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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 17 Nov 1999

Vol. 161 No. 2

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

SECTION 9.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 38:
I leathanach 28, fo-alt (3), idir líne 48 agus 49, an mhír seo a leanas a chur isteach:
"(b)A planning authority which has a Gaeltacht within its functional area shall make a separate development plan for that area as a joint function with Údarás na Gaeltachta.".
(Senator Norris).

Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 39 not moved.
Section 9 agreed to.
SECTION 10.

Amendments Nos. 39a, 42 and 48 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 39a:

In page 29, subsection (1), line 25, after "questions." to insert "These written statements and plans will include the likely effects on landscape characterisation.".

The Minister has been very helpful and his amendment No. 42 takes into account my attempt to ensure that the concept of the landscape is taken into account in planning. Streetscapes should also be taken into account. It is difficult to define this clearly but the Minister has met our objectives in amendment No. 42.

I agree with Senator Coogan that the amendment proposed by the Minister covers the question we raised. I thank the Minister for accepting my amendment No. 2, which Senator Norris moved in my absence. Landscapes and streetscapes are important. Appalling inflatable structures, which did not require planning permission, could remain for years in some cases. It is good we are realising that the whole area matters, not just individual buildings.

I liked the old-fashioned word "prospects" in my amendment but the Minister's amendment is acceptable. We can see the importance of this when we look at the unfortunate recent planning in Belfast. The beautiful Waterside building looked magnificent against the skyline of the city – I hope no one from Belfast is listening – but then the Hilton hotel was built beside it, destroying the whole vista. The Minister's amendment very satisfactorily covers this area.

I acknowledge that my amendment was drafted on foot of contributions made by Members on Second Stage and the other amendments which were tabled. As Senators said, it takes on board the principles outlined in the two Opposition amendments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 40:

In page 29, subsection (2)(c), line 40, after "archaeological" to insert ", architectural".

I move this amendment on behalf of Senator Norris. While the insertion of the word "architectural" after "archaeological" appears to be a minor addition, it is important. I would have thought it would not be controversial to include it in the section because archaeological and architectural findings are not the same. I had a great deal of difficulty finding out the exact timespans of one compared with the other. I would be grateful if the Minister accepted the amendment.

There is no necessity for this amendment. The Senator is striving to impose a requirement on planning authorities to include objectives for the conservation and protection of the architectural heritage as well as other aspects of our heritage. However, paragraphs (d) and (e) of this subsection outline very specific and comprehensive objectives for protecting structures and areas of special architectural interest, which meet the Senator's concerns. The intention of the amendment is covered by those two paragraphs.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 40a:

In page 29, subsection (2)(c), line 40, after "heritage" to insert ", as defined by the Heritage Act, 1995".

We spent a great deal of time when discussing the Heritage Bill earlier this year on ensuring the protection of our heritage areas. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that what we mean by "heritage" is clearly defined in subsection (2)(c). The definition in the Heritage Act is more specific than that in the Bill. I would be delighted if the Minister accepted the amendment.

The intention of this amendment is also covered in the Bill. It is difficult in a Bill of this size to pull all the sections together. The amendment would insert ", as defined by the Heritage Act, 1995" after the term "natural heritage". The Heritage Act does not define "heritage", "natural heritage" or "national heritage". However, it states it is a function of the Heritage Council to propose policies etc. for the protection of the national heritage, including monuments, archaeological objects, heritage objects, architectural heritage, flora, fauna, wildlife habitats, landscapes, seascapes, wrecks, geology, heritage gardens and parks and inland waterways. Where these matters are relevant to planning, they are included in the Bill in paragraphs (c), (d) and (e) of section 10(2) and in the First Schedule. Adding another definition related to the functions of the Heritage Council would probably cause confusion. I realise I have given a fair amount of information there. However, the Senator can trust me that the intent of his amendment is fully covered in the Bill under those sections.

As the Minister has been so good in accepting many amendments, I will trust him that these aspects are covered in the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 41 and 313 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 41:

In page 29, subsection (2)(c), line 42, after "sites" to insert "including Natural Heritage Areas".

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that natural heritage areas are clearly defined in the Bill as being of great importance. Perhaps the Minister will assure me, as he did Senator Coogan, in this regard.

Senator Henry raised the issue of natural heritage areas last week. The current problem is that while NHAs are provided for in the Wildlife Bill, 1999, they have no legal status until that Bill is enacted. Therefore, I cannot include them in this Bill, much as I would like to. However, I guarantee to the Senator that if the Wildlife Bill is enacted, giving NHAs legal status, while this Bill is still before the Houses, we will include the amendment. We have also made provision in the Bill that the term "natural heritage area" be included in the Bill at a later stage if the Wildlife Bill is not enacted first. The very important point the Senator has raised about heritage areas is, therefore, covered in the Bill. As soon as natural heritage areas become legal, we will specifically include them in the Bill.

I thank the Minister for that. I would not want him to do anything illegal. I will rely totally on what he has said he will do.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 42:
In page 29, between lines 43 and 44, to insert the following new paragraph:
"(d)the preservation of the character of the landscape where, and to the extent that, in the opinion of the planning authority, the proper planning and sustainable development of the area requires it, including the preservation of views and prospects and the amenities of places and features of natural beauty or interest;".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 45 and 46 are related to amendment No. 43. Amendments Nos. 43, 45 and 46 may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 43:
In page 30, subsection (2)(h), lines 3 and 4, to delete "amenities, and" and substitute "amenities;".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 44 and 49 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 44:

In page 30, subsection (2)(h), line 3, after "amenities" to insert "including rights of way".

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that people can continue to have rights of way. I would be grateful if the Minister could accept this because it is very important.

Amendment No. 44 would require planning authorities to include objectives in the development plan concerning the protection, improvement and extension of rights of way. Senators Costello, O'Meara, Ryan and Henry in their amendments seek the inclusion of a list of public rights of way in the development plan. While that is fine as an objective I am reluctant to include it as one of the mandatory objectives of a development plan because the law relating to rights of way and court experience and judgments on it are extremely complicated. It would nearly need a specialised Act in itself. However, planning authorities have a power to preserve public rights of way for the good of the general public and in section 14 of the Bill it sets out a new and simplified procedure to allow planning authorities to include specific rights of way in their development plan.

When I was in Opposition I had a long discussion on rights of way with a former colleague from the other House, Roger Garland, who has pioneered this significantly over the years. Section 14 puts in place new and simplified procedures to allow planning authorities to include specific rights of way in their development plan. In future once they are included for the first time in a development plan, it will not be necessary to continue to notify owners as is required by the current provisions under the 1963 Act. Every time a development plan was prepared owners had to be notified that public rights of way were being declared.

The danger with the amendments being discussed is that they would require the planning authorities to protect and maintain all rights of way in their area, which would be very onerous on local authorities and planning authorities both in preparing the development plans and then trying to implement them. Most Senators are aware that it is often difficult to know whether a public right of way actually exists. Some people would say it does and cite instances almost from the Middle Ages, but what they say may not be valid.

For this reason, section 14, unique among the development plan sections, includes an appeal to the Circuit Court when a person objects to a right of way being included in the development plan. Where a dispute arises as to whether a right of way exists, this can only be resolved by the courts. Therefore, while I sympathise with the aim of the amendment it is not very practical or legally sound to require rights of way to be included in the development plan. One can imagine what could happen if many people decided to take appeals to the Circuit Court.

The aim of the amendment is laudable but would put a very onerous responsibility on local authorities. We are providing for simplified procedures under section 14. On that basis I ask the Senators to withdraw their amendments.

We reserve the right to reintroduce.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 45:
In page 30, subsection (2)(i), line 7, to delete "facilities." and substitute "facilities, and".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 46 not moved.
Government amendment No. 47:
In page 30, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following new paragraph:
"(j)the protection of the linguistic and cultural heritage of the Gaeltacht, where there is a Gaeltacht area in the area of the development plan.".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 48 and 49 not moved.

I move amendment No. 50:

In page 30, subsection (3), line 8, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

This was a classic case of "may" versus "shall". Of course, this House has a tradition of wishing to strengthen legislation by altering "may" to "shall". Section 10(3) states:

Without prejudice to subsection (2), a development plan may indicate objectives for any of the purposes referred to in the First Schedule.

If they have these objectives, surely they ought to indicate what they are. It seems to this side of the House that it should be "shall" instead of "may".

Normally I favour "shall" in legislation because it is much clearer, but this amendment would require planning authorities to include all the objectives set out in the First Schedule in their development plan. Section 10 of this Bill greatly extends the list of mandatory objectives which must be contained in a development plan. They are mandatory because it is felt that the objective is so important that it should apply in a universal way and each of the 88 planning authorities must therefore include it in their development plan.

An example of that would be the European sites but while the objectives of the First Schedule are very important in their own right, they may not be of such universal application. Take, for instance, restricting development in coastal areas. If that is covered by "shall" in the First Schedule, it does not apply in an inland county such as Carlow, for instance. There should not be a mandatory provision making it apply where it is not appropriate.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 51, 96, 109 and 311 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 51:

In page 30, lines 13 to 18, to delete subsection (5) and substitute the following:

"(5)A full Strategic Environmental Assessment shall accompany the preparation of the development plan, and the plan shall contain the results of such an assessment.".

I will speak on amendment No. 51 first and then come back to the others, which might be the most economical way of dealing with them.

This again simply puts in the idea of a full strategic environmental assessment to accompany the preparations of the development plan. That seems to be a realistic and reasonable request. Subsection (5)(a) provides that a development plan "shall contain information on the likely significant effects on the environment of implementing the plan". We wish to tighten it by requiring an environmental assessment to accompany the preparation of the plan. We are deleting subsection (5) and substituting a wording which we think is tighter.

I very much support Senator Norris's views on this. We are not careful enough about getting strategic environmental assessments for all the planning applications. It can be one of the most serious causes of great devastation within an area if this sort of survey is not taken into account.

Amendment No. 96 relates to the section of the Bill on local area plans, a new and welcome concept. The section is a comprehensive one.

Amendment No. 96 is one of a number of amendments designed to make it stronger by introducing the concept of a full strategic environmental assessment in the preparation of a local area plan which should contain the results of such an assessment. While the putting together of a comprehensive local area plan is welcome, the amendment is designed to strengthen it.

While I know what the aim of the amendments is, one has to consider the practicalities. It might prove more helpful in cases where, on the proposal of the county manager, the members of a local authority decide that it is critical such an assessment be made. That would be one way around it and would ensure that an assessment would not be made in cases where it is not necessary to do so, avoiding incurring costs and wasting time. I agree wholeheartedly, however, with the principle.

I have had the opportunity to scan through the amendments and they are virtually identical. They specifically introduce the concept of a strategic environmental assessment. This is an important element which should be considered. I would be worried if we did not have this. One of the advantages of this House is that many Members have a local authority background and have experience in these matters. I do not. It is always useful to listen to Members on both sides, including Senator Coogan and my colleagues on the Fianna Fáil benches who have some degree of acquaintance with the practicalities, in particular the expense involved.

In terms of good planning practice I would have thought that in devising a development plan a strategic environmental assessment would be a useful and good thing to have. Amendment No. 96 reads: "A full Strategic Environmental Assessment shall accompany the preparation of the local plan, and the plan shall contain the results of such an assessment." A local plan is not something that is embarked on every week or month. Such plans are relatively infrequent and envisage an impact on an entire area over a considerable period of time. It is only reasonable to wish that there should be a strategic environmental assessment so that we would know what would be the implications of the implementation of a plan.

This is a very important matter. Various developments have run into a great deal of trouble due to the lack of a strategic environmental assessment. The Kildare town bypass has been delayed for years because of the lack of an adequate assessment of the effects on Pollardstown Fen.

There is an aquifer underneath it. It is absolutely mad. It is insane.

That is correct, it would affect the water supply.

Whatever they do it will cost a huge amount of money. It would be more expensive not to do it. The Senator has made a very good point.

Such an assessment is vital in the context of the major plans which have been brought forward. It looks as though the Kildare town bypass will be impossible without us running out of water in Dublin. I am not a hydrologist but from what one reads about Pollardstown Fen it appears to be extraordinarily important.

The two matters should not be confused. As Senator Norris said, all the amend ments are similar. They would require the preparation of a full strategic environmental assessment for development plans, local area plans, regional planning guidelines and planning schemes in strategic development zones. However, no definition of "full strategic environmental assessment" is given. For this specific reason the amendments would be meaningless in law. The Bill provides that the plans mentioned must contain information on the effects of their implementation on the environment. This is what the Senators may be talking about. The Minister also has the power to make further provision in regard to the effects on the environment.

The existing text, therefore, provides what the Senators are looking for in terms of a strategic environmental assessment but in a flexible way. There is a very good reason it has been left as flexible as it is. As Members will be aware, considerable work has been done at European Council level on a proposed SEA directive which should be passed within the next 12 months. It would be useful to leave the Bill as it is to allow flexibility to adopt the directive directly into the Bill. For that reason I ask the Senators not to press the amendments.

The Kildare town bypass was subject to an EIA. The same is true of all other projects that are under way. It is because it was subject to an EIA that it has not been finalised.

The obvious thing to do would be to shift the line of the road but they will not do so. There is a lack of co-ordination.

I do not want to pre-empt the outcome but various experts, including some from the Continent, believe that they have found a solution. I do not know if it will be acceptable.

I imagine it will be terribly expensive. As it will involve constant pumping there will be continuous maintenance costs.

