Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The main background to the important Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016 is the Final Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, otherwise known as the Mahon tribunal, which was published on 22 March 2012. The Bill is therefore primarily intended to give legislative effect to the planning-related recommendations of the tribunal report, providing for the establishment of a new independent Office of the Planning Regulator; the statutory underpinning of the proposed new national planning framework as a successor to the 2002 national spatial strategy; and other updates to the Planning and Development Act 2000 that are necessary to deliver greater transparency, efficiency and integrity in the planning system, including giving legislative effect to all further planning-related recommendations of the Mahon tribunal report.

As outlined, the main overarching objective of the Bill is to provide for the establishment of a new independent Office of the Planning Regulator, OPR, as it will become known, whose key functions will be to evaluate and assess local authority development plans, variations to development plans and local area plans during their preparation, including proposals relating to land zonings; to make statutory observations and recommendations on the content of such plans and strategies as appropriate to the relevant local authorities and regional assemblies, with a view to ensuring that the plans or strategies set out an overall strategy for the proper planning and development of the area concerned which is consistent with national and regional policies; to undertake reviews of the organisation and systems and procedures used by planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála in the performance of their functions under the planning Acts; and to undertake research and conduct programmes of education and training, including for elected members and officials of planning authorities, to underpin the principles of proper planning and sustainable development.

The core key function of the OPR, namely, evaluating and assessing local plans and regional strategies, will also enable the OPR to make recommendation to the Minister in relation to exercising the pre-existing ministerial direction powers under the planning Act to ensure that a plan or strategy sets out an overall strategy for proper planning and sustainable development for the area concerned.

The establishment of this new office to oversee the development plan process and the planning system generally will add another layer of sophistication to the institutional arrangements within the planning system with a view to ensuring that the overall integrity of the system is preserved and where possible enhanced. In this regard, it is important that we learn from past well-reported experiences in the planning system, which gave rise to the establishment of the Mahon tribunal in the first place, and that we endeavour to ensure that they are not repeated in the future.

A properly functioning planning system is critical to the ongoing development of all parts of the country and to ensure that development takes place in accordance with the principles of proper planning and sustainable development, namely, that development takes place in the right locations, in the right way and at the right time to meet the needs of our people while also simultaneously protecting the many qualities of the natural and built environment. That is the primary purpose of the planning system and it is important that the highest standards are applied by and adhered to at all times by all parties engaged in the planning system including planning authorities, public bodies, the construction and development sector, professional practitioners, private interests and the general public in the interests of the overall common good.

A well-functioning planning system which responds to the needs and demands of society will also be critical to setting the proper planning basis for many of the actions in the Rebuilding Ireland plan, the Government’s recently published comprehensive action plan on housing and homelessness. The planning system impacts on many aspects of our daily lives and therefore we need to ensure that it operates in the manner intended so that it can deliver quality in planning outcomes. The proposed establishment of the OPR, as recommended by the Mahon, tribunal, represents a fundamental reform to the planning system and that is why I regard this as an important Bill.

As I have indicated, the Bill also provides for the establishment of a legislatively defined approach to the development of a successor strategy to the 2002 national spatial strategy, to be known as the national planning framework, NPF. It might become known as something else when we launch it but that is what it is called for the moment. Specific provision is made in this regard on the procedures to be followed in the development of a new framework, including public consultation and participation in the process, for periodic review of the framework every six years and for obtaining Oireachtas approval of the NPF or any revised framework prior to its adoption.

The Bill contains 15 sections and 4 Parts in total and together with four Schedules sets out the necessary provisions to give effect to these measures and related matters. I will now turn to the sections and Parts of the Bill in more detail. Part 1, sections 1 to 3, contains standard provisions dealing with such matters as the Short Title, commencement, interpretation, and provision for expenses.

Part 2, comprising section 4, provides for an extensive amendment to the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, by inserting a new Part II B therein to provide for the establishment of the OPR. This is the most significant part of the Bill. This new Part, comprising the insertion of new sections 31K to 3IAX into the Act of 2000, contains four chapters which provide for preliminary and general OPR matters, the arrangements relating to the establishment, organisation and staffing of the OPR, the powers relating to the evaluation and assessment of plans and strategies by the OPR and the review of the performance of planning authorities, including An Bord Pleanála, by the OPR.

