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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 14 Nov 2007

Vol. 641 No. 4

Priority Questions.

Waste Management.

Phil Hogan


35 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will bring clarity and coherence to the national waste strategy by stating whether the number of incinerators to be built is two, four, eight or another number; if his preference for two incinerators stands up to his assessment that 1.3 million tonnes of waste can be treated by MBT, in view of the fact that he has not explained the way he intends to increase MBT to that capacity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28883/07]

I have not made any statement in regard to the number of municipal waste incinerators which may be developed. Such developments are matters for local authorities, in the context of their statutory responsibilities under the Waste Management Acts, and for commercial decision by the private sector.

The Government's policy in regard to waste management is clearly set out in the programme for Government. It is firmly grounded in a continuing commitment to the waste hierarchy with a renewed drive towards the achievement of international best practice in the reduction, re-use and recycling of waste. There is a commitment to meeting our national objectives and EU obligations through an increasing emphasis on technologies for mechanical and biological treatment, MBT, of a growing volume of municipal waste. This will significantly reduce the future need for incineration capacity. My Department has carried out detailed projections of municipal waste up to 2016 taking account of continued progress in our recycling performance. These show that MBT capacity of between 900,000 and 1 million tonnes per annum will enable Ireland to meet its landfill diversion targets under the EU Landfill Directive while reducing the amount requiring further treatment to about 400,000 tonnes. MBT capacity of between 1.3 million and 1.4 million tonnes will enable us to meet the more challenging programme for Government target of sending only 10% of all waste to landfill.

As provided for in the programme for Government, my Department is initiating a major international review of waste management policy which will in part focus on how best to advance the use of the full range of technologies available for waste management. I am confident that we can rapidly move away from a position where incineration is regarded as the only viable solution for waste management to one in which we can exploit a much broader range of technologies to meet our targets in the most environmentally benign way possible.

The Minister mentioned two incinerators on an RTE programme. Perhaps he did not mean to, but he mentioned that two incinerators would be sufficient. However, there are seven incinerators going through the planning process at the moment. The Minister has obviously taken the view that incineration is no longer a problem. He could have instructed the local authorities to review their waste management plans to eliminate incineration as an option under the section 16 notice which he sent out during the summer months, but he chose not to do that. Will the Minister indicate how the MBT capacity of 1.3 million to 1.4 million tonnes will be achieved?

Let us be very clear about what was actually said. I listened one morning to the Deputy's party leader quoting me directly, if you do not mind, as making reference to incinerators. What I actually said was that we would require thermal treatment for 400,000 tonnes of waste. The interviewer then came to the conclusion that 400,000 tonnes was the equivalent of two thermal treatment plants, which it is. I was also accused of actually naming the locations of the two incinerators as Carranstown and Cork. Again, I did not do that. If the Deputy listens very carefully to what I said in an interview on "Prime Time", along with his colleague, Deputy O'Dowd, he will hear that I outlined in some detail how this could be achieved. If we start off with a figure of about 3.2 million tonnes, which is the amount of waste we will have, this can be reduced if we achieve a recycling rate of 50%. The Deputy will agree with me that this is where we ought to go and that we can achieve 50% recycling. In fact, we can go much higher than that, particularly in towns such as Dublin. In this way the amount of waste can be substantially reduced.

The figure the Deputy keeps repeating is 1.3 million tonnes. I am intrigued by this and I have consulted my officials on this matter, because the figure I have mentioned consistently is 1.7 million tonnes.

I am referring to the amount of waste that will be treatable by MBT.

The Deputy has, perhaps inadvertently, come across a figure of 1.3 million. I investigated in detail where the Deputy may have obtained this figure. It is the MBT capacity that would allow us to go further in dealing with waste as we would only have to send about 10% to landfill. The figures are available and they have been well thought out. The Department has done good work. When the international review is concluded we will have even more precise figures for the Deputy.

