Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am sharing time with Deputy James O'Connor. I am not sure if he is up in the balcony; I hear he is. I welcome this Bill and commend the Minister and his officials on what are practical approaches to some of the other challenges presented by Covid-19. Before Deputy Duncan Smith leaves, I was interested in his outlining of the Fingal process in terms of the relative lack of engagement, even online. That is reflective of our own position. The Mayo process is not as far advanced as Fingal but our councillors, who worked incredibly hard on it, feel there was not the same level of engagement. Certainly they could not feel it. Online is not the same as the ability to go to your local community hall or hotel to see it.

As everybody has said, the development plan is the crucial document. Councillors give a huge amount to it. Even in the best of times, they do not have the best resources available to them compared to what officials and other people have. In this process, it has been much more difficult. They deserve commendation and if there is more time needed for a public buy-in to the development plan, I welcome this.

However, the biggest threat to development plans and the freedom of councillors to express the will of those who elect them is not contained within this legislation. It is contained within the national planning framework in terms of the restrictions that puts on development plans and the ability of councillors to represent those of their communities and to develop communities in the way people who live in them would like to see them developed but that is for a different day.

I have lobbied the Minister hard on planning extensions and I welcome them. There has been concern from some Deputies that it is wide but it is not. There is quite a detailed part in section 7 of the Bill. It is a process. It is not a blanket exemption, to quote one Deputy. There is a process. I saw the Minister giving hand signals in terms of the level of qualification or what defines completed works and he kept going higher and higher. It is quite a detailed process and I have no doubt that can be tightened up. It involves an application to the local authority. It is not a blanket exemption.

I am intrigued as to how the figure of two years was landed at. Can some discretion be given there? Some projects have been compromised by Covid-19, not only in terms of the stalling of construction, but international supply chains and logistics and the ability of international experts to get to Ireland to look at sites with regard to the installation of specialised equipment which cannot be got here. Those are the reasons the Minister has put in this change and I would like to see that.

The environmental screening is important as well. It is incredibly important that is brought up to date to build confidence in this measure. We need to do much more - the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, has made a timely entrance - especially in terms of how parks and wildlife engages around environmental screening. I am involved in a community-led development at home around a walking trail where the full extent of what the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, demanded of them was only recently given, after two years of trying to engage with it. We are lucky to have a super NPWS team in County Mayo, but something fell through the cracks. Community organisations are a long way down in a community-led project which would enhance the community but this one suddenly came to a shuddering halt in the past few weeks, because of a lack of communication. That is something we can all work on together.

I acknowledge there are concerns about the hoarding of sites. The controls under section 7 will prevent against that. If that needs to be even further enhanced and if other Ministers need to get involved in terms of taxation, that should be allowed. I welcome this Bill and commend the Minister and his officials on the work they put into it.

While I understand the aim of this legislation, I have concerns about such important legislation being rushed through the Houses. I am aware members of the housing committee received a briefing on the general scheme. It was agreed at the committee that it would write to organisations such as the Irish Planning Institute to seek expert advice on the measures proposed in the Bill. I would like to know if this has happened and what the results were.

This is not a good way to legislate. We in Sinn Féin like to discuss upcoming legislation with those who are affected by it. The short turnaround has made this difficult. The Bill's purpose is to mitigate the disruption caused by Covid-19-related delays. Sections 2 to 6 provide additional time for the preparation of county development plans. I was not aware of any local authorities having asked for extra time to prepare their development plan but the Minister said some have done so.

Kildare County Council had a meeting this morning to progress its own plan and it seems it is business as usual. I am especially concerned about the extension of planning permissions or more specifically about the blanket extension. I have sympathy with regard to the time lost due to Covid-19 and the associated public health restrictions but blanket extensions are not the way to go. We will have planning permissions extended for developments which may be found to be out of kilter with new country development plans and the national planning framework.

I would much prefer to see extensions granted on a case-by-case basis, having regard to the number of months lost due to the shutdown of construction. I have a concern that blanket extensions to existing planning permissions, some of which will have been in place for more than ten years, will lead to planning hoarding. Councillors in County Kildare were yesterday told that between 2014 and 2020, permission was granted for almost 18,000 housing units. In the same period, just over 7,000 housing units were completed.

While there may be a large number in construction, when one looks at the detail, there is compelling evidence planning hoarding is going on. This Bill will contribute to that and it needs to be addressed, as a matter of urgency.

If Members are watching the screen, the debate is moving a little quicker.

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.

There is some confusion regarding the speakers in this Government slot, not on my part. I am going to allow in Deputy O'Connor, and Deputy Higgins is sharing this slot as well.

Deputy MacSharry is also sharing time in this slot.

That is fine. There are three and a half minutes, and if that time is being shared with Deputy MacSharry, I do not mind. I call Deputy O'Connor.

Ní fheicim an Teachta MacSharry. Tá brón orm for the confusion, and I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Leanfaidh mé ar aghaidh. I am happy to be here today to discuss many of the aspects in this Bill. It is important legislation regarding planning and development in response to disruption caused by restrictions introduced because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It provides for an additional period for the preparation of development plans required by planning authorities and gives planning authorities the option to extend the duration of existing development plans pending the preparation and making of new development plans. Development plans form the blueprints for the social and economic development of counties and cities across Ireland. It is, therefore, vital where planning authorities have encountered disruptions that additional time can be allowed to them to ensure that their development plans can reach the highest possible standards.

I will use my time to discuss the requirements for the rezoning of land in east Cork for educational purposes. There is a strong demand for additional land for educational purposes in the east Cork area, which was the municipal area that I served when I was a member of Cork County Council. The east Cork local electoral area, LEA, has since 2006 experienced significant population growth that has been far beyond the national average. The 2016 population of 42,399 represents growth of 25.3% in the east Cork LEA since 2006, which is substantially higher than the State's average of 12.3%. This increase in population has put pressure on services in the area, mainly post-primary schools, where there is an ever-increasing demand for places. According to the latest Department of Education figures for primary schools for 2019-20, there has been an increase of 26.7% in enrolments since 2011-12, which again is far greater than the national average of 14.2%.

The electoral districts with the most significant population growth are in east Cork. There has been a notable concentration of increased population between Midleton, Cobh, Carrigtohill and Youghal. This significant population increase can be attributed to the construction of new housing developments over the last 20 years, and proximity and accessibility to Cork city. Therefore, it will continue to be necessary to increase the level of zoning in the east Cork area for educational purposes. Cork County Council, in conjunction with the Departments of Education and Housing, Local Government and Heritage, must give serious consideration to examining the issue of rezoning lands for educational purposes to meet the population growth dynamics in east Cork. I call on the Department of Education to work with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and Cork County Council on this matter. I also acknowledge the work of the east Cork Educate Together secondary school group, which provided many of the statistics through its hard work and research on this issue. It would be wrong and remiss of me to not mention the group in that context.