As Part 2 of the Bill relating to the establishment of the OPR is quite extensive, I will spend some time outlining what it proposes.

The new chapter I of the OPR provisions, Preliminary and General Matters, comprises just one section, section 31K to provide for definitions of terms used in this Part.

Chapter II, relating to the establishment, organisation and staffing of the OPR, includes new sections 31L to 31AL, inclusive. Rather than going through the sections individually which primarily relate to standard organisational and operational-type issues normally associated with statutory bodies and which are quite detailed and complex, I will instead give a summary of them. They include provision for the chief executive of the office to be known as the planning regulator who shall be a corporation sole and responsible for the performance of the functions and the administration and business of the office and the functions to be performed by the OPR. As mentioned, its key functions will be to evaluate and assess development plans and strategies and make statutory observations and recommendations on them; to conduct research on planning matters, including research at the request of the Minister; and arrange education and training programmes in planning. Further provision is made for reviewing the performance of An Bord Pleanála and planning authorities and overseeing the delivery of effective planning services to the public by planning authorities; making observations, as it considers appropriate, to the Minister on planning legislation, planning guidelines or ministerial directions; and the assignment of additional functions as may be specified by way of ministerial order, subject to the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

Chapter Il further provides for the independence of the OPR in the carrying out of its functions and the authorisation of staff to perform such functions; the OPR having to have regard to Government policies and objectives, as well as other specified matters, in the performance of its functions; the review of the organisation and the systems and procedures used by the OPR in the performance of its own functions; and the appointment and term of office of the planning regulator, with any such appointment to be approved by the Government on the nomination of the Minister. In this regard, it is proposed that the planning regulator be appointed for a term of up to five years which can only be renewed once.

Further provision is made for the appointment of up to three directors to assist the planning regulator in the performance of its functions; the appointment of staff and the remuneration of such staff; the ceasing of the position held by the planning regulator or a member of his or her staff where they are nominated, elected or co-opted as a Member of the Oireachtas, a planning authority or the European Parliament; the making of a superannuation scheme in respect of the planning regulator and the staff of the OPR; the prohibition of the disclosure by staff, without consent, of information on the work of the OPR; the non-liability of the planning regulator, a former regulator or a present or former member of staff for damages arising from the performance of their functions, unless shown to have been done in bad faith; the payment of grants by the Minister to the OPR out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas for the purpose of meeting its expenses; the keeping of accounts and the auditing of the accounts of the OPR; the preparation by the OPR of an annual report on the performance of its functions and principal activities, also providing that the planning regulator may be called before the relevant Oireachtas committee to account for matters relating to such annual reports; the Minister providing services, premises, equipment and other resources, as necessary, for the OPR to perform its functions; the charging by the OPR of fees in respect of reasonable costs arising in the provision or undertaking of any training and research programme; and the adoption of a code of conduct by the OPR to be followed by the planning regulator and its staff.

As indicated, the Chapter II provisions relate primarily relate to organisational and operational-type issues.

Moving to Chapter III, on the evaluation and assessment of development plans and regional strategies by the OPR, the chapter includes new sections 31AM to 31AR, inclusive. Section 31AM provides for the OPR to evaluate and assess development plans and variations to development plans at all statutory stages of the plan-making process to ensure the development plans and regional strategies, as made, address relevant legislative and policy requirements. In this regard, the section provides that the OPR will submit observations or recommendations on draft plans and strategies to the relevant planning authority and submit copies to the Minister. The chief executive's subsequent report on proposed development plans and variations to development plans for the elected members will summarise the issues and recommendations raised by the OPR and be published on the Internet. A planning authority will subsequently notify the OPR where it has made or varied the plan. Where the plan has been made in such a manner as to be inconsistent with any OPR observation or recommendation, the planning authority shall state the reasons. Where the OPR is subsequently of the opinion that the plan, as made or varied, does not set out an overall strategy for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area or region concerned, the OPR shall recommend the use of a ministerial direction to ensure the plan or variation sets out an overall strategy for proper planning and sustainable development and shall submit a draft direction to the Minister for issue to the planning authority concerned. As Deputies know, that is a role the Minister takes on. A copy of the notice submitted to the Minister shall be made available on the website of the OPR.

