Planning and Development (Transparency and Consumer Confidence) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed) [Private Members]

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

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.

Like the previous speaker, I commend Deputy Catherine Murphy on her introduction of this Bill. It is interesting that the Bill has come from an Independent Member of the Opposition.

The issue of planning affects all aspects of our lives, how and where we live, where we socialise and how we travel. This Bill attempts to address some of the damage done by previous Government policies and by developers during the boom and to address the legacy issues they left behind. Specifically, it attempts to deal with unfinished estates and to hold repeat offenders to account. In Laois, in my constituency, we have unfinished estates in Graiguecullen, Portlaoise, Mountrath, Mountmellick and across to Portarlington. We have them throughout the county. This needs to be addressed and we must never allow this to happen again.

We have seen major inquires find fault with politicians from all the major parties. Some former Deputies and Ministers were sent to jail as a result of these inquiries. However, unfortunately, the legacy and the damage done by bad planning and corruption remain for all to see. One only has to drive around some of the suburbs of this city or drive out to Kildare, Laois or other counties to see the rotten consequences of bad planning decisions. While the public inquires and those attending them grabbed the headlines, what has not grabbed the headlines is the long-term effect of the lack of policy. We see sprawling unfinished estates with no proper infrastructure - no lights, no footpaths, no proper water supply and no proper sewerage systems. In some areas, 50 or 60 houses are serviced by a single septic tank. This is the reality in many of our communities. It is a legacy of the economic boom.

Sinn Féin wants to see local authorities developing a planning process with citizen participation so that ordinary citizens and communities can formulate and partake in plans for sustainable economic and social development. This Bill is a step in the right direction and deserves the support of all parties in the House. However, we would suggest some changes, which Deputy Ellis mentioned. We feel that Part 4 of the Bill would centralise the setting of development levies, but we believe this power should be retained locally because of the different economic circumstances in each local area. These and other social circumstances and commercial factors affect development in the various areas in each county.

We have serious concerns about Part 9 of the Bill because of the implications for Part 8. One of the positive aspects of local government is that councillors can make decisions and be democratically held to account for projects of social and economic benefit such as roads, social housing or bridges.

This is transparent at present and we must protect it. It has not been altered in proposals for reform of local government as far as I can see, and I scrutinised them very well. I welcome this and we might see how it can be developed further. We will oppose the section but this can be done on Committee Stage.

The Bill calls for the establishment of a State-wide planning compliance register which is a good idea. It would contain information relating to enforcement notices issued by local authorities. This would allow for greater transparency and access to information about past offences. The register would be accessible to the public and updated regularly, which is a very welcome provision. The Bill would allow for the information contained in the register to be used during the planning process. We all know of cases where this should have happened, and the case history of developers should have been used during the planning process. The Bill would introduce a new requirement to restrict severely the practice whereby some local authorities have attempted to extract development levies from those residents already being peeled for an overpriced mortgage on an overpriced house. Approximately a year ago there was a terrible case in County Wicklow. This is an excellent provision in the Bill and I welcome it. It would be great if we could get it over the line.

The Bill is a serious attempt to address head on many of the problems in our planning system. This is solid legislation. It is almost automatic that the Government and Opposition oppose each other's proposals although I have supported some of the Government's measures, including parts of the local government Bill. This is an opportunity as this is a good Bill. Let it go to Committee Stage, take on the legislation and address the issues. It would be a great legacy for the Government and the Dáil if we introduced a Bill such as this.

The next speaker is Deputy John Deasy who will share time with Deputies Michelle Mulherin, Seán Kenny, Eamonn Maloney, Patrick O'Donovan and Anthony Lawlor.

As far as the general thrust of the Bill is concerned I thought when I read it that parts of it should and could be considered, and now I understand that, contrary to what the previous speaker stated, it will be accepted. My attention was drawn to the section dealing with repeat offenders and ensuring a person's history with planning compliance is taken into account by planning authorities when deciding on future planning permission. Local authority officials will claim they do this already but I am not entirely convinced. People can change company names or put a company in the name of a family member. I am of the opinion it would not do any harm if a guideline or regulation in this regard was adopted by the Department and sent to local authorities. It is not the only section of the Bill which has merit in my opinion. I am glad the Government will accept it.

What is not in the Bill, and might in practical terms be impossible to include in it, is a provision to provide for additional scrutiny and comprehensive oversight of the individuals responsible for planning decisions in local authorities beyond the existing codes of conduct. I have experience in this area. For me it is still an extremely relevant issue, and something in which I became involved when I was a town councillor and local authority member in 1999 and I am still involved in it. Over the past 20 years there has been widespread disregard for the planning laws and regulations by planning staff and officials in Waterford County Council and other local authorities throughout the country. In Waterford County Council it had its origins in the 1970s, with officials in the engineering office doing drawings for the public while at the same time adjudicating on the actual planning permission for the same people. Some have stated they were only providing a service, and this might be so, but it has evolved into a cottage industry with officials and draftsmen operating in this manner for years. By the mid-1980s some of these individuals working in the local authority were randomly contacting members of the public informing them their quarry or business required planning permission and then offering to draw up the necessary plans for a fee which was often very substantial. The bonus was planning permission would be guaranteed. This behaviour continued for years with the same people doing very nicely providing this so-called service to the public. The enormous conflicts of interest which arose were by and large ignored by senior officials and local authority members not only in Waterford but throughout the country.

