities can be simplified as well. In this legislation, we should try to deal with this and make the procedures as simple as possible.

The legislation directs the local authorities to provide lists and registers of the number of sites in their area. I know that in my own county over the past number of years we have put together lists of the worst sites in the county and work has been done on ensuring that the people concerned were made aware that the local authority wanted something done about the situation. I would be surprised if most of the local authorities have not taken a stance on this issue and taken decisions to ensure that the issue of derelict sites in scenic areas are dealt with. In my area, over the past three years we have put a system in train and have made lists of the derelict sites and we are getting the owners to do something about them.

The Bill provides that all urban land will have a market value placed on it by the local authority and that a levy not exceeding 10 per cent of the valuation may be imposed. I wonder if this is the right approach? We are all aware of the controversy surrounding valuations. It will take time for the valuations to be agreed. The Bill provides for a levy of 10 per cent of the market value, and is this not substantially cheaper than rates on such sites in the cities? On the basis of my knowledge, I think it probably will be cheaper and more than likely in a great many cases will bring in less money than rates. I wonder if that is the road to take? I believe there will be a problem with consistency and I ask the Minister for his views on that.

We are trying to do something positive about derelict sites. What is the time-frame envisaged — I know it says a year in the Bill — to allow people time to appeal, to do something about the problem? If the county councils, urban councils and indeed some Government Departments get their house in order, I believe we will have a very speedy consensus on how to deal with people who have allowed sites to go derelict. As the Minister has stated in his speech, people have allowed their sites to lie there thinking that some day they will realise a substantial amount of money from whatever source. In taking that into consideration, we want to ensure that the legislation can be implemented and this brings me to the point I want to make on staffing.

The Explanatory Memorandum states that minor costs only will arise in implementing the Bill and makes provision for the payment of additional staff if required. Extra staff would only be required in the larger counties, in the cities and the major towns and people may be deployed to deal with the work. If we are serious about tackling the problem that is the only way it can be done. It is stated that the "operation of the Bill's new powers and duties will entail additional staffing and administrative costs". What powers will the local authorities have to employ additional staff? We all know that in all sections of the local authorities they are laden down with work because of the staff embargo and I ask the Minister if extra staff are needed to do this job will the Minister for Finance give approval for same? The Explanatory Memorandum states that the cost of extra staffing will be offset in the case of urban local authorities by income from the derelict sites levy. However, the Minister has stated that the levy may be refundable following an appeal. I think that that sort of stop-go financing will not work and it does not indicate we are serious about dealing with dereliction. I would like an explanation of this.

There are a number of aspects of the Bill with which I do not have any problem. With regard to the question of Ministers having in their ownership derelict sites, I have no doubt they can come to an agreement on this. However, I do not know if that is such a good idea. We are giving the local authorities more powers and no doubt they will use them to improve the derelict sites in their areas but the biggest single problem is that they may not have sufficient staff to do the job. If they have not sufficient staff, what will the Minister do?

The legislation proposes that there will be substantial improvements within the space of one year and we would like to see this happen. I am sure my colleagues who have spent much more time on issues connected with the environment will comment on this issue. While the Bill overall is very good, I think there are some points that need attention. Following the Minister's response that he will look favourably at our amendments, I am sure the legislation will be improved and we would like to see it enacted as speedily as possible.

I agree with the sentiments expressed by the Minister in his speech. The objectives of those remarks are very worthy and I hope they will be carried through. I am not certain that the Bill is an adequate vehicle in all respects for fulfilling the aspirations outlined by the Minister in his speech but I want to commend him in at least one respect. Some of us have had the pleasure of, as it were, working in this forum on a variety of issues and I have always found the Minister to be extremely approachable and conciliatory in taking on board the ideas, suggestions and comments of the spokespersons from all parties. That is commendable and the Minister should be thanked for doing so. I hope he will not think it churlish of me to say in passing that it conflicts fairly sharply with the attitude of a colleague Minister who in recent days seems to believe that an idea is perhaps deficient if it comes from a party who are not as big as his own. I suggest that that Minister should have a word with the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn, on how things should be done and how to deal with people at the same time without having to be bellicose, belligerent and downright arrogant. I do not find any of that in the Minister for the Environment's approach to matters and hence I believe that if one did an assessment of the amount of legislation going through the Dáil one would find that the track records of both the parties involved reflect very favourably on the Minister here today, as opposed to the more noisy and empty comments of the Minister who seems to believe that threatening people will solve everything.

The Minister in his speech set out many of the objectives which all of us concerned about derelict sites, urban decay and urban blight would wish to see achieved. However, I think a somewhat closer scrutiny of the Bill will show that there are very many escape clauses and escape hatches in it and that unfortunately it will not succeed.

There are many positive steps in the legislation before us and in due course I hope to tease out how some of these may not be successful unless they are amended. The essence of the issue is whether we are genuinely serious about taking on the question of dereliction. If we are to do this we have got to have in place reasonable incentives for people who want to develop land and perhaps, equally important, if not more so, severe and meaningful sanction for those who believe that there is an economic advantage at present in acquiring property or land and letting it become derelict. That is where the balance lies now and unless it is changed nothing else will change. Certainly an indicator of a lack of desire or commitment on the part of the Government in that respect could seriously be said to be the derisory fine now proposed in the Bill, a maximum of £1,000, which in today's property market could represent as little as one or two days increase in the value of a site which is left to one side by an owner. I am convinced that if we look again at the whole approach to sanctions — I do not believe they are the best way of making progress but ultimately they have to be the final safeguard — the Bill is porous in that respect and if we are relying on a carrot and stick approach, certainly there is no stick in this Bill.

An enterprising speculator who is anti-social, and not all speculators are, will have no problem whatsoever in side stepping the main thrust of what the Minister is trying to do in this Bill, despite the fact that we would share common ground with him on the general aspirations of it.

Dereliction is a serious problem. As the Minister said in his speech according to a recent survey in the city centre of Dublin, and I am conscious that Dublin is not the only urban conurbation in this country, there are 160 acres of land within the canal ring, which boils down to about 600 sites. I do not think it is unreasonable to extrapolate from that that there are probably the best part of 2,000 acres of derelict sites in the greater Dublin area and depending on one's definition of "derelict" that could be greater or less because the interpretation of derelict by various local authorities is arbitrary and subjective and does not always accord to what would be legally necessary to, as it were, fall to be used in such a description.

There is a large repository of unused land in this city and if we look at the reasons for that I think we will find it is because those who are engaged in the deliberate creation of dereliction find they are financially better off if they allow that to happen. It is no more complex than that. There are a number of interested owners in that general area who for one reason or another find it impossible to develop a piece of property or who can do very little with land which they have inherited. I do not think we should use a sledge hammer to crack a nut in those cases but the majority of the sites we are speaking about are owned by people who have standing in the community, who have reasonable access to resources, who own property apart from these derelict sites and in respect of whom there is no reasonable excuse for allowing them to continue to ride a coach and four through this city. I believe that in principle what they are doing to the city is no different from what we continually berate young people for doing in other parts of the city. We do not have any problem in ascribing various names and derogatory terms to these young people and handing out sentences before the courts to them but if it is the area of property speculation it has a slight aura of respectability about it. It is about time we called it what it is no more than a form of social vandalism by the majority of these people, and it should be treated as such.

A fine of £1,000 is not the answer, no more than is the proposal in the Bill that local authorities in certain cases may decide to waive the need to pay a levy and so on — a hardship clause. I am interested in a political environment which legislates for creating a facility to evade on the basis of hardship for those who own property but which does not do so for many people who do not own any property and who nevertheless have to pay their bills and debts, even people on social welfare who do not find there is any escape from paying, for example, a tax on a pension, even if it happens to be an old age pension. I am interested in that kind of juxtaposition because I believe it needs to be explained and defended. I do not accept this position because people who have property have obligations.

During the past decade all we ever heard when one talked about derelict sites in this city was the rights of private property. It is about time that the Minister and the Government said that there are obligations attaching to property, that these obligations should be carried out and that if they are not carried out within a reasonable time the State will move in to take over that responsibility, acquire the sites in question at values which are minimal and develop them and that if they cannot be developed immediately they will be handed over to local community interests who can use them in the interim and do so without apology to anyone, just as we would apprehend anybody who abused a person or property in the city. It is no more than a shade on the same continuum. People who fail to fulfil their obligations in regard to these sites are guilty of anti-social action.

At any given time the local authority in Dublin city, which is only one of many and not even the biggest in the country, would deal with something of the order of 300 sites which are deemed to be derelict. I suspect that is a minority of the sites which are truly derelict because those are sites which for one reason or another have come to the attention of the local authority, perhaps arising out of repeated complaints from public representatives, local communities or whatever. This is a serious problem and I am not convinced that the Bill goes far enough. I believe the ultimate sanction has to be available, and that the ultimate sanction is the twin combination of a sufficient financial fine or sanction which says that at last it is now no longer profitable to let a site sit, that one had better develop it or get rid of it. Up to now many owners believed that if they let a site sit it would be worth more at the end of the year. This has to stop. It means that the Bill has to be changed so that the fines provided for are in some way indexed to the appreciating value of the site, or perhaps a multiple of that. Above all, people should know that for the first time the State is serious about this problem and that there is no longer a percentage in abusing one's neighbours and city by allowing sites to become derelict.

As well as that — and I have some experience in this respect — the compulsory purchase acquisition procedure needs to be addressed. It would be wrong to imply, for example, that all of the problem is being created by, as it were, unknown suspect private individuals who own parcels of land. A significant contribution to the problem of dereliction in this city and country is being made by Government Departments, semi-State bodies, health boards and local authorities who own between them very substantial land banks, much of which is allowed to become derelict in effect over many years, perhaps as long as ten, 15 or 20 years. They are a huge part of the problem. As Shakespeare asked one time "Who will whip the whippers?" We are placing the onus on the local authorities to chase the people who are abusing the rest of us. I admit that the Minister has an ultimate sanction here. The reality, however, is that in the normal course of events, the local authority will deem what is derelict, who pays the levy, and will exercise discretion as to whether a site is derelict. With the best will in the world towards those local authorities, there is a conflict of interest here. Naturally enough, their desire will be to keep that list to a minimum because they have to have regard to the implications, they have to call on people, send out notices, engage in all the bureaucracy and so on attached to it. If the average hard pressed local authority clerical officer must make a choice, he will simply say that on balance it might be as well if they gave that property the benefit of the doubt.

