Following the broad cross-party welcome for this Bill in the Dáil, I am delighted to be able to bring it before this House today.
The focus of the Bill is on Dublin's docklands, an area which has made an invaluable contribution to the development of Dublin as a port and as a city. In the 18th century, Dublin's working port moved into the docklands area from further west along the Liffey quays, largely because of the need to cater for the increasing size of ocean going vessels. As the area grew in importance, so too did its overall profile within the city.
However, the good fortunes of the docklands were not to last indefinitely. Ironically, the same forces which had led to the area's growth were also instrumental in its decline. The deeper berthage requirements of ever larger ships and the increase in containerisation saw the port move further eastwards along the Liffey. Now, the bulk of the working port is concentrated outside the original docklands area, on the north docks to the east of the East Link Bridge.
Although the principal port activities have moved on, the docklands area left behind retains many features which provide evidence of its hey-day as part of the working port. The area is fortunate in having a number of strong residential communities and it also boasts a network of waterways with significant amenity potential. Its proximity to the city centre adds considerably both to the importance of the area in terms of the wider city, and to the development potential of the area.
On the other hand, the exodus of the port related activities from the area has had significant adverse impacts. There are many obsolete and undesirable uses in the area, as well as vacant sites, all with their obvious adverse implications. The greater mechanisation of port activities has also significantly reduced a traditional source of employment for the docklands communities. Unemployment in the area is estimated to be running at 30 per cent, far ahead of the Dublin city and county rate of 18 per cent.
The aim of the docklands initiative is to harness the collective energies of all those interested in the area in order to secure its regeneration. The engine driving this process will be the special purpose authority to be established under this Bill. It has the potential to secure the vital synergies between the actions of the individual players in the area which would otherwise be lost.
The docklands regeneration initiative was announced in last year's budget. As there has been quite a considerable amount of progress with the initiative since then, I would like to take a few minutes to outline the principal developments. I will then detail the provisions of the Bill.
Immediately after the 1996 budget, a docklands task force representative of the key Departments and semi-State organisations involved was established. The task force was asked to focus on two key issues. First, it was asked to consider what arrangements should be made to prepare a master plan for the docklands area; and, second, it was asked to make recommendations on the appropriate mechanism for the master plan's implementation.
The task force got to work quickly and in little over two months submitted a comprehensive report to Government. The task force concluded that the master plan should be prepared by a team of consultants with the broad range of expertise needed to address the very many serious issues facing the area. It also recommended the establishment of a new authority which would lead the implementation of the master plan and, ultimately, the regeneration of the docklands.
Having considered the report of the task force, the Government accepted these two key recommendations. Since then, the first has been implemented through the appointment of a team of consultants whose work on the preparation of a team the docklands master plan is now well advanced. The Bill we are debating today fulfils the Government's commitment to the implementation of the task force's second recommendation, the establishment of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority.
Of course, the task force report was not the only factor to influence the development of the docklands regeneration initiative. Another significant factor which has come into play is the experience of urban renewal which has been gained since the first urban renewal scheme was introduced over ten years ago.
In the mid-1980s, many areas in our urban centres were suffering from the urban equivalent of heart disease. They were simply unable to fulfil their role as the life force of the urban community. Smaller, leaner satellites in the suburbs were assuming much of that role. Although at that time the word "sustainability" had yet to become fashionable, it was clear that the suburbanisation process which had become established was unsustainable. Continuously increasing suburban development compelled us to provide a whole range of expensive, new infrastructural services which were already available in city and town centres.
The aim of the urban renewal schemes was to reverse this trend by encouraging investment back to the hearts of our urban centres. Under the first scheme introduced in 1986 and its successor which came into operation in 1994, areas designated for urban renewal have seen £1.9 billion of investment to date. The schemes have, therefore, been hugely successful in achieving their principal aims. Indeed, a consultants' study on urban renewal published last December strongly supports this view.
However, the past ten years have shown us that physical renewal alone is not enough to ensure the vitality of our urban centres. There also has to be social renewal where local communities are given a role in determining the way their area is renewed and benefit from that process. There is also a much deeper appreciation now of the importance of architectural and urban design considerations in shaping our urban centres.
The consultants' study on the urban renewal schemes makes extensive recommendations on how these issues can be more fully addressed in the future. These recommendations are currently the subject of a process of public consultation and a conference to draw together the various strands of opinion will be held late next month. Proposals for future policy on urban renewal will be submitted for Government consideration in the following months. While the urban renewal review has yet to conclude, we have already learned from what has emerged to date. Many of the provisions in the Bill before the House today reflect that learning process.