Getting away from Waterford County Council, when the Celtic tiger years hit we know in the case of a few individuals in local authorities throughout the country there was wholesale and large scale corruption. In some cases the individuals involved have been charged, files have been prepared for the DPP and there have been trials, but not too many officials have been convicted. The main problem which arose in the 1990s and early 2000s was that in some cases planners went from dealing with one-off housing to dealing with developments worth tens of millions of euro. In many cases the individuals involved were completely unsuited character-wise to be given this level of responsibility and power and this is the crux of it; too much power and control of wealth was in the hands of the wrong people without adequate oversight. It is worth reminding people that today the OECD stated it has serious concerns because Ireland has not prosecuted a single foreign bribery case in the 12 years since its foreign bribery clause came into force.

The alarm bells should have gone off when engineers who dealt with planning were openly doing nixers for private construction companies and the very same people were dealing with the companies' planning applications. This was my experience. For some reason the prevailing view among some senior local authority officials and Department officials was that public servants would never be tempted by bribes and were not susceptible to this type of corruption. We now know differently. We know some of them did take bribes and were corrupt. It probably did not help that the Garda Síochána was, until recently, completely ill-prepared to deal with this type of white-collar crime. This has improved slightly over the past ten years but it still leaves something to be desired.

As far as the Bill is concerned there are elements of it which should and, now I understand will, be accepted by the Government. My question for the Department officials and Ministers who police local authority officials is whether they have put in place the necessary safeguards at local level to prevent people who inherited positions of huge influence and power from acting contrary to the planning laws and the criminal code of the country. I am still not sure the answer is "Yes". One thing we can be sure of is the same temptations will arise again in the future.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate, particularly on the thrust of the Bill presented by Deputy Catherine Murphy where we get to examine and elucidate upon shortcomings and lessons we can learn from the history of our planning code. We could change and work on a number of areas and I have mentioned one of these to the Minister of State, which is developing and putting in place national guidelines on community gain with regard to energy projects, whereby a statutory policy would be put in place placing an obligation on wind farm, electricity transmission developers and any other energy project developers to make a financial or other contribution to the economic, environmental or social well-being of the community where the power lines or wind turbines will be located. This would be a payment or benefit in kind to local communities in addition to rent to individual landowners and development contributions and commercial rates which are payable to local authorities at present.

The problem is that there is a great deal of resentment within local communities that are being asked to take on the burden of the infrastructure, whether it is a wind turbine or whatever else, in the national interest. If we are seriously asking people to do that, we need to have a national debate about it. However, in the case of electrical transmission lines, a landowner who may not live near the line is compensated while somebody living in a house not far from the line is not. That is the current position and it is not fair. We must strike the correct balance. I am not commenting on the technology or where these lines are erected. The requirement for a wind farm developer to contribute to a community fund is ad hoc and voluntary, and requests by local authorities are not enforceable. We need a national policy through our planning code to inform local authorities. While some developers make contributions, there is no uniformity nationally as to what communities in which wind farms are built might receive. One could be lucky, depending on the developer. This often comprises a private deal between the developer and members of the community and, therefore, it is not transparent.

There also needs to be transparency about how the funds are administered, who can access them within the community and under what criteria. In my county, Mayo County Council has published a draft document setting out rates of compensation it recommends for the benefit of local communities, but it is unenforceable as it does not have a statutory basis. This is causing problems with some energy projects. In one case, a wind farm developer is offering less than the amount envisaged by the county council, which can do nothing about this. We need to have a conversation about what communities gain in these circumstances and how investment is generated nationally to build infrastructure.

Will the Minister of State, in conjunction with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, examine the possibility of providing cheaper electricity to households in the vicinity of transmission lines and wind farms? Communities could potentially take a stake in a wind farm and receive an annual income from a particular wind turbine. The more electricity generated by the wind farm, therefore, the more income the community would receive for projects in the area. Such guidelines should be developed in consultation with all stakeholders, including wind farm and electricity grid developers. Many projects are being brought to planning stage and we must acknowledge the imposition of infrastructure to develop and expand a modern economy and pay attention to the people who are being asked to cope with this. Every aspect of this process must be examined. It is generally accepted that the greatest challenge to the development of energy projects is community acceptance, and this is the number one issue to be addressed. It must be recognised that some communities carry more of the burden in the context of this infrastructure, and this should be acknowledged in national planning guidelines in the context of community gain.

I refer to the time taken by An Bord Pleanála to deal with planning appeals. The statutory period is four months, but this can be extended. This is bizarre and difficult, particularly for commercial planning applicants for whom time is of the essence. This continues to happen, despite the reduction in the number of appeals being processed by An Bord Pleanála. If we are to be businesslike, this must be addressed.

In addition, I refer to the extent to which the board moves the goalposts on appeal from considering the application before it to redesigning the scheme. It has been suggested to me that this is on account of the number of architects the board has. For example, when planning permission is sought for a housing scheme, the board liaises directly with the developer to change the design and, therefore, this removes from consideration what was initially before the local planning authority.

I welcome Deputy Murphy's Bill, which contains positive measures to deal with the planning process and which aims to make the process more transparent, something I fully support. The Government has inherited many legacy planning issues arising from bad planning decisions, poor planning enforcement, lack of building control oversight and the light-touch regulation that was part of the property bubble, which has left a generation of our citizens in negative equity. Priory Hall and the Dublin north fringe are in my constituency, and we are at the epicentre of bad planning debacles in Dublin. However, the Government has provided solutions to the residents of Priory Hall, which are in train, and it has also provided solutions to those affected by the pyrite problem, which are being progressed. The Government is cleaning up the mess left behind by the alliance of Fianna Fáil, builders and bankers, and it is also dealing with the legacy of unfinished estates.

These approaches are dealing with problems that should not have been allowed to occur. That they did demonstrates that the planning system and the legislation underpinning it was not fit for purpose. As has been indicated on a number of occasions by the Minister of State and the Minister, a commitment has been given to review the Planning and Development Acts and a new planning Bill will be introduced in 2014, primarily to implement the recommendations of the planning tribunal, which I very much welcome. I was a councillor in Dublin during the period covered by the tribunal, when so much abuse of the planning system was perpetrated, particularly in north County Dublin. The modules relating to Baldoyle and Cloghran-Cargobridge in the tribunal clearly demonstrated the level of corruption at the time and names the councillors who were in receipt of corrupt payments.

