Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016: Report Stage

Before beginning, I seek the agreement of the House for amendment No. 97 to be taken out of group 10 and put into group 11.

Is that agreed? Agreed. The first group consists of amendments Nos. 1, 78 and 82 to 85, inclusive, which are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 6, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:

4. The Minister shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the Government’s compliance with the European Union’s Environmental Impact Assessment Directives and the Aarhus Convention.".

Without in any way disparaging the good junior Minister, it is a shame the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is not here this evening. This is a Bill of major significance, as I know the Minister of State, Deputy English, and his officials know. At its heart is putting into effect one of the central recommendations of the Mahon tribunal into planning and zoning corruption. I would have thought, given the significance of the final reading of the Bill tonight, we should have had the principal Minister in front of us, given some of the issues we will raise.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 85 are essentially related to the same matter, which I have referred to at length on Second and Committee Stages. I have a very real concern that parts of this legislation and the other amendment we made to the principal Act in last December's planning and development Bill are not in line with either the Aarhus Convention or the 2014 environmental impact assessment directive. My understanding is yesterday was the deadline for the transposition of the 2014 directive and we have missed the deadline as we have not transposed the directive. If the Minister of State has new information on that, I would be happy to hear it. I also understand the Department is considering transposing the directive by way of regulations. One of the problems with that is whereas it might mean this will not be delayed further than it has already, we will have less opportunity to scrutinise the regulations as they would only be laid before the House rather than passed as primary legislation. Given the importance of the directive and the length of time - three years - we have been waiting for it to be transposed, it is a real shame.

I know the Minister of State will not support amendment No. 1, which is really an opportunity to say that notwithstanding the fact the officials and the Minister believe the Bill is in compliance with the directives and convention, we would like further scrutiny. The purpose of the amendment is to oblige the Minister to lay before the House a report at a set date to outline compliance. Amendment No. 85 is very clearly an attempt to insert into the environmental impact assessment, EIA, screening process a much more rigorous requirement for public scrutiny at the pre-screening stage rather than once an EIA has been required. My clear view is this is required under Article 6.4 of the Aarhus Convention and I will press amendment No. 85.

I will put up my hand and admit amendment No. 78 is not very well drafted and I will not press it today. The purpose of putting it on the table is to raise an issue of concern. I will ask the Minister and his officials to go away, whether it is in the context of this legislation or subsequent regulations, and examine the concern. Specifically, this relates to unauthorised developments, particularly in areas where an EIA or an appropriate assessment, AA, is required, and in cases where the EIA or AA was not secured at the outset, retention planning permission could not be applied for. In principle, that is the correct approach, particularly to ensure that people who have deliberately and wilfully breached EIA or AA requirements are not able to get a second chance. There are some anomalies in the system and I have met officials to outline some of those. I hope I will hear from the Minister of State a commitment arising from recognition of the issue, and that whatever is the most appropriate way can be followed in a particular timescale. That could be through regulation or primary legislation as I am open to all of that.

Amendment No. 82 deals with the relationship between the EIA screening process and planning permission extensions. I am trying to achieve two goals. The first is to give the planning authorities the opportunity to refuse an application for extension. I am also seeking to ensure that if the material, developmental and environmental circumstances differ between an original planning permission and an extension, an EIA could be required at that time. It makes no sense to give somebody planning permission without an EIA and then automatically assume, ten years on, for example, there are no changes in the environment that may require an EIA in the view of the planning authority.

In this sense it is to give the planning authority the options which are not available in the current legislation.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 85 relate to the Aarhus Convention and the transposition of EIA Directive 2014/52/EU, while amendment No. 78 relates to the planning anomalies in the retention of unauthorised developments in respect of EIA or AA requirements. Amendment No. 82 involves a requirement to consider in a more rounded way the need for EIAs where planning permission extensions are being secured.

I strongly support Deputy Eoin Ó Broin's amendment on the need for us to have a report within at least six months on the Government's compliance with the European Union's environmental impact assessment directives and the Aarhus Convention. This issue has been drawn to my attention in recent weeks by environmental groups, specifically the Woodland League. I know that others are also very concerned about it. I had a discussion with some of the departmental officials before we came into the House about the number of cases pending against Ireland for breaches of the EIA directives and there seemed to be some debate about how many there were. I read an article recently in which it was suggested there were 15, including five at what was called the second phase. That may or may not be true and I see the officials shaking their heads. We will come back to that issue.

I do not have the command of the detail that others outside this House might have, but the point made to me about the landslide at Derrybrien, where a mountain collapsed after a windfarm had been built there, was that a case had been brought against Ireland because the developers and the planning authorities had failed to ensure proper compliance with the EIA directives. Subsequently, there were court cases, but the ruling was that we had failed to comply. Afterwards, as I understand it, a new concept was brought forward - substitute consent - to give retrospective permission, as in a retention order, for developments that were illegal and that did not fully comply with the EIA directives. In the case of Derrybrien I have legal letters which suggest that, even with the substitute consent required afterwards, the EIA directives were not fully complied with, particularly in respect of public consultation. At the heart of the original problem was the failure to comply with the requirement for public consultation and an EIA. The same was true of the substitute consent, which in itself is dodgy because it involves the retention of something that should never have happened. In this case it led to an environmental disaster. The new concept retrospectively legitimises stuff that was illegal and breached the EIA directives. In the case of Derrybrien, even the processes involved in seeking substitute consent were not complied with in murky circumstances. I do not have time to go into all of the details on this point, but it merits proper debate and I will submit parliamentary questions about it.

The State and semi-State companies are planning major infrastructural developments such as contentious wind farms and other renewable energy projects, but we have not fully transposed the EIA directives into domestic legislation. We have dodgy concepts such as substitute consent to try to cover our tracks and allow these developments to go ahead without full compliance. Do not get me wrong - I am very much in favour of renewable energy projects, but big wind farms are very contentious. There are real issues about whether communities are being consulted and about the environmental impacts which were disastrous in the case of Derrybrien. This area needs to be seriously scrutinised. Apart from anything else, we could be subject to major fines, but these are controversial issues in terms of the impact on communities, engaging in proper public consultation and a proper assessment of the potential damage to the environment. There are big questions about the way we do things and suggestions that where the State or semi-State companies are doing things, there is a nod and a wink culture to get stuff through and ride roughshod over local communities and best practice that seeks to ensure the environment is not damaged.

For all of these reasons, the amendment is terribly important. We need a detailed report on the issue and a very detailed discussion and debate in this House which should be well flagged to give environmental groups and those with knowledge an opportunity to feed into the debate before it happens.

It is welcome that amendment No. 85 specifies what form the consultation should take. There is a lot of box-ticking and I have spoken repeatedly about the Aarhus Convention and the right to be consulted, but it is a two-way process. Unless it is specified, it will not happen in that way. The very fact that an EIA would be required would indicate that there was a significant environmental issue at stake. I have never seen a planning application with an associated EIA which argued against the development. I have often questioned the independence of many EIAs which I have seen where it is possible to pick holes. That merits consideration on another day.

In respect of amendment No. 82, if an EIA is required for a housing development, who makes the decision if it includes over 100 houses? Will it be the local authority or An Bord Pleanála when the new rules come into play?

I, too, express my disappointment that the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, is not present. One could be forgiven for suspecting that the leadership contest is more important than this Bill. It could be a very important one, if things were done right. Clearly, the Minister is eager to avoid trips and falls between now and 2 June. I have a lot of respect for him, but he has made a dog's dinner of dealing with the housing crisis. Things are worse now than they were a year ago. There have been very few improvements anywhere along the line. Homes are not going up but prices are. The Government is partially responsible for this and the Minister holds a certain responsibility if he is to allow the Department to behave in the manner it is behaving.

Cairn Homes and Hines Ireland control over half of the sites in the Dublin area. They have a vested interest in not building and it makes sense for them not to build. They will build bugger all in the next year or year and a half. They will build when prices have increased further. The decisions the Minister has taken are driving up prices and amount to a subsidy for developers. Builders are interested in building. It is not that there is no one to build; rather, developers have a vested interest in not building now, especially those who have sites. They are land bankers. Every time the price of housing goes up by 10%, the value of the sites on which developers are sitting goes up by a minimum of 30%. The Government can do the maths, but I can give it a breakdown of the figures. Developers would be off their heads to build because of the way the system is operating.

The Government will have to cop onto itself and start building houses. I am not asking local authority members to go out with picks and shovels and start building, but local authorities could employ builders who are not looking for a profit margin of €15,000 per unit. Some would be very happy if they cleared €5,000 on every house they built, but a developer is a different animal. The Government appears to think things will never happen unless the big boys are involved, but they do not want to build now because a climate has been created in which it does not make sense for them to build. The State has an incredible amount of land on which to build. Members of the housing committee asked Mr. Dick Brady why local authorities did not have CPO land on which to build in order to get things going. He said there was no reason in the wide earthly world to use CPOs because the State had loads of land. He told us that there was planning permission for over 20,000 units and that there was permission for multiples of that figure in zoned areas. We are now considering giving land to developers in order to encourage them to build on it. Hines Ireland and Cairn Homes alone control over half of the sites in Dublin. Why will the Government not start building social and affordable housing? I do not understand its rationale. It is neoliberal thinking. The Government seems to be bogged down in the notion that only the private sector can deliver housing.

It is a case of organising builders. It is not true to say they are not available. I know loads of builders who would love to build but cannot access finance or sites. The Government could employ them to build housing units to get things moving. It is a failed policy. To whom is the Government listening? Is it listening to the lobbyists such as Cairn Homes, Hines Ireland and the CIF? It should listen to the geography department in Maynooth which makes a rational case for how the Government should operate, but that is not what it is doing. The English, as they now know, have made incredible mistakes in this area. They are not addressing them properly, but we can learn from them. However, we are not doing so.

I understand why the Minister is not in the House. He was a very impressive Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and did an excellent job. He is a very capable man, one for whom I have a lot of respect, but he is not doing a good job in housing provision. For some reason or other, whether it be ideological or that he is listening to the wrong people, he is going in the wrong direction. At this stage, I can only assume that things will get worse before they get better, unless the Government chooses to take a different path. This is not rocket science. We have many problems in how we supply housing in Ireland, be it private, social, affordable or rental. We are snowed under, but the problems can be fixed. While nothing can be fixed overnight, we could start, but we are not doing that and I do not understand why.

I, too, regret the fact that the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, is not present. I have nothing against the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, but on Committee Stage we had a very good and quite lengthy discussion with the Minister. It would have been useful to have had a continuation of it because some of the Government's amendments are in response to amendments tabled on Committee Stage and the Bill is complex. Even if we had to shut down at 9 p.m. for the news or whatever else, it would have been better for us to have managed the debate in that way. The ordering of business in the House is not easy and we are where we are.

I support Deputy Eoin Ó Broin's amendments which would appropriately strengthen the environmental assessment process and engagement with the public, with particular reference to the Aarhus Convention in his first amendment in terms of how we are implementing it in quite an extensive revision of the 2001 Act. It is right and appropriate to include in the Bill a six-month check. The later amendments are correct in proposing to strengthen the powers of environmental impact assessment systems, consult people and provide information in a more upfront and transparent way, which is at the heart of the Aarhus Convention process.

As I understand them, we will be able to support amendments Nos. 83 and 84 which seek to ensure the Government would retain fees from a developer in making an application in appropriate circumstances and to provide for more public information on an application in the screening process when it has to be decided whether an environmental impact assessment is allowed. I am interested in hearing the response of the Minister on the intent of these two amendments. It seems that they are reasonable and progressive. I look forward to hearing the response of the Minister to amendments Nos. 1, 82 and 85 which are worthy of support.

It is regrettable that the Minister is not here. I have been a public representative in various guises for 20 years and, like every other Member, I have never had to deal with such a crisis in housing provision in the State. It is a fact that rather than getting nearer to the solutions, the issues are getting harder. Whether it is people in work who cannot afford rent or to buy or whether they are people who would normally be covered by our social housing provision, there is nothing there for them. For years now, we have had desperate people coming to us and the answer has been that there is nothing there for them. It is a consequence of Government policy, which we do not say lightly. The proof is in the reality. The policies which are being put forward now are not only not addressing the problem, but they are actually adding to it and making it worse. We need a new direction. The Bill before us was supposed to implement the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal which was established on foot of serious enough problems as it was with planning corruption. In fact, it does not address any of those things and, in that sense, is a missed opportunity.

We now have a new form of colonialism in Ireland with the country having been sold to vulture funds. The citizens are like modern day slaves who cannot get any security of tenure. It is really regrettable. Like Deputy Wallace said, I understand fully why the Minister is not here. Deputy Coveney's leadership quest will probably not be served well by being associated with this debacle, which is not all his fault or anything like it, being a consequence of Government policy. It is an issue with which we are not dealing appropriately.

As to the amendments in the grouping, I record my support in particular for amendments Nos. 82 and 85 in the name of Deputy Ó Broin. I recognise the good work done by the Irish Environmental Network and other community and voluntary organisations which have been to the forefront in demanding accountability in planning and the implementation of our obligations under the Aarhus Convention and addressing democracy in environmental issues. That is what these provisions do, in particular amendment No. 85 which deals with public participation in screening decisions for EIAs and compliance with the Aarhus Convention. This is very important and should be specified in the Bill, in particular given the late transposition of the EIA directive yesterday, but also because one will get better outcomes in planning if one negotiates and consults early on. Quite apart from the fact that it is a legislative requirement, one will have much more robust decision-making if one engages with people at an early stage.