Another important factor which has influenced the docklands regeneration initiative is the experience gained in the Custom House Docks and Temple Bar areas. The docklands area includes the Custom House Docks area, which is home to the now firmly established International Financial Services Centre. The new docklands authority to be established by this Bill will be fortunate in having this catalyst for further development available to it. The centre still has tremendous growth potential in the years ahead.
Much of the success achieved to date in the IFSC is due largely to the efforts of the Custom House Docks Development Authority. Since 1986 the authority has, with the help of the powers given to it under the Urban Renewal Acts, acted as the driving force in turning the Custom House Docks Area around. In the course of the Dáil debate on this Bill, I placed on record my acknowledgement of the authority's considerable achievements. I want to do likewise here in this House today. The 3,500 people now employed in the area will serve as a reminder of the authority's ten successful years, long after it is subsumed into the Dublin Docklands Development Authority to be established under this Bill.
In Temple Bar we have seen the importance of an architectural framework plan. It facilitates the introduction of imaginative, modern architectural styles in a manner which is sympathetic to the existing built environment. The Temple Bar and Custom House Docks models have also highlighted the success which can be achieved when a specially focused body is established to lead a regeneration initiative. At the same time, the size and nature of the docklands clearly illustrate that it would not be well served by a simple replication of either the Temple Bar or Custom House Docks models. Bringing together the wide range of interests in the docklands will be a fundamental requirement for the regeneration voyage we are about to undertake. To successfully complete that voyage, sophisticated structures will be required.
Many influences have been brought to bear in framing this Bill. The influence of the urban renewal experience during the last ten years is evident in the mandate to be granted to the new authority. While the authority will have an important function in improving the area's physical environment, its remit will extend far wider than that, encompassing the sustainable social and economic regeneration of the area.
I earlier referred to the success of the International Financial Services Centre and its potential for future growth. In recognition of the Government's commitment to the IFSC, the authority will have a specific statutory duty to promote the further development of financial services activities in the Custom House Docks Area. While the Custom House Docks Development Authority has, in effect, been exercising a similar function since the IFSC was established in 1987, it does not have an express statutory duty, as such, to promote the centre. The new authority will have such a duty under the provisions of this Bill.
Under the proposals in the Bill, the docklands authority will have a council and an executive board. The council will be responsible for the principle policy making functions of the authority and will be representative of the many organisations with an interest in the area. The authority's executive functions will be exercised by the executive board.
I will now deal with the individual provisions of the Bill in more detail. The Bill has four parts containing a total of 58 sections and there are three Schedules. Part I contains sections 1 to 13. These include the standard technical provisions in relation to the short title, commencement, interpretation, the power to make orders and regulations, repeal of enactments and expenses of the Minister. Provision is also make in section 11 for the indemnification of certain persons connected with the authority in relation to the bona fide performance of their functions. Under section 12, the authority will not be liable for damages because of a failure to perform any of the functions provided for in the Bill. That is a standard provision. Section 13 deals with the prosecution of offences under the Bill and the penalties applying to such offences.
Part II is the most significant part of the Bill and covers sections 14 to 47. Section 14 provides for the establishment of Údarás Forbartha Dugthailte Bhaile Átha Cliath—the Dublin Docklands Development Authority—which will consist of a chairperson, a council and an executive board. Under section 15, the chairperson of the authority will be appointed by the Minister for the Environment, usually for a term of five years.
Section 16 deals with the council, which will consist of the chairperson and 25 ordinary members. While the ordinary members will be formally appointed by the Minister for the Environment, the Bill provides that they will be drawn from the broad range of interests involved in the area. The relevant Departments and semi-State bodies will be represented on the council as will Dublin Corporation, at both elective and official level. There will also be representation for organisations concerned with the social, economic or other development of the area, in addition to community based organisations. The professions concerned with the built environment—town planning, urban design, architecture, conservation and engineering—will also be represented on the council, as will individuals with experience in a range of areas which would be of relevance to the authority's functions.
Section 17 provides for the establishment of the executive board, which will have eight members. Apart from the chairperson, there will be seven ordinary directors who will be appointed by the Minister for the Environment for terms of up to five years.
Section 18 sets out the functions of the authority. Under this section, the authority will be obliged to secure the sustainable social and economic regeneration of the docklands area, the improvement of the physical environment and the continued development of financial services activities in the Custom House Docks area. As I mentioned earlier, the authority's remit will be quite broad reflecting the wide range of factors which have a bearing on the regeneration of an area which covers 1,300 acres and is home to almost 17,000 people. The participation and inclusion of local communities in the regeneration of the area will be vital. As the future of the docklands area will have a major impact on the future of its people, they must have an important role in shaping that future and be in a position to reap the benefits it brings.