A number of outstanding issues in the Mahon report are relevant to this legislation. When the report was debated in the House last year, the Carrickmines module was not included because a court case was pending. The case subsequently collapsed last summer when the main witness became ill and it would be appropriate to debate that module now following the publication of that final chapter. I ask the Minister of State to arrange that.

I refer to a number of sections in the Bill. Section 6 proposes that planning permissions be fully compliant with local area plans, and there is merit in this, but care needs to be taken that such a provision does not lead to undue inflexibility or rigidity in the system. The proposals in sections 8 to 10, inclusive, to extend the duration of planing permission require that applications for extensions of permission must comply with the requirements of newspaper notices, site notices and all the other public consultation requirements of the Aarhus Convention. This makes sense and I support that. I also support a review of section 180A, which requires the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to make regulations providing for the phased redemption of a bond or security which the planning authority may specify as a condition to be attached to a planning permission and the index-linking of such bonds or securities. As the Minister has said previously, this proposal is well motivated and is worthy of consideration. I am glad the Government will work with Deputy Murphy on this legislation and I commend her on the solid work she has done.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I compliment Deputy Murphy on the Bill and I thank the Government for taking on its contents. I hope that as much as possible of the legislation can be incorporated into the new planning and development Bill when it comes before the House next year. I acknowledge the presence of the Minister of State with responsibility for planning. Had many of the provisions been on the Statute Book during the 14 years prior to the Government's taking office, as referred to by Deputy Kenny, we could have been spared many of the problems that have emerged in towns, cities and rural communities throughout the country. It is a pity this was not the case.

We are where we are and we need to fix the problems we face. Some of the provisions in this Bill will go a long way towards mitigating the problems.

The Bill makes reference to Part 8 planning and developments, whereby councils grant permission to themselves. At present there is no watchdog for compliance with planning permission where a local authority grants itself planning permission. Where a private citizen is granted planning permission, the council acts as enforcement officer but under Part 8 there is nobody to police local authorities, other than the Ombudsman. We have seen the problems that have arisen in local authority housing estates and buildings across the country.

I entirely agree with the indexation of bonds. Some of the bonds currently in place are, for want of a better word, Mickey Mouse in comparison to the scale of the devastation that certain builders left behind. The current scale of development is unsustainably low in terms of its contribution to GDP and the building industry needs to grow. However, while we may never return to the level of construction that obtained between 2004 and 2008, it is important that indexation be considered so that the scale of bonds reflects the costs associated with carrying out work.

The Minister of State's predecessor investigated the provisions of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009 on extensions of planning permission. I refer specifically to one-off rural houses. For economic reasons or because they are out of the country, people may seek to extend a perfectly good planning permission. If, for argument's sake, there is a policy change to the EPA's code of practice on propriety treatment systems for effluent or the flood risk management guidelines, the legislation does not provide for further information to be requested where an individual seeks to extend an existing permission. This is something the Minister of State might pursue. People who are in hard pressed economic circumstances find they cannot extend their planning permission if in the intervening period there was a change of policy in the local authority that made a material impact on the original permission. There should be an option for the authority to seek further information and put it up to the applicant to comply with the changes in the policy. If the applicant cannot comply, let him or her apply for new permission. The option should at least be made available for applicants to try to meet the new standard. Given that many of these people are in serious financial difficulties and may even have been required to leave the country, this would be a good thing.

I support the provision in the Bill for the registration of cowboys. A mechanism is needed to weed out those who constantly reinvent themselves under different trading names. The Construction Contracts Act 2013 goes some way towards dealing with cowboys but now that the economy is about to move in the right direction again we do not want those who landed us in the you know what to be able to apply for planning permission in a few months' time or to see another Galway tent opening for business. Local authorities should have access to a blacklist in order to prevent future misbehaviour.

Unfinished estates remain a major problem. The Government has made a start on this problem in recent weeks but an ongoing effort is required to address it. In the context of stimulus packages and capital investment, serious consideration should be given to providing a level of investment that will cover the work required. The really bad estates are those which are one quarter or one fifth completed. There is a sense of hopelessness among the people who live in these estates and they are appealing for the Government's assistance.

In my early days as a member of Limerick County Council, I made representations on behalf of people who were seeking planning permission for one-off rural housing. I do not make apologies for performing this role. If the planning system worked properly there would be no need for it. On one occasion I suggested to a planner that the design for a house was relatively nice. The planner told me that the difference between my opinion and hers was that her opinion was informed. Her opinion was not in fact informed because she was not an architect. There is a lack of knowledge of design in local authorities. The relative number of architects and planners in local authorities needs to be investigated. These people are passing judgment on one-off rural houses when they do not know from Adam whether they look good or conform to local aesthetics.

I welcome this Bill and wish Deputy Catherine Murphy well with it. I am glad the Government has accepted it in principle so that we can make further progress on this area. It is a pity such legislation was not in place five or six years ago because we would not have half of the you know what we are now facing.

I welcome Deputy Catherine Murphy's Bill. When the Deputy and I sat on Kildare County Council we dealt with a variety of development plans, material contraventions and planning issues as part of our work. One of the few times we differed was when I spoke passionately against Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, which I thought was a ridiculous provision. I was the only one of the Deputy's colleagues to vote against it. She will be aware of my views on planning. This Bill contains a number of positive provisions on topics that we discussed at council level when we were making planning decisions.

