Local Government Bill 2018: Second Stage

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

Fair play to Deputy Cassells. He looks a bit windswept. The main purpose of the Bill is to alter the boundary between Cork City Council and Cork County Council and to provide for the boundary alteration arrangements and consequential matters. This revised boundary was proposed by the Cork implementation oversight group, following from the report of an expert advisory group in April 2017, which recommended extending the Cork city area rather than merging the local authorities as proposed in the 2015 Cork local government committee majority report. This boundary is being altered by way of primary legislation in the absence of clear evidence of agreement between the two local authorities under the existing procedures for amending boundaries. It is also because the scale of the boundary alteration is very significant, involving the transfer of 147 square km occupied by approximately 80,000 residents from within the administrative area of the county council to the administrative area of the city council.

Key urban parts of the immediate hinterland of Cork city will form part of the city council area, allowing potential for further development within a new city council boundary, while also incentivising high density development and reducing the risk of sprawl. The extended city area will include Ballincollig, Carrigrohane, Blarney, Glanmire and Cork airport, but not Carrigtwohill, Passage West, Monkstown, Ringaskiddy, Carrigaline and the more rural parts of the city hinterland. The population of the city will increase from 125,657 to 205,000 and the Project Ireland 2040 national planning framework contains a targeted rate of growth for Cork city of at least 105,000 more people by 2040. The scale of the boundary alteration meant that it was not possible to include a map of the transferring area in a schedule to the Bill, which had been the original intention. In order to be adequately legible, the hard copy of the map had to be produced in size A0 which is why it had to be deposited at offices in the Custom House with a physical copy laid before the House.

The main elements of the Bill provide for the revised boundary, which is indicated by hatching on the above-mentioned deposited map that was laid before the House, which will take effect on a transfer day appointed by ministerial order, and that will be fixed to coincide with the new councils coming into office after the local elections in the middle of next year; statutory status, powers and functions of an oversight committee to oversee the boundary alteration implementation process, including provision for an implementation plan to be produced by the committee, which the local authorities will be required to comply with in implementing the boundary alteration; a range of specific arrangements to be made jointly between the local authorities in relation to the relevant area being transferred, including matters such as transfer of assets and liabilities, transitional provisions relating to local authority financial functions, which will largely remain with the county council until 1 January 2020, the performance of functions in the transferred area, transfer of staff and related superannuation arrangements; and an overall financial settlement between the city council and the county council arising from the boundary alteration, to be agreed jointly by the local authorities in accordance with the implementation plan, with default provision for the settlement to be arranged by the Minister, if necessary. The financial settlement will have two components: an annual payment for a period of ten years from the county council to the city council that is linked to the consumer price index to offset the financial loss that will be incurred by the county council, and any other agreed adjustments of varying amounts that might arise from year to year from the financial implications of the various specific arrangements to be made between the authorities under the legislation.

The Bill also covers duties of the relevant local authorities and their employees relating to the implementation of the boundary alteration, including regular reports to the oversight committee; provision for ministerial regulations and directions in relation to the boundary alteration; consequential provisions arising from the boundary alteration in relation to the holding of local elections to Cork City Council and Cork County Council in 2019; and other matters consequential on the boundary alteration, including continuance of contracts and legal proceedings, application of development plans and local areas plans, requirements relating to planning applications and development contribution schemes, application of by-laws in the relevant areas, continuation in force of leases, licences, permissions etc. granted by Cork County Council in respect of the relevant areas, and provision for necessary data sharing, and transitional arrangements in relation to valuations for rating purposes.

This legislation will need to be enacted this year to enable all necessary action to be completed in time for the local elections in mid-2019. While the boundary alteration and transfer of local authority jurisdiction will take full legal effect in mid-2019, the legislation will provide appropriate flexibility in relation to operational arrangements so that transfer of practical responsibility for certain functions can proceed on a more gradual basis, if necessary, to allow time for organisational changes to be completed. However, it is expected that the transfer arrangements will proceed quickly once the legislation is enacted and that this will not be a drawn-out process. Responsibility for the detailed planning and implementation of the reorganisation involved will rest primarily with the local authorities, subject to guidance and oversight by the oversight committee and compliance with the implementation plan. I acknowledge the enormous work that the Cork implementation oversight group, along with the two chief executives and key members of their teams, have put into teasing out the various implications and arrangements that a boundary change on this scale entails.

While the majority of the Bill's provisions relate to the Cork boundary alteration, in line with the Government's decision in relation to local government arrangements in Galway, the Bill also provides for the appointment of a single chief executive with dual responsibility for both Galway City Council and Galway County Council, who will be empowered to implement administrative integration through delegation of executive functions under the Local Government Acts. This approach, which was recommended by the Galway expert advisory group and is similar to the management arrangements put in place in Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford ahead of the mergers of councils in those areas, will see two separate elected councils being retained for the 2019 local elections and at the same time facilitate the decision in principle to merge the two authorities by 2021. The Bill also contains provisions to copper-fasten the status of cities and counties by repealing the existing power to alter boundaries by ministerial order, save where agreed by the relevant local authorities.

Some further provisions, including ones relating to the holding of plebiscites to consider the proposal for directly elected mayors for Cork city, Limerick, Galway city and county and Waterford and joint structures to facilitate local area and forward planning for urban areas that span county boundaries, will be brought forward on Committee Stage. Amendments relating to the placenames provisions of the local government code may also be brought forward if the urgency of progressing this Bill permits.

Debate adjourned.