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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 20 Oct 1999

Vol. 160 No. 10

Planning and Development Bill, 1999: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I welcome this substantial Bill which fulfils a commitment by the Government in An Action Programme for the Millennium to deal with planning. The legislation aims to co-ordinate the structure of the planning process as well as consolidating the different Acts that have dealt with it in the past. The Bill is comprehensive and its specific elements are important to the overall good planning and development of the country.

The Bill incorporates a structured approach to planning nationally and locally, on a regional and county basis. Following the recent local elections, the legislation gives local authorities an opportunity to fundamentally underpin the importance of their development plans. It provides members of local authorities with the opportunity to realise the importance of their functions for future planning. It co-ordinates national and regional planning, in addition to setting out the agenda for proper planning and development generally.

In the planning process the Bill establishes the importance of sustainable development as part of the agenda for modern planning. In its structure and implementation, the legislation should do away with the concept of peripherality from a national and regional point of view. This will occur if we are to utilise the Bill and the opportunities it provides to county councils. The Bill will also enable us to build a holistic approach towards the environment whereby we can plan our futures and work towards an agenda that deals with peripherality and sustains people's needs in an ordered way.

The reforms envisaged in the legislation are geared towards improving planning services within a specified timeframe, by tightening up existing time limits governing planning applications. These reforms will place a certain onus on planning authorities to deal with such applications within an agreed procedure. In addition, it creates a structure which will provide customers with a better service by opening up the entire planning process.

The Bill recommends pre-planning discussions in relation to some applications, which is an important development in customer service in the context of a county development plan. In this way, planning applications can be processed to benefit the applicant and the environment. That is a worthy aim, although it will place substantial pressure on the resources of planning authorities. However, it will also provide positive assistance to planners, architects and applicants. In support of that concept, it is important that proper resources are provided.

In his earlier contribution, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government said he had carried out recently an assessment of the planning requirements to ascertain what elements were needed within counties, given the substantial increase in demand for services spurred by current economic growth. The Minister and his Ministers of State are dealing with that aspect by providing increased funding for the overall development of local services.

The Bill establishes strategic development zones, thus providing a new concept of proper spatial planning for the future. Such zones will be set up where there is a need for them and where they would prove to be suitable from an environmental viewpoint. Strategic development areas will be established in concert with population growth and educational facilities for students – for example, in close proximity to institutes of technology where well qualified young people can take up positions offered in areas of industrial growth, such as the high technology sector.

The legislation establishes parameters for enforcing decisions of the planning office, an element which has been lacking in the past. This has been costly to the State – through the county councils – and to the environment. To some extent there has been a reluctance in the structures, between administrative and technical works, about who should do what in relation to planning applications which affect different aspects of responsibility within local government. The Bill sets out the agenda for that, putting the onus on county managers and councillors to decide who is responsible for specific areas. In that way the matter will be dealt with properly.

The legislation co-ordinates previous planning Acts in a positive manner, amalgamating the best elements within a concise Bill. This has not been attempted in the past and it is very welcome, given our developing economy, changing society and the changed emphasis on development needs. The Bill also deals with problems pertaining to our booming economy, such as affordable housing. While there is some reluctance by developers to accept the requirements set out in the Bill concerning land use and the percentage of land provided for affordable housing, it is something that developers can cope with. They would do well to face up to their responsibilities and work with this programme because the need is there. One need only look at counties like Mayo, my own area, where problems have arisen through a lack of affordable housing. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government has a responsibility to act in order to provide houses at a reasonable cost. The construction industry should take on board the change in Government policy and work with it. It will not be detrimental in any way to the balance of proper planning and development or to the industry's own economic situation.

The national development plan must contain a strategy for social and affordable housing. I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, his ministerial colleague, Deputy Molloy, and others, for the development of voluntary and social housing. There has been an enormous improvement in the take up by voluntary groups throughout the country and this has dealt with some of the needs in counties. The Department has always been amenable towards community groups addressing the needs of areas, for example, dealing with the elderly or young people and trying to provide affordable housing. This is worthwhile and the officials in the Department should be complimented.

The Bill gives an opportunity to An Bord Pleanála in relation to dealing with appeals. The changes are worthwhile from the point of view of the ability to define and deal with some vexatious appeals. Speaking to planning officers about the Bill, the view is that An Bord Pleanála should be put in a similar position in terms of dealing with applications on time and providing a good customer service. It is fine and necessary to set the agenda for county councils and local authorities, but it is important that An Bord Pleanála deals firmly with applications within specific time frames. It is also important in the context of the national development plan that these procedures are put in place and that An Bord Pleanála is tied to a tight schedule in dealing with applications. This is crucial from the point of view of the country's economic development and in the interests of those making applications.

I am aware of the difficulties posed by vexatious appeals, but more must be done in this area. There are cases where people are attempting to extract compensation on that basis. Appeals are made in a professional way in certain areas by people who are hired to do that work. The board must be firmer in dealing with some of those appeals because they clog up the system of good planning and development. The changes in the Bill provide an opportunity for An Bord Pleanála to deal with this aspect of development in a firmer way.

The Bill gives local authorities an opportunity to deal with breaches of planning conditions. This will require much movement by personnel who will have the financial power to deal with breaches. However, local authorities and planning officers must implement the conditions of planning applications and ensure that sufficient staff are available to do that work. They must also ensure that demarcation obstacles in local government are got around and people are given responsibility to implement the provisions.

One of the notable parts of the Bill is section 18 which deals with the planning of estates. It is time this aspect was addressed and that local authorities had the right to protect people who become the victims of bad development practices, for example, where builders leave estates unfinished. It is a welcome development in the Bill that local authorities can now set down structures, take over estates and deal with the problems. They can follow builders who left estates unfinished.

The complete reformation of development levies in relation to the amounts and costs involved is welcome. The idea that the money involved should be spent on the services provided in areas is worthwhile. However, there is a great variation in relation to the funding of infrastructure. The Government introduced the serviced land initiative and I understand that local authorities have submitted substantial costs in relation to developments in particular areas which benefited from the initiative. These costs are much higher than in major towns which received infrastructural investment and full grants. We must be careful in terms of how levies are imposed. They should not be prohibitive in terms of developers in certain areas. Local authorities should have a specific fund within the planning area so one can see what is taken in by way of levies and how it is spent. It should be possible to identify that money separately from capital and current accounts. It is important to know what amount of money is taken in by way of levies and from where it comes. Structures should be put in place to allow that money to be easily identifiable and the system should be fair to all those involved in developments.

Sections 3 and 4 contain amendments regarding exemptions from planning control in the areas of agriculture, forestry and peat extraction. There may be some objections to that from the farming community in terms of the holistic approach to planning and development. However, it is important that the provisions are included in the Bill and put in place in terms of a general approach to good planning and development.

The Bill deals with many different areas, including the national and architectural heritage sectors. It is comprehensive in its approach and its substance is worthwhile. It provides an opportunity for elected representatives and officials to implement the system in a balanced way. Section 7, which deals with the disclosure of interests, is important. There is a view within politics on the part of all public representatives that the disclosure of interests is important. The sooner that principle is accepted the better for everybody because, if that were accepted, there would be a more balanced approach and people would not be as selective when it came to certain issues as they were in the past. It would also be good for the political establishment and politics as a whole.

It would make for better political life for everybody and for a better country because much money is involved in planning and development. There is a great deal of public concern about planning decisions and several tribunals are ongoing. Anything which helps to ease the mind of the public from the point of view of people feeling at ease with decisions that are made which affect them, is worthwhile. The disclosure of interests is of fundamental importance in that regard and I welcome that provision in the Bill. I welcome the Bill and I am delighted to support it.

I wish to share my time with Senator Joe Doyle.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I will not deal with many of the issues addressed by my colleagues on both sides of the House, but I will revisit some of the points made. The Bill is a welcome step forward, but, like many things, there is nothing that is good that cannot be made better through further discussion and amendment. We will propose amendments which are relevant to some of the points made on this side of the House.

It is ridiculous that the elected representatives of county councils, who are members of the authorities that grant or refuse a permission, must pay when making a submission to An Bord Pleanála. Nobody has a more intimate knowledge of their areas than local public representatives. In view of this, we should be able to make submissions to the board without being considered as just another party to an appeal.

I am confused as to what is happening at An Bord Pleanála. I understood that we had agreed on a system whereby in-fill housing and higher density was to be the norm rather than the exception, especially in urban areas. I am dealing with the case of a young man who sought permission to build a house in the side garden of his parents' home. It is a huge garden which could probably accommodate ten houses. His submission was approved by the council but an appeal was made to the board, which he lost over two conditions. He addressed these and resubmitted his proposal, which was again granted by the council. The inspector's report was favourable, yet it was again refused by the board. This process took approximately a year and four months. In consequence, he cannot afford to buy a house because, given the rising costs in home ownership, he has lost the equivalent of approximately £40,000. It must be asked if we, as elected local representatives, are getting one message while the board is getting another.

I do not know if the proposals on social housing are constitutional. Everybody takes the view that we must wait until they are tested. My fear is that in the greater urban areas we will resort to the fire brigade action of the 1970s. The lists are now so long there is no way people can be accommodated other than by creating additional west Tallaghts, Blanchardstowns, north Clondalkins and Ballymuns, all built in the old way. There will be a reversion to single type housing, which will solve the problem but will create approximately another 1,000 social problems. While I approve of mixed housing schemes, I am not sure if the approach outlined by the Minister is correct. I cannot see how there will be any reduction in the waiting lists under the new system.

Rogue developers give cowboys a bad name and make a mockery of the system. I am delighted to note the provisions to deal with people who are effectively crooks. They make life so hard for the people they sell their houses to. I have twice gone to court to represent residents against the same developer. It was all we could do in the long run. He has permissions for the past 15 years in the same area. He never finishes his developments and under current legislation he can blithely go about his business.

I am disgusted by the attitude towards people I represent who buy a house and probably never move out of it again. That house would amount to the biggest purchase of their lives. A spokesperson – I will not describe him as a gentleman – for the rogue developer to whom I have referred, who was annoyed by people asking for their just rights with regard to their estates, famously said: "Sure they are only from Ballyfermot. Is it not good enough for them?". The same developer took a different approach to a development in the Foxrock area, where even the grass had been shaved to make it more attractive to potential buyers. His attitude to the people I represent shows a disregard for their feelings and for their need to have just as well finished an estate as those who can afford better. I am, therefore, very pleased to note the proposals to deal with such developers. If we can reinforce them by amendment we will do so.

If an inspector's report on an appeal to An Bord Pleanála is positive and the board then decides, as it is entitled to, not to give permission while allowing that, say, two thirds is acceptable, why can it not grant limited permission and set out conditions that those aspects of the application it considers to be unacceptable be amended to fall in line with what it has granted? Failure to make such decisions, especially in the commercial sector, will set people back for perhaps a year and a half, at enormous cost, in respect of applications that will ultimately be granted.

A headline in The Irish Times of approximately a week ago referred to planning delays being blamed on staff shortages and workload. It is clear that even an ordinary appeal to An Bord Pleanála can take a long time. Delays are compounded if appeals are turned down on two small points. It means resubmitting a proposal to the council and returning to the board if there is an appeal. One only has to consider the delays to the construction of the motorway in the south part of County Dublin to see how ridiculous is the present system. I hope we can do something realistic here. I do not expect people to be given short shrift, nor to be given something to which they are not entitled, but the present system is causing grave financial problems because of the delays involved and the cost of resubmitting new applications when perhaps only two matters need to be addressed.

Are the standards laid down by An Bord Pleanála in keeping with reality? I do not ask that these standards be diminished but there is a need to ask what is happening. Is the board the planning authority or is it the county or city council? Is the brief to the planning inspector too wide? Board members never visit an area which is the subject of an appeal. The board relies on, and in many cases rejects, an inspector's report even though it is positive. Should the applicant be allowed to rebut the inspector's report prior to the board's decision? Perhaps improvements sought or conditions required could be achieved before submission to the board. I am trying to be realistic in addressing what has become a completely mixed up area. People have a right to a fair and equitable decision. For example, the young man to whom I have referred cannot now afford to buy a house because of the delays following the actions of the board.

There is the question of whether an applicant should be allowed to address the reasons for refusal directly to the board without having to go back through the planning process, which is the nub of the problem. Given that the applicant has no further means of appeal, is it reasonable to expect the board not to be monitored? I do not suggest that we seek a judicial arrangement. Would it be possible to appoint an ombudsman where a direct conflict arises between the inspector's report and the decision of the board?

That the area plan should deal with all objections within the display period and appeals should be limited to individuals and organisations. As a public representative, I am fed up with people who do not live in an area and who know nothing about it lodging objections before the ink is dry on a planning application. If these people were asked to identify an exact project or place, they would know nothing about it. Appeals should be limited to individuals and organisations directly affected by a planning application. Organisations should be properly constituted and have a proper mandate. It appears to me that anyone, anywhere, for any reason, can suddenly decide they are either jealous or envious or that the applicant will kill a slug or do away with a rare species of ant. These people appeal to the board at that level.

I thank Senator Ridge for sharing her time with me. As a member of the premier local authority in the country, I have always taken a personal interest in planning and development. I have always felt that the planning Acts should be updated. For that reason, I welcome the proposed legislation. The purpose of the Bill is to revise, extend and consolidate the Local Government (Planning and Development) Acts, 1963 to 1999, and to provide for the proper planning and sustainable development of all areas.

The measure before the House today is a comprehensive review of the planning system. To his credit the Minister engaged with public representatives and other interested bodies during the period of the review. I attended a number of conferences where the Minister and Minister of State explained their thinking in relation to the updating of the planning laws. I found this most helpful. Many of the measures in the Bill do not come as a surprise as the Minister already alluded to them during his contributions at these conferences.

This is a daunting piece of legislation consisting of 18 parts. During the limited time available to me, I can only reflect on a number of the key issues in the Bill. One of the most important functions of a local authority is preparing the draft development plan. Section 11 of Part II of the Bill sets out the procedures required for the preparation of the draft development plan. Future development plans will have a maximum duration of six years and the procedures for reviewing development plans has been speeded up. The manager will now be required to undertake widespread consultations in preparing a draft plan and to report to the council. This is a big improvement on the previous procedure where the manager came to the council with the draft plan and after discussion by the council, it was then put on display without any input from the public. Under the new proposals, before the manager draws up the development plan, he will have consultations with the public. This will be helpful. The timescale at present is eight weeks for the first display and four weeks for the second display, if required.

Preparing the development plan is a very important role for local authority members; it is one of the reserved functions of the council. In the past it has taken years for some local authorities to adopt a development plan, going through the different stages. Under my stewardship, Dublin City Council last year adopted its development plan within one year. The process began in April and concluded the following April. However, I was surprised that the first draft of the plan did not indicate the last 140 acres of agricultural land within the city boundary. Dr. Bacon in his report highlighted that this land was suitable for residential development. In order to facilitate this, an amendment was tabled to the development plan. Unfortunately, this was opposed by certain members of the city council but it was supported by Senator Liam Fitzgerald and his party. It took my casting vote to have this land rezoned. I cannot understand why some public representatives, who put down motions looking for more social and affordable housing, take such an attitude and oppose the rezoning of land which is badly needed for housing.

Before I conclude on the development plans, I would like the Minister of State to clarify the situation regarding Athy. I understand there has been a High Court judgment in relation to rezoning in the Athy area which could affect other development plans. It appears from the judgment that under the present procedure and under the provisions in this Bill, there will be a first showing and a second showing. If I read the judgment correctly, I believe it could lead to a third and fourth showing. A line must be drawn. The Minister of State should indicate the position vis-à-vis the legality of the case in Athy in relation to development plans.

I am pleased to note that the area plans will be put on a statutory basis. Up to recently a number of local area plans were drawn up but they could only be considered in the context of a development plan. There were the integrated area plans as prepared under the Urban Renewal Act. Dublin Corporation, under the umbrella of the better local government initiative, recently set up five area committees to replace the standing committees. It would be interesting if each of these areas drew up their own development plan and they were knitted together to form the development plan for the city in the future.

Part III of the Bill deals with development control. Submissions from members of the public are given statutory recognition for the first time. Third parties must make their objections to the planning authority in order to exercise the right of appeal to An Bord Pleanála. A fee will be introduced for submissions of observations to the planning authority. This is a new departure and the amount of the fee is not stated in the Bill. I understand the Minister intends to introduce the fee by way of regulation. I believe that the principle of a fee should be dropped and my reason for this is quite simple. When submitting planning applications to local authorities developers obtain costly professional advice from architects and consultants who specialise in the planning process. Individuals and residents' associations must compete with this type of representation. They will also have to seek the advice of architects and consultants and this can be very costly. It is unfair for a residents' association or an individual having incurred this cost to have to pay a fee. I ask the Minister to reconsider this aspect.

I am pleased to note that where a developer has a proven record of lack of compliance with previous permissions, the local authority, with the consent of the High Court, can refuse to grant planning permission. I am also pleased to note that there may be no appeal to An Bord Pleanála against such a refusal.

Under this part of the Bill local authorities will be given a new role in approving a development contribution scheme. This will set out the basis for requiring developers to pay a financial contribution towards the cost of providing public infrastructure and facilities benefiting the proposed local development. It will be the responsibility of the manager to invite public submissions in relation to the draft scheme and report on any submissions received to the council.