I am particularly interested in the issue of compliance. I have strongly argued that developers who are not compliant should not be granted permission on future developments. The notion that an application should be considered on its merits means that the applicant is not considered. Many of the applicants with whom we currently have problems in County Kildare previously made multiple planning applications under different company names. This practice left behind a legacy of problems. On one occasion we dealt with a material contravention on the part of an applicant who never complied with planning conditions. When I went to examine the proposed development, I found that a huge road had been constructed without planning permission. When I highlighted the road to the officials, they asked me to show it to them on a map. We could have walked out of the venue where the meeting was held to observe the road. When I returned for another look at the road on the following morning, however, it had been covered by soil. This type of association between developers and officials at council level was happening in all areas of the country. I am delighted to say, however, this sort of behaviour has disappeared. We must ensure that planning is managed in a proper manner.

Deputy Catherine Murphy referred to development contributions. I would like councils to set out how they are going to spend development contributions, whether for one-off houses or housing developments.

It makes a big difference for someone living in a rural area who is asked to make a contribution for a park in the middle of a town that he or she will not access. If more of that funding was going to be spent on their road locally, he or she could see a benefit in giving it. I was told today by somebody that such funding all goes into a hole and is distributed later. To my mind, that is wrong. There needs to be more accountability as to where this funding is going so that it is clearly identified at an early stage.

Deputy Catherine Murphy mentioned bonds. One of the problems in my county is that bonds are insufficient to cover the cost of the repairs that need to be done and in some cases, there were no bonds put in place at all. That shows a lack of determination by the local authority to follow up. When the planning permission is granted, another local authority section is involved and these sections seem to be working in silos rather than in conjunction with one another. As soon as the planning permission is granted, all the information should be transferred across to the next relevant official responsible, whether for bond collection or ensuring that the development goes ahead in the proper manner in accordance with the planning permission.

Lastly, I refer to Part V. The Minister will bring forward a planning Bill early in the new year and I hope he will give serious consideration in it to the removal of Part V of the planning Act. Part V was initially brought in to help sort out the social housing problems. It has been an unmitigated disaster. Between all the challenges that were taken initially and the number of houses that were built at the start, the number of houses the local authorities got was small. There are some local authorities in serious financial difficulties as a result of Part V of the planning Act. We should go back to looking at what we want. Part V should have provided for amenity grounds, school grounds and roads. Instead, we merely focused on housing. I hope the Minister will take that into consideration.

I welcome the Bill. I am delighted the Government is taking it on board and I look forward to further discussion when the planning Bill is brought forward later.

Deputy Joan Collins is sharing with Deputies Halligan, Luke 'Ming' Flanagan and Healy-Rae.

It is natural, and should be the case, that many Deputies look back over the experience they gained and what they saw happen when they were members of local authorities.

I was elected in 2004. It was the end of the development process for the 2005-11 development plan for Dublin City Council, a process with which I was not familiar. It was alien to me, as a citizen, what that process was about. I looked at it and tried to gain experience in and knowledge of the matter at that end point of the plan coming into effect.

My first experience of the connection not only between the local authority officials and developers, but politicians right across the board - it was not only Fianna Fáil because other parties also were involved in this cosy relationship with developers - was when we were called to Crumlin village by the local area office which facilitated a meeting for a planner who was presenting a plan for that historic village in Dublin 12. The planner presented only a line of apartment blocks, six or seven storeys high, down along the village with a big square in the middle as an amenity for the community. It was not a practical plan. The planner himself admitted he had never been in Crumlin village and did not even know where it was before he drew up the plans, and that he was merely asked to produce a plan based on this. It became evident that this was a green light from the local authority to developers that this was the type of planning applications it was willing to take. This represented the acceptance of Dublin City Council for a certain type of planning in the area. Within a year, 24 planning applications were submitted for the Dublin 12 area, ranging from small ones to grand schemes. We saw our petrol stations close and residents had to drive miles to fill their cars with petrol. We saw our manufacturing base close- Unilever, Lyons Tea and the car plant on the Naas Road. We nearly lost the Naas Road shopping area, the Phoenix development, as well. We saw our supermarkets being earmarked by developers. The Bailey brothers came in and bought out Superquinn. They were trying to sell them off, build apartments, go down to Bank of Ireland and build a monstrosity in the area. With the community involved in the area, it was totally out of context. Obviously, my experience is different from that of councillors in small towns in rural areas. That was the type of planning going on and it was driven by the development plan. That is really where I commend Deputy Catherine Murphy and her PA, Eoin, for putting this sort of work into trying to push forward the transparency of future conditions in local authorities in legislation.

The transparency must come from the development plans themselves and the amount of interaction with the communities. As I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, would agree, a big wound has developed between the citizens of the State who were sidelined when all of this was going on and the local authorities. The developers could access planners; the citizens could not. For example, there had to be a special meeting and one could only ask certain questions, one could not query too much, one could raise a point, for instance, where there should be a park, an access point or a recess, or where it should be reduced 5 m in height, but one could not challenge the planning application. This is where that relationship must change.

How we plan our country, cities and communities comes from such development plans and these would put a check on developers coming in because they would know what they would have to deal with. They would know what they are allowed build in an area and all the compliances that must go with it, for example, proper fire safety checks. There were only three fire inspectors in Dublin city in 2010 to carry out all the fire safety checks and sign-off on the apartment blocks and buildings. It was outrageous. That should never have happened in the case of the buildings built in the city. That is where it starts, at the local area plans.

There were local area plans in Bluebell, Drimnagh, Walkinstown and other parts of the city but there was very little interaction between citizens and the local authority on them. Most likely, residents were presented with a plan and then would react stating that they were never involved in the process. There might have been a leaflet put through their door but residents did not take too much notice of it because it did not impact on them at that stage.

