Business of Joint Committee.

The minutes of the meeting of 20 October have been circulated. Are they agreed? Agreed.

Correspondence received by the committee since the last meeting has been circulated. The first item, document 2009/616, has been carried over from the previous meeting. It comprises a policy statement on tendering procedures from the Civil Engineering Contractors Association and a covering letter from the Construction Industry Federation. It is essentially about small and medium-sized enterprises not having a level playing field when tendering for public sector contracts. We discussed this before and will return to it. Very detailed information was presented to us which in some ways contradicts what the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government said to us. That Department is not fully responsible in that education, roads and various activities can be encompassed. We will discuss this further on another occasion. I do not want to just note the correspondence and continue on.

No. 2009/626 is a note on an informal meeting with Repak. It is proposed that this committee seek to improve the recycling of packaging waste by writing to the EPA and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to improve data disclosure and the policing of the recovery and recycling of packaging. Repak and Department representatives were before us previously. I met Repak officials recently with the clerk to the committee and noted they were satisfied we had obtained information on the packaging directive as operated by local authorities. The information had not been in the public domain prior to our committee receiving it from each local authority through the Department. We have been asked to go a step further. Is it agreed to proceed by issuing letters to the Department seeking further information the next time it is collecting information? Agreed.

No. 2009/628 is correspondence from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It is follow-up information from our detailed meeting on 1 September 2009 on derelict sites. The correspondence answers comprehensively many of the issues members raised.

Can we get a copy of it?

Are local authorities implementing the Derelict Sites Act?

It is clear the Department had the Oireachtas pass legislation and that the Department has no clue as to what is happening on the ground. The Department has no mechanism to follow up or interest in following up in respect of the legislation. The Department sees its role as passing the legislation.

To be fair, it is the local authorities that——

It is. However, sufficiently good information was not being collated.

Does the Department have an obligation to collate the information?

Probably not.

This is a theme that runs through so many areas, from dog licences to derelict sites. Local authorities have strong responsibilities but the Department's oversight is insufficient. We could return to this theme.

Yes, we all agree. It is not the Department's fault as the local authorities are the bodies charged with carrying out the work. With regard to determining whether the regulations are working, there is no mechanism for oversight or the collation of information.

On that point, appendix 3 refers to the number of derelict sites across the country. I am particularly concerned about the entry for County Meath, in respect of which it is stated there are zero derelict sites. Is it that the council did not respond or that it is saying there are no derelict sites? I agree with Deputy Cuffe that there needs to be oversight to ensure figures are collated on a national level. Thus, we will be able to compare one county's results to another. A figure of zero for Meath is incorrect.

I fully agree with Senator Hannigan regarding the figure of zero for County Meath. In my town, Kells, which we discussed before, there is an unreal number of derelict sites. The same applies right across the county. I once read in the newspaper that the county manager or director of services said there would be no derelict sites within 12 months. We heard this about potholes many years ago but they reappeared. It is the same with derelict sites.

It is interesting to note in the schedule that there are only two local authorities that do not seem to have recorded any derelict sites. Would members like us to write directly to the relevant county mangers about this?

We should and point out that, in these times of financial constraint, local authorities have the right, under the derelict sites legislation of 1991, to impose a levy in respect of derelict of sites in the order of 2% of the value of the sites per year.

And CPOs.

What is possibly one of the biggest derelict sites in the country is held by the HSE in Cork. At the earlier meeting we were seeking an examination of State, statutory and local government authorities to determine what derelict sites they have in their possession. I refer in particular to sites in the care of statutory and public agencies that are falling into dereliction and which may be sold at some future date because their state of decline is such that their current heritage value will be lost. They will be demolished. Even given the current economic circumstances, the buildings in question should not be allowed to become more derelict.

We agree on writing to the respective county managers of the two local authorities that have no record of derelict sites, Longford County Council——

What are the two local authorities?

Longford and Meath county councils. Four local authorities did not have information available: Carlow County Council; Cork County Council, in respect of the west Cork division; Limerick County Council; and South Tipperary County Council. Six local authorities have not provided the information.

A ruse is employed by the owners of some derelict sites. When pressure is exerted by the local authority to regularise circumstances, the owners apply for planning permission.

In many cases in which they receive planning permission, nothing happens. This delays the procedure for another five years.

A site cannot remain derelict. The granting of planning permission does not change——

There is a void in the law that needs to be addressed.

We shall ask the Department about that.