In terms of compulsory purchase order procedure, local authorities have serious problems. I cannot understand why we did not long ago try to compress the whole compulsory purchase order procedure so that there is not, in effect, a scale of development in terms, say, of housing. My colleague, Deputy Quinn, will be very familiar with that from his time as Minister and as city councillor. It can take as long as two decades to put together a site of 30 or 40 houses because of the ridiculous, outdated, antediluvian procedure of acquiring sites. There is a particular site on the North Circular Road which is dear, or at least near to my heart, which I remember passing for something like 14 years when going to school and I think it is in the same condition as it was before I started going to school. I was told that it was in the ownership of a local authority. Some progress was made in the past few years but it is still only at a certain stage of development because of an open-ended appeal by each individual owner to the highest courts, not just in this country but abroad. I am not necessarily against that, but I am against the fact that that can take years.

If there is a particular problem about the arbitration mechanism for adjudging values or acquiring property, perhaps it is time we decided to set up some sort of subsystem within the court environment where property would be dealt with independently, where all compulsory purchase orders would be decided on expeditiously, where the work would be done, not by circumscribing or whittling away people's rights but by dealing with the matter in a speedy fashion over a limited period of time. It is quite preposterous that a significant contribution to urban blight has been caused by people who are elected, appointed to look after the public interest, but that is how it is right now. This refers not only to local authorities but to Government Departments and health boards.

I do not subscribe to the comment in the Minister's speech, or indeed in the Bill, which says apparently that there will be one rule for the State and another for the ordinary citizen. The thinking of my party is to the opposite. It is that the State should give a lead, if anything, and that certainly there should be no exemptions for the State in this regard. The State, by definition, will always be a major component in the property market and in the whole area of public policy, in the creation of certain infrastructural provisions, housing, hospitals and so on, and, therefore, they are involved in the land business and the acquisition business. If the environment in which they do that is seen to be one where people are subsconsciously encouraged to be slow or lethargic, then they will be, but they should not be. A citizen should be able to believe that the property up the road owned by a private speculator who has decided to long finger it and the property owned by a health board that have decided to long finger it, perhaps for very laudable reasons in both cases in terms of making some profit, will be treated the same in terms of the law.

If we are serious about the Derelict Sites Bill we must also address the question of ownership. One of the problems that local authorities have had is that of finding out who actually owns the land. Quite honestly, there is not at present any even-handed approach to registration of ownership. In some local authority areas there is no compulsory, mandatory obligation on anybody to register ownership. It is not uncommon for somebody to sell a site to a company or an individual and for that new owner not to register that ownership. How then can we be serious about derelict sites and the pursuing of such owners, about levying them, if we do not even oblige them to register that interest? That is minimal. If we are going to tackle this problem we must at least have the resourses in terms of information on hand to be able to pursue people.

The question of a levy is important in this respect. If there are people out there who are recalcitrant and obstructive in terms of public policy, who do not want to play ball, who have avoided existing legislation, dodged and ducked, perhaps gone through the courts and resubmitted proposals, made planning applications at the last moment so that the local authority back off and then change the planning application, the matter will go on for ever. The Minister knows more about that than I do. If people have behaved like that up to now with their present status, they will do the same with the levy. There is no way of enforcing the levy. I do not know how you can get from somebody actual hard cash if you cannot already get from them compliance in improving their property. It boils down to the same thing; that is, co-operation with public policy in this respect.

Unless you seriously improve the sanctions — from the point of view of the Legislature, that is — I cannot see how you will get that compliance. Those people will simply run a coach and four through the levy, also. They will change addresses, dodge and duck, delay payment. You will not be able to find them, in the first place, because there is no registration of ownership on a mandatory basis. Instead of trying to get people to improve or develop their property, you will be chasing them for a levy, which would be at all times only a tiny fraction of the value by which the land has appreciated during the time when you have been pursuing the matter. If we are to be serious about this, we should take it on four square and tell people that from now on we believe that the obligations of those who own land and property is at least as important as their rights, that those obligations are to the whole community and will be treated seriously. If these people continue to obstruct public policy beyond reasonable limits, they are deeming themselves no longer fit to retain ownership and the State, acting for the common good, will do it for them.

That is an essential part of public policy in this respect. I know that some would say that it is going too far, or is not adequate, but it is essential. The strange thing is that if you decide to go down that road the likelihood is that you will never have to use that power. It means for the first time that you are serious and once you are serious then the boys and girls who have these properties and are in the business of riding a coach and four through existing law will decide it is time for them to begin to perform instead of sitting on property and land, as they are at present.

In passing, I would be interested in finding out if the Minister has checked out the constitutionality of the levy. I certainly hope it is constitutional, but have one or two small reservations at the back of my mind in that regard.

It is a change in the Constitution that those guys have worries about, not enactment.

Right. The question of establishment of ownership is serious. That underpins the whole Bill. If we are not going to be able to get to the owner, we will have a problem. My experience, and that of officials working in that area of public policy, would indicate that there is a problem there. There is no reference to that in the Bill that I have seen. The Minister might consider an amendment to oblige local authorities to register all ownership. Right now, the Bill will operate on the basis, as I understand it, of a register and that register will be drawn up by the local authority. However, it is a register only of derelict sites. The definition of dereliction, its interpretation, will rest with the individual local authority. I wonder if we will get great unevenness in that register as between one local authority and another, knowing, as a local authority will, that depending on how voluminous the register is, there will be an increase in their workload. That increase in workload I have some sympathy with because all public bodies are increasingly hard pressed, but there is still some slack in some. In some cases at least they will simply not have the resources to pursue the Bill in its entirety. Will the Minister issue guidelines about this register? Would it concern him, for example, if he found that it was being taken on board seriously in one area and not in another which latter authority, presumably, would be able to escape their onus of responsibility here?

I also note in the Bill that much of the interpretation of what should go on the register and how the levy should be interpreted boils down to words like "reasonable". This word is mentioned a number of times in the Bill. I shall not go into the Bill in detail now but an example is "the name and address of each owner and occupier where these can be obtained by reasonable inquiry...". The use of the word "reasonable" is extremely subjective. If the local authority write to the last known address of a person who owns a piece of land, they will have made a reasonable inquiry. It will not, however, solve the problem. I am not convinced that the Bill has the necessary steel to make it work.

The word "reasonable" occurs later in the Bill where it is provided that it shall be the duty of every owner and occupier of land, including a statutory body, to take all reasonable steps to ensure that land does not become, or does not continue to be, a derelict site. This is heralded as a major new provision, but it is not worth the paper it is printed on. The fact that people are told there is an obligation on them to look after their land will have no effect; they will simply carry on.

This Bill is about the interplay of economic forces on the urban landscape. It is about people deciding specifically to acquire property and to let it lie derelict for a period. These are people who do not respond to injunction or plea. If the Minister decides to treat them seriously and threatens to take over the job from them, they will know the game is up. This Bill in itself does not mean the game is up. There is a different focus of attention as between the Bill and the Minister's speech.

All Deputies have an opportunity in the context of this Bill to make a real assault on the problem of urban blight. Recently some people in this city who were about to apply for planning permission knocked down some buildings without giving the obligatory notice to the statutory authority. The planning authority have yet to make a decision, but the statutory responses and sanctions in the face of deliberate, sustained assault on the fabric of the city are minuscule and irrelevant in comparison with the steadfast decision on the part of this kind of person to ride roughshod over the rights of the community. This Bill may be the only chance this decade to do something about the problem.

Section 29 deals with penalties. Is the fine of £1,000 a genuine token of the Minister's earnest desire to tackle this problem? If that is the watermark of his commitment, he is not serious. My party will be tabling amendments, on which we hope to get some measure of acceptance from the Government. We need a toughness of approach which is not implicit in the Bill.

We all hope the Bill will work but my years of experience on the local authority scene lead me to believe it will not. It is not an accident that we have derelict sites and buildings and the problem cannot be dealt with by a flippant approach, an appeal to good nature or the minuscule sanction of £1,000. A very different approach is required and the Minister must at least threaten to put the boot in. Nothing else will work. The people he is dealing with have no hesitation in using the boot in any street in this city or elsewhere in the country. The evidence of such activities is not pleasant. The Minister should look at some of the cities in Europe, who would not tolerate for six months what we have tolerated for decades. There they make people understand that the State will act aggressively in pursuit of the common good. This Bill will not allow the Minister or the local authorities to take such action and it needs to be amended if it is to succeed.

I commend the Minister on his flush of legislative energy. Quite an amount of legislation is coming from his Department but I should like to finish the first course before moving to the dessert. Until such time as we have the Building Control Bill completed and in place, with the regulations in operation, we will still have to live with unnecessary and arbitrary costs. Now that there is a degree of upturn in the construction industry generally, the absence of a secure framework in that area represents a severe, unnecessary and self-imposed cost. I hope the Minister's success in securing time for this Bill and the Building Societies Bill does not augur ill for the completion of the Building Control Bill.


I know it will be before the House tomorrow, but we have a long road to travel. I do not want to detract from this Bill, which I welcome unreservedly. Obviously there are additional points and amendments which could be added. The Bill has been a long time in gestation and perhaps some of the weaker points signal some of the private compromises.

The Bill contains ten main provisions which will be welcomed by all of us who are members of local authorities which have an urban component. The first provision is designed to widen the definition of "derelict site". Secondly, local authorities are to be required to maintain a register of all derelict sites. Both these provisions are necessary. Let us hope in respect of the second that the local authorities will not plead lack of resources. Perhaps the Minister would indicate what steps, if any, are necessary in that regard. In my view there are many underemployed local authority engineers and others who could run that register. The third provision places the general duty on owners and occupiers of land to prevent land from becoming, or continuing to be, a derelict site. The Minister talked about the derelict sites levy as an efficiency tax, which is a fine concept. Such a tax would prevent land from becoming derelict and would act as a spur to the owners of derelict land to put it to some use.

