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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Feb 2010

Vol. 701 No. 1

Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

As a rural Deputy and as somebody who served as a member of Kilkenny County Council for 15 years, I have seen the practical application of the planning laws and I have seen the strategic advantages of good orderly planning and development. I have also experienced the hideous consequences of bad planning and poor planning mechanisms and controls. Over the years, we have sought to redress the various deficiencies and the shortcomings of the planning legislation and while we may not have achieved an ideal system just yet we are nevertheless on our way to producing a sound, democratic and transparent system. We are making that system more relevant, practical and responsive to regional and national needs.

Planning and development, by definition, are constantly evolving and new demands and difficulties are emerging all the time. The implications of the proposed Bill, together with the draft regional planning guidelines, have been examined closely and with great interest and there is a sincerely held view that this element of the legislation may have long-term implications which are not positive or desirable.

As I stated earlier, the promotion of orderly, balanced and sustainable economic activity is at the forefront of our national political agenda; it is a central plank that we continue to stimulate and promote that activity. It is not entirely clear how the provisions of this Bill will lend themselves to these objectives or if it will assist us greatly in achieving the goals as set out in the national spatial strategy. It would be useful if the Minister would elaborate more fully on the precise thinking behind this aspect of the Bill so that everyone comprehends the theory and exactly how it will manifest itself in practice.

The obvious principle contained in the national spatial strategy is that we have to attain a proper, realistic balance in regional development. Rather than arriving at an over-concentration or a fragmentation of development, the primary aim is to strike a more even balance in terms of the availability of employment, an improved quality of life for all our citizens, suitable places to live which are attractive and which provide a better quality of life, and appropriate amenities which cater to the needs of the local population.

In January of last year, regional population targets for the next 12 years up to 2022 were published. These targets gave a low to high range for 2022, the lower figure of which would indicate a 14.7% increase with the higher figure suggesting a 20.4% population increase in that 12-year period. Given the marked trend in population increase to date in this country, the higher figure of 20.4% represents a more realistic figure. Last October, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government directed that the minimum population targets should be used only when preparing the regional planning guidelines.

The net effect of this directive is to contain or limit population increases in the regions. For example, the population of the south east will increase by 72,600 over the 12 year period in question. According to the national spatial strategy, populations should be diverted towards gateways, which will increase by a minimum of 50%, and hub towns, which will increase by 33%. I appreciate the logic behind the clear requirement to boost the gateways and hubs but, taken in conjunction with the new minimum population targets, it means that county areas will be severely limited in the total number of houses which may be built. This situation will be replicated in every county and the requirement to create the critical masses allied to the new minimum population targets will permit very little development beyond the cities. Planning authorities throughout the country will be obliged to implement that policy accordingly.

If we are to adopt this practice, there will be grave consequences for smaller towns and rural areas generally. While I am all in favour of balanced regional development and economic expansion which is compatible with the objectives of the national spatial strategy, this should not be advanced relentlessly without due regard for the needs of country people for housing within their own rural communities. There is nothing wrong in principle with placing the development emphasis on gateways and hubs but that policy objective should not work to the detriment of people from rural communities. It may be the case that people may gravitate towards the hubs and gateways but the legislation should not ignore the needs and desires of country people simply because excessive restrictions are placed on the number of residential units in smaller towns and rural areas. I understand the rationale behind a coherent approach to regional development but there should be more to planning than the provision of visually appealing physical structures and the promotion of and support for economic activity. We should show more consideration to those who want to remain outside the hubs and gateways. I am not convinced of the wisdom of concentrating population growth around specific centres while at the same time denuding the rest of the county of people and depriving rural areas a new influx.

I ask the Minister to reflect on the potential effects of this Bill on rural and small town communities and perhaps afford some latitude in respect of any residential development restrictions which may be imposed. On the whole, this is imaginative and positive legislation, not least in terms of taking decisive action against those who show no respect for either the letter or the spirit of our planning and development laws or who cynically exploit the natural environment for personal gain and enrichment. We have learned several chastening lessons from our mistakes and abject failures over the years. These lessons may be costly but this is our golden opportunity to make sure that they are never repeated. Some of the resulting damage cannot be undone but we can rectify and improve our framework and our planning apparatus for the future. We must have a fair and equitable system in which we can all have confidence.

Oireachtas Members from the south east recently met councillors and an official from Carlow County Council to hear their concerns about the impact on Carlow of the designation of gateway status for Waterford and hub status for Kilkenny and Wexford. Waterford hopes to increase its population by 50% by 2022, while Wexford and Kilkenny will experience 30% increases. These designations will have serious consequences for population growth in rural areas and small towns in Carlow. I come from a rural area and would like to see growth in my region. It is particularly important that one-off houses are protected, once they are built to an adequate environmental standard. I could also name several small villages around south County Kilkenny and County Carlow which are projected to expand by 200 or 300 houses. Perhaps this expansion should be curtailed somewhat but they also deserve a slice of the growth planned for the coming 12 years. I hope the Minister takes account of my concerns so that rural Ireland is not forgotten.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Coveney, by agreement.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The explanatory memorandum to the Bill states its introduction is "driven by the overarching ambition to strengthen local democracy and accountability, a key objective in accordance with the ongoing process of local government reform being pursued in the context of the White Paper on Local Government, by maintaining the central role of local government in the planning process". However, the provisions of the Bill are contrary to that aspiration. It appears to be driven by a Minister's desire to pander to a particular urban electorate at the expense of a large number of people who probably would not vote for his party in the first place.

The Bill makes no mention of An Taisce, which is charged with protecting the country's heritage and which does fine work with its green schools programme. That organisation has the right to be notified of and submit appeals to every planning application made to local authorities. It may make observations on files without being required to make a prior submission or pay the €20 required from every citizen. It should at least be required to pay €10 because it appears to make a standard observation on planning files throughout the country. It is unfair if everyone else has to pay to make an observation whereas An Taisce does not. Furthermore, the motivation behind some of the appeals made by the organisation is questionable.

At present a decision by An Bord Pleanála cannot be made by fewer than three members. For some reason, reducing this number to two in certain cases is seen as an improvement. Given that there is no obligation on the body to reach a decision on an appeal within a specified timeframe, I intend to submit an amendment which requires it to determine appeals within one year of their date of registration or within a short period thereafter and, failing that, allows the decision of the local authority will stand by default.

People working in the forestry sector have raised concerns regarding section 4 of the Bill. I am informed that new access roads and entrances to forest plantations will be subject to planning permission. The revenue to be earned from thinning is limited at present and the section is seen as a means of levying extra development contribution funds. This provision could call into the question the viability of thinning, which will impact on the quality of forestry and future value of standings. If thinning is not carried out, the mature timber in a forest will be of poorer quality. The inclusion of forestry roads and access points in the planning process leave them open to appeals which could scupper the viability of harvesting timber.

I welcome in part section 23, which relates to the extension of time as it allows for permission to be extended in the event of issues being outside the commercial or economic consideration beyond the control of the applicant and substantially mitigated against either commencement or the development of the carrying out of substantial works. The previous provision to allow for a second extension is denied. In certain cases wind farm applications have been granted but there has been difficulty in getting into the grid through no fault of the applicants rather due to a lack of network capacity and availability. It is questionable whether some of those projects in Gate 3 will be connected in ten years. Deputy Coveney will probably elaborate more on that. Currently, some projects look doubtful unless things change.

The lack of reference to management companies has been signalled. I am aware of a case where a management company has held a controlling interest in a development. In effect, the management company is the developer, who has kept ten apartments with 1,000 votes each and that will remain the case until all apartments are sold. It seems most unfair. Many problems arise about the finances of the company in question, which is based in Greystones. The situation is replicated across the country. The Bill does not mention that nor is there any attempt to address the management company structure as it currently stands. That is something that should be included if the Bill is to be more than just a political document.

The national spatial strategy is the foundation for many of the new rules that are attached. It has been developed without anyone voting on it. The strategy was developed in secrecy and it must be adhered to. In the same way, the core strategy of new development plans must be consistent with regional planning guidelines. The greater Dublin area includes Wicklow, which is subject to two authorities; the greater Dublin region and the mid-east region. It has now been determined that a joint decision will clear the development plan in Wicklow on which submissions closed on 23 December and a manager's report is currently being prepared. It seems to me that local input is being diluted, which totally contradicts what is stated at the outset.

The attempt to drive lobbying behind closed doors and to direct it more at officials rather than elected members gives rise to many questions. It puts officials in an awkward position. One can sack elected members but one cannot sack those who are appointed. People can make up their minds on the behaviour of local elected representatives every five years. They do not have the opportunity with paid, full-time officials. I do not see how this change will make the planning system more transparent. The Minister seems to be intent on treating public representatives as if they were schoolchildren who cannot be trusted. They are allowed to make decisions but in the same way as the Chinese version of democracy, "as long as you do it our way". The effect will be to turn councils into talking shops——

——as opposed to being places where real decisions can be made. We are always talking about local government reform, devolving power, giving money, authority and responsibility to local authorities. I met the deputation to which Deputy Aylward referred because a little part of Carlow is part of my constituency. The issues raised were pertinent. Target figures were set for hubs, gateways and towns with populations greater than 2,000. Over the course of a five-year plan, fewer than 50 houses can be built in a county. Of late, one would come to the conclusion that dispersed rural communities were responsible for climate change, road infrastructure being shot to pieces, and a burden on all infrastructure. However, when one considers the crime figures and social cohesion it is difficult to sustain the argument that the social fabric in dispersed rural communities is not as good if not better than any big urban settlements where people live on top of each other and need public transport. It is fine for people to make a choice to live in whichever type of community but to restrict settlements of fewer than 2,000 to no more than 60 houses in a five-year period is tunnel vision. It is not practical. I cannot see it being supported.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to try to impress some views on the Minister and his team on the further amendments required to be made to the Bill.

I will speak about the need to link energy policy with planning and development policy given that we are currently in the process of planning and starting to deliver a transformative agenda in terms of this country's energy marketplace that we hope will by 2020 have constructed up to 6,000 MW of capacity from wind. That will require somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 turbines, each one as tall as the spire in Dublin. Those huge construction projects will impact on communities across the country. We are also planning an ambitious roll-out of ocean energy and wave energy projects.

The Bill in its current construct gives rise to concern that we have not integrated energy policy with planning policy to the extent that is required. That is surprising, considering that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government come from the same party and have a similar ideology, which is trying to take this country down a route of renewable energy sources, which I support. We need to ensure that from a practical implementation point of view, which is why I am somewhat pleased at the presence of the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Finneran. I see him as a practical Minister in terms of putting a practical roadmap and viable plan in place that is cost effective for the massive infrastructural construct that is required. It should not cost energy users an absolute fortune. The biggest impediment to the energy revolution that is envisaged here is the construction of the grid infrastructure to deliver that. For example, we need to connect up the wind farms and beef up the electricity infrastructure to a level that is able to take the kind of power that will come from the west, north-west and south-west from big wind energy projects. We need to take another look at the way in which we approach the issue.

The Gate 3 process is deeply flawed in that what we are essentially doing is choosing the areas of the country where we are going to build dozens of wind farms on the basis of how long the developers have been waiting for a decision on grid connection. All over the country we have speculators in this marketplace who have no intention of ever building a wind farm, but they have applied for planning permission and grid connection so that they can sell on those rights when they get them to some big player such as Bord Gáis, Airtricity or Viridian. I am hugely supportive of what the Government parties are trying to do in terms of dramatically increasing the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources, in particular from wind, to meet the targets it has set but they are not planning in the correct way. Parts of the country where infrastructure will be built should be zoned. Those parts should be selected on the basis of wind speed, aesthetic amenity and wind consistency. During the planning stage, we should choose the parts of the country that are most suited to this dramatic construction project with huge towers being built to carry turbines, which will drive the country's power in the future.

We, as policymakers, working with planners, should design the zones in the State that are most suited and then we should approach ESB Networks and EirGrid to connect these zones. Billions of euro will be spent on grid infrastructure over the next number of years, including on 410 kV lines, 220 kV lines and 110 kV lines, which will link large wind farms. The problems, objections, community concerns, costs and challenges, which may involve putting some of the infrastructure underground, should not be addressed in an uncoordinated fashion, as is happening with Gate 3 currently. Will the Minister seriously consider this issue? I am trying to raise it in as constructive a way as I can.