Are Deputies Higgins and MacSharry sharing the remainder of this slot?

That is correct, we will take two minutes each. I agree with the Minister that it is urgent for this Bill to be passed without delay, and I welcome the motion for early signature. Construction and planning were areas which took a major hit during the pandemic and this Bill will help to address the disruption and delays that Covid-19 has caused to the completion of housing projects and on the complexity of local authority development plans. Agreeing a development plan is an essential process for every local authority. However, the impact of Covid-19 has made complex processes even more complex. We must acknowledge the huge efforts that local authorities and county councillors have made in the past year. They have worked tirelessly on behalf of local businesses, communities and residents to ensure that their best interests were represented throughout this pandemic and I fully support a move to allow them flexibility in the development plan process.

Last week, councillors on South Dublin County Council completed weeks of lengthy development plan meetings and discussed more then 700 motions. Meetings ran from 3.30 p.m. until midnight on some occasions. While those circumstances would have been tough even in the normal life situation of a pre-Covid-19 world, holding these meetings remotely online now, especially when such big decisions are being made, is hugely challenging. Communication is more difficult and there is less clarity. On some occasions, councillors, particularly those who have not sat through discussions of development plans before, were voting to support a given motion without it having being made clear to them that were the motion to be successful, it would mean other related motions would automatically fall. Making such important decisions online is a major expectation, especially when we consider that Members of this House all come into this Chamber to cast our votes. Online meetings for such decisions place a great level of responsibility and additional pressures on councillors.

On my local council, almost half of county councillors have never sat through discussions concerning a development plan. Extending the time for drafting development plans to allow councillors the breathing space and to not rush these major decisions during social restrictions is reasonable, practical and in the interests of democracy.

I thank the Minister and I am glad to have a few brief moments to make a few points. I welcome the Bill to give an additional two years, but I believe it should have been three years. Deputy Calleary made good points on this subject earlier and I support them. I also support the year for the development plans. I have grave concerns, however, about us meeting our housing targets and I have bigger concerns regarding the misalignment of policy across all Departments. It does not facilitate us in meeting the challenges of what is a housing emergency.

One such example of this is the dezoning which followed the crash. We all felt it was appropriate at the time and that we had too much zoned land. These are called strategic land reserves in most areas. Let us use my county of Sligo as an example. I contacted five developers today regarding the strategic land reserve there in respect of those areas contiguous to developed areas and serviced lands. They could provide 1,000 houses over the next two years. Theoretically, Sligo County Council can materially contravene the plan to ensure that those builders could get planning permission and we would then have 1,000 houses. In reality, the situation is much different because of the prescribed process in the planning Acts. It involves public consultation, the elected members and so on. We would go around the administrative merry-go-round forever.

We need to amend the planning Acts to give local authorities the discretion to grant planning permission in circumstances where there are 1,000 houses effectively ready to go. We must facilitate the building of those houses where we know there is a housing need.

Another issue that must be addressed in terms of the alignment of policy is the rising cost of materials at the same time as we have an inexcusable backlog in the felling of trees. The price of timber has increased by up to 60%. Development finance is another issue of concern. The banks are talking the talk but are not walking the walk. They will not lend to developers in places like Sligo or Tipperary. They only want to lend in the five major cities and nowhere else. We need to find ways to address these issues too.

I would have called for this legislation at an earlier stage, particularly in relation to Louth County Council which is a considerable way through the process of completing its development plan at this point in time. Sinn Féin councillors and other councillors in Louth have done spectacular work through a large number of online meetings. I accept, as others said, that it is far from ideal to be trying to carry out consultation by way of a hybrid mix of online meetings and meetings in the open. I believe the latter were used by Meath County Council. Given the period that we have been through, there were some difficult logistical issues. Nobody wants to see significant extensions for large numbers of development plans to such an extent that they fall out of kilter with each other and cause problems vis-à-vis the national planning framework. We must make sure that does not happen and we must provide the local authorities with the tools to enable them to achieve best practice.

We all accept that there is a need to review the planning mechanisms in this State and examine their impact on the ability of local authorities to carry out building of their own. There is still a considerable amount of red tape that needs to be addressed. We need to streamline processes and get to the point where local authorities take the lead in building the houses that we need, which is affordable by way of affordable mortgages, affordable cost rental and council housing.

It would be remiss of me not to mention a major infrastructure project in my constituency, the Narrow Water bridge, on which Louth County Council will be the lead partner. I welcome the Government's announcement of funding of €3 million through the shared island unit which will be used to deliver the tender process. However, there is a worry with regard to the significant resources that are required to actually deliver this project. Just over five years ago, a proposal was in place and €17.9 million was drawn down from indirect funding and added to moneys provided north and south of the Border. The total funding available was approximately €29 million but that was insufficient to deliver the Narrow Water bridge at that time and the project fell apart. We have had a number of false dawns on this project and we need to ensure that does not happen again. I commend the work that has been carried out on this project by Mr. Gerry Adams, Mr. Arthur Morgan and Mr. Jim Loughran and continued by Ms Sinéad Ennis and Councillor Antóin Waters. We need to make sure that local authorities, combined with every element of government and the Northern Ireland Executive, are in the right place in terms of delivering.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and also that we are providing additional time for the completion of county development plans. These plans are the basis for the planning and development of local authority areas for the next five years so we need to provide local authorities with adequate time to get them right.

We are now in a situation where housing supply is at crisis point. In that context, I have a number of concerns about county development plans and the way land is zoned. As others have said, cities like Cork, Waterford, Galway, Limerick and Dublin cannot be planned or developed in the same way as rural towns and villages or the larger regional towns. My experience in recent years, particularly with regard to the most recent county development plan for Galway, is that the zoning of land is very restrictive. There is not an adequate supply of zoned land for residential development in our towns and villages. This is because zoning decisions must be based on projected population growth. I have found that land is zoned for residential development and is called R1, which is the preference for building on, but for one reason or another that land never becomes available for development. It can be that the owner does not want to sell it or that there are legal issues with the ownership of the land. We are then creating pent-up demand for zoned residential land when we should not be doing so. We should be making sure that we have an ample supply of land available in each town and village so that we can build and not be overly confined. I have come across cases where land has been zoned within a town and on a map it looks perfect for residential development. The only problem is that the site is landlocked, with no safe access into it off a major road. In such situations, that land should not be zoned. When local authorities are working on their county development plans they cannot account for all eventualities and the proportion of land that is zoned for residential use is too low. We need a better supply of such land.