The fourth provision places a duty on local authorities to take all reasonable steps. That is a much bigger issue and I will come back to it at some general length because we are looking at one of the great villains of the piece in relation to the problem of dereliction in urban areas. The fifth provision is to improve tne enforcement powers. Deputy Keating spoke about the realistic scale of the penalties and we will have to look at that on Committee Stage. The sixth provision deals with reserve powers for the Minister, which are certainly necessary, particularly where a local authority fails, for whatever reason, at local level to carry out their duties.

The seventh provision enables the Minister to direct a statutory body and the exemptions he has given to himself and other colleagues. I should like to talk in some detail about that because I have direct experience in that regard and I do not share his confidence in the ability of Government Departments to stay on an even keel. However, I will refer to that later. The eighth provision provides for improved procedures in relation to compulsory purchase orders with which I am sure we all agree. I also have some thoughts on the annual levy on the range of prices and how it might be administered. However, we should not be over concerned about this, we should give ourselves some flexibility. If we get it wrong, let us give ourselves some room to make it right. We are talking about an uncertain market, how big the stick should be and how juicy the carrot. If we do not get it right the first time we should not feel impeded by being unable to alter it. I urge the Minister to bear that in mind. The tenth provision is to increase penalties, to which I have already referred.

They are ten very worthwhile aims and objectives in this legislation. I will now comment on why we should talk about them and our collective experience in this House in relation to where the focus of attention will be.

I originally represented the Pembroke Ward of Dublin City Council and I now represent Dublin South-East which runs from the River Liffey to the River Dodder and from the coast in as far as Clanbrassil Street. It is probably as good and representative a cross section of the rich and poor slices of urban Ireland as you will come across. As I described on another occasion, my constituency runs all the way from the Iveagh Hostel to Ailesbury Road. It encompasses all classes and groups of people, types of housing and indeed types of sites in between.

The biggest single cause of urban blight — I had been thinking about this before I rose to speak — and the biggest single landowner of derelict sites in my constituency is undoubtedly Dublin Corporation. The second biggest holder of blighted and derelict sites is a statutory body. For example, the State until quite recently owned the Sweepstakes site in Ballsbridge; it was not necessarily a derelict site but it easily came close to the definition. The abandoned old Army barracks at Beggars' Bush is in disputed ownership between the local authority and the Office of Public Works. I could go on.

In looking at the focus of our attention, which is how we deal with derelict sites, we must look a little bit further and ask how we deal with those statutory bodies who are outside market forces and who do not have to take account of them. We have experienced a rising and receding urban property market in the past eight or nine years but, for a variety of self-evident reasons, the private owners of property have been forced either by a rising market tide or a receding one, to develop or dispose of their sites. It is a unique characteristic of those sites which have been owned by statutory authorities who are not subject to market forces that such sites have not moved one way or the other although, of course, there are exceptions.

I should like to draw the Minister's attention to the provisions in the Bill — which perhaps were inserted in the Bill before it got Cabinet or departmental assent — and to ask him to look at them carefully. Let me give a specific example. Not more than 500 metres from where I currently stand, in Upper Merion Street there is a superb terrace of Georgian houses which has, despite the logic of all rising market forces, remained quasi derelict. While I do not wish to disrupt the thrust of a rising market tide from which the State might benefit let me give an example of how much persuasive powers one Cabinet colleague might have over another.

In my capacity as a Cabinet Minister I was approached by a senior representative of statutory tourism interests in the city to see if one of the 15 houses which was vacant on Upper Merrion Street could, for the time being, be made available to a Dublin statutory tourism body on a temporary leased basis until the Office of Public Works had made up their mind what they wanted to do with the property and had the capital provision to implement it. Pending the arrival of that heady day, the tourism body would, at no cost to central Government, have taken over the building in question. They would have fitted it out and furnished it so that all the tourists who came to Dublin to look at our fine Georgian squares would be able to see the inside of a Georgian building. You can do that in Bath and other major cities with a strong Georgian tradition and which, uniquely as a tourist coming to this city, you cannot do. I am speaking about 1984 or 1985. Despite what I thought was the consummate logic and common sense of my argument, the Office of Public Works and the senior Department, in spite of my persuasive powers, declined the offers of the tourism interests. At the end of the day — this perhaps is more a testimony of my failure to persuade a fellow Cabinet Minister than the validity of the case — it was a departmental head to head whereby the Department of Finance, on the advice of the Office of Public Works, argued that on security grounds the houses had to be left as they were. I offer that with a degree of circumspection to protect some of the innocent, if not the guilty. The idea that Government Departments left to their own devices will allow common sense to prevail is patent nonsense because the building to which I referred is in a worse state of dereliction today than it was then and thousands of tourists have come through the squares of Georgian Dublin and have been unable to benefit from what would have been provided.

I give that anecdotal example to query whether the Minister's proposal in this regard is wise. He can take it from the content of my contribution that he can expect an amendment on Committee Stage to deal with the matter.

I hope to remove that example——

I hope the Minister will, but the essence and the principle remain the same. It is a good example to use because it is so glaringly stupid. When we talk about the problems of dereliction the Minister for the Environment should look overall at the factors that in some cases bring about dereliction. It is nonsensical to introduce basically good legislation — in so far as we can evaluate it on Second Stage — and still allow local authorities to draw up grandiose development plans which will have as their consequence an imposed constraint on private or local authority owners of land or other statutory bodies from developing their own property.

I want to give another related example and to ask the Minister and his advisers how they might respond. There are legal problems which could very well have a constitutional dimension and I know the Minister and his advisers must have sought advice in relation to them. Without being parochial or confined to my own constituency the principle is applicable throughout the country.

Let us talk about a case where owners of private property along a particular street have been forced not to reinvest because they have been told by the local authority that any reinvestment post the date of the confirmation of the road widening line would not be the subject of compensation and in time the property becomes derelict. What would happen in the event of the local authority deciding to change the line? Lest I be open to the charge of speaking in abstract terms, let me be more specific. Along the side of Charlemont Street there is a wide, open derelict site, a different kind of dereliction which I will refer to in a few moments. As Deputy Stafford may know, the local authority have changed the road widening line three times in respect of the lower part of Lower Charlemont Street to the junction of Harcourt Street. By their actions they have done more damage than the Wehrmacht or the Luftwaffe would have done to that area had we been a participant in the last world war. Who would be held responsible for this dereliction if we were to attach a development levy or tax to that site? A private property owner could, if he engaged consultants or professionals, argue with a degree of logic and with some justice that this dereliction was not of his choosing, was not caused through neglect on his part, but rather was a consequence of ill thought out local authority action. I put this forward in support of a variable levy or tax that we should attach to derelict sites. Such a levy should range from between 3 per cent to 10 per cent of the market value of the site. I would like the Minister to consider such a variable levy because there are cases where dereliction has been caused by forces not within the control of the private owner. Here I am not referring to property, ownership of which is the subject of dispute within families, or property belonging to a person who dies intestate and the family of whom cannot come to an agreement as to what the share out should be.

During the past 20 years I have visited on a regular basis Lough Sheelin in County Cavan which is about a one and a half hour drive from Dublin. In that time I have witnessed the disintegration of very fine country homes, two up, two down cottages, two storey houses and cottages. Many of these houses lie in ruins today. New houses have been built alongside these. This area is not a million miles away from Deputy Farrelly's constituency and I am sure he could testify to the fact that throughout the length and breadth of County Meath many properties have fallen into disrepair. At the same time local authorities have been building one off cottages. We do not seem to have any mechanism which would allow local authorities to acquire property such as that belonging to the Farrelly family, members of which are now living in Boston, Birmingham, Brisbane and New York and the value of which could be fixed with the result that the property could be restored. This could be done instead of a local authority building new cottages. I would be interested in hearing whatever comments the Minister may have to make in relation to this matter.

I am presuming that the kind of property to which I refer comes under the new definition of a derelict site as contained in the Bill. Unless the Minister makes some provision which would enable local authorities to deal with this problem we are going to continue to witness marvellous new modern houses being built alongside houses which have fallen into disrepair. Technically these properties are on the market but the cost of carrying out a legal search and obtaining the consent of the various members of a family is too prohibitive relative to the absolute value of the property in question. Unless the regulations and the policy directives the Minister will devise consequent on the enactment of this legislation will enable local authorities with a large rural base to their functional area to deal adequately with this problem of dereliction, the entire problem will not be dealt with because it is not simply an urban problem.

There is not much more I wish to say at this stage. When we reach Committee Stage we will be able to deal with this matter at some length but I would like the Minister to bear in mind what the consequences may be if local authorities offload property onto the urban land market. Presuming that this Bill will come into force on 1 January 1990, not an unreasonable commencement date, and if by next year local authorities will not be building any new houses — I am not going to get into the arguments of that debate one way or another — but at that stage local authorities who acquired land in central city areas for housing or residual land for road widening purposes may find that that land is surplus to needs because they have no proposals for the redevelopment of the land or because the original development plans cannot be funded in the foreseeable future. The Minister may issue a direction that they dispose of that land within a short period. Such land then, coming onto the market for the first time and all together, perhaps, may cause disruption of the market in that there would be a glut of property on offer. Because the local authority officials involved would want to ensure that their files did not contain any incriminating documentation, they would offload this land irrespective of the cost. We could then find land which had been acquired on behalf of the community being sold off very cheaply, for half nothing. That would not be in the community's interest. I would like to think that in the regulations or the policy directives the Department would have for the disposal of such land, there would be a strategy for trying to find constructive developers, community interests, housing co-operatives or other such bodies who could acquire that land for developments of a desirable nature. Having deprived local authorities of the capital funds necessary to complete construction projects and having failed to tackle the problem if the Minister were to give a direction to offload all land surplus to need within a short period of time we could be throwing the baby out with the bath water. I would like to think that a local authority would be required to draw up an urban strategy before this legislation would come into effect fully.