The types of activities in which the new authority will be involved will be wide-ranging. For example, it will be able to develop land, carry out environmental improvement works and make provision for infrastructure. It will be able to promote the co-ordination of investment in the area and the development of an appropriate mix of housing. Promoting the provision of employment, education and training opportunities, key issues in the overall socio-economic regeneration of the area, will also be a function of the authority. In addition, provision is made in section 18 for further functions in relation to the regeneration of the docklands area to be assigned to the authority by ministerial order.
Sections 19, 20 and 21 set out the duties and functions of the chairperson, council and executive board. Section 19 provides that the chairperson will be responsible for securing the efficient discharge of the business of the authority. This will be achieved through the chairperson's role in chairing both the council and the executive board. In this role, the chairperson will have a particular responsibility for ensuring that, together, the council and executive board work cohesively and effectively.
Section 20 sets out those functions of the authority which are to be the responsibility of the council. In line with the report of the Dublin Docklands Area Task Force, the council will be responsible for policy-type matters including the preparation of the master plan under section 24 and the submission of planning schemes for approval under section 25. Its functions will also include making certain recommendations to the executive board and to Ministers. Under section 21, the remaining functions of the authority, other than those assigned to the council under section 20, will be the responsibility of the executive board.
Sections 22 and 23 are standard provisions dealing with the meetings and procedures of the council and the executive board. Section 24 provides for the preparation of the master plan for the docklands area. The master plan will be central to the authority's work as it will act as the blueprint for the fulfilment of the general duty imposed on the authority by section 18. Provisions is made for significant public consultation in the course of the master plan's preparation, reflecting the critical importance of bringing all the interests in the area together in support of the plan.
I mentioned earlier that work on the preparation of the master plan, including extensive consultations with all the interests in the area, has been initiated in parallel to the preparation of this Bill. This will ensure that the new authority, once established, will lose no time in getting the docklands initiative formally under way. It will facilitate the authority's early consideration of a range of proposals now being developed by the consultants preparing the master plan who recently published a report setting out their progress to date.
The consultants' work has benefited from the completion of a number of studies on the docklands area commissioned by the Custom House Docks Development Authority. These studies cover the area's socio-economic profile, its land use and building conditions and the important features of its architecture and industrial archaeology, all key factors to be considered in preparing a workable master plan.
Section 25 provides for the making of planning schemes for certain areas, the effect of which is to exempt development complying with the schemes from the requirement to obtain planning permission. A similar power has been available to the Custom House Docks Development Authority in respect of the Custom House Docks area since 1986 and schemes were made in 1987 and 1994. The process of making a planning scheme provides for consultation with Dublin Corporation and requires the authority to have regard to the corporation's development plan.
Sections 29 to 33 deal with the financing requirements of the new authority. The extent of these requirements will be considered by the Government once the master plan, which will include costings and funding options, has been completed. Accordingly, in line with the recommendations of the Dublin Docklands Area Task Force, the Bill makes for a number of funding mechanisms. The extent to which each will be used will be determined in light of the financing element of the master plan and the Government decision in regard to it.
The funding mechanisms which are provided for include Exchequer grants under section 29, borrowings under section 30, some of which may be guaranteed by the Minister for Finance under section 31, and Exchequer advances under section 33. The authority's power to borrow will be subject to a ceiling of £50 million on the amount of borrowings outstanding at any given time. The maximum amount of this which could be sourced from Exchequer advances will be £25 million.
Section 34 will enable the authority to ensure that it has an adequate number of employees to enable it to perform its functions. This power will, of course, be subject to appropriate ministerial consents in regard to numbers, gradings and terms of employment. Under section 56, the existing employees of the Custom House Docks Development Authority will transfer to the new authority on its establishment.
In addition to the Custom House Docks area, the new authority will also be able to make planning schemes in respect of other areas which are specified by order of the Minister for the Environment under section 25(1)(a). It is envisaged that the power to make orders for this purpose would only be used where there are special circumstances which make the planning scheme approach appropriate. Any order made under section 25(1)(a) would have to be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas before coming into operation.
Section 26 provides for the carrying out of environmental impact assessment (EIA) in connection with planning schemes prepared under section 25. While it is possible at present to include any EIA-type development in a planning scheme, section 25(1)(c) of the Bill will place a restriction on this. In future, the EIA related development which may be included in a planning scheme will be limited to industrial estates, urban development projects and sea water marinas. If any other development to which EIA applies is proposed for an area covered by a planning scheme, it will be subject to the normal requirements of the planning process.
