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Thursday, 15 Feb 2007

Planning and Development Regulations 2007: Motion.

The committee will now consider the motion referred to it by both Houses on 31 January 2007 to the effect that Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann approve the Planning and Development Regulations 2007, copies of which were laid in draft form before Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann on 25 January 2007.

On behalf of the committee I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, and his officials to this meeting. I propose that following the Minister of State's introduction and briefing, committee members will be invited to speak on the motion. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I congratulate Deputy Cregan on his appointment as Chairman of the committee and wish him well in his deliberations. I have no doubt that he will be an excellent Chairman and that the committee will be enriched by his chairmanship.

I thank the members of the committee for setting aside time today to discuss what I and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government consider to be very important amendments to the planning code, which are set out in the draft Planning and Development Regulations 2007. We propose these amendments at a time of renewed international focus on the environment agenda.

These amendments provide a perfect example of how economic well-being and a strong commitment to our environment can complement one another. That economic growth must always come at a cost to environmental standards is a lazy yet frequently voiced assumption on environmental issues. The recent Stern report has rightly shifted the focus of the debate onto the economic costs of inaction. The actions we are taking, and will take, to invest in new technologies, will provide the basis for our sustained national competitiveness.

As set out in our revised national development plan, tackling environmental pressures while building upon the economic and social opportunities afforded by our recent growth requires a broad-based approach. The complexity inherent in such a multistranded approach, however, should not be a deterrent, for it is only by this approach that we will ensure that environmental considerations remain at the top of the agenda.

This Government regards environmental considerations as being central to the implementation of the national development plan. Primary among these considerations is climate change. This is, by some margin, the most pressing environmental issue facing us. To reflect that priority we have been very active in endeavouring to do all we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

There are several milestones in Ireland's climate change policy. We have ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Emissions will be reduced by 15.2 million tonnes per annum through measures already in place, including 3 million tonnes from power plants and large industry in the EU emissions trading scheme. A range of other policy commitments will further reduce Ireland's emissions between 2007 and 2012. We are fully committed to the EU emissions trading scheme and agree with the Stern report that the scheme has the potential to become a global carbon trading system. We are committed to purchasing a further 3.6 million tonnes of credits if required.

Economic growth has been decoupled from carbon emissions. Between 1990 and 2004 emissions grew by 23% but the economy grew by 150%. Ireland was one of the first member states to submit its national allocation plan for 2008-2012 to the Commission which will provide the basis for the participation by business. We are working towards producing a new national climate change strategy that will set out our climate change policies and measures in detail, including the specific contributions of all the measures that have been adopted by the Government. This new strategy will replace the strategy published in 2000, which is now substantially out of date.

Every sector, every organisation, and every individual must take responsibility for the impact their activities and their lifestyle have on the planet. One of the Government's tasks is to encourage all parties to look after their end of the bargain. One area in which people can make a perceptible contribution is in individual and social patterns of energy consumption. According to the International Energy Agency, policies to encourage the most efficient production and use of energy can contribute almost 80% of avoided CO2 emissions by 2030. A sustainable energy future is, therefore, a key objective for Ireland in our overall efforts to tackle climate change. The generation of renewable energy provides opportunities to address climate change, ensure security of supply and promote sustainable development. The Government has already taken wide-ranging measures to promote renewable energy usage and reduce energy-related emissions.

In the electricity sector a renewable electricity support tariff has been introduced to subsidise the connection of all forms of renewable-sourced electricity to the national grid. This will allow us to not only meet our EU target of generating 13.2% of our electricity from wind by 2010 but to set a higher national target of 15% by 2010, which the Government is confident of meeting. We will remove at least 1.3 million tonnes of greenhouse emissions per annum by meeting this target. Several schemes have been put in place to make Ireland's heating-related energy consumption more sustainable as a reflection of the awareness that energy used in buildings, both private and commercial, accounts for a large proportion of our national energy use.

Interest in microrenewable technologies has grown. The effects of the greener homes initiative are apparent as many households have availed of the generous grant-aid available for the installation of solar panels, biomass boilers and heat pumps of various kinds. Indications from planning authorities also point towards increasing numbers of applications for planning permission for solar panels and small wind turbines in particular.

As there is a vote in the Dáil the committee will have to suspend business. However, we can agree to the motion now and avoid suspension. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The regulation states oil tank storage capacity shall not exceed 3,500 litres. Should that not refer to the total capacity for a site? At local authority level, I have seen several tanks being laid in parallel on a site to overcome planning restrictions.

The exemption for oil is similar. The view in the Department was that this is adequate in this case and it means a single tank for a site

Is it agreed that the committee recommends no further debate is required on the motion by the Dáil or the Seanad? Agreed. A report on the committee's consideration of the motion will be laid before both Houses. The draft report is before members. Is it agreed? Agreed.

I thank the Minister of State for attending.