What I am saying here about local authorities would also apply to Government Departments. The Minister in consultation with the local authorities should be able to give a direction to another Department to do something with land in their possession, either to develop it or to sell it. I will be moving against the provision in the relevant section which would exempt them from any such direction retrospectively.

Another point I wish to make relates to land acquired through a compulsory purchase order by a statutory authority, for example, CIE in the city centre of Dublin, with the help and assistance of the local authority which land is not going to be used for the purposes for which the CPO was invoked in the first instance. If that land is deemed to be surplus to their requirements and in a state of dereliction or potential dereliction and therefore comes within the ambit of the administration of that statutory authority to the extent that they feel they are covered by the provisions of this Bill, soon to be an Act, what protection or cover have the taxpayers to ensure that a person who was originally affected by that CPO cannot come back at the statutory body or local authority and say he has a double claim for compensation, that he was forced out, and that the local authority have not gone ahead with the CPO in the original sense? That is a variation on a problem that has existed in the past. I would like some clarification from the Minister in relation to this requirement.

I welcome the final emergence of this legislation from the Department of the Environment. I congratulate the Minister for being able to bring it to this stage of completion. As indicated by those who have spoken so far on this side of the House, we are trying to respond constructively. With regard to the kind of levy we put on derelict sites, I am not sure what the most effective form would be. It is a form of carrot and stick. If it can be legally done, I would be in favour of a range of levies or an escalating levy that accumulates over time; if it is not paid in the first year, the longer you hold on to the property the more expensive it becomes. There should obviously be ways in which the cost of the levy is fixed as a charge to the site, but if we are talking of something between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of the market value, it will discount or depress the price when the property is finally sold. That order of magnitude on balance seems right, but I have sought professional assistance from our own people on this Bill and since it was published rather recently I have not had the full benefit of their response. However, on Committee Stage we should be in a better position to respond to that.

I appreciate that the Minister is open to our suggestions on that. I think all of us on Second Stage are agreed that the levy should function as an efficiency tax, therefore the percentage arrived at should be the finely tuned balance between incentive and disincentive. At this stage, I cannot go beyond that and fix a figure. The problem about urban land economics is that a figure that would be right for one sector of the city would not necessarily be right for another or a figure right for rural Ireland would not necessarily be right for urban Ireland.

Unless the Minister can use this legislation with the other legislation to have some sense of coherent urban renewal policy for local authorities we may very well run the risk of forcing local authorities to abandon indiscriminately, to get rid of or walk away from portions of land they have accumulated or acquired and which at present, for reasons which are self-evident, they have not the money to develop and service, even though they might like to do so. Therefore, they offload this land on to an uneven urban market and probably compound a problem of development that is unsatisfactory or not socially desirable.

The Workers' Party generally welcome this Bill as it is a considerable improvement on the terms of the 1961 Derelict Sites Act in that it widens considerably the definition of what constitutes a derelict site and for the first time makes provision for the imposition of a derelict sites tax or levy.

It is fair to say that the record of this country at national and local levels in relation to derelict sites has been appalling and the situation in the capital city of Dublin and other larger cities has been dreadful. Large parts of Dublin have been deliberately run down and allowed to become derelict by speculators who had no interest in the appearance of our cities and the environmental consequences of such dereliction but were interested only in making as great a profit as possible. Those who visit Ireland are often shocked at the extent of the dereliction in our towns and cities. Any Irish person here who has visited great cities, such as Paris, Amsterdam and Moscow has come home with a great sense of shame about what is being done to our cities and towns. A derelict site is a rarity in the cities I have mentioned. A derelict site is all too common a feature of the urban landscape in most of our towns and cities. Damage has been done in many parts of Dublin. Areas of great architectural, historical and social interest — such as Mountjoy Square — one can observe, have been deliberately vandalised by speculators, and large areas of the inner city have been similarly abused. It is not just the city centres that have suffered this appalling blight. Many suburban areas have been plagued by derelict sites, unfinished and rubble strewn building sites, derelict and vandalised houses and so on.

Derelict sites diminish the quality of life for everyone except the speculators. Speculators know, with the way land and building prices have been going in recent years, all they have to do is acquire a building or site, remove the roof, let it fall into disrepair, ignore it for a few years and the value of the site or building will grow far faster than the rate of inflation, so their investment will increase in value at a greater rate than if they had put their money into something like job creation or even simply into a bank or building society. For the rest of society, however, the results of this money grabbing approach have been negative. Derelict sites diminish the quality of life for people in many ways. Apart from the unsightly nature of many of the sites, derelict sites or buildings can cause structural damage to adjoining buildings, leaving them vulnerable, attracting irresponsible dumping and causing health hazards by acting as breeding grounds for rats.

While the Bill is an important step forward, it is not a full solution to the problem. We can see problems about certain sections of the Bill and their implementation. The decision to impose a derelict sites levy is particularly welcome. We have introduced an amendment to every successive Finance Bill since 1982 seeking the introduction of such a tax or levy, without success, but an indication of some progress is that Fianna Fáil have now come round to accepting the need for this measure.

We are concerned, however, that the Bill sets the upper limit for a derelict sites levy at 10 per cent of the market value. Given the way land prices have gone in recent years, this may not be adequate. A speculator on a particularly valuable site could decide to leave it derelict, pay the levy and still end up with a fat profit. We believe that the upper limit should be removed. Given the fact that local authorities will have the responsibility for policing and administering the whole scheme, why should the levy not be set by them? Local authorities would be in the best position to assess what level of levy particular sites should carry.

There are a number of problems both in relation to the imposition of the levy and other provisions of the Bill which arise from the definition of derelict site in section 4. I accept that it is difficult to come up with a comprehensive, watertight definition of derelict site, but the definition used in section 4 could give rise to a number of problems. Section 4 refers to any derelict site which, "detracts, or is likely to detract, to a material degree from the amenity, character or appearance of land in the neighbourhood...". Could this mean, for instance, that what would be considered to be a derelict site in an area of expensive housing would not be a derelict site in areas of cheaper housing, local authority estates, flat complexes and so on? There is, we believe, an argument for setting specific criteria in relation to buildings and sites over and above those contained in subsections (a), (b) and (c) of section 4. It might be difficult to do this by legislation, but it could certainly be done by ministerial order or regulation.

In the same way, this could clearly affect the amount of levy payable as this would be determined by the market value of the land. Buildings, land and sites are all inevitably more valuable in areas where land and houses already attract a high price, and lower in those areas where land and housing is cheaper. This could lead to an anomalous situation where somebody has a small site in an upmarket area, which they cannot afford to maintain, could face a substantial levy, while a speculator who owns a site in a down-market area would escape with a small levy. There is an argument for the establishment of a minimum levy, irrespective of the value.

We are concerned also at the exclusions. The levy will not apply to land owned by a State authority, by a local authority within its own functional area, occupied dwellings or land affected by a compulsory purchase order or a planning reservation. It has to be said that the public sector, and local authorities, have been major offenders in relation to derelict sites. It is not too long since there were trees growing out of buildings directly across the road from the Merrion Square entrance to Leinster House, which are owned by the Office of Public Works. The way in which local authorities have been starved of adequate funds by successive Governments has meant that they have not been able to deal with derelict sites in their own areas. There has been a particular problem in Dublin with houses owned by Dublin Corporation but located in the Dublin County Council area. Houses have regularly been vandalised and even set on fire, very often because the corporation simply did not have the money to pay for security cover for vacant houses. In the end, of course, the cost of refurbishing those houses is far greater than the cost of providing security would have been.

The public sector at national and local levels have a responsibility to set the highest possible standards in ensuring that sites owned by the public do not become derelict. It would clearly not make sense to have a local authority levying themselves for sites within their own areas, but they must not be allowed to escape the obligations in the Bill placed on others.

There must also be concern that the procedures in the Bill are unnecessarily complex and may give speculators many opportunities to escape its provisions. The procedures for putting a site on the register on the first place are quite complex and, of course, then there is the provision for appeals to the valuation tribunal over the value put on a site. As we have seen in relation to the planning laws, speculators can afford to retain the most accomplished and expensive lawyers in the country. They have been able to run rings around local authorities when it came to the planning applications and I hope we will not be faced with a similar situation in relation to derelict sites.

I understand that up to this a site which was railed off or surrounded by a hoarding was not considered to be a derelict site. I would ask the Minister to confirm if this is still the situation. If it is, it is a major flaw which needs to be addressed. It is relatively cheap for any speculator to put up a 6ft. hoarding and slap a drop of paint on it. That does not mean that the site is not derelict. A site like that can still present environmental hazards and detract from the whole area. There has been a site like this in O'Connell Street, Dublin, for the past ten years which has been like a missing tooth in the streetscape. A previous speaker referred to the problem of identifying owners of derelict sites. We would like to see local authorities given more power to pursue the owners of such sites.

Generally, we welcome the Bill with the exception of the reservations I have expressed. I hope it will mean the end of derelict sites in our towns and cities. If that happens our environment will be greatly improved.

I welcome the Bill. In my four years as a member of Dublin Corporation one of the greatest problems I have come across is that of derelict sites. Some of the small derelict sites have created great problems for local representatives, residents' associations and community councils. Two or three houses in one street may be left derelict. There is hardly a street in the inner city of Dublin that does not have at least one derelict site. I am pleased that a provision such as section 4 has been included because heretofore it was impossible to move against the owners of derelict sites. I accept that very often there are genuine reasons houses become derelict but the owners have a responsibility to those who live adjacent to those buildings. Those people, at great cost to themselves, keep their own property in good repair. We are all aware that within a short time of one or two buildings in a street becoming derelict the whole street will be run down.

It is unfortunate that I only learned last week that the Bill would be discussed this week because I would have liked to have had more time to prepare my contribution. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that he would listen to any sensible suggestions made during the course of the debate. In my view the quality of life means being left to live in the comfort of one's own home and not to have adjoining buildings allowed to fall into a state of disrepair.

In most cases buildings are allowed to become derelict by speculators whether individuals or builders who may feel if they leave them idle sufficiently long, they will get a better price on eventual sale. Gardiner Street in my constituency is located on the route from Dublin Airport to the city centre. At the top end of that street on both sides there are some magnificent dwellings which would qualify for urban renewal grants. Yet there are perhaps six of them which have been allowed to become derelict already while other house owners on the same street have endeavoured manfully to maintain them in good repair.