It is very worrying that we have not enacted provisions which could be proven in court to be obligations under the Aarhus Convention. Last week, we saw in a reply to Deputy Eamon Ryan on the new runway at Dublin Airport that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport said he was not going to have any formal public consultation on the transposition of the new EU regulation in the context of noise at the airport. However, that is a requirement under the Aarhus Convention. As such, it is entirely appropriate that it is reinforced here. As such, I support amendment No. 85 as well as amendment No. 82, which is a proposal to rescreen for EIA and AA before any extension of duration. They are very important amendments from a democratic perspective and would lead to much more robust planning.

This is a very important debate and I agree with the principle enunciated by many speakers of increased transparency and accountability in planning decisions and public notices. However, the Minister is doing an excellent job and I do not agree with the views expressed opposite in that regard. As Deputy Daly said, housing is the biggest issue facing us every day as Deputies. I have people coming to me every day. Nowadays, children are eight years old before they have any hope of getting their own homes. I agree absolutely that families have had very difficult times in moving from place to place with no choice of home available and having to pay exorbitant rents. Some are not subject to rent control while others are, and it is a huge and appalling vista that has been visited on this country as a result of its economic collapse.

However, the Government is dealing with it. In particular, I praise the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy English, for all of the work they are doing at the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. I travel a fair bit and the fact is that construction of houses is starting everywhere one goes in the country. There is a huge increase in the number of new starts. While it takes time to build a home, there is a very significant commitment in respect, in particular, of the provision of social housing by 2020. That is at the heart of the disadvantage people are suffering.

I refer to one of the points Deputy Wallace made with which I do not agree. While I accept that there are builders who are hoarders and exploiting the economic situation for their own advantage, there are other excellent builders who are ready to go. In Drogheda where I live, a commencement notice was served in respect of 1,500 houses which are due to start very shortly.

I ask that Deputy O'Dowd speak to the amendments.

I ask Deputy O'Dowd to deal with the amendments.

I am. I appreciate that the Acting Chairman did not interrupt anyone else. I remind him that I am responding to points that were made on the opposite side of the House. Either we live in a democracy or we do not. If the Acting Chairman does not want me to express my views, I will insist on setting them out. I will not sit down, notwithstanding the Acting Chairman's kind views.

We live in a democracy, but I am in the Chair.

The Acting Chairman allowed other Members to make points but we are not allowed to refute them. That is a fact.

Try to stick to the amendments.

I am refuting points made by Deputy Wallace in a pleasant way.

We have to deal with all of these amendments, if Deputy O'Dowd does not mind.

I hope the Acting Chairman will be pleasant, as he always is. My point is that there are builders who are committed to building and they face planning difficulties. It is right and proper in my view that the Government and the Department facilitate transparent success in planning permissions that may have been given some years ago but which may not yet have been taken up where builders are genuinely ready to go. That is a huge problem. Thousands of houses are being held up around the country on foot of planning technicalities. It is not that permission was not given in the first place, but that the permissions have run out before the funding to finish the houses has become available. That is why the legislation is very important.

I thank the Acting Chairman for listening to me so kindly. Other Members made the point that we must build houses, but there are over 160,000 empty homes in this country. In Dublin alone, there are over 31,000 empty homes. Keys are not being turned in front doors and bedrooms are not being slept in because there are no families in those houses. While it is not a provision in this particular Bill, part of the process must be a tax on empty homes which are not principal private residences to bring them into commission for families. That is what is happening in other jurisdictions and it is what needs to happen here. I support the ministerial amendments.

I support Deputy O'Dowd's last point on the taxing of empty homes, albeit I will not go any further away from the Bill. I support Deputy Ó Broin's amendments, in particular those on the Aarhus Convention. I refer in particular to his amendment seeking to provide for a report on compliance with the convention. One of the problems with planning in Ireland is that the public are not generally aware of their rights to information and to comment. Only a small sector of the population takes an interest in these matters. One of the main functions of the planning regulator is going to be an educational one. There is a need to ensure that the legislation complies with the Aarhus Convention. We have had other amending legislation on planning in the lifetime of the Dáil. I support the amendments proposed by Deputy Ó Broin.

Does the Minister of State wish to make a contribution at this stage?

I think I had better. Seeing as the big boss is not here as the little fellow I will respond, if that is all right.

Rumour has it the Minister of State was supposed to be running his campaign.

Do not worry, I know what was meant.

The Minister of State might grow a few inches in the next few weeks.

Or I might shrink. It is very clear the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is committed to the Bill and has been for a long time. There has been much debate in the House at various Stages and there was a lengthy discussion on it on Committee Stage. There has been lots of feedback and sharing of data and information with our officials and a lot of toing and froing. Nobody can complain they have not had proper access and discussion on the Bill. There is a full commitment by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the Department to get this right. There has been ample consultation. There are some issues with the Bill which we are still prepared to take another look at in the Seanad. It is not over yet. It would be wrong of people to try a different spirit. There was a really good attempt to work together on the Bill, and that has happened. I would rather if people did not say just because the Minister is missing for an hour or two that there is some inference in it. He hopes to join the discussion at some stage. It is just one of those days when the diary takes over. He will be in at some stage, all going well. It is not that he wants to dodge the issues. He is very front and centre when it comes to planning and housing. Other Ministers might be happy to dodge or hide-----

What Ministers?

-----but he is not. Trying to say he is not here so he will not be associated with it is a bit silly because he is very much associated with it and very much on the record and very public about all issues when it comes to planning and housing. Sometimes it would be better if he was not, but he very clearly is, so do not try to say he is dodging any issues. That would be the wrong approach and Deputies know it is not true because it is not something he does, and we will leave it at that.

Amendments Nos. 1, 78 and 82 to 85, inclusive, which generally relate to environmental impact assessments have been grouped together for discussion. There is an issue with amendment No. 81, which we will deal with later. I will address the Opposition amendments in this grouping and then the Government amendments.

Amendment No. 1 proposes to introduce a requirement that within six months following the passing of this Act, the Minister shall lay a report before the Houses of the Oireachtas regarding the Government's compliance with the environmental impact assessment directive and the Aarhus Convention. While on the face of it this amendment may seem to have merit, we must oppose it on a number of grounds. The Aarhus Convention does not have direct application in Ireland. Rather, it is implemented at EU level by a number of EU directives, namely, EU Directive 2003/35/EC on public participation and access to justice in certain environmental matters, and EU Directive 2011/92/EU on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment, commonly referred to as the EIA directive. Directive 2014152/EU, the 2014 EIA directive, amends the 2011 directive. Therefore, it is not appropriate to include a direct reference to the Aarhus Convention in primary legislation.

These EU directives have been transposed into Irish legislation and are fully reflected not only in the planning code, but also in other relevant non-planning related legislative codes, which fall under the responsibility of other Ministers and Departments. Therefore, it would not be appropriate for one Minister to report on matters that are within the remit of a number of other Ministers. We oppose the amendment as I believe it is unnecessary to provide for it in primary legislation. Like all ministerial office holders, those at the Department are answerable to both Houses of the Oireachtas for policy and legislative matters that come under our remit. There are existing processes in place to facilitate this and we see no need to provide for it in primary legislation.

Amendment No. 78 proposes to amend section 34 of the principal Act by the insertion of a new subsection 12AA to introduce an EIA screening mechanism in the consideration of an application for retention permission. Section 34 of the Act provides for the making of an application to a planning authority for permission for development consent, and that permission may be granted with or without conditions or may be refused as it contains other related provisions. While section 34 already provides that an application may be made to a planning authority for permission to retain an unauthorised development, it does place a particular restriction on a planning authority when considering such an application. In this regard, section 34(12) states that if the application for permission for the development was made before it was commenced, and where the application would have required an EIA, a determination as to whether an EIA was required, or an appropriate assessment, then the authority must refuse to consider the application. Where the authority refuses to consider an application in these circumstances, it is then open to the applicant to pursue the matter under the existing procedures for substitute consent under Part XA of the principal Act, in which case an application must be made to An Bord Pleanála seeking leave to apply for substitute consent in the first instance.

Conversely, if the authority decides with regard to a particular application for retention permission that an EIA, a determination as to whether an EIA was required, or an appropriate assessment would not have been required if the application had been made prior to commencement, then it may consider the application for retention of unauthorised development. As the planning code already provides a robust mechanism for considering an application for retention permission, either under section 34 or Part XA as may be appropriate, we consider the amendment proposed is not necessary.

I understand the background to what Sinn Féin has proposed and we will look at this again with regard to what the Deputy said earlier. I know he has been in discussion with the officials. We will look at it and go through it, and we can deal with it in the Seanad. We are open to examining the substitute consent provisions under exceptional circumstances. I know what the Deputy is trying to bring forward, and if he is happy enough to do so we will deal with it in the Seanad. He has indicated he probably is and that is fair enough.

Amendment No. 82, also tabled by Deputy Ó Broin, proposes a number of amendments to the extension of the duration of planning permission under section 42 of the Planning Act 2000. These were also discussed on Committee Stage last month. During the passage of the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 just before Christmas, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, proposed a number of amendments to section 42 provisions, which were approved by the Oireachtas at that time. Notably, one of the amendments inserted a new provision that any developments that require an EIA or appropriate assessment at the time of the original permission will not qualify for an extension of duration to the planning permission. This will apply on developments where substantial work has been completed and developments where work has not commenced. The condition is necessary to avoid an extension of time being granted for developments where, for whatever reason, an EIA or appropriate assessment was required at the time the original permission. However, the first three elements of amendment No. 82 propose to go further than this, and have the collective effect of requiring that an application for either first or second extension of the permission may be granted only where the planning authority undertakes an EIA or appropriate assessment screening and determines that neither such assessment is required. We consider this goes beyond what is required in these circumstances and what was approved by the Oireachtas only a few months ago.

The last element of amendment No. 82 proposes to delete section 42(8) as inserted by the 2016 Act. This subsection provides that the duration of a planning permission for a strategic housing development may be extended only where substantial works have been carried out during the period of the original permission.

I must stop the Minister of State. I know he has not dealt with amendment No. 85 yet, but I need to obtain the permission of the House to give the Minister of State time to finish. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I apologise. I usually speak too fast so I have tried to slow down for once.

The Minister of State is doing fine.

We are not asking the Minister of State to go faster.

I thought I might get away with that.

The purpose of the provision is aimed at incentivising developers who obtain planning permission for strategic housing developments through the new bespoke streamlined procedures to commence work on the developments concerned sooner rather than later and well before the permission expires rather than sit and hoard their sites. Therefore, we must also oppose the amendment.

Deputy Ó Broin's amendment No. 85 proposes to amend section 176A of the Act of 2000 as inserted by the 2016 Act. The purpose of the amendment is to include mandatory public participation in the EIA screening process to be carried out by planning authorities and the board under the new EIA screening provisions introduced in 2016 Act. We oppose the amendment because public participation for screening purposes is not a requirement of the EIA directive, either the 2011 version of the directive or the 2014 amending directive, and there is already provision for public participation in processing substantive applications for development consent. Instead, the EIA directive, in its 2011 and 2014 versions, require a screening determination shall be made available to the public, and this is already provided for in section 176B(5) and 176C(9). As I will outline shortly, Government amendment No. 84 firms up the provisions in section 176C(9). In this connection, I do not see the point of having separate public participation processes for intermediary stages of the planning process that proceed the substantial planning application and an environmental assessment process. Therefore, I oppose the amendment.

Government amendments Nos. 83 and 84 arise from Committee Stage amendments proposed by Deputy Ó Broin. During the discussion the Minister, Deputy Coveney, accepted the principle of the Deputy's amendments and indicated he would consider the legal and drafting aspects and would table amendments on Report Stage.

Amendment No. 83 amends section 176A of the 2000 Act, as inserted by the 2016 Act, and makes provisions for screening for environmental impact assessment on application to a planning authority. Section 176A sets out the detail and documentation to be included in such a screening application and further material for inclusion in an application may also be restricted. It also provides that a planning authority may reject an application if it is incomplete in any material way or in such case it provides the planning authority will return the application and the fee detailing the reason for its rejection.

As it will be absolutely clear to an applicant what is required in an EIA screening application, there is no reason the applicant should be refunded the application fee if relevant material is omitted from the application. The onus is on the applicant to ensure that he or she submits an application that complies with the requirements of the Act and the regulations. This amendment proposes to remove the requirement of the planning authority to return the fee in a case where it rejects an application that is incomplete in any material way and will incentivise the submission of properly completed screening applications by concerned individuals. I hope the House will accept that because I believe it is common sense.

In short, amendment No. 84 relates to new section 176C of the 2000 Act inserted by the 2016 Act, which makes provision for a review or a referral of screening for environmental impact assessment for determination by the board. Subsections (8), (9) and (10) outline the notification provisions which apply to the determination by the board in this regard.

Amendment No. 84 as now proposed clarifies that when the board makes a determination on an EIA screening referral, the board must publish it along with the main reasons and considerations for the determination on its website, supplemented by a notice advising that the determination may be subject to judicial review. The amendment further requires the board to maintain a record of its determinations and make them available on its website while also making them available for purchase and inspection during office hours, contrary to the current discretionary provisions.