Section 36 of Part III provides for an appeal to An Bord Pleanála of the decision by a local authority on an application for permission and subsection (3) restates section 14 of the 1976 Act to provide that the board may grant permission where the development will be a material contravention of the development plan. I have always found this very difficult to understand. In the first instance we have a development plan which is a reserve function of a local authority, and after full consultation with the public it is approved. Then at a later stage, if the local authority wishes to give planning permission which contravenes its own development plan, it has to go through a procedure and consult the public. This is quite different from the procedures relating to An Bord Pleanála. If it feels justified in granting a planning permission that contravenes a development plan, then An Bord Pleanála should have to go through the same procedure as local authorities.

Part V provides for housing strategies to be prepared by planning authorities as part of their development plans to ensure that adequate land is zoned for housing and that sufficient social and affordable housing is provided in their areas. The housing strategy must have regard to persons who normally depend on local authorities for social housing – the needy – and affordable housing. The housing strategy must estimate the amount of housing land required in the area of the development plan and in future must provide up to 20 per cent of land to be used for residential purposes for social or affordable housing. This is a most welcome aspect of the Bill. I know it is the intention of the Minister that local authorities will have the option of making arrangements with builders when granting planning permission to supply affordable houses as part of their own developments. I welcome this measure as it will provide for those who require social housing, which is very important in view of low interest rates and the high cost of housing, and will enable young people on average incomes to get their foot on the first rung of the housing ladder.

Part VIII deals with the enforcement of planning codes and the prosecution of offences arising under the Act. I am pleased to note that anyone who carries out development without permission or who does not comply with permission or conditions will commit an offence. The Bill states that these offences may be prosecuted summarily or on indictment. These offences cover a wide range of planning irregularities and I hope that, as a result of the heavy penalties under the Bill, it will act as a deterrent to any person who may be contemplating carrying out development without permission or who does not comply with permission or any conditions of permission. I am also pleased to note that in future under this section of the Bill fines for enforcement offences will be paid to planning authorities and the courts will also be able to order offenders to pay the costs of the planning authority on investigating an offence.

In the past enforcement has been a long drawn out and tortuous procedure and has been perceived by many as a weakness in our planning procedures. I am pleased that under the proposed Bill a new, stronger and clearer enforcement regime is being put in place and a clear message is being sent out that it will no longer pay to play fast and loose with our planning system.

The Bill is long and complex and I cannot do justice to it this morning in my short contribution. Ultimately the Bill concerns every citizen in the State and my sincere hope is that when it is enacted it will enhance the quality of life for everyone who lives in our communities.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit agus déanaim comhgháirdeas leis agus leis an Roinn as ucht An Bille Um Pleanáil agus Forbairt, 1999, a chur os ár gcomhair chun é a phlé. Gan amhras is é seo an Bille is tábhachtaí ar an ábhar seo a chonaiceamar ó 1963. I welcome the Minister of State to the House and compliment him and his officials on bringing this major Bill before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Undoubtedly planning is an area which is not only topical but which is increasingly important both nationally and in terms of local government given the tremendous and unprecedented economic growth we have seen. The legislation is also timely given the increased pressures and strains put on the planning system in recent years because of the unanticipated levels of growth which we have experienced.

The Bill consolidates the Acts from 1963 and updates the planning laws in order to provide a framework for future development on the island. I like most of what is contained in the Bill which has 18 Parts and six Schedules. I think it is the most comprehensive legislation we have had in the House since I became a Senator. In welcoming it, and in highlighting certain aspects, one will tend to be attracted to areas where one has reservations. This is human nature but, as we go through the various sections on Committee and Report Stages, we will be able to deal with other areas of which we are fully supportive.

The general Part provides definitions, etc., and I am interested to see that under section 4 the planting of forests is no longer exempt, something we probably anticipated. However, I note that felling and thinning are exempt, and I am just wondering whether that should be the case. In my area two or three years ago there was major criticism of the felling of trees in the Barrow Val ley around the St. Mullin's area which is particularly beautiful and picturesque. Apparently no planning permission is required to carry out such work and I wonder if there should be some sort of regulations. In fact, replanting has taken place, but there was no onus to do that. Such felling can seriously blight what is in this case a very attractive area. Perhaps this issue might be examined.

Section 7 deals with the planning register, something I wish to highlight as it will become more important in light of various sections of the Bill. I note the register can now be kept in electronic form. The availability of the planning register to people will be more important than heretofore because of certain changes in the appeal system which we have introduced. It is an area I will return to when we come to the section, but I wished to highlight it at this stage.

Section 8 is interesting, with the planning authority being exempt from certain developments. I feel we need to be careful in this area. Often developers complain there is a lack of consistency between the standards we impose on them on the one hand and the standards we adhere to or apply to ourselves. It is important that the system is seen to be implemented in a way that does not give rise to that type of query or concern. Consistency is the keynote.

It is interesting to see in Part II, section 9, that the development plan must be revised every six years and that the council is obliged to draw up the development plan. This is a welcome development. Section 10 deals with zoning areas; it gives a list of areas and various aspects which must be considered. I wish to highlight one of these, namely, derelict sites and the development of areas which need regeneration. The one area where local authorities tend to fall down is in maintaining property and having a derelict sites register. I know from my local authority and from talking to members of other local authorities that it is an area where a greater onus should be placed on local government officials to ensure the register is maintained and the issue is addressed in the context of urban blight and the rural renewal schemes which have been introduced. The onus should be on the council to ensure the existing legislation is implemented and that it would be part and parcel of the development plan. Specifics can be included in the plan if the register is maintained fully and properly.

I would welcome the provision of open spaces, play areas and green areas, which are essential. A more enlightened approach is needed and it is essential, at a time of high profitability and cost in the building sector, that adequate space is provided within developments to provide sufficient open play areas for children. It not only enhances their quality of life, but can be instrumental in providing an outlet for them to shape their futures. If one fails to provide such spaces, children will tend to be attracted to activities which are not as character-forming for them as playing football or hurling.

Section 11 requires a council to start preparing a draft building plan after four years, which is a very practical suggestion. I am delighted to see it included in the provisions. The plan must be completed in one year, it then goes on public display and must be adopted within the six year timeframe. I welcome these provisions

I have a reservation about section 12 which specifies that the plan must be made not later than six years after the making of the previous plan. Should the local authority, for some unforeseen reason, fail to do that, it vests power in the manager to make the plan at the end of that period. That seems to be adopting a provision first included in the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Bill, 1998. It is an unwelcome development. I am implacably opposed to the extension of the managerial powers. If anything the pronouncements made by the Minister in the past and the whole thrust of local government is to correct the democratic deficit. Why is that provision been included? I agree fully with the thrust of the reasoning behind this inclusion, even though I disagree with the mechanism. Many local authorities have seriously overrun their statutory period for preparing and renewing their development plans. In the main that is due either to weak management or to a lack of staff resources. In my experience it was not caused by procrastination or delay on behalf of the elected councillors. It is fundamentally flawed. If a manager failed to bring forward the development plan in an appropriate timeframe where would that leave the membership of the council?

Present controversies aside, it is not correct or fair to a manager or any individual to put them in the position where all power is vested in them. It is said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I have never understood why the manager has the final say, even on individual planning applications – I was hoping the Bill might address this matter. It is open to abuse; it is unfair to put someone in that position and it is not necessary. There should be at least a number of people who determine the planning decisions. This has an interesting corollary. The mechanism by which An Bord Pleanála functions requires that there must be at least three members of the board involved. The chairman of that board recently told us that and when important and controversial planning decisions are made all the members endeavour to attend when the decision is made. This ensures that not only is the system beyond reproach but it is seen to be so.

This extension to the manager of the power to make what is probably the most important policy decision of the local authority, should the council fail to adopt a plan, should be examined again. I agree with putting a very strict onus on the local authority to meet its time requirement in adopting the plan, perhaps suspension or abolition. However, it is not wise to give that function to one individual, whomsoever that person may be. Perhaps that matter might be examined again on Committee Stage.

I welcome section 15 which requires the manager to report to the council on the achievement of objectives in the development plan after two years of its adoption. This will maintain a focus on the plan and ensure that its objectives are met. Often the practice is that once the development plan is adopted, after perhaps many meetings and heart searching among councillors and officials, it is left to be implemented by the officials and not revisited. It involves more than just the granting of planning permissions, it governs the development of the county for the following period of years.

The inclusion of the local area plan is a significant and worthwhile development. The investment that has taken place in seaside resort schemes has happened, in some instances, without the guidelines of area plans included in the overall development plan. The consequences of that perhaps have not been as good as many local authorities would have wished. My local authority in Wexford has already taken initiatives, particularly in the major seaside resort schemes, to undertake such plans and review them. I notice that towns with a population in excess of 1,500 people must within two years have their own local area plan.

It is welcome that the Bill provides that adjoining local authorities may co-operate in making the local area plan. This should be mandatory rather that discretionary. As a public representative from an area which crosses a county boundary, I would like the adoption of the plan to be conditional on both local authorities, so that they both adopt the plan and reach agreement. As it stands, while they may consult, the local authority within whose area the part of the plan is being prepared is the sole arbiter.

There may be serious staff resource problems arising from these provisions but I have no doubt, based on the Minister's previous pronouncements, that he will address this problem. It is essential that it is addressed because in the past, failures in enforcement, for example, were as much a problem of staff shortages as a lack of will. It gave rise to disenchantment with the planning process and, hopefully, resources will be provided.

I commend section 21, which involves the regional authority in setting out regional guidelines. It is part of the planning process and it integrates regional authorities into the local government system and gives them an important function. There are aspects of development which have a regional rather than a county focus. As a strong proponent of local government I believe it is important as we develop this idea and regional authorities generally that the principle of subsidiarity should be the guiding factor. Rather than assuming powers of county councils to give them a remit, central government functions should be devolved to regional authorities. The onus on the regional authorities to consult the county councils can help the entire integration of the system.

Section 27 sets out the relationship between the development plan and regional planning guidelines. This is indicating the purpose of having the regional authorities involved.

Section 28 enables the Minister to set guidelines on housing density and on telecommunications masts. It is right that sections 29 and 31 give enabling powers to the Minister in this regard but it is important not to be over prescriptive. The onus must be placed on county councils to make their own policy decisions if we are to have meaningful local government. The Minister's intervention should be minimal.

Housing density is a bone of contention. Guidelines on housing density considered appropriate for the city of Dublin or some other major population centres may be inappropriate for rural areas and provincial towns. At a time of high land prices and escalating house prices, the Minister must take what initiatives he can to control prices. Increasing density is regarded as one such measure but I think experience will be that it will have a marginal effect on house prices but will have a much more significant effect in increasing the profit margins of the developer.

We must be careful to preserve the quality of life and living conditions which are important components of the social fabric. Housing policy 30 years ago gave rise not only to poor housing conditions that necessitated the refurbishment of houses at a considerable cost but also contributed to stigmatisation in society. The thrust of this Bill, an extremely republican document in other sections which I welcome, is for social integration. It is important in social integration to provide proper living conditions, particularly for our sparsely populated island. There is no real need in provincial areas for some of the densities we are discussing, although it may be different for cities, especially the capital city. I caution against over-intervention by the Department regarding county councils. The county council should decide the densities and policies that are appropriate to their conditions. This is the way forward for local government.

The initiative in the section on the control of development is welcome, especially the initiative regarding unfinished housing estates. It provides grounds for future refusals. I welcome the tightening up of the decision-making process for local authorities, which is set at eight weeks. The reduction from eight weeks to four weeks after further information is received will be welcomed by developers and others who apply for planning permission.

We have dealt with the subjects of architectural heritage and An Bord Pleanála in the past. I welcome the introduction of the section on housing supply. It is the most contentious and publicised part of the Bill which has a strong republican ethos. Putting the obligation on the local authority to prepare a housing strategy is welcome. It is important to emphasise that the Bill states that the county council must estimate its housing requirement as part of its strategy at up to 20 per cent. It is not an obligatory 20 per cent; it is up to the local authority. It caters for social integration. If we are taking land from developers, for the people who make the biggest investment of their lives on the other 80 per cent of the site by acquiring their own housing the council's determination to deal with anti-social behaviour will become more important.

The legislation needs to be examined and strengthened. I have no difficulty with social integration but rather with the people who disrupt community life. This happens in local authority housing and in private housing estates. The mechanism to deal with it must be in place and there must be a strong onus on the local authority to administer it.

In fairness to the developer, the quality of housing provided by the local authority should be commensurate with that of the private estates. In many instances the quality of local authority housing surpasses the quality of the private estates. This should be provided for in the Bill.

I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister on introducing it to the Seanad. It is an extensive Bill involving much research and preparatory work and an examination of a variety of aspects by Departnment officials. It is possibly overdue as the last major planning Bill dates back to 1963. We have had a number of amendments since.

In the era of the Celtic tiger there is much development taking place. Perhaps we have not been up to speed in dealing with the specific issues of development that have taken place. This Bill deals in fine detail with many local authority issues. Problems which have not been legislated for in the past appear to be addressed in this Bill.

The development plan is an issue that causes concern. The county development plan within any local authority and county council area is the foundation for development. In County Clare we are re-examining the county development plan and, hopefully, within the next week we will adopt a new plan. Perhaps it is a little unfortunate that this legislation is not in effect because it could be brought into line with its provisions. However, I assume that after the Bill is passed a number of county development plans will have to be amended to take the Bill's objectives into account.

The county development plan is an important document within the county council or corporation area. What the Bill proposes with regard to the county development plan is interesting. The provision regarding local area plans is welcome; it is particularly welcome that such plans are being mentioned in legislation. It is important that local area plans are taken into consideration when a county development plan is being drafted. It is equally important to ensure that local elected representatives are involved in the process of drafting area plans and that it is not handed over to a voluntary group –"do gooders" might be the wrong description – of community people who could take a particular slant on it and have the resulting plan adopted. There should be full involvement on the part of elected local representatives in the formulation of the plan.

How the regional development plan relates to the county development plan is also important. The regional authorities are given greater powers and teeth, as it were. They were only set up a few years ago and, in a sense, have not had specific functions until now. The Bill, however, gives the regional authority responsibility for the regional development plan. It is important that local authorities in the region work closely together and ensure that local authority representatives on the regional development authorities give fair treatment to all local authority areas in the region.

We have seen what happened in the past when regional authorities replaced local or county based authorities. There are plenty of examples in the health service. When the health boards were set up there were eight health boards as opposed to 28 county councils and there was a substantial change in how issues were considered and managed. Often the counties with the strongest centre in the region became the main focus of attention for the relevant health board. Development took place in the strongest centre, for example, in the Mid-Western Health Board area it was Limerick, in the Southern Health Board area it was Cork and in the Western Health Board area it was Galway.

The Minister must be vigilant, in the context of the regional development plans, to ensure that the most peripheral parts of the regions, which in many cases are the most under-developed parts, are given acute consideration during consideration of those plans. That is why it is important that local county development plans are fully integrated to ensure a strong bias in favour of the development of under-developed areas. County Clare in already incorporated into an economic region under SFADCo, which includes Clare, Limerick, north Tipperary, north Kerry and parts of Offaly. SFADCo has economic responsibility for that area. Does the Minister intend to include SFADCo in drafting or in consultations about the regional development plan for that area or will the regional authority work in isolation, as it were, and not consult with SFADCo?

It should not be a scenario in which only the people working in the SFADCo bureaucracy or in any other bureaucracy become the main constructors of a regional development plan. It is most important that public representatives from the counties involved are consulted closely. Senator Walsh referred earlier to the powers of managers and mentioned giving them more power in certain areas. One cannot ignore the importance of the democratically elected public representatives. They should be consulted and their views adhered to at all times. With regard to giving more power to the county manager in the context of the county development plan, that should be teased out on Committee Stage and I hope the Minister will give close consideration to that aspect as the debate progresses.

Ensuring that all local authorities redraft their county development plans within six years is a welcome development. I am delighted strict provisions are being introduced in that regard. Given the rate of development, it is vital that this be done within six years. I also welcome the requirement that local area plans be considered for towns of over 1,500 people within two years of the adoption of the county development plan. Indeed, it is necessary if we are to keep abreast of EU directives and development taking place throughout the country.

Twelve years seems rather long for the formulation of the regional development plan, although it might not appear long in the context of overall economic development. However, perhaps that length of time should not be put into law. The Minister might reconsider that provision. A number of issues arise with regard to what is exempted and non-exempted development. I note that turbary and forestry, which were not included previously, are now included. Initial planting of forestry and turbary will no longer be exempt under the general exemption for agriculture as these activities can have significant environmental effects. One could welcome that to a certain extent but we do not want to arrive at a situation where the law simply prevents any type of development in these areas. I hope it will not be applied too rigidly.

With regard to special areas of conservation, one appreciates that they are natural habitats and that there are EU directives to deal with them. Indeed, where these concerns arise, the local authorities have already taken them into account. I welcome the fact that the Bill makes it mandatory that sites be recorded in the development plan. Most local authorities already have registers of the sites within their areas so, in a sense, the Bill gives that development legal effect.

The situation in relation to appeals when planning permission has been applied for is clearly defined in sections 53(4) and 169. The issue of compensation for refusal under section 169 is interesting and should be closely examined. There have been situations where local authorities have refused planning permission because of a potential development. Between the county development plans and the National Roads Authority there are wonderful maps of intention – what is intended in the future and where roads are to be built. Frankly, in many instances, my grandchildren will not see the roads that are proposed for certain villages and towns.

Local authorities are currently refusing planning permission on certain lands because it is proposed by the National Roads Authority or under the county development plan to put ring roads in various areas. The reality is that this is pie in the sky aspiration and the houses will be well vacated or fit for demolition by the time the local auth ority gets around to constructing the roads. This matter needs to be examined much more closely. When considering that aspect of the matter, it is important to examine the plans of the National Roads Authority and the county roads authority to build ring roads, particularly around small towns and villages, in order to assess whether granting such permission is aspirational or possible and whether people should be refused on these grounds or compensation should be paid. I hope the Minister of State will examine this matter. I am sure there are plenty of examples of this scenario in his constituency and in other parts of Cork.