When we have been approached by the owners of those houses kept in good repair we local authority members and public representatives have discovered that, because of the law obtaining there was no way the owners of those badly maintained premises could be forced to do anything with them. We have felt totally powerless at times to do anything to help.

However, the provisions of this Bill will enable something be done about such premises. We must remember the principle of the carrot and the stick. Where there appears to be no endeavour on the part of the owners of such properties to maintain them in good repair, I believe they should be acquired by compulsory purchase order which I know is a long, difficult exercise but after all, some premises have taken ten to 15 years to fall down. Even if it takes a couple of years to acquire such premises, at least those people endeavouring to maintain the remainder of the area in good repair will feel something is being done about the problem.

I note that the fine to be imposed for contravention of the provisions of this Bill shall, on summary conviction, not exceed £1,000. The Minister has said that he would examine that provision. The concept of there being anything up to a 10 per cent fine on the offending property will help. When the provisions of this Bill are enacted it would be my hope that the owners of such badly maintained properties would move quickly either to dispose of them or proceed with their renovation, using them for the purpose for which they were built originally. Any funds raised through the imposition of fines should go to local authorities. I have always been supportive of the principle of giving local authorities adequate powers. Although local authorities will have to have recourse to the Minister, it is good that they are being given additional powers under the provisions of this Bill. The Minister is aware of the problems obtaining with regard to such properties and sites and also that there are defects in the provisions of this Bill. However I am confident that he will do all in his power to overcome these problems.

We must remember that there have always been what might be termed the ordinary, small speculator endeavouring to form a tract of land on which to build some development. However, there were also the larger scale speculators who bought property, did absolutely nothing with it, leaving it to fall into ruin. It was a shame to see some of the beautiful old houses around the city, some not far from the centre, being allowed become derelict in that way. Ultimately this meant the local planning authority had no option but to allow their owners knock them down and build more valuable houses on the site. That was a crying shame, a blight on our society which must be eliminated. I know that my party will do their best in that endeavour.

There are also sites owned by Government or semi-State bodies. Sometimes they contend that, while they own such property or sites they do not know to what use they will put them. They are allowed to leave such premises idle or sites unused. That cannot be allowed to continue. They must decide to use such premises, putting forward plans for their use, showing how such plans will be funded and within what period. I agree with the Minister that any Government Department owning such property must stipulate what they intend doing with it and, if it is not the intention to use it immediately, they must dispose of it. Even if they have plans within ten or 15 years for is usage — in order to expand some service they provide — that should not give them the right to hold on to it. They must be forced to sell such property or sites at their market value. If, in ten or 15 years they require other properties or lands, they will have to buy them on the open market.

I note that the Minister said that other Government Ministers would not be directly responsible in regard to derelict sites. I have no doubt but that the Minister — if he decides that something should be done — will make forceful representations within the Cabinet. It has been my experience that whenever a problem seemed to be the responsibility of two Government Departments it was easily resolved between them. I might give the example of a recent bad fire in North Brunswick Street school when I met the Ministers for Education and Health. At that time the Minister for Health was the owner of the old St. Lawrence's or Richmond Hospital. Within three or four days of my asking he allowed the school move into the hospital premises on a short term basis. Political parties or public representatives should bring pressure to bear in relation to such matters because it is in the interests of the community as a whole.

This Bill presents an opportunity for us to look at the overall planning and development of this capital city. Perhaps public representatives, planners and Ministers should examine the city as a whole, ascertaining what development is possible. This would mean that, when approached by prospective developers, we would be able to say to them: this is what we would like to see developed on, say, the Quays, Gardiner Street or wherever and, if you move in to effect such development, you will have our co-operation as long as you comply with the requisite statutory regulations.

It is about time that planners acted on rather than reacted to developments. We should be able to restore this great city to its original state, resolving any problems that may arise with regard to prospective developments and their funding. Indeed taxpayers would not be tolerant of our wasting funds which are scarce at present. There is no doubt that, throughout our society there is need for money for all types of developments. We should bear in mind also that there are Regional Funds at our disposal which could be used for the elimination of certain derelict buildings and sites. We should ensure that certain types of buildings are not left derelict for one reason or another.

Protected buildings, for instance, cannot be touched but through neglect they often fall into dereliction. St. George's Church, off Dorset Street, is a most beautiful building which was constructed in 1814 or thereabouts. We wonder where we can get funds to maintain the church. There is no point in just maintaining the outer structure. We must maintain the interior as well. There are a number of old churches, particularly Church of Ireland churches in the inner city where the population has dwindled, and there is a problem in maintaining them. Many are falling into disrepair and are becoming derelict. It is time we looked at that problem within the ambit of this Bill. As a member of Dublin Corporation who has worried for a number of years as to how we would handle the pockets of dereliction around the city, I am delighted that this Bill has been introduced.

I thank the Minister for introducing this Bill which I have no doubt will be successful. I am sure any problems associated with it will be sorted out during the course of Committee Stage.

Deputies Kemmy and O'Brien rose.

Deputy Kemmy, I understand there is an arrangement about the numbers. In accordance with the agreement of the House, I must call a Member——

Is it possible for me to get some time on this Bill?

I appreciate that Deputy Kemmy has been waiting some time and I assure the Deputy that after the next Government speaker, I will be happy to call him.

Thank you very much.

I welcome this Bill which has been pending for some time. Although the last speaker thanked the Minister for introducing it, I doubt if we would have had this legislation as quickly before us without my colleague Deputy Boland having introduced a Private Members' Bill quite recently. No doubt that prompted the Minister to introduce this Bill.

For a long time now we have all been complaining about dereliction particularly in urban areas and we have complained that we have not the law which would enable us to take the necessary action to develop sites which had been left in a disgraceful condition. I hope this Bill will enable us to solve dereliction problems by imposing on landowners the responsibility to ensure that their land or property does not cause dereliction problems.

I note that a register is to be kept by the local authority. It is well known that one of the biggest offenders with regard to derelict sites are local authorities. They will now oversee their own derelict sites by looking after the register in which their names will figure prominently. Who will oversee the local authorities? I hope the Minister will ensure that they are not excused if they say that they have not got the money to do what they want to do with regard to derelict sites. That would not be good enough. There is no point in penalising a landowner for adopting the same attitude as the local authorities.

The local authorities will have to give leadership and will have to show that they intend to develop the property they own. When I was in the Department we gave fair-sized incentives to the local authorities to deal with dereliction but they did not do enough to combat the problem. If I were in the Department again I would set up separate authorities for this work rather than giving it to the local authorities. I set up the Customs House Docks Authority and we can all see how quickly they moved on the 27 acres involved. Much more land by way of special incentive was given to the local authorities but it has not been developed as quickly or with the same energy and ingenuity. Perhaps the local authorities do not see this as their job. It might be better to set up an authority with a lifespan of from three to five years. In the way we could quickly eradicate much of the dereliction.

We need only look at the quays and some of the north inner city of Dublin to realise what I am talking about. We gave incentives to the local authorities to try to deal with that dereliction and to date not much has been done. I know there was opposition, for instance, to the setting up of a streets commission which I thought was a good idea. I know that local authorities object to these sorts of ideas but such a move would have been a move in the right direction. Local authorities have an important role to play but we should not be afraid to set up new authorities to do specific jobs if we think it is necessary. I know there is the fear that it is very hard to dismantle an authority that has been set up but in the future I visualise the establishment of authorities with a limited life to ensure that cities and large urban areas are kept in good order.

Dublin has much charm and a long history. It has many great buildings but if they are allowed to disintegrate there will be an order to knock them and, possibly, subsequent bad development. Dereliction affects not just land but buildings. Frequently one sees in the middle of a very nice row of houses a couple of derelict houses which are just rotting away for whatever reason. There is a grave need to ensure that owners of such property are made to do something about it. We see dereliction in areas which are now bedsit areas with railings pulled asunder and plastic refuse bags just thrown there. In any legislation we should be concerned about how our cities and towns look. I am concerned with buildings and I feel that there should be a reasonably good incentive given to ensure that listed buildings and buildings of merit are kept in good repair. In Paris, for instance, one must decorate one's property every so often. That is not a bad idea. From the landlord's point of view the property is kept in good condition, and from a general environmental point of view, the property does not become derelict.

It is provided in this Bill that if the landlord does not maintain his property the local authority will have to move in and do it and put a charge on the property. That is important but the fee that is charged must be a reasonably substantial one, and we are talking about it being based on market values. I hope that such fees as are collected in this way are recycled to enable people to improve property, to give some sort of incentive, particularly in designated areas because as buildings get older the cost of maintaining them becomes a major problem. We could probably use the tax system to encourage ongoing repair and refurbishment of properties.

I am glad to say I have noticed a general improvement in Dublin in the past few years. I am happy with the improvement and I feel this Bill will be a big help. The development market is getting better and the planning process should be looked at. Too often there are objections, some very frivolous. There should be a way of dealing with third party objections if they are being made just for the sake of objecting. If a development is not in line with the general streetscape I am all in favour of taking action. However, developers should not be impeded from putting up good developments.

Public bodies own a large slice of derelict properties. Who will find them or push them into doing something? For too long nothing has been done in this area. The Minister should look at this and be very strict with local authorities who are not bringing forward derelict sites for development. If such sites are not brought forward for development in a particular period they should be obliged to sell the property to people who are prepared to do something. It is not good enough to say that they may be building a road there in 20 years' time. Road engineers naturally dream about roads and take great satisfaction out of planning magnificent roadways; roads are needed but often we are talking about 20 and 25 years in the future.

One can see the dereliction in places like Clanbrassil Street and Cork Street. One only has to look at Parnell Street and North King Street where there is a lot of dreadful dereliction in a very quaint part of Dublin, a part of Dublin that would look really magnificent if it were treated properly because it still has the old character about it. There is this dead hand put on. For example, in 1905 we started talking about widening High Street but it was only widened about ten years ago. That is the sort of timescale we are talking about, so there will be a lot of dereliction. We see the gaps and they are terrible, but look at all the shop-fronts and buildings that are propped up. We are told this is because there will be road widening. There must be a better way to plan road structures, of getting on with it and coming up with a nice streetscape in line with whatever proposals are there. I know that goods and serivces have to be moved and, therefore, roads are necessary.