I have a concern about the proposed Land Development Agency, LDA. I do not know why it is being brought into being because it will not be providing the land. I know from my experience in the construction industry that land that is zoned will be built on where it can be built on, if it is viable. The local authorities can deal with that but they need the time to look at this in more detail and to make sure that whatever lands they are zoning can be built on over the next five years.

I welcome the proposal to extend existing planning permission. A lot of projects were held up over the last 18 months because the construction sector was in lockdown. Now we have an opportunity to give the sector the breathing space it needs to carry out its work. The extension of the duration of existing planning permission is to be welcomed. However, I note that this will only apply if work has commenced and "substantial" works have been carried out. What is the proposed definition of substantial works? That might create confusion and if left open to interpretation, it will make it difficult for people when they are trying to get work done. Given the way we have dealt with the construction industry over the last 18 months, we should consider extending the duration of all existing planning permission, whether work has commenced or not. In some cases where people were planning to build a one-off house, for example, they could not get the funding because they could not start the work and they had to reapply for a loan. We must do something to make sure that those who went to a lot of trouble and expense to get planning permission are given ample time to build, regardless of whether the work has started. We are here today talking about housing and about the fact that this is what it is all about. If our policies are right, then everything should fall into place in time.

One other issue that concerns me with regard to county development plans and the way we plan is that there may be an agenda to stop people building in rural areas. In particular, members of farm families are not being allowed to build on their family land. That is wrong. We need to clean that up once and for all and make a clear statement on it. People are concerned about what will emerge from the Minister's review of rural housing.

People should be allowed to build on family land and near their parents. Family support, whether by older or younger people, is what makes many communities. A house built in a rural area adds to the local school, football or hurling club and keeps the community young and vibrant. In saying that, I am not seeking ribbon development or anything like that but we are beginning to rule out the possibility that people can build a house on their family lands, which is wrong. It is wrong because I know from my constituency that our towns and villages cannot accommodate housing as they do not have the necessary infrastructure. They do not have sewerage schemes and, in some cases, they do not have water schemes.

I heard a spokesperson for Irish Water on radio this morning discussing an issue of huge importance, namely, the need to ensure Irish Water is in sync with local authorities in the development of our towns and villages. The spokesman stated Irish Water may not have sufficient services in the peripheries of these towns and villages. I can tell the Minister of State that Craughwell, Corofin, Abbeyknockmoy and other towns and villages in east Galway that I could spend all evening naming do not have municipal wastewater treatment plants. It is not possible to get planning permission to build a house or housing development within these town and village centres. An Bord Pleanála will refuse them on the basis that any development of these centres is premature until there is a municipal wastewater treatment plant in place. We have to tackle that straight away.

We talk a great deal about housing and what is wrong but if we do not arrest the problems in the supply chain that are bedevilling construction, we will have another crisis on our hands. Building contractors cannot build because they cannot get materials or materials are rationed. Prices for building materials have gone sky-high and resources are scarce. When we have people building houses on a fixed price contract for the local authorities and they cannot get a price for materials that will last more than seven days, we have a serious problem on our hands with regard to the viability of the construction sector.

This is not a temporary issue. We must recognise the need to change it. One of the typical examples is timber. Why do we have a shortage and why are prices going up? It is because we made a mess of planning and licensing for the forestry industry. We have created a shortage, which continues because the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine does not have the necessary resources to deal with the licensing applications coming into it.

I am pleased to be here speaking on the legislation and that it has been brought forward. It is well known that there needs to be a step back and that deep breaths need to be taken in forming county development plans, particularly as the national planning framework takes no account of the Covid pandemic or a post-Covid era. We saw a headline in The Irish Times yesterday stating "House prices surge 13% as 'red hot' demand outstrips supply". People are moving to the post-Covid era themselves. They are buying houses that will allow them to work from home, that can accommodate family living and office facilities and for which our current guidelines do not provide.

Planning policy is driving the restriction in supply. Should proposals in the current draft plans be adopted, the supply problem will deteriorate even further. The administration of planning policy and inconsistencies in its application have seen judicial reviews spiral in recent years. This year alone, legal fees at An Bord Pleanála spiralled by 300% to €8.4 million. The inappropriate application of guidelines by the main organs of the State is the primary cause of the problem. Local authority officials regularly misrepresent and misinterpret guidelines, apply them incorrectly and cause situations where certainty does not exist in the planning process. This creates a breeding ground for judicial review proceedings and, ultimately, circumstances in which housing supply is strangled.

Last week, I called for continuous professional development for directors of services for planning and senior planners. I did so as a result of what can only be described as a clear lack of understanding of planning law demonstrated by a director of planning on South East Radio concerning the Wexford county development plan. This morning, I received a call from the chief executive of Wexford County Council. Instead of acknowledging mistakes by the director, he defended the indefensible. It is time that CEOs of local authorities realised that their obligations are to their counties and not the Custom House. The blind application of central government policy without consideration of that policy in a local context is unacceptable.

The refusal of local authorities to respond to correspondence to a Deputy is unacceptable, particularly where such correspondence relates to legislation that is relevant to the work of local authorities. The executives in each county are the expert advisers to their members, yet they refuse to provide a comprehensive range of advice around planning issues to discuss.

The strong-arming of members of local authorities who are blindly led by officials to approve plans that are incomprehensible must stop. This type of behaviour flies in the face of the spirit of this legislation. These issues need to be addressed immediately if further judicial reviews are to be avoided. Development plans informed by misinformation, misinterpretations and guidance from officials that is intended to mislead should be judicially reviewed and those judicial reviews should succeed. For example, this morning in my county, the CEO of Wexford County Council fed me the following lines on our development plan. He advised that the circular of the Minister, dated 21 April, had no impact on the current draft development plan. He said this is only to be considered in the context of an individual planning application. The dogs in the street know that if minimum densities are provided for in the development plan, an individual planning cannot be at odds with that minimum. He also advised that the county council would not have high densities in the development plan for the towns, yet the county development plan provides for such densities. He said he is bound by decision precedents of An Bord Pleanála, yet there is no legal authority for such an assertion. An Bord Pleanála cannot impose a precedent on the will of county councillors in the formation of a development plan. None of the above points holds any muster in justifying provisions for minimum densities in county development plans.

It is our responsibility as elected representatives to call out this practice. The CEO of Wexford County Council advised me this morning that I had no function in contacting the county council about its development plan. I remind him that I am the third elected Deputy in Wexford to represent the people of Wexford. I stand here to act in their best interests. I debate daily in this House the legislation that underpins the basis of the operation of his local authority and the formation of the development plans.