Planning has got out of control in recent years. As a result of the major economic boom, a good deal of development has taken place in most counties, particularly in large towns and cities but problems have arisen in the planning sections of local authorities because it is difficult to secure professional personnel to deal with the number of applications. I welcome the Minister's decision on the appointment of planners and staff to the planning sections of local authorities and the change made whereby the Local Appointments Commission has given powers to county managers and local authorities to make appointments. That has lightened the workload and it has also worked to the advantage of local authorities. For Clare County Council it has meant that additional staff have been appointed to that authority in the past two months who would not have been appointed if we had had to wait for the Local Appointments Commission to go through the selection process.

The issue of planners' remuneration is posing a problem. Many planners are leaving the public sector for the private sector where they are being offered a much more attractive salary and it is difficult for local authorities to secure such personnel. The remuneration structure of personnel within the planning section must be examined to ensure that planning authorities have sufficient staff to deal with the number of applications that come before them. Planners are stressed out. Some of them move from one planning authority to another because reportedly the workload there is less stressful than in other areas and even then they may move to the private sector. This is unsatisfactory and it is causing a good deal of difficulty for applicants, public representatives and the public and it does not lead to good planning development. The Minister of State can talk about county development plans, regional development plans and national development plans, but when it comes to the rules, regulations and statutory time limits, eventually a planning permission will be granted or refused, perhaps without the opportunity of a proper, detailed consideration. We must examine closely the workforce needs of the planning sections of local authorities. It is a fundamental issue that is causing a good deal of difficulty.

A follow-up issue to that is the enforcement of planning conditions once planning permission has been granted. This is important. There is not a local authority where planners or engineering staff follow up on planning applications to ensure the conditions set out by the local authority are complied with. That is serious. People who are granted planning permission for a specific building often build something completely different and subsequently request a retention or a variation of the building for which they were originally granted planning permission. This is unsatisfactory. There are others who build without applying for planning permission. Approximately two years ago I learned from the local authority register that about one-third of the applications were for retentions. That is unacceptable.

I am delighted that the Bill ensures more stringent rules will apply when it comes to retention given that a certain group of people have ignored and completely disregarded the rigidity of our planning process. They have gone ahead and built and then applied for a retention. Usually when this happens the planners will decide it is easier to grant a retention than ask them to knock the building. The Minister of State when replying might let us know how many occasions over the past five years local authorities forced people to demolish buildings that were built without planning permission. It would be interesting to know that statistic. During the 20 years I have been a member of Clare County Council I am aware of only one case where a person was asked to demolish a house. I am not sure if that was a decision of Clare County Council or Ennis Urban District Council. The Minister of State is looking at me in horror, but this is the reality. If people who build without planning permission are not penalised, why should the rest of the people bother applying for planning permission or comply with the conditions applying to the permission granted? Some people must comply to the finest detail in relation to the size of windows or the number of panes of glass in a window while others go ahead and build what they like.

Section 33 states that the planning authority may require the applicant to submit information on a development which he or she has done to assist in determining whether the person has a history of completing developments in accordance with the permission granted. That is a welcome provision and I am delighted it is included in the Bill. I can see where the Minister and the Department are coming from, they have the right mindset, but the provision in this regard needs to be tied down because one could be the greatest hook of a developer and may have a legacy of—

The Senator is not.

I am not and Senator Dardis knows that. A developer may not have complied with the conditions attaching to the planning permission for a string of developments. I might buy 20 or 30 acres of land from Senator Dardis and the landholder may submit the appli cation for planning permission. On checking his record it may be found that he has no record of not completing planning developments or of not fulfilling planning conditions, but a hooky developer can come in and go ahead with a development. That area needs to pinned down in the Bill. The aspiration of the provision is correct and I welcome it, but it needs to go one step further to ensure that the person who proceeds with the development can be traced, whether that could be by way of a company formed for the purpose of the development or whatever. It is important to get to the bottom of this because there has been too much abuse in this area in the past. This provision needs to be examined more closely to ensure that our objective is fully achieved.

The Senator has exhausted her time.

I have not even started.

Acting Chairman

I know. I was really enjoying it too.

I will refrain until Committee Stage. Perhaps we should have a longer time for the debate on Committee Stage, especially for those of us who are members of local authorities.

Acting Chairman

I was just thinking the Editor of Seanad Debates will have a wonderful time figuring out how to spell "hooky". I call Senator Dardis.

I am sure he will have no difficulty.

Acting Chairman

I think it is a she.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, to the House. I should declare a interest in this matter as I am the owner of land that has been zoned for housing development in County Kildare. I hope that does not colour what I have to say, but it is required of me to state that at the start of my contribution. It is evident from all the speakers that we could spend a very long time debating this extensive and comprehensive legislation and each Member could spend at least an hour talking about it. Perhaps we should have thought of that at the start, but we are limited to 20 minutes and we will have to make do with that.

I welcome the Bill. It is very important legislation, probably the most important we will deal with in this Government because it will set the context in which development will take place for many years to come. There are a number of positive aspects to the Bill. Criticisms which have been levelled at planning authorities about planning decisions and the way in which planning is conducted have been effectively met. Senator Walsh was right to say that it is easy to concentrate on a few areas where there are difficulties. The Bill is an important and positive step for ward. It delivers on a commitment made in the programme for Government to upgrade and consolidate the planning laws. It is difficult for the law to keep pace with the changes in Irish society and internationally and the movements in technology. Perhaps we will have to come back to several of the issues in the Bill in the near future.

I hope we do not do what was done in the 1960s and early 1970s when people, who thought they were enlightened and who operated with the best motives, created urban ghettos. That was also done in the 19th century. Perhaps some of the people who are making these important and difficult decisions should look into their souls to see how planning should be conducted. We are all aware of the diminution of confidence in public life, county councillors, politicians and county council officials and of the scandals being dealt with in another forum.

We must look at the infrastructural inadequacies and the fact that infrastructure is trying to catch up with large scale developments. That is common in County Kildare where there has been a population explosion in recent years. It is extraordinary that some of the people who are most vocal in their criticisms of house prices and the difficulties experienced by young people in buying their first home are the first not to agree to the zoning of land at county council meetings. Mr. Bacon pointed out that there is a supply side difficulty and the need for extra housing. The supply side cannot be met unless lands are available.

If planning applications for some of our great houses, such as Carton and Castletown, or cottages in Connemara were made today the planning officials would turn them down. It does not cease to fascinate me how we built such marvellous buildings, such as Leinster House and those in Merrion Square, when there was no planning law. Perhaps the Minister of State or those with the expertise in the Department could tell me how that was done. This has led to inconsistencies and we, as public representatives, must deal with that. People cannot understand how their planning application can be turned down when someone 200 yards down the road can build what I would describe as a Florida Romanesque style house with pillars at the front and a railing around it. Such inconsistencies add to the public's cynicism and a belief that something "hooky" is going on, to quote Senator Taylor-Quinn's phrase. A stanza in Goldsmith's The Deserted Village is worth recalling: “Ill fares the land, to hast'ning ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates, and men decay”. Planners should bear in mind that the human dimension should not be subservient to the need to regulate and control planning, which is what we are attempting to do in this Bill.

Criticisms have been made about the speed of the system and that it is hostile to development – because it is too cumbersome and tedious, people, who might otherwise invest in the country, decide not to do so. That issue is being addressed to some extent, but not conclusively, in the Bill. Enforcement, which must be decisive, was mentioned by Senator Taylor-Quinn and others. It has reached a stage where many people believe they can build first and then seek retention permission afterwards. That is evidenced in my monthly list of planning applications which are sent to me by Kildare County Council. An increasing proportion of such applications seek retention rather than planning permission. That means people have decided to build first because the system is so cumbersome. Senator Taylor-Quinn wanted to know whether we knew of instances where people were told to demolish such buildings. We know of instances where they were told to stop building and then we were left with breeze blocks and an empty shell in the middle of the landscape, which was worse.

Last Thursday at the monthly meeting of the Mid-East Regional Authority the Bill was discussed and I undertook to bring the views of the members, with which I agree, to the attention of the Seanad and the Minister. They welcomed the useful changes and they supported the provision that unless a person objects at the initial planning stage, they cannot object when the application goes to An Bord Pleanála. They also welcomed the need for a county development plan and local plans. They were firmly and unanimously of the view that the planning system needs to be speeded up to meet the targets of the national development plan. They wondered how some of the objectives in the national development plan could be met if there were huge delays, as in the case of the Kildare town by-pass where one individual has held up its completion.

The point was made at the meeting that the length of the process was hostile to development. It was agreed there had to be an appeals system, but that it must be accountable, and that it was no good recording the decision by An Bord Pleanála without giving reasons because people should know the background to a decision. There have been cases in which An Bord Pleanála inspectors made a recommendation to the board which was not accepted. No one suggested that should not happen, but it was pointed out that if it did, an explanation should be given. Perhaps the Minister of State could clarify if such information is now available under the Freedom of Information Act.

The members also felt that An Bord Pleanála should not be able to form a view without taking into account the views of the technical people at county council level and, if sought, those of the elected members. There was criticism of the lack of consistency by An Bord Pleanála and that the courts were being used as planning authorities rather than the board. One member said that a person objected to a provision of the Meath county development plan when it was being drafted. That person said they would go to the High Court, although they knew they would lose, because it would take so long to have the matter decided the council would be drafting the next county development plan when a decision was made. People must have recourse to the courts but it is wrong to use it as a vehicle for obstruction. The members of the authority believe an overriding community good must prevail. They feel that sometimes community good does not prevail. How does one define that community good? The best way is through the vote of the members of the local authority, particularly in cases of the material contravention of the county development plan which requires a three-quarters majority. This is a firm indication of the community good and therefore it should not be open to An Bord Pleanála to overturn either a provision of the county development plan or a material contravention, as it is entitled to do under section 36(3) of the Bill. The explanatory memorandum states, "The Board may grant permission where the development will be in material contravention of the development plan". Local authority members feel this is undesirable and if the board grants permission, it must give good reasons.

The liability of councillors has been used by county managers. Sometimes after a matter has been debated for a day, a warning is issued by the county manager to be careful, otherwise one's house or property could be seized. This is wrong. There should be indemnity, privilege or some other provision so that if people raise these matters in good faith, they will not have their property seized. It should be possible to resist vested interests.

One councillor felt that councillors should be trained in planning law. New county councillors are not very familiar with the planning system and it would be useful to have a training course. I had an amendment made to the Kildare county development plan to require the council to produce a booklet for applicants coming to discuss their plans with officials so that they have some guidelines to follow.

Development levies are dealt with in the Bill. For example, for dealing in sand and gravel, which is common in County Kildare, the county council receives a contribution of £70,000 to £100,000 to compensate for the severe damage caused to roads by heavy trucks. This is then appealed to An Bord Pleanála and is reduced or abolished. Under the development levies regulation, this will no longer be subject to appeal to An Bord Pleanála.

Part XV deals with events and funfairs and is of particular concern in my area. There was a high profile case in Kildare when it was proposed to hold a rock concert in Mondello Park, where there is a motor racing circuit. This proposal was rejected by Kildare County Council. The county manager took the view that it required planning permission. This was upheld and the concert did not go ahead. This decision was as much to do with the inadequacy of road structure and access as anything else. There were reasonable objective grounds for ensuring the concert should not go ahead. However, there is widespread disquiet that it is open to county councils to license such events. Under section 207, there does not appear to be a formal planning process and it is just a matter of a licence being granted by the local authority. Under section 209, which is referred to in section 207, the Minister has substantial powers in the granting of such a licence.

I could spend 20 minutes on each part of the Bill. I agree with Senator Walsh as regards forestry. Although there has been some resistance in agricultural quarters, it is right that there should be a planning requirement for forestry, particularly over a certain acreage – one could argue about what that should be. The felling of trees was mentioned. I think this is dealt with in section 188 under tree preservation orders. It is possible to intervene and stop felling in an old forest. I do not think it is possible for someone to fell trees willy-nilly. Perhaps that can be clarified.

I thought the protection of the environment would be dealt with in greater detail in the Bill and the Minister of State will have a view on this. We talk about architectural heritage, preservation orders, the need to restore buildings but development can have a huge environmental impact. I do not only mean in the case of an incinerator or landfill – a housing estate can have an environmental impact. This aspect is not prominent enough in the Bill. There should be specific references to the protection of the environment. The Minister will correctly state that this is covered by environmental law, the Environment Protection Agency and the "polluter pays" principle. Nevertheless, this area should have been looked at.

I agree with the timescale for the preparation of the county plan, the input of the regional authority – where the environment is mentioned in terms of the preparation of its plan – and local plans. These are all fine. However, Senator Walsh made a good point. In the event of the plan not being prepared on time, the manager will be required to draw up the plan and he must only take into account what the members have said up to the point where he intervenes. I am not sure if the manager is the most appropriate person to do that. It is similar to when a council does not strike a rate and the Government appoints a commissioner to take over the council. I understand there must be some procedure as one cannot halt the preparation of the plan indefinitely. However, I am not sure if the manager is the appropriate person to draw up the plan. A plan must be prepared within two years for places with a population of more than 1,500 people. In Kildare there are many rural settlements and villages with a population of less than 1,500. It is desirable that these should be protected. I suspect that will be done anyway but it is not a requirement under the Bill.

As other speakers said, there are many more points to be made on this Bill. The personal attitude of an official can colour how development takes place within a county. This is undesirable and there should be a framework within which an official operates that makes it difficult for his or her personal prejudices to enter into what should be, by and large, an objective assessment, although I concede there is also a certain subjectivity involved. I agree with the point made by Senator Taylor-Quinn about the number of planning officials. I do not know how the planning officials in County Kildare are coping. There has been an explosion of planning applications in the county. In recent weeks two senior planning officials, including the administrative planner, left the employ of the council. Whether people liked them or not and whether their decisions were good, bad or indifferent, they had a high degree of expertise which has been lost. There are not enough officials. Files are taken out at the last minute and a decision is made to ensure the law is complied with. Additional information, clarification and an extension are then required. It is intolerable. It is not right for people who are making bona fide applications. All they want is to be told whether their application has been granted – they do not want to have to wait.

Twenty minutes is an inadequate period in which to make a contribution on this legislation. I agree with many of the previous speakers. The analysis by Senator Dardis, setting out the response of members of his regional authority, is extremely valuable. It is the people working in the local authorities who know the ins and outs of this area. Their views should be listened to and taken on board.

I welcome this legislation. It is historical, truly significant and long overdue. The bottleneck in the planning area, which is due to the rapid development we are currently experiencing, is one which, although it could not have been totally anticipated, points to a need for an overhaul of planning legislation. One wonders how long it will take to implement and about its effectiveness, particularly in areas of rapid development like County Kildare highlighted by Senator Dardis. County Kildare is not the only place experiencing difficulties with transition in planning offices. Tipperary (North Riding) County Council also experiences the same problem when recruiting planners and keeping them. When planners gain experience they move on. My county council recruited a number of college graduates. On the one hand this is good because we are getting people who are at the cutting edge of their training. On the other hand they do not have the same level of expertise and experience as someone who has worked for a number of years in a planning office. Expertise and experience is essential for the proper working of a planning office.

The bottleneck in the development of our infrastructure is acute at present, no more so than in the housing area. The housing proposal contained in this Bill generated the most comment and attracted the most attention. It has also become known as the 20 per cent set-aside. This proposal is extremely welcome in principle. As a Member of the Labour Party I can say that it was first proposed by my party as part of its housing policy that was developed over the past months. However, when one looks at the detail of the Bill one cannot help but be disappointed at the manner in which the 20 per cent rule will be implemented. It will not come into operation for at least three years.

It is unlikely that the Bill will be implemented before next year. It must also be commenced by ministerial order and, as we all know, this process can take time. After that the local authorities will have to draw up a housing strategy, which takes 12 months on average, depending on the efficiency or otherwise of authorities. Next the county council will have to amend its development plan. Members who are also members of local authorities, whether rural or urban, know how difficult this process is. It takes a minimum of six months. The whole process, not allowing for any legal or constitutional challenges, some of which have already been signalled, could take between two and three years before the 20 per cent condition can be applied. Therefore, the current housing crisis, particularly in the Dublin area, cannot be tackled for two to three years. This is unacceptable and calls into question the effectiveness of this part of the Bill. It is a pity that this is happening and I urge the Minister to reconsider. Judging from his public comments on this issue one would assume that it is his objective to deal as soon as possible with building land and the availability of land to local authorities. Why then is he generating so many breaks along the way in this Bill? Perhaps he should consider taking this housing proposal and fast tracking it through the process, separating it from this Bill. Another approach will have to be taken. This proposal is useless.

When one considers the extent of the housing crisis one must conclude that we cannot wait two to three years for this measure to be implemented. How much worse will the crisis be then? The problem will not be confined to the Dublin area as it is now but will have spread around the country like a disease causing a lot of personal and community difficulties in the process. That is the biggest criticism one must have of what is otherwise a welcome provision. The housing crisis must be tackled fast. The proposals that have emanated from the Bacon reports and the initiatives which the Department has taken have been shown not to be enough. The current housing crisis demands radical action and the principle contained in this Bill is radical. One only has to talk to local authority officials, as I have done, and ask them for their reaction to this proposal. They will tell you it will solve our problems. We are all under constant pressure to rezone land for development but to know that 20 per cent of that development will be available to the local authority is like manna from heaven. This measure will solve the housing problem for local authorities. It is an excellent proposal and should be welcomed. I support the Minister's initiative but it will be useless if we have to wait three years to implement it. He may as well not have made the proposal in the first place.