Section 31AN provides for consequential provisions whereby the Minister either agrees or disagrees with the notice or recommendations from the OPR. Where the Minister agrees with the recommendation of the OPR on a plan or strategy, he or she will issue the draft direction under section 31 of the Act to the relevant local authority and regional assembly and the Bill sets out the detailed procedures that ensue. Where the Minister does not agree with the recommendation of the regulator, he or she, in turn, will be required to explain the reasons for such disagreement, lay the reasons for such disagreement before the Houses of the Oireachtas and publish them on the Department's website, all in the interests of increased transparency in the local authority development plan process generally.

Sections 31AO to 31AR, inclusive, provide for similar detailed procedures relating to the evaluation and assessment of local area plans and regional spatial and economic strategies.

The new Chapter IV on the review of planning functions includes new sections 31AS to 31AX, inclusive. Section 31AS provides that the OPR, where it considers it necessary to do so, may conduct a review of the planning authority or An Bord Pleanála in respect of the systems and procedures used in the performance of their functions and may, on foot of such a review, recommend that the Minister issue section 28 guidelines, a section 29 policy directive or a directive under section 255(2) to the authority concerned. Alternatively, it may, on foot of such a review, recommend the appointment of a commissioner under section 255(4) of the Act to take over the functions of the planning authority concerned.

Supplementary to section 31AS, section 31AT empowers the Minister to request the OPR to undertake a review of the organisation and the systems and procedures used by a planning authority in the performance of its functions where the Minister is of the opinion that a planning authority may not be carrying out its functions in accordance with the Act; is not operating in compliance with guidelines, directives and any other direction issued; may be applying inappropriate standards of administrative practice or otherwise acting contrary to fair or sound administration; may be applying systemic discrimination in the conduct of its functions; may be operating in a manner whereby there is impropriety or risk of corruption in the conduct of its functions; or may be operating in a manner whereby there are serious diseconomies or inefficiencies in the conduct of its functions.

Sections 31AU to 31AX, inclusive, outline the procedures to be followed by the OPR in the examination of complaints made by a person to it on a planning matter, including, where considered warranted, referral of the matter and any related document to one or more of the Ombudsman, the Standards in Public Office Commission, An Garda Síochána or such other State authorities, as may be prescribed.

These sections further require that information, records or documents be made available to the OPR, or to an authorised person appointed by him, as part of any review or examination; that a planning authority or the board and its staff comply with any requests for information and records and that they co-operate with the OPR in this regard; and that any person who obstructs or impedes or refuses to comply with a request of the OPR or an authorised person commits an offence and shall be liable, on summary conviction, to specified penalties.

Part 3 provides for a number of miscellaneous and consequential amendments to the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, primarily relating to the development of a national planning framework and addressing other Mahon tribunal planning-related recommendations, including providing for a legislative basis for the development of a national planning framework, NPF, as a successor to the national spatial strategy; that the broad objectives of the NPF will be to establish an overarching national plan for the Government in the strategic planning of urban and rural areas to secure balanced regional development, and to secure the co-ordination of regional spatial and economic strategies, and city and county development plans; that the NPF shall be adopted for a period of between ten and 20 years and be reviewed every six years; that national strategic development requirements shall be identified in the framework; that public consultation shall be undertaken with regional assemblies, local authorities, An Bord Pleanála, prescribed bodies and the Northern Ireland Department for Regional Development in the development of the framework - all of that is already happening I am glad to say; that the framework shall be subject to the provisions of relevant EU environmental directives; and that the Government shall submit the draft of a revised or new framework for the approval of the Oireachtas before it is published and shall have regard to any resolution of the Oireachtas in the finalisation of the NPF.

