Private Members' Business. - Derelict Sites Bill, 1989: Committee Stage (Resumed).


I move amendment No. 12:

In page 8, before section 8, to insert the following new section:

8.—(1) The expenses incurred by the Minister in the administration of this Act shall, to such extent as may be sanctioned by the Minister for Finance, be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas.

(2) Expenses under this Act of a local authority who are the council of a county shall be charged on the county (exclusive of every borough and urban district therein).".

The only new provision proposed in this amendment is under subsection (2), and this makes it clear that the expenses of a county council in administering the Bill are to be charged on the county area nett of any borough or urban district. Borough corporations and urban district councils are together with county councils for the purpose of the Bill. These urban authorities will be carrying their own administrative expenses under the Bill and it would not be appropriate for the county council to demand any contribution from them to the costs of county council administration in this instance.

The need for this provision arises from section 10 (1) of the Local Government Act, 1946, and that Act requires:

"Expenses of the council of a county shall, save where it is otherwise provided by law, be charged equally and over the whole of the county".

It is not appropriate that expenses of a county council under this Bill should be charged on this county at large basis, so the amendment is necessary to make this explicit.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 8 deleted.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 8, subsection (1) (b), lines 14 and 15, to delete "where these can be ascertained by reasonable inquiry,".

I suggest the words: "where these can be ascertained by reasonable inquiry," be deleted. It seems to me that they proffer the local authority a nebulous interpretation which would allow for easy escape. I think it is implicit that the local authority follow through on the section and that they make reasonable inquiry. If you spell it out in the manner presented in the Bill, what will happen is that people will make cursory inquiries and their interpretation of the word "reasonable" could be quite subjective. The whole purpose of the Bill is to curb dereliction and to try to tackle it seriously. To openly invite people to suggest that they have made "reasonable inquiry" is in my view tempting fate a little. I suggest that there is no need for the words and I propose that they be deleted.

Before the Minister responds, may I ask if this is a standard legal phrase; perhaps Deputy Shatter would be able to assist us in this? Is this court parlance, which has a clear interpretation? If it is not will the Minister explain why it has been inserted?

This amendment would impose a very exact requirement on local authorities in every possible case to ascertain the owner and occupier of a derelict site and not just as the section has it where these can be ascertained by reasonable inquiries. It is common knowledge that intractable problems of dereliction and underdevelopment of land can arise from land title problems. To charge local authorities in every case with getting to the bottom of those problems would be required virtually the impossible. I consider the qualifications about reasonable inquiry to be necessary and I urge those in the circumstances.

Would the Minister look at the possibility of deleting the last three words "by reasonable inquiry"? The Bill then would read: "the name and address of each owner and occupier where these can be ascertained."

I am prepared to consider that if it will tighten it up. I will ask the draftsman to have a look at it in the light of what the Deputy said.

I want to ensure that every second inquiry made by a local authority will not be made in a very halfhearted fashion, the Department being told that reasonable inquiries were made, the authority looked at the register and the name was not there, or they looked at the telephone book and the name was not there and, in effect, it would be used as an escape hatch.

With the sentiments expressed in that way I will be happy to have that considered.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 8, subsection (2), line 33, after "representations" to insert "and a file containing all representations received by the local authority following the giving of a notice under this section shall be retained by such local authority and shall be kept at the offices of the local authority and shall be available for inspection at the offices of the local authority during office hours".

This amendment proposes the addition of some words to section 9 (2). I think it will be necessary to read that and see how the amendment reads in. Section 9 (2) as contained in the Bill provides that: "Before making any entry on the register in relation to any land, the local authority shall give to any owner and occupier, where they can be ascertained by reasonable enquiry, notice of their intention to make such entry and shall consider any representations any owner or occupier may make in writing within such a period as may be specified in the notice and may either make the entry or not as they think proper having regard to such representations."

In other words, where the local authority envisage entering land on the register as being derelict, they can afford the owner of the land an opportunity to make a representation. Presumably on the basis of that representation the local authority will go ahead and proceed to enter land as a derelict site or they will not do so. If they enter the land as a derelict site under section 9 (1) the various particulars of what is being entered must feature on the register and these are listed in section 9 (1) (a) to (f). If they do not enter the land, having made an inquiry, presumably they will not have entered it as a derelict site due to the content of the representation received. There may be within a neighbourhood or area a considerable degree of concern about a piece of land and my contention is that the general public who are affected by the condition of land or a building in an area are entitled to know why a local authority refuse to enter it on a register or, having thought about entering it, decline to do so having received representations from the owner of the land.

Amendment No. 14 adds the following words to subsection (2): "and a file containing all representations received by the local authority following the giving of a notice under this section shall be retained by such local authority and shall be kept at the offices of the local authority and shall be available for inspection at the offices of the local authority during office hours." That would mean the general public would have access to representations made by the land owner in circumstances where the land owner does not succeed in having the land entered on the register and, more important, where the land owner succeeds. For example, the land owner may, in response to a local authority's approach, make promises by way of representations that particular works will be carried out in a period of time, or where there is a view that the property could in the future pose a danger to people, the landowner promises to take action. There should be a degree of public accountability in those representations.

Hear, hear.

There is a problem. If those representations are secret representations made to a local authority and undivulged to the general public, on occasions it may lead to suspicions which could put local authority officials in an unfortunate position. It could lead to suspicions that representations were made, for example, that had no substance but due, it could be alleged, to the relationship between the land owner and a local authority official, his land was not entered on the register. It would be most unfortunate that officials in a local authority who, I have no doubt, would approach this from an independent perspective should even be open to a charge of that nature.