I remember the Bluebell area plan, which included building housing on Lansdowne Valley Park because it was the new way of having a view over the green areas to protect the areas etc. It was codswallop. They were talking about ten-storey or 12-storey blocks in the Bluebell community as well. The plan was rejected by the community. I remember asking for a moratorium to be put on the area plan and I was nearly torn apart by Fine Gael representatives there who asked how dare I have the cheek to-----

To be anti-development.

It was not even that I was anti-development but that the developers had rights. They had the rights; we did not. The people had no rights. That is where we must look at how we put in place such plans, into which developers must link-in along with all the compliances and checks, some of which have been raised here.

There are simple matters. For instance, if a planning application is submitted, the developer should not be allowed to put up a tiny A4 size planning application sign because residents might not notice it.

Residents may rally together and submit an objection to the planning application and the developer may not get planning permission for the proposed development. Then another small planning application notice will be put up. If the developer does not get planning permission for the revised proposal, another notice will be put up, and the process will continue until one day approval is given, as it was given for the leaning tower of Inchicore, a 12-storey development which one sees as one approaches the Black Horse Inn. Residents did not realise that a planning application notice for that proposed development had been put up, and the planners gave planning permission for such development all the way down Davitt Road. That was the main building that was worked off. Such planning provisions must be examined.

This is one of the most practical and potentially useful Bills to come before the Dáil for some time. Any Deputy who has served on a local authority knows the state of chaos that prevailed for far too long in our planning system, the consequences of which are now entrenched in our local communities. When I was a city councillor I was constantly struck by the number of times that approval was given to developments that were contrary to the local development plans. Another major issue was the manner in which EU environmental laws were disregarded. I recall one incident in my constituency in which Waterford County Council granted planning permission for a major hotel development on a site that was designated as a special protection area. The State had selected that site as being of conservation importance. It beggars belief that such a decision could have been made with the county council knowing the area and the State having designated it as one of conservation importance.

The volume of unsustainable land zoning that went on during the boom years speaks for itself. According to figures I got from An Taisce, at the onset of our economic collapse we had enough zoned land to provide for almost a doubling of the population to 8 million, some 42,000 hectares were zoned for residential development, almost all of that land consisted of green-field sites.

Approximately 40% of the €75 billion property portfolio transferred to NAMA is categorised as development land. The sad reality, as the Minister of State and many of us know, is that much of that land was not going to be built upon in the first place and it probably never will be built on. We must put in place efficient safeguards to ensure this does not happen again. The needs of the community must be foremost when the zoning of land is under consideration, as the previous Deputy stated in respect of her area. Even though the Government supports this Bill, I am not satisfied that it has tackled the system in which developers were allowed to make hugely significant decisions about which land would be used with little or no planning advice. This happened throughout the country. An Taisce estimates that between 2000 and 2011 appeals taken against inappropriate speculative development reduced the value of the impaired loans by at least €505 million. These are loans that NAMA would have had to purchase in any event or, had they remained outside the scope of NAMA, they would have remained with financial institutions as non-performing burdens. Those are liabilities that Irish taxpayers are currently underwriting.

The Government has repeatedly stated that the approach to planning during the boom years, if allowed to prevail, would hinder sustainable growth into the future. However, its approach to the existing system has been far from satisfactory and it has been left, as the Minister of State can note, to those on the Opposition benches to address this issue. For this, I highly commend Deputy Catherine Murphy on her pragmatic solution which could go some considerable way towards promoting a transparent system that people can have confidence in and that will not allow another property bubble to engulf this country.

The Government came to power with a strong mandate for reform. Since then the planning system has remained open to widespread abuse and the flouting of regulations. Allegations of malpractice within seven local authorities were investigated internally by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and those investigations deduced that there was no corruption in the planning system, yet the independent Mahon report identified evidence of "systematic weakness" within the same system. How can we balance that? The Department's internal investigation found that there was nothing wrong and it took the Mahon tribunal, which had more or less the same information that the Government and the previous Government had, to make that finding. Questions need to be asked and answered - if they are to be answered - about that over the next months and years.

Compounding all of this, local authority housing strategies remain ill-equipped to deal with the evolving housing market in this country. I cannot let this opportunity pass without mentioning the those who are homeless. The number who are homeless is the highest in decades. The number of people sleeping rough in Dublin has increased by almost 50% since April, according to official figures. We cannot ignore the crisis in public housing, local authorities and the planning system and the participation in that process. Efficient planning will play a critical part in the economic recovery that the Government is keen to tell us is coming. The proposals in this Bill would go a long way to achieving that. It is important to note that there would be little additional cost burden to the State if these reforms were implemented, although they would save money in the long term.

I hope that in the Government, in accepting this Bill, will accept it in its entirely. Having read it, I believe it is excellent. I have shown it to people who have worked in planning in my constituency and they have told me it is excellent. I commend Deputy Murphy on her enormous effort in introducing this Bill. I urge the co-operation of all parties in bringing it to Committee Stage without any amendments, and I hope the Minister of State will not put forward any amendment to it.

First, I want to commend Deputy Catherine Murphy, as everyone has done - and not only for the sake of doing so but because it is deserved - on the brilliant work she has put into this Bill, which I hope is recognised. I decided to Google the level of interest in this debate and check it out on Twitter and found that it is being ignored. Why is it being ignored? It has been ignored by the media and by everyone for some reason. The hint is in the name of the Bill. Planning is the most important thing we can do because if we fail to plan we plan to fail, and we have failed as a country because of that. I ask why this issue is not being covered, but then again, the media did not cover the launching of many Bills by the Technical Group. People can say that is whinging, but the reality is if they are not covered, how do we ensure there is a debate on these issues and, in particular, on planning? How many reams of newspapers were sold on the basis of the planning scandals? The media will criticise politicians and say we never do anything right, but here we have a politician who wants to become a problem solver and the Government, of which I am very critical on many issues, has admirably supported her. Where is the support from the media? This is a very important issue and the reason it is important is that it damages democracy to constantly drum up the line that politicians are horrible, terrible people who never ever want to do anything right. We hold a candle to them when things are going wrong and we will blow out the candle when they might be doing something right. It is a shame and it is sad. It is sad that I have had to waste two minutes on this point, but it has to be said. Perhaps those in the media might listen because I am raising this, but then again, perhaps they will just ignore it.

