That is fair enough.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill. I am as disappointed as my colleagues in Fingal and my constituency that it is taking so long to bring it to the House for debate, but I welcome the opportunity to address some aspects of the Bill.
The regulation of noise at Dublin Airport is of utmost importance because there are plans for the second northern runway, which will have a great impact on a number of communities across the north county. While factors such as innovation in aircraft development have made planes quieter, the fact remains that airport movements can create significant and disturbances in certain communities that can be compounded by wind direction and other such factors. All Members will agree that noise pollution can create disturbances for families and communities and can have major health implications. As such, we must work to ensure noise regulation at Dublin Airport is a priority.
In terms of the proposals put forward in this Bill, a number of concerns that exist. I have been contacted by a number of residents in my constituency, particularly from the communities of Portmarnock and St. Margaret's, and I will endeavour to address a number of their concerns throughout this contribution.
This Bill sets out that the competent authority to advise on noise-related issues as they relate to the airport and planning applications will be Fingal County Council. I seek clarification from the Minister on what action he will take to ensure the independence of this function within Fingal County Council from the planning authority aspect the council currently holds.
I will not dwell too long, a Cheann Comhairle, on the comments of the previous speaker or those of Deputy Ryan and others yesterday but they certainly ring true. There is a perception in the public domain that Fingal County Council is not the appropriate authority to be appointed to fulfil this role. While I understand this decision was based on legal advice and further understand the debate that took place at pre-legislative scrutiny, at that time I was satisfied that all had been done as to the legal position. Since then, in the past few months, it is becoming increasingly obvious to me at least that there were other options. If we were going to put the level of investment in to a local authority such as Fingal County Council and start from zero, then why not start with an entirely new agency? That is the position I hold.
Fingal County Council is the body which collects rates from the airport and currently makes planning decisions that relate to it. It is therefore understandable that many local residents are concerned about the implications of Fingal County Council holding the function of competent authority and making decisions regarding noise levels at the Dublin Airport.
I do not accept that elected representatives will have no role in the decision-making functions of the competent authority but I would appreciate further information on the buffers that will be put in place between the part of Fingal County Council that acts as the planning authority and the section that acts as the competent authority.
There must be certainty regarding the separation of personnel between the competent authority and planning authority functions of Fingal County Council. We cannot face a situation whereby we find out in a few months' time that personnel currently in the planning section now act as personnel within its competent authority function. We also cannot face a situation in which the planning authority reviews an application in one room while the competent authority is reviewing it in the room next door. There must be a real and meaningful separation of personnel between the planning authority and the competent authority within Fingal County Council. Anything else would be unacceptable.
I note, however, that were any action taken to amend or overturn the conditions associated with the current permission granted for the second runway at Dublin Airport, a full planning application process would then ensue, whereby following the decision of Fingal County Council in this regard in its functions as the competent authority, and separately, as the planning authority, the appeal body will remain An Bord Pleanála. When the last decisions were made regarding the second runway, An Bord Pleanála was the appeals body. It is vital that this remains the case and that Fingal County Council is not the appeals body. This is important to ensure Fingal County Council is not judge, jury and executioner in this regard.
It is important to note the planning process is not radically changing in this overall process. It still will be the local planning authority and An Bord Pleanála still will operate as the appeals mechanism. Unlike the suggestion made in some of the remarks of the previous speaker, not that significant a change is happening.
To expand on this in respect of the development of the second runway at Dublin Airport, restrictions were put in place by An Bord Pleanála regarding the allowed number of night flights once the runway was completed. Should the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, make a new planning application to overturn this, it is reassuring to local residents that regardless of whatever decision may be reached by Fingal County Council, An Bord Pleanála would again be the appeals body. As such, I expect that the concerns of local residents, should this instance occur, would be appropriately acknowledged by An Bord Pleanála.
I am sure the Minister will understand that many residents hold genuine concerns regarding Fingal County Council's proposed function as the competent authority, and as such, should take whatever action may be necessary to provide that it is not appointed to the new roles associated with the competent authority functions of Fingal County Council as otherwise, this Bill, and the authority bestowed upon Fingal County Council by it will be undoubtedly undermined.
As such, I wish to raise the financial cost of establishing Fingal County Council as the competent authority.