I refer to the microgeneration industry. If farmers are permitted to build turbines on their farms to produce their own power, first, an export tariff scheme must be in place to encourage them to do this from a financial perspective and, second, it must also be ensured that, from a planning perspective, they can do so easily and cost effectively.

Planning issues arise in the development of wind farms. Granting planning permission for five years for such a farm is an issue, given the time it takes to secure grid connection is between eight and ten years. The permission, therefore, will expire before the vast majority of applicants are connected to the grid. The Bill makes provision for applications to the local authority for a five-year extension to planning permissions but the conditions for doing so are not defined. Developers are being asked to spend vast sums on these projects and they must be given certainty about extensions for planning permission. This is an important issue. If an extension is secured, the legislation provides that an applicant cannot ask for a second extension. If a developer has an awkward site for which it may take more then ten years to secure grid roll-out and grid connection, it is insane for us as policymakers to say he or she cannot apply for a second extension. He or she should be able to and the application should be judged on its merits. Perhaps it should not be as easy to be approved for another extension but we cannot prohibit that in law.

Another issue is the use of the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006 for large wind projects. The Minister proposes that the qualifying criteria be reduced. It was suggested that a wind farm project would have to comprise at least 50 turbines before going down the strategic infrastructure route but the number has been reduced to 25. I could understand the thinking behind that if the legislation was working but it is not quicker for a developer to go down this route and it is much more costly. Developers need to come up with €100,000 upfront. If this legislation is used to streamline the planning system, deadlines will have to be set for An Bord Pleanála to deliver. We should consider waiving the €100,000 application fee for the development of wind farms if we are to positively discriminate in favour of this industry to allow those involved to build as quickly as we hope they will build.

Joined up thinking is needed between the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, EirGrid and the other arms of the State responsible for delivering the roll-out of infrastructure that can facilitate the private sector to build wind farms. It also needs to be ensured that the public are protected and their interests and concerns are taken into account regarding this significant construction project. Should we, for example, introduce guidelines regarding the distance between a tower carrying a turbine and a residential property? Addressing such issues will encourage people to develop appropriate sites in isolated areas that do not have scenic amenity problems. This will be welcomed by communities living nearby and it will not result in turbines being built on top of houses and residential communities.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Planning is almost always a contentious issue for politicians, particularly for those of us who live and do business in rural areas. We spent a great deal of time over the past 18 months discussing the financial and banking crisis and the state of our economy and the two issues are intrinsically linked because there is little doubt that planning was an inherent part of the boom that facilitated growth in the property sector. Much of the discussion about planning for the previous five years had been concentrated on preventing local people from building houses in rural areas, suggesting that the focus was on strengthening urban areas and encouraging people to migrate in that way. In our haste as legislator to protect rural areas and prevent people building one-off houses, we took our eye off the ball and there was too much zoning of lands around our towns and villages. We are seeing the impact of that in the banking crisis. I do not suggest that too much zoning of residential land was the cause of the banking crisis but it was a cog in the wheel and the focus from a planning perspective was on the wrong issue.

I was always confused, in trying to understand various local area plans, by why national guidelines on residential density had to apply to rural villages. If five or six acres were due to be rezoned in a village, the housing density had to be eight to ten dwellings per acre. There was clearly no requirement for that. This was followed by an initiative to increase the number of units such as apartments in villages and towns but this was not appropriate to the demands or the needs of the local people. I have always believed that if we had provided for the building of appropriately sized houses on appropriately sized and serviced sites, there would not have been the same demand for the building of one-off rural houses. However, we did not provide anything in the middle. We suggested to people that they should live in a large town or a village but the housing density would be the same. We did not try to resolve that problem and that led to the focus on one-off housing while the real planning crisis was the proliferation of residential zonings in small rural towns, which was a contributing to the banking crisis with which we are now attempting to deal.

Planning is contentious. From the perspective of the individual it is about trying to get the balance right. It is also about consistency. Many people feel there is a lack of consistency, perhaps among individual planners but certainly among different counties. The system must have equality of treatment and equality of outcome regardless of which county one lives in or which planning authority deals with one's case.

From a societal point of view, planning must respect heritage, and it must also take into account the protection of the environment through sustainable development. However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that today's development will be the heritage of the future. There is little doubt that some planning authorities are overly restrictive in trying to ensure the development of today is an extension of that of the past. They do not recognise that each period of history has had its own architectural style. We need to see a greater understanding of contemporary design. There has been some inconsistency across larger counties in some areas, but particularly from county to county. It is important to ensure this is not the case in the future.

We are all having a fine discussion here about planning although, in effect, the horse has already bolted. We have gone so far through our property boom that the bubble has burst, and the level of demand for development over the next number of years will be minimal. Notwithstanding that, it is necessary to set a policy framework for the future, while recognising that it will probably be eight to ten years before there is any appreciable level of development.

In order to resolve the issue of consistency, we need to confer more powers of co-ordination to the regional authority. I do not mean to suggest that we take power away from elected members — far from it. We should empower the elected members to a greater extent, but do so in a framework that includes people from a wider area than just the county planning authority. By using regional authority structures we will ensure we get consistency. I would like to see the process develop in a way that ensures consistency with the co-operation of elected members in neighbouring jurisdictions.

We are all aware of the subjective nature of planning. There is an old adage, "Doctors differ and patients die". Planners also differ, and the repercussions of this create much concern, particularly in rural areas where for no apparent reason two people will end up with different outcomes. This causes much annoyance and we must try, where possible, to ensure it does not happen. National guidelines and legislation are important in this regard.

Planners are often maligned and abused in an unfair way. Those involved in the local authority with which I am most familiar, in County Clare, work extremely hard and provide a good service, although it is not always to the liking of those who receive a negative result. Notwithstanding this, all planners and their senior staff go about their jobs, from their perspective, in a fair and equitable way. Of course there are subjective differences between one case and another, but their motives are right. They are only implementing the law as defined by us as legislators and by local authority members through the creation of development plans. It is unfair that some representatives seek to blame the planners rather than taking on the difficult and contentious issues that are part of the planning process and attempting to explain to their constituents the reasons certain decisions are taken in the formulation of plans and national guidelines. Planners should not always be blamed for decisions that were ultimately not theirs. We must be careful in this regard.

We must be aware of issues such as flooding, particularly in view of what the country went through before Christmas. There is little doubt that this country has experienced the worst flooding in its history. This is particularly true in County Clare, our neighbouring county of Galway and a considerable portion of the mid-west and the western regions in general. The human tragedy endured by many of my constituents and others around the country is impossible to describe. Lives have been destroyed and the dreams of many people have been shattered as a result of the destruction of their homes. They are now living with that burden. The Minister of State, Deputy Michael Finneran, is more than familiar with the issues that have arisen in his own constituency. We have seen the dreams of many people evaporate with the receding floods — people whose houses can no longer be considered homes but are instead burdens. It is in that context that I am discussing this important Bill.

I support in principle the aims and content of the Bill. However, I have a number of observations to make in this regard. We must accept that our weather patterns are changing and that climate change is here to stay. In this context, we must be prudent and properly informed in how we plan and zone land for future development. In other words, we must ensure we plan in an evidence-based way while learning from our mistakes and developing our land in a more strategic and sustainable way for our benefit and that of our children and grandchildren.

Strategic and sustainable land use planning is a prerequisite for avoiding the human tragedy we have experienced in recent months. This means that before our legislation allows for any future zoning of land, any land at risk of flooding must be assessed by experts to determine the level of risk involved. If there is a high risk of flooding and no proper mitigation measures can be provided to protect it from flood waters, the land should not be zoned for development. The planning process needs to be informed by proper evidence and expertise.

In the past, mitigation measures have been provided as a reason for zoning certain lands. However, we must now consider this in the context of value for money. There is a desire to allow towns to develop in a particular strategic way, to some extent over-riding the natural lie of the land, which can include lower-lying areas. We must address the necessity of having more symmetrical development in our towns and accept from the outset that there are some areas that we clearly should not attempt to develop because of the flood risk. It is not a good use of money at the moment to construct flood mitigation measures for the sake of developing certain lands. While Ireland is a relatively small country, the density of our population in comparison to those of many of our neighbours is not overly burdensome. Although no more land is being made, and there is no suggestion that we will be recovering any from the sea, there is enough there to meet our needs for the foreseeable future. It is not necessary to drain shallow lakes for the purpose of allowing towns to develop in a so-called orderly way. We must take this into consideration as we proceed.

Our primary legislation must provide for flood risk assessment because water respects no boundaries, be they local authority or otherwise. We must also consider the management of such areas, again through the regional authorities. There is a need to streamline our transport and recreational planning, from a strategic point of view, through the co-operation of regional authorities. Where common boundaries fall outside the jurisdiction of a regional authority, it is also important that we develop links between local authorities to ensure there is a coherent approach for future planning.

From the perspective of business and investment, it is important that we support the Government's policy in the national spatial strategy by focusing on the consolidation of population in a number of centres. It is important that this policy be reflected at regional government level. We cannot walk away from smaller villages, however, suggesting that they do not get the chance to develop. I am concerned about how section 5 of the Bill talks about the promotion of sustainable settlements and transportation strategies in urban and rural areas, including the promotion of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the necessity of adaptation to climate change. I can understand the thrust of that but, without a balancing element in the Bill, we must be assured that we can maintain the viability of rural communities. There is a danger the section could be used to block development in rural areas on the grounds that development would add to climate change.

In all of this we must focus on our society. We cannot overlay the model that has developed over centuries in other countries, where farmers live in a hamlet and travel to their farms every day. That might happen in other countries but it is not part of our culture; we have a dispersed nature. There are historic reasons for that and it would be wrong to suggest we will change that overnight. There are other things we can do about climate change, sustainable development and transportation without trying to do them in half a generational cycle. I would not support that in any way.

Section 6 indicates the submissions or observations referred to in paragraph (b) shall not relate to a request or proposal for the zoning of specific land for any purpose and section 6(bb) states that they cannot refer to a submission or observation relating to a request or proposal for the zoning of specific lands for any purpose where such a submission or observation is made, notwithstanding the subsection. There is some concern about that. If a community group requests that a particular area be zoned as open space, it could prevent that from happening. It could prevent an environmental organisation from requesting that a particular area be zoned as a conservation area or an individual requesting that a particular area be zoned as a village centre. It is excessive so perhaps the Minister might address it at a later stage. I understand the intention but it might be overly restrictive.

Other speakers have mentioned An Bord Pleanála. Many of us give out about An Bord Pleanála when it delivers a result we are not happy with and laud it when it delivers the result we wanted, but I am concerned about the reduction in the quorum from three to two. There will often be stalemate between two people so there will either be no decision or the process will take much longer. A third person has the capacity to generate a majority. It might allow for more work to be reviewed but it is not the answer. Perhaps there is a need for more staff. I am not advocating that we lift the moratorium, but with the reduced level of activity and planning applications, delays in An Bord Pleanála should be automatically resolved without resorting to the creation of a democratic deficit.

The Minister has the capacity to intervene in local government draft plans. A consultation role is specifically identified between officials and council members. I would hope that includes the Minister meeting with elected members. They are the ones who must stand over the plan when it comes into play. They will have voted on it and it would be appropriate that the elected representative in this House would act with elected local members to ensure such dialogue and understanding exists.

The Bill discusses the wider distribution of development levies. It would be helpful if we were back in 2005 or 2006 but there will be lean pickings for the next ten years. I doubt the Minister for Finance will be in a position to give less money to the Department of Education and Science because local government will be able to provide sites for schools. It is the right way to go, however, and sets the foundation for future development. School sites, broadband provision and flood relief are all good and proper uses for development levies. Some of those levies were not used to the extent they should have been for the provision of playgrounds and other social amenities.

I give a guarded welcome to the Bill. Some clarification is needed and monitoring is necessary. It is difficult that we are doing this while we are on an out cycle in development of the country but it is a useful time to plan the next phase of our growth.

Tá sé go maith go bhfuil an deis agam labhairt ar an mBille seo. Is Bille tábhachtach é agus tá sé ríthráthúil go bhfuil sé os ár gcomhair inniu, go háirithe go bhfuil an deis againn tosú athuair ag féachaint ar phleanáil agus ar fhorbairt sa tír seo mar rinne muid an oiread sin botún le 20 nó 30 bliain anuas.

