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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 11 Apr 1934

Vol. 18 No. 14

Town and Regional Planning Bill, 1933—Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The powers proposed to be conferred by the Bill on local authorities are necessary for the proper and economic development of their areas. It is generally accepted that their existing powers of control over development are insufficient The traffic problems in the larger cities to-day are largely due to the uncontrolled growth of these areas in the past. It is not alone a question of guarding against a repetition of past errors but also one of controlling development that is injurious to the amenities of a district. In most countries town and regional planning is regarded as amongst the most important of municipal functions. A city or town whose growth is controlled by a properly formulated plan develops in a manner best suited to the public welfare, and the evils arising from unrestricted development are avoided.

A plan is a framework of growth. It determines the most appropriate housing sites and the density of residential development, the sites for industries and the areas best suited for commercial purposes. The selection of the areas set aside for development should be intimately related to the provision made for sanitary services and to the traffic requirements of the area. The need for proper planning is apparent on all sides. The development of local government in recent years, due to changing conditions in the national life and to the demand for a higher standard of social services, has increased considerably the scope of the work of local authorities. Public moneys are being applied to the carrying out of a large housing programme, the provision of sanitary services, the erection of hospitals, the construction and maintenance of roads and other public purposes. In their own interests local authorities, therefore, would be well advised to have a plan of development of their areas prepared in advance of the execution of such works, when the provisions of this Bill become law. Such a plan, in addition to giving control over private development works in their area would secure that the public works to be undertaken would be fully considered in relation to each other, and that in areas where houses are to be built they will be placed in the most suitable position in relation to essential sanitary services, and the provision of schools and playgrounds.

A planning scheme if intelligently availed of in this manner will reinforce the efforts which are being made to improve the standard of public health, and should also bring about economies in public expenditure on social services. The control over density of houses should go a long way to prevent the conditions associated with the present day slum problem, and the allocation of lands for the erection of buildings, properly grouped, will most likely result in reduced expenditure on roads, the laying of water mains, the provision of sewers and other public services. It is also important in connection with the clearance of insanitary areas that the problem should be examined in relation to the industrial and traffic requirements of the district, and the need for the provision of children's playgrounds and recreation parks.

Of the provisions of the Bill it is not necessary to speak in detail. This House had under consideration some years ago a Town Planning and Rural Amenities Bill introduced by Senator Johnson, and supported by other Senators. Although some of its provisions would now be regarded as out of date, still it had for its object the same purposes as the Bill now submitted to you, and I think a tribute is due to the Senator and his colleagues for their active interest in this question.

The county, county borough and urban district councils will be the planning authorities for their respective areas. Planning regions may be formed by two or more planning authorities, and a planning district of an urban authority may, in certain circumstances, be extended to include portion of the adjoining rural area. Special regions are formed in the Bill which may be planned by the municipal authorities for the cities of Dublin and Cork. Once a planning authority has passed a resolution deciding to make a scheme, all constructive and other works come under control, and pending the final approval of the scheme the procedure laid down in Part VII of the Bill will apply. Development works will proceed in the usual way, subject to the power of the planning authority to prohibit the further proceeding with the construction, demolition or alteration of any particular structure in the area to be planned, which would be likely to contravene the provisions of the plan in course of preparation.

Every planning scheme of a planning authority will require the approval of the Minister. The Minister's Order approving of a scheme, together with the planning scheme, will be laid before each House of the Oireachtas with power to annul within three sitting weeks after the week in which the Order is laid before each House or the notice of publication of the making of the Order in Iris Oifigiúil, whichever is later. The validity of a scheme or any provision contained in it may be questioned in the High Court on certain specified legal grounds. Part VIII of the Bill contains provisions for the payment of compensation and payment for betterment.

Under the Bill a planning system may be set up for this country which will give all the powers that are considered necessary for local authorities to secure the orderly and progressive development of their areas and for the preservation and improvement of amenities. There will be present to the minds of members of this House many instances where it is eminently desirable to take action to preserve existing amenities and beauty spots throughout the country. During the present week I received a petition from residents in the neighbourhood of the Sugar Loaf Mountains, Rocky Valley and district, regarding the disfigurement of the neighbourhood by the indiscriminate erection of buildings. The petition states that the glory of the Sugar Loaf Mountains and the beauty of the Rocky Valley, which afford such pleasure to both the people in the neighbourhood and to visitors, if once despoiled and defaced could never be restored. I have not come to any official decision on the petition, but in cases of this kind the provisions of the Bill will enable a planning authority to obtain the statutory powers to prevent the spoliation of the countryside, which in itself is a very important aspect of regional planning. I commend the provisions of the Bill to the House.