In a recent parliamentary question to which the Minister responded, his written reply stated:
It is estimated that the set-up cost of establishing the Competent Authority under EU Regulation 598/2014 will be in the region of €350,000. It is further estimated that when the Competent Authority is making a regulatory determination - which will typically be in five year cycles - the cost of this peak activity will be in the region of €1 million. In years where activity is related to monitoring and reporting only - in other words, the years between each regulatory determination - the running costs will of course be less than this.
It is intended that these costs will be met by a levy that the Competent Authority can impose on the daa. The daa will be liable to pay this levy on a monthly, biannual or annual basis...
I note this Bill allows for the council to impose a levy on the DAA to cover its costs, either to reimburse the Council, or in advance to fund its operations in this regard. The fact remains that the start-up costs must not be a burden on local residents through the diversion of their local property tax, for example, or for local small businesses through the use of their funds to pay their taxes through their rates.
The Minister should give assurances to the House that, albeit being a small amount in the broad scheme of things, the €350,000 set-up costs are not a burden on the ratepayers of Fingal County Council and indeed its citizens, which includes the Deputies present. It is not appropriate for the State to set up a competent authority which governs airport movements in its international airpost to be borne by 5% of the population, which should also be borne in mind.
The simple fact is that noise mitigation must always be the priority for communities in and around the airport and therefore, that must be a priority for the Government. In this regard, I wish to address the noise monitoring functions that Fingal County Council will have as the competent authority. It is vital that noise monitoring happens on an ongoing basis at Dublin Airport. It is clear that noise at the airport is not only generated by flights themselves but also by numerous other functions at the airport. The fact that all these operations must be monitored continuously and that any appropriate action must be taken to reduce noise levels, is in the best interests of local residents.
I note the legislation before Members requires the production of an annual compliance report by the competent authority. While this in itself is positive, it will be fundamentally necessary for the required action to be taken by the competent authority to ensure that all operations at the airport are within the noise limits on each of the 365 days within a year. It will be vital that where noise levels exceed the maximum levels, swift action is taken to bring airport activities into compliance. In order to ensure compliance, the competent authority will have the ability to seek recourse through the High Court where its directions regarding operating measures or noise mitigation measures are not adhered to. That is vitally important.
Much of the focus here is on the airport directly and the activities that occur within the airport. It is important, however, that we take into consideration the people in their own homes in the context of this debate. We must ask ourselves the question as to how we can best provide for local residents to ensure they are protected from increased levels of noise at home, should a situation of non-compliance or any other such factor arise. As Deputy Clare Daly mentioned, I believe it was also mentioned yesterday evening, there have been developments as regards what is determined as acceptable noise limits in the vicinity of an airport released by the WHO. While I do not suggest that we should implement that line for line, we need to take it into consideration.
It is important that the competent authority has the competence to impose the requirement for the provision of an insulation scheme for homeowners and public buildings in line with adopting a balanced approach. When the plans for the second runway were brought forward, it was vital that plans were put in place to provide homes and buildings such as schools with additional insulation to offset any increase in noise resulting from increased operations. It is inevitable that traffic levels at Dublin Airport will grow as the airport grows. This will increase the number of communities potentially impacted by noise levels emanating from airport operations. It is important that these communities are protected and any remedial works required on homes and public buildings to protect them from noise are completed in advance of an increase in operations at the airport. For this reason, the competent authority should have the power to implement such requirements. I would appreciate the Minister's views on the matter.
While elements of this Bill are positive, grave concerns exist. Local residents deserve the reassurance they seek and to have their worries adequately addressed. Certainty must be provided regarding the future implications this Bill may have for local communities in Fingal. I am interested in hearing from the Minister the reason he believes this proposal would constitute a good deal for my constituents, and how he intends to address their genuinely held concerns.
I will deal with two final matters. The development of Dublin Airport over decades has taken place in a relatively well planned manner. There are, however, interventions at local authority level that have impacted greatly upon the lives of people living at either end of the runways. One-off houses have been developed, in particular in the St. Margaret's area, which is predominantly rural. These properties were granted planning permission because they were zoned by councillors. I was a councillor on Fingal County Council for nearly seven years and I recall a number of zonings for one-off houses occurring in the vicinity of Dublin Airport. In certain instances, we are now dealing with the repercussions of those decisions. The development plan for 2004 to 2011 was approved prior to the granting of planning permission for the northern runway and that must be taken into consideration. We must have a meaningful conversation on the competent authority, regardless of which body is appointed to that role, if the Opposition threats are followed through. It should have an overview role of the planning and development legislation regarding future one-off housing in the vicinity of Dublin Airport. That should be considered in the context of the Bill.