Ní gá dúinn ach féachaint timpeall ar chathair Bhaile Átha Cliath chun féachaint ar na mórbhotúin a bhí déanta agus ní gá dúinn ach féachaint ar an fhiosrúchán poiblí a bhí ann le tamall maith de bhlianta anois mar gheall ar an chaimiléireacht a bhí ar siúl i mBaile Átha Cliath, i gceantar na comhairle contae go háirithe, in áiteanna cosúil le Leamhcán, Tamhlacht, Blanchardstown agus a leithéid, áiteanna a bhí athzónáil déanta ar cheantair mhóra fhairsinge in ainneoin go raibh na daoine sa chomhairle contae ag an am ag rá nár chóir don phleanáil seo dul ar aghaidh. Ainneoin sin, agus de thairbhe breabanna a tugadh do pholaiteoirí, roinnt acu a bhí sa Teach seo, cuidíodh le daoine a bhí ag triail le forbairt a dhéanamh agus dá bharr sin táimid thíos leis mar chathair. Tá an sochaí ina iomlán thíos leis.

Tá sé tábhachtach anois go gcuirfimid an bunús ceart le déanamh cinnte nach bhfillfimid ar na botúin sin. Mar sin, tacaím leis an mBille seo, ach go háirithe an chuid sin de, mar a deir an meamram a fuair muid, atá ag cur le daonlathas áitiúil mar cheann de bhunphrionsabail an Bhille. Is é mo thuairim féin nach dtéann an Bille fada go leor agus tá ceisteanna agam, cosúil le roinnt de na Teachtaí eile, le freagairt ag an Aire. Seans nuair a bheimid ag plé Chéim an Choiste, beidh sé in ann sin a dhéanamh agus athruithe a dhéanamh.

Ní gá ach féachaint ar an oiread sin eastát tithíochta atá go hiomlán folamh nó leath-fholamh timpeall na tíre le feiceáil cá raibh muid mícheart. Is sampla an-soiléir é sin den dóigh a theip ar an phleanáil. Ní phleanáil tí amháin atá i gceist, ach pleanáil agus forbairt amach anseo. Is é sin an fáth go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go bhfuil na pleananna áitiúla tábhachtach sa Bhille seo agus go bhfuil beagáinín daingniú maidir le pleananna forbartha ó na comhairlí contae sa Bhille, agus maidir le pleananna réigiúnacha.

Sampla eile den teip iomlán ó thaobh pleanála de ná na tuilte a tharla i mbailte timpeall na tíre. Theip ar an chóras pleanála go huile agus go hiomlán a fheiceáil go raibh botún á dhéanamh nuair a tógadh tithe i gceantair a bhí i mbaol tuile. Ní bhainfidh an Bille seo leis sin, déanfaidh na comhairlí áitiúla agus na pleananna áitiúla sin agus foghlaimeoimid ón bhotún a rinneadh toisc go raibh forbairt níos tábhachtaí ná pleanáil cheart le tamall maith de bhlianta.

In my contribution on the opening Stage of this important Bill, I want to concentrate on ensuring that the consequences of bad planning are addressed. I am referring to flooding, a lack of services and empty offices and homes across the country. As has been blatantly evident for the past year, we failed as a society to plan properly. Some of this owed to bad advice, some of it owed to the planning process corruption in which many elected officials and some council officeholders were involved. This corruption was not just confined to the Dublin area.

We need to ensure that, through the mechanisms imposed by the Bill, we do not repeat those mistakes. We must also not repeat the mistake of relying overly on a certain building type or height, as suggested recently. In Dublin at least, the property boom seemed to concentrate overly on apartment blocks, high rises and the rezoning of industrial estates to facilitate them. Proper planning takes account of the need for people to be close to their workplaces. The rezoning of industrial estates in Dublin forced many businesses further and further out of the city centre and the near suburbs. This is not sustainable if we are to be environmentally friendly, as more people need to commute to and from work. Local area plans not only take account of the residential and service needs of local areas, but also of their employment needs. Each local area plan ensures that space is set aside to encourage employment whenever it is created and facilitated by a future Government, as this Government has no action plan in that regard.

Concerning local area plans, communities need to be better facilitated so as that they can have the technical aid they need to play a full role. A mechanism by which communities were given extra help, resources and abilities to challenge planning applications detrimental to their societies and communities and Government plans on large developments such as roads and so on was the community development project system. Included in the list produced on Friday of community development projects that were not granted a reprieve was Community Technical Aid, CTA, one of this city's organisations that have helped communities to acquire and utilise the skills they require to play a full role in the planning system. In particular, it helped inner city communities that were trying to be regenerated to set their own demands. It allowed community members, from the youngest child to the oldest resident, to understand their role in future planning. Even at this late stage, will serious consideration be given to allowing a role for those community development projects and partnership that still exist so as that communities can be facilitated in trying to get to grips with major planning proposals and with playing a full role in local area planning?

We are addressing planning and development. The Minister will table amendments to section 22 that are designed to remove any legal blockage to e-planning. What of planning notices? Not only will they be erected at the dwelling in question, but notice should also be served on other dwellings in the vicinity, for example, all homes within a radius of 500 m in an urban area and a radius of 1 mile in a rural area. Not everyone reads newspapers or has access to e-mail. Planning permissions and applications have gone ahead without neighbours being aware of them or their own roles in that regard. This mechanism is available in other countries and should be encouraged, as it allows people to understand that they have a role in objecting if they wish.

Will the Minister of State remove the €20 fee on planning objections? A recent European Court of Justice judgment means that VAT is to be applied on goods and services supplied by the State. Will the Minister of State give a commitment that VAT will not be charged on the fee, as doing so would make objecting more expensive for communities? Knowing the Government, it would charge VAT at the 21% rate because it believes that objecting to a planning application is a luxury. If it believed otherwise, it would remove the fee.

This legislation does not deal with a problem in my area fully, namely, the ability of the likes of the Railway Procurement Agency to ride roughshod over local communities. In some cases, it seems to be a law unto itself. It produces plans, but only then consults communities instead of consulting them in the first instance. I am referring to the Inchicore area where CIE operates. The intention is to place a portal — an exit — of the DART extension in the middle of a community. It would be like putting a portal in the heart of this Chamber. That would be the effect on people living around the site of the portal of the DART extension tunnel.

There was no consultation prior to the plan although there seems to be a bit of movement from the RPA after the fact. With proposals on that scale, there should be consultations with the community before the fact. Options should be outlined and the public should be asked for opinions, as alternatives have been proposed by various people in the community which would be less detrimental and probably more effective than what the RPA intends to do in that case.

Ugly and inappropriate buildings are also relevant to planning regulations. Some buildings overshadow older and established community buildings, and most councils are now in the middle of drawing up draft development plans. As elected Members, we know how to use this process and we understand its consequences, although others do not. Sometimes there are inappropriate buildings that may be in line with development plans but do not sit well with the area, sticking out like a sore thumb.

One of the recent examples is the proposal which will destroy and overshadow a national monument. There is a proposal to develop the area around Moore Street, the Carlton cinema and on to O'Connell Street and make it look like some type of fancy shopping centre with a ski resort. The plans look as if there is a ski resort on the top of the building heading towards the GPO. People could ski down the building, take off and land on the roof of the GPO.

This is inappropriate given that this is the historic heart of Dublin. This site was in the hands of the authorities but it has now reverted to private ownership, with the owners feeling they can do with it what they want. This site should be preserved and this is the type of proposal where a local area plan should be built up. This type of proposal should not get to the planning stage and should be ruled out as inappropriate and out of kilter with other buildings, the future planning for that area and the common good.

Much more imaginative proposals could be made for that site, particularly the side of Moore Street from No. 10 to No. 21. This would not only facilitate the preservation of the national monument but bring about significant tourist development for the future. It is the Acting Chairman's area and he would welcome more tourism for the north inner city in particular.

That is not the only affected area. There has been municipal destruction of historic sites elsewhere and I see nothing in the Bill that could prevent that other than to be aware of them in advance. The latest site was discovered in Smithfield. It is a Viking site showing that Viking Dublin was on both sides of the river, and this can be preserved intact. What has become common of late is for archaeologists to work under severe pressure to locate and excavate sites before covering them with concrete because they cannot preserve them in situ or else take them from the location, which defeats the science of archaeology.

When we come across sites like this with no development proposal, the State must step in quickly to preserve the site. Ireland has relied on tourism in the past and can rely on it more in future. That involves promoting our heritage and history, of which we have much. Not every site is as valuable as what I have outlined and not every site can be preserved. Key sites like the one on Wood Quay, which was destroyed by Dublin City Council, the site in Smithfield and the likes of the GPO and Moore Street should be saved. We can also go across the country taking in the likes of Tara and the Viking town outside Waterford.

Many sites must be preserved intact in their own environment to show the world. There are 60 million people in America who believe they are of Irish descent. Many of them would love to return to Ireland and see for themselves the parts of our history which are intact. There has been much done in the past and the likes of Newgrange, etc., have been well preserved, with interpretive centres built to ensure the site is not damaged with a significant influx of tourists. There are other plans which could destroy the environment and landscape of such sites. This ties in with the regional planning we spoke about.

A regional planning authority and regional plans have been mentioned. In the case of the Dublin and east coast region, will the new directly-elected mayor be in charge of this? That position will only come into being if the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, manages to get his act together and produce that legislation.

I do not have time to address the problem of multi-unit development. I do not know if section 31 of the Bill is anomalous but if it is passed into law, the council will ask itself to take property in charge in some cases because the council would be the owner of many dwellings, including affordable and social housing in some complexes. The council would have a vested interest in taking in charge some of the properties, which might cause a problem in future.

I am delighted to speak on the Bill, which in general is quite progressive legislation. I come from a part of the world where over the past 15 years or so there has been a history of bad planning, much of which relates to too much residential land being zoned without having regard to other requirements in an area, such as education and industry. The biggest problem we had in my constituency is not having a dearth of land zoned for industry, education or community purposes but rather that the land was not available for such purposes.

In fairness to Meath County Council, it has got much better at this, although it is probably 15 years too late. Its local area and development plans prohibit one type of development until necessary and complementary development is also put in place. I know that is part of any of the local area plans which it has completed in the couple of years since we had the famous Laytown schools crisis. In that case, thousands of houses were built and although a substantial amount of land was zoned for schools and education, it simply was not available to the parish or Department. Things have changed since then.

This Bill will not change such circumstances but it will serve to highlight the importance of proper planning and development and the need to get issues right. Local area plans have formed a key part of local authority planning and it seems that, until recently, local authorities probably did not realise the significance of local area plans or the requirements for such plans to coincide with development plans. The fact that they did not always match has caused many problems in one part of my constituency, where land zoned for a green area was, in effect, dezoned back to being residential. The local area plan was amended to dezone residential land for green space but the county development plan had not been amended in that fashion. I disagreed with the decision, but An Bord Pleanála saw fit to allow residential development where the wishes of the locally elected members and the public would have been for this to remain a green area. In fact, developers would have presumed that to be the case at the time. While we are improving in these areas, we are slightly too late.

I have no difficulty with the intervention of the Minister in local area plans. I know that many local authority members have been to the Dáil complaining about it, but I have no difficulty. He should intervene. This was first done by Deputy Dick Roche as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, when he overturned zoning in County Laois and it has been carried on by the current Minister. Up to now, it has only been possible in respect of a county development plan, but this Bill will allow the Minister to intervene in local area plans. That will keep the pressure on local authorities to make sure that they are carried out properly, with due regard to proper planning and development. There are new requirements in the Bill to have regard to the regional guidelines in the national spatial strategy. That was always there, but it was not complied with by local authorities.

The public consultation for development plans is very good in theory. The council must advertise the fact that a development plan is being made or changed. However, the public does not generally respond. In cases where I circulated information to housing estates, notifying people that there was a change in the local area plan and asking them if they wished to put forward submissions, most residents did not make submissions, even if a few make very good ones. It is only when a planning application goes in that the people living in the area become concerned about it. I would encourage local residents to take a full part in making local development plans. Members of the public should play an intrinsic part in making development plans, so it is very important that they take up that right. It is incumbent on public representatives to do that. I remember circulating information to all the houses in Stamullen when the Stamullen framework plan was launched, and the public are glad to know that. The council has a role because Deputies are not part of the planning process, even if we might make submissions as members of the public. However, it is our role to highlight what is going on in our local areas.