As I mentioned, the other provisions in Part 3 largely emanate from a combination of all the remaining Mahon tribunal planning-related recommendations as well as specific actions required to be completed under the previous Government’s Construction 2020 strategy. These include enhanced transparency in the planning process requiring the publication of submissions on local area plans and development plans as well as the chief executive’s report on such submissions on the website of the relevant planning authority; the forwarding of any proposed grants of planning permission which would contravene materially a development plan or a local area plan to the relevant regional assembly for observations; the removal of an overlap between development contributions for water infrastructure being paid for through the planning permission conditions to local authorities and the separate collection of water infrastructure costs by Irish Water from developers under the provisions of the Water Services Act 2014; the provision of legislative underpinning to facilitate the introduction of e-planning, electronic planning, regarding the online submission of planning applications, appeals and associated fees; requiring planning authorities to provide data and-or information for databases or national planning systems as may be specified by the Minister, for example, www.myplan.ie, the Department’s public information website on development plans, local area plans, etc.; and provision for the payment of reduced or no fees, rather than the current €20 fee, by elected members when making submissions on planning applications and the noting of such representations on the relevant planning file.

The final part of the Bill, Part 4, contains just one section, section 15, which amends section 33 of the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 to provide that Irish Water, in preparing a water services strategic plan or capital investment plan shall have regard to proper planning and sustainable development in line with any development plans made under the Planning Act, in particular with the core strategies of such development plans. This amendment is primarily intended to ensure that water services infrastructure will be provided where it is needed in accordance with the provisions of local development plans and core strategies. The remainder of the Bill comprises a number of Schedules for the purpose of making a series of miscellaneous and consequential amendments to the planning Act arising from the provisions in the preceding parts of the Bill. I would like to signal to the House that I will bring forward a number of amendments on Committee Stage, primarily relating to improving and streamlining the procedures in connection with the taking in charge of housing estates by local authorities, as well as possibly some other miscellaneous revisions to the planning Act which my Department is still examining and reviewing.

I have outlined in some detail the main purpose and provisions of the Bill. I hope all sides of the House will agree the Bill is aimed at delivering a number of fundamental, important and necessary revisions to the Planning and Development Act 2000 arising from the final report of the Mahon tribunal. In particular, as I have already indicated, the establishment of the independent office of the planning regulator will introduce a further institutional layer of sophistication and oversight to the planning system. The establishment of this new office, to take over the function of evaluating and assessing local development plans and regional strategies, to generally oversee the operation of the planning system and to conduct reviews of its operation where considered necessary, is aimed at ensuring that the mistakes of the past are not repeated in the future and that the planning system is operated in an open, transparent and impartial manner in the interests of the common good.

The planning system is integral to the ongoing sustainable and economic development of our country and it is consequently important, if not imperative, to ensure that we have a fit-for-purpose and modem planning system to underpin future development, that we have the highest standards in terms of applying a planning system, that we maintain those high standards in the role that public representatives play in that system and that we do not undermine the integrity of the broader system in any way. I look forward to hearing what colleagues have to say. I have made a detailed contribution and I do not expect Members to take it all in straightaway. We will have an opportunity on Committee Stage to go through the Bill line by line. It remains very loyal to the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal, which is exactly what we should be doing. Colleagues might look to add appropriate amendments to the legislation and we will try to be constructive in that regard.

I understand Deputy Cowen is sharing time with Deputies O'Rourke and Ó Cuív.

Fianna Fáil supports the passage of the Bill to Committee Stage. As has been said, the main purpose is to give effect to one of the core planning-reform recommendations of the Mahon tribunal, that being the establishment of an independent office of planning regulator to oversee and assess decision making and the process in planning authorities.

In the short life of this Government and during the previous one, we have continually applied pressure to implement as many of the Mahon tribunal recommendations as possible. We are committed to drawing from the lessons of the Mahon tribunal in improving transparency, consistency and good decision making throughout the planning system. It is vital that we continue to put in place the legal and institutional framework to prevent the planning abuses that the Mahon tribunal uncovered.

We believe the Bill strikes an appropriate balance in giving the new OPR independence in its role, evaluating local and regional development plans while maintaining some democratic control over the body by the Minister and the Oireachtas. However, we have a number of concerns over some of the Bill's key provisions, which require further scrutiny and amendment. I welcome the Minister's commitment regarding the process on Committee and Remaining Stages.