Havoc has been wreaked on towns and cities throughout the country by the sterilisation of vast areas because of road proposals. Local authorities draw up maps and draw up plans to build roads but it can take 20 or 30 years before the work is actually done. Local authorities are responsible for this dereliction we are talking about. They should improve the image of urban areas in particular. I am not saying that there is no dereliction in rural areas; there is but it is much easier to deal with. I hope this legislation will be passed, that it will be taken seriously and that it will be implemented by the local authorities.

In many cases the development of a site takes time, but during that period the area should look reasonably well. Quite near where I live, on Charlemont Street, there is a site which has been overgrown for a number of years and looked dreadful, but recently work has begun to clean up that site. Dereliction is like a disease; it tends to move from one area to another. People are not inclined to develop the area beside a derelict site because that site takes from the value of their property. Hopefully when we start improving these areas it will encourage people to come in and develop the area.

I welcome this Bill which is long overdue. Some changes will be needed and I hope on Committee Stage the Minister will look favourably on our amendments. It is not a political Bill or one with which we would be seen to score points. We want to improve it and to ensure it is on the Statute Book as soon as possible. As public representatives who had an interest in this area over the years, we want to monitor the progress of the legislation and to see that it operates in a reasonably fair way. This legislation is not meant to hound landowners but to remind them that they have a responsibility and a role to play in the purchase and development of land. If public bodies do not intend using the land in their possession, they should be encouraged to dispose of it so that it can be developed by the private sector.

In my constituency a number of houses have been allowed to go into decay. When we go to the local authority they say there is nothing they can do about it because it is private property and to interfere with it would be unconstitutional. We have been hearing these hairy arguments for years. The local authorities should be able to put a charge on property and do what is necessary to develop it so that life will not be miserable for people in the area who are trying to maintain their property.

I welcome this legislation and I hope it will be successful, but the Minister will have to keep an eye on the local authorities. As soon as the legislation is passed the local authorities should implement it and the Minister and his Department should monitor progress from time to time.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to express my support and admiration for this Bill, the Derelict Sites Bill, 1989. My only regret is that legislation such as this did not come before this House many years ago. Had legislation such as this been on our Statute Book many years ago, the Irish countryside, the rural and urban environment, would be in a far healthier state. We would have fewer eyesores to desecrate the landscape and many fine features to adorn it.

However, ours is a land rich in those features which make for healthy and pleasant living in landscapes that are the envy of other nations. I mention other nations with particular emphasis as I believe that it is our undoubted environmental quality that bring visitors to our shores to boost our tourist trade. I am equally sure that our clean green image is the keenest and most acknowledged feature that enhances the attractiveness of our high quality food exports.

While I have expressed regret that legislation such as the Derelict Sites Bill, 1989, is only coming before us at this time, I wish to congratulate the Minister for this comprehensive and well constructed instrument which I am sure will be acknowledged in time by posterity as the key piece of legislation which protected for them their birth-right as reflected in our environmental heritage.

I would like also at this stage to pay a well deserved compliment to Bord Fáilte for the great work of national consciousness raising they have brought about through the institution of the National Tidy Towns Competition. Bord Fáilte, through the aegis of this nationwide annual focus on the visual and physical environment, have done a service to the nation of incalculable value. This Bill will bring great joy and satisfaction to the thousands of voluntary workers who over the years of the Tidy Towns Competition have reduced the levels and evidence of dereliction in their various communities. Taken in conjunction with other legislation in litter control, planning, pollution control, toxic waste control and other legislation with environmental protection features, it brings us further along the road of environmental integrity.

This Bill has overtones and features which will be appreciated by the professional staffs of local authorities throughout the country. It will be equally appreciated and welcomed by the elected representatives of county councils, borough corporations, urban district councils and town commissioners. In recent years local authorities have complained loudly, and sometimes bitterly, about what they perceived as an erosion of their powers. They have similarly expressed disappointment at the lack of effective legislative provisions in areas of environmental control such as the containment of the activities of ruthless and well advised developers who skipped and side-stepped existing directives in a shameless pursuit of profits and others who indiscriminately scattered the wastes of manufacturers and processes on lands convenient to their places of activity.

This Bill gives real power to local authorities. It has the necessary measures enshrined in its provisions to enable local authorities to effectively deal with the offenders by way of immediate deterrent or subsequent sanction.

I do not have to draw the attention of this House to the necessity for this legislation. We are all too familiar with environmental black spots in our towns, cities, villages and the countryside in general. Neither rural nor urban landscapes have escaped the scourge of dereliction.

In urban areas deliberately planned dereliction has been used as a tool by a minority of unscrupulous developers. First, an area of potential development is identified. Then a plan is drawn up to put together a portfolio of exploitable properties. At the earliest opportunity a property is acquired. The property is left unoccupied and vandalism is encouraged rather than prohibited. Then the roof is removed to ensure all sorts of laudable objectives couched in terms of public safety. The roofless structure has the twofold effect of generally reducing property values in the area and of spreading decay to adjoining properties so that they are soon vacated, sold and added to the portfolio. This process of planned dereliction can take a long time before the objective of a complete portfolio is attained. Right across the city, north, south, east and west, you can see fine streets decimated in this way. You can see it in Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway or any other place you care to mention. It is essentially an anti-social procedure that local authorities were up to this time virtually powerless to control. I would urge local authorities everywhere to use section 10 of the Derelict Sites Bill, 1989, to curb and eliminate this dubious practice. In fact, if the Bill did nothing more than prevented portfolio building by the strategy of planned deliberate dereliction if would be well worth while.

Under section 11 the duty of reasonable action falls upon the local authority and section 12 outlines the power of local authorities to take action directly or require the owner or occupier to do so. It would be very difficult for a local authority to implement their powers under this section if they were remiss in any respect in their duty as owner, or occupier, of lands in their own control. This Bill is a real double edged sword from which there is no escape. The power of the Minister in section 13 should prove an effective brake on local authorities whose lands fall short of the requirements and aims of the Bill.

There are in all our towns and cities substantial buildings, former institutions, factory premises and the like, no longer in use. Up to this time such premises have been allowed to fall into utter disrepair and dereliction. In many cases these are old stone buildings of great character and it would be a pity if under the terms of this Bill there was a headlong rush to demolish them. Demolition is not necessarily the best remedy for derelict buildings and consideration should always be given to the possibility of restoration and potential use. Such buildings might well be ideal places to house crafts centres or to convert to enterprise centres to stimulate local manufacture and employment. To encourage this I believe that the provisions of "section 27 relief" should be extended at little or not cost to the Exchequer to cover the refurbishment of buildings such as old mills, warehouses, institutions etc. Instead of bringing in the JCB and tools of demolition the owner should be encouraged to refurbish the buildings to provide work space, or other units for small scale productive enterprise on such leasehold terms as would allow the owner to recoup in time his outlay by writing off the capital costs against rents accruing from the development.

I say this from experience as a coordinator of an employment group in my own town of Malahide and from my experience of many other groups in my constitutuency of Dublin North, for example, groups in Skerries, Balbriggan and Portmarnock where the biggest problem they have as enterprise groups and employment community groups is finding a building for the various activities. There are plenty of good ideas and of energy but the problem if that they cannot find suitable properties in their own community, yet we can all identify these properties in our towns. If there was the right incentive private investors would invest in these properties and would play their part.

In simple terms the refurbishment and development of a centre used for the provision of work space, incubator units or short term lease space used for productive enterprises through a write-off of capital costs against rents accruing from the development or, preferably, against other rental income, on the basis that the rent would not accrue unless such money is spent, there is no loss to the Exchequer. I believe this should assist in the current commendable attempts to stamp out the black economy by ensuring that a proper environment is made available to small businesses who are willing to comply with PAYE, PRSI and VAT regulations and become part of the tax system.

The objective of channelling available risk funding away from non-productive investment into job creating projects will also be greatly assisted. The tax amnesty has proved that if you give an incentive people will respond. I would ask the Minister to look into this proposal to see if in the immediate term, or even in the future, it is worth pursuing.

The Minister has wisely redefined the term "derelict site". The restrictive definition in the 1961 Act led to a situation where a process of progressive decay had to be tolerated up to a point where the offending "land" or structure was in a dilapidated or dangerous condition before it could be deemed to fall into the definition laid down by the Act. Under section 6 of this Bill, the 1961 Derelict Sites Act is repealed and the new definition which allows action to be taken in cases of incipient dereliction is to make for the effective control of dereliction. I would suggest that local authorities, in addition to setting up a register of derelict sites, should also hold a register of marginal properties which they would keep under review. Owners of such properties would be informed of the penalties and restrictions to which they would be subjected in the event of further dereliction of their said properties.

The Bill does not lay down in strict blow by blow terms how this register shall be compiled nor does it essentially limit the extent and detail it might usefully contain. In compiling the register it might be useful if local authorities included details of construction and known former uses of the structure or other details which would be of interest to historians, social geographers and other professionals. Such detail, apart from its value in purely scholarship terms, would also be of interest to genealogical researchers or former generation Irish in search of their roots. We have been lax in the past in recording our heritage, and since habitations and the derelict sites of habitations provide such useful background information we should see the opportunity value of this nature in the compilation of the register.

The marking of the sites on the ordnance maps of the district would also be of benefit. The cross reference enabled by all of this would facilitate future research, bearing in mind that genealogical research is easily harnessed as a tourism incentive. It might be useful if the Bill directed the local authorities to review this register on an annual basis and to invite inspection of the register by way of public notice at a given time following this annual review. A copy of the register might be made available at an appropriate public office during this period, such as perhaps at a public library, as we review our planning lists weekly. In addition to the desirability of informing the owner as is provided for in the Bill there is merit in wider publication of entries to inform other citizens who might be careless of their civic duty in regard to lands in their care. There is a process in place to redress their negligence even to the point of compulsory acquisition under the terms of section 16 of the Bill or the penalties laid down in sections 28 and 29.

