The minutes of the meeting on 14 July have been circulated. Are they agreed?
Business of Committee.
I am glad the committee approved the attendance of Senator Coffey at the AMI conference. I would also ask the committee to recommend the attendance of our clerk.
That is normal procedure.
It is normal procedure, and it is one of the most important conferences of the year. It is important for obvious reasons that the clerk be in attendance.
Senators Coffey and Glynn will represent the committee, so is it agreed that the clerk will also represent the committee? Agreed.
The next item on our agenda is correspondence. We have a list of items. Item No. 493 deals with the development of County Galway. Did Deputy McCormack have an opportunity to review this correspondence?
We should go along and talk to them anyway.
The Deputy proposes that we should agree to meet those members of Galway County Council to discuss the issue.
I second that proposal.
We will not set a date, but we will put it on a work programme to deal with it in due course. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Item No. 533 is a document from the library and research unit, a scoping note about our requested research on linking job creation to employment planning. The library and research unit contacted Dáil committees stating that it could carry out an item of research. We suggested that we do something on this topic. The unit sent a short scoping note to the committee to find out what we are talking about. Deputy Fitzpatrick wants to speak on this.
I read the document sent by the library and research unit and I agree with the proposal. When I discussed it with the committee previously, I was concerned about the amount of small industrial development in rural Ireland. I can only speak about Kildare.
In parts of north-west Kildare, it is now impossible to obtain planning permission for small industries. I have raised the issue of planning permission being denied to third parties who have obtained consent from farmers to use disused farm buildings to set up industries. This is essentially a matter for local authorities. However, it seems the latter are unwilling to take any initiative in this field and instead wish to confine industry to larger towns and population centres. I am aware of a person who wishes to use a disused gravel pit to build a shed for his two lorries and a workshop and to create two or three jobs. However, this is considered an unacceptable development in rural Kildare. The local authority has stipulated that the enterprise should be located in a village or town, even though the development in question is more appropriate to the rural area from which the person in question operates. We should not clutter up towns and villages with heavy industry.
For many years, people in rural areas developed small indigenous industries, such as garages, furniture manufacturers and so on. Such businesses might have grown out of a person doing some work on the side, before being joined by a son or daughter as the enterprise grew. Throughout the State, such businesses provide jobs for three or four people, and that must be allowed to continue. However, in my local authority area, such enterprises are now frowned upon. This may not be a matter for the research people, but I hope there will be focus in some quarter on the importance of retaining jobs in rural areas.
I strongly support the points made by Deputy Fitzpatrick. Rural development is to do with people; it is not to do with developments in urban areas, whether towns or cities. What Deputy Fitzpatrick has said makes absolute sense. We are talking about the lifeblood of rural communities. We all bemoan the closure of rural schools, post offices, corner shops and other facilities which are part of the infrastructure of rural communities. This issue is of equal concern.
I agree with the sentiments expressed by Deputy Fitzpatrick and Senator Glynn. However, this issue comes down to an interpretation of the county development plan by planners. In what manner could we pursue this issue to make a difference? It is fine to have it on the record that we expressed these views, but we are merely talking to each other. How can we influence county development plans or, rather, the interpretation of those plans?
I support Deputy Fitzpatrick on this issue. It is a problem I have encountered in the midlands, where people who wish to establish a small enterprise, such as a farm shop or garden centre, are being forced by planners to move to a small town or zoned area. In my local authority, for example, a case has been ongoing since January where a person who sought planning permission to open a farm shop, employing three people for seven days a week was granted permission to open it only on one day per week. That is nonsensical. She has pursued the issue but a final decision has not been made.
It would be beneficial for the rural community and the tourism industry were she to produce her products on the farm. However, although she wishes to sell them at the farm gate she is not being allowed to so do. It was suggested to her that she should move 10 km away into the nearest local town, where land was zoned for this purpose. That is wrong. A similar situation also arises in respect of garden centres. People are being forced to open such developments on the outskirts of villages and towns rather than in rural areas, where they would be more acceptable. The entire issue must be considered and addressed. Deputy McCormack asked how members should go about this. They should rap together the heads of planners at some stage. In addition, the personnel within the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government who deal with this issue should be called before this joint committee. As members are the voice of the people, they should make their views known to departmental officials. These projects also would be environmentally friendly.
I support Deputy Fitzpatrick in this matter. I have an example in my constituency in which a father and son operate a garage with a couple of employees in a village with a fairly substantial population. They wish to demolish the existing premises and build a new one but have been prevented from so doing. Moreover, it was suggested to them that they should move into an area that has been designated for the purpose. This is what is happening in respect of planning in my constituency and nationwide. This must be changed and there is an onus on members of this joint committee to highlight the issue and bring it to the Department's attention. Such a campaign for change must be directed from this joint committee as local authorities are interpreting this matter in a manner that differs completely from the original intention. My understanding always was that the purpose of planning is to bring services into villages and other centres of population. In this instance, however, the reverse situation obtains, whereby the planning authority seeks to take the services out of such centres. While this is only a single example, I am sure there are many others. The joint committee must be to the fore in this regard. While I do not know how this should be done, it probably will involve bringing departmental officials before the committee, as well as the Minister, to highlight the issue.