The Minister might look at the provision under law for Deputies to make submissions on planning applications and to An Bord Pleanála, because it is not that clear on what we can and cannot do. We are sometimes asked to make submissions and I find that if I write it in a certain way, An Bord Pleanála will send it back demanding a formal submission, while at the same time stating that Deputies do not have to make formal submissions. It all seems to depend on what is written in the submission. There is an opportunity in this Bill, or in secondary legislation, to outline exactly what Deputies can or cannot do in respect of submissions. Some local authorities will allow a submission to be made after a deadline if it is in support of an application for a one-off house. An Bord Pleanála allow this if it is written in a certain way. This needs clarity because we are asked regularly to make submissions and sometimes these are made at the last minute. I do not like objecting to developments. If there is a real proposal that can be delivered in the current economic climate, it is incumbent on us as Deputies to look at such a plan seriously and to take a lead in what might be good for the community.

There is a positive provision in the Bill where a local authority can now refuse planning permission where an applicant has carried out a substantial unauthorised development, or is being convicted of an offence under the Planning Acts. This is associated with large scale developers not finishing estates properly, so it is correct that this provision is introduced. Some of our rogue developers would not have got planning permission if such a provision were in place. However, there are other people outside that bracket who operate illegally and when the crunch comes, they look for planning permission. They might have been forced to do so due to financial circumstances, but it has to be said that many people who are operating premises properly and with planning permission begrudge the fact that such people can get planning permission. The councils accept rates from many of these unauthorised developments by unauthorised commercial operators, and this gives it a certain status. Even if it does not officially count for anything on a planning application, it must count for something that the rates have been accepted from the unauthorised commercial operator.

I was speaking to a constituent at the weekend. He applied for planning permission, paid the planning levies and was paying rates, yet somebody down the road did not get planning permission and did not pay levies but is paying rates. That is a smaller amount than the levies, and my constituent begrudges the fact that one side of the local authority is treating this unauthorised development officially. This needs to be examined, and perhaps a penalty should be placed on the rates for unauthorised commercial operations.

The issue of the Brú na Bóinne world heritage site is dear to the hearts of my constituents, and there are no better people than my constituents to protect and defend Brú na Bóinne and the heritage site that we have in Meath. However, it must be said that the Department is taking too restrictive a view on planning applications, not only within the world heritage site and the buffer zone, but also in areas further out from that. The Department has gone too hard on people in recent months, with a much tougher approach. The Meath county development plan already has a very strict provision on the construction of one-off housing in the buffer zone and the core area of the world heritage site at Brú na Bóinne, where planning permission is only allowed for full-time farmers in the area whose land is entirely in the buffer zone. That is very strict and many of the local people are annoyed with the provision because locals who are not farming cannot continue to live in their own parish. These are local people who are very proud of their heritage and the link with prehistory in County Meath. However, we will end up in a situation where there are no young people left in the area. It will be a museum and will be full of older people whose families have had to move away.

The full-time farmer issue is too strict, but that is a matter for the council in conjunction with the Department. However, I have encountered three cases of farmers in the area who qualified under the development plan criteria, yet the Department saw fit to object to their housing on other grounds. That is very difficult and frustrating for people. They do not feel that they have a level playing field on which to operate. Some planning permissions were granted over the last few years within the heritage site for people who were not from the area.

I am also concerned to see that Department officials are asking for expensive environmental impact assessments on Knowth, Newgrange and Dowth for any applications within two miles of the world heritage site, including townlands like Kellystown and Mellifont, which are closer to Cullen and Tullyallen in County Louth. It is not fair on young couples who want to live in their area to supply information to the Department on the impact their property might have on the world heritage site, when their property is far from the site and not affected by the restrictive provisions under the development plan. The Department is going too far and is changing the goalposts again. There is nothing in writing to suggest that this is what these people have to do. The Minister might respond and claim that the planning permission is a matter for the council, but surely there is always a threat of the Department going to An Bord Pleanála because it did not like the planning application.

It seems that there is a creeping involvement by the Department in planning in County Meath. I am sure it will spread countrywide. Local people, intrinsic to an area, are entitled to live in the area and the area is entitled to have them. People are not allowed to live in their areas and not allowed to build houses. It is simply not fair that the Department keeps changing the goalposts on the spurious grounds that a house far outside the Newgrange buffer zone has something to do with Newgrange, Knowth or Dowth when it is in the parish of Tullyallen and Cullen. What is not included in the county development plan has been pursued by the Department. The county council must take a tougher line with the Department. What is in the development plan is too strict and we should not go beyond what is included in it. That has happened in the Newgrange area. I must say that on behalf of my constituents, who will be the protectors of the heritage in County Meath. They know Newgrange, Knowth or Dowth better than anyone. I know the area better than anyone because every Sunday morning I was brought out there for a walk with my brothers, sister, father and mother. When I went back to canvas, people in the area were kind enough to say they remembered that. I am proud of heritage but I do not want to turn our county into a museum. Our county must be living and breathing, protecting our heritage but moving on to allow people live in the area. I am not talking about large-scale development. I am passionate about this point and plead with the Minister to examine the submissions made by the Department. Are they too strict? Is there any reality to the threats the Department sees in planning permission within the world heritage site?

I am concerned about the Slane bypass. It is proposed to build this 500 m outside the buffer zone to protect a world heritage site. The website of the Save Newgrange campaign shows a picture of Newgrange against the Slane bypass. It is disappointing that members of Opposition parties are trying to have it both ways when a little heat comes on. This party, my colleagues and councillor Wayne Harding in Slane fully back the Slane bypass. I will not participate in public meetings against the Slane bypass. It would be hypocritical to do so. Having said that, I have met people who have concerns about the bypass and I am willing to meet anyone else who has concerns about it. Unlike some Opposition politicians, I will not attend public meetings against the Slane bypass. It is particularly hypocritical of Opposition politicians to do this. I am still trying to find out which Opposition politicians attended these meetings. I have a number of names. They have been criticising the Government for holding up the Slane bypass over the years. We want to see progress as quickly as possible. These politicians have been criticising the Government yet the first time there is a meeting expressing concerns about the bypass they attend to see what is going on and to act as Tadhg an dá thaoibh. These planning difficulties are intrinsic to my constituency. It is important that I raise them in this House.

I welcome the progress this Bill represents and I welcome the tightening of planning regulations. Some of the focus on one-off housing is incorrect. A local rural community needs young people for its schools, football teams, to create employment and to keep people in the community. That has been denied in the world heritage site and beyond it because of the Department's involvement in planning permission.

This is an important debate that raises many serious issues. Politics and planning do not go together, certainly not when it comes to corruption, because the two seem to have been interlinked in this country for many years. Tribunals have sat for many years but we still do not know the outcome. Suffice it to say serious questions have been raised about the connection between members of different political parties, predominantly Fianna Fáil, and builders and developers and the rotten core of Irish life that was corrupt planning politics. Hopefully it is over and this legislation will go some way towards bringing that to finality. We must reflect on the role of politicians setting policy and intervening in planning applications. I do not know why Deputies, as opposed to any other member of the public, should have special powers in respect of planning objections. People approach Deputies asking them to support the objection as part of the community. The Deputy then has the right to sign off on that and send an individual letter or make an observation. One does not have to go through the formal objection process at present. The present system is rotten to the core. It is rotten because we have so many people living in negative equity and so many estates built with no services, no schools, no shopping and no public transport. It happens because the planning process was totally inadequate and in many cases corrupt. I say this because it is true and we all know it.

The result was the so-called building boom, where thousands of houses were built at highly inflated prices, driven and facilitated by the Government. The current Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, is the only Taoiseach to go on the record in this House to say things will be worse rather than better for the children of the future. He said that as a result of the collapse in property prices and our economic difficulties. He and his Government are accountable for this. The change that must be made to planning cannot ignore the vast profits made from the rezoning of land by developers and landowners. The people who facilitated this transfer in illegal ways made a great deal of money. I am not talking about the legitimate planning process but backdoor deals, calls in the dark and the brown paper envelopes in a folded copy of The Irish Times in the Dáil bar. This has happened and we must get rid of it.

As a society, the fundamental decision we must make is that we can no longer allow situations where land is rezoned to endow a significant benefit to those who own the land. The Kenny report on building land referred to adding 25% to the commercial valuation of land. This happens in particular with agricultural land. A fair amount of money should be given but should be limited in order that this can never happen again. We can talk about a change of Government or a change of planning laws but until we make sure the planning process is fundamentally altered in this respect, we cannot face our young people in the future. As a result of this our young people are disadvantaged. Those who purchased houses at inflated prices are left with negative equity and without jobs. It is a disgrace and is primarily because of the economic policy of this Government and Governments in the past, particularly of the Fianna Fáil variety.

We are all paying for the relationship between the boom and the bust. Taxpayers will pay for it for an unknown period. In attempts to deal with this issue, aspects of the Bill refer to local development plans, county development plans, spatial strategies and new regional bodies. Regional bodies do not make sense because they involve people travelling from one side of the country to the other to meet officials who do not belong to the council and whom they will not see again. It is supposed to be based on the spatial strategy. Politics is at the heart of the national spatial strategy for which the Government is responsible. That is a fact. When areas were designated for growth under the current spatial strategy, one can consider the towns of Drogheda and Dundalk. Under freedom of information legislation I was able to find out little other than the fact that a document went to Cabinet, which will take eight to ten years to be released, presenting a choice between Drogheda and Dundalk for development and designation under the spatial strategy. The problem was that the accompanying documentation underestimated the population of Drogheda so that it was not included. I do not know what happened at a Cabinet meeting but clearly, the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, who would have been present, did not bang the drum for his home county when it came to Drogheda. However, another Minister banged the drum for his political party, the current Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith. The record shows that when both Cavan and Monaghan towns were not included in the draft spatial strategy, he said: "You better include the two of them." The planning reason for this decision was a political planning reason; if Monaghan was not included, then Sinn Féin would win a seat in Cavan-Monaghan and how terrible that would be. This is on the record if the Ministers would care to look at it. Let us get the facts right about the spatial strategy; in some cases, the spatial strategy was a con. Not only was it a con but whatever good might have been in it, the former Minister for Finance, Mr. McCreevy, decided that the places not chosen as spatial strategy hub centres would be given Government Departments and there was one for every county and a smaller one for every little town. It was an absolute joke. They destroyed the good concept of a proper spatial strategy, free from political interference, based on good planning principles but flexible.

Look at what has happened in the greater Dublin area in the context of the current national spatial strategy. If the phenomenal growth around the greater Dublin area is superimposed upon a map of Ireland, it shows that this growth is totally disproportionate in terms of size. The shift of population to the east has had a very adverse impact on the environment, the type of estates built, lack of planning and lack of facilities. I refer to the time spent commuting by those living in the greater Dublin area. The quality of life they were living as a result of bad planning is a disgrace. It reflects very badly on county councils and on Government. What is needed in order to change the situation and how can it be made work? This Government is not making things work.

The Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, brought in the Dublin Transport Authority and then the National Transport Authority and here is the planning problem. Deputy Thomas Byrne represents Meath East which is part of the greater Dublin area so from the national transport point of view, any new planning permission in County Meath, right up to the border with Drogheda, is part of the National Transport Authority and therefore there must be a transport plan involved in the planning application. Anyone wishing to build 500 houses in County Meath must have a transport plan but on the other side of the River Boyne in County Louth, a transport plan is not required and a developer can continue to build the sort of estates he built for other people. A developer is not required to have a proper transport plan. This does not make sense. It does not make sense that the imposition of boundaries which are not practical and do not make sense, is continuing. I cannot understand why the county of Louth was not included in the greater Dublin area and it makes no sense from any point of view. The only people who can gain from lack of proper planning are the developers and the gombeen developers and gombeen men who will continue to do what they always did, fleece the poor people of the country and leave them as they have left them.

The situation is very bad and although this proposed Bill may make certain improvements, unless we have absolute and total change and change forever, we will be coming back here in five and ten years time with the same appalling, shameful, disgraceful situation of negative equity and the madness to buy bricks and mortar totally out of kilter with prices and land values and the people are sick of it.

The Green Party is now part of this wonderful Government. A few years ago, when Deputy Paul Gogarty was a member of the Opposition he went over to the other side of the House, to a seat in the third row, during a debate on planning and said he wanted to sit over in the Fianna Fáil seats to know what it was like to sit on the corrupt side of the House. Those were his words, more or less.

He learned a lot over there.