The Minister did not answer the question I asked. I have no difficulty about the figures he mentioned. What he said was that 1.3 million to 1.4 million tonnes of waste would be treatable by MBT. That is what I am referring to, not the total amount of waste we have to deal with, which is 1.7 million tonnes. I accept that figure, although it may be closer to 2 million tonnes. I asked the Minister how he intends to do this. What system will be used? He has obviously thought this through. How much waste will be treatable using the MBT process? How will it be done? People need to know what this process entails and whether it will be in the public interest.

The Minister has stated several times that incineration is out of the question, but he has done nothing to stop the plans from going through the planning process. He has stated in the past that they are a danger to health. That was mentioned in his submission to An Bord Pleanála about the proposed incinerator at Poolbeg. If he reads it he will see that the Green Party stated that incinerators were damaging to people's health.

The Deputy is not allowed to quote during Question Time, but I am anxious to bring the Minister back for a final reply.

Surely I am entitled to bring the Minister's memory back to reality in terms of what he said in the past, as he is now in a position to do something about it.

Mature recollection.

I ask the Minister again to answer the question I asked.

It is regrettable if the Deputy believes all those things. The Deputy's own party in Fingal County Council actually voted for the incinerator in Poolbeg peninsula.

Does the Minister want to be reminded of what he said in the Poolbeg submission?

That is the inconsistency that I have to deal with from members of the Deputy's party. I do not know where they are coming from in the matter of waste management.

The figures are very clear. We can treat 1.3 million tonnes through the MBT process. I have been to Austria, where I saw how MBT can work. It is not a high-tech solution, as is often thought — it is actually quite low-tech. Black bag or grey bin waste is sorted and compostable materials are removed. Recyclable waste is also removed as, unfortunately, many people continue to put recyclable waste into the grey bin. In fact, through MBT an effective recycling rate of about 80% can be achieved. That is the point of it. These MBT sites should be situated at landfill sites, which is how it is done in Austria. After separation of the components I mentioned, we can obtain a refuse-derived fuel. That is the point I was making in my interviews with regard to the 400,000 tonnes of waste for thermal treatment. When I mention thermal treatment I am talking about co-firing or co-incineration. As the waste can be used in cement kilns, I have already had discussions with some cement factories about this. It makes sense and it is the way to go.

Sustainable Development Strategy.

Joanna Tuffy


36 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps his Department is taking to ensure that local authorities, in drawing up their next county development plans, will specifically climate-proof those county development plans and, for example, allow no building on flood plains; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28711/07]

Development plans, prepared by local authorities under Part II of the Planning and Development Act 2000, provide the over-arching strategic framework for development within their areas, ensuring that all development is sustainable from an economic, social and environmental point of view. As such, the development plan must offer clear guidance on sustainable development policies and objectives, both national and local, which address the full range of sustainability issues such as climate change, waste management, transport, urban development, sustainable communities and the use of natural resources.

In June 2007, my Department published Development Plans: Guidelines for Planning Authorities. The guidelines state that it is imperative that the objectives and strategies set out in development plans are compatible with the Government's commitment to reducing energy consumption and modifying the impacts of climate change. Development plans should be consistent with the objectives of national initiatives that will address energy and climate change issues, such as the National Climate Change Strategy 2007-2012, which builds on the commitment to sustainable development set out in Towards 2016 and the National Development Plan 2007-2013. Moreover, the conclusions in the EPA state of the environment report and other evidence on environmental quality and trends should inform the drafting of development plans and be reflected as appropriate in their objectives and implementation.

The guidelines state that flood risk should be considered at relevant stages of the planning and development process and the aim should be to ensure that existing flood risks are either reduced or addressed and that new development does not individually or cumulatively give rise to new flood risks. My Department, in conjunction with the Office of Public Works, is preparing more comprehensive guidance on flooding and the planning system with a view to its issue for public consultation and finalisation next year.

The strategic environmental assessment carried out as part of the preparation and review of the development plan can help to bring environmental issues into sharper focus during the consultation process, and should improve the overall sustainability of the plan-making process by facilitating the identification and appraisal of alternative plan strategies, by raising awareness of the environmental impacts of plans, and by encouraging the inclusion of measurable targets and indicators.