This is a massively important issue. If the planning system, as many other Deputies have said, had been dealt with before the so-called Celtic tiger years, we could have been living in one hell of a brilliant country. We would not have a situation in which children are bored with no playground in their estate because we could not ask the developer to put in a playground in case it scared him off.

We will face social problems down the line because this was not done. That is the reason it must be done now.

Planning must be led by people and, if it is not, there will be problems. It must cater for people and it must be about people and how they live. Deputy Joan Collins said that people are presented with an area plan as a fait accompli and are told they will be consulted. A Mayo Deputy, referring to pylons and wind turbines, said the planning process starts after the State has made up its mind. We must bring in people at the start; if not, we will end up with problems.

One excellent element of the Bill is the national compliance register, which will prevent rogue developers from roaming from county to county putting up shabby developments and moving on. Anyone who has been a councillor has come across the issue. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, says this issue is dealt with in law. When I was a member of Roscommon County Council, I was always beaten down by the council executive when I suggested not granting a person planning permission to wreck another area or another piece of agricultural land. I was told that we were constitutionally barred from doing so. People may say I was naive to fall for that but the reality is that, while the executive has access to the might of whatever solicitors it wants to employ, the councillors, who are meant to be the eyes and ears of people, do not get the option of a second opinion. Councillors are much criticised and in many cases it is deserved. Councillor John Murphy was co-opted onto Roscommon County Council in the past few weeks and the council was told it could not do something because the legal team said it could not be done. When Councillor John Murphy asked for a second opinion, he was told that a second opinion would be of the executive's choosing. We need to get around that. We can have all the rules in the world but if we do not have compliance within the council and among council staff, we are on the road to nowhere.

During the boom, An Bord Pleanála became the default planner for Roscommon. A greenhorn like me knew nothing about residential density guidelines until I spent one minute reading up on it. I discovered that a house was getting planning permission in my town although it clearly contravened the rules. I helped people to submit an objection to An Bord Pleanála. The application was stopped. If a greenhorn like me could spot the issue, how come the council could not spot it? The reason is that it was not serious about planning.

Yesterday, the judgment by Mr Justice John Hedigan criticised the planning authority over decisions in Galway. It said the planning authority was doing nothing serious on planning. The person who was eventually hit for building without planning permission was described as having an extraordinary planning history. How does one have an extraordinary planning history unless someone is complying with the person? One cannot have a history unless one does it over and over again. While the people in Tuam have a High Court judgment, people should not have to risk everything they have to get decent planning. No matter what happens with the Bill, until we do something about the fact that we have people in councils with power equivalent to Rumpelstiltskin's ability to turn straw into gold, we need some way to make sure these people are compliant. We know what human nature is.

I thank the Technical Group and particularly Deputy Catherine Murphy for introducing this Bill and allowing me speaking time. It is prudent, right and proper that we have a debate on the Bill because it shines a light on an issue clouded in mystery and controversy for many years. The majority of Members have been members of local authorities. Everyone must speak about their own experience but I will defend the work done by planners, management and councillors in County Kerry. Sometimes the media like to give the impression that councillors over-zoned land for a multitude of reasons, some of which were proper and heartfelt reasons. They wanted to provide land in a genuine way for development and zoning. Others did it for personal financial gain. That was totally wrong but it is equally wrong to paint everyone with the same brush. There were some genuine councillors. They use of section 4 and section 140 motions was much maligned. Every such motion I tabled before Kerry County Council was done after a thoughtful process. It was done to provide a family home for young people, primarily those who wanted to build on family farms. Many people are in those houses and they have nice young families and I will never make an apology to anyone in respect of my record on planning issues in County Kerry. I will never apologise on my planning record to someone in journalism who knows little or nothing about planning.

Important issues are dealt with in this Private Members' Bill. A huge amount of work went into it. This allows us the opportunity to discuss issues like An Bord Pleanála, which has many questions to answer. I could never understand how that board can send out an inspector to a place like County Kerry or another part of the country to examine a planning issue where the appeal is before the board. The consultant or inspector is qualified to do a job and write a report. In many instances, the consultant goes back to the board with the report and the board sits, usually in the evening, and in its infinite wisdom overturns the planner's report. It does not matter whether the planner is saying "Yes" or "No". In many instances, the inspector's report is overturned and I can never understand it. People who had never visited the site had sent out a supposedly competent person and, not having looked at the site and only having read the report, chose to overturn the inspector's decision. It always baffled me. I do not think it was right and An Bord Pleanála has many questions to answer. I would like to see it accounting for its activity, particularly during the boom.

The Bill addresses ghost estates and I am dealing with people living in them. It is a horrible thing for young families with children in an estate that is not a safe place to raise children. In many cases, they have paid above the odds for houses.

They are left in a place with unfinished roads and public areas, with half-finished houses in a state of total disrepair while trying to live and raise young families. To be honest, it is like living in hell. I have visited many of these estates and it is an awful predicament for people. They are locked in and there is no way out, as they cannot sell the property because they would not get a fraction of what they paid for it. Who in the name of God would anyone want to move into a ghost estate or half-finished development?