Section 27 provides for the compulsory acquisition by the authority of land other than land owned by statutory bodies which, under section 28, may in certain circumstances be transferred from such bodies to the authority. Similar powers are available to the Custom House Docks Development Authority at present.
Section 41 deals with the disclosure of confidential information by persons associated with the authority, while section 42 prohibits the making of improper communications to such persons. Under section 43, it will be possible for the authority to accept gifts of money, land or other property. However, the authority will be precluded from accepting any gift if the conditions governing its acceptance would conflict with the effective performance of the authority's functions. The authority will be required to publish details of all gifts accepted by it in its annual reports.
Section 44 is a standard provision in relation to accounts and audits. Under section 45, the authority will be required to prepare an annual report on its activities and to provide the Minister for the Environment with such other information relating to the performance of its functions as the or she may request. Under section 46, the Minister for the Environment will be able to give the authority policy directives and directives in respect of financial objectives. This is a balanced provision which allows the Minister to give directives which would apply generally to the authority's performance of its functions, while at the same time being clear that it does not confer any power or control in regard to the authority's exercise of its functions in individual cases.
Section 47 makes provision for the dissolution of the authority by way of order made by the Minister for the Environment. The authority will not have an infinite life but will aim to fully carry out its duties over a period of ten to 15 years. Once the authority has completed its work, section 47 will enable an order to be made to dissolve it and to make the necessary consequential provisions.
Part III of the Bill, covering sections 48 to 57, sets out the transitional provisions which will apply to the subsuming of the Custom House Docks Development Authority into the new authority. Section 48 provides for the transfer of all land and other property from the Custom House Docks Development Authority to the new authority, while section 49 makes a similar provision in respect of rights and liabilities. Section 50 is necessary in order to provide for the continuation in force of a range of contractual and other agreements. Section 51 and 52 make similar provisions in regard to the continuation of pending legal proceedings and the construction of certain references to the Custom House Docks Development Authority. Section 55 provides for the continued admissibility in evidence of documents of the Custom House Docks Development Authority after its dissolution.
Section 53, which provides an exemption from stamp duty in respect of the vesting in the new authority of property or rights transferred under the Bill, is a standard provision where transfers between public bodies are being provided for. Section 54 provides for the preparation of the final accounts of the Custom House Docks Development Authority. Section 56, to which I have referred, provides for the transfer of all the employees of the Custom House Docks Development Authority to the Dublin Docklands Development Authority.
Under section 57, the Custom House Docks Development Authority will be dissolved on the date to be specified under section 14 as the date on which the new authority will be established. Section 58, the only provision in Part IV of the Bill, provides for a number of technical amendments of sections 4 and 7 of the Urban Renewal Act, 1986, in regard to the making of orders and rates remission schemes under that Act.
The First Schedule of the Bill describes the Dublin docklands area which corresponds to the area outlined at Appendix 1 of the Dublin Docklands Area Task Force report. Under section 4, the Minister for the Environment may make an order adjusting the area. The Second Schedule describes the Custom House Docks area, which corresponds to the area currently defined as such by virtue of the Urban Renewal Act, 1986, and orders made under the Urban Renewal (Amendment) Act, 1987. Section 5 of the Bill makes a similar provision to that in section 2 of the Urban Renewal (Amendment) Act, 1987, under which the area can be extended eastwards as far as the East Wall Road.
The Third Schedule lists the repeals to be made by the Bill. Part III of the Urban Renewal Act, 1986, which provided for the establishment of the Custom House Docks Development Authority, and the entire of the Urban Renewal (Amendment) Act, 1987, are to be repealed.
This is a comprehensive Bill. It is necessarily so because of the need to establish structures which will provide for the widest possible degree of participation in the authority's work. It is also dictated by the need to clearly set out the comprehensive mandate which is being assigned to the authority. The coming months will see the master plan for the area taking shape. I very much look forward to this and, more particularly, to seeing the master plan's proposals being translated into reality. The establishment of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority will be the critical factor in that process.
The regeneration of the docklands area will not only be important for the area but it will be of immense importance for the city of Dublin and for the nation and it will raise the city's ongoing renaissance. A city, like any living organism, requires a healthy beating heart. As a strategic part of the heart of Dublin, a healthy and vibrant docklands area will be of enormous value to the city which has seen many other parts of its central area regenerated in recent years.
I commend the Bill to the House.