This amendment would ensure that the nature of what is said by the landowner is made available to the general public, that there would be clear accountability on the part of the landowner to the people in the neighbourhood in the context of what is said in the representations and, if the representations have to be made available in a file, it would be open to other people who know better to come back at a later stage to the local authority and point out if representations are untruthful or inaccurate and the manner in which the local authority were misled. I hope the Minister will see this proposed amendment as a constructive contribution to ensure that the owner of a derelict site or a building in disrepair who makes representations not to be entered on the land register is aware that those representations are made by way of a public document and what he says to the local authority can be read by other people and in a sense he can be held accountable for those representations.

I hope this amendment is seen in a constructive light. In a sense, particularly in the context of decisions where the local authority do not enter a piece of land on the register, the general public have an entitlement to know the nature of the representations made that led to a local authority ultimately deciding not to enter a piece of land on the register.

I support this amendment. It is a good and useful suggestion very much in keeping with the openness with which the planning laws, for example, are operated by the local authorities at present whereby a member of the public or anyone concerned can go in and look for the file and have access to all representations. There is no good reason why these kind of representations are not kept on file. I presume in time they will be submitted to computer record and be easily and readily available. For all the reasons that have been advanced the Minister should accede to the amendment.

Let me say a brief word in support. I suggest that the Minister should consider the way in which An Bord Pleanála handle third party objections and exchanges between different parties. It is a constraint upon all participants in that process to be factual and accurate and not to blame other people for things that may not necessarily be the case. We have to assume this register and file will be open to the public. This amendment would inhibit landowners from pleading special circumstances if they felt the circumstances which they cited would be open to scrutiny by their neighbours and everybody else. It has that potential virtue.

Yes, it has some merit. I gave considerable thought to this amendment and I recognise it is a serious one. We must try to be as open as we can in dealing with matters like this and I want to go down that road. If I could I would like to put the alternative view to see if there is a basis of merit in it worth pursuing and it might be possible then to come to a conclusion.

As I see it, the effect of the amendment would be to open up to the public all representations made by landowners against the entering of their lands on the derelict sites register. I acknowledge that there is an increasing and well-founded demand for a greater degree of open Government as far as environmental issues are concerned. A draft EC directive on access to environmental information has been under consideration for some time. It will be coming before the Environmental Council before too long.

Is it likely to get support?

I think it is. While we have not yet thought it through because we have not seen the full documentation, I might support that view. I tend towards that view if it is even-handed. By way of general response to the trend, we are gradually increasing the range of environmental information available to the public through more frequent and accessible publications of data and otherwise. That is a good thing. Our planning system, embodying as it does a third party right of appeal, is already an extremely open one by comparison with the kind of planning appeal arrangements which exist in other countries. We are well advanced and are often referred to in that context in other jurisdictions. We have a good system in place where there is amazingly free access to information and documentation in regard to planning.

The administration of derelict sites control is not entirely on a par with planning. The owner of a derelict site, unlike a planning applicant, is not seeking to change the character of his land by an overt development initiative. Instead, he is falling down on his duty to maintain and care for his property. There is a distinct difference between the two. The position of the local authority is not an entirely open one. Representations under section 9 (2) will only arise where the local authority have taken theprima facie view that the land should be registered on the derelict sites register. The amendment implies that the policing of derelict sites control should in some formal way involve the public at large and not just the local authority.

Hear, hear.

I have some misgiving about the idea, principally because it could be seen in certain circumstances as oppressive in relation to an individual landowner. While for the generality of landowners it might be suitable, it may impinge on the rights of an individual in certain circumstances. It must be said that the public enjoy common law rights in relation to nuisance quite independently of this Bill. This Bill installs local authorities in a special way as guardians and protectors of the public interest in relation to derelict sites. A landowner will be in a position to make representations under section 9 (2) only where the local authority acting in the public interest haveprima facie taken the view that his land should be classified as derelict.

It does not seem that, in giving landowners the right to make representations against this assessment by the local authority, we should build in a mechanism which would open up the whole question to universal debate. The local authority say something is derelict. The owner is entitled to make representations and to have that set down. Of course a local authority in regard to a planning application have an open mind on everything until they receive the documentation on the proposed development. It is the reverse in these circumstances as far as the landowner is concerned. Theprima facie case is already in place as soon as they put him on the register, so he is entitled to make representations. Is he entitled in those circumstances to some rights that would not necessarily involve the public in policing the local authority on what they wish to do? In that narrow set of circumstances I have a little difficulty.

I hope it is the wish of the House to dispose of Committee Stage tonight. The analogy with the planning proposal which will create some kind of development, the impact of which might be negative or positive, is not necessarily valid. If you live in a terrace of houses next door to a house that is deemed to be derelict and the state of that building is causing physical interaction with your own building, or if you are living beside a derelict site infested with rats, there is a real deterioration in the enjoyment of your own property. I support Deputy Shatter's amendment wholeheartedly. If in the representations by the owner of the site deemed to be derelict by the local authority in the first instance, the landowner in defence of the state of dereliction asserts or claims that part of the reason for the state of the building is nonco-operation by other parties, perhaps including the neighbours, at least the neighbour has the right by law to refute or to gain access. That is the spirit of the amendment. Dereliction, which is passive from the point of view of the planning process, can be disastrous from the point of view of an adjoining property owner or neighbour. They have no redress in the law. To suggest that they have redress in common law is to be factual but not realistic. The cost of taking somebody to court to seek redress in that respect is very expensive.

I appreciate very much that the Minister is trying to tease this out in a constructive way. This amendment is motivated by an overall view, which I think the Minister and other Members share, that the public have a right to information about environmental matters which impinge on their day-to-day life, their well-being, their health or the enjoyment they can have within their own neighbourhood. Under this legislation local authorities will be required to do their survey and put together a register. It is inevitable that in the context of that exercise local authorities throughout the country, but particularly in urban areas where there are major problems relating to derelict sites, will receive representations from people in a neighbourhood who feel that due to the existence of a derelict site their enjoyment of their neighbourhood is being diminished.

