The primary purpose of this Bill is to provide for the extension of the Custom House Docks area. The present boundaries of the area were defined in the Schedule to the Urban Renewal Act, 1986, and the Act made no provision for their alteration. It quickly became clear, when the Development Authority were set up and discussions with potential developers commenced, that there was an immediate need to extend the area to include the River Liffey quays adjoining it and, furthermore, that the successful redevelopment of the Custom House Docks area should not, and could not, be tackled in isolation from the adjoining docklands to the east of the present area. The Government decided that the area should be extended immediately in a southerly direction to the centre of the River Liffey and should, subsequently, be extended eastwards on a phased basis once development of the Custom House Docks has got under way. The Bill, accordingly, provides for the extension of the Custom House Dock area by order made by the Minister for the Environment with the consent of the Minister for Finance. The Bill deals also with other matters which arise, or will arise, as a consequence of the extension of the remit of the Authority.
The Government are committed to securing the early redevelopment of the Custom House Docks area in a manner which will benefit both our capital city and the economy as a whole. Indeed, the whole thrust of the present redevelopment effort has its origins in legislative proposals put forward by the Fianna Fáil Government in 1982 in the Urban Development Areas Bill, 1982. That Bill lapsed with the dissolution of Dáil Éireann on 4 November 1982 and it is regrettable that it took until March 1986, almost three and a half years later, before the Coalition Government revived those proposals and presented them in the form of the Urban Renewal Bill, 1986. It is a pity that this time was lost in securing the redevelopment of the area.
This Government are determined to ensure that there will be no more delays in securing completion of the task. I made it clear to the Authority last March that early and sustained progress was expected and I am pleased to say that the Authority responded by bringing forward their target dates for completion of the necessary stages of preparation, planning and development. Senators will be aware that an important milestone was reached last month when the Authority presented a planning scheme to me for approval. I will make a decision in relation to this scheme as soon as possible, taking account of the submission made to me by Dublin Corporation in relation to it. Senators will also be aware that the development work began on the site within the last few weeks with the demolition and clearance of some of the buildings which are not intended for preservation.
For my part, I have given an undertaking to keep under continuous review the legislative framework under which the Authority operate and to bring forward any necessary proposals to deal with any hindrances to the Authority in securing the redevelopment of the area. I have been in frequent contact with the chairman of the Authority in this regard and, arising from these contacts, the present Bill is both necessary and timely.
The basic purpose of the Bill, as I have already said, is to allow the Custom House Docks area to be extended and I have indicated the extensions which are proposed. The Bill allows extensions to be effected by order made by the Minister for the Environment with the consent of the Minister for Finance. This is in line with the procedure under section 6 of the Principal Act which allows an area to be designated by order for urban renewal purposes. Extensions are confined, however, to lands immediately contiguous to the existing area and situated between the southern boundary of that area and the centre of the River Liffey, or to the east of the area and lying between the Liffey and Sheriff Street Upper and Lower. It will be clear, therefore, that the purpose of these extensions is not to expand the Authority's jurisdiction to lands which are separate and distinct from the existing area. Instead, the purpose is to expedite the redevelopment of the existing Custom House Docks area by providing potential developers and investors with an assurance that the Government intend to see to it that the entire dockland area in the vicinity of the Custom House Docks is progressively renewed and redeveloped. In addition, the Bill will enable redevelopment of the existing area to be carried out in a manner which relates well to its surroundings and which reincorporates the site and the quayside into the life of the city. This is essential because of the importance of the site, the nature and scale of the development and the impact it will have on the whole fabric of the city centre.
The southern boundary of the area at present lies along the Custom House Quay but does not include the road, the quayside or any part of the River Liffey. It quickly became apparent that this situation was unsatisfactory and would restrict excessively the options available to the Authority in relation to roads and traffic arrangements, pedestrianisation schemes and environmental improvement and amenity works necessary to exploit fully the potential of the river and the quayside. One of the most important objectives of the redevelopment of the area must be to maximise the quayside and the river as an integral part of the fabric of the city and to exploit its value for the purposes of communication, recreation and amenity, and as a unifying link in the appearance and structural organisation of the city. The present boundary of the area militates against this objective. For this reason, the Government decided that the area should be extended to the centre of the River Liffey as soon as possible and I made an announcement to this effect on 10 May 1987 so that it could be taken into account by the Authority in the preparation of the planning scheme.
In addition to the riverside frontage to the south of the existing area, it is important that redevelopment enhances and relates well to other adjoining areas. Senators will be aware that the area is bounded on the western and northern sides by the Custom House, Busarus, the Postal Sorting Office and Connolly Station, all of which are unlikely to be the subject of major redevelopment in the foreseeable future. However, there is considerable potential for improvement and redevelopment to the east of the area where a good deal of land is in the hands of public bodies. The extension of the remit of the Authority in an easterly direction is, therefore, a logical and necessary step and provides the best means of realising the full potential of this area.
I would mention, in particular, that the local authority housing complex at Sheriff Street is already the subject of review by a special working group drawn from Dublin Corporation, the Department of the Environment and the Authority. There are serious social and environmental problems associated with the Sheriff Street flats complex which warrant attention in their own right. It is appropriate, however, that this area should be addressed also in the context of the redevelopment of the Custom House Docks area and the working group is required to consider all the options in relation to the Sheriff Street flats having regard to the need to improve the environmental conditions of residents, the development of the inner city and the redevelopment of the Custom House Docks. I wish to dispel any suggestion, however, that any decision has been made about the future status of this housing area, much less that it is to become the responsibility of the Authority.