Not necessarily in the case of the latest solution they are talking about. What the Senator is talking about is environmental impact assessments for specific projects whereas what we are talking about is broader than that. There will, therefore, be double protection. I cannot accept the amendments as no definition of "strategic environmental assessment" is given. Under the Bill plans must contain information on the effects on the environment. The Minister has the power to include specific provisions in relation to a strategic environmental assessment. The Bill is flexible enough to enable it to be adapted when the SEA directive comes into law. That is the reason it is worded and phrased as it is.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 52 and 53 not moved.

I move amendment No. 54:

In page 30, subsection (8), line 27, after "any" to insert "variation thereof or in any".

This is a straightforward technical amendment which is designed to be helpful and constructive. It would extend the Bill by removing the presumption that land zoned for a particular development could not be subject to variation. It would help to weaken a case taken in connection with a variation which had been properly adopted. This is just a few words added to that paragraph to make it stronger.

Subsection (8) of section 10 makes it clear that there will be no presumption in law that any lands zoned will remain so zoned in any subsequent development plan. This amendment suggests that this presumption should be extended to any variation of the development plan. At first glance I thought this a sensible amendment. Having considered it further, I do not think it is so well founded. It should be noted that the rezoning of land midway through a development plan period could have compensation consequences as landowners would have an expectation that their lands would be zoned for the six-year period being put forward at the moment. In the past the zoning of land has continued from one development plan to the next. We are changing that.

In general terms there has been very little down-zoning, say, from industrial to agricultural use, in a development plan. Section 10(8) of the Bill provides that there will be no presumption that land zoned in a development plan will be so zoned in the following plan, and this measure should discourage the hoarding and non-development of zoned land. In general, people are entitled to expect that a particular zoning, say, industrial, will last for the period of the plan. That would give people the necessary certainty to plan the development of the land. This amendment could introduce an unnecessary uncertainty into the planning process. For that reason I cannot accept it. I presume Senator O'Meara was trying to allow for a variation within the period of the plan where land had been initially zoned for industrial use and there is an attempt to change that during the course of the development plan. That would have compensation implications. The Senator may have intended the opposite. I am not too sure.

The intention was to strengthen the section in the context of there being no presumption in law on the question of zoning. I accept what the Minister has said.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 10, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 11.

The next amendment is amendment No. 55 in the name of Senator Coogan. It is on the additional list. Amendments Nos. 56, 61, 68 and 77 are related. Amendments Nos. 55, 56, 61, 68 and 77 will be discussed together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 55:

In page 30, subsection (2), line 37, after "area" to insert "and where available to announce on local radio, or radios and on the Internet".

Some of those amendments do not contain exactly the same changes in wording as this. The intention was to include them in all the amendments. I left one or two out. The intention is very straightforward. Often the publication of notices of intention to draw up a development plan appears in a local newspaper and not everybody sees it. I did a survey some time ago on how many people read the black-framed section and discovered that very few people do so. Very often such notices are missed. My suggestion is that in these days of high technology, with local radio broadcast throughout the country, including in Dublin, the intention should be announced on local radio, or radios where they overlap, and that such announcement should run for a few weeks to allow people to understand that the development plan is being drawn and they can make submissions on time.

The other aspect is the change with regard to the Internet. Every local authority has an Internet website. With the growing number of PCs in households, it is accessible to them, so local authorities should publish their intention on their website. I am not asking that they publish every planning application, just the development plans and the various stages they have reached.

I agree with what Senator Coogan has said. It is important in a democracy that the widest possible currency should be given to the discussion of these plans. I am not sure, however, that we could compel privately-owned local radio to carry anything of this nature. We could encourage them, but I do not know that we could compel them unless—

We could pay them. They would certainly agree to that.

Yes. That would get over my objection. They would have to be paid. Senator Henry and I and some colleagues were discussing some of these matters over lunch and they said that much of what we were talking about here is fine and dandy but that there is a strange lack of funding everywhere, that there is no funding coming to local authorities from central Government. That is what people from different parties said. I have a particular reservation about this, but Senator Coogan has suggested that the way around that is for local authorities to pay.

I have no problem with the Internet. It is a very good idea that such information should be put on the Internet. This revered old House, Seanad Éireann, paved the way for the use of the Internet. I remember that in the first term of his election Senator Feargal Quinn put a series of amendments down which were accepted by this Government, about the use of the Internet becoming mandatory in certain areas. That is a very good way of spreading the news. I hope the Minister will find it possible to accept the amendment.

I support these amendments. They are an excellent idea. While obviously local newspapers are the oldest established form of communication with the public about what is happening, the number of people who listen only to radio is probably on the increase and the number of people who rely on local radio for information purposes is also on the increase. From that point of view, particularly in relation to the drawing up of the development plan, it would be extremely useful to include local radio stations in the giving of notice.

I too support this amendment. We want this Bill to be effective well into the future. We do not want to have to introduce another in five years' time. At present the web is accessed by Irish people more than by most other populations in Europe. It is important to encourage local authorities to have websites on which they can give this information. Local radio may carry such notices for no money because they very much like bringing forward local information. It is the stuff on which they thrive. It would also possibly make the planning process easier for local authorities because the more information people have about something, the less trouble one has with them in the end. It is when they think something is being hidden from them that one begins to run into problems. Even if Senator Coogan's wording is not what the Minister might want, perhaps he would consider it because it is just an extension of the ways in which information may be transmitted and may be far more common in five or ten years' time than newspapers.

I agree with what is being said. Local radio is now a tremendously effective conduit for disseminating information. Whether it is necessary to prescribe it in the legislation, I am not too sure, and I have misgivings about whether it should replace newspapers. We should also bear in mind that local radio is well represented now at all local authority meetings and reports extensively on the goings-on. Obviously, the development plan is amplified fairly thoroughly at local authority meetings and advance notice is given of it. Perhaps the current system is effec tive, but local radio is used very effectively, for example, for death notices and is relied upon to a greater extent now than the daily newspapers.

It is an established fact that the reading of the written word is in decline, possibly because people are so busy in the context of the forward march of the Celtic tiger. More people are listening to local radio and almost every county can boast a successful local radio station. In my county we have Galway FM which recently celebrated ten years of resounding success. Galway FM has a community diary programme, like most local radio stations throughout the country, on which Senator Coogan's notice could be broadcast at a cheap rate or perhaps free of charge. The amendment is laudable, coming at a time when we hear much about openness, transparency and getting the message across.

I was not suggesting the replacement of local newspapers with local radio – I do not want to commit political hara-kiri – but I was suggesting that an announcement would be made. It is not too expensive to do that in the same way as one would pay local newspapers to carry the notice. That was my intention. It is a question of getting to the widest possible audience at the least expense to ensure public participation.

We are at one in trying to ensure that the widest possible number of people know about the development plan. It is merely a question of how we go about it. I refer the Senators to section 11(3)(a) which obliges planning authorities to take additional measures over and above the basic notification procedures to consult on the preparation of a draft development plan. That is an obligation. Paragraph (b) of that particular provision suggests how such additional consultations may take place, for example, by holding public meetings, inviting people to make oral presentations, etc. The only problem I have with Senator Coogan's amendment is that, as it is currently worded, it makes what he suggests mandatory, which I am sure is not his intent. It is something we could examine. Other amendments would make it mandatory to announce everything on local radio or on the Internet. Again, it is a "shall" provision and it would make it mandatory.

I have been a great advocate of the concept of subsidiarity – laying out general obligations for local authorities and expecting them to use their combined wisdom. I would expect them to use local radio, their own websites and so on and I would prefer to give them discretion to use all or some of those methods. I have a concern about the way the amendment is worded.

Senators will see that in sections 224 and 225 provision is made that any documents or other information, or any specified documents or other information, required to be or that otherwise may be submitted to a planning authority or the board may be made or provided in an electronic form. Section 225, which is probably more pertinent to the principle Senator Coogan talks about, concerns the additional requirements for public notification. A number of different options are covered in that section also.

I have no reservations about the principle involved but I am concerned that the suggestions the Senator is making would be mandatory for all local authorities. Perhaps the Senator might consider withdrawing his amendments on foot of what I have said and we may be able to work something out and agree an amendment for Report Stage.

I draw the Minister's attention to subsection (3)(a) of section 11 which states that ". . . a planning authority shall take whatever additional measures it considers necessary . . . ". I saw one of those additional measures recently which was a notice in a hallway of a local authority but it was surrounded by 14 other notices, some of which overlapped it. If a local authority official decided that his or her notice was more important, perhaps to do with the environment, they might post it over another one which would be lost. The "additional measures" referred to in that section might only constitute a single piece of paper put on a notice board in a hallway, and that in itself is not sufficient.

I accept the Minister's point about the intention in section 225. Section 224 refers to accepting incoming electronic mail but I am referring to outgoing electronic mail, although perhaps it might be covered in that. While I understand we cannot impose the restriction, there may be some way through guidelines that local authorities may be asked to do this. If they have the facilities, they should do it.

I agree with the Minister that in general one should put together an enabling framework and hope that the local bodies would exercise their discretion in the widest possible manner. Unfortunately, that tends not to be the case in many instances and unless something is referred to in the legislation they will not take it up. Those of us in Nenagh Urban District Council will soon be discussing the development plan but few people know about that other than the chambers of commerce, An Taisce and general groups with an interest. The public, however, would be unaware of it. There was a notice about it in the local paper last May but people tend to forget in the intervening period, although one can get a copy in the office. At a time we are facing massive expansion of the town and considerable rezoning, it would be worthwhile to announce on local radio that the development plan is published so that people have time to examine it. There is no reason planning applications could not be published on the website and be available through electronic mail.

We live in an era of expanded development and people listen to local radio. If the intention of the legislation is to create a framework whereby as many people as possible are made aware of it, an opportunity would be lost if there was no mention of a mandatory requirement. I take the Minister's point about making it mandatory in the current set of amendments but if something like local radio is not mentioned, many people will not be aware of it.

I have listened to the arguments in favour of local radio and to the Minister's response. Section 11(3)(b), to which the Minister alluded, states: "Without prejudice to the generality of paragraph (a), a planning authority shall consider holding public meetings, seeking written submissions from interested bodies . . . ". Is it possible to insert a provision that local authorities must also consider debates or notifications on local radio? It might be sufficient if the Minister considered such a proposal.

That is mentioned in the Bill.

I am suggesting that when people become aware of an application they might go to City Hall to look at the proposal. That is the stage at which one holds public meetings. Senator Walsh is suggesting that people be involved at the latter stages. I am suggesting they are involved at the beginning once the announcement is made rather than after the consultation. They are well aware of the application by the consultation stage.

Senator Walsh's suggestion is the best way to approach this. I accept Senator Coogan's comments. He is looking at the development plan process as it stands, but under the Bill that process will start before the draft is put in place. Section 11(3)(b) is probably the place to insert some of the Senator's suggestions in terms of informing people through electronic means such as local radio. It will not make it mandatory to do so but authorities would have to consider such a course of action.

We do not like that on this side of the House and we want to change it considerably. It is dealt with in a later amendment.

We are not discussing that amendment.

I know but I am anticipating that amendment.

The Senator should save that amendment for me. Perhaps Senator Coogan or myself will table an amendment on Report Stage to meet the spirit of this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 56 has already been discussed.

I move amendment No. 56:

In page 31, subsection (3)(b), line 12, to delete "consider holding" and substitute "shall hold".

I strongly feel that we should not just consider issues. One can consider things until the cows come home and there is no requirement. Local authorities should be directed to do so if one is serious about holding public meetings, receiving written submissions and involving the community. It is terribly weak to stipulate that they should just consider it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 57 is in the name of Senator Norris. Amendments Nos. 65, 66, 70 to 72, inclusive, 78 and 79 are related and may be taken together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 57:

In page 31, subsection (4)(b)(i), line 35, after "authority" to insert "and shall include as an annex a copy of each written submission or observation received".

We have been looking at the principle of including the fullest possible amount of information when decisions are being made. This amendment seeks to ensure that the report shall include as an annex a copy of each written submission or observation received. This is normal practice in a number of other areas. For example, I have made submissions to inquiries about Luas. One of the gratifying aspects is that anyone who wants to look at the whole situation regarding Luas can read the proposal, the report and all the submissions. This seems a beneficial thing to do.

With respect to Senator Norris, he mentioned earlier that he has never been a member of a local authority and most councillors would not thank him for this amendment. Local authority members have a right to receive all submissions if they so wish. If they do not get them as of right they can direct the manager or pass a council motion to direct the manager to give them all the submissions. However, in some of the large authorities one could have up to 2,000 submissions on a development plan. No one would disagree with the spirit of the Senator's amendment that public representatives should have the right to receive all the submissions and reports, and they have that right, however, there would be significant problems if this was mandatory. On that basis I ask the Senator to withdraw these amendments as they would add nothing to the process. Members are entitled to and can get the submissions and there is no need for this amendment.

I am aware that members of local authorities are entitled to receive the submissions but I do not see that included in the Bill. I do not want every local authority member to get every submission but a manager's synopsis of submissions involves a subjective decision. I am not suggesting that managers would do anything wrong but it is a subjective process. I propose that local authority members should be able to request those submissions they require, not that it be automatic. I served on some of the large urban councils and if I received every submission I would be snowed under with paper for six months and would get nothing done. There are occasions when I want to see particular aspects of a submission. A person may tell me that something was not included in their submission or the manager did not emphasise some aspect of the submission and I want the right to be able to see the submission. That right exists but I would like it included in the Bill that where requested by a member, full documentation would be provided.