This is a very big Bill and it has been a long time on the stocks. I am no authority on the subject but I have read the Bill very carefully and it seems to me a well-thought-out piece of legislation and one that is well designed to achieve the objects which are set out in the preamble. If it is equally well administered, which is a much more difficult matter, it should have good results for the towns of the country, preventing bad development, congestion, disfigurement, and other matters which it is aimed at preventing. Of course, the administration is the crux of the matter. Perhaps it is too much to expect that the local authorities, who will have the working of the Bill, will make as good a job of that as the drafting of the Bill has been made. Very much depends on the Minister. He has great powers of control under the Bill and we can only hope that the Minister will exercise those powers in such a manner as to ensure that local authorities will work the Bill to the best advantage. I think the Bill is quite a good one and I support the Second Reading.

I welcome this Bill, and I would say that it illustrates the difficulties that face any group of Senators or private persons, unversed in the Departmental problems, in trying to submit themselves a watertight measure capable of carrying out its purposes. One reads this Bill knowing its intentions and purposes, and finds that the greater part of it is concerned with the technicalities of law-making rather than the purposes and the intentions sought to be attained. I say that, because it is quite clear that no group of Senators, unversed in these technicalities, could produce a Bill of that magnitude in anything like that completeness. The feature of the Bill to which I draw attention is that the producing of town plans or a planning scheme is to be left at the option of the local authority, and there is not even latent in the Bill, as far as I can see, power for the Minister to call upon a local authority to produce a scheme. That may be desirable in the present state of things, in view of the lack of experience in such matters, but as a consequence there are one or two things that seem to me to call for consideration at least. There are some of what I might call minor defects that should be remedied, minor matters that are crying out for remedy, such things as the removal of destroyed buildings, the elimination of unsightly advertisements and small things of that kind which anybody and everybody, taken individually, will denounce as an outrage, and yet there is no authority in the local council to remove those evils. There is no power given in this Bill to a local authority to do these very desirable things until it has produced a plan.

I can quite conceive of a position where many local authorities would like to do these desirable things, local authorities who are not prepared to go into the whole problem of planning their district or their region. I do not know whether it would be possible, under the definition in Section 3, for a local authority to produce a plan which only dealt with these minor matters. The definition in Section 3 refers to planning, and says that a planning scheme shall be taken to be a scheme made in accordance with this Act for the general purpose of securing the orderly and progressive development of a particular area whether urban or rural in the best interests of the community and of preserving, improving and extending the amenities of such areas." So that a local authority under that definition would not be able to deal with these small matters of the removal of ugliness and items of disrepute from the aesthetic point of view. Yet it is very desirable that local authorities should have this power. I do not know whether it is possible to amend this Bill so as to bring within the scheme of things, whether by regulation or otherwise, that power be given to the local authority to carry out these desirable reforms.

Before I leave Section 3, I would just query for a moment the desirability of putting in the phrase "in the best interests of the community." It seems to me that that would leave it open to any person to go into the courts and argue that a particular process was not in the best interests of the community. While it may be quite good and satisfactory as a journalistic sentence or phrase, it is hardly satisfactory, I think, in an Act of Parliament I had the same thought in regard to the word "progressive," but on second thoughts, I read that word "progressive" in the literal sense of being progressive towards something although we are not sure what the "something" towards which we are to progress is. However, that is less important than this other sentence, "in the best interests of the community."

In the main, the Bill as I say is highly technical and deals with fitting in its general purposes with the laws dealing with local government, and the authority given by Local Government Acts. I would like to be assured that it will be possible to restrict or rather to control the uglification of towns by electric signs and advertisements—sky-writing has been talked about—and the exaggerated illuminated signs we hear of, promoted of course by the Electricity Supply Board. I can see that the development of that process will make for anything but beauty, and there should be, I think, within the Bill power given to a local authority to control that kind of development. I am not sure that it is contained in the Bill. Perhaps I can be assured of that, and we can hear more of it at a later stage. Speaking generally, I am sure the Bill will do something towards preventing more harm to the country than has already been occasioned, and will do something to make possible orderly development and to preserve, improve and extend the amenities of the countryside as well as of towns.