Members referred to various parts of the Bill, all of which I support. The introduction of planning controls with regard to afforestation is welcome. Last Monday I attended a local authority meeting at which this issue was raised. There are strict controls on where a person can locate a house in the area around Lough Derg having regard to scenic amenities. The same type of control should apply to afforestation because of its impact on the scenic environment and on the view of the lake which is an important part of the area's tourist attraction.

The provision whereby estates are taken over by local authorities shows that the Minister is responding to problems which have arisen around the country. I applaud such a provision and hope it will be implemented.

With regard to retention, I support comments made by other Members on this subject. It is noticeable that retention is abused. It is abused by a number of people who want to get around planning laws. It is an unacceptable practice and we should come down hard on it. To reiterate a point made by Senator Taylor-Quinn, when do you see a local authority moving against someone? In my constituency the local authority has not taken action against people who continually build on to their property, despite complaints by public representatives and residents in the area. All those people are being asked to do is to apply for retention. That in itself is not good enough because the local authority, which has responsibility for implementing the planning law, is encouraging someone to use the retention provision. In the long term this provision will undermine the planning law and encourage this type of activity. I welcome the provisions in the Bill. I also welcome the discussion we will have on it.

On Committee Stage I would like to explore the issue of waste management licences. I am not sure I fully understood the Minister on this matter. Will we be looking at a consistent approach between the EPA legislation and planning law as regards licences being granted by local authorities? At present, when the EPA grants a licence the requirements are far more stringent than when a county council does so. I have had recent experience of this matter in a case which is ongoing. My own local authority granted a licence to discharge a large amount of water from a disused mine. One could argue that the matter should have been dealt with by the EPA, but it will very likely go to An Bord Pleanála. In a case like that, which is clearly an environmental issue, there should be consistency between the requirements a local authority must put in place and those of the EPA.

Given that the EPA is the national body charged with responsibility for environmental protection, I would have thought the best policy would be either to give the EPA full control in that area, or to ensure there is consistency between local authority requirements and those of the EPA. In that case one would be encouraging more stringent conditions. I am echoing what Senator Dardis said with regard to environmental protection. Planning is not just about speeding up infrastructure and regulating how many houses are built in a particular area. To some extent one would like to see it in this Bill, but we do not go far enough in proactively stating the role of planning authorities in protecting the wider environment.

I have some concerns arising from the Bill and my party will be tabling amendments in relation to them, including on the fees for objections and the requirement that in order to appeal one must have been a party in the first instance to an objection or a submission. That is fundamentally undemocratic. Problems have arisen and there have been complaints from many quarters about the level of objections. I know of a recent instance where a lone objector appealed to An Bord Pleanála concerning a development in north Tipperary. There is some concern that he is using the appeal process to hold up the development. One would be concerned about that, but the fact is that a fundamental, democratic principle is involved. Even if it is only one person, they have a right to object and should not have to have been a party to the primary objection. We are discussing the streamlining of the planning process because it takes far too long at the moment, but this aspect is undemocratic. There is more than one way to skin a cat, so to speak.

We should examine carefully the time constraints contained in the Bill. They may be acceptable, but only if enough resources are provided at local level. The Minister of State heard Senator Dardis's comments about staffing levels in planning offices in his county. The situation is similar in my area and I am sure there are many such problems around the country. If the timescale involved is reduced, one may find that the wrong result is obtained in the long term.

We should examine the new provisions and, in particular, the fees, with which I have a real problem. Ordinary people should be able to object and one must not create a situation whereby only those with the ability to pay can do so. This is particularly the case as the Bill limits the power of appeal to An Bord Pleanála to those who have had an interest in the first instance. That is one of the more contentious parts of the Bill, along with the housing provisions, which we will have to tease out and spend more time discussing.

One should handle planning matters at local level, as far as possible. I concur with what Senator Dardis said about people whose planning permission for a house is turned down. In such cases, one constantly hears it said that another person was allowed to build a similar dwelling last year. The only place to go in such a case is to An Bord Pleanála. Although I do not claim to have the solution, we need to work harder on having a shared local vision between the community, the local authority and planning office on issues like rural housing and ribbon development. People find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that their plans for a bungalow or two storey house have been turned down on the basis that they constitute ribbon development. As far as they are concerned it is their site and house, they may have got married and want to start a family. They do not accept that reason for preventing their plans from coming to fruition.

We must work harder on communicating what we are trying to achieve at the development plan stage between the local community, planners and the local authority. We must explain why ribbon development is so negative in the overall context of a county's development. It is ruining large areas, particularly those with scenic amenities, and is causing considerable damage. We should work as hard as possible to prevent referrals to An Bord Pleanála because at local level people have a sense of involvement in the planning process. Once the matter goes to An Bord Pleanála, however, it is out of our hands.

I came across a case recently of a small development in Nenagh where everybody, except the developer, was determined that only a certain kind of low-density development would occur, consistent with an adjoining and much older development. The urban council agreed unanimously with the residents, but the developer appealed to An Bord Pleanála whose decision was almost the opposite of what we were trying to achieve. There was absolutely nothing we could do about it and there was something very wrong with the process. While some proposals to deal with this problem are contained in the legislation, we will table amendments on Committee Stage for proposals based on our own experience of this kind of occurrence. If accepted, they would ensure that when decisions are taken out of the hands of local authorities and local people at An Bord Pleanála, there would be some requirement to take into account the technical comments of local planners. The views of local residents should also be taken into account, even if they do not object. In the case I cited, local residents did not bother lodging any submission to An Bord Pleanála because they assumed their views would be taken into account. They were not, however, and the decision went entirely against them, causing much heartache and distress. One can say that An Bord Pleanála was entirely within its rights to do as it did, but we are possibly moving towards a situation where there should be a requirement to take local views into account – not just the views of the local authority, but also those of local residents.

I look forward to Committee Stage and I am delighted that the Minister has chosen to initiate the Bill in the Seanad. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development noted yesterday that this House was a good place in which to introduce legislation. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government can be assured that we will not let him down in our comments or in the thoroughness with which we will examine the Bill, which is not only significant but historic.

Fáiltím roimh an tAire Stáit agus roimh an Bille an-thábhachtach seo atá á thionscnamh sa Seanad.

I welcome the Minister of State and the initiation of the Bill in the Seanad. Undoubtedly, prior to the formulation of the Bill, the Minister, the Ministers of State in the Department and the officials were confronted with the most serious escalation in house prices in the history of the State,with all the attendant economic and social problems. It was an enormous and daunting task.

Their predecessors employed consultants to consider the issue of planning and the escalation in house prices. I am open to correction, and I will withdraw it if I am wrong, but I think the consultants Price Waterhouse were asked in 1996 to report to the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Quinn, and the then Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, on what should be the main thrust of Government policy in this area. My vague recollection is that the main recommendation was to put a tax on mortgages. When the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Quinn, was asked on "Morning Ireland" if he agreed with that suggestion, he said no – a position with which I concur. He was then asked what was the real answer and his response was the orderly release of more zoned land on to the market. The presenter of the programme, Mr. Richard Crowley, did not pursue him on that point and it would have been extremely interesting if he had done so. I tried to take part in the programme that morning but I was stopped from doing so. However, I agree in the main with Deputy Quinn that it is one of the most fundamental approaches to the growing crisis in the housing market.

I wish to refer to the comments of other speakers. I commend Senator Joe Doyle, the former Lord Mayor of Dublin. Undoubtedly, the leadership and inspiration he gave, the courage he showed and his steadfastness and commitment regarding the draft development plan last year helped in a major way to overcome many of the difficulties and vexatious planning blocks in the system. Within a short time, through his leadership, the members of Dublin Corporation were able to steer through and adopt our draft development plan following a thorough debate. This happened despite the determined opposition of most other parties in the chamber. They shed crocodile tears about the need for more houses in the city, but at the same time when the council was able to identify small parcels of land which would be suitable for development and where environmental features were already ravaged and destroyed beyond repair, they put up the most stern opposition in their attempts, for whatever ideological reason, to block the area development plan. Ultimately, right, fairness and reasonableness won and the cries of many thousands of young couples, young people and first time buyers in the city were addressed in some small way.

It was strange to hear Senator O'Meara's contribution. I highly respect her opinions on most subjects, but she was extremely negative about this Bill which seeks to confront this huge problem and trample over former sacred cows, principally regarding the constitutional rights of property owners. I commend the Minister, the Ministers of State and the officials in the Department for grasping these nettles and introducing a Bill which contains 245 sections and five Schedules. It is wide ranging legislation which seeks to address and focus on an integrated way of dealing with the planning process.

The programme for Government, An Action Plan for the Millennium, contains a specific commitment to review the planning code, the 1963 Act and the subsequent amending Acts in a manner which would revise, extend and consolidate the 1963 Act and the subsequent legislation. The work undertaken in the formulation of this Bill has been done against the background of the most serious house price inflation in the history of the State. The rocketing price of houses throughout the country and particularly in Dublin, of which I am aware as a public representative in the capital, is rapidly leaving the possibility of purchasing a house outside the reach of many income earners and first time buyers. They are unable to purchase. For example, this is the first generation of teachers – I am familiar with them – who will not be able to buy their own homes. I do not make this point to the exclusion of others; I mention it only because, outside politics, I know perhaps more about that profession than any other. It is the first generation of teachers who will be unable to become home owners and who will go on to local authority housing lists. Numerous other groups are in a similar position, including professionals and others—

—who would be traditionally associated with being in a position to buy an ordinary house at an early stage. They would never have attempted to impose themselves on local authority housing lists and the State in the past.

Among the main factors which have driven the possibility of home ownership outside the reach of such people and caused the doubling and trebling of prices over the past four or five years is massive demand and under-supply. It is obvious to anybody who looks at the situation objectively that the huge increase was not planned for in terms of supply in recent years. Undoubtedly, there is manipulation of the market by some developers and auctioneers in some instances. For example, in January or February 1997, I was suspended from the Lower House for asking the then Taoiseach, Deputy Bruton, and the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Quinn, what they intended to do about gazumping. It existed then and it is still a factor.

They gazumped the Senator.

The practice by auctioneers of using potential buyers to bid up the price of houses is unethical, but I do not know how this can be addressed legislatively. I accept legislative proposals were brought forward by Senator O'Dowd's colleague, but the experts deemed them to be flawed. However, this factor has fomented the escalation of the problem.

The abject failure of former Ministers for the Environment in recent years to prevent the problem escalating out of control was compounded by the almost total lack of planning. It was haphazard and there was no overall strategy for the planning of residential developments in individual communities or on a county, regional or national basis. This and the failure to take into account demographic trends, specifically in terms of potential young house purchasers, added to the problem. The lack of adequate planning played into the hands of land owners, developers and others. Many councils, including Dublin Corporation, were paralysed in terms of making development land available. I mentioned an example earlier, and I again pay tribute to Senator Joe Doyle for the leadership and courage he displayed against vehement and occasionally vociferous and hostile opposition in trying to respond positively, with our support as the Senator acknowledged earlier, to the huge and overwhelming need in Dublin for houses.

Another inevitable consequence of these adverse developments was that the waiting list for local authority houses also escalated. There are now in excess of 40,000 families on the list nationally. The lack of a proper national plan, and particularly a plan for the provision of adequate land for housing development in the greater Dublin region, has frequently led to massive conflicts between greater Dublin's need for housing and the green belts. This tension between the conflicting needs has become more acute and been intensified recently by the progression towards higher densities, which is necessary as one of a composite package of measures to tackle a complex problem.

Some Members, especially Senator O'Meara, have suggested that, to date, nothing effective has been done by the Government, that any efforts made have been insignificant, ineffective and that no foundation has been laid prior to the introduction of the Bill. The contrary is the case. Before the Bill was published a number of significant measures had been taken by the Government to address the house price issue, most importantly through the promotion of a significant increase in house supply. For example, there has been infrastructural investment and fiscal measures to encourage the making available of zoned land by developers. Constraints and delays to devel opments have also been removed and, although I accept more needs to be done, the Bill addresses that to a great extent. Measures have also been introduced to assist housing affordability.

However, the fundamental objective of Government policy has been to maximise housing supply in all housing sectors. While some experts in the printed and other media have criticised this policy, housing output has increased dramatically to record levels. The figures on a county, regional and national basis testify to that. For example, while there was a record output of 42,000 house completions in 1998, completions in the first seven months of 1999 increased by 12 per cent over the corresponding period in the previous year and the increase in Dublin was 17 per cent. In addition, planning permissions granted for houses and apartments increased by 27 per cent in 1998 over the 1997 figure and by 14 per cent in the first quarter of 1999 over the corresponding period for the previous year. A five year survey of land supply to the Dublin area shows an increase from an estimated 146,000 housing units to approximately 190,000 due to rezoning and increased density.

Many other initiatives have commenced to contribute to addressing this fundamental and complex problem of supply. For example, the spatial development initiative aims to achieve a better geographic balance of economic activity and population distribution. These factors directly impact on housing demand and supply and, of course, on house prices. This is a vital component in the case of Dublin. Centres outside the suburbs must be identified and targeted for appropriate, environmentally friendly residential development. As a corollary, the necessary back-up by way of development and upgrading of public transport infrastructure is required. That is also part of the developing national plan.

The serviced land initiative provides funding of £39 million towards the provision of water and sewerage schemes to open up land for residential development. It is confidently predicted to yield 100,000 housing sites by the end of next year. Another initiative, which was rubbished at the time but which will prove to be workable, involves the provision of temporary waste water treatment facilities. These permit development to commence in advance of permanent facilities so that local authorities can proceed on that basis. The temporary facilities must meet the necessary environmental safeguards.

A significant element in these initiatives is the inclusion, for the first time, of housing in the national development plan. A feature of this is the commitment to improve public transport facilities to the locations I have referred to where growth in residential development outside the suburbs is considered appropriate and is targeted accordingly. I support the Government's decision to give this aspect attention in the national development plan and in the strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area.

In 1998 the Government increased funding for social housing from £50 million to £300 million. In addition, a new affordable housing scheme has been introduced. I am delighted to note that even in advance of the legislation, Dublin Corporation, the local authority of which I am a member, has already purchased a parcel of land between Clare Hall and Balgriffin with a view to designing a new, different, exciting, community and environmentally friendly mix of housing development, including affordable, social and voluntary housing. While it is only at the design stage the information available to me suggests this could be an attractive and exciting pilot project that might be looked at by other local authorities around the country. I commend its introduction.

The Minister has shown the will and commitment to confront the problem of development land availability. He has tread on a few sacred cows in the process. While the Bill is widely supported it has a few critics. Everybody, myself included, is unhappy with some aspect of the Bill. I do not propose to elaborate on these here but I will do so if I get the opportunity on Committee and Report Stages. Despite this, the Minister's plan should be seen as an integrated package of proposals that confronts planning problems of the past and challenges of the future.

Planning can no longer be allowed to proceed without taking account of the development of a region. In his approach to this aspect, I am delighted to note the Minister has rightly retained the status of the local authority planning unit as the centre of the system. However, from here on all of us who are members of local authorities must be informed by regional planning guidelines, which must take account of the long-term strategic needs in terms of the development of the region. For example, statutory recognition is now being given to the strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area, published last April. It is clear from the Bill that similar status will be given to regional planning guidelines undertaken by the regional authorities. This represents a significant empowerment of these authorities and it merits emphasis and further debate.

Although it is not contained in the Bill, a separate national spatial strategy is being prepared in the context of the national development plan to which regional guidelines and development plans will have to have regard. This is welcome and wise and it will prove to be very effective in the long term.

The lack of consultation and co-operation between contiguous local authorities is an issue that has concerned me since I first became involved in politics in 1981. I am glad that prior to the publication of the Bill, guidelines and soundings from the Department have signalled a new era where each local authority would have to take serious account of the needs and requirements of its contiguous local authorities. That process has already started in Dublin Corporation where there has been detailed consultation between the planning units of the corporation and its contiguous local authorities. In this way more integrated and strategic planning can occur. It is because of this pressure that the regrettable experience in the past of wastelands being created and empires being protected is in decline. The motto seemed to be "You look after your empire and I will look after mine". I assume and hope the same process is taking place in local authorities throughout the country.

The local area planning concept has been given statutory recognition in the Bill in Chapter II, sections 18 to 20 inclusive. Where large-scale development is proposed we can no longer have the huge, sprawling housing estates of the past. I will not mention any such estates by name but they created massive social problems that cost the taxpayer a fortune. We must have properly structured local area plans with full consultation with contiguous local communities. That is a very positive feature of the Bill.

The local authority housing strategy is a significant and integral part of the hierarchy of structures the Bill proposes to put in place. I wanted to talk about enforcement and penalties but I will get an opportunity at another time.

I wish to share my time with Senator O'Dowd.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Bill. A tremendous amount of work has gone into this and I am sure those Senators who have much more experience in the planning process have made all the relevant points. However, I wish to comment on the area of social housing. Coming from the notorious Dublin 4 area, I know how important this issue is. People who have lived there for generations are now finding it impossible to maintain even a foothold within the area despite local efforts in the area of social housing.

I am concerned that Part V of the Bill will be abused because the clawback time is not long enough. Perhaps this can be modified on Committee Stage because ten years is a very short period. A developer can easily wait for ten years to make an extremely good profit on an area which the State has promoted. This should be changed to allow for a clawback period of up to 20 years. This can be done on Committee Stage.

