I will press rewind and start again. I will bring the House with me on this journey.
I welcome the opportunity to present these three sets of proposed planning and development amendment regulations to the House. The regulations were considered by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government last Tuesday when I had detailed discussions on them with the members. Many members of the committee were broadly supportive of the proposals contained in the three sets of proposed regulations and we got agreement on them. I will take a few moments to give an overview of each set of regulations, all of which contain very important provisions and touch on a number of points raised by the committee. At the outset, I note that the draft regulations do not propose to provide blanket exemptions, rather, it is the case that each set of exemptions have specific conditions or limitations which will apply. In addition, they are also subject to general restrictions and exemptions as set out in the Planning Acts or regulation, for example, development shall not be exempted development if an environmental impact assessment or an appropriate assessment is required. In addition, where a particular type of development is not covered by an exemption, planning permission will still need to be sought in the normal course.
The first set of proposed regulations, namely, the Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2018, relate to the provision of a number of exemptions for development works undertaken by Irish Water in the provision of water services. This involves the insertion of a dedicated new class of exempted development, namely, class 58, in Part 1 of the Schedule to the principal regulations. The proposed exemptions will permit Irish Water to undertake works relating to its normal day-to-day activities without the need to obtain planning permission from the relevant local authority. This was raised at the committee in which regard I note that the provision is in line with the exemptions local authorities had previously. It is nothing more or less than local authorities always had. That concern was raised at the committee and, as such, I clarify it again here.
The second set of regulations, namely, the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2018, propose to provide an exemption in respect of the need to obtain planning permission for change of use and any related works in respect of converting to residential use certain vacant commercial premises, including vacant spaces over shops. These proposals emanate from a commitment in action 5.9 of Rebuilding Ireland to bring forward proposals in this regard and in the Action Plan for Rural Development as well as from a similar proposal in a Bill brought forward by Deputies Barry Cowen and Pat Casey of Fianna Fáil in 2017. There is a threefold benefit to the regulations. First, they will bring on stream urgently needed housing supply in high-demand areas; second, they will maximise the use of vacant and underutilised spaces; and, third, they will rejuvenate and breathe new life into inner core urban areas in towns and cities nationally.
The draft regulations propose that after they come into operation, the exemption will apply for a limited period ending in December 2021, which is concurrent with the lifetime of Rebuilding Ireland. This is with a view to encouraging the commencement and undertaking of the necessary conversion works as soon as possible and while increased housing supply is much needed. It will apply to commercial buildings which have been lying vacant for at least two years. While the proposed exemption relates primarily to works to the interior of such buildings, it is proposed that some limited alterations to the exteriors of such buildings will also be permitted subject to the requirement that such alterations are in keeping with the building and neighbouring properties.
The regulations also propose that a number of conditions will apply to exempted development works. As such, these are not blanket exemptions. One condition is that a maximum of nine residential units may be provided in any one building. Specified minimum standards relating to floor areas, storage space and the provision of natural light must also be met for each unit, thereby enhancing residential amenity for occupants. On that point and following the discussions last Tuesday when concerns were voiced that the proposed planning exemptions might result in the application of lower building standards for residential units, I stress, as I did at the committee, that this exemption only removes the requirement to obtain planning permission. Importantly, I emphasise that development works to vacant commercial buildings which are being converted to residential use under the proposed planning exemptions will still have to comply with the requirements of the building regulations. The standard building control procedures and supplementary statutory guidance on safety, including fire safety, structural stability and ventilation, etc., will apply. The draft regulations will not in any way change or diminish the relevant statutory building control requirements whereby all conversion works for this type of development will still require a design certifier, an assigned certifier, inspection plans during the undertaking of the works and statutory certification of compliance on completion. This is to ensure that the relevant building control standards are complied with - that is absolutely the case. There is no doubting it.
As I mentioned to the committee last Tuesday, the building control standards generally relate to new build construction. To facilitate the development of existing vacant buildings for residential use, a working group, chaired by my Department, was established in late 2017 to develop new guidance to provide clarity on the regulatory requirements which will apply in these circumstances and to provide advice on how best to facilitate the reuse or development of underutilised older buildings. It is intended that this revised guidance will be finalised in the coming months to supplement the exempted development planning regulations before the House. This is an issue the committee discussed previously in the context of the Fianna Fáil Bill. We can discuss the guidelines at the committee again, but in their absence, the existing rules are there. I cannot be clearer on that. I hope that brings clarity to the issue for the House.