There are some large omissions of key Mahon tribunal recommendations for improving transparency in planning, including the disclosure of political donations by planning applicants and the noting of all submissions by political representatives on planning applications. Some of the OPR's functions and powers prescribed by the Bill may not make it an effective overseer of the national planning strategy. For instance, it is given no role in overseeing executive transport planning agencies, including Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

One of the rationales given by the Mahon tribunal for the establishment of the OPR is to achieve greater integration between land use planning such as local authority zoning decisions and strategic transport planning. It is disappointing, therefore, that it is not given any role in overseeing the development or implementation of plans by the NTA or TII. Third, we are concerned that the limitation of the OPR powers as prescribed by the Bill may render it somewhat toothless as an anti-corruption watchdog in the planning process. We have serious reservations about placing the successor to the national spatial strategy, namely, the Government's yet undrafted national planning framework, on a statutory footing given it does not yet exist.

The Minister set out the central purpose of the Bill, which we all acknowledge and note. The Minister also outlined the functions being given to the office of the planning regulator under this Bill. I wish to return to the issue of whether the body will be sufficiently independent. I note that bodies such as the Irish Planning Institute have criticised this legislation on the basis that the OPR will not be fully independent of the Minister as the office can only make recommendations on local development plans. It cannot of its own authority strike down plans or variations to plans. The new office will not have the power to force local authorities to change their rules to comply with national spatial policy on land use planning or zoning decisions such as the national spatial strategy or the regional planning guidelines. As I said earlier, we believe that the legislation strikes an appropriate balance between having an independent planning watchdog and the maintenance of democratic control and accountability over planning authorities.

The input of the Government and the elected representatives is also important and must be seen to be so. The new office will be independent of the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government in its day-to-day operations but it will be formally subject to the Minister of the day. It will examine and report on the content of development plans, including zoning practices of local authorities, and make recommendations to the Minister. In reality, the new OPR will take over the powers that currently rest with the Department to recommend that the Minister strike down particular proposals in draft local development plans. The key difference is that if the Minister disagrees with notice from the OPR, he or she must state his or her reasons, lay them before the Houses of the Oireachtas and make the stated reasons available on the Department's website.

Some commentators have criticised the OPR on the following grounds, including that it will merely advise the Minister that it thinks there is a problem with a particular plan or decision and that all decisions will rest with the Minister which, according to one commentator, is very much within the party political arena. Fianna Fáil believes that criticism is misplaced. There should be a balance between the independence of the watchdog and the right to have democratic accountability in the planning process.

In regard to the oversight of the OPR not extending to transport planning, it is appropriate that we expand further on that point during this Second Stage debate on the Bill. As I said, Fianna Fáil is concerned that the oversight function does not extend to transport planning. Some would say strangely absent from the prescribed functions of the OPR is the role of overseeing, assessing and evaluating the plans and strategies of the multiple executive agencies involved in transport services and infrastructural planning, including the NTA and TII. The oversight functions of the OPR appear to be strictly confined to evaluating land use planning by local authorities. It does not have a direct role in overseeing high level strategies developed by the NTA or TII in transport. Both those bodies must, for example, have regard to the national spatial strategy and its successor, the national planning framework which, as I said, is not yet in place, as well as regional planning guidelines and other master planning documents such as the national development plan.

The Bill does not give the OPR any responsibility of direct oversight of the NTA or TII or any role in the assessment and evaluation of their transport and planning strategies. While it is true that both bodies are bound statutorily to have regard to higher level master plans such as the national spatial strategy or regional planning guidelines, very often there is a lack of coherence or even disagreement, whether perceived or real, between the local authority development plans and regional transport strategies developed by the NTA and TII. An example in this regard is the greater Dublin area transport strategy, in respect of which local authorities and representatives in Wicklow, Kildare and Meath voiced concerns that the NTA was setting the rules on spatial planning without due consideration to their regional and county development plans.