With regard to the track record of councillors, I can just speak for my colleagues. They were driven by a very genuine interest in helping people and in the majority of cases of "overzoning", as it may be called, the county councillors were not at fault, rather the planners who made proposals to zone land in a particular way in county development plans. Of course there were rogues and people who blackguarded the system because they were dishonest, and I hope those people were rooted out, which would have been the proper thing to do. I welcome the debate at a time like this, when we can look to the future and try to address the problems of the past.

We must ensure that safety mechanisms can be put in place so we never again have too much development in the wrong places. Hotels were built where there was no demand for them because builders who knew nothing about the hotel, catering or hospitality sector thought they could become hoteliers overnight just because they could get planning and build a hotel with a scheme of houses beside it in order to make a quick buck. Those people put hotels in places they should never have been in the first place. We must realise there are hotels in Ireland which, unfortunately, will have to close because there is no place in the market for them.

I thank Deputy Catherine Murphy for her excellent work in preparing this legislation. Much time, diligence and work goes into introducing a Private Members' Bill like this to the House, so I commend her for doing so.

Like everybody else in the House I commend Deputy Catherine Murphy on bringing forward this Private Members' Bill. I reiterate the comments of the Minister, Deputy Hogan, last night that the Government will not oppose it. There was much agreement on all sides of the House about the importance of the issue despite, as Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan has noted, a lack of media interest. Planning is a major issue when it goes wrong but unfortunately we do not always get much attention when we are trying to fix the process. Generally, there was a common theme of improving transparency and consumer confidence while affording greater protection to consumers. It is fair to say that we all want to put in place an efficient, functioning and fair planning system to facilitate balanced, sustainable development which can simultaneously protect the interest of citizens.

Nearly everybody who spoke has served time on a local authority, which was very evident in the amount of practical experience and knowledge that people have with issues concerning local government, planning and housing, etc. I am absolutely determined that we will learn from the boom and bust cycle we have gone through and will put measures in place to ensure that will not happen again. Everybody in the House shares that determination. We are still dealing with unfinished estates, etc., and such issues arose from reckless over-speculation and development engaged in by the construction sector and facilitated by some elements of the political, administrative and banking sectors. The issue of inadequate enforcement was also raised by many Members.

With regard to "overzoning" and related issues, we have already been able to get councils around the country to reduce inappropriate zoning for housing. I have used powers as a Minister of State to direct authorities in certain cases where there is inappropriate zoning or no evidence that an area is zoned appropriately. For example, this applies where residential zoning has occurred on flood plains. I intend to use those powers again. Unfortunately, such powers were not used to any great extent by Ministers at a time when much of this bad planning was ongoing. There has also been a distinct lack of accountability for the position of many home owners, where having made the biggest investment of their lives in the form of a house, they found themselves without basic requirements such as footpaths, street lighting and proper roads. Developers are no longer around to satisfactorily complete the estates.

There were a couple of other common themes and I will try to touch on some of the issues raised, including the speeding up of the process of taking in charge estates, ensuring that bonds are adequate for the completion of estates and the matter of community gain. We are working on all these issues in the Department and I hope to introduce proposals in that regard. In the budget, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, announced a €10 million fund for the completion of unfinished estates, and early in the new year we will bring proposals for councils to apply to that fund, particularly for cases where there is no bond or an inadequate bond for completing estates.

There were a number of comments regarding transparency, including the proposals for the establishment of national registers on planning compliance and agreed development contribution liabilities. As the Minister, Deputy Hogan, indicated last night, there are some practical considerations around the implementation of these proposals, particularly the level of detail proposed in respect of the reporting data on development contributions. I will give consideration to the matter of how compliance and enforcement data could be better published electronically, and I am also examining the compilation and publication of more comprehensive information on development contributions generally - locally and nationally - than is the case now.

Local authorities have made good progress with on-line information. There is an issue regarding past non-compliance, which was raised a number of times, and this relates to section 35 of the planning Act. If that is not being properly applied, we may need to examine the matter further. Both the Minister and I have indicated on a commitment raised tonight by Members for a review of the Planning and Development Act by bringing forward a new planning Bill in the first half of 2014, primarily for the purpose of implementing recommendations from the Mahon tribunal. That would involve the establishment of a new office of the planning regulator. These new provisions will represent a fundamental change to the planning system but I also intend to undertake a broader review of the Planning and Development Act, including consideration of some of the important issues raised by Deputy Catherine Murphy in her Bill, as well as other Members. This is with a view to appropriately updating and strengthening provisions, particularly in the enforcement area.

I thank the Members for engaging in a very positive debate and I particularly thank Deputy Murphy for bringing forward the Bill.

I commend Deputy Catherine Murphy on drafting the legislation and presenting it to the Dáil last night and tonight. It is well thought out and demonstrates an in-depth knowledge and practical experience of planning issues. The Deputy has gained that experience over a life of service to communities in the Kildare area, including dealings with planning authorities, community and residents' associations and individuals.

It is important to stress the name of the Bill, which gives a clear indication of its purpose. It is the Planning and Development (Transparency and Consumer Confidence) Bill, and the phrases "transparency" and "consumer confidence" are absolutely essentially in the ethos and culture of the Bill presented by Deputy Murphy. As a result, the Bill is an attempt to give back control over their areas to communities and individuals. It is welcome that the Government will not oppose the Bill and I hope that with future legislation, it will take on board and implement the various provisions in this legislation. This is a common cause right across the House, as we have seen over the past two nights, and the ideas in the Bill are essential for a transparent planning process in future.

A matter we need to deal with now, which we should have dealt with years ago, is the price of building land. If we had dealt with this, we would not have had the scandals that arose or young couples paying huge prices for houses. These couples are now in negative equity and have distressed mortgages.

