If they are watching and listening, I do not intend to use the full 20 minutes. I intend to be significantly short of that but we will see how that goes. Someone in this Chamber saying he or she will be quicker than he or she thinks are famous last words. I have issues with any planning legislation being rushed. I understand the rationale for it in this situation but you can have unintended consequences and unforeseen flaws in planning legislation when it is rushed through like this.
The lack of scrutiny and independent expert analysis of this Bill is a concern. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage and today it had very good pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill providing for a directly elected mayor for Limerick. As a result of the expertise of the witnesses who appeared before the committee, many issues with that legislation were raised and aired which I and the committee had not heard heretofore in the process. The lack of that input and scrutiny is problematic. It means, to a certain degree, some of the discussion we are having now could have been ironed out beforehand, for example, with regard to section 7. Other Deputies have mentioned it. I do not read section 7 quite as a blanket extension, although in practice it is likely to end up being an extension of two years. The Bill allows for a period of up to two years. In practice, however, one will see local authorities probably granting two years.
I had a number of concerns about why it was two years. Obviously, the shutdown periods in construction have been much less than that. Indeed, we have to factor in time for getting the workforce back, the recovery and so forth. Deputy Calleary made some good points on why, in some circumstances, it is going to be well beyond the periods of the shutdowns because of wanting international expertise and delays which sometimes the larger sites need. They will be quite limited circumstances. I have concerns that, in some planning applications, one is potentially talking about a window of extensions of up to 17 years, which is a very long period, especially given that the current Minister was very strong about introducing use-it-or-lose-it legislation. In effect, this is the opposite, albeit due to the unforeseen circumstances of the Covid pandemic. It is right that there is a certain level of extension possible there.
As a public representative, I have seen very serious issues caused by extensions of planning permissions in terms of planning enforcement and houses being built in larger developments where promised infrastructure and amenities were part of the planning permission, but with extensions continuing year after year the infrastructure that was promised and had to be delivered is not delivered. The developer simply applies for more extensions. The developer is not required to complete the planning permission and deliver that infrastructure, especially if the phasing and tying in of it has not been done as tightly as it should, which is often the case, until the planning permission expires. One sees people who move into a new estate that needs amenities and infrastructure in year one, two or three of the planning permission and 15 years later they can be living in a large estate without that infrastructure because the planning permission has not yet expired. The developer has received the extensions and the council cannot take planning enforcement action with respect to that builder or developer.
I do not see safeguards in that regard in this legislation. I do not see those types of criteria or those concerns written into the legislation as something the local authority should give consideration to with regard to any extensions that are sought. I do not know why there are no such safeguards or considerations or at least a provision that a planning authority could have regard to that and could potentially refuse an extension or potentially not give the full two years if it has legitimate concerns about non-delivery of infrastructure which is part of the planning permission. That issue should be addressed before the legislation is finalised. We have to look at this legislation from the point of view of developers who have a genuine need and who have genuinely been hit for up to a period of two years, but we also must safeguard against a scenario where developers would, perhaps, exploit this for an additional length of time which is not entirely necessary or justified, and certainly to that length.
Section 3(b) refers to publishing a notice in a newspaper. This is a relatively small point but, at this stage, in terms of publishing notices and notifications regarding development plans, online advertising should be required as well as in the traditional print media. It is important that these notices and information are available to a cross-section of society, different age groups and so forth, rather than simply restricting ourselves to newsprint for these notifications. While it is important that they go there both in terms of advertising revenue for local newspapers and reaching segments of the population, it is also important to reach people online who may not necessarily read those newspapers.
I wish to strike a cautionary note about the recent history of changes in planning that have been lobbied for by the development industry. There is a cautionary tale about that which we should be cognisant of when looking at planning legislation. A number of years ago, when Deputy Kelly was Minister, we saw the industry lobby for lower apartment standards and succeeding in getting them. When Deputy Coveney was the Minister with responsibility for housing, the lobbyists pushed for the SHD planning legislation, and we have seen the consequences of that. When the former Deputy, Eoghan Murphy, was Minister, we saw them push for co-living and build-to-rent. To give credit to Mr. Murphy, when he resigned from this House he admitted that he made a major mistake on co-living, that he should not have listened to those lobbyists and that he regretted that. The strategic housing developments were lobbied for extensively. I make this point because the same voices who lobbied for these are lobbying now for changes in planning. What worries me is that they are getting the same reaction from the Government, a type of unquestioning attitude to the lobbying.