I was going to make the point made by Senator Coogan. I have written the words "on request". There is an analogy with the library in Trinity College which is a copyright library, but it cannot cope with the amount of work to which it is entitled. There is a request system by which the librarian triggers the issuing of the book from the publisher by making a specific request. This may be a way around this issue and I will withdraw the amendments.

I am a little concerned. I accept that we must take on board the practical advice of Members who are members of local authorities, and we have been told that there might be up to 2,000 submissions on a development plan. It may be virtually impossible to receive all those submissions. However, if machinery is being provided by which the public can make a submission, it must be disillusioning if one feels one's submission is not going to be read. The reason a submission is made is so that those elected locally to make a decision on the matter will do so taking one's submission into account. I accept the practical difficulties but there is something wrong with the system if we do not provide for elected members to receive the submissions. We are making a mockery of the democratic process.

I heard an American say recently that he was interested in what he called the vertical transport industry, what we call a lift. He pointed out that buttons on a lift which pretend to open and shut doors are there as placebos – they have no electronic impact on the progress of the lift but are there to shut up the punters. My understanding from this debate is that this process is just to keep the ordinary eejit quiet. People can make submissions which disappear into thin air. If one makes a submission one's elected representative may not read it. The least we should do is make submissions available on request. I thought that was the current situation and I wanted to strengthen it a little.

I withdraw my amendments but I think we have focused on something that is a little worrying. There is a practical problem about being unable to cope with such an amount of information, but what is the point in people making a submission? Is there a two tier system? How can the public ensure their submissions are considered? At what point and by whom is it considered? Do submissions go straight to a bin or are they considered by the city or county manager before being binned? If we are talking about participatory democracy I would like to feel some attention is paid to submissions as otherwise it is very disillusioning.

Senator Norris has raised a very interesting issue which we could discuss for a number of days. I very strongly empathise with him on the point he is making which goes to the heart of our system of local government in that we are expecting people on a voluntary basis to give a service which is now much more than can be achieved on a voluntary basis. I do not want to pre-empt the proposals the Minister will bring forward in the local government legislation, but there is a real need to address facilities and resources, financial and otherwise, for elected members at local level if we are to strengthen local democracy. It is absolutely astounding that at the turn of the century we have no full-time local representatives, something other countries have and where the democratic forum is enhanced as a result.

In current circumstances elected councillors who get reams of paper in the post have a practical difficulty in assimilating the material and intelligently taking it on board and debating it. In practice what tends to happen is that officials, who are now almost dedicated to examining and reviewing the development plan, analyse very thoroughly all submissions and bring them before management and the council. A fairly accurate résumé of the submissions is presented to elected members, which is important. However, it must be taken on board that many of the organisations and bodies which make submissions also assist their own cause by canvassing and lobbying councillors and bringing the salient points to their attention.

The issues raised by Senator Norris are very interesting and I hope we can return to them in much greater depth when we discuss the local government legislation.

I will withdraw the amendments, but I have an idea and would like the Minister to consider a possibility. One of the things I liked about Deputy Albert Reynolds, and for which he was derided, was that he said he was a one page man. It was one of the most sensible comments ever made about the practical reality of political life. We all get masses of bills through the letterbox every day and it is very difficult to keep up with them. Would it be possible to have a form, for example, on which submissions could be made where the person making the submission would be required to specify a short title or category, saying what it is about, or which could be categorised by the city manager or an official. Instead of getting all the gunge one would get a page or a couple of pages with a headline saying "Planning permission sought for. . . " with a bullet point. That would alert one to the existence of further or secondary documentation which one could trigger by request. I am not putting this forward as a formal proposal, I am just raising it for consideration. Every member of a council cannot be forced to read every single document, but they could be assisted if a brief list of submissions with headings was provided. For example, submissions on toxic emissions could be categorised under the heading "toxic emissions" and somebody interested in that issue could trigger it by request.

I reiterate what I said, namely, that a councillor or any public representative is entitled to, and I am sure on request will receive, the material. There is no need to state that in the Bill, but there is no harm in debating it here as the wish and will of the Oireachtas will form part of the Official record of the House. Certainly I have no problem reiterating this.

In relation in particular to the last contribution by Senator Norris, section 11(4)(b) requires the manager to summarise all submissions and points raised during the consultation procedure and gives the details and outline of his responsibilities. Therefore, such a procedure exists and from my experience, although it is some time since I was a member of a local authority, what actually happens is that the document is used as a reference document by public representatives and local authority members. If local authority members have particular points of interest they request the specific document, as is their entitlement under the legislation. In cases where there are particular difficulties in the planning and development legislation or where particular groups have particular interests they will make sure local public representatives hear their side of the story. A balance has been achieved.

When a manager makes a report he gives the technical response to it as well as the details of the complaint. A councillor will have the view of the public, strongly expressed no doubt, the view and report of the manager and the technical report. It is up to the councillor at that stage to make a reasonable decision on a case. The system is fairly good. I am sure nobody expects every councillor to read every single submission, but in fairness to members of local authorities, in their collective wisdom they may follow particular interests and pursue them in relation to a development plan. The discussion and debate among groups at council meetings generally result in fairly well informed decisions on development plans.

Amendment No. 72 in my name which has been grouped with Senator Norris's amendment uses the words "where requested". Local authority members have an entitlement in this regard and the reason I tabled the amendment was to include such entitlement in law. However, I am satisfied if the wish of the House and the Minister and the intention of the Bill is clearly understood from the debate and that as a result we will have a continuation of the current process.

Members of local authorities – and, I think, Senators – come under the same pressure and one of the reasons I tabled the amendment is in the context of waste management and the new provisions which will exist, be it a form of gasification etc. I mentioned this on Second Stage. The amount of detail and technical knowledge which will be necessary to make a proper judgment on the form of waste management, the location of facilities and its benefits and costs depends on the amount of information received by local authority members. Very often that information has nothing to do with a submission but could be in the hands of the manager and we have to ask for it. It is one of the things we will have to face. Members of local authorities will come under increasing pressure. As Senator Walsh said, it is time we had full-time local politicians. That has to be on the cards because of the increase in the workload and the technical nature of some of the things that are happening.

I am happy to withdraw the amendment on the basis that the intention is clearly understood as part of the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 58:

In page 31, subsection 4(c), line 50, after "consideration." to insert "This report shall be available for inspection by the public.".

This again has to do with transparency for the general public. I realise these reports will have been filtered by the officials who compile them for members of the planning authority. The public has a right to see what the submissions were boiled down to, so to speak. It seems unfair that the people who made submissions should not know what members of the planning authority had in their hands when they made their decision. This measure would aid the planning process and I find that when people have information they are much easier to deal with.

I am sympathetic to this amendment but for technical reasons which I will go into I cannot accept it as it is currently worded. If Senator Henry withdraws her amendment we will deal with it on Report Stage.

My amendment could be worded differently. There could be a lot of resentment if people felt a report was compiled and they had no access to it. I thank the Minister.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 59 not moved.

I move amendment No. 60:

In page 32, subsection (4)(e), line 14, after "relates" to insert "and take into account any likely effect the plan might have on an adjoining authority".

It is included later in the Bill that consideration has to be given where a plan is being drawn up and it impinges on another local authority. However, this provision is not in this section and it would be proper to include it at an earlier stage. I know it is referred to later in the Bill and that it is the Minister's intention. Therefore, there is no difficulty in putting it in at this stage.

As the Senator said, planning authorities are required under section 9(4) to co-ordinate their plans as far as possible with adjoining local authorities. This provision is covered in the Bill at a later stage. The amendment is covered and does not need to be restated. I have a concern that I have not been able to get out of my mind in relation to Senator Coogan's amendment. His amendment has the same spirit as section 9(4). If I accepted his amendment there might be litigation at a later stage on whether there was not full consideration of the effects a plan might have on an adjoining authority and his amendment might be used to hold up desirable development. The Senator's concern is met in section 9(4) but I will examine this matter again to see if I can introduce it earlier into the Bill. At present I cannot accept his amendment.

My concern would be that legal proceedings might be taken because the Minister did not take into account adjoining authorities. That is the difficulty. The concept behind my amendment is straightforward. It is not that the planning authority would have to deal with the adjoining local authority but it would have to consider whether a plan impinged on the other authority in any way. It would be a matter of form to notify the local authority of such an intention at that stage and there would be no litigation. I have seen developments take place on the borders of two local authorities where it created problems for the local authority, did not help the development, demanded infrastructure etc. That is why I would like this provision inserted at an earlier stage. If the Minister is willing to review the matter to see whether it can be included earlier I will accept that.

I can see the Minister's difficulty but I empathise with Senator Coogan. It is obvious to anyone who comes from a town or an area where two local authorities overlap. As someone who has not seen enlightened policies from Kilkenny County Council with regard to part of my town it brings home the need for the extension of urban boundaries. I know the overlapping of county boundaries is a political hot potato but local democracy is badly served by having important parts of towns cut adrift in other local authorities where the centre of influence is far removed from that locality, leaving them peripheral to the interests of that local authority. I say that advisedly. New Ross is not the only town in that position. I do not know whether this Bill is the right means to address this problem. However, I ask the Minister to consider this issue so that there would be greater liaison and input. Ultimately it comes back to extending boundaries and that is something that no Minister to date has been prepared to tackle.

I doubt we will get any answers here today.

I recently agreed to extend the boundaries between Senator Dan Kiely's local authority, Kerry County Council and Killarney Urban District Council.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 11 agreed to.
SECTION 12.
Amendment No. 61 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 62, 63, 67, 69 and 73 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 62:

In page 32, subsection (3)(a), line 32, to delete "8" and substitute "12".

Those who have written the national development plan probably think I am trying to bring it down about their ears by suggesting that the plan should be available for 12 weeks rather than eight because delay seems to be what will impede the great progress we are making in this country. It would also allow the general public to view the plan for another four weeks. Perhaps that seems a long time to the Minister but from a practical point of view it might be important.

My amendment No. 63 is the same as amendment No. 62. If we are to be consistent we should not refer to weeks because in a previous debate we made the argument that we should refer to months. If we are to be consistent we should say three months rather than two months. The point of this amendment – and I think the same point will be made by any other speaker – is that the time is limited. If someone is away on holidays, in jail or sick in hospital an additional four weeks or a month would give them time to examine the plan, perhaps more than once.

Eight weeks is not enough time for a small residents' association or a small number of individuals in an area, who discover that their area is being rezoned or a major development is planned for it, to get the advice they need and to organise their response, particularly if they have never done it before. There has been much discussion about delays in the planning process and the extent to which it holds up development. However, we need to be careful in that debate not to throw out the baby with the bath water. We must remember the basic principles, particularly in relation to legislation. We want to see development go ahead and as expeditiously as possible, but time periods in legislation are not the main difficulty.

Senator Walsh mentioned the issue of resources at local authority level. A problem which has been mentioned before, particularly in recent weeks, is the difficulty being experienced by local authorities in recruiting staff. That is part of the problem with forward planning, preparing plans and dealing with plans, submissions, observations and objections. Given that there is more than one way to skin a cat, there is more than one way to deal with a problem, but we must identify the real problems.

Streamlining the process in terms of the number of weeks people have to make submissions, observations and so on is not the only answer to streamlining the problem in the system. There are other ways the problem could be addressed. I appeal to the Minister not to throw out the baby with the bath water. It is important to retain the principle that the ordinary person in the street, be it a small number of people or residents associations, should have a reasonable time within which to make a submission to the development plan, and a period of 12 weeks is a reasonable time.

I agree with Senator O'Meara that we do not want to throw out the baby with the bath water. The new timescale proposed for the development plan procedure must be put in context. Up to now a three month period was allowed following publication of the draft development plan and the commencement of procedures by local authorities. The first time the public would have been aware of the draft development plan was when it was discussed by members of the local authority. That procedure has changed. In year four of the current development plan a procedure will commence for drawing up a new development plan to which a two year timescale will apply. That procedure will facilitate the public to have an opportunity for the first time to consider the plan before the experts in the planning departments of the local authorities put pen to paper. We have asked those officials to go out and meet the people, inform them of the plan and engage in consul tation, get involved with local radio and ask the public to make submissions to the local authorities. We want the public to participate and tell us what they want in the draft development plan before it is drafted.

The timescale for the draft development plan is not shortened. We have allowed a period at the beginning of the process for people to make their input. These amendments relate to the second stage of the new procedure at which time people will have an opportunity to give their verdict on whether the local authorities have responded to their needs.

I accept what Senator O'Meara said about being anxious to facilitate development by streamlining the procedures. More damage was done to the planning system, and as a result to the environment, by development plans not being completed within the timescale set. For that reason we decided on a two year period within which a development plan must be put in place, and that is a desirable objective. To achieve that objective, specific timetables must be set. There is nothing to stop local authorities starting the process of consultation after three and a half years. I am anxious that once the procedure starts it moves forward to ensure that we will progress matters within a two year period. Untold damage was done to the planning system in the public mind and to the environment because of delays in completing development plans on time. From the Senator's point of view and that of people who made genuine submissions to the Bill, there may be concerns that the Government was trying to rush through the Bill to prevent people from making submissions and observations about the draft plan.

The provisions in the Bill will facilitate the public consultation process and will improve the system, although there must be give and take on both sides. This section is reasonable and on the basis of what I said, I ask the Senators to withdraw their amendments. There is a proper balance in the section and it will make the system much more effective.

This is beginning to sound as good as Mao's great leap forward, and we all know where that led. Allowing for three months at this stage is not too long, even allowing time for consultation at the start of the process.