He learned how to say "expletive deleted" anyway. My point is there is an incompatibility between the aims and the credibility of the Green Party which is now lumped in with the Fianna Fáil builders and developers and so on.

I wish to address some points of local interest and the question of archaeology. When a developer knocked down a listed building in Drogheda in 1987 in the middle of the night, I went to the High Court along with a colleague of mine, the late Eddie Doherty, because the local authority members sat on their backsides and would do nothing about it. We made sure that the wonderful people who knocked down the listed building in the middle of the night would sift and sort by hand through that rubble and take out every possible brick and piece of wood and anything else that could used in the restoration of that building. This case was a marker to show that people could never again do what those people did. They faced a fine of £10,000, the maximum fine at the time and the case was tried in the Circuit Criminal Court in Dublin. The law changed so that the maximum fine is now €1 million.

I advise the Deputy that individuals should not be identifiable.

What individual did I identify? I ask the Acting Chairman to tell me.

I am just reminding the Deputy.

The Acting Chairman should tell me. Is he telling me the people who knocked the building down were good people?

The Deputy is divulging details of the case in question.

Would the Acting Chairman defend them, because I would not?

Certainly not. I am just pointing out to the Deputy that it is not allowed for allegations to be made where people——

What allegations?

——could be identifiable.

They were identified in court. They were brought before the Circuit Criminal Court in Dublin and they were convicted, that is the point. Who is the Acting Chairman afraid of? We have to change the way we do things. People who break the law like that must never get away with it. I have not mentioned their names here but they are on the record of the court and on the record of the affidavits we swore about them.

The Deputy's argument is not with the Chair, so I ask him to proceed.

My argument is that there is too much corruption in politics. There has been too much corruption in politics and too much corruption in the Acting Chairman's party, under some of its leaders.

I am sorry, Deputy——

I am fed up to the teeth with this pussyfooting about.

——but your argument is not with the Chair.

I ask the Acting Chairman to please tell me when I am in breach of the rules but when I want to tell the truth there is one place to say it and that is here and nowhere else. I repeat we must fundamentally change our planning process and we must make that change now because if we do not do so, this will continue on for generations. The only way to do it is to expose the rank corruption that exists in public life and to draw a line between what has happened in the past and what will happen in the future. The only way to do this is by discussing the issue here in this House and taking up the good points made by all Members.

On the question of archaeology, I was referring to the case involving the Drogheda Grammar School which was demolished in the middle of the night. The law was changed as a result of my action and that of my friend. We put our own money into it. We had no choice because we believed in what we were doing as we believe in what we are doing today.

Brú na Bóinne is a national heritage site and, if not a unique world site, is certainly unique in western Europe. I do not have a problem with protecting every bit of it. If local people want to build on that site, I do not have a problem if the criteria and protocols are laid down. If a local authority decides a person can build a house in a particular location it should apply criteria to the permission and site impact and lay down guidelines so that people know what will be permitted. The National Roads Authority seems to have a death wish to involve communities in strife over where roads are to be built. This was evident at the Tara site and it will now happen over Brú na Bóinne and this does not make sense. Roads should be built as far away as possible from a national heritage site, whatever the cost. In the case of the controversy over Tara, I do not understand why the National Roads Authority did not opt for a route that avoided the site. It might have been the most expensive option and it might have necessitated building an additional bridge because of the contours of the road, but it should have been done because it was the option with the least impact on the archaeological heritage of the area.

There are positive and negative aspects of the Bill. I have been seriously critical in the past of the national spatial strategy, mainly because a coach and four was put through it, with certain areas that were not designated growth centres seeing massive expansion and areas that were designated for growth undergoing no development. The Government must review the strategy without delay. For example, the greater Drogheda area, as I call it, should be taken out of the Border, midland and western, BMW, region and incorporated into the greater Dublin area. We must look realistically at where development has taken place; it will not do simply to impose the footprint of the existing strategy on the realities of modern Ireland and hope the two will fit together. I am not confident that the provisions regarding regional plans based on the spatial strategy will be effective. They have not been effective in the past because the national strategy was entirely ignored. We must begin all over if we are to get it right. Above all there must be transparency and accountability in the planning process.

I thank the Minister of State for listening to my contribution. There must be fundamental and absolute change. More of the same is not acceptable.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill. I am deeply disappointed that so few Members are in the Chamber to discuss issues pertaining to planning which should be of great interest to us all. The planning discourse in this State is in chaos. I listened with great care to the debate that has taken place thus far on this legislation. There should be broad public support for effective planning and politicians should support effective planning.

I entered politics in 1974 when I was elected to two local authorities, Galway County Council and Galway City Council. The latter rarely used what was called the section 4 process for overturning the opinion of planning officials on the council. On the other hand, because many of the members of Galway County Council were teachers, there was a convention that no vote should be taken on a section 4 proposal until 4.30 p.m. This ensured all the teachers were present for the section 4 vote and then there would be a rash of them.

The teachers were not the problem.

The average number of such votes was probably 15, although it reached 30 on occasion. It was almost like a system of carbon credits with people owing each other support on section 4 votes. Members from one side of the county would vote for something on the basis that they had credit from another councillor in another part of the county. That was disgraceful. I do not have time today to go into why the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act 1963 was originally introduced. At the time of its introduction there was a fundamental confusion in the Irish psyche as to the absolute rights of ownership. If one owed something the assumption was that one did what one liked with it. After all, there had been hundreds of years of foreign landlordism and so on. The 1963 Act sought to address that. During the irresponsible section 4 period in the mid-1970s to which I referred, I was, together with Michael Bannon, also a member of the Regional Studies Association which was trying to make the case for regional planning. I am in favour of effective regional planning rather than the cosmetic regionalism which stands today as a substitute for it.

As we discuss planning in 2010, we must acknowledge the growing acceptance internationally that we should be concerned about inter-generational justice. If there is one development that is taking place at a general level it is that the thinking in regard to the morality of politics is such, be it in terms of climate change, war and peace, world poverty, the elimination of disease and so on, that those of us who have the benefit of being elected politically should be interested in the consequences of our actions past an election period. Moreover, the Executive should be concerned, whether in respect of heritage, planning and so on, about the consequences of taking an irreversible decision. A failure to consider the consequences of such decisions is evident in the case of the Corrib gas field, the development at Tara and many other areas. The consequences have been quite disastrous.

That failure to consider the consequences of our actions is the reason we have a broken discourse on planning issues. What we have instead are pools of suspicion. I and colleagues in the Dáil received letters urging us to come together to express our support for the Shell development in Mayo. That was outrageous. It is entirely inappropriate that we seek to influence that type of planning decision. The particular way in which planning was handled in that case was in itself scandalous. The developers, having had their application refused, took part in a meeting with the then Taoiseach and other members of the Government which in turn led to the presentation to An Bord Pleanála on 19 September 2003 of what was referred to as the "case for indigenous gas". The chairman of that meeting pointed out that there could not be a presentation on the basis of a particular application, so we had a presentation on the case for indigenous gas.

It was remarkably similar to the letter I received pointing out how essential this development was and why all politicians should come out in favour of it before the decision was made. At a meeting attended by 800 people, including some who are still Members of the House on the Fianna Fáil side, it was proposed that a fresh application be submitted. And on it went. On 17 December 2003 Shell resubmitted its planning application to Mayo County Council and new submissions were made. On 30 April 2004 the council granted planning permission in response to which residents appealed to the Planning Appeals Board. However, on 23 October 2004, the board delivered a unanimous decision to approve planning permission.

I was a Member of the Seanad when Justin Keating announced there would be three guiding principles in respect of any such development: first, the State acting for the people as owners of the resources should be paid for those resources; second, companies engaging in offshore development on the Irish continental shelf should be subject to Irish taxation and, third, since the resources are public property, the State must have the right to participate in their exploitation.

Those principles were later overthrown. Irrespective of whether one agreed with them, at least they addressed the public interest. I will remind the House of the alternative that was introduced after the principles were reversed in the case I have mentioned. When the initial application was refused, representatives of the main developing company met the Taoiseach and a Minister. A letter was sent to public representatives in the region inviting us to a public meeting, but I refused to attend. A new decision was reached and we have had chaos since then. Regardless of whether one was for or against the proposal in question, it was not the best way to develop resources.

The politicians involved contaminated the process. I will come back to this matter because a price is continuing to be paid in terms of community conflict and distress. Agencies of the State got involved on the side of the developer, rather than on the side of the community. Given that alternative models were available in other countries, it was scandalous that we proceeded as we did. It reveals the mindset of certain people. I am reminded of the woman who was sent to jail in New York, who said that taxes are for small people. In this case, it seems that planning is not for big people. There is a suggestion that if a project is of sufficient importance, one can proceed with it regardless of whether others like it. That is what happened in this instance. The full scandalous facts of these secret meetings should be put into the public realm.

Why has Ireland not fully ratified and implemented the Aarhus Convention, which allows public participation in planning discourse? When the Minister replies at the end of this debate, perhaps he can explain how much progress has been made with the implementation of the convention. One could give a rather old and gentrified response, to the effect that we are doing so much under our existing legislative arrangements that we almost do not need the convention. It is as if we think we are a cut above the other European countries that have decided to implement the EU directive. In his response, can the Minister say how many cases have been initiated by the Commission at the European Court of Justice? To what matters do those cases relate? Will the matters in question be resolved?

I would like to mention another notion, which involves a kind of sideways political approach to planning. When I was the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, I was responsible for the implementation of certain directives at different times. When I dealt with candidate sites for designation as special areas of conservation or national heritage areas, it became useful for Fianna Fáil, and sometimes Fine Gael, to say that Michael D. was just doing his thing and all the rest of it. In fact, when Deputy Treacy had preceded me as Minister of State in this area, he had concluded the negotiations in Brussels. Different things might have been done at those discussions. It was my duty as the member of the Cabinet with responsibility for heritage to legislate for the directives in question, and I did so.

I would like to make a statement which anyone can refute if they wish. In the Rossport case, which I mentioned earlier, the EU birds directive has been flagrantly and publicly broken. There has been interference with special areas of conservation. Work has taken place in the full knowledge that the relevant area was protected and without any consequences being invoked. I refer again to the notion that some projects are too big for public accountability and transparency in planning. I am not making accusations that I cannot support. I am certainly not attacking planners because I am in favour of planning. It is hypocrisy of the first rank for a Minister with responsibility for the environment to ask local authority planning sections to come up with compliance, while not providing those sections with the staff to enable them to do so.

I am well aware that there can be petty jealousies in the engineering profession at times. I have been proposing since 1974 that a city architect be appointed in Galway city. I nearly secured such an appointment at one time, until someone said that a senior engineering post would have to be lost. One could have an architect buried in the planning department. I know what an architect is and I know what an engineer is. One could have an architect in the planning department who is responsible to someone else, but one could not have a city architect who is responsible for examining the shape of the city. The proposals in this Bill relate to similar forms of planning. I would like attention to be paid to An Bord Pleanála's new and accelerated powers in the response that is made at the end of this debate. For example, some of the powers of the former harbour authorities are to be divested through the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to An Bord Pleanála.

The many references to regional planning in this Bill are very laudable. The legislation makes interesting reference to transport. CIE is the statutory authority with responsibility for public transport in the Galway area. It has made a proposal in respect of a major site that it owns. It is one of the largest sites in a European city, proportionately, in terms of acres. CIE has not carried out any study of current or future transport needs in the region. In effect, it has gone out to tender for the development of the site, less than 15% of which will be retained for public transport uses. It proposes to sweat the site for the cost of making a few minor amendments to public transport. Not one penny of the cost of this development in Galway city will be met from Transport 21. The local newspapers, which are too lazy to investigate the matter properly, have referred to CIE's €1 billion plan for a high-rise residential and retail development. As CIE could not get permission to knock a little stone building, it now regards it as a community shed to be used for artistic purposes.

The next large development in Galway is likely to take place at Galway Port, which is down by the side of the major CIE site. The local authority will wait for the details of the two development projects to come in from the developers before asking them to bear in mind the strategic elements of its city development plan. The point is that this Bill refers to local area plans — I know what they are — but does not make the local authority responsible for producing a master plan when development areas are adjacent to each other. Very fine proposals have been made in respect of Galway Port, for example, involving the reclamation of a considerable portion of land from the sea. In his concluding response, perhaps the Minister will tell the House who owns that land. I understand the port company proposes to dispose of its inner land to finance this proposal, as it is entitled to do. In fairness, it has shown its proposals, which involve the arrival of cruise liners, etc., to Galway City Council. That is in contrast with CIE, which has received three invitations to come to the city council. The manager has said that CIE has not refused to come — it just simply has not come.