The Minister has pointed out that where there is a plan, it will be controlled by the local authorities. What really matters is: who will control the local authorities? Of course, the answer is the Minister, but I think it must be obvious to Senators that this legislation is as far ahead of public opinion as it is far behind similar legislation in other countries, in point of time. I should like to call the attention of Senators to the existence of a magnificent organisation known as the Civics Institute of Ireland, and to read a portion of their annual report. This states:—

"During the past year the main work of the Institute has been to assist in the formation of Public Utility Societies. The model rules for such societies, published by the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association, are sold by the Institute and standard forms and all particulars about the formation, organisation and management of societies are obtainable only from the Institute which also undertakes the preliminaries in connection with registration. The Housing Act of 1932 gives special facilities to Public Utility Societies, and in consequence a large number of inquiries are received, in some cases necessitating the Secretary visiting certain parts of the country in order to assist in their formation. Seventy new societies were registered during the year and the number of houses built by them should make an appreciable difference to the housing problem... A Conference of societies already engaged in reconditioning houses in Dublin, and those proposing to undertake such work was called by the Institute to consider where there was a possibility of united action in this particular work. Several meetings of representatives of these groups have been held but as yet no definite plan has resulted. The work of the supervised Playcentre at Constitution Hill continues... The need for such Playcentres is very pressing and the Institute has been asked to consider the undertaking of two other such centres on the same lines."

I would suggest to Senators that, if they have not themselves any kind of local authority who will prepare plans, they would be very well advised to get in touch with this organisation. I have not the smallest doubt that it will assist them very materially in forming a plan that is more likely to be acceptable to the Minister.

There is one point arising out of the Bill about which I feel very concerned and I should like the Minister to say to what extent it will be protected by this measure. I feel that there is no tradition or no real beauty of outlook in these modern buildings round our towns. There is no standard or style of domestic architecture and there is no attempt at the creation of any tradition of beauty. While of course it is easy enough to deplore that, it is very hard to suggest a remedy. One obviously does not want to restrict individual choice but anybody who travels round and looks at many of these new buildings, sees the most terrible polyglot type of work that is revolting to all artistic sense. When you think of the beauties of the past, you must think how dreadful it will be that this period should go down in history as a period that had no real artistic perception. Arising out of that, I would suggest that the matter can be, to a certain extent, met by a control of material. If you take most of these new schemes —they are not schemes actually, there are houses built on more or less general plans by individuals—what is so distasteful is the haphazard jumbling together of different types of material. In the old days that was not possible. People had not got the variety of material that is available nowadays. There was, to a certain extent, a local tradition in each district and they were limited to the material of the district. Take, for instance, the beautiful architecture of the Cotswolds which is well preserved yet. There was local stone for the building of the structure and flat stone for the roofing. You have there handed down through all the ages a material of great beauty which enormously enhanced even the economic value of the district. People of taste very often connote people of wealth. They go there and make their residence there.

I do hope that under this Bill it will be possible to take some steps in that direction. While you cannot rigidly prescribe one type of material throughout the country, I think you should aim in schemes within localities at a uniform type of material within a given area. Say, in one case you would have slates and bricks and in another case you would have tiles and roughcast, but you should not jumble these things together without thought or without any artistic sense of perception. I do-not suggest that under a system of that kind you should have uniformity of design. I would allow every type of design. The more design the better, provided you aim at reasonable uniformity in the choice of materials— not uniformity everywhere, but uniformity in localities. I hope, as far as it lies in the power of the local authorities, that they will bear that in mind and realise that they are guardians and the trustees not alone over the material wealth of the people to be housed, but over the art and traditional architecture of the country.