Deputy Murphy asked who makes the decision. It is the relevant planning authority so if it is more than 100 houses it would be An Bord Pleanála when the legislation kicks in. That is in regard to the EIS requirement as opposed to that of the EIA.

Some other questions were raised. Deputy Wallace is of the opinion that the Minister is going about this the wrong way and that not enough is being done. I do not believe he is going about it the wrong way. As a Department we are making the right decisions. I agree with him that we would like to be able to do more and, accordingly, as we can access funding we will do more but it takes time to ramp up the system and all the trends around commencement notices, planning permissions, the number of sites that are opened and activity on them indicate that things are improving. As I said, we wish they could improve overnight but the Deputy was in the game of construction and he understands how it works. We cannot turn it on overnight, despite all the interventions we try to make, but we will activate sites, make lands available and try to access more funds. We are doing all that. We are trying to speed up the planning permission process.

The Deputy makes the point about using our land to build houses. There is a commitment of over €5.5 billion of taxpayers' money to build houses and as more money becomes available we will try to do that, and we will work with the Deputy on that. This House agrees that, at a minimum, €5.5 billion is the correct amount. More might be done by future Governments when they can get access to the money. At the first opportunity we were able to access more funding the Minister, Deputy Coveney, made the business case through the action plan for housing, which built on the work of the housing committee, and secured the extra billions required to make this happen. The money is available and we are ramping up the projects.

With regard to the land, last week we heard of the mapping idea and that the State owns 5,000 acres of land, and probably more because there are some sites we cannot fully trace but we will find them eventually. We are saying those sites are available for the reasons the Deputy outlined not just for the big builders he referred to, but for anybody who wants to engage with a local authority to see how to activate those lands. We recognise that we cannot provide the funds today for the local authorities to build all those 50,000 houses on that 5,000 acres, and it could be more than 50,000 houses. That is a reasonable medium density approach. We are saying that the land is available. We have asked local authorities to make that land available to people who want to build a small number of houses, who would consider using affordable houses, build to rent and all the mixed tenure approaches. That is what we are asking local authorities to do. They are the ones that generally own these lands, and about 750 of these sites. The other 50 belong to the State and the Housing Agency. About 30 sites belong to other State players but we are saying that this land can be used to build houses.

The Deputy spoke about creating competition. That creates competition, and it sends out a message to people who want to hoard other private sites that public sites can be used to build houses. That is what we intend to do, and we will drive that forward. I think the Deputy would agree with that concept and the idea is to make it happen as quickly as we possibly can. We need to be able to find all the sites so that the Deputy and anybody else can decide on the sites they want to build on. I understand not everyone agrees with that concept, and that is fair enough, but we believe it is a good approach to try to activate these lands and get them built on much quicker, and that is what we will try to do.

I gave the Minister of State extra time to make sure that the questions asked were addressed. Deputy Ó Broin, as the mover of the amendment, is entitled to a right of reply for two minutes. Other Members can engage also. If Members do not need to use their two minutes I ask them not to do so because we are dealing with 98 amendments.

I am replying to all four amendments at once. I want to make two points. I appreciate the Minister's willingness, and that of the officials, to look at amendment No. 78, and I am happy to withdraw it on that basis.

I am very surprised that the 2014 EIA directive is now fully transposed. I would be happy to have any additional information the Minister can give us about that because it had not been fully transposed when we met on Committee Stage. Have statutory instruments or regulations been introduced? What has been the mechanism for its transposition or was that a mistake in the Minister's opening remarks?

It will be done by August but no other member state has it.

To correct the record, it has not been transposed as yet.

It will be done by August.

Is it the case then, as I asked, that the intention is to transpose it by way of regulations by the August deadline?

It will be by way of EU regulations by the August deadline.

Again, I express my disappointment because it will mean there will be a lower level of scrutiny by Deputies if it is done by way of regulations, but we can deal with that at a later stage.

On the Aarhus Convention, and it is the one point I will make, we are a signatory to it so it does have relevance to this legislation. Article 6.4 of the Aarhus Convention makes it very clear that each party shall provide for early public participation when all options are open so if the Minister excludes public participation from the very opening stage of the EIA screening, he will not be compliant with Article 6.4 of the Aarhus Convention. I suspect that is the real reason the Minister is not willing to consider amendment No. 1. We are not compliant with it. We are a signatory to this treaty and we are simply not living up to it.

With regard to amendment No. 85, my real concern is that if the Minister does not consider amendment No. 85 or some version of it he will be in contravention of the EIA directive 2014 when it comes to the transposition of that and on those grounds I will be pressing both amendments Nos. 1 and 85.

As the mover of the amendment the Deputy will have another opportunity to speak if he wishes.

I will make two points. First, the right to be consulted is meaningless unless the Minister sets out how that consultation will happen. It has been my experience that it is very much a box ticking exercise and it is regrettable that this is not being expanded.

Second, with regard to the extension of duration, it appears as if there will be no re-screening of an environmental impact assessment and that there can be changes in standards. If that is the standard we are setting out, we are excluding any changes in standards that might happen in the period between the planning permission being granted and an extension of duration. That is not good practice.

On that first key issue about our interaction with the Aarhus Convention, if I heard the Minister correctly, we do not bring it into our own legislation; it is in effect a European jurisdiction. I question that. There is a number of other instances where I will be looking to bring European Union directives into our legislation directly but as a convention which we have signed up to, I thought it would have legal effect. On Committee Stage we said we could not refer within legislation to a plan which does not have legislative form. I accept that point and we have withdrawn our amendments in that regard.

The second reason the Minister seemed to give was that because it was the responsibility of a number of Ministries to implement it, it would be inappropriate for the Minister to take on overriding responsibility for the management of the implementation of the Aarhus Convention. At its centre it is about public engagement in planning and therefore I thought it was right that this Bill, and this Minister, would have the responsibility of putting an agreed legislative check on our implementation of that convention. I am surprised by the argument that because it is an international convention it is beyond our legislative remit, if I am interpreting the Minister's earlier comments. I would prefer if the Minister would accept the amendment because I think it is appropriate.

I acknowledge I did not address the amendments the first time around.

The Deputy covered a lot, though.

It was more of a general comment. I support Deputy Ó Broin's amendments. As with Deputy Eamon Ryan, I find the Government's position unusual. I do not understand the rationale for why we should not enshrine in our legislation directives from Europe that we feel are positive.

We do enshrine directives. That is the point I am trying to make.

Too often, we have a lot of loose legislation stating the Minister "may" do this or that. Not often enough do we state a Minister "shall" do this or that. Unless we make firm decisions and put them in legislation, we will, too often, not see the right thing done. This is because those making decisions will have too much wriggle room to do what we would prefer they did not do.

To address the Minister of State's point on funding, am I to understand he is struggling with funding and that there is not as much available as he would like?

On the point he made about allowing State land to be used to be built upon by builders, I agree 100% with getting builders to build on State land. What I do not agree with is getting developers to do it who will make a developer's profit on top of everything else.

The Minister of State might answer my question on funding. I did not realise the position and do not quite understand it. I acknowledge there are challenges. Is there a challenge in getting funding as quickly as the Government would like?

I am very disappointed the Minister of State is not accepting amendment No. 1, in the name of Deputy Ó Broin. It is because the Government essentially wants the flexibility to ram through big infrastructural projects without having them properly screened.

I would like clarity from the officials because they said there are not 15 cases. A document by environmental consultants in Waterford states:

There are currently 15 cases being taken against Ireland. Of these 5 could be considered to be at Stage Two. These are;

- Failure to regulate septic tanks [...].

- Failure to ensure that Environmental Impact Assessments are carried out on various agriculture and fish farming projects.

- Failure to implement the Birds Directive with respect to the designation of SPAs [...].

- Failure to implement the Habitats Directive.

- Failure to require EIAs for particular projects and the facilitation of Planning Retentions which are seen as undermining the effectiveness of the EIA Directive.

I am sure that, in making the latter point, the consultants are referring to the famous substitute consent.

I have to hand a letter from the Director-General for Energy of the European Commission, Dominique Ristori. It is dated 2015 so perhaps there is an update on it. It states our national renewable energy action plan is not compliant with the Aarhus Convention, according to the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee. This relates to many of these big infrastructural renewable energy projects. We saw what happened in Derrybrien. There was supposed to be legislative change to do something about that. The question is whether there was, but the signs are there was not.

Interestingly, in the case we had in Dún Laoghaire, An Bord Pleanála allowed a development in Dún Laoghaire Harbour and when we engaged in a judicial review against that decision, it pulled out of the case. It withdrew the case. Even An Bord Pleanála was failing in its full application of the environmental impact assessment. When faced with a judicial review, it had to pull out. That tells one a lot.

To be clear on the Aarhus Convention, I have listened to the points being made for a long number of years. We are compliant with it. Our job is to respond to the directives and implement them. That is what we do. As a planning authority, the Department reckons we do not need this amendment. We are implementing the directives; that is our job. The Deputy will keep arguing that we are not implementing them. This will continue to arise. I have listened to the argument for years. We are confident we are in line with the directives connected to the Aarhus Convention. That is our job as a planning Department. We will continue to do that.

I acknowledge Deputy Ó Broin wants to press his amendment. That is grand; the Deputy should go ahead and we will continue with the debate afterwards. We are confident, however, that we are compliant.

With regard to the funding, the issue is revamping a system, including for social housing provision. It was locked down and closed down before the recession kicked in. Decisions were made at that time to reduce the capacity of local authorities to build social housing. We are putting that capacity back into the system. We are reinstating the capacity, including by increasing the number of personnel and making a very clear direction to local authorities that they should get back in the business of leading the charge for the provision of social housing. What we are saying about our commitment is that we will see the 47,000 houses. The lands we put up last week could accommodate at least 50,000 houses and probably many more. If one had a chance, one would squeeze a few more onto some of the sites. Therefore, there is great potential. We are saying the capacity in the system is not such as to realise it straight away. For this reason, I am asking that we make the sites available, for two reasons. First, we believe it is right to have mixed tenure. The Deputy would agree with that. We do not believe there should be social housing alone on the sites. Rather, there should be mixed tenure across the board. The Department believes in that very strongly and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, believes in it very strongly with a view to developing communities that are sustainable and function quite well. That is what we are trying to do. This is a common approach around the world and one we should do better here. We have not done it for years.

With regard to funding, the funding would not be in place tomorrow to build 50,000 houses on the lands. We will set out our funding over the next three or four years. We are tying to use the State-owned lands in a clever way not to make millions for any developer, but in a proper, managed way that gives value to the taxpayer and delivers a more affordable house to people of all abilities to pay. That is what we will use the lands for, and it makes sense. It is not that there is a shortage of funding tomorrow. To use all the land and get all the houses built, we believe it is best to involve all the people who want to come in with us in joint ventures or through a leasing or licensing arrangement.

Deputy Ó Broin is entitled to a final two minutes if he wishes. Is he pressing his amendment?

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 31; Níl, 82; Staon, 0.

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Wallace, Mick.

Níl

  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Brassil, John.
  • Breathnach, Declan.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Curran, John.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy-Rae, Danny.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy O'Mahony, Margaret.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  • O'Rourke, Frank.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smyth, Niamh.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Varadkar, Leo.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Eoin Ó Broin and Maurice Quinlivan; Níl, Deputies Regina Doherty and Tony McLoughlin.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 2 in the name of Deputies Mick Wallace and Clare Daly arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments No. 2, 3, 16, 21 to 27, inclusive, 33 to 43, inclusive, 49 to 55, inclusive, 57 to 59, inclusive, 66 to 68, inclusive, and 98 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 6, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:

“Planning Regulator powers

4. The Principal Act is amended by the substitution of the following for section 31:

“Planning Regulator directions regarding development plans

31. (1) Where the Planning Regulator is of the opinion that—

(a) a planning authority, in making a development plan, a variation of a development plan, or a local area plan (in this section referred to as a ‘plan’) has ignored, or has not taken sufficient account of submissions or observations made by the Minister to the planning authority under section 12, 13 or 20,

(b) in the case of a plan, the plan fails to set out an overall strategy for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area,

(c) the plan is not in compliance with the requirements of this Act, or

(d) if applicable, having received a submission prepared under section 31C or 31D (inserted by section 95 of the Act of 2008) that a plan of a planning authority in the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) is not consistent with the transport strategy of the National Transport Authority, the Planning Regulator may in accordance with this section, for stated reasons, direct a planning authority to take such specified measures as he or she may require in relation to that plan.

(2) Where the Planning Regulator issues a direction under this section the planning authority, notwithstanding anything contained in Chapter I or II of this Part, shall comply with that direction and the manager or elected members shall not exercise a power or perform a function conferred on them by this Act in a manner that contravenes the direction so issued.

(3) Before he or she issues a direction under this section, the Planning Regulator shall issue a notice in writing to a planning authority no later than 4 weeks after a plan is made.

(4) The notice referred to in subsection (3) shall, for stated reasons, inform the planning authority of—

(a) the forming of the opinion referred to in subsection (1),

(b) the intention of the Planning Regulator to issue a direction (a draft of which shall be contained in the notice) to the planning authority to take certain measures specified in the notice in order to ensure that the plan is in compliance with the requirements of this Act and, in the case of a plan, sets out an overall strategy for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area,

(c) those parts of the plan that by virtue of the issuing of the notice under this subsection shall be taken not to have come into effect, been made or amended under subsection (6), and

(d) if applicable, requiring the planning authority to take measures specified in the notice to ensure that the plan is in compliance with the transport strategy of the Dublin Transport Authority.