I am concerned also about the charges involved where people wish to query planning permission. This issue can also be dealt with on Committee Stage. I will put the remainder of my time in the far more able hands of Senator O'Dowd.

This is an important Bill. I am pleased it has been brought before the Seanad because this is an important debating Chamber. The points raised show the commitment of Senators to planning and development. It is a broad Bill, containing many issues which will be teased out in detail on Committee Stage.

This Government is presiding over the most serious housing crisis ever. Thousands of people who want and expect to obtain their own homes either from the local authority or through their own incomes find that this is becoming impossible. Market forces dictate that one would be lucky to buy a four-bedroomed house for £200,000 in a not so leafy suburb of Dublin. The same amount of money would buy a fine mansion in France with seven bedrooms and in Greece one would have a swimming pool and God knows what else thrown in. The reality is that market forces are pushing house prices way beyond their real value. Young people are luckier now than they were a generation or so ago. More of them are now getting jobs but the problem is that these jobs are not permanent as they were in the past. Interest rates were never lower. I do not wish to be the prophet of doom but I read in the newspapers recently that a 2 per cent increase in interest rates would cripple many young families who have borrowed to the hilt to obtain a mortgage for their house which is very over-priced. Eventually there will have to be a readjustment in prices by these same market forces, which will lead to horrendous situations for families who will have negative equity on their property. If the economic climate disimproves – this is cyclical – it could have tragic consequences for everyone. These points come to mind on foot of Senator Fitzgerald's comments.

This is a detailed plan which brings together a lot of legislation; it contains many important and new ideas. I am concerned about a general planning issue, that is, the question of high density housing. Because houses are so expensive, it is proposed to build more smaller houses within a smaller space. This might make sense in major urban areas; it makes sense in Dublin city where traditionally there is a high housing density. However, in towns such as Drogheda and Dundalk, once you move outside the business core or centre of the town, you are into areas with traditional semi-detached, detached or a reasonable number of terraced houses. This will be changed utterly as a result of some of the Minister's proposals and it will have a negative impact on the quality of life. It will not impact on the quality of life for those who live in local authority houses because the quality of such housing is first class; it is far in excess of the quality being provided at the lower end of the private sector market. The type of houses being provided by builders for those at the lower end of the private sector is of a very poor standard. They are using very high densities and poor quality materials and are effectively building what in five or ten years' time will be called slums. High density and cheap affordable housing is not necessarily a good thing. I know the Minister has good intentions but the standard of design generally leaves a lot to be desired. He has made commitments regarding the quality and standard of design and design competitions but, given present market forces, builders will stick up whatever they can get away with and consumers will not benefit.

Some areas are designated for development and incentives are provided to carry this out. In the early part of the century families lived over their shops in the centre of towns. Town centres are now deserted at night. There is some flat development but generally it is not very good. It might be a good idea if the Minister were to designate all town centres, regardless of location, for the provision of flats or apartments and offer incentives to have them developed. This would conserve amenities in the centres of these towns, most of which are dead at 6 o'clock or 7 o'clock in the evening. There is no reason this should be the case.

There is another issue within local authority housing estates which should also be addressed. This relates to a family which has grown up and left home and a widow is left in a three-bedroomed house. That person may own the house and wish to move to smaller accommodation. There may be a young family looking for a local authority house who cannot get one because they are not a priority on the housing list. The Minister should consider a scheme whereby there are tax incentives for people who wish to move to smaller homes. Local authorities should be encouraged to provide flats for people who own three-bedroomed houses but who wish to move to one or two-bedroomed apartments. This need exists and the Minister should consider tax incentives and the abolition of stamp duty for people over the age of 65.

The issue of planning is also important. The Minister talks about regional, county and area plans and adjoining counties being brought together. County Louth is dominated in its planning and housing by what is taking place in Dublin city and county. When Ministers talk about the greater Dublin area, they tend to exclude County Louth, perhaps because it is not geographically joined to Balbriggan and Dublin – there is a tiny piece of County Meath in between. Louth is also part of that problem. Drogheda is being seen as the solution for some of Dublin's problems, something with which I disagree. I feel that in terms of the definition of these regional plans, how they will apply and who must kowtow to whom, whether it is the county to the regional body or whatever, the relationships between the regional and local planning authorities will be very significant and important. However, the views of local communities and of the town and county should be paramount. They should, while taking cognisance of the proposals in the regional plan, decide their future and not have it imposed on them from above. That is not to say we should not take note of changes in lifestyles and people moving out of cities. Everybody would welcome a Government decision to move industry away from the Dublin region and into the other counties. The nightmare that will be Dublin in ten or 15 years if things continue along the present course will rest heavily on the Minister if action is not taken.

A large number of people are affected by what is happening in our tribunals. Corruption in public life, be it by a planning official, a county councillor, a Deputy or a Senator, is a real and devastating question for those of us who have spent all our lives in public life. I know the vast majority of public representatives and officials are free from corruption and are genuinely interested in supporting their communities. The accounts of these tribunals make very sad reading. There is a weakness in the planning laws, namely, that records are kept of letters or representations made, but no absolute record is kept to my knowledge of oral representations, telephone calls and meetings. For transparency to be total in the planning process a record should be kept of meetings between officials and developers, between elected representatives, officials and developers, etc. The public has a right to know. They need to know what is going on and the best way this can happen is if they can open the relevant file, see when meetings took place and find out the issues and summaries of conversations. This would go further down the line in terms of showing transparency and openness which I believe continue to be required in the context of our planning legislation.

The question of rogue builders often arises at local authority level. The Bill provides that local authorities could apply to the High Court if they have a dispute over entitlement to planning permission. I think this is far too expensive and long winded a procedure. If they want to apply to a court it should be at District Court level so that the local authority can cheaply and effectively get their order through. Going to the High Court would be much more expensive and managers will be afraid to take that route because they will fear a surcharge and God knows what else. The issue needs to be decided locally in the lowest possible court in the quickest possible time.

I agree with others who spoke about the issue of levies or fees for people who are not aware or do not object to initial applications. It happens quite often that a community will consult with a public representative about a proposal. The public representative will talk to the official and say the factory or whatever it is will be of a certain size, etc. The community may agree not to object, but then something happens and the plan as published is far different from what they expected. To deprive somebody of the right to object at a second stage is wrong and the Minister must change this provision.

The point was made about whether our children will be house owners. The probability is that they will not own their own homes the way things are going. We must put in place a way in which the natural wishes of families will be encouraged and supported by our community. This Bill goes much of the way in this regard and contains many good things. However, one of the key and controversial issues is social housing. I welcome the provision in this regard and think it is good and proper. Basically it is a way of levying a developer on behalf of the community which will receive the land at the price which pertained prior to zoning and which can be used for community purposes.

However, it is no good building houses without building other recreational amenities. It is no good having vast numbers of people living in smaller spaces with fewer and fewer facilities for recreation. I know the vast majority of young people aged between 14 and 18 years say they have nowhere to go, nothing to do and no facilities in their estates. They ask what they can do other than buy drink in the local supermarket or experiment with drugs, something many of them are doing. There is evidence of very, very poor planning in our larger housing estates. It must be incumbent on the Minister to insist that for every 200 or 300 houses built – I am talking about bigger towns or cities – significant recreation space is provided which can be used by and for the community. I welcome the provision in the legislation which I think means that local authorities can get space from private developers to provide recreational or other amenities which are required. I know water and sewerage facilities are mentioned, but I think this should extend to community facilities.

It is a very thoughtful and important Bill. It has a long road to go, but the best place to introduce it is the Seanad. We will have a much greater debate on finer points in the Bill as time goes on. I welcome the debate and look forward to Committee Stage.

I too welcome the Minister and the Bill. I congratulate the Minister on introducing the Bill in the Seanad. It will be welcomed by practitioners on all sides involved in planning. A Bill which proposes to consolidate about nine earlier Acts and a number of EU directives is bound to be extremely complex and difficult. There is a tendency, I suppose, in consolidation to tidy up existing legislation and make it simpler, and perhaps it blunts the enthusiasm sometimes for going a little further.

I think it is better on Second Stage to concentrate on two or three broadly philosophical points about the planning process than getting into the detail of what is a hugely complex and very comprehensive Bill. One of the things that strikes me is that the Bill comes from the tradition of land use planning and almost architect directed planning. There is reflected in the Bill a preponderant concentration on the built environment. I wonder whether the time has come to move to a rather more holistic approach to planning, one which includes the sense of community and the interaction of the various elements which go to make up a decent environment and society. I hope we and the Minister will be able to use the Bill for a wider debate and he will forgive me if he thinks I am commenting on a Bill that he has not submitted rather than on the Bill that he has. I think it is germane.

Planning is seen as a punitive exercise by the public. Planning officers are seen as people who stop them doing something. People should be encouraged to take ownership, to an extent, of the planning process. They should be drawn into it so they can see that planning involves providing the sort of setting, environment and society that they want to have in their town, village or city. For that reason, the interaction between the different agencies should be considered in broader terms.

In this hierarchy of plans, which I welcome, there is no sense of direction. There are very broad priorities at a national level, as to how, for instance, the Dublin area can be demagnetised, how we can prevent the east coast from sucking in all the activity and all the people. How do we stabilise rural communities? How do we provide for the building up of other poles of growth and other centres of social and cultural activity? What does that mean for transportation planning, education and so on? Where do they all come into the equation?

The area, district and local plans are crucial to this in several ways. I agree that it is necessary, in some way, to shorten the process at the end, to prevent the large number of objections that can be raised so that the whole process is not consumed in appeal after appeal. The price, which is worth paying, is to involve people to the greatest extent at the consultation period in the development of the plan, at whatever level is relevant.

From my experience of comparable Acts in other places, it actually helped, in some extremely difficult planning issues involving the redevelopment of a very difficult and complex inner city area, if advice was provided for the local people and their community. This created a level playing field, so that these ordinary people were not being blinded by science by a group of technocrats. It helped to give them the field too and even to pay for that, as the Housing Executive did in a number of places in Northern Ireland. In paying for assistance to help them understand the concepts involved and the proposals put before them, it was possible for them to be brought in at an early enough stage to be influenced, so that they were not dealing with virtually a blueprint masquerading as a draft. I commend that approach as it presents an opportunity to examine where matters like health provision and schools would interact with the built environment.

If one can get as much as possible agreed and into those structured plans, then implementation and enforcement become a more technical exercise. Then one gets the proper politics of what people want into that consultation period, after which it becomes largely a technical matter. That gives great protection for those operating the scheme and is a considerable barrier against corruption as well.

I welcome the proposals on enforcement because the most frustrating aspect of working in this system was knowing that some people simply barrelled on and got away with it and knew they would because there was no culture to support planning in this country, north or south. Strong men have been broken by their attempts to enforce planning regulations, knowing quite well that there was not a court in the land which would tell somebody to pull down a building once it was up. That is an important matter.

I welcome the proposal on historic buildings and their protection. We should take care to preserve the setting of an historic building as well the building itself so that it is seen in a way that befits part of the heritage. Is the definition simply in relation to curtilage sufficient to do that?

The owner of an historic building is not always a wealthy person or a corporation and they have the great privilege of protecting and nurturing a part of heritage which we all enjoy and which we wish to see preserved. For some that can be quite expensive. Would it be wise to make some provision, through the lottery or otherwise, to enable people who have to carry that burden to be supported from State funds?

I am concerned about the width of the exemptions. Not all agricultural activities should be exempted. When one thinks of exempting agricultural activities and buildings, one thinks of the traditional farm house, byre or hayshed that fits into the environment, but some aspects of modern factory farming are hugely intrusive. They can bring even larger buildings into the landscape, which, in some areas of the country, require more control in some of the more obvious industrial uses. When one is proposing to control forestry in forest areas, with which I agree, the problem of controlling the planting of forest trees in suburban gardens and the cost to neighbourhoods and to other householders should be considered.

Like many of my colleagues, I believe the planning appeals board should be required to give reasons. Any administrative body should give reasons for their decisions. It is not possible to review them otherwise. In giving reasons they would play an important educational role in helping people to understand the basis of planning principles and build up a sort of jurisprudence of planning. People are annoyed about lack of consistency in planning decisions. They can accept being turned down or their proposal being modified as long as there is a general consistency.

I support those Senators who argued for the investment of resources, particularly staff resources, in planning. There is a tendency in planning departments not to reckon the cost of time and the cost to developers of a failure to give a decision in a timely fashion. Most planning departments are overworked and overburdened. Timely decisions quickly given would help the reputation of the system. I do not suggest that people should cut corners or get away with anything or that standards should be lowered, but the organisations should be staffed to a level whereby the bulk of the work could be dealt with expeditiously.

The section on exemptions that applies to local authorities and their activities causes me concern. Some of the worst things have been put up by the planning authorities, in another area. Some of the most objectionable buildings and some of the activities of public bodies have been more objectionable. Although it is covered in sections 164 and 165, it is important that the local authorities keep within the structure plans. It is equally important that the public has the same opportunity to raise questions on them as they do on any other development.

I commend the Minister of State on his proposals on social housing, which are interesting and visionary. They will be difficult to manage and administer. There is a danger of the social housing element being shut off and allowed to become a kind of ghetto at the tail end of an estate. There seems to be a desire for a classless mix in buildings, but this may not always be possible. As Senators have said, it requires management and investment in infrastructure and amenities. I agree with Senator O'Dowd that care needs to be taken with town centres, particularly in our historic towns. In many cases these towns are wastelands after 7 p.m. because people are not living there and shops are shut up with steel shutters. We need to bring life back to those town centres. One way of doing it is by using the upper storeys of shops in town centres for social housing and the sort of mobile people who want to come in, rent and move out again.

Mention was made of the need not to regard counties and areas as being totally self contained and of the need for there to be consultation and discussion between them. It is in the spirit of the times and the Anglo-Irish Agreement and other agreements that this be applied at cross-Border level. I have seen county development plans for County Donegal which were prepared under the 1963 Act. They seemed to be prepared on the assumption that the Border was an impermeable glass wall from the substratum to the sky. The same was true of comparable plans prepared in County Derry. The Border has gone for most purposes as a physical border – people can move across it and increasingly we are seeing the island as a whole. There should be a requirement for local authorities on both sides of the Border to come together and to see to what extent their plans are complementary.

Planning should begin to take account of the possibilities of new technology and new means of communication and their effect on the pattern of industry and the potential for dispersal.

These are general remarks that are not intended to be critical of the work being put into this. I hope that instead of using the Act as an end point that we can use it as a beginning and have a proper and extensive debate on the planning service. If the Minister of State can engage the public and communities at the local level in the process, it might be easier to get general acceptance of the principles which are so clearly and carefully laid out.

I welcome the Bill and the fact that the Acts in force since 1963 are being brought together to create one enactment that may address everybody's problem. There are problems, particularly at local government level.

The provisions on the time limits and costs for applicants are long overdue. A big problem for local government is ensuring that the job is done properly and speedily. I do not think it can ever be done and I do not attribute blame to any particular Government. Since 1977 or 1979, we have witnessed the rapidly deteriorating state of local government level, particularly with regard to funding. We are now saying that we think we can grasp this problem and solve it. That will not be done easily unless the funding is made available. I did not see it indicated in the Bill where the funding will come from.

There is a particular problem with planning. The planners are very stretched. I have seen this at a city and county level in County Cork and I am sure other Senators have seen it. Planners are completely overworked. It is interesting to hear others say that other systems and better technology for planning should be used. I do not know how that is done as I am not a planner. However, when one sees it in use by architects one can understand why it is not done in other areas. It is down to money. If we do not grasp the nettle by providing the proper facilities and the basics at local government planning level we will go nowhere. If matters are not right in planning everything else will be held up. Will the Minister of State ensure that the funding and the people are there? It is unfair to have the staff at all local authority levels so stretched.

With regard to third party appeals, how can one envisage a situation where, if no planning objection per se is made, a person is entitled to appeal to An Bord Pleanála and delay another business opening, because it is in competition with his business, for four to seven months for £100? We would not see the equivalent anywhere else in western Europe. Change is long overdue. How can it be that if one goes to An Bord Pleanála to ask a question about a particular appeal and one is told that it will take four months but that, as there is no planning objection as such, the appeal will not succeed – it is not a planning objection as such but an objection against another business? I have seen a business held up for seven months because a person up the road objected because it would be in competition with him. The cost was £100, or about 45 pence a day. The objector got that extra business for seven months for 45 pence a day. We, as legislators, allow that to happen.

It is long overdue that this system should be changed. It cannot be changed quickly enough. It is right and proper that if a person does not object at the initial stage to a local planning authority he should not be allowed to apply to An Bord Pleanála. A local planning authority should not be allowed to appeal to An Bord Pleanála. If it does not have an interest on the first day, it should not get the benefit of the case going to appeal. If one wishes to object, one should do so on the first occasion. Furthermore, objections should be based on planning rather than other concerns. That requirement must be included in the Bill to ensure the process is conducted properly. I am delighted with the provisions. There will be no objections from developers and people who want to get on with their work.

There is an over emphasis on the Dublin region and lack of sufficient recognition of other regions. We are taking from other regions for no reason. I accept that the Bill provides for the right to develop but the problem is that there is a general desire at Government level to put more emphasis on the Dublin region. We are told there will be 2 million people living in the Dublin area within ten years. Why? What is wrong with other areas being developed? Why should we centralise everything in one area? I oppose it. I am not opposed to it because I am a Corkman or because I have been a member of Cork Corporation for the last 25 years. I oppose it because this is a fine country, yet everything stops once one drives beyond Kildare. One does not see such arrangements in other countries.