This Bill in practical terms will not operate purely on the basis of initiatives taken by local authorities. Local authorities will be stimulated regularly into taking initiatives. They will respond to representations they receive from people who feel their life is detrimentally affected by a derelict site in their area. There is an inevitability about that. In the larger local authorities where resources are scarce and officials feel over-worked, very often the general public will act as a catalyst. The Bill may act as the catalyst for the putting together of the initial register but, as the years go by, additions to the register will be made largely as a result of contact by the general public with local authority officials or members. Individual councillors or corporation members may raise the issue of having a particular piece of land entered on the register.

The local authority will then make a decision thatprima facie it appears this land should be registered and notifies the land owner. If it then makes the decision that the land should be registered, there is a variety of information made available. It is my contention that where it makes the decision, having decided prima facie, it should communicate with the owner. If the owner then communicates with the local authority and his communication is effective in changing the decision of the local authority so that the land is not entered on the register, provided that land owner is being truthful he is in no way prejudiced by his representation being available for examination by the general public. He is only prejudiced if his representation is misleading, and in those circumstances those people who are affected by the state of his land are entitled to know what he said and, by the nature of things, will have an opportunity to correct the record by going back to the local authority. The fact that the local authority might have refrained from proceeding on one occasion does not mean it cannot reconsider the matter at a later stage. I see nothing invidious, in the context of the land owner, in having that representation made public. I can see only that this would be a means of ensuring that the maximum information is made available in the spirit of the approach being taken within the European Community, maximising information with which I am familiar and, within the spirit to which my party and other parties are committed in this House, that is the general idea of freedom of information, be it from governments or from local authorities. I see this not as impingeing on the rights of the land owners but as respecting the rights of the individual citizen to know why his local authority have made a particular decision.

I urge the Minister to accept this amendment. It is an amendment that we take seriously in our party. I would not wish to divide the House unnecessarily this evening; we have dealt with this Bill in a most constructive spirit. I suspect from the Minister's response that he was simply trying to tease out the implications on both sides. It would be my final contention that this Bill is designed to protect the general public against the impact of dereliction on their lives. The public are entitled to know what intervention from a land owner results in a local authority not taking any action. It would seem to me that the balance of advantage is to have as much information as possible made available. I urge the Minister to accept this amendment in the constructive spirit in which it was proposed and in the context of the overall approach adopted on all sides of this House, which is to provide a workable piece of legislation on which there is a degree of public accountability on the part of the local authority that ultimately makes the decisions.

The final obvious point is that if one finds one's land entered on the register, one will be subject to a levy. This is something we might come back to when dealing with the section as a whole. It is not clear under section 2 how the local authority is to deal with the representations. For example if the representation were that the person agreed his land was in an appalling condition but could not afford to pay the levy and pleaded with the local authority not to impose one and not to put the land on the register, would that sort of representation change the mind of the local authority? I do not think it is intended that it would. All I am saying is that by ensuring these representations can be made available it will also ensure that the local authorities are careful in how they assess the veracity and credibility of the representations made to them.

The Minister has expressed his concern that a developer whose land should, in the view of the local authority, be entered on the register, should be entitled to be heard privately in his or her defence. It is right that the owner should have the opportunity to make every representation to influence the ultimate decision, but if there is to be public confidence in this type of proposal, there must be access to those representations on the part of people so that they can know why a decision is not taken. There would be the gravest suspicion and lack of confidence in the whole process if that type of access did not exist. That is the primary reason we have such wide scope of access to information under the planning laws. We are dealing with a social and communal problem so it is essential that all interests are heard and considered. In the lofty hall of the City Chambers in Dublin there is a logo in stone under the statue of Mr. Drummond which proclaims that property has its duties as well as its privileges. That sums up the situation here very well. This legislation recognises that principle. Granting the right to anyone with a valid interest to inspect the register and any representations that might affect the content of the register in no way impinges on the rights of the individual but recognises the duties attaching to property, particularly that which could be considered derelict.

The essence of this legislation is to deal with a major blight that affects all of us in a visual or more direct way as articulated by Deputy Quinn. We are recognising that property does impact on the lives of people who live in the community where it is located. It would be nonsensical to, on the one hand, recognise the whole community dimension of property and, on the other hand, to seek to curtail the rights of people in relation to it.

There is one final point in regard to this. For example, in the city of Dublin the local authority itself is the proprietor of many a derelict site. I would be worried as to whether that same local authority which is the authority to compile the register and make the ultimate decisions will include its own property on the register. The Minister will have to bear that in mind. We are dealing with good legislation and it is important to maintain public confidence in it. It is inevitable that if a decision that is not welcome in a locality is taken scorn will be poured over the whole scheme if there is no access to the documentation on which the decision is based.

I urge the Minister to accede to the amendment. I do not believe it will in any way impinge on the rights and privileges of land owners to make their case but will recognise a very important social dimension.

It is always right and proper for the Minister, in areas like this, to look at both sides. Let me take the side of the landlord for a moment.

It should not be too difficult for your party.

It is not difficult for my party or indeed for me, but it is important that their point of view should be voiced just as strongly as that of the public.

I withdraw that facetious remark. It has not characterised the rest of our debate.

I took it as being in that fashion. Let me put a few questions that I think are worth reflecting upon. Should one's neighbours be involved in whether one is levied or taxed in certain circumstances? It is a question that has to be very carefully thought about. If I do exactly as has been suggested in Deputy Shatter's amendment I am involving the neighbours in the question of whether a levy is placed on their neighbour or not. That is an important question to be answered. It should also be remembered that local authorities, under their existing administrative arrangements, have the powers to communicate to the neighbours any item for clarification, if they deem it necessary, in the representations sought or the representations made. The local authorities are not, in effect, stymied under the administrative arrangements which already exist from communicating certain matters and getting further responses and documentation they deem necessary.