That might all seem very particular, but it relates to the fundamental points I am making. Where is the commitment to the Aarhus Convention? Why do we have to offer deposits if we wish to offer an opinion on, or make an objection to, a particular plan? Where is the connection between the different projects that have come in together? A strategic master plan is required in such circumstances. What was the record of An Bord Pleanála when it came under political pressure at the very top? The other point I have made relates to quiet compliance. It is scandalous that so many elected representatives do it. I have spoken about the suggestion that all this stuff about birds and snails is a pain in the neck, and that real people just get on with it.

They did get on with it by building tens of thousands of houses. They built townhouses in villages in counties Roscommon and Leitrim and similar places. As one drives past them, one can see the place for the crèche. Outside tubs were to be constructed in Ballydehob. What caused all this and which parties facilitated it? Some Members of this House have been weeping tears for the recent floods but who themselves wrote in favour of planning permissions for houses to be built on flood plains. I distinctly remember, for example, having opposed the building of houses on a flood plain in Oranmore, County Galway, being accused of being against development. I refer to the thick, ignorant, red-necked "do not hold me back" culture of which the construction industry, in fairness to it, was not part. I know many people in the construction industry and I respect those who build and design houses and who put block upon block. They were not the people who brought us to our present position. That was done by the people who speculated on the land, which went from 15% of the price of the finished product 15 years ago to 50% in the so-called boom times. Such people did not dirty their hands, handle a trowel or lift a hod. They were a small number of chancers who could run the little gambling club that was Anglo Irish Bank. I suppose everyone now is supposed to grieve for them in case they are obliged to run abroad. What a group they were and what a legacy they have left behind.

As Members go through this legislation, I wish to be entirely fair to it. I agree with some aspects of it, including, for example, some of the adjustments of local plans to regional strategies. I also welcome what must be done in respect of anticipating the future consequences of climate change. The last point I wish to make pertains to the new intellectual drift in respect of planning that Ireland needs a new North-South corridor, that is, a second eastern corridor. This view has been proposed by the Dublin Institute of Technology, for example, and is in complete contradiction of the Atlantic way proposals that have obtained heretofore. This constitutes poor planning, poor scholarship and bad methodology in the manner in which it was put together. I refer to the urban diseconomies that were experienced in the cities and which drove people out into counties Kildare, Meath and so forth and note that such people must now commute back from their houses in negative equity with all the consequences of being on the road and so forth. On the other side of such urban diseconomies lay the neglected infrastructure in all the towns and rural areas in which development could have taken place. Schools were closing for the lack of pupils while at the same time, there were shortages of schools in the areas in which urban diseconomies had been allowed.

It is time for all Members to make a commitment to planning and to staffing properly planning officers. This should be done instead of reducing An Bord Pleanála's planning quorum from three people to two in an effort to speed up its throughput. Were anyone in Europe or elsewhere in the world to read this, they would be laughing for a month. One must staff and resource planning properly and while politicians can become involved in planning if they so wish, they should not contaminate it in the manner I have just outlined.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to make my contribution to the debate on the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009, some aspects of which are important and with which I agree and others that I believe could go a little further. I will begin with the issue of development plans and will outline my experiences in this regard as both a town councillor and a county councillor. I have been involved in the drafting of development plans in both spheres and have found such plans to be highly complex documents. At the time, I thought the local authorities' internal expertise was insufficient and perhaps the councillors' background did not provide the correct mix of individuals in terms of feeding information from the various sectors such as the retail, farming, social and sporting sectors. I also thought that while some individuals within the local authorities were particularly interested in development plans, others did not have as much interest in their development.

Personally, I loved my involvement in drawing up such plans and I believe there has been much unfair criticism of councillors and their roles with regard to overzoning. As I noted earlier, development plans are highly complex and involve attempts to look into the future, in most cases for five years, although one does not know what will happen within five or ten years. Over the past ten years, councillors faced difficulties caused by the movement of people into their towns and a considerable amount of development around them. The councillors came under pressure to provide extra land for the development of their towns and areas and to do what was in their areas' best interests. In addition, they had an obligation to ensure the provision of balanced and proper planning. I believe that in our contributions, both I and the people with whom I worked did our best to achieve this at all times. It is easy to look back in hindsight and assert that councillors ran riot. I accept that mistakes undoubtedly were made in certain parts of the country.

However, I also believe that a complex set of proposals are put in place that deal with all aspects of the future development of one's town or locality. Much more expertise should be provided by the planning officials, engineers and architects from both the private and public sectors. The planning authorities must engage much more and at a higher level with such people before presenting plans. The system in the country as it was set out was one in which people would lobby their local councillors and Deputies to try to influence change, which is understandable. Another difficulty faced by councillors was that if not enough land was zoned, the five people who owned all the land around a small town were being given the opportunity to sell that lands onto developers at the time. However, were enough land zoned to have 20 such owners, it might have the effect of bringing down the price of land. Consequently, one was obliged to take into consideration many issues when putting plans in place.

I have seen both good plans and bad plans put in place. Some plans became unworkable on foot of pressure arising from the major public consultation meetings and a consequential paralysis between the planning officials, the councillors and the people who were living in the various villages. It has been necessary to revisit and reconsider such plans in certain cases because they have become unworkable. This was the outcome of pressure caused from both sides and not simply from the elected representatives. While I was a member of Wexford County Council, it produced a wind strategy plan for Wexford. At that time, I considered it to be an anti-wind, rather than a wind strategy because three years ago it was taboo to have turbines and people did not want them in their areas. Now however, they appear to be fashionable and turbines are being mooted nationwide. The council produced a wind strategy that now is perceived to be highly restrictive for a coastline and county that has enormous potential for wind development.

As for flood plains, developments in that regard were incredible. I operated in New Ross, where my late father and I had property on the riverbank there. It was a flood plain and I lost eight to ten nights' business every year because of flooding. At one stage I was obliged to know the contents of the book of tides one month in advance because it was my business to so do. My business was wiped out during a hurricane on 16 December 1989 due to severe flooding at the time and the only solution was to raise one's building out of being at risk. While this was done in respect of new developments in New Ross, this was based on local knowledge. In many recent cases pertaining to development on flood plains, local people were not consulted with regard to what happens with rivers and I fail to understand the reason for that. All sorts of engineering solutions have been proposed which would cost a fortune. However, were one to speak to the people on the ground who encounter such flood threats, they probably could solve the problem for a fraction of the cost. In my own case, two local publicans and I came up with a solution, which cost £15,000 at the time, to ramp the local boat club in New Ross, thereby preventing the water from flooding through it. Although this measure solved the problem, we were up against a project that would have cost a couple of hundred thousand euro from an engineering perspective and which proposed the building of walls all around the lower part of the village of Rosbercon. My point is that local knowledge in respect of flood plains and in respect of difficult areas for development always should be used.

I agree with Deputy Higgins in respect of city planners. This is a highly important initiative and every city should have its own planner. Moreover, rather than running for five years, city plans should run for ten or 20 years. Consideration should be given to engaging the professional sector to work with the local authorities in the various cities and counties to put in place such projects and plans for the next ten to 20 years.

I would welcome proper planning. Elected representatives should have no role in planning. It should be straightforward but because it is complicated we do not have the luxury of not being involved and we must engage. One can deal with a planner who will advise one of the particular style of window or house he or she favours; one then goes through the pre-planning process and put the plan into the system where it is dealt with by somebody else who does not like the style of window or house produced. Meanwhile the citizen who paid the planning fee is caught in the middle of the mix. I have serious concerns about this; planning should be much more straightforward and there should be no issues.

I learned a great lesson as a county councillor when friends in the New Ross area approached me about planning. At the time, I did my best for them but the planning application was refused. I brought them to meet a senior planner in the county council where I was told that unfortunately there was no way the people would be granted planning permission and that they would have to choose a new site. Approximately six months later when I was checking the planning lists I noticed that planning had been granted to the people on the original site. When I checked I noticed a party colleague who was a Member of the Dáil had secured planning permission for them whereas I was hung out to dry. The lesson I learned is that there is no such thing as "No"; one must be persistent and keep going back until one gets the planning permission. I have found the people I have dealt with over the years to be of the highest integrity and I have had no difficulties with them but the system works against them. For that reason they need assistance in the form of legislation to help them have clear guidelines and directives on planning.

My nephew is doing a thesis on regional authorities and regional assemblies and their role in the overall political system in the country. I was a member of a regional authority and those involved carry out great work. However, there is a huge disconnect between the work of the regional authorities and the role of a Member of the Dáil or town councillors. I met with the regional authority on only one occasion during my two and a half years in the Dáil. We should meet on a quarterly basis at least. I would love to see the role of regional authorities strengthened and I welcome that aspect of the Bill. They have a huge part to play.

For argument's sake on my next point, I will give the example of the new 25 m swimming pool being built in New Ross. A 50 m pool would be a far more welcome development in the south east region and New Ross is ideally located for this type of development. It should be part of an overall co-ordinated approach and plan whereby a 50 m pool is built and funded in one area, such as in the south-east region, and no similar development is allowed in the same area. This makes the one developed sustainable. We should do the same in the western area, there is one in Limerick, and the same in the north west. This would make the developments viable. What tends to happen is that we build a pool here and another there and nobody considers their ongoing viability. From a competitive and sports point of view 50 m pools are very important. There should also be a co-ordinated approach to other major projects of which we feel the country can sustain only one or two. I welcome the Bill if it will co-ordinate and improve a proper planning system and will link up local authority development plans with the national spatial strategy and the regional guidelines.

I am not sure about ministerial directives as I am a little concerned about ministerial intervention in the overall planning system. If the guidelines are set out strictly and in a straightforward manner initially there should be no need for ministerial directives. I question this aspect of the Bill. Overall consistency is the key to the success of the planning guidelines and I ask that these are examined to ensure the legislation is strong enough to ensure consistency in granting planning permission and how we deal with planning.

The jury is out on the requirement for a two thirds majority of councillors to pass plans. I remember being involved in plans as a county councillor and the difficulty in trying to get a majority to agree a plan because of the different backgrounds and philosophies of people. Someone might want a Tesco in a particular place and someone else might believe there should not be a Tesco there. This would be held up and argued out, perhaps not on a financial factual basis but because someone had a gripe against a particular company, whether it be Tesco, Dunnes or whoever. It will be interesting to see what way voting on plans goes and how the two thirds majority of councillors will operate.

I would take issue with the section of the Bill dealing with making amendments to development plans and minor adjustments. Nobody knows in what type of economy or environment we will operate in two to three years time. A major and very attractive development, such as a hotel or golf club, may want to locate on a particular site perhaps on the outskirts of a town not included in zoning. Councillors may be in favour of it but the directives in the spatial strategy and the national guidelines may be against it. I would question the strictness of allowances to make amendments to development plans. It may have an impact on future job creation potential which also concerns me.

I welcome the section on rogue developers. We need something to put serious pressure on developers who in recent years built housing estates in certain areas which are of very poor standard. I welcome this if it means we will have a much higher quality finish on our estates and proper finishing of apartments and public buildings. Not all developers short-changed the customer and were in it for profit, and some very fine buildings were developed. People were committed to building to a very high standard. I welcome this aspect of the Bill and I hope it is enforced with vigour in the coming years. We have much to learn from recent years about substandard properties and finishes. I hope we will see much improvement in this area in the next five to ten years.

I also welcome the provisions on planning permission extension. I am aware of many projects, as I am sure are other Members of the Dáil and councillors in the area, which have had planning permission for two or three years but finance is tight and people are unsure about investing in them. The Bill might provide certainty to a market that is concerned about going ahead with projects. I hope this will be examined fairly and that each project will be evaluated on its merit.

While I welcome the flexibility of the Bill with regard to levies and where they can be spent, a huge issue arises with regard to their collection and levels. People are applying for planning permission in small towns, villages or major cities where they are hit with huge car parking costs, albeit that someone may have made contributions two to three years earlier but did not survive in business. The levies are a real impediment to people starting up new businesses. Phased payment schemes over a longer period should be considered by local authorities. Most local authorities provide for phased payments over 12 months or two years. I suggest a built-in ten year phasing of levies because of their scale and size. The alternative is to reduce them to what is an acceptable level now. In good times people could probably just about reach them but they have gone out of control and are far too high. They are a disincentive to people creating and opening their own businesses.