There is no reason for so much centralisation. I say that with sincerity. The finest characters in the land are Dublin people. However, there is too much emphasis on what Dublin must do. I am not saying the towns around Dublin should not be developed. Of course there is a need for development in Navan, Wicklow, Athlone, Mullingar and elsewhere. However, when I see so much emphasis on one region, I wonder what we are about. There is no need for it.

Development contributions are made by developers. This Bill puts responsibility on local authorities to ensure that the development contributions are spent in the area being developed. That is long overdue. I could talk for a month about development contributions. In one case moneys were paid for parking spaces but the people never got them. The money was used for parking spaces elsewhere in the city. Now there will be a responsibility on the local authority to ensure that contributions from a developer must be spent on infrastructure within that development or in the immediate area. I welcome that provision – I will speak later about unfinished developments – and we must ensure that it is strong and detailed enough.

If a developer wishes to develop an industrial or housing estate, he is asked for a large development contribution. The developer should be willing to pay that cost given the price of housing and so forth. However, if people do not object from a planning point of view, they should see the full benefit of what the developer intends to construct. If the development costs are given to the local authority, it should have responsibility for ensuring the money is spent in the immediate area. It is most unfair to ask somebody to pay development costs and for them to receive nothing back. People have come to me to complain about this and to ask me what can be done. In some cases, for example, the person might not be allowed to park a car outside their door. Why are they asked for so much yet receive so little in return? That question is long overdue for answer. In this section of the Bill the emphasis should be on the priority of ensuring that the developer gets the contribution moneys back, or at least a percentage of them. Perhaps we should specify that a certain amount or percentage of the moneys must be spent in the development area.

Many speakers have referred to public or social housing. I have been a member of Cork Corporation for a long time and in 1985, when Fine Gael was in Government, I was one of the people who introduced the policy of allowing people to buy their own houses under the £5,000 grant scheme. I was a strong supporter of that policy so I can speak with authority – I am not boasting – about public housing. In fact, I could speak for a month about it. Approximately 75 per cent of people in Ireland own their own houses. I have always agreed with that. I have a large family and I always wanted to ensure that, if possible, they could own their own homes. Now, however, I wonder.

I have been looking at other systems and structures which have been set up at European level. Ireland is way behind other European countries with regard to a proper blend of public and private housing. In Holland, Germany and France the number of people who do not own their own homes is huge in comparison to the number in Ireland. It is not a big issue with them. The number of people who cannot afford their own housing but live at the same standard as people who can afford their own housing is much higher than in Ireland. I was at a conference on this issue two weeks ago. It was pointed out that in this country only 1 per cent of people in need of social housing are housed in areas where the intention is to provide a blend of private and social housing.

Since 1994, the supplementary rent allowance that is paid to people on the housing lists rose from £12 million to approximately £122 million in 1998. That is a huge amount. It means there are many more people living in private accommodation who are in receipt of a rent allowance. There is nothing wrong with a higher percentage of these people living in private accommodation. This is the type of social housing we should be providing. We should not insist, for example, on providing a house for a person who cannot provide their own accommodation. We do not have to provide them with a house but we must provide them with the facility to house themselves.

Take the example of building a local authority house. We might build 14 such houses to an acre. What would that cost? One such site is currently under discussion in Cork. I am a former chairman of the housing committee. It is a 6.5 acre site and each house, including development costs, will cost approximately £158,000 and will be between 980 and 1,010 square feet. That is a huge amount of money. The person who will move into that house – I mean no disrespect to them – could not afford to pay the interest on the interest. Why must we build a house for them when we can provide accommodation elsewhere at less cost to the State? How many tenants are being provided with accommodation on the £122 million that was spent last year? That is the question that must be asked.

We should not be in a rush to build local authority housing. However, from a social point of view, we should be in a rush to blend more people in private housing. There should be no discrimination between a person who cannot provide their own housing and a person who can. Why is there such discrimination? Why should one son be condemned because he cannot provide and the other be considered better because he can provide? He is not better. That is the sad aspect of this issue. We are always in a desperate hurry to discriminate between one and the other. There should not be a situation where private owners do not want public or social housing near them.

Cork Corporation purchased 12 houses in Cork city which were built by a private builder. It bought an estate on the north side of the city from a builder no more than 12 weeks ago and it is now a public housing estate, but none of the tenants in those houses will say they are public sector housing tenants. If developers are building houses, local authorities should not be in any hurry to say they are buying two out of every 20 houses from them. In a few months when the houses are built one will not know whether the people there are living in private or public housing and the tenants will not divulge that. We are in a desperate hurry to create a "them and us" situation in terms of housing, but I am opposed to that. For too long only 1 per cent of those in need of public sector housing were living in the private sector. I could speak for a month on this topic.

It is proposed that 20 per cent of all development in an area should be designated for local authority development. That is to be part of the local authority long-term strategy. I have a problem with this proposal. It is not that I do not welcome it, but I do not agree with the provision in respect of 20 per cent of development land. There is a danger we could create a situation where, if a local authority required it, developers in that area would have to hand over 20 per cent of their land, but in another local authority area where 20 per cent of development land was not required because enough local authority land was available, developers would not have to hand it over. I would like the Minister of State to check this between now and Committee Stage. Could a situation arise where some developers would have to give a local authority 20 per cent of their land and developers in other local authority areas would not be required to do that? Could some local authorities tell developers they have enough land and allow the developers to proceed with their own developments? I am not saying that would happen, but there is a danger it could.

I am delighted the Minister of State is present, given that he is a member of the same local authority as I am and he is aware of what I am talking about. There is a danger we could create a "them and us" situation in terms of local authorities dealings with developers. This is a serious question that cannot be easily answered.

If a local authority draws up a housing strategy, such a strategy will become part of its development plan. I have been involved in the debate on four or five development plans, as has the Minister of State. Is it not the case that in 1987 we did not have to build any houses because we had an oversupply of houses? The housing problem was solved because of the £5,000 grant scheme. The local authorities did not need to acquire land for housing. I hope the Minister of State understands the point I am making.

We did not have to build any public sector houses until 1989 when a small number of houses were built. We had an oversupply of public sector houses from 1986 to 1989. The local authority in Cork city did not have a problem in giving people accommodation in that period. That was also the case in Dublin. The scheme that was introduced was too generous and I was one of those who called for its introduction. Under it, we lost too many people from the public housing sector too soon. The scheme should have been devised in such a way that 100 or maybe 500 public sector housing tenants could have left in a year and we could have got back 500 houses a year rather than getting back 5,000 in one year. The local authority in Cork got back 1,400 houses in 14 months. That is an example of what can be done. That can be achieved by focusing on people who can afford to buy their own houses and providing public sector housing for those who cannot afford to buy their own houses.

Is it not the case that a developer in an area where a local authority has an oversupply of land could benefit at the expense of a developer in another local authority area that does not have enough land, as the latter would be required to hand over 20 per cent of his land for development? I am not saying a developer should not hand back land to the local authority. I am not carrying a flag for developers but there is a danger of discrimination in regard to this proposal and it must be addressed, although it cannot be easily solved.

Regarding developers not finishing the work on estates, the development contributions will cover that matter. Irrespective of what kind of bond was required or the squeeze put on developers, we could not get them to complete work on estates they had built because they had gone elsewhere. I am very much aware of what happened in the Cork area, but the position is not as bad as it was in the past. It has improved and we are on top of the matter because of the requirements in respect of bonds and insurance. I wel come the point made by the Minister of State on this matter. It is a strong provision, but I would like it to be broadened. If the Minister of State is saying we should have the authority to ensure such developers would not be given planning permission for further development, that should apply to all local authority areas, not only to the local authority areas where these developers did not complete work on housing estates. They should be blacked until such time as the work is completed.

This is a good Bill, but it has some faults, namely the provision in respect of 20 per of development land and the matter of funding. If planners cannot process applications, the work must stop. The planners in Cork are squeezed to the last. That is unfair to planners and local authorities. A proper restructuring of planning is long overdue, but recognition of the work done by planners is also overdue.

I welcome the Minister of State, his officials and the discussion on this Bill. Much of what Deputy Cregan said is relevant to almost all counties. This is an extensive and important Bill that requires great attention and examination by public representatives, particularly by Members of Dáil and Seanad Éireann, to ensure that when it goes through both Houses it will be of benefit to the country. We have had development plans and planning laws in the past and during the period they applied a good deal of good planning took place. We must commend planners in different counties for the excellent planning that has taken place. We can always point to some bad planning, but that is inevitable, even with the enactment of this Bill.

While the emphasis on the preparation of the county development plans and local plans in the Bill is welcome, local authorities will require additional staff and funding to give effect to the legislation. Members of local authorities will require training to enable them to carry out their role in the preparation of county development plans and local area plans for their areas. Problems arise with county development plans because people tend to reflect on what has been done in adjoining counties, but sometimes different planning occurs because of the different regulations that apply. In the past county development plans were renewed every five years. However, extensions could be given with the permission of the Minister and some counties only renewed them every ten years. It is not good not to renew a county development plan. National routes are posing a major problem for my county's development plan. What happens in one county in terms of national routes is often the same as in another county. We must look at that carefully because all routes are becoming more dangerous as a result of the huge volume of traffic. We must ensure that developments take place in our towns and villages which have services.

The provision of regional planning guidelines and the publication of ministerial guidelines and directives are welcome. These guidelines will inform local authority decision making and provide reasonable yardsticks against which to evaluate each difficult decision. The introduction of the strategic development zones is also welcome. I hope this provision will be implemented in an even handed way to meet both local needs and national strategic objectives. The provisions in terms of housing supply are welcome and I hope they will be implemented in an imaginative way. There are many examples around the country where private and local authority housing exists in close proximity to each other without being detrimental to either. The Minister will ensure that such development continues. We all know of areas where expensive houses and houses of lesser value are built together. That is the way we must develop in the future.

Local authorities must plan developments in their towns and villages so that they do not buy land in only one area which could cause problems if large numbers of young people move there. We must educate our local authority members and county development planners to ensure balanced development in towns and villages. Local authorities tended to buy land in one area without looking at possible developments in other areas of the towns.

I welcome the provision whereby planning authorities or An Bord Pleanála can consider the contents of environmental impact assessments. The provision to leave the monitoring and control of environmental emissions with the Environmental Protection Agency is also good. The material contravention of a redevelopment plan is an issue which arises from time to time and could be referred to An Bord Pleanála for adjudication, which happens at present for exempted development.

I am sure the Minister and his officials will take on board the extra workload. We have criticised An Bord Pleanála for delays in making decisions. There will be more complicated appeals to An Bord Pleanála given people's propensity to object. We must not choke the system of appeal by ensuring we have proper qualified planners.

A major problem in my county is the lack of competence of people to submit planning applications. If an incomplete application is received in the planning office, it should be sent back to the applicant by return post so they can fill in the missing information and send it back as quickly as possible rather than looking for it seven weeks later when it is time to make a decision. We must be cruel to be kind. A large number of architects are incompetent and they are choking the system. They may do a cheap job initially but it may be an expensive one by the time it is properly finished. I could give examples of simple omissions from planning applications. These architects are hired by people who are building their first house and who do not understand the process. They get a number of drawings and they believe everything is in order. However, many of them often get a letter in the post six or seven weeks after they send in their application telling them they did not include all the information. If the application was sent back by return post, it would help to deal with the people who prepare plans for submission to local authorities. There is an onus on us, as local authority members, to educate people and to highlight this problem.

Problems also arise in relation to percolation and water tests. In parts of counties which do not have water and sewerage services, it should be compulsory for people to carry out a percolation test before submitting planning applications. They would then know if the ground was suitable for a septic tank without destroying the underground water supplies of adjoining landowners. Some counties have tried to overcome this problem by increasing the size of sites. However, badly constructed septic tanks can cause major problems to underground water supplies.

The Bill recognises the link between land use planning and transportation. This must be looked at. No consideration is given to transport as regards housing developments and this causes major problems.

Some local authorities destroy rural towns and villages by insisting on building large two storey houses when single storey houses would be more in keeping with the area. This must also be looked at. Local authority houses must be properly planned and must not only cater for young people. At some stage, upstairs bathroom facilities will be of no use to those living there. The provision of downstairs bathroom facilities will result in a large saving.

I am concerned about the charging of a fee for planning applications. A figure of 10 per cent is mentioned in the Bill. This is fine for developers of large houses who can charge per unit. However, a 10 per cent charge on first time buyers is too much. A £3,000 grant is available for first time buyers. A 10 per cent charge would be greater than this so one would be better off not to give a grant as it would be gone before people apply for it.

Compensation was mentioned. Sometimes the EU insists in designating land as special conservation areas. Land is therefore frozen and there can be no development on it. This can result in a substantial loss to farmers with development land close to a town or village. It also has implications where a local authority seeks permission to provide a water supply to a town or village. If an area adjacent to the source of supply is designated, the landowner will be unable to sell sites which may encourage the further development of towns and villages. Local authorities should consider this in their plans for villages and towns as they often inhibit themselves from developing on good land.

There are many good provisions in the Bill. However, some amendments may have to be made on Committee Stage. This is the longest Bill I have seen for some time and we must ensure that when it is passed it will benefit those it is intended to serve. I commented on the delay in decisions being made by An Bord Pleanála and this must be dealt with urgently.

We must ensure planning conditions are enforced as regards developers, although not so much in the case of those developing large building sites as we are seeking that they should be bonded in some situations. However, planning conditions are not complied with as regards many bungalows situated on roads approaching towns, and local authorities do not appear to have the wherewithal or the staff to ensure this is monitored. There are many damaged walls adjacent to developments. We must ensure this issue is looked at urgently. Many housing estates, some of them built by the local authority, have not been completed.

The setting of fees must be looked at. Perhaps I am reading the Bill incorrectly, but I would like that fee to be set by local authority members. The manager and the administration could make a suggestion but the authority should set the fee. It may be relevant in more affluent areas but in many rural areas it is not. I welcome the Bill and I wish the Minister and his officials well. The introduction of this Bill is important as we move into a new millennium. We must ensure that at the end of the next millennium people will look back at this turn of the century and the introduction of a Planning and Development Bill which benefited the country.

This is an informative and enlightened debate. Planning now takes up most of the time of local authorities and the area has expanded greatly in the past eight or ten years, particularly since I became a member of South Tipperary County Council. In 1991 we were issued with a page of planning applications weekly; now we are issued with seven or eight pages of planning applications, a substantial increase. As a result, there is a great deal of concern among residents and local public representatives.

In our discussion of this Bill, we should look at the history of planning and our performance to date. In my opinion planning in our cities and small rural areas leaves a lot to be desired. One glaring example of this is the way we have allowed one part of the country to develop more than the other. On any day you pick up the newspapers or come in here some issue about Dublin will be highlighted, such as traffic, housing, etc. We all know about the huge growth that has taken place in Dublin. Most of the development and the spending of money is welcome but I am concerned that we have failed to decentralise many aspects of life, such as Government Departments and industries. These Government offices and industries have been located around Dublin while rural towns are crying out for them. The argument can be made for more decentralising of Government activities. The days when civil servants did not want to move to other parts of Ireland but to live in Dublin are gone due to houses costing twice as much as those located in county towns. Many civil servants would now like to move back to the area from which they came. Members will know that some towns are actively seeking Departments to locate there. Therefore, it is time we made this a political issue and asked for the development that is taking place in Dublin to be slowed down and moved to rural areas.

There are schools in rural Ireland whose numbers are falling drastically. Only last week I attended a meeting in my constituency, Tipperary South, where I learned that the number of teachers in one school has decreased from four to three and now there is a threat that it will be reduced to two, the minimum teacher ratio. That is not good enough. When we look back on how we planned things we will discover that there is a lesson to be learned and that something can be achieved by decentralisation.

I could address many issues in this Bill but I want to deal specifically with the planning offices of our county councils and urban councils. I hope that, when this Bill is enacted and working in two years time, there will be a sufficient number of staff working in the planning office. I know the Minister intends to address this problem. No matter what changes take place in legislation unless we put planning officers, architects and specialists into our planning offices, we will not be able to change the current situation.

The consumer or the general public must be able to trust their local planning office. A major aim of this Bill should be to make planning offices more public friendly. We provide a service to the public. For local councils to give a good service, people must have easy access to planning offices. They should also feel that they can go into a planning office to alleviate worry. We should have planning officers available to the public to help and explain what is happening in the office. I urge the Minister to ensure enough finances are made available to local authorities to allow them to employ more people in planning offices.

Last Monday I attended a meeting of Tipperary South Riding County Council where I was informed that extra staff appointments to its planning office were not adequate to cope with the number of planning applications that have been submitted. I hope more people will submit planning applications. We need to employ more staff and reduce the pressure placed on staff because, as the Minister knows, staff who are under pressure will not do a good job.

Some years ago it was almost unknown to have planning objections in rural Ireland, but now, when there is a major agricultural development, objections are lodged in most parishes. People are entitled to object but in most cases they are afraid of the unknown and unsure of the type of new development that is proposed. Therefore, we need to give people more information. If we did that there would be fewer objections and less concern about traditional industries. We should also be aware that too much fear is being instilled in the general public.

I compliment the Minister on publishing this Bill. This is the right time to publish it. We are all giving accounts of the experiences we gained at local authority level. I wish the Bill well.

Like all other Senators I welcome the Minister. I compliment him on this mammoth and timely piece of work. I listened to Senator Hayes call for decentralisation and I am afraid the Minister would want to watch that the Custom House is not moved to Golden, County Tipperary.