I thank the Minister. The Environmental Protection Agency has called for county development plans to be climate proofed. The Minister has stated what is in place at present in terms of guidelines, that to which one must have regard, what local authorities should promote, etc. The problem with all of that is it is just too vague. There are no requirements on local authorities to ensure that climate proofing is taken into account in drawing up and voting on county development plans.

That problem was very much identified by the chairman of An Bord Pleanála at the end of last week when he spoke about——

A question please.

I am informing the Minister that the chairman of An Bord Pleanála identified a problem. He stated that if councillors rezoned land on flood plains, for example, An Bord Pleanála might have to override those rezonings on the grounds that it would be on flood plains and that there may be issues of compensation to the land developers. That is not good enough. There should be a mandatory requirement on councillors and county development plans not to rezone on flood plains. These issues are particularly related to climate change. There will be much more rainfall in the future. There will be more extreme weather events. For example, a few years ago Lucan experienced its worst flooding in 100 years. That type of flooding might happen every 50 years or 20 years in the future. The Department has quoted studies which state that there will be a 2% increase in temperature——

A question please.

——which will happen irrespective of what we do about reducing our emissions and such like. Therefore, there will be a real problem.

If the development plans drawn up in two years time include irresponsible rezonings such as those in the past which promote urban sprawl, all the Minister's carbon targets will be cosmetic if he will allow local authorities to continue to rezone without regard to the flooding and climate change consequences. What will the Minister do about it?

I must agree with the bulk of what Deputy Tuffy stated. Of course we require responsible planning. I listened carefully to what the chairman of An Bord Pleanála stated. He was simply echoing what I have stated. The planners in local authorities are getting clear directions, namely, that at this stage it makes no sense to build on flood plains.

As Deputy Tuffy will probably be aware, as Minister I can intervene — I do so reluctantly — when what I might call "mis-zoning" takes place, and there have been examples of that.

It is clear that the planners at local level would be remiss if they recommended building on a flood plain. At this stage I do not think that anyone would do that.

Where the difficulty arises is that there may be irresponsible councillors who decide, for whatever reason, to proceed in this fashion and build on a flood plain. All of the evidence, from the EPA and others, suggests this is foolhardy. Indeed, Deputy Tuffy pointed out that in some cases in parts of the country there has been a 20% increase in precipitation and the risk of flooding has increased. Furthermore, as we build more, one finds that the hard surfaces mean there is less drainage and there is an increased danger of flooding. For all of these reasons in my meetings with local authority members we have stated that this is not the way to go.

Of course I can issue directives and I will be issuing planning directives. In fact, before Christmas I will issue new density guidelines which will take account of flooding risk.

We move on to Question No. 37 in the name of Deputy Ciarán Lynch.

I had indicated.

I am afraid we are one minute over the time.

I had indicated already.

We are one minute over the time. There are six minutes allocated for each priority question and we have used seven. The way we are going, that means we will not get to the last one.

Register of Electors.

Ciaran Lynch


37 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will correlate the census to the electoral register at a future date; the way he will reconcile the major discrepancies between the draft register of electors and the census figures in advance of the forthcoming local elections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28712/07]

In law the preparation of the register of electors is a matter for each local registration authority. It is their duty to ensure, as far as possible and with the co-operation of the public, the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the register.

The compilation of the register and the carrying out of a census are different processes with different statutory requirements. In addition, there are usually significant timing differences between the census and the register, with the census being carried out once every five years and the register being compiled on an annual basis. Therefore, care needs to be taken in making comparisons between these separate processes.

In working to compile the register for 2007-08, which is currently in force, registration authorities undertook and completed the most extensive registration campaign in decades. On the basis of the work undertaken, registration authorities have achieved a significant improvement in the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the register compared to previous years.

My Department has advised authorities that the approach this year should be to maintain and build on the progress they have made to date. Looking ahead, the programme for Government contains a commitment to establish an independent electoral commission. The commission's responsibilities will include taking charge of the compilation of a new national rolling electoral register.