What is involved as a principle in the legislation is that the local authorities should police this area. I do not think we ever contemplated that we were going to involve the neighbours in the policing of it. The seeking of information is one thing and having information made available is another but an actual policing of what subsequently might or might not appear on the register should not be part of the brief of the neighbours.

Does the Minister not consider that the neighbours are directly involved as a consequence of the dereliction?

I do. They can be involved but I am saying they will not be disadvantaged by what we are doing. If the landowner wishes to plead personal reasons — he might very well have to do so in certain circumstances — reasons which might be of a personal nature, a title nature or a financial nature, he is entitled to make that case. If we take the single case of a financial nature where the person makes the case in a private and confidential way, in ordinary justice and fair play if he pleads his inability to pay could he not be assured that that would not be promulgated abroad?

Is the Minister suggesting that inability to pay would be grounds for——

No; I am not saying it would be a reason why he should not appear on the register. He might wish to make the case in a personal and confidential way but not necessarily to stop the local authority from putting him on the register. He will be put on the register whether or not his property is derelict or he is in financial difficulties. He may wish to make personal statements in his representations that he does not wish to be promulgated abroad and in fairness and common justice he should be entitled to that much confidentiality.

Similar arrangements apply under the Air Pollution Act and they do not cause difficulty. Perhaps we are going further down the road in so far as everybody looks into everybody else's pocket, everybody else's way of life and so on. The landowner is entitled to some level of confidentiality in representations he makes and that should be available. If Deputy Shatter's amendment was to become effective, I would have thought it should have followed on with other sections to indicate precisely how the public would be involved subsequently in having made the initial arrangements as regards deciding who would appear on the register. It raises a question but it does not provide any solution. It is somewhat defective in that it needs to be pursued by other sections if it is to be pursued to its finality.

I am in favour of the most extensive availability of information. I do not want it to be seen that we have infringed on the rights of the other side in this, that is, the landowner. I do not know whether I am getting any message across to the learned Deputies. I have thought about this matter and we might be going too far too soon on this matter. The neighbours have an entitlement to know what is going on and I accept that but I am not prepared to give them the right to say who will be levied or taxed. That is going beyond what is intended in the Bill and also what is intended by Deputy Shatter.

I wish to deal with the matter the Minister raised as to whether the neighbours should be involved in determining whether somebody should or should not be levied for tax. That is not what the neighbours are involved in at all. They are involved in trying to prevent dereliction within their community and trying to ensure that where there is dereliction the Act is used to force a landowner to make good the buildings he owns in order to put an end to dereliction. The taxation is incidental. It is merely levied by the local authority under the Bill, in a sense, against the recalcitrant landowner who is refusing to take the necessary action to put his land into proper shape. It is not a tax in the popular sense of being based on someone's income as a general tax.

It is an efficiency tax.

It is a form of penalty imposed on people because they have not met the necessary standard of keeping their property in good order. A person's property can be in such bad order that it diminishes the neighbours' enjoyment of their property. In other words, it can impinge on other people's property rights. It is not a question that I have a right to allow my land to go derelict. I do not have a right to allow my land to go so derelict as to devalue other people's land, to diminish their property rights and to undermine their enjoyment of their property.

It is my view that the neighbours have a definite right and entitlement to access to any information the landowner in those circumstances gave to a local authority which resulted in the local authority deciding not to include him on the register. The question of whether the person can or cannot afford to pay a levy is not relevant because, as I understand the workings of the Bill — the Minister may clarify this for me in case I am incorrect — you can be entered on the register but in a case of financial difficulty the local authority would still have discretion not to levy you for the amount stated.

That is correct.

If I am entered on the register I could still make the case that I should not have to make a payment because I have financial difficulties. Equally, to use the related area of planning, one very often sees on a planning application, in particular where planning applications are made for areas which have been zoned as amenity or agriculture areas, a degree of special pleading as to why somebody should be allowed to build a cottage or a house on a particular spot. It may relate to the fact that the land is being made available by a parent, an aunt or an uncle. On occasions buildings are permitted to be built because members of a family are handicapped, have difficulties, or have special needs. In such cases permission is given for a planning development which would not be given in normal circumstances in that area.

All that personalised information is made available on the planning file for those who wish to inspect it if it forms part and parcel of the reasons given for a planning application. I stick with the view given originally on this matter which is that this provision is designed to improve the Bill and to ensure that a degree of information is available to those who are directly affected by the decision the local authority make after receiving representations from the landowner. I do not see that as an unnecessary infringement of property rights; I see it simply as making information available to the community.

I have difficulty in seeing how we are going too far too fast by including this particularly simple measure in the Bill. I invite the Minister, in the spirit in which we have dealt with this Bill to date, to accept this amendment to the section at this stage and, if he wishes to make any further changes to it, he can always come back with an amendment on Report Stage. I invite the Minister at this stage to accept this amendment which would assist in the workings of the legislation and in the communication of information. The Minister says that a local authority would be at liberty anyway to communicate with neighbours and other people but rather in this being done as a grace and discretion exercise I take the view that a community in whose area there is land or property in poor condition have a right to receive information. They should not receive it merely at the discretion of an official in a local authority. Without this provision the manner in which such matters may be dealt with may vary from local authority to local authority and may depend on who the county or city manager is.

Yes or no?

Let me make this final point: If I apply for planning permission I will get a decision one way or another. It is purely an administrative matter. But what we are talking of here does not amount to quite the same thing. It is putting you on a register saying that you are not being a good citizen that a penalty is being imposed on you.

That is correct.