(5) The Planning Regulator shall furnish a copy of the notice referred to in subsection (3) to the manager and Cathaoirleach of the planning authority, where there is a regional spatial and economic strategy in force for the area of the planning authority, to the regional assembly concerned and, where relevant, to the Dublin Transport Authority.

(6) (a) Notwithstanding section 12(17), 13(11) or 20(4A), a plan shall not have effect in accordance with those sections in relation to a matter contained in the plan which is referred to in a notice under subsection (3).

(b) If a part of a plan proposed to be replaced under section 12, 13 or 20 contains a matter that corresponds to any matter contained in that plan which is referred to in a notice under subsection (3), that part shall not, save where subsection (17) applies, cease to have effect in respect of that matter.

(7) No later than 2 weeks after receipt of the notice issued by the Planning Regulator under subsection (3), the manager of the planning authority shall publish notice of the draft direction in at least one newspaper circulating in the area of the development plan or local area plan, as the case may be, which shall state—

(a) the reasons for the draft direction,

(b) that a copy of the draft direction may be inspected at such place or places as are specified in the notice during such period as may be so stated (being a period of not more than 2 weeks), and

(c) that written submissions or observations in respect of the draft direction may be made to the planning authority during such period and shall be taken into consideration by the Planning Regulator before he or she directs the planning authority pursuant to this section.

(8) No later than 4 weeks after the expiry of the period referred to in subsection (7)(b), the manager shall prepare a report on any submissions or observations received under subsection (7)(c) which shall be furnished to the Planning Regulator and the elected members of the planning authority.

(9) The report referred to in subsection (8) shall—

(a) summarise the views of any person who made submissions or observations to the planning authority,

(b) summarise the views of and recommendations (if any) made by the elected members of the planning authority,

(c) summarise the views of and recommendations (if any) made by the regional assembly,

(d) make recommendations in relation to the best manner in which to give effect to the draft direction.

(10) The elected members of the planning authority may make a submission to the Planning Regulator in relation to the notice issued by him or her under subsection (3) at any time up to the expiry of the period of time referred to in subsection (7)(b).

(11) The Planning Regulator shall consider the report furnished under subsection (8) and any submissions made to him or her under subsection (10) and—

(a) where he or she believes that no material amendment to the draft direction is required, or that further investigation is not necessary in order to clarify any aspect of the report or submissions, he or she may decide, no later than 3 weeks after the date of receipt of the report under subsection (8), for stated reasons—

(i) to issue the direction referred to in subsection (4)(b) with or without minor amendments, or

(ii) not to issue the direction referred to in subsection (4)(b),

or

(b) where he or she believes that—

(i) a material amendment to the draft direction may be required,

(ii) further investigation is necessary in order to clarify any aspect of the report furnished under subsection (8) or submissions made under subsection (10), or

(iii) it is necessary for any other reason, he or she may, for stated reasons, appoint an inspector no later than 3 weeks after the date of receipt of the report under subsection (8).

(12) The inspector appointed under subsection (11)(b) shall be a person who, in the opinion of the Planning Regulator, has satisfactory experience and competence to perform the functions required of him or her pursuant to this section and shall be independent in the performance of his or her functions.

(13) The inspector appointed under subsection (11)(b) having regard to the stated reasons for his or her appointment—

(a) shall review the draft direction, the report furnished under subsection (8) and submissions made under subsection (10),

(b) shall consult with the manager and elected members of the planning authority,

(c) may consult with the regional assembly and persons who made submissions under subsection (7)(c), and

(d) shall no later than 3 weeks after he or she was appointed, furnish a report containing recommendations to the Planning Regulator.

(14) Copies of the report of the inspector referred to in subsection (13)(d) shall be furnished as quickly as possible by the Planning Regulator to the manager and elected members of the planning authority, the regional assembly and persons who made submissions under subsection (7)(c).

(15) The persons who have been furnished with the report of the inspector referred to in subsection (13)(d) may make a submission to the Planning Regulator in relation to any matter referred to in the report no later than 10 days after the receipt by them of the report.

(16) No later than 3 weeks (or as soon as may be during such period extending that 3 week period as the Planning Regulator may direct) after receipt of the report of the inspector referred to in subsection (13) (d), or any submissions made to him or her under subsection (15), the Planning Regulator, having considered the report, recommendations or submissions, as the case may be, shall decide for stated reasons—

(a) to issue the direction referred to in subsection (4)(b),

(b) not to issue the direction referred to in subsection (4)(b), or

(c) to issue the direction referred to in subsection (4)(b), which has been amended by the Planning Regulator to take account of any of the matters referred to in subparagraphs (i) or (ii) as the Planning Regulator considers appropriate:

(i) recommendations contained in the report of the inspector referred to in subsection (13)(d), or

(ii) any submissions made pursuant to subsection (15).

(17) The direction issued by the Planning Regulator under subsection (16) is deemed to have immediate effect and its terms are considered to be incorporated into the plan, or, if appropriate, to constitute the plan.

(18) The Planning Regulator shall cause a copy of a direction issued under subsection (16) to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.

(19) As soon as may be after a direction is issued to a planning authority under subsection (16), the planning authority shall make the direction so issued available for inspection by members of the public, during office hours of the authority, at the offices of the authority, and may also make the direction available by placing it on the authority’s website or otherwise in electronic form.

(20) The Planning Regulator shall publish or cause to be published in such manner as he or she considers appropriate directions issued under subsection (16).”.”.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. In section 1.14 of the Mahon tribunal findings, it states:

with regard to enforcement, the Tribunal is concerned that recent changes in the planning system have resulted in an over-centralisation of power in the hands of the Minister for the Environment which is not subject to sufficient checks and balances. Consequently, the Tribunal is recommending that the Minister for the Environment's ability to give directions to Regional Authorities and Local Planning Authorities should be entrusted to a Planning Regulator.

Furthermore, section 1.15 states:

While the Planning Regulator should assume some of the Minister for the Environment's existing role in relation to enforcement, the Tribunal considers that his or her role should not be confined to this. In particular, the Tribunal is recommending that the Regulator should also be entrusted with the power to investigate possible systemic problems in the planning system, including those raising corruption risks, with the aim of making recommendations to address those problems.

The Department's regulatory impact analysis also states:

The Final Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Matters and Payments (also known as the Mahon Tribunal), which was published in March 2012, recommended the establishment of an Independent Planning Regulator, who could assume certain planning oversight functions of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Governments and who could also be charged with carrying out investigations into systematic problems in the planning system together with conducting research, education and training. This recommendation was accepted in principle.

The regulatory impact analysis goes on to point to the fact that the Mahon tribunal's findings in this regard were in all likelihood influenced by section 31 of the principal Act when it states:

The small number of instances in which a Minister has invoked the powers of direction available under Section 31 of the 2000 Act to direct a planning authority in respect of forward plans, including the majority of those arising under one Minister, is likely to have informed the Tribunal in making this recommendation.

The Bill leaves all this power in place. Even to pretend that this legislation addresses or implements the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal is an insult to that body of work and to our intelligence. The provisions in Schedule 1 do not transfer these powers away from the Minister, so amendments Nos. 2 and 3 here address this deficiency in the Bill. These amendments must be incorporated in the Bill in order for the main Mahon tribunal recommendation on planning to be addressed.

The majority of our following amendments refer back to amendments Nos. 2 and 3 as if they have been incorporated into the Bill. If they are not accepted, then in essence all the legislation allows for is the establishment of an advisory body, not a regulator. The regulator in reality will still be the Minister, which is the situation that the Mahon tribunal condemned with regard to planning enforcement and regulation.

Amendment No. 16, coupled with the next four proposed by Deputy Eamon Ryan, with which we very much agree, will also be essential if we are to uphold the spirit of the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal. In section 1.09, the tribunal states that both the National Development Plan and the National Spatial Strategy:

play a key role in the planning system. However, neither has a statutory basis and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (the "Minister for the Environment") enjoys considerable discretion in determining their scope and content. The Tribunal recommends that both of those instruments be placed on a statutory footing. The relevant statutes should specify the procedure for adopting and/or reviewing those instruments and make provision for public consultation when carrying out those procedures. In addition, the Oireachtas should approve the adoption of both the NDP and NSS.

It is noted that the NDP and to a lesser extent the NSS are not in play any more and that the national planning framework, NPF, is more relevant now, but it is clear that in order to avoid political interference and potential corruption, the planning regulator's role should be to ensure that local and regional authorities are in line with these more descriptive plans and objectives, such as the NPF.

As Deputy Ryan proposes, it should also be in line with the national transition objective established in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act, the water framework directive, EU directives on air quality and the floods directive. The provision "Policies and objectives for the time being of the Government" and the other provisions allowed for in section 31S(1)(a) and (b) will allow for the kind of short-termism, short-sightedness and political expediency that led to the disastrous, unco-ordinated and reckless planning that we have seen for the past 25 years. The role of the planning regulator should be to make sure that our planning authorities are making decisions and carrying out their functions in line with term objectives, environmental legislation and agreed national and regional plans that have already had their political input inserted into them. In the way the legislation stands, apart from the fact that the regulator will have no teeth, the regulations will ensure that planning authorities must stay in line or change with the wind based on whatever is politically or economically expedient. As the Mahon tribunal has shown, these two latter categories have little to do with the public interest.

Like most of our amendments, amendments Nos. 22 to 26, inclusive, and amendment No. 33 serve to remove political interference and ensure that the office of the regulator is truly independent, is actually a regulator and is not just a powerless advisory body making recommendations that the Minister may or may not do anything about depending on what he or she feels like.

Amendments Nos. 34 to 36, inclusive, are all to do with ensuring that this legislation sets up a regulator and not an adviser. They seek to end the situation that the Mahon tribunal condemned, namely, the provision in section 31 of the principal Act by which special powers of veto and enforcement lie in the hands of the Minister of the day. The amendments also attempt to curtail the interference of the Minister of the day. Section 31AO(2)(e) basically allows the Minister to direct the regulator in accordance with whatever it pleases. The office must endeavour to ensure that in its function of compiling submissions, observations, recommendations or reports regarding notices from planning authorities of a proposal seeking to make, amend or revoke a local area plan, it addresses, "such other matter as a Minister may prescribe under section 262 or otherwise prescribe". Section 262(2) states, "regulations under this Act may contain such incidental supplemental and consequential provisions as appear to the Minister to be necessary or expedient".

Go raibh maith agat. The Deputy will get another two opportunities.

It is incredibly difficult because there are 29 amendments in this grouping. If they were not grouped, we would be getting seven minutes on each of them. It is really hard to put all of them together and deal with them in any way comprehensively.

The Bill is being put in place because we are supposed to be implementing the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal. As Deputy Wallace said, instead of addressing one of Judge Mahon's key concerns, which was the over-centralisation of power in the hands of the Minister, what this Bill is doing is not only not checking that power, but actually intensifying the concentration of power in the Minister's hands. As Deputy Wallace said, the judge advocated for the establishment of an independent planning regulator. This Bill outlines a regulator that has its hands bound and that has not been given all of the necessary powers to play a truly independent role.

Of particular concern is the fact, as identified in the regulatory impact assessment published by the Department in regard to the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2015, that the wide powers given to the Minister under the 2000 Act have not been curtailed. The tribunal, let us remember, recommended that those powers held by the Minister around regional planning guidelines, development plans and presumably local area plans should transfer in full to a new independent planning regulator. This Bill does not do that. That is what this group of amendments seeks to do in one way or another in order to give the planning regulator the teeth to be able to do the job that Judge Mahon felt that the regulator should do to avoid the catastrophic consequences of the bad planning that took place in the past.

We had our first national spatial strategy in 2002. It was a great idea in theory. However, due to its flexibility and weakness and due to the 2002 planning Act brought in shortly afterwards, it became a cog in what was afterwards called the growth machine, by which sustainable planning was thrown out the door in return for massive rezonings and massive building at all costs without any adequate oversight. The legacy of that is the ghost estates, the people living in crumbling housing developments miles from public transport services who are reliant on cars, traffic in urban areas and all the rest of the consequences that we are now dealing with.

Given the weakness and flexibility of the national spatial strategy, which actually became subordinate to political and economic interests, the proposed sections 31S(1)(a) and (b) of the principal Act are of very serious concern to us. That is why we have tabled amendment No. 16. Those paragraphs bind the office of the planning regulator in performing its functions to have regard to the policies and objectives, "for the time being of the Government", which means the political whim of Government. In actual fact, what it should be taking account of is exactly the list of things that Deputy Ryan listed in his amendment, which would make far more appropriate issues for the regulator to have regard to, such as reducing carbon emissions, improving air quality, EU floods directives and so on. That is what the regulator should be obliged to deal with rather than the political pet projects of the day.

In the provisions in section 31AM around the local development plans, which we are amending in our amendments Nos. 33 to 36, inclusive, what the Government is doing is giving the regulator the power to shake its head. Big deal. The regulator will be able to tut tut and say that it is not really sure about this or that. The Minister would simply be able to respond by saying, "Are you not? Tough. What are you going to do about it? It is my call at the end of the day." On Committee Stage, the Minister said that just because there is a regulator does not mean that we are going to end corruption and that it would be better to have a Minister in charge who is at least accountable to the people at the end of the day. He said he was open to looking at this. I do not think anybody is naive enough to think that just because it is a planning regulator and not a politician that it immediately removes any sort of threat or influence of corruption. That would be utterly ridiculous. However, an independent body armed with teeth has been proven to be a far better measure of that than any other alternative. That is what we are trying to do in this set of amendments.