If the Minister's objective is to ensure that development plans are completed on time, the process could be started earlier, but the provision for a period of 12 weeks should be retained. The consultation process should be started earlier to facilitate the retention of the 12 week period. I agree with what the Minister said, but while local groups or individuals may have been consulted and submitted their ideas, the draft development plan prepared by the local authorities may be different from the ambitions such groups or individuals have for their areas. There may be a major difference of opinion between what the community as a whole and a small part of the community wishes to achieve. In that context, a 12 week period is necessary to ensure people have sufficient time to give an adequate response to the draft development plan.

The Minister made a cogent case, but I am not 100% convinced by it for the reasons stated by Senator O'Meara. We want to get the maximum possible public participation. I can be corrected on this, but in the Dublin area the period allowed was 12 weeks. What is provided represents a reduction, and that is a pity. Perhaps it could be argued that this is balanced by the efforts being made, as a result of the discussion in this House, to advertise the development plan on the radio, the Internet and so on to facilitate public consultation. However, small voluntary local organisations take a certain amount of organisation. They must hold a meeting, depute a person or a group of people to inspect the plan, report back and hold another meeting. Sometimes even within a three month period one can be put to the pin of one's collar to get that done. I am keen on maintaining the 12 week period rather than foreshortening it. Senator O'Meara spoke wisely on this, as did Senator Henry. Senator O'Meara suggested that perhaps the process could begin a little earlier because we want to get as many people involved as possible.

I understand the Minister's point. In particular in the current situation where there is money around, a good deal of development is taking place and there is a requirement to get developments through as efficiently and speedily as possible, there is a temptation to reduce the period. I understand that, that is human and also very practical. In the circumstances where I advance a project and manage to get it into a development plan, I am champing at the bit to see it coming in. I am furious if it is interrupted and delayed by vexatious objections, submissions and so on, but that is all part of democracy. I will have to consult with my colleagues who supported me on this, but I am reluctant to withdraw the amendment at this point. I do not want to get into a confrontation or call a vote because we will lose it.

I do not believe in too many idealistic charges, particularly when my colleagues are here. If I was on the Independent benches on my own, I could knock up a good cricket score of votes while they were out of the House and there would be a practical political point in doing that. However, having an amendment defeated at this point does not seem to be practical politics. I will consult with my colleagues who tabled this amendment, but I am reluctant to withdraw it. The advantage of withdrawing it is that it might be a tactical withdrawal. Reculer pour mieux sauter, as the French say.

Acting Chairman

Perhaps the Senator could reach a decision rather than agonise over it.

Could we agonise for a little?

Perhaps I could help the Senator by telling him that if he presses the amendment to a vote, he will lose it.

That did not deter us before.

If he withdraws it, I will not extend the two year period, which is sacrosanct, but I may consider allowing the pre-planning draft development plan period to be shortened to allow for a little more consultation, although I am not making any promises. There may be merit in the proposal. I ask the Senators to consider what I said about the pre-draft planning consultation period between now and Report Stage. Part of the reason we have so much confrontation when individual planning applications are submitted to local authorities is that members of the public do not feel they have any ownership of the plan because they have not been given a chance to have an input before pen is put to paper. The two years will be sacrosanct but I will consider the strong arguments made before Report Stage to see whether we can allow a little more time for consideration of the draft plan.

That is a gracious reply and we will withdraw the amendment on that basis. I understand the Minister is not giving a commitment to do this but that he will let us know on Report Stage that he has considered the matter and is either prepared or not prepared to do this. That will give us the opportunity to decide ourselves.

On the basis of what the Minister said, I will withdraw the amendment.

Senator Norris must think I have joined the Independent ranks because one of the amendments is the same as mine. While the Senator has leave to withdraw his amendment, I must consider mine. I am satisfied with what the Minister has said and I hope he will be able to give people a better opportunity to look at development plans.

I forgot to mention that amendment No. 69 gives extra time to the manager to prepare a report on public submissions.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 63 not moved.

Acting Chairman

Amendments Nos. 64 and 243 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 64:

In page 33, lines 9 to 11, to delete ", if the proposed addition or deletion was recommended by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands,".

This amendment ensures that all submissions regarding protected structures are sent to the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands.

The effect of these deletions would be to require the planning authorities to send copies of any submissions or observations received on a proposed addition or deletion from the record of protected structures to the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands for observation. The Bill only requires the Minister to be notified of any addition or deletion but to be sent copies of submissions only when he or she recommended the additions or deletions.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands will recommend to the planning authorities that they include in the record structures of international, national or regional importance based on their status in the national inventory of architectural heritage. Where they recommend such structures for inclusion, they need to know of any submissions so they can respond to them. However, the planning authority can include other structures of solely local importance and while planning authorities will notify the Minister of the proposals, he or she will have no involvement in recommending their inclusion and, therefore, does not need to be forwarded any submissions on the matter. Decisions on buildings of local importance are a matter for the planning authority and I see no reason to burden the Minister with additional unnecessary work.

These provisions are included in cases where the Minister needs to know about proposals, but local issues are a matter for the local authority. This is similar to an earlier amendment about submissions being sent to local authority members. The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and the Department must focus on buildings of national, international or regional importance. There is a danger the Department would become inundated with information which might not be relevant to its functions. My understanding is that the Department and the Minister are happy to allow the local authorities to look after buildings of local importance but they would have a say in buildings of international, national or regional importance. I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment.

I refer to amendment No. 243. Section 53 (2)(d) states that "if the proposed addition or deletion was recommended by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, the planning authority shall forward to that Minister for his or her observations a copy of any submission or observation made under paragraph (b)". It is more important for the Minister to get it if the deletion has not been recommended. If the Minister is charged with responsibility for maintaining, supervising or protecting listed buildings, and an organ of the State or another body decides that a listed building should be deleted and they have the opportunity to pull it down or to do whatever they want with it, the Minister would need to know about it because he or she would have already made the recommendation. I am not thinking of additions but deletions. If I have a building listed for protection and somebody gets it delisted, surely the Minister charged with responsibility for heritage in this area should at least be informed so that he or she knows the building is threatened? That is essential.

I would like an opportunity to think about what the Minister said and to look at the Bill again. I will not press the amendment but it is an issue of concern, as Senator Norris said.

If a structure is protected, on the recommendation of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, he or she will be informed if there is a proposal to delist it. The Minister concerned will be informed of that. I think that was the nub of Senator Norris's difficulty.

Regardless of whether the deletion was at the request of that Department?

Yes. Once it has been delisted the Minister will be informed.

May I get the tenses right? Will the Minister be informed once it has been deleted or will he or she be consulted beforehand?

If the original inclusion was at the request of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, he or she will be informed of any delisting.

If it was not, what is the position?

If the inclusion was not originally at the request of the Minister—

In that case the Minister will not be automatically informed.

It is important to let the Minister know so that the delisting can be discussed before it takes place. If the Minister has spoken and asked that something be done one can assume her agreement. However, if it is to happen without her knowing, it seems very odd that she would not be informed.

The confusion is caused because the Minister will be informed one way or the other. The Minister will receive the submissions in relation to the delisting only if he or she requests them. I hope that clarifies the matter.

I said I wished to think about the matter because I am slightly confused. The amendment proposes to delete the words "if the proposed addition or deletion was recommended by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands". I am trying to achieve a situation where all submissions regarding protected struc tures are automatically sent to the Minister. That would be a very valuable procedure. It would cover more than just buildings originally recommended for listing by the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. The amendment is important from that point of view, but I would like the Minister to consider what the amendment tries to achieve, which is to expand the situation rather than limit it.

I have a heavy cold today so I am even more stupid than usual. Am I right in thinking the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands has the prime responsibility in Government for safeguarding our heritage? If so, I cannot follow the Bill's reasoning. Obviously, he or she would want to know if a delisting of a building was to take place, even if he or she had not caused it to be listed. The guardian of our heritage must be informed and given the opportunity to make the strongest possible intervention. It is particularly in those cases where he or she might not be aware of a delisting that he or she should be made aware of it.

I am confused because I thought I understood the question of preservation lists clearly. Recently a development plan involving listing and delisting was passed by my local authority. The plan was public knowledge well before it was passed and there was a link with the Department of the Environment and Local Government. I did not think there was any difficulty in doing this – had I thought there was, I would have questioned the procedure closely. It was my understanding that the county planner and county manager knew, through the drawing up of the development plan, of any listing or delisting and that these would be carefully discussed at the drafting stage. I hope there is no confusion because I have voted for our development plan on the understanding that our local authority had these matters under control.

The Minister responsible for the conservation of our architectural heritage is the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, but this must be done through the planning system and is, therefore, a shared responsibility with the local authorities. Senators contributed very constructively to the Planning and Development Bill earlier this year which dealt with architectural heritage.

The Bill requires that the Minister be notified of any addition or deletion to preservation lists and be sent copies of the submissions, which is what we are talking about, only when he or she recommended the listing.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 65 to 68, inclusive, not moved.
Government amendment No. 69:
In page 34, subsection (9)(a), line 14, to delete "6" and substitute "8".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 70 to 74, inclusive, not moved.

Acting Chairman

Amendments Nos. 75 and 83 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.

Government amendment No. 75:
In page 34, subsection (12), line 47, after "relates" to insert ", the statutory obligations of any local authority in the area and any relevant policies or objectives for the time being of the Government or any Minister of the Government".

Section 11 requires councillors to take into account the statutory obligations of local authorities and any relevant policies of the Minister or the Government where they may make recommendations to the manager regarding the preparation of the draft development plan. In turn, the manager has to consider these matters when preparing reports under sections 12 and 13 on draft development plans and on variations of the plans. These two amendments clarify that councillors, when they make a new plan or a variation of a plan, must also consider local authority obligations and ministerial or Government policy when carrying out their functions. It is appropriate that they must consider the same issues as the manager when they are doing this. Otherwise it could lead to conflicts where the manager felt obliged to consider some issue but the elected members did not. Basically, we are imposing the same obligations on the members as on the manager.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 76:

In page 35, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following new subsection:

"(15)Where an election occurs for the local authority, the members of the authority elected at the election may amend the draft plan notwithstanding the completion of procedures referred to in subsection (7), and subsection (8) shall apply to such amendments.".

This amendment seeks to insert a further subsection which relates to the making of a development plan, so that where an election occurs for the local authority, the members of the authority elected at the election may amend the draft plan notwithstanding the completion of procedures referred to in subsection (7). This is designed to ensure that a newly elected council could put its own stamp on a draft development plan.

I also had concerns about this aspect but I have already had them teased out. This will be difficult, regardless of how it is done, because one half of the development plan will be prepared by one local authority and the other half by the new one. When I thought it through, I realised it is impossible to get around that, unless the development plan is begun the year the local authority is elected and runs for five years. Otherwise, there will be a cross-over between the old local authority and the newly elected one. It is difficult to get around that. I thought it was possible to do so but I realise it is not.

There is no need to labour the point, which was well made by Senator Ormonde. It would not be a good idea to enable a newly elected council to reopen issues in a draft plan which were decided on by the previous council. Members of a local authority can decide to do that, but I would not be in favour of stating it in legislation because it would invite the reopening of a huge range of issues. If a newly elected council feels that a development plan which was passed prior to its election needs to be reviewed, it can use the streamlined procedures under section 13 to vary that plan. It would cause huge problems to do otherwise.

I do not wish to be disloyal to my valued colleagues but I see practical difficulties with this. New "brooms" like to think they sweep clean. It strikes me as analogous to that fatal moment in any board meeting when the chairman has to ask "Any other business?". One always knows who will produce endless items and reopen everything that has been discussed painfully for hours. There are practical dangers in this. I know I am being disloyal to my good friend, Senator O'Meara, and I hope she will not hold it against me, but it is what I honestly feel.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 12, as amended, be agreed to."

I referred on Second Stage to section 12(15), which empowers the manager to decide on the plan in the event of the councillors not doing so by the required date. I am surprised an amendment was not tabled on that point. I spoke to the Minister about this on Second Stage and he indicated he would not be inclined to accept an amendment on it.

I am implacably opposed to anything which extends the remit of the manager. There is a certain balance in the system but there is a definite imbalance in terms of the distribution of power between reserved and executive functions. I also opposed this in the traveller accommodation Bill, where I could see a certain logic for it. This is now part of the Bill as no amendment was tabled on it. However, I would not be true to my convictions in this regard if I did not put on the record that I feel it is the wrong direction to go. I hope that tendency will not be followed in future Bills.

It was my understanding that the manager could only adopt what had already been decided by the members, which would be an incomplete plan. However, that is not how the section reads. It states that the parts of the plan which have been agreed "shall be included as part of the plan as made by the manager". That means, in effect, the manager has the power to make important decisions in regard to the shape of the development plan.

In my experience as a councillor for the past 20 years on Wexford County Council, the delay in the plan coming before the council is caused by staff resources or lack of commitment on the part of the manager to giving it priority. It has never been held up by the members. I do not know whether that applies to all local authorities.

I am concerned about a point made earlier by Senator Norris. There is a deficit in our whole democratic process, particularly at local level. By way of analogy, it would be wholly unacceptable, from a democratic point of view, for the Secretary General of a Department to make a major policy decision if the Minister failed to do so by a specified date. I hope, in terms of councillors' feelings, the Minister will address, even at a later stage, this overriding authority of the manager which defies the democratic process.

The plans need to be adopted. Extensions were sought for plans over the years, which I find totally unacceptable. However, in most cases of which I am aware any delays were due to a failure, which could be a genuine failure, of staff resources. It is unfair to the manager to put him in this position. We have seen from some of the tribunals that it is not good to invest absolute power in any particular individual. It is better to invest power in the council as a whole.

