I agree in principle with the Bill. I think the idea behind it is very sound and that a form of rational planning and development, both for town and country, is long overdue. A town planning Bill was enacted in 1934 and amended by another in 1939 but it is true to say that neither of these Acts ever worked. It was optional for local authorities to adopt the 1934 Act or not. Many of them in fact adopted it and when they had done so, they were obliged to prepare a town plan, but notwithstanding the fact that a goodly number of local authorities adopted the 1934 Act, very few of them—in fact, none of them—prepared a town plan. The outstanding example was Dublin Corporation who, 15 years after the passing of the 1934 Act, were sued in the High Court in respect of an order to compel them to prepare a town plan so that the citizens of Dublin might know where they stood. Despite the fact that the High Court, and later the Supreme Court, ordered the Dublin Corporation to prepare and perfect a plan, I do not think they ever did so.
The reason was that the Acts of 1934 and 1939 were not workable. They attempted too much and attempted to plan on a very long-term basis. I think that a number of local authorities were advised by experts on the form of town plan which they should prepare and pass and a lot of those plans were farcical in the extreme. However, the Minister and the Government have decided that the Acts of 1934 and 1939 should be replaced and the present Bill is a serious effort to provide the country with a rational planning system. I should like to congratulate the Minister and his advisers on bringing it in. I will, of course, have some criticisms later of the details of its provisions, but by and large, it is a good measure which deserves congratulation. I should also like to congratulate the Minister on the manner in which he dealt with the Bill in the Dáil and met the constructive opposition presented in the Dáil by the Opposition Parties.
I will be pardoned for saying that the Bill took four days on the Second Stage in the Dáil and 11 days in Committee, while the remaining Stages, I think, took three or four days. I am saying that because I understand we are expected to deal with this Bill in a very short time here. That is a mistake because despite the amount of good work which has been done in the Dáil, a lot more could be done here. There are a number of Senators on both sides of the House who have specialised knowledge, both architectural and legal, which could usefully be applied to the Bill but I understand that due to the time of the year at which it has been introduced, the Minister may make demands to have it dealt with very quickly. That is a mistake.
This Bill was introduced in the Dáil away back on 12th September, 1962, and the Second Stage was not taken until 22nd November. This Bill could with considerable profit have been introduced in this House and the Second Stage and Committee Stage dealt with here with much advantage to the Bill. It is non-contentious and we had considerable time on our hands which could have been devoted to this Bill.
I agree with the Bill in principle. Town and regional planning is absolutely essential and the rights of the individual must give way, where necessary, to the rights of the community as a whole. It seems to me, however, that we should be very careful in a measure of this sort to ensure that rights of individual ownership and rights of property are not infringed unless such infringement is absolutely necessary in the public interest. That is one of the complaints I have against this measure. All through, with very few exceptions, the only remedy an individual has against attack, if I may use so strong a word, is to appeal to the Minister. I do not think that is a sufficient safeguard. Under some provisions in the Bill, a planning authority may do certain things but shall do certain things if called upon by the Minister to do so. Yet the only action an individual has against action taken against him by the planning authority, at the express request of the Minister, is to appeal to the Minister. That is, I think, asking too much of the Minister. It is asking too much of human nature to ask the Minister to overrule himself or reverse himself on appeal.
In my experience, appeal to the Minister is never satisfactory because it is not an appeal in open court. At best, the evidence is given to an inspector appointed by the Minister. He does not give a decision at the conclusion of the evidence. He goes back to Dublin and several months later, a written decision is sent down from the Custom House. From the point of view of the layman, from the point of view of a litigant, that is not satisfactory. I know the Minister's answer is that, if he is to preserve uniformity, he must keep control. There is something in what the Minister says, but I think he could restore, or preserve, public confidence by appointing an arbitrator to deal with this sort of thing.
In the past, we have had circuit court judges appointed as arbitrators for a special type of appeal, such as Army pension appeals, and so on. Under this Bill, there will be 87 planning authorities and we can be quite certain that in the early stages, at any rate, there will be a considerable number of appeals from their decisions. It would be well worthwhile to appoint an individual—let him be a circuit court judge, a senior counsel, an engineer, or some other person—to hear these appeals and give decisions there and then, instead of sending an inspector down to report in secret to the Minister, and the Minister then giving his decision. The Minister cannot but be influenced by the fact that he may have already directed a planning authority to do that against which appeal is taken. That is my strongest complaint against this Bill. It is, I think, fundamental.
The next point is, perhaps, more appropriate to Committee Stage, but I shall raise it now. I am not too happy about it. Section 19 obliges a planning authority to make a plan. Section 20 obliges the planning authority to review that plan now and again, and certainly once every five years. Section 21 says:
Where a planning authority have prepared a draft of a proposed development plan or of proposed variations of a development plan——
they shall do certain things. Those are outlined at pages 16 and 17. They are all very important steps. They shall send copies of the prescribed documents to the prescribed authorities; they shall publish a notice inIris Oifigiúil and in a paper circulating in the area; where the draft includes a provision relating to structures proposed to be preserved, they shall do certain things. Several other things are outlined, all of which are very important. They are obliged to do these things only if they prepare a draft of the plan.
Is there any obligation on the planning authority to prepare a draft? Would it not be open to the planning authority, if they were clever enough, to go ahead and put the plan into force, without preparing any draft? If they do that none of these safeguards in Section 21 will be effective. I hope the Minister has some explanation for this. There must be an explanation, but it is significant that, even in the index to the Bill, there is Section 19, "Obligation to make development plan and contents of plan"; Section 20 "Obligation to review development plan and variations of plan"; Section 21 "Publication of notices with respect to plans, etc.", but it does not say there is an obligation to publish notice. Section 33 (9) says:
Where any such direction as is referred to in subsection (1) of this section is proposed to be given by the Minister, a draft thereof shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the direction shall not be given until a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by each such House.
There you have a positive direction that a draft shall be prepared. There must, I feel, be an answer to my query. I hope the Minister will give it to me when he comes to reply.
The other criticisms I have are mainly on the grounds that the Bill does not provide a suitable form of appeal to an independent tribunal. I shall elaborate on that on Committee Stage.