The notion that Deputies should not be entitled to provide oversight regarding the interpretation of legislation or ministerial guidelines when the local authority is patently wrong in its interpretation is bizarre. Furthermore, the idea that county managers refuse to respond to correspondence from Deputies on such matters is an absolute disgrace. Officials need to be held to account. I will be revisiting this issue.

We are spending billions of euro to roll out broadband services to every corner of Ireland. What is the point if we are not going to allow homes to be built? It is incomprehensible. There are many inconsistencies in planning policy and the national planning framework. The 12-month extension will allow for some of those to be remedied. Much of what has happened in the past 18 months means that the national planning framework must be revisited or we will continue to see mistakes being made and no meaningful housing supply in the market. On that basis, I believe I have played my part in ensuring this legislation is now before the House. It is only providing a basis for the county councils to breathe after a difficult year of Zoom-only meetings. People must be allowed to apply for an extension and start the process again or we will continue to raise this matter daily on the floor of the House on a daily basis for some time to come, possibly years.

I will be tabling an amendment to the Bill to allow more flexibility on the extension of existing permissions because what is currently proposed in the teeth of a housing crisis is too restrictive. We cannot let a situation arise where permissions will expire for the want of minor amendments to this proposed legislation.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation. While Sinn Féin supports the Bill, we also think it fails to address many of the larger problems and issues that plague our planning process and slow down housing developments. Local authority county development plans must be the primary documents, as councils are democratically elected and accountable to the local community. It is infuriating to see their authority being diminished and their powers bypassed over time as key decisions continue to be transferred to An Bord Pleanála. From my work with the Committee of Public Accounts, we have evidence that An Bord Pleanála is inundated with planning applications, particularly around strategic housing development zones. Judicial reviews are causing substantial delays and costing a fortune. We must ask why applications containing proposals for more than 100 units are being diverted to An Bord Pleanála when an application can take more than a year to get approval. That slows down the process when local authorities can sign off on applications, in theory, in eight weeks. It is not unusual for that to be done in 12, 13 or 14 weeks. Local authorities can sign off on developments within two months.

The evidence shows that there are major backlogs in the planning process at a time when we desperately need to free up more land for housing. The simple reality is that we need more land and more houses available as private, social and affordable housing for people to purchase and rent. The current rate of progress is too slow. Sinn Féin wants to see it accelerated.

Local authorities need to implement the vacant site levy more vigorously. Serious pressure needs to be put on developers and others to free up land they are holding for housing. Last year, councils in Ireland were owed €21.5 million in vacant site levies and collected just €21,000. I received a reply to a parliamentary question from the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage in February that confirmed Laois and Offaly county councils had not collected anything. Many other councils throughout the country, the vast majority of them, had not collected anything. The levy is clearly not working and does not serve as a deterrent to free up land that is badly needed for housing. Developers are holding land, waiting for prices to increase, while families wait for homes. That is the stark reality. We also need to ask whether the 7% maximum annual levy is high enough to act as a deterrent.

Sinn Féin wants to see power returned to local authority members and not the executive to drive planning development in their own areas. Councillors will do that if they are allowed to. We need to speed up the planning process through decentralisation and good, sustainable planning. We must impose serious levies on developers who are holding onto vacant sites, sitting on them and waiting for their value to increase.

I welcome the two-year extension for existing planning permissions. However, I have concerns about other parts of the Bill because many people were unable to build houses during the pandemic. There is now a lack of materials and the prices of them are excessive. Everything is on the rise.

There is also an issue relating to people who were employed before the pandemic and had mortgage approval. Some of those people are unemployed at the moment and are now going back to the banks and asking for mortgages. They are now starting the process again and that is delaying matters. Some of those people are already two, three or four years into their five-year planning permissions. Historically, if someone could not complete the building of a house, he or she could extend planning permission for five years and roll it over. In light of the 2040 plan, people are panicking and trying to get planning permissions in rural areas, including towns and villages. Some people are not yet ready to build but, because they have partners and want to get married, they may be waiting and saving money. The clock is against those people and the two-year extension does not go far enough. On the other hand, other people who are in development are waiting on sites. People looking for local authority or private residential houses are sitting on their sites. We must have a case-by-case approach and let the county council decide who can get the extension to planning permission and who cannot, depending on the particulars before the council.

People are saving for mortgages. They must have one year of savings, after the pandemic. They must prove they have those savings before they can apply for a mortgage. They must then go through the process of trying to get a mortgage and then go through the process of building a house. I have been self-employed all my life. I have been working in the building sector since I was 15 years of age. I am now an employer. I have seen the changes that occurred in housing from the early 1990s onwards. One aspect that is changing almost annually is the cost of building in a rural area for people who are no burden on the local authorities or Irish Water. The sites I am talking about have their own water source and sewerage tanks, yet the people who are building are being charged between €5,000 and 8,000 to build houses on their own lands. What do they get in return? Nothing. They are contributing to the local library, footpaths and infrastructure in their areas. What if one is living in an area where there are no footpaths or libraries? Some people are lucky if there is a shop in their local area. Nothing is being put into the infrastructure of rural areas, yet people in these areas are paying the most.

We see now that a carbon tax will be added. The people who will pay the most in this country will be the 37% of the population living in towns, villages and rural areas. That is the case because they have no infrastructure, must drive everywhere, and will, therefore, be paying the most for carbon emissions. Should we not have some incentive whereby people who are living in towns, villages and rural areas, and have had no investment in infrastructure, get a tax break? The people living in the cities, who take all the funding, should have to pay more. The people in rural areas, towns and villages should be reimbursed through taxes as an incentive so they might get proper infrastructure in their areas.

They are no burden on the State but we are being charged hand over fist for everything we do. There are charges for the local bus to get our kids to school because there is no infrastructure. Now, we are being charged by the local authorities, set out under environmental laws that exist in this country for putting in septic tanks and building sites. We now have to pay in excess of €5,000 and get nothing in return.

I am grateful for this opportunity to speak. First of all, I commend, congratulate and welcome the work that is being done by local authority members, obviously starting off in County Kerry. I appreciate, however, the good work that is done by county councillors in formulating county development plans and local area plans. An lot of the work is unheard of but it is very important work in their localities. Regardless of whatever political breed or party or whatever they are, I do not care about that, I thank them for their work and their efforts.

I want to speak to some of what is contained in this Bill but also what is not contained in it. Section 7 of the Bill regarding extensions, for example, is, of course, welcome. If there are genuine cases because of Covid-19 and Covid-related issues whereby planning needs to be extended, of course, that should be supported, which is why I support the Bill. In doing that, however, there are questions, for example, regarding quarries that have been affected and issues they had because of a need for extensions to their times. Where is the provision in this Bill for them? In saying that, as I always do in matters such as this, I wish to declare that I may be considered to have an interest in this because of family interests with machinery and such.