I am not trying to protect councillors who fail to do their duty to make decisions in this regard. However, there is the precedent of the manner in which we deal with councils who fail to adopt the rate, for example. I would have found it far more acceptable if that kind of provision had been included in the Bill, where the council could be abolished after a certain date. It is wrong to give that power to the manager, in terms of democracy and the message it sends to individual councillors who should have the responsibility and accountability for one of their most important functions, which is the drafting and adoption of the development plan.

I specifically referred on Second Stage to this issue which Senator Walsh had raised. Like him, I have very strong views about the powers of local authority members and so on. However, where local authority members fail to exercise their power, business must go on.

Looking at the Bill as a whole, we are increasing the powers of members. The manager must now report to the members after two years on how the development plan is progressing. After four years, members must be consulted before the draft plan is put in place, as must the public. There is a timetable which should be adhered to. In addition, the plan must be for a six year period. There is no provision in the Bill to allow for an extension. The development plan must be in place at the beginning of year seven.

Taking all of those matters into account, it is necessary that this is very clear cut concerning the development plan. I do not make this point lightly or flippantly but it is the job of the board of directors of a company to make sure the manager or managing director does his job and meets his timetable. He must do this but if he fails, in the circumstances described by Councillor Walsh, members have powers of direction. They have powers to make the manager comply. It is law and managers as a matter of course do not break the law, not to my knowledge anyway. They know the timescale and it is up to the members to make sure that they adhere to it.

There will be some cases where for one reason or another the manager and the council do not stay within their six years. Would it be very fair if, for instance, five planners left the council in the last two or three crucial months, and the elected members of the council were then to be suspended? I do not think it would. If we start suspending the managers, we will have a situation where there will be nobody to make the development plan and the whole system collapses. I told Senator Walsh when he raised this matter that I would give it some thought, but I cannot think of any other measure that would meet my requirements to have the development plan process tightly drawn, finishing on time and starting off in a new period.

I accept that I may have mistakenly told Senator Walsh that it was only the section of the Bill approved by the members – that was my mistake. I put it to him incorrectly. We have to get the message across to both members and managers that we mean business by getting six year development plans. This is the only way of doing it.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 13.
Amendments Nos. 77 to 80, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 81:

In page 36, subsection (6), line 28, after "it." to add "For a variation to be accepted it shall require the votes of three quarters of the elected members of the relevant planning authority.".

This is a matter on which I feel particularly strongly because what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. The Minister has spoken frequently about coherence and uniformity in legislation. I will keep my contribution short because it is always possible that he might accept what we are seeking here, which are the same procedures as those involved in the case of a material contravention. It is only reasonable that we should look for the same standards.

I am suggesting that in page 36, subsection (6), line 28, we should put in: "The members of a planning authority, having considered the proposed variation and manager's report, may, by resolution as they consider appropriate, make the variation". Then there is a sort of a gap, a kind of lacuna or black hole. It does not say how they do it. What is the methodology? By vote, by voice vote, roll-call, simple majority? I am just suggesting that it should be precisely the same as it was for a material contravention – by a vote of three quarters of the elected members of the relevant planning authority. It strikes me that there is something missing here anyway because it does not say by what machinery they shall make this decision in terms of a proper vote.

Senator Norris has already touched on the very point I was going to make. That is the last time I will have a conversation with him. I am sure he knew about the material contravention anyway.

I did because I was briefed by An Taisce – it is written in the margins of the Bill in my own pristine handwriting.

I have been briefed only by tradition and by experience. This is the same as a material contravention. The Bill states that an authority may make a variation in the development plan. Senator Norris asked under what aspect it would be made. Could it be a simple quorum that is attendant and in that quorum there may be a need for only seven members and if four of them say they want to vary the plan, to what degree can they do so? Can they modify it so that it is almost unrecognisable from before?

This must not happen and it should be ensured that the development plan goes ahead. I am not stuck on the figure of three quarters or even two thirds. It is a matter of ensuring that the majority of members are in attendance and perhaps the representatives of the local areas. I propose that the Minister should accept the modification in this amendment.

I hope too that the Minister will accept it because otherwise various local authorities could make decisions under different criteria, which would be very odd.

I confirm that I did have a chat with Senator Coogan, during which he mentioned this. I give him full credit for it. However, he was simply reiterating what was already said to me and since I have given him credit for it, I am not claiming credit for this genius of an idea myself. John O'Sullivan of An Taisce gave me a briefing and made a point out of this, which was exactly the point I wrote down in the margins of the Bill about the material contravention. It does seem to be a very good point. Of course the personal experience of Senator Coogan is perfectly clear and the way in which he was able to flesh it out with some other examples is invaluable. I would not have the slightest hesitation in picking his brains and I hope that his intellectual resources will be available to this House for many years.

Acting Chairman

Senator Norris, you will forgive me if I say that the more time you are given to think, the more the Chair becomes concerned.

This amendment would require a three quarters majority of the elected members to agree a variation of the development plan before it could be adopted. I am opposed to this. The making of development plans is one of the most important, probably the most important, function given to the elected councillors. There is no justification in requiring a greater majority for varying a development plan than there is for making the plan in the first place. A simple majority is required to pass the plan.

The development plan is a very democratic document and a simple majority should suffice in order to vary it. People are saying that this is equivalent to a section 4 or the material contravention used by managers now when a section 4 motion goes down. It is quite different because in this case the elected members, who are supposed to be the policy makers of the local authority, are taking on a function that is properly an executive function of the manager. The development plan process is a reserved function of the members themselves. It is not proper to equate the variation of the plan with the section 4 procedure because that section 4 is really taking over the functions of the manager to decide usually on a very specific case. A variation of a development plan concerns rezoning tracts of land and so on. That is why democracy requires that the simple majority should prevail for policy decisions that rightly belong to the members. The safeguard built in to a previous planning and development Bill where three quarters of the members must vote in favour if members wish to assume responsibility for executive functions is also appropriate. For that reason I do not intend to accept the amendment.

Even before I accept the Minister's argument it is still not clear to me how this resolution will be arrived at. Is it a simple majority of the elected members or of those members present?

Of those present.

Subsection (6) states:

The members of a planning authority, having considered the proposed variation and manager's report, may, by resolution as they consider appropriate, make the variation. . .

It does not say how or by a majority of those present or of the elected members. There is still a gap. Will the Minister amplify it a little more?

The Minister mentioned section 4 motions which relate to specific cases. A plan can only be varied or changed by a council in relation to a specific planning application if the manager gives the go-ahead or his or her stamp of approval. He or she can attach conditions. In this way the members vary the plan to allow a development to proceed. Senator Coogan is correct, therefore, when he says that a majority of the members would have to vote in favour of the variation. The planning application, however, will not come before the council unless it has the backing of the manager. Members are not entitled to propose variation of the plan in relation to a specific planning application.

Section 4 motions are linked to material contraventions of the development plan. Whenever the manager in Meath County Council receives such a motion he immediately places a notice in the newspapers. They apply to specific planning applications only, in respect of which three quarters of the members of the council must vote in favour. Such a motion can be tabled by members of the council. The amendment relates to variation of a development plan which is generally proposed by the manager in connection, for example, with the rezoning of a particular area to allow the establishment of a factory on land originally zoned agriculture.

The distinction is clear. Material contraventions are linked to section 4 motions and require three quarters of the members of a council to vote in favour. The procedure for variation which is straightforward is outlined in the Bill and provides for publication. In relation to material contraventions it is specifically spelled out how many members of a local authority would have to vote in favour for a section 4 motion to be passed; otherwise a simple majority of those present is all that is required. This is taken as the norm. There is no need, therefore, to spell this out in the legislation.

Most of what I wanted to say has been said. It would be an anomaly to include in the Bill a provision under which variation of a plan would require two thirds of the members of a local authority to vote in favour given that the plan can be adopted on a simple majority. We should trust the democratic process. I have always opposed the provision under which three quarters of the members of a local authority have to vote in favour of certain planning decisions. It is incongruous that the county manager can make a decision alone on the most fundamental planning applications. It is a nonsense and the provision should not have been included in the first instance, although I can understand the reason for its inclusion to prevent rezoning. If lands had been rezoned earlier, as recommended by certain councillors on whom odium was heaped, house prices may not have escalated to the same extent. There is a balance to strike. There is a danger that the pendulum will move in one direction only. We should trust our councillors. They make the right decisions. There is no instance that I know of in the country where the decisions of councillors did not turn out to be wise. In many instances, they were more liberal.

Most of the points have been clarified. The Minister said that a simple majority is required. South Dublin County Council has adopted its development plan and is in the process of constructing the new motorway. When the new secondary roads are constructed variation of the plan will be required to rezone lands for housing. We cannot wait six years for this to happen. The procedure provided for in the Bill will make life much easier for those of us pushing for new housing in the area.

Section 13(1) states:

A planning authority may at any time, for stated reasons, decide to make a variation of a development plan which for the time being is in force.

This is eminently sensible and a matter for the authority itself. It would be incongruous, having adopted a plan by a simple majority, if a more rigorous standard was required in relation to its variation. There seems to be some confusion but I always understood that when a motion was to be adopted by resolution, by definition, that meant a simple majority. The only way to change this is to specify another system. That is the reason another system is specified in the case of material contraventions, in respect of which three quarters of the total membership must vote in favour. Even with 100% support it is sometimes difficult to have a resolution passed as insufficient members are present. It is eminently sensible and consistent that variation be agreed to by a simple majority because of the pace of development, which we hope will accelerate even further under the national development plan. It is appropriate that it should be open to make variations as required for stated reasons.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I think Senator Norris wants to—

I want to digest the wisdom of my colleagues.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I will call Senator Coogan.

I will keep digesting and hope I will not regurgitate. On can talk about a simple majority. It may be an exaggeration, but it could happen that during a meeting of the full council most of the councillors might decide to go outside for a break, leaving three councillors in the chamber. In that circumstance, somebody might see an opportunity to change something and, as quickly as lightening, it is decided two to one. That has happened in the past. It is not clearly defined. Senator Dardis's understanding is fine, but that approach often brings one into court. If it were clear, I would be happy. Instead of regarding it as being the same as a material contravention – I did not mean that it was the same as a material contravention but that the system of voting and numbers could be compared to it – the Minister should accept that there should be a simple majority of the total council. That might be a better way around the problem.

I support Senator Coogan on his proposal that there should be a simple majority of the total council. That is the least that should be required.

The members of a local authority can bring a section 4 motion before the council. Is there any mechanism where the members of a local authority can bring a motion for variation to the council chamber?

It is always valuable to listen to experience from the coalface. At the same time, despite the experiences that Senators Ormonde, Walsh and Dardis have placed on the record, the whole area of rezoning is quite a troubled one with a long history. I am not confusing it with section 4 motions but I remember them, and I remember the reception I got in Killarney when I gave them a dose about section 4 motions at the General Council of County Councils. It was a very tricky problem.

Senator Coogan has put his finger on something. It is a political reality that there are certain opportunistic politicians, not just in county councils, not just in one party or another. I remember that in this very Chamber, precisely the scenario outlined by Senator Coogan took place. This was some years ago and I do not remember which Government was in office. I had to go out to make an urgent telephone call and there was a line of speakers on the Government side. The Minister sent a note to his own side collapsing the list of speakers and by the time I got back the vote had been called and taken.

What about the vote the Senator won when there was nobody here?

We will not go into that. That was a notable victory. This kind of chicanery is theoretically possible, and it is important to be very careful in dealing with planning issues, in particular rezoning. The reason is that there are enormous amounts of money involved. Let us be hon est about it. I understand what Senator Ormonde is saying.

We are making a distinction between managers and—

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

If the Senator wishes to come back in, he will be allowed to do so.

That is fine. He is helping me. I know precisely what Senator Ormonde is saying and I once made a very good case in the context of the development of the roads system and so on, that certain areas were landlocked and needed to be freed up for use. That is a perfectly reasonable point. However, in terms of rezoning, whether an area is rezoned, particularly outside Dublin, if agricultural land is rezoned as building land, it has an immense multiplier effect. Huge advantage is reaped by specific individuals. There is a potential for corruption that is enormous, and that is why we need to be very careful.

There is certain merit in Senator Norris's argument. Let me give an example. In Kildare County Council a plan was adopted for Kildare town. The Department of Defence now proposes to dispose of property in Kildare town, and that property was not zoned. The question arises as to what use that property should be put to and the members of the council will decide on that issue by way of a variation. Accepting all the risks attendant on rezoning – I have land in County Kildare which was rezoned – it is appropriate that there should be a majority decision. One cannot say that because that risk exists, there has to be a three quarters or two thirds majority.

What about a majority of the elected members, not just the members present?

In circumstances where the original plan is adopted by simple majority, surely the variation should be adopted by simple majority. I would say that it should be the members present who vote. I do not know of a case – perhaps other members of county councils do – where a vote was taken on a rezoning or on the adoption of a plan where at least 80% to 90%, if not all, of the members were not present.

The Senator has to agree it is a possibility.

It is a possibility. However, the Chair waits to ensure that as many members as possible are present.

It is possible the Chair has an interest.

It is a councillor's business to make sure to be there. If a matter relates to a councillor's local electoral area and it is for the good of the community, it is his or her business also, as a representative of the area, to make sure it is endorsed. That is the bottom line. That is how it works. If a councillor does not do that, he should not be in that position.

