I thank the House for the opportunity to introduce the Bill, the main purpose of which is to implement EU Regulation 598/2014, which came into effect in June 2016. This regulation sets out the rules and procedures for managing and monitoring the impact of aircraft at all major European Union airports. The approach set out in the regulation is in line with the so-called "balanced approach" to aircraft noise mitigation, which has been developed by the United Nation's International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO. This Bill follows the regulation in its entirety and, therefore, represents best international practice in aircraft noise management at airports, as endorsed by the UN and the EU.
It may seem unusual that I am implementing this regulation through primary legislation, even though an EU regulation has direct effect in member states. Typically, I would implement such a regulation by way of secondary legislation, through a statutory instrument. However, the circumstances surrounding this regulation are atypical. There has been extensive policy and legal examination of how best to put in place a noise regulation regime which, on the one hand, fully accords with EU Regulation 598/2014 and, on the other hand, is wholly aligned with our existing planning and development and environmental frameworks. The outcome of these deliberations was the conclusion that the only certain way to achieve this was by primary legislation. I have taken much criticism for delaying or not moving fast enough on this issue. While I understand and share the frustration underlying some of this criticism, some of it also betrays an under-appreciation of the complexity of the issues that had to be worked through. I am glad to be before this House to present this Bill, and I am glad that the Oireachtas will have the opportunity to examine, discuss, come to understand it and, ultimately, I am sure, support it as the best available option which serves the national interest.
I propose to bring the House through the key elements of the Bill and explain the policy rationale underpinning it. As a first step, EU Regulation 598/2014 requires all member states with a major airport to designate a competent authority as the independent noise regulator. The competent authority is responsible under the regulation for monitoring the noise situation at a designated airport.
The competent authority also decides on the appropriate noise mitigation measures that must be put in place by airport operators, up to and including operating restrictions to mitigate an identified noise problem.
Under the Bill, Fingal County Council is designated as the independent noise regulator for the purposes of EU Regulation No. 598/2014. I believe, given the complex issues we are dealing with, that the council is best placed to undertake the role as noise regulator for Dublin Airport.
The extensive policy and legal examination of the regulation which I mentioned earlier made it clear that there is a significant overlap between the EU regulation, the planning process and environmental protection requirements. In that respect, the council, with its extensive experience in planning and development, land use planning and management, appropriate assessment, environmental impact assessment and managing large public consultations, is well suited for the job. That is why I have defended the council in the House when others have questioned its suitability for the job. I have also defended it against what I consider baseless accusations of conflict of interest. Fingal is not conflicted. I believe in the effectiveness of local government by local authorities. I believe that giving Fingal County Council additional legal powers to regulate noise at Dublin Airport makes perfect sense, building on its functions relating to noise under the environmental noise directive and the planning code generally. It is joined-up public administration. It is empowering local government, allowing a local authority to make local decisions. It is in the best interest of providing a readily accessible, fully transparent and locally accountable process for managing and monitoring noise at the airport.
Fingal County Council is one of the largest local authorities in the country. It has a highly skilled staff complement. It has existing relevant expertise and it has the wherewithal to develop and bring in more expertise as necessary. I reject the notion that it is not a good fit and I reject the idea that local authorities can be conflicted in overseeing and providing local services and acting in a regulatory role.
All local authorities have a wide range of statutory-based regulatory functions, including environmental quality control, planning permissions, development planning, public lighting, road building and road maintenance. They have enforcement roles as well, and they have powers to charge taxes and fees, including property tax, commercial rates and planning related fees. The fee raising and charging powers are to ensure that the statutory and other public services provided by local authorities are funded. It is not a commercial enterprise and this is not about turning a profit.
Local authorities charge what is needed to cover service costs, and in the context of its new noise regulation functions, Fingal will do the same. Fingal County Council has a track record of performing the role of competent authority in areas such as planning and environment and does so in an independent manner. Its decisions are open and transparent and are subject to appeal and judicial review. This Bill is not breaking any new ground in this respect.
It is clear that the proposal relating to the implementation of EU Regulation No. 598/2014 is wholly aligned with the long-established multi-functional role played by local authorities. Moreover, any decision will be subject to an independent appeals process. I am confident when the Bill is examined more closely, it will become clear to all that given the close interrelationship with the Planning and Development Act and the current responsibilities held by Fingal County Council under the environmental noise directive, that the council is the most suitable body to take on the role as noise regulator for Dublin Airport.