Material is not in this Bill that should be. I want to talk about An Bord Pleanála, for example. An Bord Pleanála can send out an inspector to look at a development, which could be anything. It could be somewhere housing is badly needed in a built-up area or it could be a one-off house. That inspector, in his or her wisdom, for instance, might write up a positive report. That inspector may be the only person to have looked at the development. That person might then go to a meeting with An Bord Pleanála. I want to dispel this in case people think An Bord Pleanála is a very organised group; it most certainly is not. These are ad hoc meetings, which are held at its members' own convenience, at some time in the evening when their other jobs are finished. They sit down in some gathering where three people might be at the meeting, for instance, the inspector who wrote a positive report and maybe two others, who would never have gone to see the development. They might have only barely scratched or glimpsed the inspector's report. They come along and vote against the development and the person is refused and denied his or her planning.

How many projects has An Bord Pleanála held up in this country over the years? How much hurt and harm has it done? How much longer are we going to stand idly by and watch people with vested interests in trying to stop, hold up and get at people? How long are we going to allow that type of activity to continue? By God, I know one thing; it will have to stop.

As for family members who want to build on family farms, I do not see anything in this Bill about protecting those people. When we speak about changing planning rules and guidelines, we should be enhancing and protecting the rights of people to live in the countryside. Of course, it is important to see our villages being built up and strengthened. I welcome Government policy that enhances and supports this. I welcome the fact that local authorities are promoting and encouraging people. In many cases, however, we do not have sewerage schemes. In places like Kenmare, we need an extension to our scheme and we are allowing no development there until that happens. In Caherdaniel, raw sewage is flowing into the river. The same is true in many other villages. How can we encourage people to live in places like that when we do not have sewerage schemes to take the sewage that will be created by the extra growth?

I thank and compliment the people who did great work back over the years, such as James Connolly of the Irish Rural Dwellers Association and our own James Doyle from Beaufort, who was a backbone of the Irish Rural Dwellers Association. That group was set up to encourage and promote living in rural areas, which is something I would always encourage and try to support.

Where is the attack on the serial objectors, who do nothing good with their lives except to sit at home playing with computers and throwing out their miserable €20 to object to people's hopes, dreams and aspirations? Where are they when it comes? People in County Kerry have died and gone to their graves without seeing their family members build on their family farms, all because of horrible objectors.

We have three more Deputies to try to get in, namely, Deputies Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Collins and Mattie McGrath.

I am glad to get the opportunity to speak to this very important Bill, which provides for an extension of two or more years for developments that may not have been completed and where coronavirus caused buildings to be held up. Certainly, we must ensure that there is an extension of at least two years.

We have many problems in County Kerry with regard to planning and building houses. While Dublin has its problems, we have our own different problems in Kerry. We have designations such as urban-generated pressure, which is to prevent people from a town or village building outside the town or village. On top of that, it hurts the people who have lived in those areas all their lives. Only family members can get permission in these urban-generated pressure zones. Someone could have lived next door all their life and been brought up there. That person will not be considered for permission at all, even if he or she gets a site from his or her neighbour, friend or whoever at a reasonable price. That person is condemned to building or buying in a town or village where the prices are exorbitant. That is the truth in Killarney, Tralee, Dingle and other places. People cannot go outside the town or village where they could get a site. This is hurting ordinary couples who just want to put a roof over their heads.

Another core group of people are also being denied. Villages such as Brosna, Asdee, Scartaglin, Castleisland and Currow have no sewerage scheme. It is a pity for Deputies to break up or change guard in the middle of one's presentation. Many villages and towns do not have a sewerage scheme. Yet, the regulator is saying people cannot build one-off houses in the country but must build them in the town. Places such as Beaufort have no sewerage plant. As I said, we also have places like Currow. None of those villages can expand or develop because they do not even have a sewerage scheme.

The regulator is telling people and the local authority that it cannot allow one-off houses here or there, and puts in special designations. That is very unfair and hard on people because they have no options. The Minister must realise that. Perhaps the Minister does not realise that because he is a Dublin Deputy, and that is fine. He does not, however, understand what is happening in County Kerry when the regulator comes down. Why even have councillors in the Killorglin municipal area? They zoned two or three acres for Mick O'Connell - the most famous footballer of all time. They granted him zoning to build three houses. The regular came down and did not even send a message. It does not even know where Valentia Island is and it stopped him building and zoning the land, for which the councillors voted. That is very wrong. I say, either zone plenty of land or do not zone any land. Let every planning application stand on its own two feet.

I thank my colleagues for giving me time to speak to this Bill. I have been vocal over recent weeks in the Dáil with regard to planning. The Minister's extension is something I support. Planning in my constituency now is an absolute no-go area, however.

It is an outrageous attack on the young people who are trying to get planning permission in different areas in west Cork. They are trying to get on with their life and, as I said to the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, last week, they do not want to be any burden on the State. They want to apply for planning permission, get a mortgage, build their home and live happily in rural Ireland. Instead, due to Government policy, they are continually being refused planning permission for whatever farcical reason. There is no genuine reason for refusing permission, certainly not an architectural or environmental one. It is a scenic landscape and, as I said to the Minister of State last week, some of the houses people want to build cannot even be seen.

I wish the new county mayor, who is from west Cork, and the Cork city mayor, who were elected last week, the very best of luck. I ask both of them to sit down with the planning authority and elected representatives, start working for the people and give them the opportunity they deserve to start the rest of their lives. They do now want to be a burden, as I said, but they are being shoved into cities, where there is no issue with building skyscrapers. We see the scandalous construction that went on at the back of the convention centre. There is no question of a doubt that people can build as many apartments as they want. I do not know where the environmental or architectural aspect comes into it. It is a nightmare and I do not know what An Taisce is doing.

I will keep fighting the case for the people of rural Ireland and west Cork. They deserve the opportunity to get planning permission, whether they are from Ballinadee or Ballydehob. I plead with the Minister of State to work with us instead of against us. We need to look at what was done before, when village nuclei provisions gave people in small communities an opportunity of building. The time should be invested in considering that type of provision under the Cork county development plan, but it is not happening at the moment. We will have to fight for it. We need enough public representatives to stand up and deal with this issue as we go on.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing my colleagues and me to switch around. We thought there was a second round of speaking slots. These Bills are being rushed through. It is always near the end of the term that they come into the House. The Wednesday night guillotine, with all Stages being taken, is not good enough. This Bill has serious implications for every man, woman and child in the country who wants a house, including the many noble people who need a house from their local authority. They are entitled to that, but those houses are not being built either.