Proper order. That is the reason we have brought forward this legislation. I do not want people apart from the policing force to be involved and the policing force are the local authority. Perhaps this is a sentimental thing but I hate snoops. I am not too keen about people getting information about the personal and financial affairs of another person unnecessarily, particularly if it is not required to achieve the end result. I do not think it would be necessary in this case. The person's name would be put on the register in any event. Even if the local authority decide, as a result of information they have received, that the levy is not to be applied in the same way the person's name would still be on the register. I am reluctant to go all the way down the road with the Deputy on this one. In any event I cannot accept the amendment because of technical deficiencies which we do not have to go into here.

If I thought that the Deputies, collectively, wanted it to be this way, I would certainly take another look at the amendment between now and Report Stage. I would ask the Deputies — this may be difficult for Deputy Quinn — to take a look at it from a landowner's point of view to see if we want to do something that will infringe on a minor right they might think they should have. I think we should not take that line if we can achieve the end result, which I think we can, without doing so.

Is the Minister saying he is prepared to consider this amendment again between now and Report Stage?

I am. For technical reasons I would have to oppose it straight up.

I do not understand that. Nevertheless the Minister is saying he is willing to consider it again before Report Stage?

Yes. In the meantime I ask all concerned to take a look at it from the landowner's point of view and his right to some degree of confidentiality in making representations. That is only fair.

If the Minister is willing to consider this amendment before Report Stage I will not press it this evening but I want to put the House on notice that I will be pushing this issue, which we take very seriously, to a vote on Report Stage if the Minister is not prepared to come some of the way with us on this matter. I regard it as an important issue in the context of the right of the individual citizen to access to information on decisions made which directly impinge on his life.

I would have thought, given my response, that the Deputy would at least have taken on board the possibility that we would be impinging on the right of the individual to some degree of confidentiality and considered that in the same way I am considering the Deputy's point of view.

I will not press the amendment this evening.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 9, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following subsection:

"(6) Upon a person notifying a local authority of an alleged derelict site within the area of such authority the local authority shall advise such person in writing within 21 days of receipt of such notice of the action, if any, it proposes taking following receipt of such notification and if no action is proposed, the reason why.".

Again, this amendment is very much in the spirit of the preceding one. The Minister said I had tabled unnecessary amendments. This amendment is put down so as to ensure that members of the general public are given information as to what action, if any, their local authority are taking with regard to an alleged derelict site. The amendment seeks to include a new subsection (6) in section 9 and is based on a perception of how in practice this legislation will work. As I said earlier, I have no doubt that on many occasions letters or representations to the local authority by individuals act as a catalyst to the authority, looking at a particular building or site, to determine whether it is derelict. If an individual makes representations and asks a local authority to take action the individual is entitled within a reasonable time on a matter as serious as this to a response from the local authority indicating that they are either going to look into it, that they previously looked into it and its condition is not such to warrant its inclusion on the register or that it has already been entered on the register.

This has all got to do with giving the general public access to information. It is important because in my experience local authorities are far too slow in responding directly to members of the general public. When an objection is raised with or representations are received by a local authority in respect of a particular planning application normally the authority on making this decision will communicate that decision to the person who has raised the objection or made the submission. Equally, in this case the local authority should be required to communicate with people who have gone to the trouble of writing or communicating with the local authority so as to complain about a particular site. This amendment is based on the principle of access to information.

This amendment would place an unusually rigid statutory requirement on local authorities in relation to servicing interventions by third parties, regardless of the merits andbona fides of the intervention. I genuinely believe that placing such a statutory obligation on a local authority would be inappropriate. Some element of discretion would have to be left to local authorities. The register would be in place and the public would be entitled to make representations. Requiring the issuing of a reply within 21 days would place an excessive demand on local authorities. This could be abused by an organised correspondence course. We do not want to end up in a position where all of the clerical staff of a local authority would be engaged full time in answering correspondence on these matters.

Whatever clerical staff are left.

There will always be instances where they are tardy or slow in answering correspondence but in general they do reply. I do not want to place a statutory requirement on them and I ask the Deputy not to pursue the amendment. To accept it would place the local authorities in an impossible position. As everybody would be in a position to take a look at the register I do not think this amendment is necessary.

Let me respond briefly to what the Minister has said. It is not a question of the register being there — if the register is there, the general public can examine it — but rather it is a question of an individual making representations to a local authority that a piece of land which has not been entered on the register should be on the register. We have this odd attitude to local government. We seem to think it will impinge on the efficiency of the bureaucracy if there is an obligation imposed on local authorities to respond relatively speedily to individuals and to give them information. Local authorities should have very specific obligations. They are there to serve the general public and the public has a right of access to information and to responses. If somebody is notbona fide, if you are talking about a crank writing a letter or a series of people running a campaign that may be a different matter but, if you are talking about someone raising a genuine problem, any half efficient business operating anywhere in a reasonable fashion in any civilised country can normally respond to a letter within 21 days. It is the inefficiencies and the bureaucratic lack of concern in responding to the general public which makes it so extraordinary that there should be an obligation imposed on local authorities to reply to a letter within 21 days. That should not be extraordinary. It should happen in the context of local authorities being seen to be there to serve the communities for whom they operate.

The Minister expressed serious objections to this as he feels it would tie up local authorities unreasonably. I do not share that view but I am prepared to consider tabling this amendment in a slightly different form on Report Stage so as to remove an obligation in circumstances of what could be described as crank correspondence as opposed to someone raising a real issue. In that context I will not pursue the amendment this evening.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 9 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 9, line 20, after "body" to insert "and a State authority".

It is appropriate that the general duty to prevent land from becoming a derelict site should have the widest possible application. The distinction between statutory bodies and State authorities made in the interpretation section was intended only to facilitate the non-application of section 30, the power of the Minister to direct disposal of interest in land to State authorities. The amendment will make it clear that section 10 applies to statutory bodies and State authorities.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 10, as amended, agreed to.
Section 11 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 9, subsection (1) (a), lines 28 and 29, to delete "land situate in their functional area from becoming" and substitute "the land from being or becoming again a derelict site".