Back in the 1970s, when I was a young clerical officer in South Tipperary County Council, the Kenny report on the price and value of building land was published. It was widely accepted and recommended but never implemented. Unfortunately, this means we have had to endure the debacle in the construction sector in recent years. At this juncture, the Government should deal with the price of building land and use the formula from the Kenny report, namely, that the value be the use value of the land. This is essential if planning and development are to be dealt with properly over the coming years.

The provision of community infrastructure prior to the commencement of development is a very important element in the control of planning. It should be part of the general planning culture and ethos and it is vital. In the past, houses were built without community facilities, halls or crèches. Various infrastructural developments - not only roads, sewers and water services but also community facilities - should be put in place prior to the building of estates.

A series of other issues are dealt with in this legislation, and they have been mentioned by previous speakers. These include the national planning compliance register, which is vital. Daily in our constituencies we come across the question of the taking in charge of estates. The provisions of the Bill in this regard are excellent and should be introduced as quickly as possible. A related matter is the question of bonds and the availability of bonds to complete unfinished estates. Right across the country people have been living in uncompleted estates, sometimes for up to 16 or 17 years. They now find themselves unable to sell their houses if they want to do so, as the proper title cannot be given. I commend Deputy Catherine Murphy on introducing the Bill and hope the Government will genuinely take its provisions on board and implement them as soon as possible.

I thank everyone who contributed to the debate both last night and tonight. There was quite a range of contributions and support. I particularly welcome the fact that the Government is not opposing the Bill and the comments of the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. The Minister of State has a large body of work in the areas of housing and planning, both of which are really important and have a very direct impact on our lives irrespective of whether they receive the attention they deserve. I take Deputy Flanagan's point in this regard.

I paid particular attention to what the Minister and Minister of State had to say in order to know what parts of the Bill are likely to be problematic or amended. I will refer to some of the points made. I accept that the national planning compliance register creates an additional administrative burden on one side but there could be a very sizeable change in culture and quite substantial savings from having such a register. Essentially, this would prevent a developer who acquires a really bad reputation in one area from starting with a clean record somewhere else only to do exactly the same thing. It is important that we capture the relevant information at national level and that there be a means to search a developer's history when an application is being made. We will not reward good behaviour or have a really good construction sector unless we deal with this issue and weed out the rogues. We must have the means of doing so. We cannot have 34 planning authorities with separate databases of information. We must pool the information.

I accept that section 35 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 is in place. It exists in theory but I am anxious that it be implemented in practice. What is missing in this regard? I want to be practical about identifying the problem and suggesting solutions. There can be a collaborative approach in suggesting solutions because if there is a matter in respect of which there is considerable expertise in this House, it must be planning and development. This is because we have all been through the planning and development system, some of us over decades. Several developers in County Kildare have not completed developments. Some developments have been left unfinished for up to 20 years. Despite this, the estates have not been taken in charge.

Section 35 only stands up where there is a conviction. Where enforcement proceedings are linked to fines for less serious instances of non-compliance, the burden of legal steps in court proceedings would be less onerous on the planning authorities. Perhaps we would create a different culture and ensure a higher level of compliance if we reduced the burden on local authorities in this regard.

With regard to section 6, I take the Minister's point on undue flexibility. However, this is an issue of language. I believe the section can be amended. The Minister said the existing legislation requires the authorities to "have regard to" certain matters. This term is very discredited. It should be a case of being compliant and consistent with a plan. If a development is not consistent and compliant with a plan, "having regard to" is a fairly meaningless term. One can have regard to a plan and then ignore it. Most of us who really want to see in practice what is set out in theory will understand that there is a really significant meaning attached to a change in the wording.

With regard to a centralised national schedule of agreed development contribution liabilities, Sinn Féin completely misread my intention. It is not a case of preventing the setting or retention of contributions locally but about capturing the information nationally. That in excess of €312 million in legacy development contributions is outstanding indicates that development contributions are not paid when developments commence.

There can be real problems when that money is not collected for infrastructure that is required to provide for the development. It is very important that we capture that nationally. Given that the planning process itself is a public process, I do not see any reason why this cannot be public information, captured in a different way. The local government computer services board designs the websites for the local authorities and there is a consistency about them. There is no reason why this kind of information cannot be captured at planning application stage. I am seeking to include a retrospective element to some of this but I accept that retrospective data may be more difficult to capture. However, we could at least focus on the areas where moneys are outstanding and progress from there. There must be ways of doing this.

I was very pleased with the support expressed for a number of provisions in the Bill, including the reduction in the number of years before an estate can be taken in charge. I understand that the Law Reform Commission proposed that it should be the owner who has the right to petition to have an estate taken in charge but there are absentee owners in many estates and perhaps the person who is living in the estate should have a petitioning right. That question merits further attention.

On Part 8, I accept there are valid arguments on both sides. However, objections generally emanate from people living very close to a proposed development and sometimes there is wholesale resistance. At the very least, a second opinion should be sought from someone who is not directly connected. That is not an unreasonable provision to include in legislation.

Essentially what I am attempting to do with this legislation is to change the culture. More needs to be done and the Minister of State knows that too. I look forward to her Bill in the new year. I want to see a licensing system for builders, for example. The construction industry is a good industry but it has been muddied by those who have behaved like cowboys. We have not rewarded good behaviour in the construction sector. By putting the citizen and the consumer centre stage, we will add another dimension to how we frame legislation. Up to now it has been framed, by and large, with the construction industry and local authorities in mind, with the citizen and the consumer sidelined to a great degree.

I acknowledge the fact that this Bill is not being opposed. Support has been expressed for many of its provisions. I hope we will be able to progress some aspects of the legislation in the first half of next year, in the context of other planning legislation that will also be coming forward in 2014.

Question put and agreed to.