We are not having due regard to the implications and the subtext of what is being said. On my interpretation of the import of it, I take great exception to it. We have just gone through section 12, where we have agreed that, in certain circumstances, the manager can make a decision with regard to all the development plan, including every area in the county that will be zoned for agricultural, housing or industrial purposes. Senator Norris has rightly pointed out the issues which include the increase in the value of land. It is fair to say that any sensible developer in the country keeps fairly close to his county manager because of the power he has. That is wrong. We have accepted that and there was not even one amendment tabled. Now we are saying that because elected members are a different kind of being we need checks and balances, that at least half or three quarters of the council must be involved. I do not accept the import of that.

If we reflect upon what we are saying, it does not stand up. Under procedures at council level a quorum is required before any business can be discussed or decisions taken. That in itself is a protection, that there will be more than one person present. Where there is more than one we have a more solid and secure system than if we vested all the power in one individual, as in the case of the City and County Management Act, not just in the case of planning but in many other areas. We need to be very careful about that.

I also concur fully with Senator Dardis. In practice, the attendance at council meetings is quite high. There are very few council meetings with an attendance of less than 75% or 80%. In practice there is already protection. I take great exception to the impression that is often given. If one looks at the number of people who have participated at local or national level, or in the public service, the system has shown a remarkable degree of integrity which stands it in good stead. There have been some notable exceptions, but it would be wrong if we took on board the notable exceptions and let them colour our own view of the integrity of the system. I have grave reservations with what this is trying to do if not with the idea that it could conceivably come to pass.

Most of the legislation that goes through this House is meant to deal with the real world and real situations. When I was in opposition people often tried to imagine some fantastic scenarios that might emerge as a result of legislation and talked at length about them. However, we are dealing with the real world. Few meetings on the development plan or variations of it do not attract 100% membership of the local authority because if anything is designed to get people involved in the democratic process it is the development plan or, in some cases, individual planning decisions.

We are talking about section 13 and the amendment thereto. I ask Members to examine the procedure that is in place, even for the variation of the development plan. There is no fear of anybody walking into a county council meeting with a variation of the development plan and getting it voted through because everybody went out to the toilet or to have a cup of tea during the course of the meeting. That cannot happen. The procedure is there. Copies of the proposed variation of the development plan have to go to the Minister, the board and, where appropriate, any adjoining local authorities. It has to be published in a local newspaper and the public have a right to make submissions over a four week period. The manager has to draft the report giving the details of the submissions. Notice is given also on the day it is to be raised or put to the local authority. With due respect to Members, we have been here three or four hours and we are all getting tired examining the details of the Bill. Realistically, the scenarios we have heard about will not happen. They did not happen in the past and I do not anticipate they will happen in the future. We have spent a considerable period of time on amendment No. 81 and I suggest we move on to the next amendment.

I will be brief because I want to deal with this as quickly as possible. Senator Walsh referred to the fact that managers do not have the right to make these decisions. I have no problem in discussing the managers Act but unfortunately that is not before the House today. The reason we did not discuss it was that the Minister will introduce changes in the local government Bill to allow local authority members have greater responsibility, equal to managers in certain areas. I assume the Minister will bring forward that measure and I know Senator Walsh will approve of it also. In regard to this, is a simple majority required to bring in the development plan?

Perhaps we should examine that aspect to see if it is right.

I support what Senator Coogan said. It is not too much to require this kind of majority vote. I accept that three-quarters may be excessive but Senator Walsh said he knows of virtually no council meeting which does not have 75% or 80% attendance, so what is the resistance? Why not institutionalise them and state that it should be a majority of the elected members? Senator Walsh said that will happen anyway, it is inevitable. That is fine, let us have it. I am not bashful about saying that there is the potential for corruption in every profession. I am well aware that the vast majority of local councillors, officials and Members of both Houses of Parliament are innately honest and decent people but that is not what we are dealing with here. We have to be aware of the potential for damage to the political fabric and to safeguard against that we should have this kind of voting requirement.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I call Senator Henry. I remind Members that we have spent some time on this amendment.

I spoke only once.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The remarks were not directed at you, Senator.

To return to my point, does the Minister think it matters if members of different planning authorities decide on different methods of voting? The Bill states ". by resolution as they consider appropriate". Some could decide on a simple majority while others could decide on the number of those elected.

I will make one final comment. The one good aspect about deciding by a simple majority is that if they get it wrong, and are seen to have got it wrong, they will get the message at the next election. That is the great merit of our system and that is the check and the balance provided in the Bill.

To reply to Senator Henry, "as appropriate" does not refer to the resolution. It refers to whether the variation will be made, modified or whatever. It has nothing to do with the voting procedures.

Much thought on the part of councillors goes into drafting a county development plan. Changing or varying a county development plan is a major decision and it is only right that there should be some stipulation as to the number of people who are allowed to do that. The Minister should accept a simple majority of the total council, that is over half the members. Otherwise, councillors could be seen to be reneging on their duties. A minimum number of councillors should be involved in changing a plan and I ask the Minister to accept a simple majority.

I have been involved in the drafting of a number of county development plans over the years and it is the most important work we do at council level. I assure the Senator that on those occasions there was 100% attendance in the chamber on the day. Those who are elected by the people should represent the people. That is their duty. Councillors get one chance in five years to change that document.

Amendment put.

Burke, Paddy.Coghlan, Paul.Connor, John.Coogan, Fintan.Cosgrave, Liam T.Costello, Joe.Cregan, Dino.Doyle, Joe.Hayes, Tom.

Henry, Mary.Jackman, Mary.McDonagh, Jarlath.Manning, Maurice.Norris, David.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Meara, Kathleen.Ryan, Brendan.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Níl

Bohan, Eddie.Callanan, Peter.Cox, Margaret.Cregan, JohnDardis, John.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Liam.Fitzgerald, Tom.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Gibbons, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.Kett, Tony.

Kiely, Daniel.Kiely, Rory.Lanigan, Mick.Lydon, Don.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.O'Donovan, Denis.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Quill, Máirín.Walsh, Jim.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Burke and Taylor-Quinn; Níl, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 82 not moved.
Government amendment No. 83:
In page 36, subsection (7), line 32, after "relates" to insert ", the statutory obligations of any local authority in the area and any relevant policies or objectives for the time being of the Government or any Minister of the Government".
Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 13, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

In a sense one could say there is a deficit in the section in so far as it does not clearly identify the voting procedures, although it does deal with certain procedures in relation to the variation of a development plan. It does not specifically state the voting procedure of members—

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I apologise for interrupting the Senator, but since 4 o'clock and perhaps before that we have had a very detailed and long debate on this procedure. I will allow a brief point, but I do not want to reopen that debate.

I would like to put on record that the current procedure under law in relation to the variation of a development plan is that three quarters of the elected members shall be present and voting for the variation. Under this—

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

That was clarified by the Minister and was dealt with by other Members.

The voting procedure is not clear in the proposed legislation. One would expect that the procedure which has existed will continue.

As I explained already, we are talking about a simple majority of a local authority in terms of the variation of a development plan. Material contravention is a separate matter and is dealt with by a majority, with three quarters of the members voting. We are not changing the law on the voting procedure.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 14 agreed to.
Amendment No. 84 not moved.
Section 15 agreed to.
SECTION 16.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Amendment No. 85 is in the name of Senator Henry.

I move amendment No. 85:

In page 38, subsection (2), line 17, after "cost" to insert "(excluding labour)".

I tabled this amendment in order to prevent planning authorities charging huge sums of money for copies of plans. If labour costs were included they could be quite high. Suppose somebody who is paid a very high rate does the copying and their labour costs were included, the cost per copy of the plan could be quite exorbitant. I have heard that some authorities already include labour costs when they are calculating the cost of making copies and I see that it could easily be used to make copies very expensive. We have all agreed in the course of the debate that the public must have access to plans, submissions and so forth to ensure there is as much transparency as possible.

Again speaking as a member of a local authority there is a virtual rainforest of county development plans in County Kildare and it seems that anybody who walks in the door of the council offices can pick up a copy. It is virtually as casual as that.

Is there a charge?

No, I certainly have not been charged. It is entirely reasonable that there should be a charge so that the local authority can recover some, if not all, of the cost. People pay for refuse and other services so why should they not pay for this service? I envisage no circumstances in which a local authority would level a penal charge for copies of a plan.

On a point of information, I am not asking that there be no cost but that labour costs should be excluded from the calculation of cost. I am in favour of a cost so that people make some effort financially to get a copy, but suppose the county manager did the photocopying and there was a charge for his time, it could become incredibly expensive to get a copy of a plan.

My understanding is that some counties are charging quite a good deal for copies of full development plans, up to £50 in some cases and maybe more. A summary of a plan can be made available, but while I agree there should be a charge, it should be no more than £10 or £12 as it is a public document and the more people who read it the better.

It is important to define what is a reasonable cost. If the charge was based on labour costs, value could be placed on all the work of councillors, management and everyone connected with producing the county development plan. There would also be the additional cost of printing and publishing the document. Therefore, it is important to define a reasonable cost. As Senator O'Meara has said, it must be between £5 and £15, but any more than that would make it prohibitive. The document will be of interest to certain professions who could well afford to pay for it. However, there are people genuinely interested in the environment whose means are limited and these are the people for whom we need to cater.

I refer Members to section 222(5) which states: "A planning authority shall specify fees for the making of copies under sections 7, 16(1) and 37(5), not exceeding the reasonable cost of making such copies." This provision covers the point being made. The Bill requires that planning authorities, entitled to charge a fee for making a copy, must ensure that the fee set is a reasonable one. That is specified in section 222(5) and it is a necessary provision. I accept that in the past there were cases where people were surprised at the amount of the fee. I could not make a judgment on the validity of the fee, but people were surprised. Therefore, the fee must be specified in advance in accordance with this section. This is the first time this has been specified in a Bill. Fees must be specified in advance and must be reasonable. As long as the overall fee is reasonable, an authority should be able to charge for some or part of the labour costs. The most recent example of this is the Freedom of Information Act which allows a fee to be charged for limited labour costs. As this matter is already covered in the Bill, I ask the Senator to withdraw her amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 16 agreed to.
Section 17 agreed to.
SECTION 18.
Government amendment No. 86:
In page 38, subsection (2), line 32, to delete "One" and substitute "Two".
Amendment agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Amendments Nos. 87, 95, 97 and 100 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 87:

In page 39, subsection (5), line 11, after "plan" to insert ", provided the local planning authority has followed the procedures set out in sections 11 to 13 of this Act".

One would assume that if a planning authority intended to amend or revoke a local area plan, it would conform with these procedures. Without consultation with Senator Coogan – although if he were available I am sure he would make the same recommendation because it is the same principle as we had earlier – we are seeking that the same standards apply to local area plans as those applying to county plans.

The latter point made by the Senator is the one I will home in on. If we make the procedures as extensive and as complicated for a local area plan as for a county development plan, I have the grave fear that people will not bother making local area plans. The county development plan is accepted as the basic planning document for an area. We have had a long discussion on the various procedures and consultations process, and everyone is reasonably satisfied that there is quite an amount of consultation.

Local area plans must fit in with the county development plan. To put another layer of consultation on the local area plan of the same level as the county development plan would probably be counter-productive. Apart from being onerous on local authorities, people would say they have a county development plan and let us leave it at that. I caution about being overly prescriptive on this matter. I recognise the concerns that gave rise to this group of amendments. For that reason I tabled amendment No. 95 which will allow the Minister to make regulations for the preparation of local area plans. Therefore, the possibility of local authorities ignoring local people and having no consultations on local area plans, something I would not anticipate, can be removed. At the same time my amendment would ensure that we do not have a heavy-handed approach to local area plans.

With regard to public consultation for the regional planning guidelines, the procedures set out in section 24 which require regional authorities to consult the public before they commence the preparation of RPGs deals with that. Once a draft has been prepared, these two measures are adequate and closely follow the procedures required for development plans. Using the county development plan as the primary planning gospel for a local area, plus the amendments I tabled, which propose to put regulations in place, and the procedures outlined in section 24, which we will come to later, should give the certainty that the Senator requires.

Will the Minister clarify the importance of local area plans? They will apply to towns which have a population in excess of 1,500 and within the function area of a county council etc. However, they will not be subject to the same level of consultation and regulatory framework that applies to a county development plan. The concept of local area plans is a new one and I presume the Minister wants them to be taken seriously and taken up by local authorities. I accept that the planning authority may, at any time, amend or evoke local area plans. One could see a situation where they would need that power, but to have it in legislation suggests that a local area plan is optional. A local area plan would make an awful lot of sense to the people of Borrisokane or Roscrea. We would want it to be viewed, particularly by the official side of the county council, as a serious idea and to be important in the context of the overall county development plan. Where does the Minister draw the balance in that regard?

I accept what the Minister said about his amendment in terms of drawing up regulations. We do not know what they will incorporate and there are no guidelines on what they will include. Perhaps the Minister will expand on how he sees this provision operating in practice.

I want to follow on from what Senator O'Meara said. This is a facilitating measure; it permits the Minister to do something. He or she may or may not do it. Will he comment on the frequency with which he thinks the mech anism might be used, assuming the amendment is made? Is it tokenism as a sop to us or is it likely to be used? Does the Minister foresee many situations in which he would be prepared to make regulations or issue guidelines? Will this happen almost a matter of course or will it only happen in certain extraordinary conditions and will he outline what they might be?

Local authorities already draw up development plans for areas in the local authority area. Town commissions have development plans for areas such as Kilkee, whose population is less than the 1,500 to which the Minister referred, and Shannon whose population is more than 5,000. These are two town commissions with different population structures. Does the Minister not envisage the need for the local authority to have a development plan for a place such as Kilkee, whose population in summer can be more than 20,000, and still have responsibility for the town of Shannon which, hopefully, will get urban district council status?