It would appear that the Minister is saying that everything seems to be okay, and such is not the case. An article in The Sunday Tribune this week showed quite clearly that the register is overestimated by 105%.

I take on board what the Minister is saying, that there is an extensive review under way at present. According to his Secretary General's information to the committee yesterday, there has been no change in the draft register figures. In fact, it shows that the same problems will arise.

Given that the census coincides with what is happening — I take on board the point that a census takes place every five years but there has just been one — and we are facing into the local elections, there is the opportunity to sort something out.

Even with the new figures, where I believe there is a drop of 32,000, the number on the register is still estimated to be 120,000 above the number of voters in the country. If we take the recent constituency boundary reports, that amounts to almost five Deputies on the basis that 25,000 people are represented by one Deputy. Therefore, there are either five too many Deputies or five too few Deputies, and this must be corrected.

There are three underpinning factors to do with the register of electors — completion, accuracy and security. Under any of those three criteria the current system is badly flawed. I acknowledge the Department is putting money into correcting it, but it is putting money into the same system and all that will create are more of the same problems.

Could we not look at this in a visionary way which has two aspects, that there is the system in which the register of electors is compiled and there is the method by which individual citizens engage with it? The system needs a massive overhaul involving a move from a household registration system to an individual registration system and the creation of processes such as the use of the PPS system, which the Minister supported in this House at an earlier time when he was sitting in a different seat.

The Minister stated that he will put together a national commission. Perhaps that makes sense because at present there are 34 local authorities trying to compile registers where there is no guarantee of standard, no measurement and no core funding, and local authorities respond to this in an ad hoc fashion. Would his Department now consider changing the system and engaging a process where the individual citizen is measured through the PPS system for the exercise of his or her franchise?

Deputy Lynch raised a number of interesting points. He is correct in stating that there is real inconsistency between many of the local authorities. I myself discovered that. Even in the compilation of the register, in whether it is available electronically and in how it is conducted, there is little consistency. I agree there is work for my Department in that regard.

I hope many of these constructive suggestions being made can be fed into our idea for an electoral commission. It takes it away from my Department. I accept a loss of power is involved but most Deputies at this stage agree this is a most important issue and it needs to be addressed properly. The right place for that to be done is in a separate, independent electoral commission. I am drawing up proposals for the establishment of an electoral commission, the details of which will be debated in the House. I hope the very good ideas mooted by Deputy Ciarán Lynch will be fed into that commission.

It must be acknowledged that some progress has been made. There were huge discrepancies and over-estimations which are not acceptable. However, voting is not compulsory. People have a right not to be on the register and not to vote. A significant awareness campaign is required. Many people believe they are automatically put on the register. As a practising politician, Deputy Ciarán Lynch will be aware there is great ignorance on the matter. Many things need to be done and I hope the Deputy can feed his ideas into the electoral commission.

The Minister reminded me of the "Scrap Saturday" show when he referred to getting registered. Pat O'Connor found he was registered twice and voted twice in some election. It was a running theme on that show.

He was not registered twice.

From what I remember he voted twice anyway.

I take on board what the Minister said and I welcome the fact that he intends to put some direction on this matter. My question is when he intends to put the commission in place and whether he intends to provide specific terms of reference regarding the direction in which he wants the commission to go. All the independent reports show that if we keep spending money on our current system we are throwing good money after bad, because it will keep giving us what we got if we keep doing what we are doing.

Yes, I will produce terms of reference. Because this is such an important issue I would like an all-party approach to be taken, in the same way as I sought an all-party approach to the Green Paper on local government. Many of Deputy Ciarán Lynch's colleagues sit on the consultative committee and do very good work. When drawing up the terms of reference I intend to consult broadly with members of the Opposition such as Deputy Ciarán Lynch so we can get the most important aspects included in the terms of reference.

Planning Issues.