I do not wish to repeat the points raised by other Senators because they have dealt with the Bill in great detail. A number of concerns have been raised but there is one issue that the Bill deals with in a weak manner, and that is the concept of the Irish landscape. Before I come to that I must say that there are a few aspects in the Bill which are extremely welcome. The integration of development plans with regional plans and then with the national development plan is a welcome provision. This measure will result in some coherence in our planning process throughout the country. That is very desirable and badly needed. Too often in the past when town or county development plans were drawn up they were a rehash of the previous ones. I am not convinced that the local authority acted in the spirit of the plan, although it would have acted to the letter of it. While much effort goes into drawing up such plans, the emphasis is not being placed on forward planning in the context of 20 or 25 years ahead. Five year plans tend to be too short. What is required are plans that look to the future in a more global sense for a longer period of time. If we had that visionary approach we would avoid many of the smaller problems that are encountered in every local authority area.

In his contribution last week, the Minister dealt with the housing issue in great detail. People should bear in mind that, while there are difficulties in the housing market, one of the main reasons is the lack of supply of land for building. Land must be zoned for various uses, one of which is housing. Many of those who complain about the cost, or lack, of housing are the very people who vote against zoning of land for that very purpose. The shortage of building land is one of the main reasons contributing to the high cost of housing. It is time we examined this issue in a sensible way and tried to do something constructive about it. In this Bill, the Minister has done just that, and I compliment him for it.

At local authority level, landscape is looked upon as trees, shrubs, flowers and grass. We do not think of landscape as comprising public places where people can spend time at leisure or going about their business. As Senator Dardis said, we built ghettos in the 1960s because of bad planning and we provided green spaces in those areas but we did nothing with them. That does not help anything; it just creates social problems later on. I am talking about a holistic approach to the landscape, where everything is taken into consideration.

Unfortunately, much planning nowadays is focused on building for industrial and residential purposes with the emphasis on constructing roads for motor cars. We must think, however, in terms of people's current lifestyles and plan accordingly. Through our planning laws we should be trying to provide for and facilitate communities. Housing developments should be planned and laid out so that communities automatically come together and take a pride in their own area and in surrounding ones. If we generate this type of community spirit we will have a much better environment.

There seems to be a change in thinking on these issues in the European Union. Until recently, the EU was very much an economic entity, but it is focusing more on the cultural side of life within member states at present, which is to their benefit. At EU level the focus is much more on the overall landscape. For too long, development in this country – and the way in which we changed the landscape – has been dictated by somebody getting onto a bulldozer at 8 a.m. and then, a few weeks later, the landscape has changed, without any consideration for what is actually happening. We must stop this type of activity. We need roads, housing and other development, but we have to think about what we will be doing to the landscape over the next ten, 15, 20 or even 100 years.

Senator Dardis also said that some of the great houses, such as Carton and Russborough, would not have received planning permission under current rules and regulations. Look at what we have today – and the Senator wondered why that was the case. I suggest the reason is that the people who designed the great houses were visionaries who saw how such buildings would blend into the existing landscape. I know it is much easier to do that when one is playing around with an estate of 200, 300 or 500 acres, but the principle is still the same; with proper planning and a proper approach we can attain a better environment for everyone.

To date we have seen too much emphasis on the engineer's approach to building roads, which is reflected in by-passes. If we are going from A to B, a straight line is the shortest distance, within limits. There may be hills or rivers in the way however, so the road becomes twisted to reduce construction costs. That is the thinking behind it, and we are not taking into consideration issues such as light and wind. The Minister should know the thought that went into constructing Newgrange, with its effective and constructive use of light. I am not suggesting that we should build Newgrange style edifices everywhere, but we should consider the broader picture, thus providing a living environment that will do justice not just to this legislation but to the country in the years ahead.

I wish to compare what has happened in the past – when there were very few planning laws – with what has occurred in the more recent past where we had much bad work. In the 18th and 19th centuries some of the smaller towns and villages were built around a square, thus providing a harmony that still exists. Since then, because of the requirement for housing, we have built Legolands all over the place. One will find the same type of Legoland in Freshford and Bunclody, which do not utilise natural materials indigenous to those areas. If we plan properly in a more holistic way we could do much better.

As a practising landscape architect, I am particularly interested in open spaces. In the past, we have built estates of 200 houses and the regulatory amount of open space into which we stick a few trees and a bit of grass and say: "There, isn't it lovely?". The Minister goes down to open such an estate, yet four or five years later the place is in a mess. We are encouraging bad behaviour by young people who have nothing else to do. It is in their nature for young people to gather and meet, but we must plan and design estates and open spaces in a such a way that people will respect them. One only has to look at St. Stephen's Green, Mountjoy Square or Merrion Square and how people enjoy these places. They will not deface them in any way. Undoubtedly amendments will be tabled on Committee Stage, but I hope there will be a greater appreciation for the overall landscape throughout the country. We have an opportunity to change things and I do not want a situation in 20 or 30 years where people look back and say that horrible mistakes were made now. Everybody makes mistakes but now is the time to think seriously about what we are doing and to plan in terms of development. We should not constantly focus on the control of planning. It should be about looking forward and the type of environment we want for ourselves and future generations.

I welcome the Minister and compliment him on this comprehensive legislation which takes a radical approach. He is deserving of great credit, despite whatever flaws the Bill contains. They are not the Minister's fault. He meant well in terms of the thrust of the Bill and I am glad to note his statement that it is not cast in stone. I hope constructive and positive amendments will be tabled on Committee Stage.

In addition to consolidating all existing Acts since 1963, the Bill provides for numerous changes. For example, the duty to co-ordinate plans with those of adjoining areas is logical and eminently suitable and sensible. All Members are aware of examples where local authorities were stupidly at loggerheads with each other. There was a recent example in Kerry where the maps of an urban council and the county council overlapped and there were wildly different interpretations. The deciding factor was where the line was drawn.

Everybody would agree that development plans must be equipped to deal in an effective manner with the changed economic, social, technological and environmental conditions of this time. Equally, the adoption of a strategic approach to planning will better enable development plans to fulfil their role in achieving the stated objectives laid out therein. I welcome the promise of an improved role for elected representatives in the preparation of plans and ensuring that they are given greater scope to exercise their policy making functions. Providing better opportunities for the public to contribute in a more positive way to the preparation of development plans is also most welcome. The goals of ensuring that development plans will be prepared and adopted within a specified time is important.

Perhaps the most fundamental innovation in this Bill is that it firmly places the concept of sustainable development at the heart of the planning system by providing that the planning authority in making its decision on a planning application is restricted to considering the proper planning and sustainable development of the area. It redefines the current standard governing proper planning and development, and not before time. The key question is, what is sustainable development? Most of our understanding of sustainability would be similar but without a definition, undoubtedly, there will be arguments. That is where barristers make their money.

The phrase "sustainable development" is used in specific places in the Bill, but there are no specific sustainability objectives to be put into development plans. Instead, the Minister believes development plans in general should be infused with sustainable development concerns and the idea appears to be that councils, in equipping themselves to achieve sustainable development through land use planning, should make provision to formulate objectives for sustainable settlement and transportation strategies and the development of coastal and inland waterways, waterway areas, natural resources, the character of urban and rural areas and the cultural and natural heritage. It will be a matter for local authorities to ensure that the entire development plan addresses the sustainability criterion.

The local authority in its development plan will have to set out an overall strategy for the planning and sustainable development of any area. The Minister said in one of the fine presentations at the recent planning Bill seminars that sustainable development is development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. To achieve sustainable development, environmental concerns must be integrated into all aspects of decision making so that progress is not made at the expense of environmental quality. The inclusion of the concept of sustainable development in the fundamental structures underlying the planning system will ensure that local authorities and An Bord Pleanála will give greater consideration to environmental issues in carrying out their functions of providing for and controlling development.

The Bill's provisions aimed at streamlining and speeding up the planning process are greatly welcomed as are the new mandatory objectives set out in section 10, which provides for infrastructure, such as transport, energy and communications facilities, waste water services and ancillary facilities, conservation of archaeological and natural heritage and European sites, listed buildings, preservation of the character of architectural conservation areas, regeneration of areas, travellers' accommodation amenities and community facilities. A duty will be imposed on the authority to take such steps within its powers as may be necessary to secure the objectives of the plan as adopted and there is a requirement on the manager, not more than two years after the making of the plan, to give a report to members on the progress achieved in securing the objectives as set out in section 15. These are useful measures.

The Bill provides that there should be no presumption in law that any lands zoned in a particular development plan shall remain sole zones in any subsequent development plan. Agriculture has been amended to include in its definition the training of horses and the rearing of livestock. The use of land for turbary and woodlands for purposes ancillary to the farming of land for other agricultural purposes is no longer exempt. The implication is that the former wide exemptions given to agriculture are restricted so that much more agricultural activity will no longer be subject to planning control, particularly afforestation and turbary. While the felling, thinning and maintenance of forests and woodlands are exempt under section 4, the Minister can limit this exemption for the purpose of complying with environmental impact assessment directives.

Section 5 sets out that a person may seek a declaration from a planning authority on what in any particular place is or is not development and what is or is not exempted development. The planning authority must give the declaration in four weeks and it must notify the owner or occupier of that land, if appropriate, of its decision. The planning authority may ask the person who made the request for further information and must decide within three weeks of receiving this from the requester. It may also ask other persons to submit further information. Any person notified by the planning authority about the request may ask An Bord Pleanála to review the declaration within four weeks. If the planning authority does not issue a declaration in time, the person who requested it may refer the matter to the board within four weeks of the date it should have been issued. The planning authority may refer any question to An Bord Pleanála. This procedure is wide open to abuse.

The issue of enhanced and increased resources for planning authorities looms large as a consequence of all the extra impositions on planning authorities under the Bill, most of which are necessary reforms. It is clear that there are major problems of understaffing and under-skilling in planning departments throughout the country. Unless these problems are addressed, the provisions of the new Bill will be a dead letter just as many provisions in current legislation are not properly enforced because of lack of enforcement capacity.

The Minister is introducing substantial changes regarding the rights of third parties in the planning system. Only the applicant for planning permission or a person who made submissions to the planning authority at the initial application stage will be entitled to appeal a decision to An Bord Pleanála. Undoubtedly, this is being introduced with a view to reducing the number of frivolous and vexatious appeals. I agree with the Minister in that regard but it is difficult to strike a balance in this area. The Bill provides for the first time that submissions and observations made by third parties on a planning application must be taken into account by a planning authority. While this is the current practice, it is interesting that the Minister considered it appropriate to state explicitly in the Bill that it must be done. We are aware that in the past certain things happened erroneously with regard to rezonings and material contraventions. I agree with the Minister's tightening up with regard to the time limits of eight weeks and four weeks instead of two months.

While I appreciate the Minister's reasoning regarding the restrictions on the right of third parties to appeal, there are many groups who believe it to be sacrosanct. They may not be able to satisfy the requirement of substantial interest in the application, yet they genuinely consider that promoting efficiency at the expense of the public's right to participate is wrong.

The section which deals with outline planning permission is also welcome because the courts have more or less determined that it could be overturned at approval stage. This section is timely and I support the provision whereby full planning permission must be sought within three years of the grant of outline permission and that planning authorities shall not be able to refuse granting permission based on any aspect of the application which had already been decided at outline stage, even while a development plan may have been changed in the meantime. Similarly, no appeal can be made to An Bord Pleanála on any of the matters which have been decided at outline stage. This is reasonable, in that any such matter could have been appealed at the earlier time.

The section dealing with development contributions, which have grown enormously as a result of the boom in construction, is also worthy of support. It is crazy that in a country of our size such widely varying approaches should have been adopted with regard to the levying of development contributions. Indeed, as the Minister would admit, approaches have often been less than transparent. It is proper and fitting, therefore, that planning authorities be required to draw up development levy schemes which will set out the charges to be levied on development for the provision of public infrastructure facilities and which will benefit the development and the locality. The scheme will have to state on what the fund can be expended and must be considered and adopted by the members.

I do not have time to address the issues of strategic development zones, the directives and guidelines and what the Minister has done to remove the EIAs from the regulations and include them in this aspect of the Bill. I welcome these developments. I also appreciate the independence of An Bord Pleanála in making its decisions. However, in 11 per cent of cases it overrules its inspectors' reports. In the interests of transparency, openness and accountability I would welcome a commitment by the Minster to introduce a provision requiring the board to specify in detail why it has overturned such reports, which are available and are often very detailed. At present we do not know the thinking behind the board's decisions.

While I would like to address the issues of planning meetings and disclosure, I now wish to turn to that part of the Bill which makes the housing supply part of the planning system. This has attracted much attention. It provides for housing strategies to be prepared by planning authorities for inclusion as part of the development plan to ensure that adequate land is zoned for housing and that sufficient social and affordable housing is provided in their areas.

The local authority will be required to estimate the amount of housing required in its area for the period during which the development plan will be enforced, subject to certain transitional provisions. The Bill allows planning authorities or An Bord Pleanála to require the transfer of land up to a maximum of 20 per cent as a condition on the grant of planning permission for land zoned residential. Again, subject to certain transitional provisions, the compensation payable is to be assessed on the basis of the existing use value of the land, disregarding the provisions of the development plan or any previous development plan. This means that consideration will be given to the value of the land prior to it being zoned for residential use rather than the market value.

I respect the time the Minister has given to this matter, including his consideration of the inputs from his officials and two eminent Attorneys General. However, given that the criterion used will be the current use value rather than market value, it must be open to question whether it can be constitutional to require the transfer of lands at a discount. This requirement is at odds with the provisions of existing legislation and of the provisions of the Bill dealing with compensation in that the principle underlining the Bill is that a planning gain may be a quid pro quo for the granting of planning permission, whereas a presumption in favour of planning permission underlies the compensation provisions.

Given the conflict between the compensation for social housing provision and the other provisions of the Bill and given also that it interferes with property rights, requires a quid pro quo for the grant of planning permission and takes land at a discount so that the owner is paying a price – heretofore, planning was a right to be expected – there would appear to be a double discrimination involved. In the first instance, the provision only relates to residential land and, second, it will be applied unevenly and differently as between owners of such land, depending on the requirements of the planning authorities – they will not all have the same needs or housing strategies. In view of this, these aspects of the Bill potentially render it unconstitutional when measured against Article 43 of the Constitution. I am also conscious of the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court in the case of the An Blascéad Mór legislation, which it struck down.

Everybody accepts the need for a good social mix of housing and councils are anxious for a mix of housing types, yet many developers may find these provisions unattractive. At the same time, there are many urban settings where a mix of house types in small to medium scale developments sit well together. In addition, social and upmarket housing are often in close proximity without adversely affecting each other. However, it is a difficult subject on which to generalise.

While I accept the thrust of the Minister's good intentions in this area, I suggest alternative options for consideration. First, there should be a requirement for different house types being designated within land zoned residential. Second, a tax incentive should be offered to all developers to include an element of social housing in their proposals. This would remove the charge of discrimination. Third, local authorities should be adequately funded to enable them acquire the land needed for social housing at market value.

I thank all who took part in the debate on this very important Bill and I appreciate their constructive and positive approach. It has received general support from all parties even if there is disagreement on points of detail. However, the general thrust of the Bill and what it is trying to achieve are supported by all parties in the House. I thank Members for that.

There has been a general appreciation that the Bill represents a fundamental reform of the planning system in Ireland and this wide ranging debate has touched upon all the main areas. I will consider each of the points made, including the suggestions for change and improvement, before Committee Stage. Where possible I will incorporate them in amendments.

I acknowledge the detailed and extensive written submissions to my Department by various groups and interests. We will also study these carefully to see how we can incorporate and advance some of them on Committee Stage. I was especially pleased to note the joint submission made by the Irish Planning Institute and the Royal Town Planning Institute, two bodies that are non-partisan and are totally independent of everybody in this House. In their submission they expressed the belief that the Bill delivers on the three principles which I set out for the planning system, namely, a strategic approach, a sustainable development ethos and a quality service. That is a good start and it has been reflected in what Members have said.

The provisions of Part V have generated much discussion and debate and they gave rise to much comment here. That is not surprising, given the radical nature of these proposals. On Second Stage I was conscious of the need to explain in detail how these provisions will work and the rationale for integrating them into the planning code. It is important to emphasise that Part V is just one part of a wide range of measures the Government has introduced to try to increase housing supply. Senators should bear this in mind when debating the Bill on Committee Stage. This is just one of almost 50 different measures taken in relation to housing, the provision of housing and trying to ensure that as many first time buyers as possible are able to avail of affordable housing and it should be seen in this context.

Senator Coogan quoted at length from one source which questioned the validity of the provisions of Part V. However, I noted that the Senator did not venture a personal view as to what he thought of the section. Reading some of the articles from this source over the last six months, if I were looking for an analysis of what is happening in the Irish housing market, I would not go to this particular gentleman. He was concerned that a local authority manager would be in a position to discriminate between developers in the application of the provisions of Part V of the Bill. This is not the case.

It is important to bear in mind that the housing strategies which local authorities will be obliged to draw up will set out in detail the housing policies of the local authority. The local authority must follow these strategies. The strategies will be incorporated into the development plan by the elected representatives, not by the manager or anyone else. The provisions will have to be applied in a very even handed manner. For example, where a housing strategy, having regard to the needs identified in the area, requires up to 15 per cent of the zoned land to be made available for social and affordable housing, this requirement attaches to all land zoned in the area. It is not a question of picking and choosing.

Neither the manager nor the developer will be in a position to derogate from this requirement in Part V. However, there is one exception, that is, where a local authority considers that there is an over-supply or sufficient social housing in a particular area. In that case it may decide to lower the requirement or to do away with the particular requirement in that specific area but that can only be done on the basis of the housing strategy and the area and land affected will be identified clearly in the development plan. It is clear, therefore, that the provisions will be applied evenly across the board.