The establishment of rural planning commissions is very important. The role of An Bord Pleanála is hugely important. However, the role of An Taisce as a prescribed body under the planning Acts should be removed. There are concerns around the Office of the Planning Regulator. We never had such a role until quite recently. The CEO must be very fond of me because he has written to me approximately six times asking me to meet him. Deputy Verona Murphy and her group met with people from his office and had many issues with them. We did not need an Office of the Planning Regulator. It is another quango with a brass plate beside the front door and a nice set-up of staff. The CEO is diminishing the role of the county councils.

I am shocked and aghast at what is happening in Cahir. My daughter, Máirín, is a representative of the town on Tipperary County Council and, week in and week out, the development plan is being reviewed. There is workshop after workshop. You would think they were building houses inside in the workshops. Nothing is held out in the open. When I was on the county council, fortunately, all our meetings, other than one annual meeting for a financial workshop, were held in public and open to the press. Why the secrecy and the cloak and dagger?

The Cahir town plan was finished a couple of months ago. Many residents in the Mountain View Drive and Mountain Road area made submissions on that plan. It was decided to dezone 50 ha out of the 60 ha that were to be zoned, leaving only 10 ha. I was involved with many landowners there who have wanted to develop community-type voluntary housing and everything else for the past 15 years. They could not do so because of the poor standard of the Mountain Road, which is too narrow and has no access road. There is still no access road. It was included in a previous plan but has been taken out under the new Cahir plan.

Hey presto, the council came along last week, after four weeks, and made a new announcement about the Cahir development plan. There is a public meeting in the town this coming Thursday evening, which means I will not be in the House, to discuss the council's proposal to build 43 houses on the green area in Mountain View Drive. It wants to build on the green playing fields, while 50 ha elsewhere were dezoned. This is madness and it flies in the face of all the refusals and rebuttals the council gave to people wanting to build private houses. No development was allowed to come down Mountain Road and it still cannot. An ambulance got stuck there last week. I salute Niamh Killeen and the others who organised the meeting for this Thursday. They all made submissions on the Cahir town plan but were ignored. Where is the democracy in that process? It is not fit for purpose.

Cormack Drive in Nenagh underwent development some years ago under the provisions of Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, but it was never properly finished. In fact, as I recall, that development was done under Part 8 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, as amended. The residents were forced to take a court case in the past year because it was not concluded. A silence has since descended because the court case has ended and there was a vow of secrecy by the people who took it. The council messed around and did not complete the Part 8 process properly. Now, without admitting liability, it is saying, "Come on, lads, we will pay the expenses if you go away." This is no way to treat people and communities. Good people live in those housing estates and they want to have them kept right, not see building happening on every bit of green land, especially at a time when so much land is being dezoned. I do not know what is going on.

I know the Green Party and others have a big issue about rezoning but, as Deputy Danny Healy-Rae said, why is some land not being left rezoned, instead of pushing everything in together? The Office of the Planning Regulator is insisting on massive-density developments, which have proved disastrous in the past. I am aghast to hear Deputy Verona Murphy say that the county manager in Wexford told her she had no authority to make any submission on, or have any input into, the county development plan. Under the abolition of the dual mandate, we, as Oireachtas Members, are allowed to have full access. We cannot go to meetings but we can attend them and speak at them. The county managers do not want us there because we might take too much information back to the councillors.

I thank the Deputy. On behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, I would like to say he is not a Dublin man but a proud Kilkenny man. He has fairly sound rural credentials as well.

I am sharing time with Deputy Leddin. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, and his officials for the time they took to brief us on the Bill and for the briefing notes they supplied. If it gives colleagues comfort, the joint Oireachtas committee agreed unanimously to waive pre-legislative scrutiny on the Bill. We also wrote to the Irish Planning Institute and the Royal Town Planning Institute Ireland seeking their views on the Bill. We will supply Members with those responses when we receive them.

I support the provisions in the Bill. Where local authorities have difficulty in completing their development plans, it makes sense to allow them some further time to do so. I ask that a clear briefing be provided to locally elected members on the grounds under which such extensions will be permitted. On the question of extending planning permissions that have already been extended, I understand there are only a few permissions that could avail of that provision. There should be an upper limit and each case should be carefully judged. The continual extension of planning permissions does not generally serve the planning process well. Nevertheless, the Bill broadly displays that the planning system can be flexible when required in addressing pressing issues.

There has been much discussion in recent times about a review of the planning system and the need for a planning and environment court. Such a forum may be required to ensure legal matters are addressed in a timely manner. However, planning decisions should be made by professional planners, not, as we are increasingly seeing, by judges. It is my view that the strategic housing development, SHD, planning process has really undermined the planning process. We need to restore faith in the planning system among communities. The system is very democratic. We elect councillors who craft local area plans and members of the community are able to make submissions on those plans. Planning applications are assessed based on the plan and it is open to anybody to make an observation on an application, whether positive or negative. If people do not like the decision that is made, or a condition in it, they have the opportunity to appeal it to An Bord Pleanála. The process is open, democratic and clearly provided for in legislation.

However, as I said, we have damaged the trust in the system by attempts to bypass the local level of consultation by way of strategic housing developments. The development plan is a contract between the people, their councillors and the local authority that sets out how a community will develop. When large-scale, high-density developments are proposed that far exceed what was agreed in the development plan, it is only to be expected that residents will be concerned. When they feel the contract has been broken and their only recourse is judicial review, then it can only be expected that we will see an increase in such reviews. It must be said that some SHDs are at densities that are needed and are located in the right places. Some are not, however, and they amount purely to developer speculation. I understand the concerns of locals when faced with such proposals because, often, the large-scale delivery of houses is not matched with other services. We prioritise the necessary services such as water, waste, power and roads but we often see no increase in public transport or school places and only token green spaces provided.

The planning process must be about building homes, communities and nice places to live, not just achieving targets on housing numbers. If we are serious about building 33,000 houses a year, we need to restore faith in the planning system and ensure adequate resources for our local authority planners. It is about the creation of living cities and strong communities. We must provide for ownership of urban apartments, not just investor-owned blocks. We must provide support and encouragement to renovate and refurbish town centres and place greater emphasis on infill and brownfield development.

We must focus on Town Centre First, living over the shops and have all that accompanied by investment in the public realm, social amenities easily accessible by safe active travel and high frequency, reliable and comfortable public transport. The Green Party will bring forward further measures and legislation to achieve those objectives to complement and improve on the thousands of houses we will deliver through the LDA Bill and the affordable housing Bill. I look forward to working with the Minister and his officials to deliver on those objectives.

