It is an underlying principle in the new approach to urban renewal that decisions on designation of areas for urban renewal reliefs will in future be based on carefully prepared integrated plans which set out a basis on which designation on a selective and targeted basis would assist in achieving the objectives of such plans. Accordingly, the legislation under discussion provides that integrated area plans may contain or be accompanied by recommendations from a local authority or authorised company to the effect that an area or areas within the boundary of the area to which the plan relates shall be a qualifying area for the purposes of urban renewal tax reliefs.
Section 9 provides that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, having considered the integrated area plan and any recommendations contained in or accompanying the plan, may recommend to the Minister for Finance that the latter Minister should make an order directing that an area or areas within the area to which the plan relates shall be a qualifying area for the purposes of urban renewal tax reliefs. It is then a matter for the Minister for Finance to make a decision on whether to make any such order having regard to all of the issues involved, including the extent and nature of any designation proposed and the potential cost to the Exchequer.
It is my intention that the outcome of any submission made by a local authority or authorised company in the context of an integrated area plan will be communicated to the local authority or authorised company concerned, including as much information as it is possible to give with regard to the grounds for any decision taken in response to the proposals of the local authorities or authorised companies.
The provisions of the Freedom of Information Act will also apply in relation to material in the Department relating to the consideration of plans submitted. However, the making of recommendations by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government is just one step in a process which starts with the preparation of the IAP by the local authority or authorised company and must cross various hurdles before any decision is made on whether and to what extent incentives are to be applied in any particular case.
I am reluctant, therefore, to introduce a formal reporting requirement on the lines set out in the amendments proposed by the Deputy at one particular stage of a process which could not, at that stage, have terminated and which must of necessity have a degree of flexibility built into it. For those reasons and all the other reasons we debated at great length last night, I cannot accept the amendment. Deputy Howlin does not wish me to repeat all the arguments put forward last night when I laid out clearly my views on this matter, but the intention is that there will be as much transparency as possible. In the communication my Department will make to those local authorities which have made submissions, every effort will be made to explain to them the reasons for decisions in regard to each case. I cannot give the statutory assurance being sought in the Deputy's amendment because it would place an obligation on the Minister for the Environment and Local Government who is involved in only one of the processes. The decision in regard to the actual designation under section 9 is made by the Minister for Finance.
Therefore, the amendment would not make much sense if the Minister for the Environment and Local Government had to lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas the reasons for making or refusing to make any recommendations under section 9. When he makes the recommendations to the Minister for Finance, as the Deputies know from their own experience, there will be a discussion on any matters of concern to the Minister for Finance and, presumably, agreement reached on the ultimate decision. Whatever decision is made, it will be acceptable to both Ministers. The final decision rests with the Minister for Finance who is responsible for taxation and budgetary policy. Placing responsibility such as is intended by this amendment on the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, who merely makes recommendations in the matter to the Minister for Finance, would not be appropriate in the circumstances.