Section 26 allows for a bond in lieu of the levy subject to a guarantee of completion of development within five years where the derelict land is part of a developmental scheme. In the interests of maintaining an attractive visual environment I would like to see some on-going maintenance provisions being a part of the five year concession. Development work is more usual and indeed more likely to be offensive in urban areas. The cumulative impact of such developments on tourism in key areas is a matter for concern and protracted tolerance of dereliction is undesirable.

Having been associated with Malahide tidy towns committee for many years I am very pleased indeed with the definition of "derelict site" in section 4. Having attended the annual prizegiving of the Bord Fáilte competition on the five occasions when Malahide was awarded the distinction of tidiest large town I had the pleasure of meeting with representatives of tidy towns committees from all over Ireland. In discussions with them it always became immediately clear that derelict sites were the major problems encountered by them in their local areas. Their frustration at the powerlessness they felt in the face of this ugly menace became immediately evident.

The definition of derelict site in section 4 encompasses comprehensively the matters of greatest concern as expressed by this important representative group of voluntary community workers. The definition includes the visual, and the physical components of dereliction, decay and neglect. It is sufficiently wide and clear to make for the easy identification of sites deemed to be offensive under the terms of the Bill and the excellent co-operation which has always existed between tidy towns committees and their respective local authorities will be greatly facilitated. Persons actively engaged in their own community area are usually acutely aware of cases of incipient dereliction because they notice the progressive deterioration from its earliest stages. This gives added impact and effectiveness to sections 11 and 12.

It has also been noted by those concerned with the physical environment that neglected sites invite more neglect and quickly become tipheads where unthinkable people dump household rubbish thus compounding the neglect and dereliction. Thus one can see that the notion of incipient neglect is a very important feature of this Bill.

I would like to comment on a point raised by the previous speaker on road reservations. I believe it is time that the Minister made provision in the Planning Acts for temporary permissions. In giving temporary permissions, I am thinking of permissions based on community needs, such as a scouts den, crèches, or for community use. As has been outlined by the previous speaker, this can often lead to a ten or 20 year road reservation with various problems pertaining to it.

There is no doubt that in the future, service employment will be a very important factor. Tourism is at the heart of service employment so, in effect, this Bill is also a tourism measure. There is nothing more disheartening for an hotelier, restauranteur or housewife with a bed and breakfast facility to find that the approach to their premises is marred by an ugly eyesore. At a time when world attention is more and more directed to the quality of the environment and when the quality and purity of foodstuffs is the supreme marketing focus, it is most appropriate, timely and opportune that we should in this House be putting on our Statute Book a Bill which has such impact on these factors. It should be greatly welcomed.

I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Flynn, the Minister of State, Deputy Connolly and the Department on the fact that over the past month we have seen the introduction of this Bill, the Water Pollution Bill and in the budget we have seen the provision of moneys for the recycling of waste and for improvements to major beaches. In my view this is all in the interests of the environment, tourism and the food industry and in the interests of the country as a whole. I certainly welcome this Bill.

This is an important Bill and I welcome it. I believe it is important to sketch in the background which has made it necessary. It has been said with some accuracy that one's first impression of a place is lasting. It is unfortunate that a first impression is lasting because sometimes it can be erroneous. Tourists, be they native or foreign, form an impression when they get to a place for the first time. In the case of Ireland, our cities, towns and villages are the windows through which people view our country. When people leave our shores they take with them an impression of our buildings and this leaves an indelible impression on them. Certain buildings are synonymous with certain parts of the country, for example, if they visit Limerick they will see King John's Castle, St. Mary's Cathedral, the Walls of Limerick or the Treaty Stone. In Northern Ireland they will see the Giant's Causeway. They may have seen Blarney Castle and if they visited Dublin they will see the fine buildings in the city such as the GPO, the Mansion House or Dáil Éireann. These buildings form an indelible impression in a person's mind and become synonymous with the country.

We have buildings of character, antiquity, distinctiveness and style; we should be proud of them and do what we can to preserve them. There has been some terrible vandalism down the country and many fine buildings were demolished sometimes by so-called patriots and sometimes through carelessness by people who should have known better. However, we will leave that point for the present.

Having made the point about our fine buildings, there are far too many derelict sites with ruined buildings which disfigure our cities, towns and villages. This Bill is meant to correct the legacy of dereliction. As I have said, it is a useful Bill but there is room for improvement. It is an improvement on past legislation but with some changes it could be made a better Bill. I welcome many of its provisions. It contains two important improvements: first, it requires that a register be kept by local authorities and this would mean that public representatives and the public could go to the register and see the extent of derelict sites in their area; secondly, State property may be included in the register, but the operative word is "may" and the Minister may — and again the operative word is "may"— direct any such State body to dispose of such land or otherwise develop it.

Public bodies such as the Office of Public Works, State Departments or local authorities should give an example in this respect. There is no point in coming here as public representatives and castigating private developers, as I will be doing soon, without looking at the mote in our own eye. We have nothing to boast about. Indeed, the Office of Public Works presides over derelict sites in many parts of the country which I could name, but I will not do so as it may become wearisome to list them out. Similarily, State Departments and local authorities have nothing to boast about in this respect. It is important that we ourselves set a good example.

As the Bill is drafted, the Minister may, if he so chooses, and without recourse, unfortunately, to a public hearing permit a local authority to compulsorily acquire a derelict site. I believe the Minister should have left it open to discretion, that these sites should be the subject of a public hearing and that the Minister should base his decision on the outcome of a public hearing. That would be fair and would be seen to be fair. The Minister should also set a definite timescale for the process of acquisition. If this matter is to be left totally in the Minister's hands, it is probable that no decision will be taken in contentious areas or controversial cases.

The provision for valuing sites and imposing taxes as a proportion of the valuation is also welcome, but I believe that instead of valuing sites every five years as provided for in the Bill, the sites should be valued every year. I believe that this could be open to abuse. For example, if an area were due for redevelopment, an owner could cheerfully pay a tax on the derelict site and wait until the site increased in value before disposing of it, thus making a handsome profit. If at all possible we should seal off this loophole.

On the question of bonding of sites which are expected to become part of a larger development, I believe there is a big loophole which is open to exploitation. If the value of the bond is not based on recent values, the tax payable could in certain circumstances be deferred for ten years and paid at the values of ten years previously. I submit this would entirely negative the intention of the Bill. One reason we have had so much dereliction in our towns and cities is that local authorities have not had the powers to compulsorily acquire these sites in the past. I believe that local authorities should have had these powers and should have been able to acquire these sites giving the owners a fair and reasonable price. If I had power in this matter I would have the powers given to local authorities to pay the owner a fair and reasonable price if he did not develop the site within a five year period. The local authority could then develop the land, perhaps by building bungalows for old people, who are now often sent out to outlying estates where they are open to crime and vandalism. Indeed, we could enhance our cities by building bungalows for old people in the derelict areas. As another option, the local authorities could sell the land to commercial interests. This power is to remain in the Minister's hands. However, I believe he should delegate it to the local authorities and there is no reason to believe they would act irresponsibly.

I am not happy with another aspect of the Bill. The Minister is repealing some legislation but it appears he will only be bringing in part of the new legislation. That is not good enough. For example, some of the building regulations are still not implemented 25 years after enactment. That is not just good enough. There is no reason whatsoever that the Minister should introduce this Bill in a selective and piecemeal manner. All the provisions are important and should be introduced together as soon as possible.

Section 12 which gives powers to local authorities to carry out certain works on derelict sites and to recover the cost from the owner is not amended in any great way from previous legislation. Experience has shown me, unfortunately, that as a member of a local authority it is notoriously difficult to get owners of derelict sites to pay the costs the local authority incurred in making a dangerous building safe. I see little hope of getting those owners to pay any cost that would be involved. I would like to see the Minister giving more powers to local authorities to use their discretion in this matter and to enable them to recover the cost in a prompt manner.

I am also unhappy about a provision in section 24 of the Bill. Money owed by an owner of a derelict site may be waived if such an owner cleans up the site. This provision is far too loose and should be tightened up because an owner who gives a cat's lick to a site could have all his costs waived. That is not good enough and we should not allow that to happen. I believe the Minister has too much discretion on the amount of levy that should be imposed on the owners of derelict sites. This is not good enough.

If the Minister had added a few words to section 31 (2) of the Bill he could have provided for important archaeological and historical excavations to be carried out on certain derelict sites thus preventing possible holdups on these sites when building operations commence. The addition of a few words to this section if important historical finds were made on these derelict sites, would have a twofold purpose: first, it would enable the sites to be excavated and the finds brought to the surface could be presented to the National Museum, and secondly, it would stop possible delays afterwards in sensitive areas where excavations will have to take place in any case. By adding a few words to the Bill we could do an awful lot in this area and by using our intelligence and common sense we could get over any difficulties. This section is far too loose and the power to waive costs should rest in the hands of local authorities. They are the best people to judge; they know when costs should be waived.

It has been said in the past that Irish people are visually lazy and even illiterate and that for all our creative skills in writing we do not use our eyes in a way that would enable us to see some of the blackspots on our landscapes. It is 67 years since this State was founded and it has taken that time to bring this Bill before the House. It is a sad reflection on us as a people that this amount of time should have passed before the introduction of such a Bill and it is an indictment of successive Governments and public representatives of all shades that this should be so.

As I have said, I welcome this Bill but because of the manner in which it has been drafted and the powers the Minister has vested in himself, the success of the Bill will depend on how serious and determined the Minister is in enforcing it and giving effect to its measures. If the Minister is serious and determined in ensuring that this Bill is implemented, it could transform our society and our cities, towns and villages. This is a very important Bill. The acid test of this Bill will not be its passage through the Dáil — I believe its passage will be fairly smooth and the debate to date has been very enlightened — but the elimination of derelict sites and their replacement by buildings of character and distinction. This is what the Bill is all about and I hope that this objective will be realised as soon as possible.