I raised this matter at the outset because the figure for Longford County Council was zero. The local authority owns or is responsible for a number of seriously derelict buildings throughout the county. Nothing has happened to local authority houses that were burned up to eight years ago.

In the first instance, there are six local authorities from which we did not receive information. We will write to the six respective county managers and send them a copy of the appendix we received showing that all other local authorities have listed their derelict sites. When we receive information from the six, we will decide what to do next.

Does the Chairman regard a house boarded up as a derelict site? There are so many local authority houses in Meath that have been boarded up for years. Senator Hannigan knows all about them.

For safekeeping in the short term.

People are crying out for houses; that is what annoys me.

That is another issue.

Developers bought houses and left them unoccupied, particularly because of the economic downturn. On one occasion an unfortunate man in a wheelchair received a notice stating his house was derelict and required painting, yet some developers are allowed to leave houses unfinished. In certain towns, some developers own 20 such houses, not just one. This is deplorable.

It is interesting that a letter was written stating there are no derelict sites in County Meath.

This committee should consider the question of derelict sites in more detail. Questions arise as to the interpretation of a derelict site. We must focus more on this. I would like to be made aware of the information behind the table presented to us listing the number of derelict sites in each local authority area. I would like to know what has happened to many of the derelict sites, the progress made in addressing the problem and the outcomes. I am not trying to create more work for this committee but there has been a lack of progress in this area. It is all very well to list something as derelict but what has happened in terms of follow through? What power do local authorities have to follow through on these matters? I suspect very few have gone as far as a CPO because they do not have the resources to do so. We should revisit the issue in more detail.

How do members want to proceed? We will certainly write to the six local authorities concerned.

We might add it to our future agenda.

We will put the issue of derelict sites on our work programme. The next item is 2009/629, which relates to a national radon policy. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has replied to our letter seeking his comments on the information we collected concerning the approach of local authorities to a radon policy. We will note the correspondence and forward it to the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland for its information.

The next item is a newsletter from Europe's World, which is noted. The next item, 2009/631 is a report from the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny on new legislation in 2009, which is noted. The next item, 2009/632 is a newsletter from GLOBE International, which is noted. 2009/633 concerns local government weekend conferences, including a number of elected members' training seminars on ethics in public life in Sligo and a conference on planning and the environment, which we will note. 2009/634 isIn Business magazine from Chambers Ireland, which is noted.

The next item is a research paper from the Oireachtas Library and Research Service concerning planning zones in Ireland and, specifically, the definitions of zonings across different planning authorities. It is a substantial document which we will include on our work programme. We asked the library and research service in the Oireachtas to prepare the paper for us.

The next item is a newsletter from the European Water Partnership, which we note. 2009/637 is a request to meet the joint committee from the community platform-community workers' co-operative. This request has been sent to several committees, including the joint committees on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Education and Science, Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Social and Family Affairs and Finance and the Public Service. The last of these has been asked to review the report of an bord snip nua. It is holding hearings on the report in advance of the budget and is meeting with all the social groups so it is the appropriate committee to deal with the matter.

The next item is the annual conference of the Local Authority Members Association in Limerick on 6 November and 7 November 2009. We have sent representatives in the past.

We should be represented at that conference.

The cost, at €600 per delegate, is not major. We might send one member from the Government side and one from the Opposition. If anybody is interested, they might give their names to the clerk. The next item is a letter from the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny regarding the transposing of EU directives into Irish law relating to environmental issues. Deputy Hogan raised a particular issue so we will hold it over until he is present. The next item is a letter from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government regarding the recruitment of polling station staff. Deputy Christy O'Sullivan raised the issue so we will hold it over until he is present.

The next item is research on linking the planning process with job creation from the library and research unit. We will put the matter on the work programme along with the other research we have received. The next deals with preparations for the climate change summit and comes from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It concerns the launch of an initiative to promote action in Ireland to reduce climate change in advance of the UN conference. The Minister is holding a photo call of the launch tomorrow, Thursday, 29 October at 10 a.m. Members are free to attend.

The final item concerns the circulars issued since the last meeting. The first is HPS 10-2009, a statistical questionnaire on affordable housing, Part V and other housing management and grant schemes. The next is the housing statistics bulletin quarterly return. Statutory instruments recently issued are 351-2009, Building Control Amendment Regulations, and 352-2009, Building Control Act 2007, Commencement Order 2009. I suggest we note these items. If any member wants to revisit them at a later date we can put them on the agenda.

Sitting suspended at 2.26 p.m. and resumed at 2.27 p.m.