Section 3 of the Bill will increase the number of ordinary members of the Authority from four to seven. This increase is needed to broaden and strengthen the range of expertise available on the Authority and to include, for example, more persons who have direct experience in the financing and carrying out of large-scale development proposals. The Authority at present consists of a full time chairman and four part time members. This is the smallest number of members on any of the 16 bodies under my aegis. The average number of members of these bodies is 14. Actual membership ranges from five to 36. The number of members of any statutory body must, of course be related to the functions and requirements of the particular body.
In the case of the Custom House Docks Development Authority, it is relevant to compare it, for example, to An Bord Pleanála which has a full time chairman and five full time members. In contrast, the size and structure of the Authority, with a full time chairman but only four part-time ordinary members, in my view, is not commensurate with the size and urgency of the task and the diverse range of functions to be performed. The Authority needs to be strengthened and supported by an increase in its membership, particularly having regard to the special expertise which will be required in the promotion and development of an international financial services centre. I should say also that the present approach of the Government to the size of the membership of the Authority is entirely consistent with their proposals in this regard in the Urban Development Areas Bill, 1982, and in the amendments which were put forward last year in both Houses to the Urban Renewal Bill, 1986.
Section 4 provides that the chairman of the Authority will have the statutory duty of ensuring the efficient discharge of the business of the Authority. A similar provision applies to the chairman of An Bord Pleanála under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1983. It is desirable that an express requirement on these lines should apply to the chairman of the Authority who is, of course, a full time executive chairman.
Sections 5 and 6 confer necessary powers of land acquisition on the Authority. The Urban Renewal Act, 1986, allows only for land acquisition by agreement. The special powers of transfer of land by ministerial order under section 13 of the Act relate only to land in the Custom House Docks area held by the Dublin Port and Docks Board. All such land in the existing area has already been transferred to the Authority. Therefore, while these powers were adequate in relation to the existing Custom House Docks area, they would neither be appropriate nor adequate in relation to new areas which can be added under the provisions of the Bill. Sections 5 and 6 reflect the considerable differences in terms of land use and land ownership between the present area and the areas to be added to it in the future.
Section 5 confers powers of compulsory land acquisition on the Authority. The intention is that the Authority will have the same powers in this regard as a housing authority under Part V of the Housing Act, 1966. This section does not apply to land held by statutory bodies but will enable the Authority to acquire any other land that is situated in the Custom House Docks area, as defined for the time being.
Section 6 enables land held by a statutory body in the Custom House Docks area to be transferred to the Authority by order made by the Minister for the Environment with the consent of the appropriate Minister and the Minister for Finance and after consultation with the body concerned. Consequential matters, including the assessment of compensation and any necessary application or modification of other enactments, are provided for. As with section 5, this section will apply only to land which lies within the Custom House Docks area, as defined for the time being.
I think it well to point out that neither section 5 nor 6 can be used in relation to land forming the bed of the River Liffey, which is, of course, foreshore and is vested in the State. The granting of a lease of foreshore or a licence to erect structures on it would be a matter for the Minister for the Marine under the Foreshore Acts and this is not affected in any way by the Bill.
Section 7 extends from two years to five years the period within which grants can be made to the Authority under section 14 of the Urban Renewal Act, 1986. The existing period of two years from the establishment of the Authority is unrealistically short and needs to be extended having regard especially to the provision for an extension of the remit of the Authority.
The Bill as a whole is a reflection of the responsive and supportive role of the Government in relation to the redevelopment of this important area. The potential for redevelopment in this part of the city is immense. I believe that the redevelopment of the site and future extensions of it will contribute substantially to renewed growth in the building industry and the general economy.
There is great scope for imaginative and innovative design within the overall framework for the redevelopment of the Custom House Docks. The area offers a unique opportunity to exploit the relationship between buildings and water and to create a visually dramatic and at the same time attractive place for people to live and work in, and to enjoy as a leisure and recreational amenity. In other cities it has emerged that dockland development of this kind becomes a major attraction for visitors who come just to look and wander around, as well as serving as a major focus of commercial and social activity for the residents of the city.
One of the most important elements of this development will be the establishment of the new International Financial Services Centre. Arrangements for this development are well under way under the guidance of a special committee appointed by the Taoiseach and on which the Custom House Docks Development Authority is represented. Already, on the recommendation of the committee, special tax provisions to encourage the development of the International Financial Services Centre have been included in the Finance Act, 1987. These incentives are in addition to the incentives already available for other development on the site. The latter include rates remission and taxation allowances in respect of the capital costs of commercial buildings, the rent payable by traders and "section 23" type allowances for rented residential accommodation. The Finance Act, 1987 also enables these allowances to be applied to any extension of the Custom House Docks Area. Altogether, they add up to a very keen incentive package and should not only encourage primary development on the site but also allow rental costs to be held at very competitive levels compared with those obtaining in other centres. This will be particularly important in the case of the International Financial Services Centre.
Financial services is one of the fastest growing sectors of economic activity in the world and our aim is to put Ireland into the main stream of that growth. The south west corner of the site, adjoining the Custom House, has been earmarked for the centre in the planning scheme devised by the Authority. All the indications are that this centre will be an outstanding success. Major financial institutions from all over the world have expressed interest and a major marketing campaign is underway. In addition to the centre and other commercial activities, it is envisaged that the site will contain retail, cultural, residential and amenity facilities.
The important thing now is to ensure that every possible effort is made to achieve the objective of getting the right kind of development under way quickly, and that the momentum for progress is sustained. The Bill is an important step in this direction and I commend it to the House.