I understand the Deputy's concern to expand on the draftsman's expression about land becoming or continuing to be a derelict site. Nonetheless, I believe the existing formula to be the most economical expression and the one best adapted to cover all the permutations involved.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 9, subsection (1), line 32, to delete "under this section".

This is a drafting amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 9, subsection (2) (a), line 38, after "site" to insert "which may include measures to require the proper restoration of any structure, building or dwelling situate on such land".

It is important, in the context of this section which refers to a notice that can be served — subsection (2) (a) states that a notice under this section shall specify the measures which the local authority or the Minister, as the case may be, consider to be necessary in order to prevent the land from becoming or continuing to be a derelict site — to ensure that any such measures properly restore any property or building to the condition in which it may originally have been. The authority of subsection (2) is somewhat obscure and this amendment is to ensure that it is possible for notice to so require in appropriate circumstances.

I am sympathetic to the amendment and we all support its intention. However, it seems that everything referred to in the amendment could be validly required by local authorities in the appropriate circumstances under the generality of subsection (2) (a) as it stands. I would also be somewhat concerned at the reference to "proper restoration of any structure". "Proper" by reference to what criterion? The only valid criterion for requiring action under the Bill is the elimination of the derelict condition of the land. There may be a number of ways of doing this, proper restoration by reference, say, to principles of architectural conservation operated by the Office of Public Works or various heritage bodies which might greatly exceed the mundane requirements of rendering this site non-derelict. In those circumstances I ask the Deputy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 9, subsection (2) (c), line 41, after "month" to insert "and not more than six months".

My only concern is to ensure that the period specified within which the measures are to be taken would not be open-ended. there is a minimum period involved in the Bill and it is not unreasonable to suggest that there should be a limit within which the action proposed to be taken in relation to the derelict site would commence. Otherwise, presumably, one could argue three or four years down the line that one was about to embark on such a course. I am quite flexible with regard to whether the period should be six, seven or 12 months.

I am advised that the amendment would apply to a maximum time of six months in all cases. The local authorities or the Minister, under section 13, are perfectly free to impose any deadline which they feel is appropriate privided it is not less than one month. The greater flexibility represented by the original section is desirable since many different circumstances including considerations from a structural engineering point of view and sometimes from personal resources of the landowner, will arise in practice. I would not like to be too rigid in this regard.

Will the Minister consider changing the words to read "not less than one month and not more than six months within which such measures are to be commenced"?

I want to get the job done, it is as simple as that, but I do not want people to find that they do not have the resources to do so and that we are left with weak legislation because of that. I would rather have the flexibility to enable the thing to be done one way or the other instead of imposing limits that cannot be met.

What about a period of six months?

The corporation have a statutory period of two months at present.

That is in relation to planning?

That is administratively speaking in relation to a decision.

I am quite happy if the Minister says he will look at the question of some kind of a limit between now and Report Stage. I want to make sure that in two years' time the work which was supposed to have been done had started.

I accept that.

It is very reasonable.

I will look at that matter between now and Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 21 is in the name of the Minister. Amendments Nos. 22, 31, 32 and 36 are related. I suggest we take them together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 9, subsection (2) (c), line 44, to delete "14" and substitute "fourteen",

these are minor drafting amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 10, subsection (3), line 6, to delete "14" and substitute "fourteen".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 12, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 10, between lines 45 and 46, to insert the following paragraph:

"(d) direct the local authority to take such steps as may be necessary so as to ensure that a development objective or objectives for the purpose of reserving land for roads or parking places or for any of the purposes of reserving or preserving land indicated in Part IV of the Third Schedule of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, does not result in any land subject to any such development objective becoming or continuing to be a derelict site,".

In this section the Minister is giving a number of powers to give directions to a local authority but the area that was omitted is the one which was referred to earlier, the problem that local authorities can give rise to by their own actions. A local authority by unrealistic development objectives, in particular with regard to road widening or road building proposals, can often be a major contributor to or causative factor in dereliction. I made the point that Dublin Corporation bear a considerable portion of the blame for dereliction in the city and that more than any other body they have contributed probably to in excess of 60 per cent of the dereliction by unrealistic road widening objectives contained in development plans. Such proposals have been included in successive plans since the 1963 Act came into force. They were put in each time a review took place with no realistic possibility of being implemented this side of the year 2000. Some of them will not be seen in the lifetime of any Member of the House.

In the context of the local authority being exempt from having to pay a levy — there is little point in the authority levying themselves — the Minister should have some specific discretionary powers to intervene so as to ensure that local authorities do not contribute to dereliction as a result of unrealistic objectives being included in development plans. I am proposing that section 13 be amended by the insertion of an additional paragraph which would empower the Minister to direct the local authority to take such steps as may be necessary to ensure that development objectives for the purpose of reserving lands for roads, parking places or for any of the purposes of preserving land indicated in Part IV of the Third Schedule of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, do not result in any land subject to any such development objective becoming or continuing to be a derelict site.

I hope the Minister will be able to accept that amendment. I am seeking to give him a discretionary power to intervene where he believes it is necessary to do so and to require local authorities to take action in the context of land which has remained in private ownership but which has become derelict due directly to action taken by a local authority. It appears that for many years there is no prospect of a local authority taking any action to resolve the problem and there is no prospect of that body freeing the land of unrealistic objectives so as to allow the landowner to get on with using it as he sees appropriate and bringing an end to dereliction.

The Minister said that he is concerned about private property rights and the landowner. In my proposal I am concerned about private property rights and the landowner and about the way in which a local authority decision can impinge unreasonably and arbitrarily on rights to the detriment of the owner of the land and the local community affected by land that has become derelict as a result of the actions of the local authority.