Derelict sites are a familiar sight in many of the cities and towns in Ireland, but in dealing with dereliction I want to concentrate mainly on Dublin because I am most familiar with the effects of dereliction on our capital city.

Dublin is a very old city and for those of us born and reared in it, it is a very beautiful city. However, on closer inspection one can pick out the areas of decay which have accumulated over the years. Most of the present inner city buildings of Dublin are pre-Georgian and were built in the 1600s and 1700s — as far as South Richmond Street and the South side and the North Strand area of the North side. In the 1800s and early 1900s the Georgian and Victorian buildings and squares were built. When the original owners of these houses passed away, they were inhabited in the main by very large working class families, some of whom were very poor and lived in cramped conditions and one would often have heard of very large family units living in one room. There was little or no maintenance carried out on these buildings.

When Dublin Corporation started to build housing schemes in the inner suburbs of Dublin in the thirties and forties to rehouse these people many of these buildings became redundant. Some were turned into offices and small factories, and those which remained in private residents were no longer viable as the rates on them were very high.

In 1977 Fianna Fáil removed the rates on such houses but it was too late to save large areas of the city as the bulk of the new middle classes were on the move to the rapidly expanding suburbs, thus depleting the number of people living in the inner city. In the years that followed the businesses, factories and service industries which had used these buildings started to evacuate them in favour of the newer more modern buildings in the industrial estates of the suburbs. These industrial estates provided more space, better and safer parking and better access to the main road networks to the north, south and west of the country. This left in the inner city of Dublin, both on the north and south side, a considerable number of old properties, closed up, derelict or turned into slums or flatland. Georgian structures which were poorly maintained have resulted in once fine buildings coming to the end of their lifespan.

Restricted or rent controlled tenancies meant that landlords spend nothing, if possible, or very little on the maintenance of their properties, thus in the long run cutting the lifespan of the buildings. Wet rot, dry rot and rising damp became rampant. The foundations and basement walls of most of the imposing granite and fine brick based Georgian buildings in the city were built in black stone from the Dublin mountains, which is notorious for soaking water.

In the forties and fifties, but mainly in the sixties and seventies, property developers and development companies started to buy old properties with the intention of amassing over a period, usually many years, a valuable development site or sites which resulted in one, two, three and more houses in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and other cities and many country town streets and terraces — and sometimes whole streets — being left derelict for years, causing a blight on hundreds of streets, terraces and squares around the country which has continued until this day. The acquired plots would eventually fall into the hands of property tycoons, and would-be tycoons, and we have seen the results of this all around us in Dublin. The results are the developments which have taken place since — for example, Hawkins House, D'Olier Street, O'Connell Bridge, Nassau Street, Lower Mount Street, Baggot Street, FÁS, St. Martin's House, Bank of Ireland Headquarters, Mespil Road, Burgh Quay, Westland Row, Aungier Street, Clare Street, etc.

There are many contradictory opinions as to the taste of these developments, and I would have a more critical opinion, but that is not to say that taste has been forgotten in some of the ventures which have taken place, for example, the Ballast office on Westmoreland Street, the mock Georgian terraces on Lower Leeson Street, Edmond Farrell House on St. Stephen's Green East, the retained facade of the Methodist Hall on the south side of the Green, and the concern shown for the retention of past craftsmanship by the Irish Civil Service Building Society in removing the signs of posters from their fine sandstone building at the apex of Westmoreland Street and D'Olier Street beside O'Connell Bridge. Other derelict sites have been redeveloped to follow modern trends and prove that our cities are not behind the times. A few good examples are Busaras, the American Embassy, the Central Bank and the EBS head office in Westmoreland Street.

Present dereliction in Dublin can be seen on the quays, North and South, the South inner city, the North inner city, as well as various infill stretches all over the city and suburbs, but dereliction affects all cities in Ireland and most if not all, country towns and villages. Some of the main reasons I see as a cause of dereliction are property development, lack of proper maintenance by owners or occupiers, people who die intestate leaving property, and road development plans of local authorities. Dublin's road development plan goes back to the fifties, and the results of this can be seen in the city quays, both North and South, and in my constituency in streets such as Clanbrassil Street, New Street, Patrick Street and Cork Street. All of these have been affected by the local authority road development plans which have caused whole streets to become ghost streets.

Lack of population in the inner city is also to blame. People have moved over the years to the suburbs of cities and towns as they have become more affluent. Planning wrangles and recessions which make people hold on to derelict sites until better times come along are also factors. The fact that car parks are a viable proposition when there is a shortage of car parking in cities and towns also play a part.

Derelict property affects tourism. One can imagine how the tourist feels on being driven from Dublin Airport into Dublin city for the first time, through Gardiner Street, Mountjoy Square, City Quay or the Liberties. To see so much of the capital city falling apart would make anybody want to leave Dublin as quickly as possible. Derelict sites also attract cider parties and other anti-social activities. Old structures can be a danger to life and limb and a number of deaths and very serious accidents have occurred over the years because of these buildings. Such buildings are unsightly and have a depressing effect on the people who live in the areas or pass through them.

Local authorities and Government are powerless at the moment to deal effectively with this terrible blight on the landscape. Local authorities are sometimes hindered in finding the owners of derelict sites or buildings that are old or in a dangerous condition, owing to the property being under a limited company or an offshore company name, or because of the use of nominee directors. All of us as public representatives have come across such cases. I want to make the point here that the incentives being made available to developers and property owners in the designed areas are working to help to clear some of the problems and I hope to see these designated areas extended in the near future.

A good point of the Bill is the register that will be invaluable to the local authorities concerned, to monitor effectively the use, intentions and the progress of work on derelict sites. The levy will ensure that the number of such derelict sites will be reduced, thus helping to improve our environment. The levy is not greater than 10 per cent of the market value of the derelict site and the owners or occupiers can appeal to the Valuations Tribunal established by the Valuation Act of 1988. Valuation of the derelict site will be made at the point of its being on the register and at five yearly intervals thereafter. When the site is no longer derelict the portion of levy paid for the year will be returned. The fewer sites left derelict, the more building jobs are created. This has an overall benefit on the economy as a whole.

The provision of a bond from developers allows them to enter into an agreement with their local authorities whereby a derelict site which is part of a proposed development or future development by them is exempt from payment of a derelict site levy for five years until completion of the project. If the project is not completed within five years payment of the levy for the full five years will be made on the derelict site.

The Bill will place a duty on owners and occupiers of land, including statutory bodies, to prevent the land from becoming derelict or from continuing to be a derelict site. The Bill provides for improved procedure for the compulsory acquisition of derelict land by local authorities, thus increasing the possibility of its being developed by others. The Bill's purpose is for the better use of land and not to raise additional revenue. It will mean improvement of our towns and cities and our environment and, most important, it will be for the benefit of the people now and in the future.

I welcome this Bill. The 1961 Derelict Sites Act has operated with a good degree of success. Property owners in general have co-operated in acting on foot of notices served on them. There are, of course, some obvious weaknesses in that 1961 Act. The Bill before the Dáil contains some welcome provisions, such as the imposition of a levy on sites which are not being maintained or developed and the improvement of the powers of local authorities to deal with derelict sites. The inclusion of structures in the definition of derelict sites is welcome, as are the additional enforcements and acquisition powers proposed. In my constituency there is not a serious problem of derelict sites, with approximately only 20 acres of vacant land in the Cork city area. Cork is benefiting in recent times under the designated areas scheme and property owners are responding positively. In association with this Bill, an extension of the time limits, together with a judicious review of the geographic boundaries, will further encourage development and enhance the urban fabric.

There are two separate designated areas in Cork city. The larger area of 81 acres is generally in the south and west of the commercial core and includes the South Parish, the Marsh area and part of Shandon Street. A small area of 18 acres is located to the north of the city at Blackpool. Development in the larger of the designated areas has been modest. There are a number of significant projects nearing completion or in progress. These include the construction of apartments and offices at South Terrace and the construction of apartments and a commercial area in the old fire station at Sullivan's Quay. In both of these schemes, Cork Corporation have been able to assist with site assembly.

The success of the South Terrace development has generated considerable interest which is expected to produce further developments in this area. The old fire station and South Terrace developments have demonstrated that apartments can be marketed successfully in the city centre at price levels which make such development economic. As there is no tradition of apartment construction in the centre of Cork, property market circles were somewhat sceptical of the prospects for this type of development. Such demonstration projects are important and there are already indications that the removal of this psychological barrier will generate further apartment construction inside, and probably also outside, the designated areas.

Cork Corporation have disposed of a site at Cove Street for a small scheme of private houses and are involved in a joint venture scheme with the National Building Agency and Michael O'Halloran Limited, Builders, for the construction of apartments and houses at White Street. It is also expected that a joint venture housing scheme for about four houses will be constructed at St. John's Park in co-operation with Share, the Schoolboys' Charitable Housing project. Cork Corporation have provided family houses and accommodation for old people in a very fine urban renewal project at Grattan Street. Another area of Cork city where development has been assisted by the designated areas scheme is Washington Street. These buildings have been refurbished for offices. A number of other projects in the designated area are at planning stage.

Housing is an important sector for the Cork designated areas because prospects for conventional commercial development are less good than in other areas. The very large Merchant's Quay development limits the scope for other major shopping developments. A situation in which major developments like Merchants Quay can go ahead outside the designated area is obviously much healthier than one in which such developments are dependent on public subsidy, because development in the Cork designated areas rests less on conventional commercial development than in the other designated areas.

The importance of tapping sources of use and demand which are new to the city centre is increased. New private housing is one such source of demand. There is also some interest being expressed in premises, in office type accommodation, or computer software operations. Multistorey car parking and related activities are also being pursued through a corporation competition at present, although the resulting development will not necessarily occur within the designated areas.

The potential of Cork's two channels is being explored through a waterfront study which will be completed shortly. The study seeks to identify areas of opportunity and new sources of useful demand which could be attracted to such areas. Much of the designated area of Cork consists of buildings requiring repairs or reconstruction rather than cleared sites and a high proportion of housing is involved. Improved incentives for the refurbishing of existing dwellings could be of benefit in the Cork designated area.

Debate adjourned.