The local area plans will fit in with the county development plan but the main component of planning development will be the county development plan. It will take precedence over everything else. However, there are areas in local authorities which would not necessarily fit into the category the Minister outlined but which in the future might be highly sensitive with regard to planning. One can already identify villages and areas which have potential for development in the future. If an area plan is not put in place and a decision is not made by the local authority before that development takes place, the area's unique character could be destroyed.

Does the Minister expect local authorities to identify local areas with specific resources, attractiveness, scenic beauty or appeal which will be a focus for future investment but could be damaged as a result of that investment? Unless a local area plan and guidelines are put in place by the local authority, damage could be done. Does he envisage the local authority adopting a policy in that regard or will his Department give direction to local authorities in the matter?

There is a later Government amendment relating to the size of the towns. It is proposed at the request of local authorities and it increases the population base from 1,500 to 2,000. It will be compulsory for a town or area with a population of more than 2,000 people to have a local area plan. In order to give effect to this section, I will have to issue the regulations and the guidelines so the procedures can be put in place. There will be no undue delay and guidelines are currently being drawn up.

With regard to Senator Taylor-Quinn's concern, an area plan for an area with a population of less than 2,000 is optional for the local authority. However, if the authority goes through with drawing up a local area plan, it will have to go through the procedures I will lay down in regulations. Senator O'Meara asked what importance I attached to the local area plans. They are most important. Senator Taylor-Quinn referred earlier to seaside resort schemes. There is also the rural renewal scheme in Roscommon, Leitrim and other counties. It is most important that there is a local area plan in areas where there will be rapid development.

I have had experience with such development. The area adjacent to my home was zoned for housing in the county development plan. It was approximately 80 acres but it was owned by four or five landowners. Each one got planning permission as an individual. As a result, one person was potentially landlocked while in another case there was a problem with where the roads could be located due to the location of other planned development. There were also problems with sewerage pipes and the main drainage simply because each planning application was treated separately. It is important to plan properly at that level.

It is also important to take account of green areas and other facilities. In the past I was a great supporter of green areas in housing estates. However, they can quickly become derelict sites. Children cannot play football because they are badly designed and the ball is bouncing against people's houses or they are making too much noise when young children are trying to sleep. A good integrated local area plan is important when an area is zoned residential, for example. Once an area is zoned residential there could be as many as 500 houses in it so the local area plan should cater for play space, green areas, community centres, local shopping and so forth. Local area plans are most important. The fact they are given a statutory basis indicates their importance and the guidelines will emphasise that.

We are trying to leave the county development plan as the core of the planning system. Above it there are the regional planning guidelines, the strategic planning guidelines for Dublin and the national spatial strategy. Below it is the local area plan. The county development plan will decide the areas for housing, recreation, industry and so forth but the specific details of those should be dealt with in the local area plans.

I am happy with the Minister's reply. However, he gave the impression that this will not come into effect until he makes the regulations. The Minister is nodding. In that case, why is the word "may" used rather than "shall"? The Minister appears to be indicating that it is "shall". Am I right? It seems vague and suggests a doubt. I am sure the Minister is correct because he has been clear and cordial. However, to copperfasten the provision he might be prepared to change the word to "shall". Is there a technical objection to this? Grammatically, the word "may" leaves open the possibility of "may not" whereas the Minister indicated that he will be doing this. I do not see why the word "may" is there.

I was about to agree with the Senator and change it to "shall" but there are two tasks the Minister may do – he or she may make regulations or issue guidelines. Apparently, the word "may" is used where options are given in legislation. This is more legalese.

I would have thought it should say, "The Minister shall either or . . . . ." I am a retired grammarian and "may" carries the force of leaving an option open, whether or not to do something. For example, I may go to the shops, on the other hand I may not. By that I do not mean that even though I may go to the shops, I might go to them in Dún Laoghaire. I accept what the Minister's advisers say and they are very professional, but both aspects can be resolved by saying "the Minister shall either or . . . . " His advisers might comment on that.

I am always wary of these terms because of the legalese involved. I know what the words "or" and "and" mean. In this case I have two options – I may make regulations or issue guidelines. Section 19 states specifically that there is an obligation on the local authority that it shall make a local area plan. If we include the word "shall" in terms of words "shall make regulations" and I do not make them quickly, it may preclude a local authority from drafting a local area plan until such time as I make the regulations. If the word "may" is used, it gives a local authority more flexibility.

I understood the Minister to say that the local authorities could not do that until he had made the regulations. There seems to be a little variation on that.

I said that because that was what I understood the position to be, but I have been informed that it is the other way around. From my point of view it would be better if the regulations were drafted and sent to the local authorities.

In case that cannot be done as quickly as the Department anticipates, we want to leave local authorities the option of going ahead with the process without the guidelines being in place. If there is any change in that between now and Report Stage, I will indicate that to the Senator.

I am happy to leave it at that and to leave it to the good advice of the Minister's advisers because they have much greater experience of this than I have. We may, however, have spotted something useful in this and I ask the Minister and his advisers to examine this matter again. I am thinking in terms of good practice. If we feel strongly about the guidelines, this will act as an additional incentive in Government to make sure the guidelines are in place. The Mini ster said he did not feel happy with a local plan going ahead without these guidelines being in place and at the same time he does not want to inhibit the development of a local plan. This concern would be met by the change I suggested. I leave it to the Minister to reconsider the matter and I hope he will do so positively because that will act as greater pressure and we will have a situation we are all aiming to achieve. I will not press the amendment, but I ask the Minister to come back to me on this on Report Stage.

Before the Minister spoke that time I had decided he was right. In view of the fact that he will examine this matter again, I will not continue with what I was going to say in case it confuses the issue even more.

On the duration of a local area plan in the context of the Minister's announcements on this Bill, he was strong on the need to update county development plans within a particular period in order to ensure they would not stay on the books for seven, eight or nine years. Unless I am wrong, the legislation does not contain a framework for ending an area plan or ensuring an area plan is completed a second time, so to speak. It states it shall be made no later than two years after the making of a development plan. Does that mean that in every case it is updated as county development plans are updated or am I incorrect in assuming that?

As retaining the word "may" would give more flexibility, freedom and power to local councillors, it should be retained rather than replaced by the word "shall". If local authorities have sufficient initiative to draw up local area plans prior to the guidelines being issued from central Government, I would be all for the initiative coming from local government and power lying with the local authorities, local councillors and the people. Power should be less centralised and people should be encouraged to take on more responsibility. In legislation I tend to support the use of the word "shall", but in this instance the argument to retain the word "may" is much more in keeping with local democracy.

I am grateful to Senator Taylor-Quinn for making that intervention. I am sure she has persuaded the Minister that I was right.

Absolutely. On the duration of the plan, subsection (4)(a) states that "A local area plan prepared under this section shall indicate the period for which the plan is to remain in force.". That will be a matter of local discretion. Subsection 4(b) provides that "A local area plan may remain in force in accordance with paragraph (a) notwithstanding any review of a development plan. . . ". There is that flexibility in the provision. If a development plan involved changing large tracts of land for rezoning and so on, it would be necessary to change it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 88:

In page 39, subsection (6), line 12, after "any" to insert "suitably qualified".

We do not need to spend a great deal of time on this, but the wording of subsection 4 (6) is vague. It states "A planning authority may enter into an arrangement with any person for the carrying out of any aspect of the preparation of a local area plan.". That is pretty wide. I thought it would be no harm to insert the words "suitably qualified".

It is very elitist.

Yes, and I am definitely an elitist just like the Senator.

Under the Bill the planning authority can make an arrangement with any person to carry out any aspect of the preparation of a local area plan. Under Senator Coogan's amendment the person concerned would have to be suitably qualified. I am happy to accept this amendment, but Government amendment No. 89 would enable the authority to also make an arrangement with local community groups to prepare the local area plan or any part of it. That could lead to a greater sense of ownership where local people would feel they have a direct voice in planning for their own area. It is important at that level that we should do that.

Was the Minister referring to Senator Coogan's amendment or to my amendment?

Your amendment.

I understand the Minister is accepting my amendment and the Government's amendment and I am happy about that. I replied flippantly to Senator Dardis, but there is an important point in this. It is not a matter of being elitist, it is a question of professional standards. The Minister by including his amendment has managed to avoid a possible charge of dangerous elitism. I very much welcome the democratic element of involving local community groups and so on and the Minister has done that. Given that my amendment and the Government amendment will be accepted, I am very happy.

Is the Minister accepting amendment No. 88?

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 89:
In page 39, subsection (6), lines 13 and 14, to delete "for the carrying out of any aspect of the preparation of a local area plan" and substitute "or local community group for the preparation, or the carrying out of any aspect of the preparation, of a local area plan".
Amendment agreed to.
Section 18, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 19.

Amendment No. 90 in the name of Senator Norris and other Senators is related to amendment No. 92 and they may be discussed together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 90:

In page 39, subsection (1)(a), to delete lines 17 to 20 inclusive.

The two amendments involve the deletion of lines 17 to 20.

Amendment No. 92 seeks to insert a new subparagraph between lines 29 and 30 to read: "requires economic, physical and social renewal and for areas likely to be subject to large scale development within the lifetime of the plan."

These amendments would make it mandatory for planning authorities to draw up local area plans for areas in need of renewal or areas likely to be subject to large scale development. These amendments would replace the existing provisions which suggest that such areas would be suitable for local area plans. While I understand the motive behind the amendment, it does not make for good legislation to impose mandatory obligations in relation to subjective matters. There may be many views on what local authority areas are in need of social renewal. However, such matters are better left to the discretion of the local authority. It is a case of trying to strike a balance between local discretion and the responsibility of locally elected councillors and their officials and being prescriptive. I always tend to err on the side of local decisions. For that reason, I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment.

I tabled the amendment but I agree with the Minister.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 91:
In page 39, subsection (1)(b)(ii), line 26, to delete "1,500" and substitute "2,000".

This requires local area plans to be made for towns with a population in excess of 1,500. The amendment would raise the population limit for mandatory local area plans because local authorities can prepare optional plans for areas with a population below 2,000.

This amendment is a result of seminars I held in Dublin, Galway and Cork on the various provisions of the Bill. A number of commentators stated their concerns that the requirement to prepare a large number of area plans within two years of making the development plan was too onerous. However, it is important for the plans to be prepared as soon as possible, particularly as the local area plans will, in many cases, replace the existing scheduled towns development plans.

I accept the requirement to produce so many plans could be onerous. For that reason, I propose to raise the population limit which will reduce the number of mandatory plans to be prepared. Planning authorities will also be able to ask other persons and local community groups to participate in the preparation of this plan. It will be possible for a planning authority to prepare a local area plan for a smaller town if they so wish, but it will not be mandatory. I ask Members to accept the amendment which is a result of the consultation procedures I followed in relation to the Bill.

While I accept what the Minister said, I am concerned that plans will only be prepared if it is mandatory to do so because of the amount of pressure on personnel in the planning offices, which draw up local area plans, due to our economic growth. It is unlikely to happen for any other reason. While the Minister has responded to the concerns expressed, it is a pity plans will only be drawn up if it is mandatory to do so because a number of towns will lose out as a result.

It is interesting to listen to the Minister's arguments to increase the population from 1,500 to 2,000, which have resulted from contributions made at seminars held in Galway, Cork and Dublin. The view was expressed that local authorities would find it difficult to prepare local area plans within two years of the county development plan being passed. Resources and personnel must be provided to ensure this work is done. This Bill means additional work so it is important that staff is provided in local authority planning offices.

While a local area plan must be drawn up for areas with a population in excess of 2,000, other less populated areas are also in need of social renewal. Local area plans should also be prepared for the little villages in local authority areas because it is only a matter of time before the vultures descend on them. I do not want areas which need protection to be left in a vulnerable position because of the pressure to prepare local area plans for towns with a population in excess of 2,000. I ask the Minister to look at the resources of the planning offices across the country.

The amendment is sensible and should be supported. While everything seems to fit into the over-arching system of the county plan, it is important to give discretion to the local authority to create plans for smaller areas. There are differences between counties. The Minister is familiar with the pressure on counties around Dublin where villages would need a plan, whereas a village in Longford or Westmeath might not need a plan because it is not under the same pressure.

In my electoral area of Kildare, we have done plans for what we call settlements. That has been helpful because it has made it easier to deal with planning applications in those areas than in similar ones which have been passed by in other electoral areas. It should be imperative to prepare a plan for areas above a certain level of population, which is pitched at the correct point, and discretion should be given for areas below that level. I agree with Senator Taylor-Quinn about resources. The local authority, particularly in those areas under pressure around cities, should be able to intervene to deal with the smaller units within the resources available.

As regards the initiation of area plans, can a council or a number of councillors decide to prepare a plan? A local authority can by definition mean the manager or the planning office.

The local authority, particularly in terms of development plans, is, by definition, the members of the local authority. They can make a decision on the areas requiring a plan. The manager may bring forward a proposal, but there is nothing to stop area members from introducing their own proposals.

On the point made by Senator Taylor-Quinn about resource implications, we have asked the planning offices of local authorities to let us know if they need extra staff. We have increased the staff levels in local authorities by 14% over the past 12 months. There are resource implications from this Bill. Recently I met all the managers in groups around the country and asked them to quantify the situation.

I have also put it to them that for many years things may have been done in particular ways which may not be the most efficient and this should be reviewed. Local authorities have agreed to consider these suggestions. In most cases, local authorities are reorganising themselves in a very efficient manner and are giving much consideration to local government reform.