The sorry mess of the 2000s that we are now in was down to growth at any cost and down to certain elements of society enriching themselves at any cost. The political powers that be did not only not stop them, but actually put fuel on the fire because of the inordinate influence of that sector of society on the economy. In that sense, a Minister would be more susceptible than an independent regulator. What we are trying to do is put somebody in place who would challenge the political ideology of neoliberalism, which is really about growth at all costs and to hell with the consequence. Those are precisely the types of policies that have resulted in homelessness, spiralling house prices, the driving up of rents and so on. As we have not got the checks in this legislation, what should be a progressive Bill is not really fit for purpose.

On Second Stage, the Minister talked about Rebuilding Ireland and the fundamental legislative reforms that are necessary. Over the past year or so, there has been an obsessive insistence on removing imaginary roadblocks in the planning process to speed up development. That is the name of the game. However, that is actually not the problem. At the time Rebuilding Ireland was published, permission was in place for 27,000 shovel-ready homes in Dublin alone. Just 4,809 of those units, or 18%, actually went under construction. According to the audit carried out by the Department in 2010, there was a total of more than 3,300 ha of undeveloped residentially-zoned land within the four Dublin local authorities.

At conservative levels, it is enough to build well over 100,000 houses. Zoned land is not the problem. They are probably shovel-ready, but they are not being built. They are there, and many of them have planning approval, but they are not being built. We do not need fast-track planning. It is not a necessity. We need to unlock some of those things by the measures precisely outlined by Deputy Wallace earlier.

I fully support this group of amendments. In some sense, these amendments go to the very heart of this legislation and the debates and disagreements Members have had on Second Stage and Report Stage. One thing that has frustrated me since the introduction of this legislation is notwithstanding the very considerable work by the officials and the Minister and notwithstanding the disagreement I and those of us on the committee have had, almost nobody else knows about it. Here we have legislation that is attempting to put in place an institution of huge importance. It is not just the view of the people here; it is the view of the Mahon tribunal and of those of us who followed it. For a whole set of reasons such as the technical nature of the Bill and the political events taking place outside on any given day, there is no real public awareness or scrutiny of what this Bill is about to do. I said on Second Stage that we wanted to support this Bill. We will not oppose it, weak and all as it is. I would much prefer to be here supporting the kind of Bill Deputies Wallace and Clare Daly are trying to introduce.

When we had this argument on Committee Stage, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, made a very revealing remark. Since he is not present, it would be good to hear some of his words here. I will quote him so at least he can be on the record, albeit quoted by me. After we had this discussion on precisely the issue Deputies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace have outlined, he stated:

What appears to be under discussion here is who will be the appropriate body or person to make the intervention to correct a wrong. Should it be the Minister or the independent regulator?

It is absolutely the fundamental issue in the discussion we are having. The answer to the question should not rest with me or other Deputies in the Chamber; it should rest with the Mahon tribunal's recommendations. It is why the tribunal was set up. It is why it pored over all of the information it did. Its recommendations are clear in terms of where it falls on the Minister's choice between the Minister and the independent regulator.

As for its key phrases, Deputies Wallace and Daly quoted the full section of the report and I will give the example of the planning corruption in Quarryvale in my constituency. To this day, communities are still living with the negative consequences of bad and corrupt decisions at central and local government. The tribunal's recommendations stated there was an over-centralisation of power with the Minister, there were not adequate checks and balances and the ability to give directions to regional authorities and local planning authorities should be entrusted to the regulator. The answer to the question posed by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is very simple. The Mahon tribunal wanted it not with the Minister or Department, but with an independent planning regulator with teeth. What frustrates me most about these debates is that legislation is about to be enacted - assuming Fianna Fáil votes with the Government on these amendments and mine that are attempting to achieve the same effect - and we will have a regulator that is not independent, has no powers and continues to allow the decisions to be made by the Minister rather than by the independent regulator. What does this amount to? It is an absolute betrayal of both the spirit and intention of the Mahon tribunal recommendations. There is simply no way one can say it is anything other than the very opposite of what the Mahon tribunal recommended.

I did not come here to make a Second Stage speech but it is such a fundamental part of what this debate is about that it has to be named as clearly as possible. I urge the Government to reconsider its decision to continue the over-centralisation of power with the Minister and to reconsider its decision not to introduce the checks and balances the Mahon tribunal made. If the Government will not accept the amendment proposed by Deputies Daly and Wallace or my amendments in the grouping after next, will it come back when the Bill is before the Seanad with something that is true to the Mahon tribunal? Otherwise the passing of this legislation will be an absolute waste of everybody's time in terms of this core recommendation. It is not what the officials have slaved over the legislation for. It is not what we have spent hours on either in committee or in here on Second Stage and Report Stage. On this one issue, the Government needs to rethink its unwillingness to implement the Mahon tribunal faithfully. On that basis, I fully support the recommendations.

I will pick up on the last point on the Mahon tribunal. One of the central issues is a powerful, independent planning regulator. Many of the criticisms of tribunals were on the basis that they cost a fortune and there is never a consequence. Not only is there not a consequence for people who are found to be corrupt in many cases, but there is an inability to learn lessons. We will repeat exactly the mistakes that were made in the past. When I see a Bill called a planning and development Bill, the word "development" screams off the page to me because it is primarily about development. I was trying to get my head around the coherence of this legislation and the legislation that was passed just before Christmas when there was public attention on it. It was very inadequate because the planning aspects of it were very much tied in with the rent pressure zone aspects of the legislation. It redistributed power away from individual members of the public to An Bord Pleanála in the case of housing developments of more than 100 houses, which will prove to be a disaster.

In terms of planning legislation, the coherence of this comes from a particular philosophy, which is to make it as easy as possible to get houses up as quickly as possible anywhere. Right through the crazy years where tens of thousands of houses were built every year, the planning laws were not an impediment to building houses. Is that the problem? It is not the problem. We are introducing legislation - the legislation before Christmas and this Bill - that has positive things but is inadequate to address the core issue. We are introducing legislation based on a philosophy that is not about planning but about development. Why do we not just call it that?

There is incoherence in respect of a number of issues. If we take, for example, county or city development plans or local area plans, on foot of the legislation that was passed before Christmas, An Bord Pleanála is not required to issue decisions that are consistent with those plans. One starts wondering what is the point is going through that process. It was never required to be consistent. I have seen it in my area. The number of houses that are proposed in the context of the regional planning guidelines is out of sequence with the prediction of the need based on the CSO's prediction of population growth. It is predicted there will be about 70,000 extra people accommodated in Kildare by 2023. There are a whole lot of proposals for the phasing of development. That phasing of development is knitted into local area plans. If An Bord Pleanála does not have to be consistent in decision-making on local area plans, one starts to question what the point is.

One issue I want to highlight is the strategic nature of what is being talked about. We have had a consistent difficulty in this country with short-termism and not taking the long view.

That is why this is so important. That inconsistency is not just around planning legislation, however. It is seeking to be consistent with the transportation strategies of the National Transport Authority, NTA, but there is a political counterbalance to that in that it requires funding. In terms of the Dublin Transport Authority, very large projects were scenario tested but were not delivered and still have not been delivered. These projects were supposed to facilitate development and their non-delivery is part of the reason for the current traffic chaos and congestion. We cannot have that level of growth without the public transport infrastructure that makes it sustainable.

In terms of the consultation element, amendment No. 2 makes reference to a report which "summarises the views of any person who made submissions or observations to the planning authority". It strikes me, having looked at a number of reports written by the CEOs of local authorities in recent months, that they are very dismissive of public submissions but they pay a great deal of attention to bodies that are notified under the Act. That is something that will require the kind of planning regulator that would look at that and take a view beyond the local authority.

As others have said, there is so much in this grouping of amendments that it is absolutely impossible to give the individual amendments the attention they deserve.

I appreciate the chance, during the discussion on these amendments, to consider the real heart of this Bill and where it has come from, namely, the Mahon tribunal, as Deputy Wallace pointed out. That tribunal was not without its flaws. It is interesting to note, many years later, that many of the findings against individuals had to be withdrawn because the process itself was flawed. That should be a lesson for us in terms of tribunals and inquiries and how we do our work. However, the central argument in the recommendations about the need for independent planning regulations still stands true.

We discussed the very interesting question on Committee Stage as to whether, in the end, it should be the political or administrative arm that has final control. That is a really fine line equation because in the Mahon tribunal process, while some people may have been wrongly accused, others got away lightly. I refer to both officials and politicians who were found to be corrupt but who could not be pursued because of the flaws in the process. Prior to and during the Celtic tiger period, Mr. Frank McDonald often said that the definition of sustainable development in Ireland was development that had to be sustained. I have seen officials pushing inappropriate development as much as anyone else. There is no lock-down guarantee that if we hand it over to officialdom that we will necessarily get a better outcome. On the other hand, we have seen various Ministers for the Environment over time who would not necessarily hold views akin to my own. I will not go back through the list of characters. In a later amendment I pick up on the actions of the last Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, who introduced highly inappropriate planning regulatory changes relating to apartment sizes, building energy efficiency standards, north facing aspects and so on. The former Minister provides an example of political control that did not lead to good planning. It is a very fine line and a very interesting and worthy issue for consideration.

The core point made by Deputy Wallace with regard to the Mahon tribunal recommendations is that we need to get away from our overly centralised system. We also need to provide really strong direction at local and regional level for certain imperatives around real sustainability, air quality, flood protection, carbon reduction and reducing transport times to be a part of our planning system. It is very important that some of the other recommendations of the Mahon tribunal which have not been implemented to date are actually implemented if the approach in this Bill is to work. The regional structures we have at the moment, for example, are totally inappropriate. The Mahon report correctly recommends directly elected regional representation which we do not have here. In fact, we have a completely bizarre non-strategic regional structure. We are trying to adapt a planning regulatory system onto a regional system that is cuckoo, that goes from Louth to Louisburgh on one side and Bray to Ballybunnion on the other. Deputy O'Dowd also made the very good point that our planning structures around local government are completely mad. The absence of a town council for Drogheda is just one example of this. There are innumerable other districts which do not have district councils. We cannot transfer the responsibility back out or have a planning regulator regulating a system which does not have the proper planning structures in place, starting with things like a town council in Drogheda town.

We still have a planning system that is completely dominated by managers. In this debate about whether it should be political or managerial control in the end, I am nervous about an unelected regional authority system where the managers hold all of the sway. In the context of city and other councils of which I have experience, where the managers had complete control, I am slightly nervous about handing over yet more power to an official system in this equation.

In terms of dealing with corruption, we have done some good work; it is not all bad. We have introduced changes to the rules on political donations and lobbying, for example. More controls have been put into the system. During my time in government, we introduced an 80% tax to deal with the profits on zoned land, which was one of the core reasons for the corruption that became widespread in our planning system but the last Government got rid of it, arguing that there was no money coming in from it but that was at the height of the recession. The tax was there for when we started to lift again, which is where we are now. Such a tax might be one of the ways to get those large multinational companies to which Deputy Wallace referred to stop hoarding land for profit speculation. It could have an incentive effect. Had we, as the IMF recommended, also been quicker to introduce our vacant site levy, we might not have this stalled housing system.

Answering the question as to whether the regulatory system should be ministerial or administrative also requires us to consider the other elements in the planning process that must be put in place. If we are to get the national planning framework right then we must, as Deputy Wallace argued, bring power out of Dublin and down into communities. However, for that to work, the national planning framework has to throw responsibility to the regions, cities and towns and get them to come back with their own planning and development ideas, rather than the process being top down. We need district councils and five or six proper regional authorities for that to work and real powers for local, democratically elected officials. In those circumstances, I would absolutely favour a regulatory management system but I am nervous about giving over powers to councils where the managers are still in charge, particularly when we have not really learned the lessons of the property bubble and the lack of truly sustainable development. We need this legislation but we also need a hell of a lot more, particularly around our democratic structures at local and regional level.

This is a very important debate. We are getting to the heart of how our society is run, what planning is, how we get around planning and how we account for democratic control or input. Deputy Ó Broin said that this debate is not getting enough publicity or coverage and that is one of the key problems with planning generally. Notwithstanding the fact that county development plans, for example, are publicised in local newspapers, it is very hard to get a debate going. When we invite people to come along to council meetings to discuss development plans, for example, only a very small number will turn up. One of the difficulties with planning is that it is only when things become controversial and difficult that the public gets involved and often, at that stage, it is too late.

Councils and councillors proactively do their job of saying what the plans are and what they are going to be - this is certainly true in County Louth - but it is very hard to motivate people to get involved until they find out that their own conditions in their own areas will be affected.