I will be clear about the resourcing of this new function, which is a legitimate concern that has been expressed by a number of colleagues. It is true that Fingal County Council will have to build up capacity to fully undertake the role as noise regulator. It will have to procure noise expertise to assist in the application of the balanced approach and the decision-making process. It is building from a solid base with the existing in-house expertise and capacity to run a process, including the public consultation as prescribed in the Bill. Funding will be made available to allow it to do this. It is intended that any costs will be met by a levy that the competent authority will impose on the DAA. The DAA will be liable to pay this levy on a monthly, biannual or annual basis, as determined by the competent authority. It will be based on costs incurred by the council, or reasonably expected to occur, in the performance of its functions as the competent authority.
With regard to how the process set out in the Bill is intended to work, Fingal County Council has responsibility for noise assessments under the 2002 environmental noise directive. This Bill, in accordance with EU Regulation No. 598/2014, is an extension of that process. The Bill sets out the procedure to be followed where a noise problem is identified at the airport following a noise assessment undertaken in line with the directive. This entails undertaking an analysis of the various measures available to reduce noise. There are four high level options: noise reduction at source; land use planning and management; noise abatement operational procedures; and operating restrictions, as a last resort. The goal is to address any noise problem in the most effective manner.
This analytical framework is called the balanced approach and it is set out in regulation No. 598. It has been developed at the UN's ICAO as the best way forward to ensure that airports can develop in a more sustainable way and that air connectivity can continue to be improved as a key enabler of international trade and in the general interest of global access. What is proposed in this Bill, therefore, is an airport noise regulatory regime that has been developed as international best practice and adopted as EU law.
Having completed its analysis under the balanced approach, the noise regulator will come to a draft regulatory decision regarding the noise mitigation measures and operating restrictions, if any, to be introduced at Dublin Airport. The regulator will publish this draft decision and invite submissions and observations to be made within a period of 14 weeks. This open consultation is an important aspect of the Bill. The draft decision will be accompanied by a report detailing how the decision was reached which will include a non-technical summary. This will ensure any individual will be in a position to input into the process and that the consultation will not be limited to those with technical expertise. Once the public consultation process is complete, and having considered any submissions or observations received, the noise regulator will make a final decision. The regulator will specify a timeframe for the introduction of such measures and in the case of operating restrictions, will provide at least six months notice.
The Bill also inserts new sections into the Planning and Development Act, to put in place a framework for the application of regulation No. 598 requirements within the planning process. The purpose of this is twofold. Provision is made for the noise regulator to input into decisions of the planning authority in respect of planning applications for proposed development that may impact on noise at the airport. The Bill also provides for the ability of the airport authority to apply to the planning authority to review and amend any current operating restrictions in place at the airport as conditioned under a previous planning consent.
In both these circumstances, the planning authority is not permitted to make a final decision on the planning application until the noise regulator has completed its work. This work will involve assessing the planning application using the balanced approach framework and consulting with the planning authority and any other party it deems necessary. In line with normal Regulation No. 598 procedures, the noise regulator will also have to undertake a 14-week public consultation on proposed measures. Once the noise regulator notifies the planning authority of its regulatory decision, the planning authority will incorporate that regulatory decision, by way of planning conditions, into its final decision on the planning application.
It is well documented that DAA views the operating restrictions attached to the permission for the second runway as overly restrictive. On completion of construction of the second runway, those restrictions will immediately impact and reduce current operations at the airport. The restrictions were decided upon in advance of EU Regulation No. 598/2014 coming into force, and, therefore, it makes sense that they are now reviewed in light of the balanced approach process, in advance of their introduction. The Bill does not pre-empt any decision that may be made by the noise regulator on the appropriateness of these restrictions. However, it allows the noise regulator to examine all noise mitigation measures available, in line with the balanced approach, to mitigate any noise problem that may arise from the operation of the second runway.
Once it examines any application to review the operating restrictions attached to the second runway project, the noise regulator will come to a determination. It may decide that no change is needed to the current operating restrictions. It may decide that more onerous restrictions are required, or it may determine that a new set of noise abatement measures entirely are more appropriate. That will be a matter for the new regulator to decide, based on expert technical analysis, reference to best international practice, emerging technology and extensive public consultation.