Denis Naughten


38 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps he will take to improve planning guidelines for planning authorities to address the phenomenon of the social segregation of immigrants in rapidly expanding new communities; if he will review the present planning guidelines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28885/07]

Development plans prepared by local authorities under Part II of the Planning and Development Act 2000 provide the over-arching strategic framework for development within their areas. It is mandatory for development plans to provide objectives, inter alia, for the integration of the planning and sustainable development of an area with the social, community and cultural requirements of the area and its population.

The plans are also required to provide objectives for community services. Part V of the Act requires, in addition, that planning authorities include in their development plans a housing strategy which must address the housing needs of existing and future population of the area covered by the development plan. Guidelines issued by my Department in 2000 in regard to Part V of the Act state, inter alia: “The strategy should encourage the development of mixed and balanced communities in order to counteract undue social segregation.”

In June 2007, my Department published guidelines for planning authorities on development plans. The guidelines recognise the changing demographic and settlement patterns in Ireland in recent years and state that development plans must set a clear vision for development while acknowledging and factoring in the wider economic, social and environmental trends.

The Government's housing policy statement, Delivering Homes, Sustaining Communities, sets out a strategy to put the building of sustainable communities at the core of housing policy. The housing policy statement recognises that a sustainable neighbourhood is better able to support the social integration of different income groups and thereby provide a better means for newcomers to integrate and participate fully in Irish society.

I understand from my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for integration, that as part of the national action plan against racism, Planning for Diversity, the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism has commissioned the Centre for Housing Research and University College Dublin to carry out the first major scoping study on issues related to housing and intercultural neighbourhoods in Ireland. The research will examine the possible implications of greater ethnic and cultural diversity for housing planning and provision and more specific accommodation issues. To oversee this research, a broadly-based advisory group has been established, which includes my Department, Dublin City Council, the Reception and Integration Agency, the Equality Authority, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, the Immigrant Council of Ireland, South Dublin County Council and the Vincentian Centre for Refugees. The study is due to be published in January 2008.

I thank the Minister for his response. The difficulty is that he is talking about scoping studies and advisory groups. The habit of the Government in the past ten years has been to produce report upon report and never implement action. Is the Minister aware that of the children who are leaving schools in Dublin 15, one third of them are being replaced by children from immigrant communities. There is a significant trend in parts of the country, especially in Dublin, for the phenomenon known as "white flight". If we drag our heels on this issue, will it not be too late, as ghettoes will already have developed? What specific action does the Minister intend to take to ensure that what is currently happening in Dublin 15 is not replicated around the country? We need action now, not in a couple of years.

We are already taking action. I highlighted previously to the Deputy in regard to Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 that what we wanted to achieve was proper integration not segregation. The problems Deputy Naughten referred to were identified as far back as the year 2000. We do not need to be alarmist about this issue. We have seen good integration take place.

I do not know whether Deputy Naughten listened to the President speak on the "Late Late Show". She acknowledged the great contribution people coming to this country are making. One can look at some of the schools in my constituency where many immigrants have made a fantastic contribution and enhanced our country. I refer, for example, to a student from Synge Street who won the young scientist of the year award. If anything, immigrants are bringing up standards in many schools.

Too often we tend to highlight immigration as an issue that will result in doom and gloom, but that is not the case. We should see it very much as an opportunity. What we need are proper housing estates which have proper housing densities. I will issue new guidelines in the run-up to Christmas. This issue does not just involve the new communities, it involves everyone. We must ensure the provision of schools, child care, proper infrastructure and transport links in new housing estates because, otherwise, we will have the creation of ghettoes, regardless of whether these people come from other countries or were born here. Let us get integration right and let us get housing densities right.

I acknowledge what the Minister said in regard to what new communities coming from abroad bring to this country. However, is it not the case that Part V of the Planning and Development Act, which was enacted seven years ago in 2000, dealt with the issue of economic segregation? Is it not the case that in housing estates in places like Clonee, huge ghettoes are developing? We need action on this issue now. What immediate steps is the Minister prepared to take in terms of publishing guidelines on that specific issue?

Economic segregation is already evident in many cases.

That is what Part V of the Planning and Development Act was supposed to address.