I am sure everyone will welcome the introduction of this Bill after all the time that has been wasted, I think unnecessarily, by successive Governments in bringing forward such a measure. The lack of anything in the nature of a town planning scheme is evident on every side. I fancy that Irish towns and villages, with few exceptions, are unsurpassed for ugliness in any country in Western Europe. I think that will be generally admitted. The few that are exceptions are small villages that, in the past, have been under the patronage of some estate owner who had a taste for art and beauty and who encouraged, and was able to control, the construction and building of these little villages. But, in the main, ugliness is the predominating feature: drabness, monotony and a general departure from everything that is beautiful and artistic. In Dublin City, where the Oireachtas sits, we have evidence of chaos and ugliness on every side. There is the classic example on the Rathmines road. One may witness there an awful state of chaos; of everything that is characteristic of ugliness in that one area alone. Everybody that had a decent front garden in that area exploited it commercially by erecting a hideous little shop or a temporary structure in front, with the result that what was, I understand, a decent well-appointed residential district is now one of the most miserable semi-residential and semi-commercial areas that could be found in any city.

Even some of the adjoining areas that have been built by the Dublin Corporation are little better than rabbit warrens—whole streets of houses without the slightest idea of a different variety between any two. Then we have seen the desecration of beauty spots like Howth, the Vico Road, Dalkey, and seaside places like Donabate, where they are now building kiosks and bungalows just as if they were dropped from heaven. You have the back of one facing the front of another. You have all sorts of chaos at pretty seaside places which should be developed in an artistic and attractive way. Another example of that kind of chaos is to be found around Portmarnock and Howth.

The Bill does not make it compulsory on a local authority to prepare a town planning scheme and unfortunately, as Senator Robinson has said too truly, this Bill is miles in advance of the mentality of the average local authority. If the Minister has not the power to compel a local authority to prepare a scheme and put it into operation, then I am afraid the results to be expected from this Bill will be negligible over a great part of the country for quite a long time to come. I would suggest that the power which the Minister wields through the making of grants for housing should be used in some way to require local authorities to prepare planning schemes. He should see that vast sums of public money are not spent on the development of areas in a way that is foreign to everything that is pleasing to the eye.

I notice that the Dublin planning area shall include Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. I would like to know if, over that big area, it will be necessary before a scheme can be put into operation for each local authority to pass the necessary resolution. Personally, I approve the idea that Dublin should have control of a widespread area so as to make its schemes comprehensive. I would like, however, that the body in Dublin would have power to override local petty prejudices and traditions of conservatism and reaction that might tend to hold up what otherwise would be a comprehensive scheme. The same consideration will arise in. Cork. The Cork Corporation and the Lord Mayor are to be the town planning authority for Cork City and County. We all know the jealousy of Cork men. They are just as jealous of each other as they are of people from other counties. I can imagine some Cork County men rebelling against the idea of a mere Cork City man conducting a town planning scheme for the whole of that great county. I hope, if it is necessary, that the planning authority, whatever it is, will be given all the powers that are necessary so that it may carry out its plan over the area allotted to its jurisdiction. I welcome the Bill. I desire to express the hope that the Minister and his Department will see that, as far as it is possible on their part, this measure will be given full expression to, because I think there is no country in the world that requires the operation of a measure such as this more than this country does.

I welcome this Bill. According to Senator O'Farrell the situation is bad in Dublin, but I think it is very much worse in some country towns. One constantly hears of certain things happening, but apparently nothing can be done to prevent certain types of buildings being put up all over the country. On the public roads you see little bits of shops put up at a corner. Apparently nobody has any power to stop that. There is one point on which I would like to have some information from the Minister. I heard yesterday that a housing scheme had been sanctioned for Tuam, and that the sites chosen are two fields: one at each side of the cemetery. Would the Minister say if that is a fact?

I desire to join in the general chorus of approval at the introduction of this Bill. At the outset, I want to say that I hope the use of certain classes of material will be prohibited in the erection of buildings for human beings. I have principally in mind the use of corrugated iron. There is nothing more revolting, I think, than that. It certainly is not suitable for roofs or even for the side walls of dwelling houses. Take, for instance, the position in Rosslare, which I happen to live near. At present anybody can come there and, without any control whatever, put up a little corrugated house, a hut or a bungalow. The use of corrugated iron is all right for hay sheds or for farm buildings, but it is revolting to see it used for the housing of human beings. There are certain imitations, too, that ought to be cut out in house building. It is a very common thing to see the wall of a house, which has been built of concrete, plastered and marked out in squares to imitate stone. That really shows execrable taste. A rough dashing of the wall would be quite all right. You sometimes see, too, horrible imitations of exquisite old Tudor houses, fine examples of which are so common in England. The clapping of cheap boards on the end wall of a house, in imitation of these Tudor houses, is simply a monstrosity. I think there is nothing more beautiful than the sight of those old Tudor dwellings, but a cheap imitation of them is positively revolting to any person with an artistic sense. There is no country in the world in which— if you exclude the manufacturing areas —beautiful old villages are so well preserved as they are in England.