The Ceann Comhairle got there before me to defend the honour of the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, as a proud Kilkenny man. I echo Deputy Michael Healy-Rae in commending councillors up and down the country for the work they have been doing in the last year around development plans. My own colleagues in Limerick, Councillors Sasha Novak and Sean Hartigan, have done really quite extraordinary work in the last few months, poring over thousands of pages of documents. I commend also the officials in Limerick City and County Council who have done really stellar work to get us to this point.

Proper planning is important. It impacts on how our society is shaped and our quality of life in our local communities, while also ensuring our environment and natural and built heritage is protected. Development plans are important. We must celebrate the fact that, although the pandemic caused delays, we managed to continue our development planning processes and effectively gave voice to so many citizens who wanted to have a say about what their vision for their local communities was and how it could be realised. We have learned a lot about the potential of online communications over the last year and a half. It has quite simply transformed and in some ways sustained our lives. It will never replace face to face encounters but for the public sector, it has sped up the transition to a digital-first approach to public consultation. There is a strength in diversity and we must hear all voices in our communities. Our efforts to make it easier for people to make submissions electronically expands the level of community engagement that can be achieved. We must take care that people of all ages, genders and abilities are included in the process and ensure those who cannot or do not want to engage electronically are facilitated through more traditional processes like written submissions and face to face meetings. Our public libraries, which have continued to play an invaluable public service role in local communities during the pandemic, have an opportunity to facilitate this.

I welcome this planning and development Bill. It offers an appropriate time extension to both the development plan process and to planning permissions while requiring that screening and environmental assessment takes place where a delay would result in impact on the environment. The limited provision for extensions to those processes are prudent given the challenges posed by this pandemic and the vital importance of our development plans and the process involved in their drafting. I welcome the emphasis on environmental assessment in this Bill and that delays to development plans and planning permissions are only granted after appropriate environmental screening and assessment. In my county of Limerick, the draft development plan was published this week. There was a very encouraging and enthusiastic level of community engagement with the issues paper in the pre-draft stage of the public consultation and this engagement is invaluable. People understand the need for proper planning for the future. We are getting better at enforcing our obligations to future generations and we must continue to improve. Indeed, the onus is very much on us.

Finally, I welcome the significant legislative efforts of the Minister and his Department in this term. My colleague, Deputy Matthews, who has just spoken, has been working diligently with his colleagues on the housing committee dealing with a significant volume of legislation coming from the Minister's Department. I look forward to further engagement with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the Ministers of State, Deputies Noonan and Peter Burke, in the months ahead on the ambitious programme of work they have set out for themselves.

We are all aware Covid has had an impact on every part of our lives and the issue of planning is no exception. Throughout the pandemic we have seen a delay in construction. At a time when our housing crisis is reaching peak levels, this delay has made an already terrible situation as far as housing availability is concerned even worse. Covid has definitely shone a light on the shortcomings of our housing system. Lessons must be learned from this. This Government must learn fine words are not enough. Making grand promises on housing provision when the record of this Government does not back up those promises is disingenuous at best. Despite this we see this Government take the issue of housing as something to play games with the Opposition about. I say this because this is a significant piece of legislation. It is important legislation that deserves more time for consideration and more time for public debate. While time is of the essence, the Government had the chance to introduce this Bill earlier but chose instead to rush it through.

I must acknowledge that Covid has presented us with a situation in which the needs of people have been impacted by either delays or cancellations. That is why extensions to existing planning permissions is a measure that is needed. However, this must be done carefully. Sinn Féin proposed amendments that would prevent the possibility of planning hoarding by some who may seek to take advantage of these measures. Covid has changed the way we work, communicate and conduct domestic and business affairs. Aspects of those changes may stay with us. This is where extensions to county development plans may be needed by certain local authorities to deal with the new and emerging situation. Tipperary County Council is a case in point. There is a general feeling among members of the council that more time is needed to deal with the needs of people whose way of life and way of doing business will be left out of the plan. Working from home is a matter people particularly want reflected in the development plan for County Tipperary. The world has changed and we must change with it. Sinn Féin went to pains in the Seanad and in amendments to point out that when extensions of this nature are being given we must recognise the potential impacts with other county development plans, the national planning framework, regional guidelines and spatial strategies. That is why Sinn Féin queried the basis of the date up until which the provisions on extending existing county development plans would have effect. We also submitted amendments to ensure the extensions comply with climate change demands, so while I welcome more time being made available to get the county development plan process right, it would have been more appropriate to give Members of this House more time to debate the finer points.

I also point out we continue to have an underfunded local authority system. We have housing lists that shame the political system here. We have estates like Rocksprings in Kilross, County Tipperary, which Tipperary County Council cannot take in charge because the national agreement between Irish Water and the local authorities does not allow the council to do so. Tipperary County Council applied to the Department for funding to resolve the issue but its bid was unsuccessful. These are just some of the many issues that must be addressed. They are issues which remain and which are consistently not being resolved. We will support this Bill but the Government really needs to be more open about its intention towards legislation such as this. Leaving it so late and expecting it to be rushed through unquestioned is not the right approach to take.

Deputy Ó Cuív is not with us. Deputy Pringle is next.

Here we are with yet another piece of rushed legislation, this time the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2021. The Bill has not undergone pre-legislative scrutiny and was rushed through the Seanad last week and yesterday. While I completely understand that it is necessary to work around the situation Covid-19 created, the reality is that shortcuts are being taken and we do not yet know what impact they will have on our planning laws. The Bill before us was aimed at amending the Planning and Development Act 2000 because of the disruptions caused by the pandemic. Covid-19 lockdowns closed businesses, construction and offices with many industries and services moving to working remotely where possible. Apparently because of the pandemic local authorities and planning authorities will now require more time for the completion of existing development plans or the making of new ones. The new section 9A of the Bill will provide for one year for local authorities' development plans to be reviewed, prepared and made and this provision will apply until 1 January 2024.

While the Minister is introducing legislation on the development plans of local authorities and planning authorities, I plead with him once again to direct that protection and surveying of possible burial sites be undertaken by local authorities across the country. The Minister is aware I have been raising the matter with him directly and also with his colleague, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman. The Minister's most recent reply to my parliamentary question on how possible burial sites and sites of historical significance will be protected in county development plans was inadequate. His response from last week states:

I refer to my previous response...which sets out the statutory position in relation to the matter raised.

Subsequent to that, on 8 June 2021, I received correspondence from my colleague the Minister for Children and Equality drawing my attention to particular actions as set out in the Commission of Investigation’s report. Implementation of the actions identified is a matter for the relevant local authorities.

With specific reference to county and city development plans, the preparation of these plans is a core function of each planning authority and must be undertaken in accordance with the provisions of the Planning and Development Act 2000. I am satisfied that there are provisions in the Planning and Development Act which enable local authorities in their role as planning authorities, to take a precautionary approach where there is any evidence of burial sites and to properly safeguard any such sites from potentially harmful development and am currently considering how best to give effect to this.