One of the rationales given by the Mahon tribunal for the establishment of the OPR is to try to ensure a better level of integration between land use planning such as local authority zoning decisions and strategic transport planning. It is disappointing, therefore, that the new OPR is not given any role in overseeing the development or implementation of plans by the NTA or TII. It would appear from the Bill that the role of the OPR will be to secure coherence or agreement on the part of county development plans and local area plans with regional transport plans developed by the NTA and TII.

On omissions, there are a number of omissions that were recommended by the Mahon tribunal which, in its opinion, would improve transparency and planning, notwithstanding what is included in the Bill. These include the issue of an independent appointments board to appoint members to the National Transport Authority. This recommendation is not to be implemented by the Government and it would appear it is not included. According to the previous Government the reason for this is that the NTA has a remit beyond planning. The board of the NTA comprises ministerial representatives who do not have a quasi-judicial role in the way that members of An Bord Pleanála do, for example, and it is important, therefore, that the chairperson and members of the board should both be fully qualified individuals, be in tune with the Government's transport policy and be willing to respect ministerial policy directions. This would be best achieved by allowing an independent appointments board to select the members, with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport continuing to make those appointments. It is incumbent on the current Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to state whether he is in agreement with that reasoning.

The Mahon tribunal also recommended that members of regional authorities, now regional assemblies, should be directly elected. I know that when the assemblies were put in place, that was not the practice and so I do not expect that to be provided for in this Bill. The Mahon tribunal also recommended that where elected members intend to grant planning permission in material contravention of the development plan, they should be required to give advance notice of one month of this intention to the relevant regional authority and to the Minister and be required to invite and consider submissions from those parties on same. This is not considered to be legitimately included in the Bill despite, as I said, it being a key recommendation of the Mahon tribunal to increase transparency in planning.

I mentioned earlier that Fianna Fáil is concerned that the OPR may be somewhat toothless as an anti-corruption watchdog. Specifically, the Bill provides that the office shall not exercise any of its functions in any particular case with which a planning authority or board is either involved or could be involved. This provision could render the OPR toothless as an anti-corruption watchdog. In the case of suggested criminal wrongdoing, it is right and necessary that the OPR passes cases on to the Garda Síochána. However, there is no good reason that a body that is to be the pre-eminent expert on planning matters in the country should not have the power to investigate alleged or suspected planning law misdemeanours or infringements in specific instances.

I wish to comment briefly on resourcing and capacity concerns.

If the office of the planning regulator, OPR, is to be as effective as we want it to be, it will have to have the capacity to undertake its primary mandate to oversee planning authority decisions and investigate systematic complaints in a timely fashion. While it is welcome that under the Bill, individuals may make direct complaints to the new office, which will be submitted to a preliminary examination, this raises the spectre that the office will be bogged down with a large volume of individual complaints. This has clearly been the case with other bodies as we have seen, and from which I hope I have learned, including such bodies as the PRTB, which is now the RTB. Since its inception, it has been unable to fulfil its role in resolving individual disputes in a timely fashion. At present, tenants and landlords face lengthy delays for any dispute resolution from the RTB because of the lack of resources and staff as well as the absence of a clear dispute resolution mechanism. This makes it somewhat ineffective as a body and unable to carry out its primary mandate.

It must be recognised there is a risk that by giving the OPR the responsibility to receive direct complaints relating to individual planning applications, it could become ineffectual at performing its central purpose, which is the systematic oversight of the planning authorities, decision-making and the broad implementation of national planning policy and regional guidelines. The additional responsibility to investigate direct complaints must be matched with adequate resources, adequate staffing and adequate administration capacity at the new body.

Regarding its oversight of planning administration, one of the central functions of the new planning regulator will be to ensure a more consistent approach is taken in the handling of planning applications throughout local authorities. It is very important to help ensure a relatively consistent approach to planning proposals is taken throughout planning authorities. Consistency and the interpretation of development plan policies is essential if public confidence in the planning system is to be maintained, although decisions on individual applications will vary in light of the land use considerations that apply.