It is worth pointing out that an academic study was carried out on the property industry lobbyists, entitled "De-democratising the Irish planning system", by Dr. Mick Lennon and Dr. Richard Waldron of University College Dublin and Queen's University Belfast, respectively. In that study they conducted interviews with lobbyists and politicians. I will quote from one of the lobbyists with regard to the lobbyists' influence on our planning law and system. The interviewee said:
The Fast Track planning system, the 100 unit plus thing, was a thing that [Property Industry Ireland colleague] and I had discussed. And [PII colleague] went on the Marian Finucane programme and discussed it. And Simon Coveney [the then Minister]... heard it on the Marian Finucane programme, rang him up, wanted to meet us. We went in and met him. And we met him four times over about six or seven weeks for, amazing actually, from eight o’clock at night until midnight. And he went through what his vision was for the Irish planning property system. And we gave him our recommendations and they took it lock, stock and barrel and stuck it into the new housing bill.
That does not inspire confidence in how planning legislation is made by the Irish political system. I have no issue with suggestions from the industry being listened to, but I have a major issue with them not being subject to rigorous independent analysis, and they should never be accepted lock, stock and barrel. That is the issue we have with this legislation being rushed through - it does not give us time to get independent and rigorous analysis of it. It could be the case that there are flaws in it that we do not spot at this point.
Indeed, when we consider the SHD planning legislation that was passed, not only has it been a disaster from a community perspective in terms of the county development plans, which are part of this Bill, being disregarded, certainly in part, but also local authority planners have been very critical of it. It has not reduced their workload as promised. It has removed the planning framework that gave a level of certainty to applicants and it has hampered their ability to get development plan objectives delivered, including infrastructure. This is an important part of it. From the point of view of the public and those seeking to buy a new home, it has been a disaster in the lack of delivery of homes. Indeed, most homes granted permission have not been built, and schemes being built in large numbers have been sold to investment funds, including virtually all apartments. There are consequences to rushing planning legislation through or to not giving it proper analysis. For the people who lobbied for that legislation, it has been a total disaster, a real case of "be careful what you wish for". Of 28 schemes approved by An Bord Pleanála this year under that process, 16, totalling more than 4,500 homes, have been held up by judicial reviews. Of the larger schemes since it was introduced, 23 out of 24 have been quashed by the High Court. Not a single home has been built in Dublin city under that process.
It has been a disaster in delivery as well as in planning. The answer regarding planning is not to look to undermine the process, to look for shortcuts or to listen exclusively to people who are frustrated by the time limit. The answer is to provide resources and statutory timeframes to speed up the process, with resources, to get more delivery of housing, as well as sustainable communities and the required associated infrastructure. Those are my concerns regarding rushing through planning legislation. It is worrying that those lessons have not been learned. It is also worrying to watch the commentary on planning from the Government in the media. It does not seem to have learned from its mistakes. Indeed, the Government seems absolutely intent on repeating those mistakes. We must deliver housing but at the same time we must build sustainable communities and places where people will thrive and not just survive.
Like many Deputies, I have been out campaigning in the Dublin Bay South by-election. What has struck me from the parts of that constituency I have in which were built years ago is that it is possible to see how well planned and designed some of those communities are. It is good quality housing designed around good open public spaces. Those parts of Dublin Bay South remind me of areas in my constituency, like Marino, which were also very well planned. The value of getting planning right is that the kind of problems which can emerge from poor planning are circumvented at the start. We do not then have to spend years and decades campaigning to retrofit infrastructure and amenities into communities. All the positives from such infrastructure and amenities, namely, cohesive communities, people feeling more safe and secure, neighbours getting to know each other, children having a safe place to play and all the community relationships which result, come from good planning.
I am concerned, therefore, with the current narrative about planning, as if there is no value to it. We must ensure that people with expertise in planning are central to any reforms of the planning process, including in this Bill. We must speak to and listen to such people regarding how we can make things more efficient and faster, but also more effective. If we lose sight of the latter aspect, then we are going to spend decades trying to recover from it.