Senator Sir John Keane referred to some of the districts where you see beautiful examples of old houses. They are a beauty and a joy for ever. In England too, you come across fine old thatched houses, centuries old, which are beautifully preserved. Here thatched roofs are torn down and a corrugated iron roof put up instead. To see what is going on makes one almost weep. Instead of removing the thatch and putting up these corrugated iron roofs, it would be adding to the beauty of the countryside if the houses were re-thatched as they used to be years ago. The people in the part of the County Wexford that I come from have an old traditional love for beautiful gardens. Outside of certain parts of the North, the people there have a deeper appreciation of beautiful gardens than those in any other county I know. It is sad to go through some counties and not see even a garden attached to a farmhouse.

It is quite true. I know places where the plots attached to cottages are not cultivated, or a flower grown. This country is terribly backward in all these respects. I think that where houses are being built, it should be made compulsory on the occupiers to have a little garden cultivated. On the whole this Bill is very badly needed. Until they became almost completely dilapidated there was a great deal of beauty about the old Irish whitewashed house. Most of those old houses were well kept and well preserved. They were things of beauty, many of them. Their preservation was a tradition in the country. Now you have a type of foreign architecture clapped down on the country, and I agree with other Senators who have spoken that it is a very bad thing indeed. I hope the Department will be able to control local authorities in getting this measure administered as it should be, and that for the sake of the country, and for the sake of all of us who love this country, the operation of this Bill will be made a great success.

I would like to emphasise the point that the great necessity in this country is the provision of dwelling houses. I would object very strongly to anything that would make their erection more costly than it is at present. Nobody, of course, wants houses with galvanised iron roofs, but there is the danger that local bodies might make regulations that would add considerably to the cost of house building. If that were to occur, it certainly would be very objectionable. Almost every Senator who has spoken has emphasised the desirability of beauty in the edifices which are to be erected. I would urge the necessity of having useful, weatherproof and economic buildings put up.

After all the commendation the Bill has received very little remains to be said. I would like to join with the other Senators in saying what an excellent Bill this is. It is certainly very much overdue, as it is some years since a Committee was appointed to deal with town planning. This is the first Bill we have had dealing with the question. One of the points that should be looked into in the administration of the Bill deals with the frontage line of houses. We have had very many new road arteries constructed, at considerable cost to the ratepayers, where frontage lines have been straightened and streets widened. We should now look ahead for 20 or 30 years, so that every road approaching a city, a town or a village will be improved. I hope the Committee Stage of this Bill will not be taken for a fortnight.

I am grateful to Senators who spoke, and particularly grateful to those who have so generously praised this measure. I do not think I can take any great part of the praise to myself. That is rather for the Department and for the officials, for the work they have done in producing this important piece of legislation. I did take an interest in the question from the time I became a Minister, as town planning was a subject in which I had been interested for a considerable time. If my encouragement meant anything to the Department it was certainly given, so far as the production of the Bill was concerned. Senator O'Farrell complained of the delay in producing the Bill. There has been considerable delay but that was not altogether my fault. In fact I do not think that the fault could be put on anyone's shoulders. Since I became a Minister I know that the Department were working at the Bill. I believe I can say with truth that no time was lost so far as the Department was concerned. This is a new form of legislation and there were precedents to be got in America and in England and, as well as I remember old laws relating to the construction of buildings, rights of way, and matters of that kind, that were passed in the Napoleonic regime in France. Wherever precedents could be got at all the laws and regulations were searched out and examined and used, so far as we could use them, in producing the Bill. As Senator Johnson stated, it is a very technical kind of Bill. In order to deal with this question adequately it had to be technical. There are so many laws in existence giving powers to local authorities, and rights to private people, that local authorities or the Government would have to amend laws and regulations, when producing a Bill of this kind, and that that makes it very technical. Senator Bagwell spoke of the administration of the Bill. A good deal will, of course, depend on administration. Some Senator said that we were to a certain extent in advance of public opinion here on the question of town planning, but the discussions that took place in the Dáil and in this House, and the reports in the newspapers, will help to educate public opinion. There has been considerable interest shown in the Press, if not so much by professional men and women who one would expect would be interested in this matter. Among architects and artists, there has not been as much interest shown as I would like. A considerable amount of interest has been evinced in the Press and valuable suggestions made. The Department and the officials concerned are deeply interested in the subject and they have had to educate themselves for the production of the Bill. As far as the administration by headquarters is concerned every encouragement is certain to be given to local authorities to produce plans. Once the plans have been adopted, and resolutions passed by local authorities, the Minister has very considerable powers under the Bill, so that what the Minister and the Department regard as the proper thing will be done by local authorities.