I wish to leave time for my colleague, Deputy O'Rourke, as he wishes to make some points to the Minister on many aspects of the Bill. We are committed to supporting the Bill on Second Stage and, as the Minister stated, teasing out some aspects of it, with the expressed wish of amending the legislation to provide greater transparency and accountability to ensure the basic recommendations and, if possible, other recommendations not included in the original Bill can be undertaken by the Minister as he brings the Bill through the House.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I do not intend to go into the issues dealt with by the Minister and my colleague, Deputy Cowen, but I would like to raise a number of issues with regard to the planning process. I hope to get the co-operation of the Minister and the Department to deal with them and that they can be included in or perhaps dealt with in the Bill if the Minister feels they are not adequately dealt with already. The issues I wish to discuss are the extension of existing planning permissions, developing infrastructure in line with the development of zoned houses where permission has been granted and permeability, which exists through departmental guidelines and which is a priority for the NTA regarding access between sites.

With regard to existing planning permissions, my information is that for various reasons we know about, over recent years developments of 100 houses or fewer, which are typical in my constituency and in many other constituencies, are very slow to progress and be completed. Some of these estates might be 25% or 30% finished. As there are perhaps six months left in the planning permission, the developer or builder must look for an extension of time. My feedback from various developers and construction companies is that local authorities ask them to resubmit full detailed designs and layouts on sites which have gone through a full planning process, which could have taken 18 months or two years and included an appeal to a third party, An Bord Pleanála.

In an interview on television yesterday, the Minister was very supportive of trying to assist and promote in a very measured way the development of houses to try to deal with the housing crisis. I am speaking about land already zoned for development which has gone through the rigour of the planning process and obtained planning permission. This is a real problem because where 25 or 30 houses are built but the development will not be completed in the life of the planning permission, people are being asked to resubmit full designs and new layouts as if it were a new application. If this were to happen, and we hope it does not, it could delay the completion of the sites for a further two years, which would cause all sorts of complications and difficulties in the current crisis.

We are dealing with this issue in the housing Bill, which will run parallel with this one. We are looking at it.

This is an issue throughout the country. The housing crisis is particularly bad in a number of counties at present. This is why we need to see how this can be dealt with to facilitate and promote the building of housing to assist with the crisis.

With regard to the delivery of infrastructure, those developing a number of sites in my constituency, in Galway and in other places, which have planning permission, are being told they cannot start construction until 2020. These people are willing and able to start to build, which would help to deal with the crisis. This is absolutely outrageous and unacceptable. While various utilities identify issues, solutions can be delivered in a number of ways. The Government could borrow money through NAMA or the local authorities at very low interest rates to help deliver the required infrastructure. It could be done through public-private partnership. It could also be done by conditioning the developer to deliver the improved infrastructure or through levies.

Most sites where construction is starting will take two to three years to finish. Rather than stopping the development and stopping houses being constructed to deal with the existing issue, the upgrade of the infrastructure should be delivered as the construction of the housing estate is being delivered. This does not happen. There is no thinking outside of the box in this regard. A number of people have raised this issue with me in recent months. It is a real problem. People are willing to start to construct properties. They are told they can build them but that they cannot connect to the services for three years. People cannot make such an investment because they need to sell the house to be able to build the next one. The issue is particularly with regard to wastewater services. In some cases, the upgrade can involve an increase in the number of pumps, an interconnector or a slight increase in the infrastructure feeding into a mains service. These all have easy enough solutions when we speak about them here but if we empower, instruct or assist local authorities to be the vehicle to make this happen, then more development can happen quicker to deal with the issue. At present, development is being held back and withdrawn. This is a huge problem as we speak.

Another issue with regard to infrastructure is roads. In areas such as Clane and Maynooth in Kildare North, there are sites which cannot be considered for building because they lack ring-road infrastructure. In my area of Celbridge, part of the town is gridlocked because of a lack of adequate bridge infrastructure. These are real issues and problems which cause delays in the delivery of housing that is already approved.

Another issue is permeability between estates. We have guidelines from the Department and it is a priority for the National Transport Authority, and we can see why this is the case. It needs to be examined because it causes anti-social behaviour and many difficulties and problems. When local authorities take charge of estates where permeability was included in the approval of planning permission, they must extinguish it. It is a difficulty. These are the areas I wished to raise with the Minister.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 10 p.m. until 12 noon on Thursday, 29 September 2016.