As I am discussing levies I will mention the windfall tax of 80% with which I have a huge issue. This is unworkable. If it is meant to be punitive it should be reduced to a 40% tax. The reason we are not getting much hassle about it at present is that not much land is changing hands. However, people will decide against selling if they are hit by a windfall tax of 80% on their family land or land which has been zoned and this could pose a problem in the future.

I am not a great fan of An Bord Pleanála. It takes too long to decide on planning applications and makes it too easy to raise objections. It fails to consider the possibility of mischief makers obstructing young families from building on family land, personal vendettas or family feuds which extend back 50 years, even where the advice of a neutral person could be made available. The consequences of such interference is usually costly for the planning applicant. State agencies and An Taisce are also likely to raise objections through An Bord Pleanála. It is crazy that State agencies can appeal a planning permission granted by local authorities. It is probably preferable that I say no more about the matter other than that it annoys me to the nth degree.

The New Ross bypass project, which when complete will comprise a 14 km dual carriageway and the longest and highest bridge in the country, has been under way for the past 12 years. In the good times, it was costed at €300 million. A certain individual and An Taisce have decided to challenge the project in the High Court. The individual concerned is involved in a number of other high profile cases around the country and in my opinion is a mischief maker who is trying to disrupt the development of Ireland's infrastructure. The New Ross bypass is of great importance to the south east and the people of Wexford, south Kilkenny and Waterford. The project has already successfully completed a rigorous planning process. I understand a High Court challenge will be heard on 23 February but notice has been given that the case will be pursued in the Supreme Court and in Europe. The bypass will be the last element of infrastructure linking Waterford with Dublin through the N11 and the N25 to Rosslare. An Taisce and this individual, who does not come from anywhere near the south east, have decided to go against the system and stop the project. An Bord Pleanála has a lot to answer for in regard to how it allows individuals to interfere with major infrastructure projects. We in Government also have a responsibility for legislating to address this problem.

Although the Bill does not deal with disabled access, I wish to briefly address the issue. Local authorities are investing significant efforts in producing disability strategies and a number of towns and villages have ramped footpaths and installed wheelchair accessible toilets. Last week, I parked in the Jurys Custom House Inn and pushed down the quays to the O2 arena to attend the musical, "We Will Rock You". I had to negotiate a phenomenal number of intersections and obstacles just along that short stretch of footpath. Dublin still has some work to do in regard to that issue and these conditions are mirrored throughout the country. I travelled along the bicycle lane on my way back to my car and found it a joy to use.

I love attending the cinema and in recent times, planning permission has been granted for several cinemas, including a Storm Cinemas complex in Waterford. Along with my nephew, I visited Storm Cinemas Waterford, which is the cinema closest to New Ross. However, I discovered that the theatre which was playing the film I wanted to watch contained tiered seating and the wheelchair space was at the front of the theatre, only six feet away from the screen. When I objected to sitting in this area, the cleaning staff lifted the front row of seats onto their shoulders and carried it to the side of the screen. I had to park my wheelchair in a way that obstructed the view of the rest of the audience. I have not returned to that cinema, although I have contacted the company about my experience. I do not blame Storm Cinemas for my experience because it was the result of a planning issue which should have been addressed at the outset of the project. It is a similar issue to hotels which go the distance in terms of constructing wheelchair accessible dressing rooms, which in many cases are used to store cleaning equipment, but fail to install a hoist to lift people from their wheelchairs into the pool.

The Deputy should conclude.

It is a pity to cut him off because we do not often hear this perspective.

I will conclude with some brief remarks, if Opposition Deputies do not object. A small amount of extra effort would be of great assistance. The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs is considering my proposals regarding sports and community centres. Public facilities at council offices can be made accessible through simple improvements such as doors opening into toilet cubicles rather than opening out. Architects should be on top of these matters but, as they are not, access awareness training is crucial. The legislation in this area should also be strengthened.

We are spending millions annually on social housing and extensions for people with mobility problems. I have long advocated lifestyle housing because every social house should have a bedroom and a bathroom downstairs. People will need to use them at some stage in their lives. Last year, €2 million was spent in Wexford on housing grants for people with disabilities. The total value of the applications received was €6 million.

I welcome the Bill as a positive development and hope we can improve on certain aspects of it during our deliberations on Committee Stage. I thank the Acting Chairman for his latitude in allowing me to conclude.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on Second Stage of this Bill. I welcome some aspects of the legislation as it stands, although I would suggest a review is needed of certain provisions. There are a number of inconsistencies between what the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is advocating and what is contained in the Bill. The cutbacks and embargoes imposed by this Government on local authorities are responsible for the termination of contracts for a significant number of excellent planners. The Minister should have ensured those who deliver services can remain in their positions.

The Bill proposes to extend the time permitted for planning permission in certain instances. Will this include an extension to the length of time for permission on projects which will be taken over by NAMA? The Minister has been highly critical of the decisions that permitted many of these projects to proceed, yet he intends that the time allowed for them can be extended automatically. I ask him to review this issue as a matter of urgency.

I regret that he is interfering in the planning process at local level. It would be a retrograde step were he to continue that practice. I say that because when the first Local Government (Planning and Development) Act 1963 came into operation on 1 October 1964 it became a mandatory function of local government to deal with planning applications. Prior to that the process was discretionary for towns and urban areas. Much has changed since then.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins referred to many bad decisions being taken by local authority members in County Galway. I was a member of Galway County Council with Deputy Higgins for many years. He was not totally accurate in some of what he said, because as a Minister he had responsibility for European directives. I know for a fact that he opposed the granting of a road licence to relieve flooding in south Galway in the 1990s. The whole world saw the recent impact of flooding on people as well as the flora and fauna in that area. He referred to people giving out about the importance of snails, birds and bees, but at the same time he was responsible for maintaining and retaining a flood plain in south Galway which affected people as well. I do not know how he can reconcile that and be at peace with himself.

I accept that at that time there was an abuse of the provision known as "section 4". I am delighted that mechanism has ceased to operate in County Galway because councillors have now found a different way of dealing with the issue. I wish to put on record that we had a Minister of State with responsibility for local government who during the 1970s vehemently supported section 4s and put his name to them. Many other Members of the House would have done that subsequently. The system was abused but I accept there was a necessity for it in some cases.

Planning is an executive function of the local authority and the majority of planners were excellent and honest and they delivered the service in a good way. Others fell foul of the system whether it was through greed or otherwise. A serious situation had developed in the past ten years and I hope that is over and done with. In effect, we have 88 planning authorities in this country. We have 29 local authorities, 49 town councils and ten borough corporations, whether they be city or county. As a result, it is inevitable that we would have inconsistencies in the delivery of the service and contradictions on city and county boundaries.

If one were to look from east Galway into Tipperary one would see positive integrated planning of local development in County Tipperary but the east Galway area remains stagnant because we cannot develop due to the fact that more than two thirds of the county has a designation of one kind or another, for example, natural heritage area, special protection area or whatever else. In addition, we have another designation, usually following a decision by the local authority in conjunction with the Galway transportation study. That started and had an effect on an area within five or six miles of Galway city but it gradually extended and now there are restrictions half way up the Slieve Aughty mountains some 30 miles away. That area was already designated but now another layer of restriction has been added. The Minister must come to terms with the situation. It is difficult for professional planners who advise and decide on planning applications to manoeuvre between those restrictions and at the same time to be fair to the applicant.

I welcomed the initiative by local authorities, on foot of a ministerial decision, to have local area plans. Local area plans might provide an opportunity to allow people to enhance their incomes in areas that are currently restricted. Due to restrictions, European directives and Government interference of one kind or another, farmers must resort to some other way of making a living in order to remain in Connemara, Portumna, Slieve Aughty or wherever else in the county. Galway is a county of immense contrast between east and west and north and south. It is important that those local area plans would present an opportunity to allow people to enhance their income. I refer, for example, to tourism in east Galway. When one speaks of tourism in County Galway one thinks of Galway city and Connemara and the rest is forgotten. Local area plans, properly put in place and directed, can present opportunities that will work.

I am on record in this House as having said that Shannon Development was a shining example of where people could provide opportunities along the Shannon as far up as Lough Derg. Unfortunately, Shannon Development remained in Munster. It operated in counties Clare and Tipperary. In east Galway we looked with envious eyes across the Shannon at the type of developments that were taking place and that through good planning fitted hand in glove into the environment into which they were placed. We could not do that in Galway until now. Thank God, due to a more co-ordinated regional strategy, some positive development has been allowed to take place.

Bad decisions were taken that resulted in flooding in south Galway in particular, in east Galway along the Shannon banks and in Ballinasloe. I accept that some of the flooding was not due to bad planning. When people are flooded insurance companies do not allow them to insure their properties any longer. In such cases it is important for the Government to consider a relocation plan. I do not refer to urban areas but to rural areas such as south Galway. Following the 1964 and 1965 flooding, three families were successfully relocated. That did not cost much. Five families now require to be relocated. Will the Minister and his colleagues who have responsibility for water management investigate the possibility of relocating these few houses? Four families need relocation because of the likely recurrence of flooding.

The Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works visited County Galway on two occasions. He saw what happened and he discussed the issues with the people. He was readily available and for that we thank him but, despite €1.6 million being spent on studies on flooding in south Galway, no work has been done because of the demands of environmentalists and Government agencies such as the national parks and wildlife service, formerly Dúchas. Unless there is agreement between agencies before we start, the ideas of, and the resources made available, by the Government will come to nought again.

Reference was made to one-off housing, which has been described with catchphrases such as "bungalow blitz" and "a blight". However, many people had to return to their homes and acquire a site from a parent or a sibling to provide themselves with housing in rural areas because of the explosion in the cost of housing during the boom. They were criticised by a number of groups, including An Taisce. The Minister's intention is to increase the number of agencies that have to be consulted about a planning application. Standard agencies such as An Taisce will still be consulted. People say local authority members and public representatives at large are the enemies of An Taisce but its officials have made many fine recommendations in various places and it was necessary for them to intervene where cowboys were at work. The Minister stated, "Specifically, the programme for Government 2007-2012 states that the Government will ensure that the Citizens Information Board has the necessary resources to assist and inform the public on planning procedures". When he replies, will he indicate what resources he will provide to the board? Is he satisfied its staff have the capacity to make reasonable contributions and observations on individual planning applications or in a community context? I agree consultation before decisions are taken is always good but under this legislation another agency will be engaged in the planning process on top of An Taisce, the national parks and wildlife service and the National Roads Authority, NRA.

The provision of infrastructure is important and in the past NRA decisions were imposed on the local planning authorities who were told some of their planning applications were premature because of the possibility of alternative routes being used by the authority. We were plagued with these decisions in County Galway. The new M6 motorway between Galway and Dublin is welcome but another national road runs between Ennis and Tuam and passes through Gort and Oranmore. Serious restrictions have been placed on development along these routes. I do not refer to merchants and builders who are in for the quick kill but necessary development could take place near these routes. The NRA, therefore, has had a serious impact on planning. I do not know whether this was ever envisaged. When the authority was first involved in the planning process, it restricted the number of slip roads on national primary routes. This was a great decision in the interest of safety and many lives may have been saved as a result but, at the same time, is it necessary for this agency to be involved?

Ireland is unique in Europe, as it provides for a third appeal in its planning system but it is regrettable that, in many instances, the advice and decisions of planners who report on appeals to An Bord Pleanála are overturned and disregarded by the board. The Minister needs to investigate this issue because when local elected representatives ignored planning advice from local authorities under the old section 4 provision, they were criticised heavily. Nobody knew anything about it until somebody read the file and found a planner's report had been rejected and disregarded and a different decision taken. Something needs to be done to tighten that up.

I am delighted the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is present. Many areas in County Galway have been designated for wind energy development but there are major difficulties. The first is physical because they are in designated areas. A group of farmers in a community effort to provide a windmill in the Slieve Aughty mountains had to bring in experts from Scotland to provide a report on the possibility of hen harriers migrating to the area. As a result, the mountains were designated as a restricted area for development because of the potential for hen harriers to migrate in the area, even though none has never been seen in the area. However, the terrain is similar to the habitat of these birds.

