I thank the Cathaoirleach and members for affording me this opportunity to present to the committee today on this set of proposed planning regulations. The regulations consist of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (Section 254 – Overground Telecommunication Cables) Regulations 2021. Section 254 licences are required for the laying of overground electronic communications infrastructure and any associated physical infrastructure along public roads in accordance with section 254(1) of the Act. These regulations specifically address the section 254 licence application fee payable to local authorities for overground cable which is part of the electronic communications network. The planning regulations I am presenting today are a practical measure within my remit. The Covid-19 pandemic has absolutely highlighted the need to accelerate the roll-out of key communications infrastructure and certainly the costs involved in facilitating this roll-out are key in that regard.
My Department has worked with officials in the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and the local government managers association representing the local authorities sector to agree the proposed fee with a view to providing necessary certainty to the communications sector on the cost of rolling out overground telecommunications cables on a national and a local level. The draft regulations I have laid before the Oireachtas are entitled the Planning and Development Act 2000 (Section 254 – Overground Telecommunication Cables) Regulations 2021. These draft regulations propose to prescribe the section 254 licence fee for overground cable which is part of an electronic telecommunications network. The draft regulations amend Part 1 of Schedule 12 of the principal planning regulations to exclude an overground cable for the carrying of telecommunications signals from paragraph (e), regarding cables, wires and pipelines. This will mean that the present licence fee of €25 per 100 m payable in respect of the laying of cables, wires and pipelines as specified in Part 1 of Schedule 12, will not be payable in respect of laying of broadband telecommunication cables. The regulations further amend Part 2 of Schedule 12 to the principal planning regulations by inserting a new paragraph (f) which prescribes a new fixed fee of €125 per section 254 licence application for an overground cable for the carrying of telecommunication signals. The exclusion of the cable-related text from Part 1 of Schedule 12 ensures that double-charging for section 254 licences will not take place.
While these new flat-fee arrangements will represent a reduction in revenue for local authorities in processing and determining section 254 licences as against the current fee arrangements for the laying of cable, the local government sector is supportive of these new fee arrangements, given the social and economic benefits to citizens and local communities attached to the roll-out broadband programme throughout Ireland. The level of fee is being kept reasonably low to promote and support the roll-out of high-speed rural broadband. This is a policy commitment in the programme for Government. In addition, it recognises the work for a quick roll-out of broadband to meet increased home usage for both work and leisure, arising from the impact of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and to facilitate the provision of high-speed broadband to rural areas into the future.
One of the drivers for this draft regulation is the rolling out of the national broadband plan. The continued roll-out of the national broadband plan is expected to require the laying of an additional 140,000 km of cable. This one project will lead to approximately 900 section 254 licence applications to local authorities for network build, and a further 900 licence applications for customer connections over the course of the project. This represents the processing and determining of a minimum of 1,800 section 254 licences by local authorities in the roll-out of this one project.
As I outlined, the fee proposed provides certainty on costs for both the roll-out of the broadband network and for individual connections.
I commend this draft set of regulations to the committee. Having regard to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the regulations will support the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications in the further roll-out of much needed communications infrastructure, which will support both individuals and businesses accessing high-speed broadband in the future.
Further to today's presentation to the committee, these draft regulations are subsequently approved by a positive resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas, as required under section 262(4) of the Planning and Development Act 2000. They will come into force as soon as they are signed by me. If approved by the Oireachtas, it is my intention to sign the regulations into law at the earliest opportunity. I thank the committee for the speedy consideration of these regulations and for its time this afternoon.