On 27 May, during Priority Questions, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, stated the following in response to my question:

... the Government has committed to a strategic action plan encompassing a wide-ranging suite of 22 actions. These actions include advancing legislation to support the excavation, exhumation and dignified reburial of remains where interments are manifestly inappropriate and where their preservation in their current location would not be the right policy response. It has also committed to engaging with former residents and their advocacy groups on the question of appropriate, dignified local memorialisation of burial sites. These actions reflect the complexity of the issue and the need to respond carefully according to the specific circumstances of each case. My officials consulted with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage when we were preparing the action plan in response to the final report of the commission and will continue to engage with the Department in respect of the development and implementation of the strategic action plan.

In our back and forth, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman also stated:

I made a submission in respect of two planning applications on the lands of the Bessborough mother and baby institution. These applications were rejected by Cork City Council and An Bord Pleanála respectively. I will continue to engage with all relevant Departments with regard to this question. I was not aware that the Deputy's question specifically related to the issue of development plans but that is absolutely appropriate and I will engage further with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Does the Minister for Housing, Local Government Heritage agree that it should not be up to elected representatives, survivors, family members and concerned citizens to watch over burial sites and alert relevant authorities when planning permission is sought or a building is demolished? A developer sought to build apartments at the Bessborough site in Cork and at the beginning of June I wrote to both Ministers, Deputies O'Gorman and Darragh O'Brien, about my concerns that the orphanage at Fahan in Donegal was being demolished as well. It seems works are ongoing and the building was demolished over the first weekend in June. I asked both Ministers, given the importance of preserving possible burial sites, to intervene immediately in order to have an archaeological survey undertaken. My office contacted the relevant officials in Donegal, the company and anybody else who could be contacted and we had significant correspondence on the matter. The demolition of the orphanage had been brought to my attention by a representative of a survivors' group who was himself a survivor of the home.

Why would the Government and local authorities compound the pain of survivors and those who lost family members because of these homes and institutions? It is the question. We should proactively examine sites and undertake the necessary surveys, preservation and studies. The State cannot continue to bury the truth, waiting for spokespersons and survivors to become too tired and jaded to fight for justice. That is what appears to be happening, although it may not be exactly the attention. The Irish people are behind survivors and I am behind them. I call on the Minister to issue a very simple direction that these sites must be protected and preserved. It is the least we can do as a State and Government.

If the Minister is already working with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth on other legislation, why would he not take this opportunity to put the protection of these sites on a statutory footing? It is very important. The Minister could bring forward emergency legislation to grant extensions due to Covid-19 disruptions but it seems he cannot do something small and important to make a tangible difference for survivors. That is what it looks like. With sites where planning permission has already been granted that may be on or near grounds of historical significance, this extension should be used to ensure proper archaeological surveys are taken. This is an opportunity to stand for the truth and with survivors. This is not just for photo opportunities for social media accounts and there is a responsibility on us and the Government to act.

Everybody understands that planning is devolved to local authorities and that each authority has a role in this respect. Local authorities are cognisant of the fact that if a Department wants an authority to pay attention to the matter in a county development plan, it would carry much weight. Unfortunately, it seems to carry much more weight than local people getting on to authorities to raise such matters. The Minister could play an important role in this regard. It would not cost the Government or the State anything to do it but it would send a signal to those local authorities. I cannot remember the exact number of local authorities but there are so many different county development plans. It is not fair to expect survivors and others to ensure every county development plan reflects such concerns. The State and the Government can do it. This is a very important matter and I hope the Minister will address it.

Those are my comments. We were supposed to have another couple of speakers from my group but as they have not appeared, I will leave it at that.

I appreciate Deputy Pringle raising those matters. It is not specifically referenced in this Bill but I have contacted Cork County Council over a number of months and been working with the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, on the question of historical burial sites. Everybody wants to be able to help and do what we can in helping survivors, bearing in mind the awful time they and their families have had, as well as those who have been bereaved. I corresponded with Cork authorities quite some time ago. Taking the Deputy's point on board, we are working with conjunction with the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. I am not being evasive in any way, shape or form in saying we need a co-ordinated approach. It is a very important matter. I am doing and certainly will continue to do everything I can to help in that regard. I will do what I can legally and appropriately under my remit. In light of his contribution, I will revert to the Deputy formally on that matter.

I thank Deputies for their contributions. I know the Business Committee agreed to waive pre-legislative scrutiny on the Bill and I do not intend to make a habit of asking it to do that. I note the points made by Deputy Ó Broin and other colleagues in that regard.

I will reference some of the points made. It is not, as some Members have argued, a blanket extension of planning processes. One must apply for an extension for planning permission granted and the planning authority in the area would decide whether it is appropriate on the basis of a permission being substantially completed. We allow that discretion at each local authority level. There is no question of a blanket approach.

A couple of Members raised the question of potential hoarding of permissions but I genuinely do not see that occurring. There is a clear stipulation that works must be substantially complete. In such a case, I do not see a position where one could continue rolling on the permission process. This is very much in response to Covid-19 and there have been genuine delays in the completion of works. We will come back to a number of these points on Committee Stage, which I expect will happen next week.

The county development plans are a reserved function of the county and city councillors, who are elected members, and I will leave it to each of them the question of extension and the criteria that they will use to decide if their development plan has been affected. We have been dealing with 14 different local authorities about various different matters in the development plan process. Some may choose not to take up the extension, and they can do that, but others have found it particularly problematic for members.

I recognise the work done by all councillors across all parties and none not just on development plans over the period of the pandemic but in all the other work they do. Sometimes, it is thankless work and they are really the tip of the spear for local government in their areas, towns and villages all over the country. The measures around development plans are really to give them choice and the process is for the local authority. Should a simple majority of councillors decide that a plan is to be extended for one year, it can be done.

I have taken some detailed notes on the contributions. Deputy Ó Broin asked specifically about section 181. That came from a request from the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and his officials. It relates to strategically important energy infrastructure and the potential to ensure we have energy security, particularly into the winter. I can provide a specific note from him on that but it particularly concerns power generation. There are two major gas-fired power stations that are currently not operating at capacity and we just need to ensure that if there are any issues in winter, we have the potential to bring in temporary energy generation facilities.

That is what the section 181 exemption is there for, and the ministerial order, in case of accident and emergency. We obviously hope that we do not have to exercise this exemption, but it is prudent that it is there. I will provide the Deputy with a specific note on that tomorrow.

I thank Members for their contributions and for their support for the provisions of the Bill. I have taken note of the matters raised and I will come back on some of those issues when the Bill is on Committee and Remaining Stages.

Question put and agreed to.