I understand the Deputy's concern that the objectives of the development plan reserving or preserving land should not give rise to dereliction. However, I have to say that I would not be too happy that this Bill on derelict sites should be used to provide formal inputs into the planning system. This is more appropriate to planning legislation and, moreover, is expressly provided for in that legislation. Under section 7 of the Planning Act, 1972 the Minister for the Environment is empowered to issue general directives as to policy in relation to planning and development to which planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála must have regard. The Minister is also empowered by section 23 (3) of the Planning Act, 1963, to require a planning authority to vary their development plan in such a manner as he may specify. The powers which the Deputy proposes to confer on the Minister by this amendment are adequately catered for in planning legislation and we think that the amendment, accordingly, is unnecessary.

I suggest that the Minister might consider the reasoned addendum proposed by Deputy Shatter as a simple piece of enabling legislation which he is not obliged to avail of. The operative phrase is, "the Minister may". I have some worries in relation to that but I will confine myself to the thrust of the amendment proposed by Deputy Shatter. I agree with him. Indeed, in the course of my speech on Second Stage on 14 February, as reported at column 132 of the Official Report of that date, I gave a specific example of dereliction caused by Dublin Corporation in Charlement Street. By virtue of moving a road line on three separate occasions that authority brought about the dereliction of property some, if not all, of which is still in private ownership.

The Minister is correct in saying that the planning and development legislation, the 1963 Act and the subsequent amending legislation, enables him to do what he has read into the record. It would be far more eloquent testimony by way of rebuttal to our argument if he could point to an example where a Minister had used those powers to have a development plan changed. I am not aware that that power was used by the half a dozen Ministers for the Environment and Local Government who have held the office since the 1963 Act was passed. It is because of the specific and precise nature of derelict sites that I consider it most appropriate that this enabling provision should be inserted into the section. The operative words are, "the Minister may", and the thrust and the intent will be to avoid dereliction. I do not see how the Minister can have any difficulty in taking this on board.

I am in a difficulty. I am very concerned that I might be doing something which would make it virtually impossible for local authorities to make reservations for road widening if they had to make estimations as to what possible dereliction might or might not subsequently ensue because of their action. This would be very restrictive on local authorities who in normal circumstances wish to do the right thing. Usually they are carrying out the instructions of the elected members in seeking to have reservations placed for roads, parks, or whatever. I place greater emphasis than some of my colleague and, indeed, some Members of the House, on the rights, the powers and the authority of members of local authorities. It is not the administrators who have the power but the members. The members decide what local authorities should do by way of reservation and I do not wish to restrict their powers in regard to what they would like to do this year, or next year, or in reserving a road for future development. If they had to consider what dereliction might or might not take place because of that development at some future date it would be overly restrictive.

The operative phrase is, "continue to be derelict". That is what concerns Deputy Shatter and me.

How can I give a guarantee in regard to that while at the same time I am trying to allow local authorities to retain their existing powers of reservation. The amendment goes too far. Members of local authorities get involved in the preparation of development plans and decide on the reservations for amenity purposes, road widening, and so on. I do not want a restriction put on them in such a way that they will have to consider what dereliction might take place because of their decision. I do not want to be restricting local authorities.

What the Minister said is fine as far as it goes but the problem is not the reservation by local authorities pursuant to a decision by members. Those members arrive at their decision following an open, above board process of consideration and reflection and that is fine. Nobody would want to impede that. However, as the Minister will be aware, there is a constant practice, which is not unreasonable, of forward planners in local authorities notionally deciding, without reference to anybody outside their own office, that a particular line of motorway, or roadway, or other area might at some future date be desirable for development. They therefore begin the process of sterilisation of that area which takes the form, for example, of ensuring that if there are planning permissions sought, setbacks, as I think they are called — that is, a certain circumscribing of the actual configuration of the planning permissions — will take place. In other words, a local impact takes place and the genesis of those kinds of decisions is very hard to fathom, but they have nothing to do with the powers of local authority members. They are never dealt with by local authority members; they emerge from deep within the recesses of the decision-making process by presumably concerned engineers who think this is the way to plan, and say: "If by some chance in the future we talk about putting a piece of roadwork in an area, this is how we will have to do it".

There is a point in what Deputy Quinn and Deputy Shatter have said to the extent that the way decisions are made and the definition of reservation, which is what I was trying to say earlier this evening, contribute without question to the creation of large areas of blight, and I am quite happy to point these out to the Minister if he so wishes. I do not think any of us wants to impede or cut back on the powers of local authority members once it comes to making decisions, but there is a whole area of decision making by stealth, not malmotivated as it were, but nevertheless resulting in serious urban blight. That is the area I believe is at the heart of this proposal.

There may be a lot of sense in what Deputies are saying but let us not get carried away by putting too much rigidity into the system, whether it is the system of planning, reservations or whatever. I want to leave the system free and that flexibility and power to be retained by local authority members. Local authority members always have the opportunity, if they so wish, to vary their development plan to accommodate whatever they think is necessary if there is the possibility that dereliction may be caused down the road. They have the power to do that so why take it from them? Why should we make them less effective than what they might wish by imposing statutory rigidity on them?

I want to take the Minister's argument a little further. If the Minister was not to be concerned with dereliction created, say, by the action of the local authority, or the inaction of a local authority in the sense of a long-term road widening plan which has been continuing for years and caused dereliction, he could use the same argument about the Minister not impinging on what the local authority members are doing or opposing any urban renewal scheme anywhere. We should not have areas designated by the Government with special tax concessions. This is impinging in a sense on the prerogative of local authority members.