There is nothing to stop a local authority from involving consultants in drafting a plan. Local authorities are now organised on an area basis and area members could decide to do this, discuss the draft plan locally and merely bring the plan to the council for final recommendation. A planning SPC could also do this. The point about resources is well made but there are ways and means of delivering, even with the present limited resources.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 92 not moved.
Government amendment No. 93:
In page 39, lines 32 to 36, to delete subsection (2) and substitute the following new subsection:
"(2)A local area plan shall be consistent with the objectives of the development plan and shall consist of a written statement and a plan or plans indicating the objectives in such detail as may be determined by the planning authority for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area to which it applies, including detail on community facilities and amenities and on standards for the design of structures.".

This amendment deals with section 19(2). It provides that a local area plan must set out objectives for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area and must be consistent with the development plan. The amendment replaces subsection (2) and has been proposed for two reasons: first, the requirement that the local area plan must conform to the provisions of the development plan as set out up front and, second, the type of objectives which can be included in a development plan are more explicitly stated. These can include detail of community facilities and amenities and design standards for structures can also be specified. The latter can be very important to ensure the compatibility of new structures with surrounding structures, particularly in areas of regeneration and to highlight the importance given to design in the local area plans. I commend the amendment to the House.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 94:
In page 39, between lines 36 and 37, to insert the following subsection:
"(3)A planning authority shall send a copy of any draft local area plan to the Board.".

Under section 18(3) the board is entitled to have regard to any relevant draft local area plan when making its decision. This amendment would require the authority to send a copy of the draft to the board which would ensure that the board has a copy of the draft plan before it so that it can be taken into consideration in making its decision. The amendment adds to the importance of local area plans.

I have tabled a later amendment relating to the role of An Bord Pleanála which supersedes development plans which are submitted to it. Local development plans must be sent to An Bord Pleanála but the board can ignore them if it wishes. I do not accept that An Bord Pleanála should be able to overrule a local authority with regard to a local development plan.

I mentioned this matter on Second Stage. This is a matter of contention with local authority members. I do not see the logic of drafting a plan following considerable local consultation only to have it set aside by An Bord Pleanála. However, this question would be better discussed when we debate a later amendment.

I am pre-empting my own amendment but I feel it right to put this matter on the record at this stage and as often as I can.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 95:
In page 39, lines 41 to 44, to delete subsection (4) and substitute the following new subsection:
"(4)The Minister may make regulations or issue guidelines relating to the preparation of local area plans.".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 96 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 19, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

I welcome some of the Minister's amendments, especially amendment No. 93 because of its inclusion of the phrase "sustainable develoment" and also because it imposes standards on the design of structures. This is very significant and will improve amenities throughout the countryside. We would not have had the luxury of doing this before because it sometimes involves a cost.

I spend some time in Jerusalem where the British mandated authorities took this approach and transformed the city. Jerusalem is a most beautiful city because the authorities were sensitive to the quality of the design of structures and insisted, even in modern buildings, on a sensitivity to height and, more importantly, on the use of local stone. That has given a consistency to the entire city which makes it unique. We do not contemplate anything on such a grand scale but the same sort of idea could transform our towns.

Question put and agreed to.
Amendment No. 97 not moved.
Section 20 agreed to.
SECTION 21.

Amendments Nos. 98 and 99 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 98:

In page 40, lines 17 to 19, to delete subsection (1) and substitute the following new subsection:

"(1) A regional authority shall make regional planning guidelines.".

This amendment deletes the existing section 21(1) which reads:

A regional authority may, after consultation with the planning authorities within its region, or shall at the direction of the Minister, make regional planning guidelines.

The new subsection is a much tighter form of words, makes the section more vigorous and removes an ambiguity. Of course, the Minister may argue in favour of ambiguity.

Amendment No. 99 will ensure that regional authorities will make regional planning guidelines every six years. This is consistent with what the Minister has outlined in relation to county development plans. Contained in the legislation is the provision that the county development plan will be renewed every five years and I am anxious to ensure that regional planning guidelines would be consistent with that for the same reasons as I have outlined with regard to local area plans.

The need for regional planning is manifest. It is reflected in the Government's national plan which was published this week and in this Bill. There is confusion as to what are regions. Regional authorites, as established by legislation, are still referred to in the definition section of the Bill although for EU purposes we now have two regions. This is very confusing. The former regions still have a statutory basis. I hope the Minister will clarify the position of the regions and regional authorities given the importance of regional planning guidelines. I urge the Minister to ensure that these guidelines are regularly updated by accepting this amendment.

These amendments would make it mandatory for a regional authority to make regional planning guidelines generally or every six years. I am opposed to this. Regional planning guidelines are very useful for areas subject to developmental pressures. For example, the guidelines have already been drawn up for the Dublin and mid-east regions, for very obvious reasons. The two combined are now called the greater Dublin area, which is not quite a region as such. Other areas would obviously benefit from regional planning guidelines. However, not all regions may require them. I would prefer to leave it to the discretion of the local regional auth orities whether they need to prepare RPGs in their areas. The Bill allows the Minister to retain a reserve power to direct a regional authority to draw up an RPG if he deems it necessary.

In response to Senator O'Meara's query, these regions include the regional assemblies.

The two regions?

Yes, the two big regions also.

Have the old regional authority boundaries no relevance in relation to this legislation?

They are still in existence. This is a layer above those regional assemblies, as we are calling them. The NUTS II region, the bigger BMW region or the south-east region, may decide to draw up regional planning guidelines for their whole area. However, that does not preclude the smaller NUTS II regions from having regional planning guidelines if they wish.

I disagree with the Minister that regions might not need to draw up planning guidelines. He said it is at the Minister's discretion, but not every Minister might be as farseeing as he is in this regard. It is essential to impress on regions that planning ahead is of huge importance. There is something wrong if regions are not planning ahead. The mid-west is a coherent region which contains the Shannon development body. It would make sense and be a very good idea to draw up guidelines for that region. It would be essential for the proper planning of the area in terms of inward investment, infrastructure and so on. The establishment of regional guidelines, particularly for smaller regions, should be emphasised rather than left to chance.

I agree with the Senator. I expect that all regional authorities will want to draw up regional planning guidelines but I am resisting making it mandatory at this time. I was a member of the old ERDO and I am sure they will draw up guidelines once they are given the power to do it. It is a good idea to plan in advance. We need to get regions to focus on a longer time scale than six years. While matters must be kept constantly under review because of how quickly things are changing, regional planning guidelines should have at least a ten year time frame, and perhaps as long as 20 years.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 99 to 101, inclusive, not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 21 stand part of the Bill."

I will understand if the Minister does not instantly have the answer to this question which relates to the strategic planning guide lines for the greater Dublin area. Section 21(4) states that those guidelines "shall have effect as if made under this Part". When the plan is drawn up for Kildare, for example, housing densities on zoned land are established by the Kildare authority. Is that subordinate to what is decided by the strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area? In other words, if it is decided to have a higher density because of housing problems, does the original plan as implemented not operate but is replaced by the strategic guidelines? How do the two interface? I asked that question of the county manager but I did not get a clear answer.

The short answer is that, under this Bill, they will have to review the development plan in line with the stipulations in the strategic planning guidelines for the Dublin area. I would not use phrases such as "subordinate to". However, it is necessary for the strategic planning guidelines to be used as the basis for the development plan. Section 27(4) states:

Following the making of regional planning guidelines for their area, planning authorities shall review the existing development plan and consider whether any variation of the development plan is necessary in order to achieve the objectives of the regional planning guidelines.

Would the original densities established by the local authority operate up to the point where that review operates?

The local authority might adhere to the guidelines but An Bord Pleanála could take a different view of it in light of the strategic planning guidelines for the area.

Does a local authority still have the discretion to accept or reject the recommendations?

There would not be much point in having strategic regional plans if local authorities could go on a solo run and ignore them. Section 27(2) states:

The Minister may, by order, determine that planning authorities shall comply with any regional planning guidelines in force for their area, or any part thereof, when preparing and making a development plan, or may require in accordance with section 31 that an existing development plan comply with any regional planning guidelines in force for the area.

Under the Bill, if a local authority does not comply with the regional planning guidelines I can direct it to so do. However, I expect local authorities will comply with them. In addition, if they did not do so, I am sure An Bord Pleanála would, on appeal, adhere to the regional planning guidelines.

Question put and agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 102 and 103 not moved.
Section 22 agreed to.
SECTION 23.

I move amendment No. 104:

In page 41, subsection (1)(b), line 30, after "years" to insert "and not more than 15".

This deals with the question of time limits. As it stands, section 23(1)(b) states:

The planning framework referred to in paragraph (a) shall consider the future development of the region for which the guidelines are prepared for a period of not less than 12 years.

However, it does not specify a maximum period and lobbyists have indicated to me that a period of 15 years is realistic. One would be unlikely to want to project more than 15 years, particularly with the rate at which things change now and as development has become more sophisticated. It is hardly realistic. Perhaps the Minister might have a view on this.

The section as it stands requires the regional planning guidelines to consider the long-term development of a region for a period of not less than 12 years. There is no upper limit suggested. The amendment would effectively mean an upper limit of 15 years and I am not sure that this is a wise course of action. Arguments could be made that the regional planning guidelines should have a 20 year horizon, as I have mentioned earlier. It is best to leave this to the discretion of the regional authority. A horizon of 12, 15 or 20 years does not mean that the regional authority cannot decide after four or five years that because of the changes they need to revise and review again.

A good example of this is the strategic guidelines for the Dublin area which are hardly 12 months old. Figures are being queried, the planning guidelines are being monitored and information in the public domain indicating that perhaps the targets are not sufficiently ambitious is being checked against other information.

While there is a long horizon on this, I hope that to a certain extent these regional planning guidelines will be somewhat dynamic as well. It is not a good idea to put an upper limit on it. Regional authorities can be depended on to know best in their own area whether it should be ten, 12, 15 or 20 years.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 105 not moved.

I move amendment No. 106:

In page 41, subsection (2)(d), line 38, after "transportation" to insert "especially public transport".

This is a question of wording and emphasis. It is very important especially in regions such as Dublin but also country-wide. There are difficulties regarding transport in Kildare, which have been referred to already. Perhaps public transport may have a role to play. Certainly in Dublin there is no question that it does.

We are seeking to emphasise the significance or importance of public transportation. The term "transportation" is general and many people might think it referred to private or commercial transport. Particularly in terms of the role of local authorities and planning, it is very important that serious consideration be given to the relief of traffic congestion by proper, diligent and special consideration of public transportation needs.

I support to some extent the point made by Senator Norris. It may not be necessary but on Report Stage, or indeed if Senator Norris is agreeable, could it be changed to "including public transport" rather than "especially"? Transportation is a major issue and from a planning point of view it is a major challenge to the State, quite apart from local authorities. Nevertheless local authorities have a fundamental part to play in it. Perhaps the Minister could examine it for Report Stage and give it a certain strength.

The word "transportation" has a universal meaning and Senator Norris is making the point that public transport should be given emphatic support. I would like it to include the waterways. Many canals are being re-opened for transportation or tourism use. There should be special provision for that. If Senator Norris agrees, I would like to couple my suggestion with his.

Yes, I am quite happy with that.

The entire subject of transportation is very important. The guidelines should include specific guidelines for the original authorities to consult CIE and other semi-State bodies with responsibility for the provision of public transport, and the Department of Public Enterprise itself. This is pertinent to the areas adjacent to the Dublin region such as counties Wicklow, Kildare, Louth and Meath. It is equally pertinent to the corridors across the country leading to the ports. There will be particular problems on those routes. It is important to have a designated traffic lane because port traffic can be the cause of major congestion. The economic future of the country will hinge on transportation and port access. It is a highly important matter. I commend Senator Norris on raising this aspect of public transport, but it should also include transportation by private hauliers.

I strongly support Senator Norris's amendment. This is really a splendid part of the Bill. As a result of the fact that we regarded trans portation just as any transportation rather than emphasising public transport, we are now in this chaotic situation. If this subject had been to the forefront of our efforts in the past, it would have been so much better. The present situation in the Dublin area and in a great deal of this country is due to the fact that we lost sight of the extraordinary import of public transport in national plans.

I indicate my gratitude for the general support from all sides of the House. There is no party division here at all, which is very positive. I am not tied to any particular wording. I am happy to accept whatever the Minister and his advisers can put together from the different suggestions if he feels that this is a good idea. I wondered at what my colleague Senator Henry said about Dublin. Regarding the whole light rail business and LUAS, this House played a major role by amending the Dublin Transport Bill to allow for provision of at least a section of that to be underground.

It is vitally important and, as Senator Coogan said, it is a matter of emphasising or registering the concern that we feel as legislators and the concern we feel should be taken on at local level for the public element of transportation. It is not only good economic sense and good transport sense but it is also democratic and includes everybody – people who are disabled, who cannot afford private transport, or those who use public transport by choice. It is really a good idea to include some element of this.

As Senator Coogan said, "transportation" includes public transportation, but on the basis that Members feel it might add to the Bill without causing any great legal difficulties, I suggest that we put in an amendment whereby subsection (2)(d) will refer to "transportation including public transport", if that is acceptable to the Members.

On consultations and the necessity to be involved with CIE and other organisations, there are various parts of the Bill in which this can be used and consultation is allowed for in subsection (3)(b) in subsection (4)(a) and in section 24.

There is a reference to prescribed bodies for consultation. We will ensure public transportation organisations are included. I am accepting the amendment with a slight amendment.

Will the Minister table that amendment on Report Stage?

Yes. Can we do it on the hoof?

It might be better if the Minister tabled it on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
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