The status of the decisions made by An Bord Pleanála is an issue that has not yet been addressed in this debate. We went through a planning process in counties Louth and Meath when it was proposed to develop an incinerator in an area that was zoned for agriculture. We thought it was definite that the incinerator could not go ahead at the location because it was not zoned for industry. The company went ahead with the planning application anyway. When the matter went to An Bord Pleanála, approximately 30 consultants from Indaver wore nicer and brighter ties than one another. The planning inspector's recommendation that permission should be refused was overturned by An Bord Pleanála, against the wishes of local people, including councillors, and even though the planning adviser had stayed in the local area for two weeks. Government policy was cited by An Bord Pleanála as its reason for throwing local planning out the window. Deputy Eamon Ryan's point is well made in that context. It is wrong that in many cases, Government policy dictates above and beyond local public interest. It should not be the case that Government policy should be able to determine that something should go ahead regardless of the planning process. That is what happened in the case I have mentioned. We are continuing to face the consequences.

I would like to mention the national spatial strategy as an example of what people have been saying about the transparency of the decision-making process. When I was looking at what happened in County Louth when the spatial strategy came out, I submitted a freedom of information request and got some information from the system of the time. I learned that spatial strategy was decided at the whim of the Government of the day. I was not able to see the minute, but I got the agenda under the freedom of information regime of the time. This revealed that the Fianna Fáil Government of the time had a debate on the merits of Drogheda and Dundalk in the context of the spatial strategy. This supports the point that there is no transparency in this respect. Nobody knew this was happening until it was done. Needless to say, the Minister of the day who was living in Dundalk got his zoning and Drogheda did not get it. This had significant consequences for the development of both towns. Notwithstanding all of that, Drogheda is now the biggest town in Ireland. It is even bigger than Dundalk. Drogheda continues to have major infrastructure problems.

Reference has been made to planning corruption. Some years ago, a listed building in Drogheda was protected by all the laws of the land. We had gone to the High Court to ensure it could not be demolished without planning permission. One holiday weekend, some very kind developers knocked the damn thing down. They did not care less that it was a listed building. We had to fight them in the courts. Thankfully, we won. It was a long battle. We had to go before six or seven High Court judges before we won our case. If one goes to Drogheda today, one will see that Drogheda Grammar School has been rebuilt with hand-made brick on the actual footprint of the previous building. It is a question of what planning protection means. Listed buildings meant nothing at the time if builders wanted to run a coach and four through them. I believe the actions of the county council at the time were absolutely disgraceful. The local authority refused to act by standing by its own plan.

This issue has been hugely controversial in the past. The planning corruption that was exposed by the tribunals shocked and sickened everybody. While I accept that this legislation is much better than what was in place previously, more transparency and accountability are needed. The plans should dovetail into one another. The leeway that is available to the Minister should be transparently restricted. In other words, the Minister should not be able to interfere in an unaccountable way. I do not think it is the intention of the legislation that he or she should be able to do so. I suggest that this Bill would be better if any interest declared by the Minister were to be made public, transparent and subject to debate in the House. This planning and development legislation, for all its flaws, is good because it is about making our country a better place and ensuring planning decisions are made in a more accountable and transparent manner. I have no difficulty whatsoever in facilitating development and construction because such activity creates jobs, creates communities, adds value to society and allows us to plan for the future. There is nothing at all wrong with that. Development is not a dirty word and nor should it be.

I will address amendments Nos. 2, 3, 21, 33 to 43, inclusive, 49 to 55, inclusive, 57 to 59, inclusive, 66 to 68, inclusive, and 98, as tabled by Deputies Wallace and Clare Daly. I do not propose to accept these amendments because I do not think it is appropriate to remove functions from the Minister or to transfer certain functions from the Minister to the OPR. The planning regulator will be fully independent of the Department. It will be fully responsible for the independent assessment of all local area plans, development plans and regional spatial and economic strategies. It will also be responsible for ensuring their compliance with relevant national or regional policies, or both.

In its oversight role, where the OPR finds that local authority plans or regional spatial and economic strategies are not consistent with relevant regional or national policies, it will recommend the use of ministerial powers of direction under section 31 of the Act to change those plans. Such OPR recommendations to the Minister must be published. If the Minister agrees with the OPR, the recommendation will be followed. If the Minister does not agree with the OPR and decides not to issue a direction, he or she will have to give reasons in writing for this decision and lay those reasons before the Houses of the Oireachtas. This approach was selected after careful consideration to ensure there is full public scrutiny and democratic accountability over the significant power to overturn the decisions of local councils on the forward planning and zoning of their areas. It ensures the Minister will maintain the authority to issue directions, while also providing that where he or she decides not to follow the OPR recommendations, he or she must have clear reasons for doing so and such reasons will be published and subject to scrutiny and debate in this House. I believe the Bill as drafted strikes the appropriate balance between the independence of the OPR in its evaluation and assessment role and the maintenance of democratic oversight with the Minister and the Oireachtas, which is an important tenet of this Bill.

As the Deputy has said, the existence of the planning regulator's office will not mean we will get all the right decisions. We hope we will get such decisions, just as we hope we will get the trust of the public, but it is important nevertheless to provide for parliamentary accountability. That is what we are here for. It is why Deputies and Ministers are in place. We should not always try to eliminate the role of public representatives. There is no doubt that this role was abused in the past by certain people in public office, but scrutiny has changed a lot over recent years. That is what we are here for. It is right that this Dáil is much more relevant and its scrutiny and decision-making carries much more weight. I do not see why Opposition Deputies who might be in government at some stage do not want to be able to do the jobs they will have to do as Ministers. Are they looking for excuses not to be able to do their future jobs? Is that what this is really about? I think Ministers need to be able to stand up and do their jobs when they come in here.

I remind those Deputies who do not agree with the establishment of the OPR that we have established a similar body in the case of the Irish Fiscal Council. Such bodies work very well all over Europe. They highlight issues and disagree with Ministers. The Minister, Deputy Noonan, does not always agree with the Irish Fiscal Council. In such circumstances, he has to come in here and debate the issues at stake.

Every report the Irish Fiscal Council publishes is ignored by the Government.

That is democracy. The Deputy might not like it, but that is what happens. It happens all over Europe and people accept it. As a country, we need to have evidence-based debates. Ministers still have to do their jobs. I would prefer not to shy away from that. The amendments before the House are recommending the removal of ministerial decision-making powers. That is wrong, and that is the view of the Department also I am not accepting these amendments for the reasons I have given.

I do not consider that it is appropriate to remove section 31S (1)(a) and (b), as proposed in amendment No. 16. When the OPR is performing its functions, it is important for it to have regard to the policies and objectives of the Government, State authorities, planning authorities or other public bodies that have functions which may have a bearing on proper planning. This includes having regard to ministerial guidelines, policy directives and directions issued under Chapter IV of Part II of the Act. The office must have regard to the public interest and issues of importance to the State. Therefore, I do not accept this amendment.

Equally, I do not propose to accept amendments Nos. 22 to 27, inclusive, in the names of Deputies Wallace and Daly. I do not consider it is appropriate to remove the Minister from his important role in monitoring the performance of the OPR, as proposed in amendments Nos. 22 to 26, inclusive. Section 31U, as drafted, deals with the monitoring and performance of the OPR and allows the OPR to conduct reviews of its organisation and the systems and procedures it uses in the performance of its functions. While the OPR is fully independent in its functions, it is still important for the Minister to have a statutory role in monitoring its performance. I believe the Bill as drafted strikes an appropriate balance between having an independent planning watchdog and maintaining democratic control and accountability over planning authorities.

On amendment No. 27, we believe it is important and prudent to make statutory provision for the Minister and the regulator to consult each other on matters relating to the functions of the OPR. The absence of such provision would be a serious omission in the Bill. It would reduce the interaction between the OPR and the Minister on the functions of the OPR. Therefore, I do not propose to accept these amendments.

I call Deputy Wallace and he has two minutes.

Is two minutes all I have?

I would like to afford the Deputy more time but that is all he has.

On the point Deputy Eamon Ryan made about county managers, I agree that many of them have left a lot to be desired. Does the Deputy not think that many of the county managers we have seen in our lifetime were political appointees? More often than not, we can tell which party supported the managers in different counties. We cannot do it all of the time but we can do it most of the time.

There is probably a different way of looking at matters. The Minister of State made the argument that we, as politicians and elected representatives, should be allowed to make the final decision but, from the six years I have been a Member of this House, I have been struck by the fact that political interference causes more problems that it solves. We are here to legislate but we should be able to put independent individuals into these positions, not people who are political appointees. There is a major factor in the context of those who pick the people that will do the job. I understand that and it is a difficult one to get right. If we can find independent people of quality to do the work, that is the way forward.

A perfect example of this is the Policing Authority. It is a puppet of the Government. It is not independent. It has been irrelevant since Christmas. There has been one crisis after another in the Garda Síochána but the authority is not allowed hold the Garda Commissioner to account. Only the Minister for Justice and Equality can do that. The Policing Authority is another body we have created that the politicians of the day can handle. They can control it. They are still only too happy to control An Garda Síochána. They do not want to give up the politicisation of policing and the Government does not want to give up the politicisation of how we do planning and how we regulate matters relating to it.

We will not be always here, despite what is in my best interests.

The Minister of State said that it is wrong to take away the power from the Minister and he is obviously entitled to his opinion-----

No. It is wrong to-----

The Minister of State will have an opportunity to speak later.

-----but that is precisely what the Mahon report suggested, namely, that we change the way we do planning and that we would have an independent regulator. There is no point in creating the planning regulator's office if it cannot effectively regulate. If we take that route, it will just be an expensive waste of time. The Garda issue is a good comparison because we have created the illusion of reform at some considerable cost but reform has not been delivered.

It is interesting that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, said on Committee Stage that this was not an absolute position for him. I would have said there was an expectation that the Government might have taken on board some of these points at this stage because it is pretty fundamental. It is very regrettable that the Minister has not chosen to do that. Deputy Catherine Murphy was quite correct in pointing to the legislation that was passed prior to Christmas which, in essence, gave us the gift of allowing big planning applications of 100 units or more or applications for student accommodation of 200 units or more to go directly to An Bord Pleanála.

The Minister of State will have an opportunity to speak later.

The rationale behind it was the same. The point put forward is that the planning system is at the root of our housing supply policy. That is not the case. As we pointed out, we have zoned land and planning approvals but we still have a chronic lack of housing. The reason for this is blindingly obvious, namely, that the developers who own that land are sitting on it to increase its value. Fast-track planning, of which this legislation is a part, will not overcome that. It is an awful pity the Minister of State did not take on board what was said on Committee Stage, namely, that it was not an absolute position and the request that he might consider it again.

Deputy Eamon Ryan made a good point that this is about striking a balance. One could come down on either side of the argument in that regard. In this instance, I am coming down on the side of the Minister of State. Ultimately, we are elected to represent the people and we should take responsibility. We cannot constantly say that politicians are so bad that they cannot take responsibility for decisions, but they must do so on the basis of objective evidence. There is a huge amount of objective evidence that I presume the office of the planning regulator will be required to make public and it is already there in the hierarchy of plans.

When I was Minister of State with responsibility for planning, I issued a number of directives to local authorities in respect of instances where local government councillors were proposing to turn around their own area and county plans in order, for example, to build on flood plains or to construct big developments around the edges of urban areas to the neglect of the core. I issued those directives because, on the basis of objective proper planning, the development proposals to which I refer were wrong. Politicians can make incorrect decisions and so can administrators. That is precisely what led to the establishment of the Mahon tribunal: brown envelopes were being handed out; there was a total lack of transparency; councillors and planners, in conjunction with developers, were making decisions for their own benefit; and the system was corrupt. What we need is a system which ensures that responsibility is taken on the basis of objective facts and which facilitates the correct decisions being made. Ultimately, it is right that a Minister has to respond to the elected representatives in this House. If the Minister is doing something different from what the office of the planning regulator says should be done, he or she will be obliged to answer for that publicly.

The establishment of the Health Service Executive, HSE, was a terrible mistake. We often complain that we cannot hold certain bodies to account. We are elected representatives and it is about time we took responsibility on that basis. One of the problems with the political system in Ireland is that we are loath to take responsibility. Sometimes we have to make decisions that are not popular locally. One of the problems with planning in the past was that local politicians had too much power, were not obliged to explain their actions and were able to make decisions behind closed doors. Transparency is a big factor and Deputy O'Dowd referred to that. If matters are out in the open, people can decide. In this case, however, it is a question of balance and it is correct that the Minister is the ultimate person who will be answerable. It would be very unusual if a Minister were to decide to go against what is proposed by the office of the planning regulator. If, however, he or she does that, he or she will be accountable for doing so. He or she will have to account for his or her actions in the public, open and democratic forum of the Houses of the Oireachtas to which we are elected to represent the people. It is about time we grew up in regard to planning.

The Minister of State began by saying that the Government does not propose to transfer functions from the Minister to the planning regulator. This means that recommendation 1.14 from the Mahon tribunal report is not being supported by the Government. That proposition is being rejected. At least we know that and it makes matters clear.

I am amazed at the degree to which the Minister of State is confused about the functions of a planning regulator. Nobody is suggesting that the Government of the day or the legislators in the Oireachtas should cede any responsibility for our functions to a regulator. Our job is to legislate. The Government's job is to direct policy and the job of local authorities and other public service providers is to deliver services. That is what we are here for. An independent regulator comes into play when somebody does something wrong, be it a Minister, officials in local or central government, or local authority councillors, and its job is to investigate and make an intervention to correct the wrongdoing. Therefore, the regulator must be separate from legislators and service providers.