In many cases economic segregation has very little to do with planning, it relates to the fact that many immigrants are willing to do work which Irish people no longer want to do. If one goes to a filling station——

The Minister is avoiding the question.

I am not. That is the situation. The Deputy is confusing a number of issues. In terms of planning, the real issue is that we provide good planning — planning has to be paramount — that services are properly provided and that the proper densities are put in place. That is the way to go. There is no way one can put up a "whites only" sign as part of the planning process. That will not happen.

I am not proposing that but the Minister avoided it very well.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Phil Hogan


39 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his plans to reform housing and local government legislation in order to provide more Part V social and affordable housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28886/07]

A review of Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, undertaken by my Department in 2002 in consultation with a wide range of interested bodies including local authorities and representatives of the house building industry, professional institutes and voluntary housing providers, concluded that greater flexibility in the operation of the Part V mechanism was required. Measures to achieve this were contained in the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2002, which introduced a range of flexible options for compliance with Part V.

I am satisfied that the approach adopted has had a positive impact on the operation of Part V arrangements. From a position where just 46 homes were delivered under Part V in 2002, delivery has increased significantly since then, with close to 2,200 social and affordable homes coming on stream under the Part V mechanism in 2006. In total, up to the end of June 2007, over 5,300 social and affordable houses had been acquired and in excess of 5,000 units were in progress at that stage on foot of Part V agreements with developers.

I am satisfied that the Part V mechanism is operating effectively, evidenced by its significantly increased delivery of both social and affordable housing. While I have no plans to amend the legislation, I will continue to monitor closely the workings of the Part V mechanism to ensure they continue to meet the needs of the target groups for which they are designed.

I cannot understand the reason the Minister of State can be happy with the output under the Part V mechanism of the social and affordable housing scheme when 90,000 houses were built in 2006, 20% of that is 18,000 and the Minister got 2,400. First, why are we only getting slightly in excess of 2,000 houses under the Part V mechanism when we should be getting much more based on the number of houses built? Second, how much money has been collected by each local authority and what are they doing with it?

I am pleased the Deputy asked me about the number of houses and the 20% because there has been misrepresentation of the facts regarding the 20%. One must understand that it does not apply to a development of under five houses, a development on lands of 0.1 hectare or to housing on land not zoned for development purposes. Voluntary housing bodies are excluded and there are some ten year planning permissions in force where the Part V delivery did not account for it. If there is delivery of, say, 75,000 housing units in 2007, 25,000 of those will be one-off housing and 10,000 will be made up of social and affordable housing. There is also the voluntary aspect and other issues involved. It is important to state that the type of figures that have been bandied about are not inaccurate and the progress to date has been significant. Does the Deputy want me to answer the question on the amount of money collected?

As of June 2007, €73.5 million was collected and is in the coffers of the local authorities. In many instances the developer may propose to give money but the final decision is that of the local authority. Local authorities can give sanction. A preferred option for us is that they would get completed units; that is important. In fact, the overall acquisition of completed units represents 85% of the total number of affordable houses, which is a significant figure. In terms of the money that is now with the local authorities——

I want to fit in a supplementary if I can.

I want to give the Deputy a comprehensive answer. In terms of the money that is with local authorities, I have asked all local authorities for a report as of the end of 2006 on what happened with that money because they can use it to purchase and subvent affordable houses. They can use it to purchase land to develop social and affordable houses. I intend to monitor that. I have requested a report for 2006 and will request a further one in 2007 but I am satisfied that in 2007——

Thank you, Minister. I will take a brief supplementary from Deputy Hogan.

——real progress is being made.

I thank the Minister for indicating he will ask the local authorities for explanations about all of the money in their funds because the low level of output is surprising. Has the Minister done any calculations on what is likely to be the rollout of affordable housing nationally in 2007 and 2008?

A total of 3,216 affordable homes were produced in 2006. That was 20% up on 2005. Delivery in the first six months of 2007 was 5% up on 2006. A full year target has been set for the delivery of 5,000 homes in 2007, and we have a target of 17,000 for the period 2007-09. That is a high target but we are satisfied we can reach the target set out for us over those three years.