The Bill sets out, in a detailed way, how the noise regulation is to dovetail with the planning process. This is important because it means that airport use and airport development will be subject to a more robust, interconnected regulatory regime that tests development proposals against planning and development benchmarks and now noise impact and noise management benchmarks.
To that end, the Bill provides that the planning authority must first consult with the noise regulator in regard to development at the airport that may have a noise dimension. This will facilitate the regulator in applying the balanced approach before reaching a decision on the application of any operating restrictions, as may be needed, to be incorporated into the final planning decision. Likewise, where there is a planning application to review current operating restrictions, the regulator will decide upon the most appropriate measures in line with EU Regulation No. 598/2014.
A further requirement of EU Regulation No. 598/2014 is the designation of an appeals body to provide for an appeals mechanism to a decision of the noise regulator. To provide for alignment with the Planning and Development Act, the Bill designates An Bord Pleanála as the independent appeals body. This decision will ensure cohesion in any future planning decisions on development at Dublin Airport. All regulatory decisions of the noise regulator are subject to appeal to An Bord Pleanála. Where an appeal to a regulatory decision of the noise regulator is made to the board, it will have 18 weeks to make a decision, with provision to extend this timeline if required. Provision has also been made for the board to, at its discretion, undertake a 14-week public consultation process. This may happen where the board is of the view that there are alternative noise mitigation measures or operating restrictions, other than those proposed by the noise regulator, which may be implemented at the airport and were not consulted on previously. In assessing any such appeal, the board will gain all of the powers of the noise regulator and must adopt the balanced approach in consideration of the measures to be imposed. Where a noise regulatory decision is made as part of an overall planning decision, that can also be appealed to An Bord Pleanála as part of an appeal of the planning decision. Where a planning decision into which the noise regulator has had input is appealed to the board, the board will again assume all the powers of the noise regulator. It will have the power to decide on the most appropriate noise mitigation measures and operating restrictions, if any, that are to be introduced at Dublin Airport and set out the timelines for their implementation.
Another aspect of the Bill relates to monitoring and enforcement powers. There will be an onus on the airport authority to ensure that it adheres to any decision of the noise regulator and that any measures are implemented effectively. The airport authority will be required to produce an annual compliance report, to include a non-technical summary. This report will be published by the regulator. The regulator will monitor compliance and has the power to direct the airport authority and airport users, as necessary, to comply with any noise mitigation measures and operating restrictions with recourse to the High Court for non-compliance.
The Bill also outlines other consequential amendments to the Planning and Development Act. One such amendment is the declassification of airport development as strategic infrastructure development for the purposes of planning applications. This measure means that an application for planning permission for development at airports will be made to the local authority in the first instance, with provision for appeal to An Bord Pleanála. This amendment is necessary, as it would not be possible for An Bord Pleanála to be both the deciding body and the appeals body for development at the airport, which will have a significant noise impact.
Ultimately, EU Regulation No. 598/2014 is intended to ensure that major European airports are developed in a sustainable manner and that they are subject to oversight and scrutiny not just in terms of planning and environmental laws but, in the case of airports specifically, noise levels. This Bill provides for this. It sets out a robust, rigorous and transparent noise regulation regime that will ensure that Dublin Airport can grow, but only in a way that is responsive to the impact of noise caused by aircraft. This means it will have to comply with regulatory decisions on how aircraft approach and depart the airport, for example, on how and when they can move around the airport, on the type of aircraft and engines preferred. All of these factors now form part of the decision-making regarding the long-term development of Dublin Airport. It is a much more comprehensive management and monitoring framework than currently exists.
While I fully understand that there are local concerns, I am equally confident that this new regime will come to be seen as a positive step forward. The Bill, therefore, sets out a noise regulation regime that has not been in place before, allowing for full stakeholder engagement. It also sets out an independent appeals process which will provide certainty to stakeholders and a framework for managing the process in a fair and balanced way. In essence, the legislation provides for a structured approach to assessing and addressing aircraft noise at Dublin Airport with the objective of facilitating airport development and expansion in a way that minimises, as far as practicable, the noise impact of that expansion.
I commend the Bill to the House.