I also support Deputy Fitzpatrick, who referred to farmyards and so on. Farmyards always are centres of activity in which much vehicular and motorised activity takes place. While one can discuss rural policy and rural Ireland, those yards must be developed if there is to be activity in rural Ireland. I know of many instances in recent years in which hauliers were seeking sites on foot of the economy's buoyancy and although farmyards were available, local authority planning officers would not grant such applications for one reason or another. Instead, they dragged and pushed those involved into growth areas and centres of activity, that is, into towns and large villages. Such operations would be better sited in rural areas because of noise and many other issues.
There should be consensus on this issue and a recommendation should be made to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in respect of any future planning legislation to the effect that a more liberal approach should be taken to such activities. While all farmyards may not be suitable, much rationalisation is taking place at farm level in rural Ireland. The Chairman, who represents the rural constituency of Laois-Offaly, will know of many people there who are moving away from farming into other activities. Some fine farmyards and sheds are available for development, which could be easily converted at low cost at a time when money is a scarce resource. Consequently, Deputy Fitzpatrick's proposal has strong merit.
Everything has been said but I fully support Deputy Fitzpatrick's proposal. All members have encountered similar problems across their own constituencies whereby people who wish to start agriculture-related businesses have been asked to move 10 km to 15 km into the nearest town. Deputy Edward O'Keeffe cited the example of haulage companies and their drivers bringing lorries into housing estates, which leads to objections and a complete lack of parking places. As many idle farm buildings and yards could be used for that purpose, I certainly support whatever can be done in this regard. We could ask the Minister or his officials to discuss the issue with the committee, but it is a matter for councillors to change development plans.
Will we ask the library and research service to carry out a research project for us? It will not be a recommendation, rather the service will provide us with information and we can then take the matter further.
In tandem with the Chairman's proposal, it might be no harm to invite representatives of the County and City Managers' Association to appear before the committee.
Whoever is responsible for planning matters.
Managers are the chief planning executives.
What about the directors of services?
Managers in the main.
What action does the Chairman propose we take?
The Oireachtas library and research service has agreed to undertake one item of research for each committee. We have discussed this matter several times. A month or so ago members raised the issue of zoning and attracting commercial developments to rural areas.
If we do something about the matter and get it off our chests, we will be the only ones satisfied. We will not be advancing the issue in any way because chief and junior planners will continue to interpret county development plans in the way they like. Will we do anything more concrete than indicating that we are all in favour of something?
I made the suggestion about inviting representatives of the CCMA. We must go down the line a little and bring the chief planners before the committee. Deputy McCormack is correct in that it is a matter of their interpreting county development plans literally and not in the spirit intended. The position can differ from county to county. That is my experience having spent 25 years on a local authority.
I understand what Deputy McCormack is saying because we do not want to engage in academic research. It would be of no use to any of us. We might take an unusual approach. In tandem with the library and research service's research, we might conduct a few meetings, the findings of which could be included in the research findings. However, there would not be a report. Perhaps representatives of the CCMA might attend a meeting to address the topic. We could also invite one or two senior planners from the regional authorities. We need those on the front line because it is they who make the decisions. We could invite the relevant director of services from a local authority from each region and ask the regional authorities to send their senior directors of services for planning. We do not want to meet those so far removed from the issue that they do not deal with cases. The opinions of front line personnel would be worth hearing during our work.
We could invite officials from An Bord Pleanála to attend.
Can we send the minutes of this meeting to the directors of services in every authority? That would show cross-party support.
We need more information, but the Deputy is correct.
I agree with the spirit of Deputy Fitzpatrick's statement, but we should not delude ourselves into believing we will achieve any changes. The recently published planning Bill will make achieving the objective in question more difficult. We will face significant difficulties, not only in the interpretation of development plans, but also in the top-down imposition of national planning guidelines. The interpretation of a development plan by a county or city manager or those local councillors involved in its framing will mainly be guided by the Department's spatial planning strategy and the regional planning guidelines which will be enshrined in statute. This is wrong because it will remove the flexibility inherent at local level in the sense that one size does not fit all. Even with the best will in the world, the research findings will be redundant by October when the Bill is presented before the House. We might be premature on that project. I agree with the sentiments expressed by Deputy Fitzpatrick but we do not want to waste their time. There may be a Bill that provides a better opportunity to articulate these views.
Could we hold hearings in advance of the Bill?
Yes, it is up to parliamentary parties to examine this.
All members of this committee will support that idea when the Bill comes before the House. There are no Green Party members of this committee or at least if there are they do not show up.
They are not evergreen. Could the research unit be asked to scope and bound the research in light of the forthcoming Bill?