I refer to the cost of the projects and the number of people involved who have gone far down the line but who cannot access the national grid. Who will be taken in under the Gate 3 directive? Will the Minister intervene with EirGrid to ensure projects are connected? What would it mean to a Green Party Minister if the country could produce more renewable energy?

Last Monday night I attended a community meeting in Clonfert, outside Eyrecourt, County Galway, on the banks of the River Shannon. The Government gave out a contract for the provision of broadband internet access under the national broadband strategy. However, certain areas have been left without broadband provision, despite the fact that this was one of the black spots at national level. A total of 111 district electoral divisions in County Galway alone will be officially without broadband. I ask the Minister to ensure that the entire area covered by the contract with 3 to which I referred — from Portumna along the banks of the Shannon, through Ballinasloe and as far as Ballygar — is provided with broadband because there is no sign of it currently in certain areas. I was told today by the Minister's Department that it will certainly be 2011 before these areas will be provided with broadband. There are no broadband facilities available; one cannot, under the present system, obtain access to any at all.

I ask the Minister to review the situation as a matter of urgency and extend the marginal area by the River Shannon and in the east Galway area. All of the Galway East constituency is in the area covered by the contract. I remind the Minister that my colleague, Deputy Michael Kitt, was with me at that meeting and he said he would attempt to arrange a meeting between the Minister and the four Oireachtas Members from Galway East to discuss this matter. I would greatly appreciate it if the Minister could facilitate this.

I would be happy to give way to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, for one minute if he would like to answer the question asked by Deputy Burke.

I thank the Deputy and appreciate his offer.

I remind the Minister not to take too long.

One of the main restrictions in the development of the wind turbines mentioned by the Deputy has been opposition from Fine Gael to the development of the national grid.

The other side has a responsibility to start playing its part in assisting this important economic development. Fine Gael is not following a new-era policy but an old-era policy. I would appreciate the co-operation and assistance of the Deputies opposite in this major project.

There is a clear commitment to establishing universal access to broadband through the national broadband scheme. We are now going back to Europe under a further European stimulus fund support scheme to make sure that every house, even if it is not covered under the national broadband scheme, is supplied with the best possible technological solution. I am happy that we can work on this if Fianna Fáil — Fine Gael, rather — will play its part——

The Minister has hit the nail on the head there.

——and support the development of the national grid, which will help the very farmers to which the Deputy refers. I thank Deputy Varadkar for giving up his time.

I will make a few general comments about the Bill but I will stick mostly to specific comments.

We have talked a lot about the current economic crisis. In many ways, part of the unwritten history of the crisis is bad planning — the extent to which land was inappropriately zoned and to which planners, who are supposed to be professionals, granted planning permission that conferred land with values that were not sustainable, while permitting unsustainable development all over the country. There was a good article by Kathleen Barrington in the The Sunday Business Post some weeks ago which pointed to the neglected role of planners — by which I mean planning officials in local authorities — alongside bankers, developers and others in destroying the country’s economy.

Many of the provisions in the Bill are welcome. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, is a reforming Minister and, although he may have had to pollute himself by going into power with Fianna Fáil, he is at least trying to make some reforms in his Department that may result in a few positive words in the obituary of the Green Party when the time comes. We do need reform of planning in Ireland, but it is important not to say simply that something must be done and therefore doing anything is the right thing. We must always make sure, when bringing about change, that it is not just change for the sake of change but actual measures that will improve the situation.

Having considered section 5, I have concluded that the core strategy is a good idea. When I initially read it in the Bill I thought it was probably just another bureaucratic mechanism, with officials in planning authorities simply ticking the boxes and then proceeding to ignore it. Having been in contact with planning officials, however, I do not think that is the case; they will take it seriously. Development plans should have a core strategy. I do not think we can have a proper planning system on the basis that every one of the 40 local authorities can do whatever it likes. The core plans should fit in with the national spatial strategy and with figures and targets set by the Department.

I have some concerns about the two thirds voting majority mentioned in section 7, but I have trouble getting my head around exactly what it means. It seems to mean that a two thirds majority will be required only at the last phase of a development plan but not for the initial manager's amendments or the amendments after the first display. It will only be required at the very end for amendments that did not go on display at all. If that is the case, I agree with it; it is appropriate, because amendments should not be made to development plans at the very end of the process. I would not like to see the manager being given excessive power over the elected members, whereby he or she can essentially bring in amendments which can be overturned only by a two-thirds majority of the councillors; however, if I understand it correctly, that is not the case. Amendments will occur in the normal fashion after the first display; they will come back on the second display, and only at the end of the process will a two thirds majority be required, in which case it is a reasonable provision. However, the provision should mean two thirds of those who participate in the vote, not two-thirds of all the members. People may be absent for good reasons and, on local authorities, people often absent themselves for various reasons, deliberately not turning up for votes. Even so, it should be two thirds of those present. I am not familiar with any precedent in any assembly in Ireland whereby an absolute majority is required. The only thing I can think of that is similar in operation is a plebiscite for changing the name of a road, in which case more than half of all eligible voters must approve the proposition. I do not know of any other examples. Certainly, in this House we never expect an absolute majority. Even when we are electing a Government the majority required is 50% of those present, not 84 votes. That should be changed.

The threshold above which a local area plan is required is being changed from 2,000 to 5,000. I do not agree with this. A residential development of 2,000 houses is large, possibly containing 6,000 or 7,000 people, which should merit an area plan. Changing the threshold to 5,000 means the number of people living in the area would be 12,000 to 15,000, which is very large. It would be a whole new town the size of Malahide. A local area plan should be required for developments of 2,000 units — that is, if the number refers to units and not population. Having said that, I now think it may refer to the number of people, in which case the provision is reasonable.

There is some question about the ten-year timeframe for local area plans, with some business interests suggesting this is too long. What is important is flexibility. In certain local authorities it may be appropriate to have a long local area plan. For example, the plan for Donabate in north County Dublin is more or less a 20-year plan, which may be appropriate. We are also considering a 20-year local area plan for Tyrellstown in my constituency. There has been some suggestion that the length of the development plan should be five or six years, or even nine, including head room. However, it is important to have some flexibility.

I am sceptical about the role of regional planning guidelines and regional authorities. I was on the Dublin Regional Authority and I may have been on the Mid-East Regional Authority also. They really are talk shops. They are not genuinely democratic. People get onto them as a consequence of being on a local council and, by and large, do not take it much more seriously than any other committee they may be put on as a consequence of being a member of the council. I do not think they should exist, although I know they must exist under European law. The time has come for radical reform, if we do not just get rid of them altogether. I do not think they have any democratic legitimacy.

Let us democratically elect them and make them work.

I have an open mind on that. There may be a case for having elected members and making them work, but we cannot do these things piecemeal. It is similar to the situation with the Lord Mayor of Dublin. If we are to establish an elected mayor it must be as part of an overall reform of local government in Dublin. If it were up to me, I would establish an elected Dublin mayor with executive power over all of Dublin, combine all the local authorities, and then have any number of smaller authorities dealing with neighbourhood issues. If we are to do something like that on a national level, we should have regional authorities but the local government structures must be reformed as well. Making the current ones elected would not solve the problem, we must start again from scratch.

Section 20 provides for the power to refuse permission to rogue developers, something I welcome. It is a disgrace that developers who have not finished estates and who have behaved appallingly, treating residents with absolute contempt, have been allowed planning permission by local authorities, including by those where they have left developments incomplete. Provision was made for this in the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006, or perhaps in the 2007 Act, which allowed local authorities to refuse permission on that basis but it has never been used. I tried to get my local authority to use it on a number of occasions against the worst developers and it would not because it did not want to go to the High Court or be the first local authority to use that power. Planners have every excuse not to refuse planning permission to rogue developers. That is not acceptable and I hope this section removes those excuses for refusing permission to developers who do not honour their permissions.

Section 23 relates to the extension of planning permission. I am cautious about that given the collapse of the construction sector and the economy. I can see the sense in it and I understand why we would extend permissions when no building is happening or is likely to start. My only concern is that many recent permissions should not have been granted or, as Deputy Burke pointed out, were granted under the old guidelines allowing for shoe box apartments and building on flood plains. The section should be amended to permit local authorities more discretion to refuse planning permissions where they were granted for the sort of development we do not want to happen anymore. It could be amended to permit permissions to be extended while allowing local authorities to refuse to extend permissions for developments we do not want to see.

Section 28 allows for a quorum of two on An Bord Pleanála. I am totally opposed to that idea, it is an appalling provision. I have had some very bad experiences with An Bord Pleanála. It is a lottery that is completely dependent on which three people a person gets. I do not know how many cases arose where decisions made by the council have been appealed to An Bord Pleanála and An Board Pleanála has made all the wrong decisions, usually where it rules against its own inspector. It did this in the White's Road development near Farmleigh, that was initially refused by the council and that the inspector did not support. An Bord Pleanála, for various reasons, not only decided to grant permission but to allow the developer not to put in place any open space so he did not have to pay an open space levy.

Similar things happened on the Phoenix Park Racecourse and with very high rise developments in inappropriate areas in Blanchardstown. Even recently, a major development in Castleknock that is not viable, that will never be built, that was opposed by the Green Party representative in the area and where the planning inspector from An Bord Pleanála agreed that permission should not be granted, was approved by An Bord Pleanála for spurious reasons, lopping off a storey here and a storey off there. It is totally dependent on who makes the decision and it is obvious whom one would want to get when an application for permission is being adjudicated. That will get worse if the number for a quorum is reduced to two. If the application is adjudicated by the two who grant anything, it will be granted.

I do not like the idea that three is enough for a quorum, never mind reducing the number. That would not happen in the Supreme Court, we could not break it up and say and any old pair of judges would be enough, and if they agree the case is settled. It is a bad idea. If anything, An Bord Pleanála should be broken up into regional boards rather than having a quorum of two.

Section 18 refers to the changes a Minister can make when development plans are submitted to him. There is only a two week period for consultation, and that is much too short. By the time additional information is sought, and notice is served, the two weeks are past. Four weeks would be reasonable. It is only done once every five or six years so making that change would be reasonable.

On section 127, IBEC put forward a proposal on third party appeals whereby someone making such an appeal should have to sign a document stating he is not being vexatious and the appeal is not spurious. It is a valid point. We are all familiar with people who make planning appeals to An Bord Pleanála to be paid off to withdraw the appeal, because they know it will hold the development up by 18 to 20 weeks. There are people around the country who do that, seeking Gogarty money. I will support an amendment that prevents such behaviour.

Development plans should not be five, six or nine years in length, there should be 20 year development plans. Helsinki, for instance, has a 99 year plan. If a community is to be properly planned, five or six years is too short. It would make much more sense to have 20 year plans that identify land that will be developed over the next five, ten and 20 years. That would make it much easier to plan for transport, roads and other development. I am disappointed the Greens, who would instinctively support such an idea, have not put it into legislation. The plans could be revised every five years and future development land could be identified during that process.

Strategic development zones should be the norm. I was involved in drawing one up in Hansfield in Dublin 15. Perhaps over a certain threshold of 5,000 or 10,000 units they should apply.

The Bill does nothing about retention planning permission. It is widely abused and rewards those who break the law. Some architects even advise people to build things because they have a better chance of getting retention planning permission. The Bill should be amended to put a stop to such nonsense. It is fine if we are talking about a bay window but often this involves extra storeys and units.

The seven year rule should also be abolished and councillors should be involved in preplanning discussions; that they are not currently gives developers an advantage over the community. Also, public representatives should be exempt from the €20 and €50 fees.

There should also be provision for taking in charge. That has not been addressed in the Bill, particularly the slow transfer of open spaces. There is provision in the Roads Act to allow the community to petition the council to take in charge a road if it has not been taken in charge over time but that cannot be done with open spaces. The only way to get an open space taken in charge is to leave it derelict for a period and then apply for a vesting order. I was successful in securing such an order once in my constituency but to get it I had to convince the local community not to cut the grass on the open space for an entire year so it could be declared derelict and then be vested. That is nonsense and the same provision that exists in the Roads Act should exist in the Planning and Development Bill to allow communities to petition for an open space to be taken in charge.

There should also be provision for the transfer of school and community sites free of charge from developers to the council. At the moment if a large area is being developed, developers are expected to provide the roads and the open spaces and hand them over free of charge. If the development is large enough, why should they not be expected to hand over the land for the school and community site free of charge? Think of the millions we would have saved in the last ten years if that had been done.

The Bill makes some progress but many changes and additions are needed.

Debate adjourned.