I sincerely thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to discuss this issue, which arises when community groups, particularly those in rural communities, come together in a voluntary capacity to develop community facilities. There should be an open door policy on the part of the Departments down to the local authorities in regard to developments proposed by community groups. From my experience, it has been very frustrating for community groups in the way they engage with the planning regulations.
They have to jump through hoops to get planning for a community group or very small community facility. There is so much red tape. Much of the time community groups come together and have no resources. They look for funding from other mechanisms to try to fund projects. They must come up with matching funding, whether from volunteer labour or from the communities themselves by having to raise funds, which is a difficult thing to do.
They see the regulations they must go through in terms of environmental and ecological consultants. In terms of planning itself, reports by architects, who much of the time, may be working voluntarily for the community, must be provided but, on top of that, professional reports by archaeologists, ecologists and so forth must also be provided. They are hugely cumbersome for community groups.
Community groups come together to try to do something in a meaningful way and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, which oversees planning, should recognise that they should be encouraged. There should be a clear pathway as to how they do their business and how they are accommodated within the planning system.
We are not talking about willy-nilly planning or anything like that. We are talking about planning for community groups. We quite often see their frustration when they are met with large bills when to try to get consultants in to do something that is minuscule in the overall planning scheme of things. The Department should look at this and there should be priority in terms of small community groups planning relatively small developments. There should be a clear policy.
Departments are well used to issuing guidelines to local authorities and asking them to look at things. Clear guidelines should be issued by the Department on how to address and encourage these community groups. They are putting in facilities for everybody. Only for these community groups coming together in a voluntary capacity, many of these facilities would never be built. They come together but end up not having a clear pathway and being frustrated by the system. It is time the Department looked at it and issued clear guidelines for the entire the country, not just for rural Ireland but for urban Ireland as well in order that specific reference is made to volunteer and community groups which are providing for their greater community.