It would be better to link this research to forthcoming legislation. Regarding comparative reports, I do not care what they do in New Zealand. They will give us a theoretical report on what happens in New Zealand, Australia and Canada. We do not need that. The areas to examine are the relevant legislation, proposed legislation and the current system of zoning in Ireland. We must square the circle. If one zones an area for commercial and industrial use, one is saying it is the preferred location. If one wants everywhere else to be a preferred location, one ends up zoning nowhere. There must be some rationale. We agree with considering planning procedures at local authority level in respect of commercial locations. We do not want any academic report on other continents. Job creation potential and the possible changes to an approach taken to planning decisions at local authority levels are also suggested. We will include a comment on planning procedures at higher levels, which probably refers to An Bórd Pleanála. We will ask them to frame the research in the context of the proposed legislation. That will be more practical.
I am happy with what the Chairman says. I pursued this matter because it annoys me when I see disadvantaged parts of County Kildare. We have revitalised these areas by bringing people in and we now want to give them jobs. We do not want to have them travelling to and from Dublin. If people can provide jobs in the area, I wish them the best of luck. Local authorities should seek to assist people in their areas.
People should be able to access information on the websites of the local authorities. The research unit should check the paragraphs on zoning and the definitions of zoning in each area. A schedule should be produced to show where there are similarities or massive variations. A definition in one county may be the exact same or completely different to that in another. The researchers should be able to obtain that information. We will ask them to do short research so that it is available in a timely manner.
The next item of correspondence is a research paper from the European Urban Knowledge Network. Item No. 535 is a newsletter from Europe's World. The next item is No. 536, a ministerial press release on the closure of Killarney National Park to non-compliant jaunting cars. We will note that and each member can make a decision on it.
It is like buying Pampers.
The final item is a notice of formal complaint from Just Forests to the European Commission regarding the use of illegal timber. We note that. Item No. 538 is a magazine from Chambers Ireland. We will note the next item, the annual report of the Library Council. Item No. 540 is a reply from the Local Government Audit Service to queries raised at a meeting of the joint committee on 31 March 2009. No. 541 concerns a list of decisions taken at the meeting of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny on 14 July 2009. We note this. Item No. 542 is the newsletter of European Water Partnership. The next item is the annual report 2008 and the annual output statement from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. We will note this and will include it in our work programme for discussion with the Department. No. 544 is a request from Creggan Crosswood Turbary Rights Group to make a presentation to the committee on Creggan Crosswood bog in County Westmeath, which is a special area of conservation. This request has been received in the context of today's meeting.
Today we will be pleased to hear from Department officials but we should also hear from the people involved in turf cutting and their representatives. We should accede to this request.
I do not know whether Creggan Crosswood bog is relevant to today's discussion. Will turf cutting cease there?
In any event I am sure the representatives will have interesting things to say. Perhaps we can agree to meet them in September or October.
We will agree——
To be of assistance — the turf cutting organisations have representative groups and the Chairman could invite them. I can provide him with the contact details. My concern is for the committee; if the committee starts to bring in members from each bog it will be this time next year before we will have completed hearings. It would be more sensible to invite representative groups.
The only thing against that is that a request has been received by one group; if other groups were as interested as this one they would have made a similar request but they did not. I take what Deputy Naughten stated but it must be borne in mind that the Creggan group has taken the time and the interest to communicate with us.
Most of them have been focused on making submissions to the Department and the officials will be able to tell us how many submissions have been received from turf cutters throughout the country. It will provide an idea of the scale of what we are discussing.
We will agree to——
We have all received strong representations from our constituents on this problem. The Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food tries to bring in a national organisation rather than an organisation from every county. However, a representative of the Westmeath group should be asked to attend with the national group. That would be the appropriate way to deal with this.
We will accommodate the group and we will verify what is the national representative group.
If people who will not get to speak on the day are interested they can attend as observers.
We will deal with this matter in September.
I would very much welcome the group from Westmeath to a meeting of the committee.
No. 545 is from Lahiff and associates for the Irish Property Owners Association, IPOA, and it is a request to see copies of the letters received from the Institute of Professional Auctioneers and Valuers, IPAV, and Threshold following our recent meeting with the IPOA. We have no problem sending it a copy of the correspondence received. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next item is circulars issued since our most recent meeting by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to local authorities. Circular LG 12/09 is on the nomination of sectoral representatives to the strategic policy committees and this follows on from the local elections. The next circular is on the extension of the incentivised scheme of early retirement to September. Circular Fin Local 9/2009, Malicious Injuries Recoupment 2009 is a questionnaire sent to local authorities each year for information purposes. It is not a major issue and we will note it.
This concludes the correspondence and we will proceed with No. 3——
Does the circular deal with claims against local authorities?
I will explain what it is because I phoned the man in the Department whose name was on the circular. He stated that the legislation only deals with malicious injury as a result of riot and civil disorder. The total value in the Estimate would be €280,000 but most local authorities have no claims. It does not have to do with malicious damage at local level; it is confined to damage as a result of riot and civil disobedience. The number of claims made is tiny.
The Chairman made another point which I was going to make with regard to turf cutting as it is a similar type of issue. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is buying out turbary rights.
That is what this meeting is about. We are coming to that now. At this stage we will move to No. 3 on the agenda.