What I am saying and Deputy Quinn possibly made the case more eloquently than I — is that the major problem here is continuing dereliction. A classical example of that, which was mentioned earlier, is what happened to Clanbrassil Street which was in a state of utter dereliction for about 20 years before anybody got round to doing anything about the road widening plan. As a very young child I used to shop with my family on Clanbrassil Street and I remember it as a very attractive street — and I would not have been a teenager at that stage. Low and behold, the corporation produced a development plan with long-term road widening proposals which 20 years later somebody is finally doing something about, after total and utter dereliction has been caused along the length and breadth of that street. It would be my contention that Dublin Corporation, in the context of Clanbrassil Street and other streets, would not have in any way prejudiced their road widening proposals if those proposals had not been produced at a stage when there was no possibility of the corporation proceeding to implement them or having the funds to implement them. The corporation could just as easily have produced the plans five or six years before they got on with the job.

The Deputy is right.

Let us leave aside for a moment the political rows as to whether or not it should be done. There is no particular reason why the corporation — and someone in the corporation might have thought this was a bright idea — could not have waited 15 years and then brought the plan to the elected members of Dublin Corporation and said at that stage "We need this plan, we think we have the resources, be it from our own resources or central Government, and we should now put this in as an objective". If they had done that the dereliction which blighted that part of the city would not have happened. That area would still be a vibrant street with people living and continuing to work there and spending money on their property. Maybe it suited the corporation not to do that and perhaps they had a vested interest in dereliction.

It was cheaper.

This meant that when they bought people out the value of the properties dropped because of the corporation causing dereliction and blight in the area. If the Minister is genuinely concerned about private property rights I would say that that was a naked assault on the private property rights of those people whose properties were in Clanbrassil Street, apart from being a sociological assault on the community which centred around that part of the city of Dublin.

Deputy Quinn referred to Charlemount Street. There are areas around the city, for example, Charlemount Street and Harcourt Road, we could point to and say that they have been blighted because of plans the corporation have.

They are over-ambitious plans.

I want the Minister to have a general discretionary power which will enable him, when it is obvious that there is blight caused as a result of a local authority decision, to tell that local authority that cannot continue and that either they change the objective in their development plan so that the area can regenerate itself, or they get on with implementing the objective in the plan for five years, ten years or whatever.

What I am trying to do is to give the Minister extra powers. I accept that notionally he has some of these powers under the Planning Acts but I do not think they have ever been used to deal with the problem of dereliction. By having this power in the Derelict Sites Bill, it focuses on the problem of dereliction in a way that it has not been focused on before. This power will give the Minister discretion and he will not have to act on it unless there is a very blatant problem which needs to be pursued. There are different portions of the city of Dublin we could talk about in this context as well as one or two portions in other urban areas, but I think Dublin has been more particularly affected than any other area. It is the area where I would envisage the Minister or one of his successors at some stage wanting to make a move on in the context of this section. At the very least I would ask the Minister to consider this amendment or a similar provision on Report Stage.

Sometimes I begin to wonder what we do at times in the House. The Deputy readily admitted that the Minister has very extensive powers under various Acts but never uses them. There are lots of powers available to planning authorities which they have never used either. If they did use these powers we might not get involved in a lot of claims and other things which come up at certain times. I do not understand whether this is as a result of a lack of understanding, appreciation——

It is because of a lack of money.

—or maybe there is a fault so far as the Minister or the House is concerned. Certainly, there are extensive powers available to the Minister, and the Deputy readily admitted that, so why seek to duplicate them or put them into sharper focus? They are either there or they are not, and if they are there they do not require sharper focus. It is a matter of better understanding.

I have to reject what the Deputy said about designated areas. I accept that there was one designated area as far as planning was concerned, and this was given to the Custom House Docks Development Authority, but apart from that it did not affect the planning of the area. I think it helped the area by the continued involvement in the development I see being negotiated for the quays. This will alter the face of central Dublin during the next five or ten years and it will be quite magnificent.

The face of Dublin was destroyed by advanced planning and consequent dereliction by the road engineers, which is precisely what we are trying to avoid.

What the Deputy is saying is that this was planned dereliction by the local authority.

Inevitable dereliction.

What I am asking is why look here for a remedy to that? The Deputy already has a remedy available to him as an elected member. What kind of system are we operating if members of statutory bodies are not utilising their existing powers? Statutory bodies with democratically elected representatives have the power to do anything they like under the law, and the law is there in abundance to enable them to do that. Why are Deputies asking me to give them further sticks to beat themselves with?

Without being partisan, when members of local authorities — and I was a member of one myself——

There are two Members on their feet. Has the Minister concluded?

I am quite happy to hear Deputy Quinn on Committee Stage.

I apologise to the House. The managers on occasions assured members of local authorities in the making of plans, which is a reserve function, that funds would be available for road widening proposals and subsequently there was a delay in funding. If local authorities had independent financial resources I would not be looking for central Government powers like this but because they do not they get into a situation——

I am surprised at the Deputy. He has his tongue half way through his cheek when he is saying that. He should not be so naive about it. The Deputy is well aware that, when local authority engineers are putting something forward, they are not giving any guarantee. It is well known that they cannot give any guarantee about funding either then or later. What they are saying is that they will be seeking funding for it and the Deputy knows how difficult funding can sometimes be. I am saying that when members have plans put in front of them by their technical staff they decide on the rightness or the wrongness of the technical advice being given to them to do a certain job irrespective of when the money comes.

Most of these plans are not put before anybody.

Then the Deputy has a battle to fight some place else. He should not ask me to give him extra powers when he is not using those he already has.

We do not have those powers.

Deputy Shatter generously accepts that the authority is already there for the Minister and he wants to give him a little extra. I am not really into giving the Minister a little extra authority to help local authority members to carry out their functions as it was intended they would do. The Deputy should not press this issue as he has not got a good case.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.