I respectfully disagree with Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. There is no value in having a regulator unless it has independent power to intervene and correct breaches of legislation or policy. This does not mean we would transfer any responsibility for policy or legislation to the regulator. The regulator's job is to investigate and to correct, where necessary. Part of the problem - we will come to this when we deal with my later amendments, but it is relevant to the amendments currently under discussion - is what happens if, potentially, the Minister or senior Government officials are involved? The Minister of State is right in saying there has been a huge change in culture from the bad days of the 1980s and 1990s. However, that is not a reason to fail to ensure that we have in place, as recommended by the Mahon report, the best possible checks and balances.

The better the checks and balances, the better the protection for good civil servants and politicians. The Minister of State speaks about balance but there is none; one either has the power to intervene with the regulator, which is required according to the Mahon report, or the power remains within the political system, which failed in the past and may well fail in future. The Minister of State has this all wrong. Not unlike with the Policing Authority, we will return to this at a future date when, just as with that body, this proposed body will prove to be ineffective.

With regard to objective evidence and where the balance is struck between the Minister or the regulator, there is the supposition that it will be the same Minister all the time but there could be a great variety of different attitudes if the ministerial route is taken, as opposed to a regulator, which would create a consistency. That is absolutely required. The whole point in planning is to have a degree of normality or, to put it another way, the avoidance of chaos. Currently, there are a number of local area plans in my constituency, with one in Leixlip and one in Celbridge, for example. There is much proposed phasing of development for a very large amount of housing. For example, there are 3,000 houses proposed for Leixlip, which already has 4,500 houses. It took decades for them to be put in place. In Celbridge, there are approximately 6,000 houses and there is a proposal to put in another 3,500 up to 2023. Everybody knows it is mad and not deliverable.

A Deputy spoke about people paying attention to planning legislation but they are certainly paying attention in my area because they absolutely know what they will get. They will get housing estate after housing estate, but nothing else. Essentially, the phased developments to make it happen without total chaos would not go hand in hand with that. There must be consistency not just in having a planning regulator with teeth but where a regulator can deal with matters such as the infrastructural requirements to facilitate development. That is still very much in political hands and there is a mismatch as a result.

I do not accept the Government's argument that establishing a genuinely independent regulator is somehow taking away the democratic imperative for people elected and accountable, as public representatives are, around policy and legislation. It is not what is being proposed. The point is to have some sort of genuinely independent checks and balances on that. The Minister and the Government cannot act as the ultimate watchdog of themselves so we need a fully independent regulator that will ensure we are fully compliant. Earlier we heard how some of us, at least, believe we are not compliant with the environmental impact assessment directive and have flagrantly failed to engage in genuinely sustainable development in every sense of that word, so we need somebody who will independently oversee these matters and adjudicate on them if people are not doing what they should be, playing by the rules or failing to vindicate legislation or environmental directives, etc.

I have a question for Deputies Daly and Wallace, and Deputy Wallace alluded to it. Who regulates the regulator and who would appoint the regulator? It is a problem as we have the phenomenon of regulators who are not really regulators but rather rubber-stampers. We must deal with that issue as well and a number of aspects must be addressed. The Public Appointments Service must be examined as to whom are its personnel accountable when it comes to important public appointments? They seem to me like a group of insiders and very much the permanent government, selecting its own people. I am sure most of the public do not really know who is in the Public Appointments Service, never mind the top level appointments committee and all that stuff. That process should be examined as it must be much more open and transparent.

We need to establish a much greater role for the stakeholder groups of civil society, communities and environmental groups so as to give them real power to oversee planning and legislation. This links to the debate about EIA directives and the failure to properly take into account public participation, as they are supposed to, in planning decisions. There is more work to be done in developing a greater civil society and stakeholder oversight of planning and all sorts of aspects of government and regulation. In this debate, I favour the amendments tabled by Deputies Wallace and Daly, as there is more weight behind the argument they make than what the Government is saying. It is not really addressing the issues brought up in the Mahon report and the need to check the abuse of political power in the planning process. We probably need to go beyond even what is in the amendments in terms of deciding how we appoint regulators and ensure they are genuinely independent rather than other types of political appointees who are not really accountable to civil society and stakeholder groups but who end up being rubber-stampers for whatever Government happens to appoint them.

It is an interesting debate and maybe it divides along who has been in government, as it may change the perspective. Once a person has been in government, perhaps he or she is part of the establishment and in a sense such people may not question that bodies are trying to do the best thing and want to take on responsibility. It is also true in that there is a permanent government, which is part of this debate because we are talking about creating more permanent government, in a sense. That is why one would stand up for the political system.

I was interested in Deputy Ó Broin's comments on this really interesting question. If this just related to an agency looking at policing improprieties, the Deputy's case would be very good in that it should be completely independent. My understanding of what is proposed is that it goes beyond that, researching a range of what is sustainable development, as well as education matters and policy-oriented aspects. This may swing the argument and indicate that in the end it should be a political call, and this is why one might give the Minister the final say. Nevertheless, as Deputy Jan O'Sullivan notes, there should be the valuable check that if a Minister goes against the regulator, the matter should be debated here. The process must be absolutely transparent. If some previous Ministers had such a check, they might not have gotten away with some of the colourful and corrupt practices in which they engaged.

I will go with Deputy Jan O'Sullivan who covered this amendment quite well. People have to realise-----

That is the kiss of death.

People have to realise that the power is not given to a Minister but to this House to scrutinise a decision of the Minister. Members come in here not just to comment or raise issues, and they do a great job of raising many issues, but politicians have to also make decisions. That is what democracy is about. There are many commentators in the media every day of the week but politicians go into a council chamber or come into this House to make decisions. I do not believe we should give every decision away to some other body that is not accountable to this House, even though this House is elected. The Deputy is making a mistake. We strongly believe that. I have come through the planning process, like most of the Deputies here, since I started in politics over 20 years ago and it has changed immensely. It is very transparent in every decision that is made. I would trust more of our politicians' ability to make decisions. More effort is made to educate politicians about planning matters but a local authority cannot make a decision about a zoning or planning matter without proper scrutiny and without explaining to all who want to watch or listen why the decision is being made. The county manager is there. Reports have to be answered for. Planners are involved. It is not the way it was when I started in politics, when it was wrong. My first vote on a development plan was "No", against everybody else. Nobody even cared or asked about it because it was not scrutinised. That has changed and there is proper scrutiny, which is right. We are saying here that the Minister cannot make decisions without scrutiny and has to explain to this House why he or she is not taking the advice of the regulator. That is the way it should be. We will not be accepting the amendment. I am sorry about that but that is the very strong view in our Department.

The Minister of State might say we only make recommendations when we come into this House but we put forward ideas not just for the fun of it or to get our names in the newspapers. We probably would not get them in anyway but I would not be worried about that. We brought in a policing Bill in 2013 and 2014 and we put a lot of work into it and made recommendations.

I know the Deputies did.

We think we put forward good ideas. Two inadequate Bills were brought in here since then and that is part of the fact we still have problems around policing. We argued in the House about the vacant site levy. The vacant site levy the Government is bringing in down the road is a puff of smoke. It is no good. Landbanking is such a huge problem in the construction industry.

There is a Bill on that to come in later on.

I was never in government and I am sure it is very difficult. I do not for a second pretend that it would be grand and easy. I know it is more difficult than being in opposition but I have been inside the construction system. I was a builder and a developer. I have sat down with planners and I know how the whole system works. I have sat down with the banks. We had assets of €80 million. We were a reasonable builder.

I can tell the Minister of State this industry will never be independent of the political process. I do not think it is much different in any other country. Politics has its paws all over every aspect of construction. The Minister of State can trust me that it is not going to change. Introducing an independent regulator-----

We are doing that.

-----would help to address some of the problems we have in this area. Deputy O'Sullivan said these people broke some of their own rules; that happens. I hope an independent regulator would make sure they would keep to their own guidelines and rules. That would be part of the job of an independent regulator. Unless we take the paws of the politicians off construction, we will continue to have problems about how we supply housing in this country.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 83; Staon, 1.

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Wallace, Mick.

Níl

  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Brassil, John.
  • Breathnach, Declan.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Curran, John.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Harty, Michael.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy-Rae, Danny.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy O'Mahony, Margaret.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  • O'Rourke, Frank.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smyth, Niamh.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Varadkar, Leo.

Staon

  • McGrath, Mattie.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Mick Wallace and Clare Daly; Níl, Deputies Regina Doherty and Tony McLoughlin.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 6, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:

“4. The Principal Act is amended by the substitution of the following for section 31A:

“31A. (1)Where the Planning Regulator is of the opinion that—

(a) a regional assembly, or assemblies, as the case may be, in making the regional spatial and economic strategy has ignored, or has not taken sufficient account of submissions or observations made by the Planning Regulator to the regional assembly or assemblies under section 24 or 26,

(b) the regional spatial and economic strategy fails to provide a long-term strategic planning and economic framework for the development of the region or regions, as the case may be, in respect of which it is made, in accordance with the principles of proper planning and sustainable development and the economic policies and objectives of the Government,

(c) the regional spatial and economic strategy is not in compliance with the requirements of this Act, or

(d) if applicable, in relation to a regional assembly or assemblies whose regional area or part thereof is in the Greater Dublin Area (GDA), that the guidelines are not consistent with the transport strategy of the National Transport Authority,

the Planning Regulator may, in accordance with this section, for stated reasons direct a regional assembly or assemblies, as the case may be, to take such specified measures as he or she may require in relation to that plan.

(2) Where the Planning Regulator issues a direction under this section the regional assembly or regional assemblies, as the case may be, notwithstanding anything contained in Chapter III of this Part, shall comply with that direction and the manager or members shall not exercise a power or perform a function conferred on them by this Act in a manner that contravenes the direction so issued.

(3) Before he or she issues a direction under this section, the Planning Regulator shall issue a notice in writing to a regional assembly or regional assemblies, as the case may be, no later than 4 weeks after the strategy or strategies are made.

(4) The notice referred to in subsection (3) shall, for stated reasons, inform the regional assembly or regional assemblies, as the case may be, of—

(a) the forming of the opinion referred to in subsection (1),

(b) the intention of the Planning Regulator to issue a direction (a draft of which shall be contained in the notice) to the regional assembly, or assemblies, as the case may be, to take certain measures specified in the notice in order to ensure that the regional spatial and economic strategy is in compliance with the requirements of this Act and to provide a long-term strategic planning and economic framework for the development of the region, or regions, as the case may be, in accordance with the principles of proper planning and sustainable development policies and objectives of the Government,

(c) the part of the regional spatial and economic strategy that by virtue of the issuing of the notice shall be taken not to have come into effect, and

(d) if applicable, requiring the regional assembly or assemblies, as the case may be, to take measures specified in the notice to ensure that the plan is in compliance with the transport strategy of the National Transport Authority.

(5) The Planning Regulator shall furnish a copy of the notice referred to in subsection (3) to the regional assembly, or assemblies, as the case may be, and the National Transport Authority.

(6) (a) Notwithstanding anything contained in Chapter III, or any matter prescribed thereunder, a regional spatial and economic strategy shall not have effect in accordance with that Chapter in relation to a matter contained in the strategy which is referred to in a notice under subsection (3).

(b) If a part of the strategy proposed to be replaced under section 26 contains a matter that corresponds to any matter contained in the strategy which is referred to in a notice under subsection (3), that part shall not, save where subsection (17) applies, cease to have effect in respect of that matter.

(7) No later than 2 weeks after receipt of the notice issued by the Planning Regulator under subsection (3), the director of the regional assembly, or assemblies, as the case may be, shall publish notice of the draft direction in at least one newspaper circulating in the area of the regional assembly, or assemblies, as the case may be, which shall state—

(a) the reasons for the draft direction,

(b) that a copy of the draft direction may be inspected at such place or places as are specified in the notice during such period as may be so stated (being a period of not more than 2 weeks), and

(c) that written submissions or observations in respect of the draft direction may be made to the regional assembly, or assemblies, as the case may be, during such period and shall be taken into consideration by the Planning Regulator before he or she directs the regional assembly, or assemblies, as the case may be, pursuant to this section.

(8) No later than 4 weeks after the expiry of the period referred to in subsection (7)(b), the director shall prepare a report on any submissions or observations received under subsection (7)(c) which shall be furnished to the Planning Regulator and the members of the regional assembly, or assemblies, as the case may be.

(9) The report referred to in subsection (8) shall—

(a) summarise the views of any person who made submissions or observations to the regional assembly, or assemblies, as the case may be,

(b) summarise the views of and recommendations (if any) made by the members of the regional assembly, or assemblies, as the case may be,

(c) make recommendations in relation to the best manner in which to give effect to the draft direction.

(10) The members of the regional assembly, or assemblies, as the case may be, may make a submission to the Planning Regulator in relation to the notice issued by him or her under subsection (3) at any time up to the expiry of the period of time referred to in subsection (7)(b).

(11) The Planning Regulator shall consider the report furnished under subsection (8) and any submissions made to him or her under subsection (10) and—

(a) where he or she believes that no material amendment to the draft direction is required, or that further investigation is not necessary in order to clarify any aspect of the report or submissions, he or she may decide, no later than 3 weeks after the date of receipt of the report under subsection (8), for stated reasons—

(i) to issue the direction referred to in subsection (4)(b) with or without minor amendments, or

(ii) not to issue the direction referred to in subsection (4)(b),

or

(b) where he or she believes that—

(i) a material amendment to the draft direction may be required,

(ii) further investigation is necessary in order to clarify any aspect of the report furnished under subsection (8) or submissions made under subsection (10), or

(iii) it is necessary for any other reason,

he or she may, for stated reasons, appoint an inspector no later than 3 weeks after the date of receipt of the report under subsection (8).

