That Dáil Éireann approves the following Regulations in draft:
Planning and Development Act 2000 (Exempted Development) (Number 2) Regulations 2022,
a copy of which has been laid in draft form before Dáil Éireann on 23rd March, 2022.
I welcome the opportunity to present these proposed Planning and Development Act (Exempted Development) (No. 2) Regulations 2022 to the Deputies today. They are aimed at amending provisions in the principal Planning and Development Regulations 2001 concerning development that is exempt from the requirement to obtain planning permission.
Under the Planning Acts, each House of the Oireachtas is required to approve draft planning regulations relating to exempted development by way of positive resolution before they can be made by me, as Minister of State.
As the Deputies will be very much aware, the Planning and Development Act 2000 (Section 181) Regulations, which were enacted in March 2020, currently ensure any temporary facilities required to respond to the Covid-19 emergency can be developed, without the need for planning consent, for the temporary period of the emergency. These facilities include hospitals, isolation units, step-down facilities, testing centres and vaccination centres.
The duration of the 2020 planning regulations is linked to Part 3 of the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 and as such will expire on 31 March 2022, when this Act ceases to have effect. When the 2020 planning regulations expire, the exemptions provided for will no longer apply, and any developments listed in the Schedule will become subject to the normal provisions of the Planning and Development Act 2000.
Community testing centres and community vaccination centres have been and remain an ongoing cornerstone of the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Accessibility to these centres for people living around Ireland is an ongoing necessity and ensures people can access these fundamentally important services.
Notwithstanding the expiry of the main Covid-19 emergency response legislation, the Department of Health has confirmed the HSE is required to continue to operate testing and vaccination centres in the months beyond the end of March. The proposed Planning and Development Act 2000 (Exempted Development) (No. 2) Regulations 2022 will replace the existing Planning and Development Act 2000 (Section 181) Regulations. The replacement regulations are more limited in scope and relate to vaccination and testing centres only.
The draft regulations amend class 20 of Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the principal planning regulation to allow the HSE to temporarily use specific existing public building as public vaccine and infection testing centres without having to apply for change of use planning permission. Following consultation with the HSE, the buildings to which this applies comprise schools, colleges, universities, training centres, social centres, community centres, non-residential clubs, art galleries, museums, libraries, reading rooms, sports clubs, stadiums, gymnasiums, hotels, convention centres, conference centres, shops, Defence Forces barracks, light industrial buildings, airport operational buildings, wholesale warehouses or repositories, local authority administrative offices or any structure normally used for public worship or religious instruction. I am advised the HSE aims to ensure people have access to a testing centre within a 45-minute drive of their residence, a figure which is currently in excess of 90%. The inclusion of a broad list of buildings in the Schedule will facilitate the continuation of the HSE's Covid-19 vaccination and testing programmes without interruption. It is important the HSE can provide access to testing centres in as many locations as possible so that, if needed, people have access to them as close as possible to their homes.
I point out that the draft regulations do not propose to provide a blanket exemption. The following specific conditions or limitations will apply to the proposed exemption. The change of use is limited to a period of up to 12 months, and the exemption only applies to a change of use for the purposes of preventing and alleviating the risk to public health posed by the spread of specific infectious diseases listed in the Infectious Diseases Regulations 1981, for example, Covid-19.
It is proposed that the draft regulations will expire two years following commencement. If a further use of buildings as testing or vaccination centres is anticipated after the two-year period, the normal planning application procedures for change of use should be followed. In addition, any change of use will be subject to general restrictions on exemptions set out in the planning Act or regulations. For example, the change of use shall not be exempted if an environmental impact assessment or an appropriate assessment is required.
I commend these draft regulations to the House. I look forward to hearing the contributions of Deputies. Given their importance and the benefits arising from them, I very much hope the regulations will receive approval from the House.