These amendments seek to create a greater public involvement in the procedures by which land will be entered on the derelict sites register. Amendment No. 7 would open to the public all representations by landowners against their land being entered on the derelict sites register. Amendment No. 8a would require a local authority to enter a site on the register where an application to this effect was made by any other person, representative, organisation or body.
I would like to remind Senators that the establishment of a derelict sites register, for which section 8 provides, is in itself a commitment to open government in the administration of this Bill. A local authority will be obliged to maintain a register of all land in their area which, in their opinion, is derelict. They will have to enter details of this land on the register, including particulars of action taken by them. The entire register will be made available for public inspection at the offices of the local authority at all times during office hours.
This public register of derelict sites will serve a number of purposes. In the case of urban land, liability for the derelict sites levy will automatically follow from entry in the derelict sites register. The register will also inform prospective new property owners that land is formally classified as a derelict site, with all of the liabilities and obligations which this will entail. Most importantly, the derelict sites register will stand as a public indication and reminder of the extent of the dereliction in a local authority area. If any interested member of the public, any representative or any member of a local authority wishes to make representations that the register does not adequately list all the derelict sites, then it will be fully open to them to do this. However, as the Bill stands, it is the judgment of the local authority which will decide whether, having regard to all the arguments put forward, a property should be entered in the derelict sites register.
Amendment No. 18 would change this position and require sites to be entered on the register on the application of third parties, provided that the application satisfied the criteria laid down by the Act. I should point out, first, that the amendment is technically defective because it does not spell out what these criteria should be. More importantly, the amendment would contravene natural justice in that it makes no provision for hearing the landowner's side of the case. I do not think anyone would like that to be the case.
The real intention behind both amendments is that the policing of the derelict sites control should, in some formal way, involve the public at large and not just the local authority. I have some difficulties with this idea. Section 9 of the Bill places a duty on every owner and occupier of land to take all reasonable steps to keep their land from becoming derelict. By contrast, section 10 places a much wider duty on local authorities to take all reasonable steps to keep all land in their areas from becoming derelict. In other words, the primary responsibility of individual landowners is for their own land, but local authorities are clearly required to concern themselves with the state of all properties in their functional areas.
The Bill establishes local authorities in a special way as guardians and protectors of the public interest in relation to dereliction. I do not think it would be practical for them to share this responsibility formally with private persons or representatives' organisations. As I have said, there will be nothing to prevent persons or bodies making representations to the local authorities and nothing to prevent them making representations on any aspect of the administration of this Bill, including the derelict sites and the register. I would expect the existence of the register to encourage this process.
For the reasons I have stated, I would not be prepared to give shared powers to the public in relation to entry on the register. If I may now elaborate, what we are doing here is giving powers to the local authority and to the members, as Senator Howard said last week on this debate. The local authority, or corporation, will be responsible and compelled under this Bill to keep a register of all of these. If I am going to buy a site, I or my legal representative should check with the register in that local authority area that the site is not in the register. I want to put this on record. I am not a legal man but I understand a good bit about it. If you go to buy a site you would want to make sure that there is not a liability on it under the register. It is very important.
I want to put on the record now that when this Bill comes into law a certificate will be required, in my opinion, from the local authority of the functional area because if you buy a site, pay your money and then find out it is in the register, you could be liable to a compulsory order. You would want to see the register to ascertain the position. If it is a cleaningup operation that is different. You can communicate with the local authority and they will decide and give you the clearance. That is why I want to spell that out. Do not take me out of context. Ordinary people might not realise this. They might say afterwards to public representatives that it was not explained, that "We did not know". I am explaining it now in the simplest way I can, without any legal garbage. I am explaining in very simple language what has to be done.
Coming back to the register, the local authority will keep a register in their area. It is open to any person to write in, or to communicate with elected representatives, if they so wish, to point out an area, a location or site, whatever the case may be. They can inform the local authority. But I have no doubt now. I think you may be underestimating the local authority a little.
In the Midlands they are very competent. Their area engineers and area officials who work for the local authorities know the areas quite well. I do not see a problem here. The local authority members will be involved also. People have the right to let the local authority know about this. The local authority will be involved in the compiling of the register. I do not want to get too many fingers in the pie because that does not work out, as you know. That is why I am satisfied with this wording of the Bill and satisfied that it will operate.
I understand the sentiments of the Senators also. I have to be fair. I do not think you need to worry now in regard to this. We are giving teeth now to the local authority. For the first time they are getting a wonderful opportunity here. In this Bill I am giving power to the members of the local authorities. They were crying out for it so long, saying that power was all in the Custom House, or in O'Connell Bridge House, whatever way you like to put it. Now we are bringing it back down to the corporations and the local authorities. I have explained this in as much as I possibly can. I appreciate the Members' views also. I am satisfied with what we have in the Bill. I have given a lot of thought in the last week to all the sections we will be coming to. I know where I am going in this. Do not take me out of context but I am satisfied with the wording of this.