In principle the Bill is not mandatory. It is voluntary on local authorities to adopt it or not to adopt it, and to use the powers as they wish. Whatever we can do in the Department to encourage local authorities to use their power for town planning and improving their localities we will try to do. We will instruct inspectors who travel around in connection with housing and other schemes to see the officials of local authorities and to try and get them interested in the subject, and to use all the powers conferred on them. There are, unquestionably, defects in the Bill, many of which will not be discovered until it has been in operation for a few years. Naturally, the Dáil and the Seanad will use their best endeavours to find out any of the defects that exist. I am sure there are some defects but we provided the best we could for the future.

The Minister said in a few years.


I think the Minister said "now."

I said I hoped the Seanad would point out the defects now.

The interjection is not relevant.

Mr. Kelly

It is quite certain there are defects in the Bill that will only be discovered in the process of using the measure. Senator Sir John Keane raised a point dealing with the regulation of buildings. If he looks at Part II, Section 2, he will find it says:—

Regulating and controlling or enabling the responsible authority to regulate and control the design, colour, and materials of buildings and other structures.

Town planning has to be adopted by the local authority, and when that is done and a resolution is passed, power is in the local authority primarily, and secondly in the hands of the Department of Local Government, to see that the regulations suit the locality, and that houses built there are suitable from the aesthetic as well as from the economic point of view. I agree with Senator Crosbie when he talked about the provision of houses being the first consideration, even before the aesthetic side. It is necessary to have the houses built. We are driving ahead there, as far as we can, in order to get local authorities to agree to provide houses. Many of them are doing so quite well; some not so well. I think the Senator's own county is, unfortunately, one of the worst in that respect. Cork City is doing remarkably well. Generally speaking, while it is quite true to say that we are trying, as far as our powers go, to get local authorities to take into consideration the necessity for economy, we are also trying, where housing schemes are submitted, to improve the designs from the aesthetic point of view, within the limits of the money available. Senator Mrs. Costello referred to certain types of shops that have been built at the corners of roads and to ugly structures that have been put up. There are powers in the Local Government Act, 1925, dealing with the types of structures that can be put up within 25 or 30 yards of roads, and particularly dealing with shops, so that these can be regulated. There is power to prevent the erection of ugly structures that would impede the view or obstruct the roads. That power exists under the Act of 1925, but far too few local authorities adopted it.

Could the Minister explain the position with regard to the buildings I refer to? I heard yesterday that the Department of Local Government had sanctioned building sites at each side of a cemetery.

I do not know about it.

I was told it was a fact.

This Bill has been for a considerable time before the Dáil. It is not by any means a Party measure. We are anxious to get all the help we can to make it a valuable piece of legislation. It is a new type of legislation. There is not much help to be got from abroad. Anything we could get that was of practical value we have included. We are not in any sense anxious to rush it through the Oireachtas. The Seanad will, I believe, take whatever time it thinks necessary for consideration of the Committee Stage. Senator Sir Edward Bigger suggested a fortnight. If three weeks or a month are required we will not object, although we are very anxious to get the Bill through, and to have the powers it contains put into operation immediately. If extra time makes any difference, and if Senators would like that time to consider amendments, I would be quite happy to agree.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage fixed for April 25.