(12) The inspector appointed under subsection (11)(b) shall be a person who, in the opinion of the Planning Regulator, has satisfactory experience and competence to perform the functions required of him or her pursuant to this section and shall be independent in the performance of his or her functions.

(13) The inspector appointed under subsection (11)(b) having regard to the stated reasons for his or her appointment—

(a) shall review the draft direction, the report furnished under subsection (8) and submissions made under subsection (10),

(b) shall consult with the regional assembly, or assemblies, as the case may be,

(c) may consult with persons who made submissions under subsection (7)(c), and

(d) shall no later than 3 weeks after he or she was appointed, furnish a report containing recommendations to the Planning Regulator.

(14) Copies of the report of the inspector referred to in subsection (13)(d) shall be furnished as quickly as possible by the Planning Regulator to the regional assembly, or assemblies, as the case may be, and persons who made submissions under subsection (7)(c).

(15) The persons who have been furnished with the report of the inspector referred to in subsection (13)(d) may make a submission to the Planning Regulator in relation to any matter referred to in the report no later than 10 days after the receipt by them of the report.

(16) No later than 3 weeks (or as soon as may be during such period extending that 3 week period as the Planning Regulator may direct) after receipt of the report of the inspector referred to in subsection (13)(d), or any submissions made to him or her under subsection (15), the Planning Regulator, having considered the report, recommendations or submissions, as the case may be, shall decide for stated reasons—

(a) to issue the direction referred to in subsection (4)(b),

(b) not to issue the direction referred to in subsection (4)(b), or

(c) to issue the direction referred to in subsection (4)(b), which has been amended by the Planning Regulator to take account of any of the matters referred to in subparagraphs (i) or (ii) as the Planning Regulator considers appropriate:

(i) recommendations contained in the report of the inspector referred to in subsection (13)(d); or

(ii) any submissions made pursuant to subsection (15).

(17) The direction issued by the Planning Regulator under subsection (16) is deemed to have immediate effect and its terms are considered to be incorporated into the regional spatial and economic strategy, or, if appropriate, to constitute the strategy.

(18) The Planning Regulator shall cause a copy of a direction issued under subsection (16) to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.

(19) As soon as may be after a direction is issued to a regional assembly or assemblies, as the case may be, the authority or authorities shall make the direction so issued available for inspection by members of the public, during office hours of the authority, at the offices of the authority, and may also make the direction available by placing it on the authority’s website or otherwise in electronic form.

(20) The Planning Regulator shall publish or cause to be published in such manner as he or she considers appropriate directions issued under subsection (16).”.”.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 82; Staon, 1.

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Wallace, Mick.

Níl

  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Brassil, John.
  • Breathnach, Declan.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Curran, John.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Harty, Michael.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy-Rae, Danny.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy O'Mahony, Margaret.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  • O'Rourke, Frank.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smyth, Niamh.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Varadkar, Leo.

Staon

  • McGrath, Mattie.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Mick Wallace and Clare Daly; Níl, Deputies Regina Doherty and Tony McLoughlin.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 4, 6, 7, 15 and 56 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 6, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:

“ ‘Strategic Transport Plan’ is a transport plan drafted by a transport authority;

‘transport authority’ means either the National Transport Authority or Transport Infrastructure Ireland as defined in the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 and the Public Transport Regulation Act 2009 as amended.”.

The amendments in the grouping all relate to transport and transport strategy. We have to go back to the rationale of the Mahon tribunal report and its recommendation to establish a planning regulator to achieve a greater level of integration between land use planning, such as local authority zoning decisions, and strategic transport planning. It is disappointing that the new office of the planning regulator is not being given any role in the oversight of the development or implementation of plans by the NTA or the TII. I am aware that the TII and the NTA are statutorily bound to have regard to higher level master plans such as the national planning framework, what was the national spatial plan, or regional planning guidelines.

Very often, however, there is a lack of coherence or even disagreement, whether perceived or real, between local authorities' development plans and regional transport strategies developed by the NTA and TII.

This time last year, the new transport strategy for the greater Dublin area was launched. It gave a specific example of how local authorities and representatives in my county of Wicklow, along with those in Kildare and Meath, voiced concerns the NTA was setting rules on spatial planning without due consideration to the regional and county plans. It seems from the Government's proposal that the role of the office of the planning regulator, OPR, will be to ensure there is coherence and agreement between county development plans, local area plans and regional transport plans developed by the NTA and TII. However, it should also be recognised that bodies such as the NTA or TII, despite having statutory obligations to comply with the national spatial strategy or the regional planning guidelines, may not always make decisions that are consistent with regional planning guidelines. In addition, there should not be an assumption that it is local authority plans that are inconsistent with regional plans or national plans.

Our proposal is to give the new office of the planning regulator the role of arbitrator between local authorities and bodies such as the NTA or TII when disagreements arise over draft plans. If a local authority is of the belief that specific decisions by the NTA or TII run contrary to its development plan, such complaints could be given an airing by the OPR and not simply just cast aside.

We cannot have land use planning without transportation planning along with it. They have to be consistent with each other. Going back to the Dublin transportation initiative, for example, it was an exercise in land use and transportation planning. The problem was that we did not get delivery on the transport side. What we got was the other developments without the transport aspect. Essentially, if we do not have both happening together what we will then have is a model that is entirely unsustainable. There must be symmetry. Some of this comes with funding. For example, the DART underground is critical not just for Dublin, but for the surrounding counties because it has a much bigger footprint. If it is not funded and some additional development is added, then a bad situation will be made worse. This is what is happening at present.

I had a look at the figures in the 20 year horizon to 2016 from when the plan was reported in 1996. I looked at the census population and the percentage increases. Essentially, Dublin city grew by 13%, Dún Laoghaire by 13%, south Dublin by 22%, Fingal by 43%, Meath by 44%, Kildare by 39% and Wicklow by 28%. What we are creating is a perfect doughnut. We are generating transport activity on the periphery to clog up the middle. If we do not have not only transport planning, but also transport delivery while we are developing, we will have chaos. We are seeing this being reinforced on the periphery of Dublin at present with the regional planning guidelines, which I think are out of sequence with, for example, the CSO's population prediction. Whether or not it is the right mechanism to have the regulator as an arbitrator, I absolutely agree there does need to be a connection between both. Otherwise we will continue to have this mismatch and we will continue to have chaos. That chaos costs money because it brings additional new demands for widening roads and new roads when, in fact, in this particular instance the response should be rail based.

I wish to reinforce the point in support of the amendment. The key argument is we must put land use, transport and housing together. I want to draw from personal experience, going back to the formulation of transport plans for Dublin as far back as the late 1990s, when A Platform for Change was the transport plan which developed. It was based on very good planning work and there was an underlying use of modelling to assess likely demographic shifts and look at changing work patterns. It had a range of different demographic projections of what would change. That provided a bottom-up granular and really detailed plan as to where people were likely to live and move. It assessed the transport options on the back of this, and certain criteria were set such as that everyone should be within ten minutes walk of a public transport high-quality corridor. Out of it came a recommendation plan for transport in this city. I remember distinctly, as I was a member of the transport advisory committee of Dublin Transport Office at the time, that there was a clear recommendation from the planners and people involved that whatever we did we should built the metro and the DART interconnector first and then the electrified rail system out to west Dublin and elsewhere, and if we did not do that the planning approach would not work. The exact opposite happened. We widened the M50 first and continued to build the national motorway network, which all reached the M50, and that is about to clog. It is a classic example of where, to my mind, we will have really deep consequences now in terms of a lack of connection.

This is not just with regard to Dublin. The big planning problem we face is there are big doughnuts of development outside all our main cities. We have a statistical map showing those commuting long distances of more than 30 km a day. We see huge rings around Galway, Limerick, Cork and Dublin, a hollowing out of cities in terms of population decline in Cork, large areas of Dublin city centre and Galway, and massive development of out of town and very far distant rural housing connected to urban centres. We have the huge expense of providing public services, and the huge expense in daily life spent commuting is something we have to reverse and address.

Unfortunately, nothing has changed. We have IBEC coming out in its submission to the national planning framework with the most insane road-based system we could possibly imagine. This is IBEC, and it is a cuckoo plan with more than 15,000 km of new motorway and dual carriageway. We have the city of Galway, which is probably the worst example, where everyone lives on one side of the city and works on the other side. I remember at the time, when all of the ring roads and roundabouts were being built back in the early 1990s, a very smart engineer said to me those roundabouts would not work and that the transport system was mad, and so it has proven to be. What are we doing? We are still building more ring roads and more out of town sprawl systems.

I commend the amendment in the sense that it brings to our attention the need to put the planning and transport planning frameworks together. This goes back to the policy debate we had earlier. While we have to give cities and regions great freedom to work out what their development model will be, one of the criteria we should set for a planning regulator and all our local authorities is that whatever else happens we have to stop the ever lengthening of our average daily commute because it is costing us dearly. It is one of the metrics to which we have to return. It is not just about bringing life back to Dublin, but about bringing life back to the centre of villages, towns and other cities throughout the country. If we do not start doing this, we will have an incredibly expensive health system because how do we service people in distant locations, and we will have an incredibly inefficient economy. In every system we look at, the form of the planning we have been pursuing over the past 30 or 40 years, whereby 40% of our houses are one-off houses in the country, is just incredibly expensive in the end. We have to start living closer together because it is so much easier and cheaper to provide public services. I am not against one-off housing, but it is a rational assessment of how we provide the services people need in an efficient way.

We cannot continue with the sprawl. That has to change, and it has to be the first central direction to any planning regulator. The metric in terms of success is whether we are reducing that need for transport because for too long we have allowed it to expand without any thought to the costs involved.

I will not take up too much time. I support the amendments. They are eminently sensible. If I am not mistaken, when we dealt with a similar Bill before Christmas, similar issues were raised. The explanation from the Minister at the time as to why he was not willing to accept them did not seem to be credible, so I would be interested to hear the outline of the Minister of State, Deputy English, today.

I will make two points to emphasise what Deputy Ryan has said. The Clonburris strategic development zone is in my constituency. One of the big problems with it, both in its previous incarnation and the big challenges today, is the integration of residential, planning, amenities and transport. Having this included in the functions of the planning regulator creates another opportunity for greater levels of interaction between those different key elements of our planning system. I can see no reason not to include it. If the Minister is not supporting it, I am interested to hear the reason, although I hope he will support it. At a very local level I hear residents complaining all the time about how planning developments get to go ahead without adequate road infrastructure. I know that is not specifically what this is dealing with, but it is the same set of issues, and on that basis I am more than happy to support it.

I will try to be brief. I will address amendments Nos. 4, 6, 7, 15 and 56. Despite the spirit of the conversation and the support of everyone here, we cannot accept the amendments as they have been put forward, but I would agree with all the arguments that have been made and the logic behind them. The amendments proposed by Deputies Cowen and Casey regarding the oversight and assessment of strategic transport plans by the Office of the Planning Regulator, OPR, are extensive and cannot be accepted as they are currently drafted, particularly as they encroach on areas within the remit of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. There are also a number of technical drafting issues within the amendments proposed.

We do agree that there might be a role for the OPR in respect of strategic transport plans. The Deputies referenced counties like my own, Meath, Wicklow and Kildare. I see that traffic first-hand. I am in it every morning and evening and I know what it is like. Representing the town of Navan, which is one of the few Dublin growth centres that does not have any rail connection, I can see how transport is a major issue that should be linked to planning as best as we can possibly do so.

Those transport plans have obvious links to overall planning objectives, so in that regard there may be scope to give some additional function to the Office of the Planning Regulator to review strategic transport plans, as proposed in the amendment, although not perhaps as extensive a role as contended in the Opposition amendments. That is something we can examine. I think we agree on some sort of a role. That outlined in the amendment is quite extensive. We might have to debate that further, but there is general support in the Chamber for looking at that.

On Committee Stage, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, committed to teasing out these amendments to see if some agreement could be reached, but more time is required to draft that, to consult other Ministers and to try to come up with appropriately worded amendments that it is hoped we can all agree to as best we can because I understand what the Deputies are trying to do. We will try to help with that if we can.

In accordance with standard practice, I ask the Deputies to withdraw these amendments for now on the basis that we will consider the issue, including examining the legal and drafting aspects of the proposed amendments, but also to discuss this further with the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, with a view to bringing forward appropriately worded amendments when the Bill is taken in the Seanad if agreement can be reached. We are making some progress but we need a little more time to try to come up with something to which we can all agree.

I thank the Minister of State for his answer. I am glad he agreed with the comments made here tonight. We are all aware that strategic transport needs to be integrated into land use planning. While we are willing to accept his proposal that we would withdraw the amendment on the basis that it will be examined, can I ask if the Minister is proposing that the drafting of the amendments would be done when the Bill is taken in the Seanad?

Yes, in the Seanad debate.

We are prepared to withdraw the amendment on the basis that we all agree that this is needed in terms of having some oversight of transport and land use planning.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.15 p.m. until 12 noon on Thursday, 18 May 2017.