My colleague, Deputy Clare Daly, referred to Manchester Airport and the restrictions that are in place at night and the other mitigating factors the authority introduced there. That deserves further examination. I focused my research on London when perhaps I should have focused on Manchester. A restriction of 5,800 night flights per annum applies at Heathrow Airport. This amounts to approximately 15 flights per night in certain circumstances.
I find it peculiar that when the Bill was published recently, the DAA chief executive, Dalton Philips, made clear in a press release that the legislation would have a serious detrimental effect on Dublin Airport. Deputy Clare Daly spoke more eloquently about Dublin Airport's business model than I can. That model contains an inherent flaw. The DAA's suggestion that there will be a dramatic reduction in the number of aircraft movements at Dublin Airport is not true. The airport will have two runways operating simultaneously. There is sufficient distance between them to allow aircraft to land and take off at the same time, as is the case in other airports and jurisdictions. During the summer, while on board an aircraft that was taking off at another airport, I observed another aircraft taking off at the same time on an adjacent runway. It stands to reason, therefore, that if Dublin Airport can accommodate 30 million passengers with one runway, it will be able to realistically hit its target of accommodating 50 million passengers with two runways within a reasonable period.
Longitudinally, our landing slots are slightly different from those in mainland Europe and the United Kingdom because we are closer to the Americas and many aircraft arrive here at 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. I accept that such aircraft disturb residents, because they used to disturb me when I lived about 4 km from the airport, especially when they were slowing down upon landing. In his part of the city, the Minister would not be familiar with the rumbling sound but it can disturb people's sleep. While my house was too far away to hear the sound of engines on take-off and landing, that rumbling noise is present in the north county and one can hear it at busy times in particular. I do not wish to pick on one airline, but Aer Lingus is advertising for 200 new pilots. It is expanding its international long-haul fleet from 14 to 30 by 2021. That means a significant expansion in aircraft numbers, some of which will be narrow bodied aeroplanes with smaller engines.
I do not accept the position adopted by the Dublin Airport Authority that this legislation would have a serious detrimental effect on activities at Dublin Airport. It will have a significant effect on the DAA's current business model so that model will need to change. The important factors here are the need to take a balanced approach and to take account of aircraft noise regulation and improvements in technology. I am sure the decision made in 2007 was based on technological assessments of engines made in 2005 or thereabouts. That is a long time in terms of engine development.
When all of that is taken into consideration, I believe the measures outlined in the Bill are good. This legislation gives citizens the opportunity to deal with an organisation that is solely tasked with dealing with aircraft noise at their local airport where that airport accommodates more than 50,000 aircraft movements per annum. As the only airport in the country to which this regulation applies, it is good that the Bill is before us, although there are certain concerns with regard to the separation of the Fingal County Council's competent authority role from its other functions.
If we had debated this Bill in 2006, I do not think anybody would have voiced major concerns, certainly not in the way they are being voiced today. We are now dealing with the ongoing and ever-present threat from the DAA that it will appeal the two conditions it finds offensive in respect of night flights once the competent authority has been assigned. That creates a predicament for all of us in that we have to deal with the appointment of a competent authority, which is a good thing, against the backdrop of the presumption on the part of many, which is informed by Opposition politicians, that it is a fait accompli that the competent authority will overturn the decision of An Bord Pleanála. Given all of the technological advancements I mentioned and the traffic patterns Dublin Airport has built up since the decision was made in 2007, I do not see any evidence that the competent authority will overturn those decisions because significant changes have not been made to the operation of Dublin Airport. With the exception of African flights and flights landing from the continental United States, which can be modified to ensure they land after 6 a.m., I do not accept that it is a fait accompli that the competent authority will overturn the decision made.
I welcome the opportunity to debate this Bill, which I intend to support. I have been made aware of certain amendments that will require careful consideration by the Minister. In particular, I draw his attention to the points I raised about insulation, a mandated programme that would be operated by the competent authority and the separation of staff to ensure there is sufficient distance between the competent authority's activities and those of the planning authority.