A number of Senators raised the question of the constitutionality of Part V. I am satisfied that the provisions in Part V are constitutional. It is entirely a matter for the President to decide whether the Bill should be referred to the Supreme Court. She is well qualified to consider this matter and I have every confidence in her judgment. The President takes her advice from the Council of State, not from anyone here. I am satisfied that these provisions have been drafted having regard to the principles of fairness, equality and proportionality. I believe they will withstand any constitutional test given the serious social problem which we must address. The measured response of the Bill, together with the numerous other initiatives taken to increase housing supply, will convince any fair minded person that this is a balanced and constitutional approach. The provision will not be retrospective and developers are well aware of the likely conditions which will be imposed in the future; they are going into this with their eyes open.

The provisions in Part V represent major changes to the way in which the planning process has operated up to now. I acknowledge that what is being proposed here will have major implications for house builders and for others. Naturally I want to see the new provisions brought into effect as quickly, effectively and efficiently as possible. Some speakers expressed a fear about the disruption of the housing market. I do not want the market to be disrupted; I want to ensure a continued increase in the supply of necessary housing. I said in my opening statement, at various seminars throughout the country and to individuals who approached me on the matter, that I want to co-operate with house builders in working out practical guidelines for the operation of Part V.

I also intend to table an amendment specifically to provide for a degree of flexibility which will allow the local authority to enter an arrangement with the developer for the provision of housing units at an agreed price in lieu of transfer of part of the land and part of the site. I am open to any suggestions that might assist in the better operation of the provisions of the Bill. However, I do not wish, nor do I intend, to compromise the principles laid down in the Bill. Those who will have the greatest experience of the housing market and house building are the house builders and I would like their co-operation in ensuring that this is carried out efficiently and effectively.

Senator Jackman said that while she thought the Bill was aimed at affordable housing, people are now talking as if it is aimed at social housing only. This is true because I am aware that some people who will be affected by this provision have deliberately talked about social housing and neglected to talk about affordable housing in order to stir up a certain amount of heat about this issue. We are not talking about social housing only; the provisions in the Bill are aimed at both social and affordable housing. I accept that both are inextricably linked and have been inextricably linked in Government policy dating back to 1991. The current housing waiting lists indicate this because as the number of people who cannot afford to buy their own houses have increased, so also have the local authority housing waiting lists. People who heretofore were able to provide their own housing are now going on the local authority waiting lists because of the high house prices.

I repeat that in the initial stages at least, because most local authorities have land banks for social housing, I expect the Bill will apply more to the provision of affordable housing than to social housing per se. It makes sense that there should be that emphasis in the initial stages to see how it works, to see what effect it will have on the social housing waiting list and then to take it from there. Obviously it will have an effect on local authority housing waiting lists. It seems to me, as has been suggested by a number of Senators, that we should try to cater for the maximum number of people now on the local authority waiting lists under the affordable housing provisions of the Bill.

Senator Quill mentioned that we cannot afford to build large housing developments without including proper facilities from the beginning. I agree. The whole tenet of this Bill is to ensure sustainable development and socially integrated communities. They are the principles which underpin the Bill. In terms of housing I believe this will be better achieved by providing a better mix of house types to suit the demand from different sectors in the community, a point made in relation to Part V. The housing strategies, coupled with the Department's guidelines on housing densities, will help achieve that aim and the mandatory objectives of the development plans in relation to the provision of community facilities for the first time ever. The provision for local area plans and the levying in a transparent way of development contributions for community facilities will assist in ensuring there are better quality, integrated and properly serviced developments provided in future rather than what has happened in the past. As Senator Quill rightly pointed out, the lack of affordable housing for working people is perhaps the most important issue facing the economy. If we are to continue to enjoy the current economic success in years to come, we must address the issue of affordable housing in a radical way, something I believe the Bill does. Because of the wider social implications of people not being able to afford their own housing, I believe the Bill will be found to be measured and constitutional in response to the crisis.

I acknowledge and thank Senator Costello for his comment that Part V represents a very courageous step on behalf of the Government. However, both he and Senator O'Meara, I think, suggested that Part V should be taken separately and rushed through the Oireachtas so it could have direct and immediate effect. There is nobody on any side of the House who would not like to see the Bill passed through the Oireachtas tomorrow if that could be done, and all indications from Whips and all sides in this House and in the other House are that they will facilitate passage of the Bill within reason as long as a debate takes place. I believe that separating Part V from the rest of the Bill would not be good and would not work. All new housing development has to go through the planning system and any realistic policies to deal with the current housing supply situation must also embrace planning. This is the inescapable logic of Part V which fully integrates housing supply with the planning system by requiring planning authorities to prepare housing strategies for incorporation into the development plan. I believe that a stand alone provision, a Bill dealing solely with housing, would not facilitate that and would not be as effective.

The Bill also contains a number of general measures which are essential to the successful operation of Part V. For example, it is made explicit that zoning only lasts for the period of the development plan. No compensation will be payable for down zoning in subsequent development plans and the procedure for varying development plans is shortened and simplified. Planning for the provision of housing is one of the most important elements in land use planning – the two are inextricably linked. Separating Part V for a doubtful gain while at the same time undermining the provision's link with the planning code could undermine the intent and effectiveness of the provisions of the Bill. The best way forward, as has been indicated, is for all parties to assist in the passage of the Bill and not break up the provisions. I guarantee that I will not delay the commencement of the Bill once it is passed. I have already asked county managers, most of whom I have met and others whom I will meet this week, to commence the preparation of housing strategies so that they will be virtually ready as soon as the Bill is passed. There certainly will not be a delay of three years as has been suggested by some Members.

There has been quite an amount of debate and reference by a number of speakers on different sides to the proposed fee for making submissions and observations on planning applications and the requirement that third parties will have to have made submissions in order to appeal a decision to An Bord Pleanála. I assure Senators that any such fee will not be pegged at such a level that it will deter any person or body with a genuine concern in relation to a planning application. As I stressed in my speech on Second Stage, the Bill gives significant statutory recognition to submissions made in respect of an application. Submissions, therefore, will need to be given full consideration by planning authorities. I intend that people who make submissions will be entitled to be notified of all planning decisions and therefore will be in a position to appeal to An Bord Pleanála. I again stress and repeat that currently people make observations, objections and so on while legally a local authority has no obligation to take them into consideration – the law is silent on this matter. I am giving the process statutory recognition and in exchange for that and the additional work which local authorities will have to undertake in notifying people and so on I have provided for a modest charge. This is not, as some people would have us believe, an attack on third party rights of appeal or an attempt to silence people. Much of what has been said in this regard is nonsense and the people saying it know better.

I also intend to look at the planning regulations in conjunction with this to see if the various notification provisions can be improved to ensure people are aware of developments in their area. I believe that improved notification provisions, as was mentioned by Senator Coghlan, would ensure that everyone was aware of when submissions or observations on a planning application had to be made. It should ensure that people have sufficient time to comment on a planning application.

Many speakers raised the issue of planning authority resources. I referred to this at the beginning of Second Stage. I am very conscious of it and promise planning authorities my full support in providing adequate resources to ensure the employment of sufficient planners and the ongoing development of planning skills. I do not mind returning to the House on Committee Stage if somebody can tell me I am wrong or that a local authority which put forward a reasonable case for additional planners over the past 12 months was refused. It just did not happen. I am aware of the work and of what Senators on all sides have said to me – it was said at a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting – about the importance of having resources in place. Obviously there is a problem in local authorities and across the construction industry in general concerning supply constraints, and it is getting more difficult for local authorities to hold on to planners. There is quite an amount of change, but certainly local authorities have not been hindered by me or the Department in terms of necessary resources.

A number of Senators were concerned about the inconsistencies in approach both within and between planning authorities. I certainly believe that more consistency can be brought about in a number of ways. For example, my Department has issued a number of planning guidelines in recent years and will continue to do so on various topics. Implementation of this Bill will ensure that better and more sustainable development plans are adopted and the Department will be issuing guidelines on drawing these up. The provision for regional planning guidelines will also bring greater co-ordination between planning policies across regions while the national spatial strategy for future years will also provide that national planning strategy. Therefore we have the hierarchy which I mentioned before.

I share the concern expressed by Senator Taylor-Quinn that the regional planning guidelines should take into account the interests of the entire region with which they deal and not just concentrate on a number of towns within the region. Section 23 explicitly states that the guidelines must deal with the planning issues for "the whole of the region to which the guidelines relate".

However, planning authorities and elected representatives must continue to have a large degree of local autonomy in pursuing local policies as planning is quintessentially a local function. I have some criticisms of local councillors, one of which is that they do not pay enough attention to the contents of the development plans. There is little point in complaining about An Bord Pleanála, or complaining about county managers or Ministers for the Environment and so on, concerning planning decisions made in local authorities. They must be made on the basis of the development plan on which the local elected representatives decide. It is the policy of local public representatives.

Hopefully the provisions of this Bill will allow greater consultation and a greater input from local authority members at these very early stages. This is being addressed in the Bill because up to now, local authority members have been presented with the draft and told that is the best that can be done and sometimes they end up defending a document to which they may not be fully committed. The new provisions in the Bill will allow them to become more committed but I re-emphasise the necessity for local authority members to take the development plan much more seriously. If councillors have concerns about single, once off houses or villages dying, they should be addressed in the general principles of the development plan. Perhaps members concentrate too much on the individual planning applications rather than the principles by which those applications are decided. If one has a policy in a development plan which disallows single once off houses, as they are called in my constituency, in rural areas, it is too late to complain when a planner refuses planning permission for such a house. The planner will soon say that it is the public representatives' policy.

Luadh An Seanadóir Quill an ghá atá ann an Ghaeltacht a thabhairt san áireamh i gcursaí pleanála. Aontaím léi agus tá sin déantá againn sa Bhille seo ach feicfidh mé an féidir sin a neartú a thuilleadh.

A number of speakers have also raised the matter of An Bord Pleanála overruling their inspectors' reports. Senator Moylan discussed An Bord Pleanála with me recently. The role of the board is misunderstood. In considering its decision, the board is obliged to consider the inspector's report. However, it also has to consider the application itself and any submissions on appeal that were made to the board. If the board was to be obliged to follow the inspector's report on every occasion there would be no necessity for a board at all.

The same applies to a planning officer in a local authority. If the manager had to take his or her recommendation every time, there would be no need to have the manager signing the actual orders. I acknowledge that where the board does not follow the recommendation of an inspector, they must be satisfied that the facts before them support the decision they are making. They cannot act in an arbitrary manner. However, in view of the need expressed by so many, to make the board's decisions clearer the Bill provides that the board must give the main reasons and considerations for the decision made by them, particularly when they are overruling an inspector's report. Therefore, where the board does not accept the recommendation of the inspector, the reasons for this should be made much clearer under the provisions of this Bill.

Another bone of contention is where the board decides to contravene a development plan. It must also state clearly its reasons for contravening the development plan. I took the view before I decided on this that they should not, at any time, be allowed to contravene the development plan. Having discussed the matter, there is a reasonable argument that sometimes development plans are not as clear as they should be. Another argument, which will not arise under this Bill when it is fully applied, was that development plans were not changed for up to ten years. Circumstances were changing so fast that if the hands of the board were tied by having to comply with the development plan, then one could be guilty of bad planning.

All those arguments convinced me that it should be left as it is, leaving the power to contravene the development plan, but now I accept that they must state, and we will provide for their stating, the reasons for their contravening the plan. The board accepts the general thrust of the inspector's report in about 91 per cent of all cases and recent figures indicate they uphold the decision either wholly or with some modifications of local authorities, in on average 75 to 80 per cent of the cases. The board are reasonable when making decisions not in accordance with county development plans and local authorities' general policies.

Senator Coogan asked, on the taking of judicial review and the limitations being imposed, whether a substantive interest in a particular matter equated to a property interest. A substantive interest is wider than that. It could mean that a person could personally be affected by a development or even that the person has taken an active part in the decision making process from the early stages, and has not entered it at the last minute, as appears to happen in many cases, with an objection as well as a property interest. The provisions in the Bill build on existing case law.

All Senators spoke on the need for stronger enforcement of the planning code, which is one of the key areas of reform in this Bill and people will think twice before ignoring the planning laws in the future. Some Senators called for retention permission to be abolished completely and, while I sympathise with that view, it needs to be retained for very good reason, particularly to allow a genuine mistake to be rectified. Anyone can make a mistake. However, the Bill makes it clear that any application for retention cannot be used to prevent or hold up enforcement action, and minimum fines have been introduced where an unauthorised structure has been built.

Senator Taylor-Quinn noted that local authorities had rarely required developers to demolish an unauthorised structure. However, the provisions in the Bill that allow for huge fees for retention applications will be sufficient to discourage people from engaging in unauthorised development and then looking for retention. Senator Taylor-Quinn spoke of the need to adopt a more strategic approach to planning and also for the needs of the planning system to be responsive to change. I agree. It is important to have some certainty in the system as it encourages investment. The planning structure we have at national, regional, local and area levels will help to bring that certainty about.

Senators Costello, Dardis and other Senators raised the matter of pop concerts and asked that the public be consulted. The Bill provides for regulations on public notification and I assure the Senators that these will be made and it will allow for public consultation. However, the planning system or code was not a suitable vehicle for deciding on concerts. The licensing system will help those involved reach speedy decisions but will preserve the right of the public to be consulted. The Bill addresses this issue adequately and gives the local authority more power in this area because there are ancillary problems with open air pop concerts and other outdoor events that put added expense on local authorities. At least now they will have some control over events taking place in their area.

Senator Dardis was concerned that environmental issues were not given due regard in the Bill. I do not propose to repeat what I said at the opening of this debate. The entire concept and ethos of the Bill is sustainable development. It is well covered in the Bill and will be well covered in the development plans.

Senators Dardis and O'Meara suggested that the technical views of the local authority should be taken into account when dealing with planning appeals. Section 113 specifies this and also that a copy of the planning report prepared by the local authority must be submitted to the board and must be considered by An Bord Pleanála, together with the appeal and the observations. That meet that particular point.

Senator Walsh noted that local authority development was exempt from the need to apply for or obtain planning permission. He was concerned that some local authorities were carrying out developments that were not in accordance with their development plan and that they would not allow a private developer to undertake. He was concerned about this lack of consistency. I too would be concerned if local authorities totally ignored their own development plan. Therefore, because of that, I have improved the provision in relation to local authority development in section 163 which will require local authorities to prepare a planning report in relation to their own development on the same basis as a planning application. This will have to show how the provisions of the development plan are being met in the proposed works that the local authority is undertaking.

Senator Maurice Hayes was worried that the Bill did not provide for community participation in planning in an inclusive manner. I have gone to great efforts in relation development plans to ensure the community gets involved at an earlier stage and that local public representatives get involved in the preparation of the plan before the die is cast. At the moment this is not happening. As a member of a local authority you are presented with a draft document and it is almost a fait accompli. In this regard this Bill lays down minimum requirements regarding public consultation, it permits and encourages local authorities to get the community involved as much as possible – obviiously this is something I support – and it will have the force of law. This is an important innovation. I accept the point that up to now community involvement has not been as strong as it should be, but it is now included in the Bill.

I agree with Senator Dino Cregan about the need for greater transparency in the spending of development levies. That is contained in the Bill. At this stage local authority members will have the power to decide what the scheme is and what the charges are. The developers will know in advance what the charges are. This is an extra power that councillors will have; they will have to approve the housing strategy and this particular scheme to ensure that there is a transparent system. All moneys received from contributions will be accounted for separately so that members can see where the money is, how much it is and how it is being spent. That will meet the concerns expressed.

Senator Moylan mentioned the need to design houses to meet the needs of the elderly. I recently published a consultation document on proposals to amend Part M of the building regulations that requires all new housing commenced on or after 1 July to be visitable by disabled people – and I mean "disabled" in the widest sense because elderly people have difficulties climbing stairs to access bathrooms, etc. The consultation process in relation to that ends on 29 October and we will publish the revised Part M and the technical guidance documents early in the new year.

I agree with Senator Gibbons about the necessity for proper landscaping and taking an holistic approach. The provisions in the Bill on landscaping will help that.

Senator Walsh raised the matter of the manager being given the power to pass the development plan if it goes beyond the year six. The Bill provides for a two year period for the report and for four years to start the review. At the end of the two years the plan will be in place and, if it is not in place and not passed by the council, the manager would have the power to put it in place immediately and he has to take into account and include everything that is agreed by the council up to that time. Senator Walsh said it was not right that one man should havae this power, and I agree. The best way to ensure he doest not have this power is for the councillors to do their job and make sure he does his job over the two year period. They have the timetable and they should insist that he follows it. That is the best way of ensuring we have some kind of finality in this. Part of the problems being discussed in other fora at this time was the fact that development plans went on and on in certain places – this did not happen in every place – and led to all sorts of difficulties.

I thank the House for its patience. I know we have until 6 p.m. to debate this but I do not intend to keep Senators here. Because of the debate and the constructive contributions, I felt I should try to address a number of the points raised. I have taken note of other points and look forward to a good debate on Committee Stage. I acknowledged from the outset that the Bill is not perfect and that it can be improved. I look forward to working in co-operation with Senators in making those improvements. I will accept amendments which will improve the Bill and we will have to agree to differ on the amendments I will not accept. It will be an open approach.

My staff has been acknowledged as extremely helpful in this area through the seminars and so forth and they will provide the maximum amount of information for Members before embarking on Committee Stage. That will ensure a good debate.

I thank the Senators for their consideration and co-operation. It augurs well for the efficient passing of the Bill through the Seanad.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 2 November 1999.
Sitting suspended at 5.20 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.