I dtús báire, ba mhaith liom tacaíocht a thabhairt don mBille seo. I commend Deputy Catherine Murphy on her hard work and determination in tackling a tricky subject that has troubled the State for many years. This is an imperfect Bill, but it is one that, if allowed to progress through the House, can be a positive step for planning law in the State. To have had a property boom so damaging and to have our countryside scattered with unfinished ghost estates indicates that there must be a problem with planning. The planning system as currently constituted has failed the people of the State and the residents of homes that should never have been allowed be built. Corruption and a lack of any desire to challenge the wisdom of developers has led us to this state. Hopefully, some good thinking such as that contained in this Bill will lead us part of the way towards a better future for planning here.
Today, we have heard again of some of the worst consequences of the failure of our planning system. According to the report Summary of Social Housing Assessments 2013, which was released today, there are more than 90,000 households on our local authority housing waiting lists. One in five of these have been on the list for at least five years and one in ten for at least seven years. I have dealt with families who have been waiting ten years or more. Under the previous points system in Dublin, some people were waiting so long that they dropped further down the list as family members who were children when the application was first submitted had moved out to their first homes, unable to deal with the bad, cramped conditions. Some 20% of applicants for housing are living with relatives. A colleague told me about a woman he was dealing with who was living in a household of 11 people and was sleeping on the couch with her two young children. This is not unusual. I have encountered similar cases myself.
This is the legacy of bad planning and planning that is not in the public interest but that of private greed and power. In fact, it is a testament to how bad planning was in this country and how ingrained in the psyche of our political class it was that when the Labour Party and Fine Gael got into Government, their first proposal to solve the housing crisis was to attempt to carve a social housing system from the carcass of the Celtic tiger's unfinished and unoccupied estates. These are problems we must fix, not only with political resolve but also by empowering local authorities to tackle their own local housing needs. Some of the powers that are important for local authorities, such as the ability to raise revenue, were ripped out by an opportunist Fianna Fáil in 1977. Some capacity remains, but I fear this Bill could frustrate the ability of local authorities to do that in the best way possible for their areas.
The centralisation of the development levy and the introduction of a uniform rate seem sensible on the face of it. However, the reality is that levies need to be struck locally, because they are specific to areas. The same levy cannot work in Dublin as in Longford. This blanket approach, while clean and accessible in ways, would undermine local democracy and the knowledge of local representatives who have worked to develop local area plans with a focus on funding them through the levies. This is not a problem, however, that could not be overcome on some further stage of the Bill.
We also take issue with the Bill in regard to Part 9, which addresses Part 8 developments. This permission for people to oppose developments by councils will frustrate their ability to provide social housing and other essential public amenities, adding new levels of bureaucracy where none is needed. The scandal of local planning has not been in the provision of social housing or local amenities, but in the dirty deals that allowed developers to build whatever they wanted wherever they wanted, regardless of the need or suitability of the area or the planning. We have seen planning permission given for developments on flood plains and developments with no proper amenities or community facilities. We have seen thousands of apartments with not even a community hall, a school or any facility that could be used for meetings nearby.
Pelletstown has almost 4,000 apartments but no community facilities and few or no public amenities apart from a park and the local canal. An indication of how bad the planning for Pelletstown was is that it has a manually operated level crossing system. This should never have been permitted in such close proximity to 4,000 apartments and the resulting traffic. My area of Dublin North-West is littered with estates that have few or no public amenities.
I commend this Bill and call on the Government to allow it to pass Second Stage. I look forward to debating it in the future should this happen. I extend my respect to Deputy Catherine Murphy for her work on it.