Town Renewal Bill, 2000: Committee and Remaining Stages.


I wish to draw the attention of Senators to a printing error in amendment No. 1 on the list of amendments. It should read: "In page 3, subsection (1), to delete line 37, and in page 4, to delete lines 1 and 2".

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, subsection (1), to delete line 37, and in page 4, to delete lines 1 and 2.

The printing error is confusing. The reason for this amendment is simple and was discussed yesterday on Second Stage. There is a high degree of arbitrariness in the Bill with regard to the decision making process for designating towns under the town renewal scheme. Urban towns in County Dublin are excluded from the scheme and we have not yet been given a reason for that. What explanation can the Minister offer for all towns in County Dublin being excluded from the scheme?

There is also no explanation why the Minister for Finance, who is totally removed from the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and the local authorities, can make the final decision. That is unwise. It is important, therefore, that line 37 in page 3 and lines 1 and 2 of page 4 should be deleted.

The effect of this amendment would be to permit towns in Fingal County Council, South Dublin County Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to participate in the scheme. The scheme is designed to promote the physical renewal of smaller towns, with a heavy focus on residential development in run down areas of those towns, thus revitalising them as living communities. I am confident that the select application of incentives to smaller towns will have the desired effect.

I am not sure if there is an implied criticism in the amendment to the effect that, as was claimed by Deputies Dukes and Gilmore in the Lower House, the Bill is anti-Dublin because of this section. Dublin has benefited hugely under every urban renewal scheme since the 1980s, when we first set about tackling urban dereliction through the use of tax incentives. The benefits that have accrued include the International Financial Services Centre, the development of the docklands area, the Temple Bar project and the HARP initiative, to name a few. Under the current urban renewal scheme, which was debated in the Seanad over a year ago, extensive areas of the city centre, Ballymun, Tallaght, Clondalkin and Balbriggan are benefiting.

The focus of this scheme is different. It is configured to meet the problems which have arisen in scores of smaller towns dotted throughout rural areas which are not in a position to reap the type of benefits which proximity to the capital city can bring. The new scheme is also heavily focused on residential initiatives, particularly refurbishment. As I stated, it will have the potential to boost the supply of houses at a time when this is necessary. The towns in administrative counties in Dublin are suburban in character, not rural. These are already high demand areas for housing, as a cursory perusal of the property pages of the daily newspapers will confirm. I am absolutely amazed that a Senator from rural County Clare would seek to imply—

An aspiring Deputy.

I wish the Senator success in that regard but she will not get an opportunity for some time yet. In these circumstances, I am satisfied it would not be appropriate to introduce incentives to encourage residential developments in the towns in Dublin suggested by the Senator. Anyone with their head screwed on and with a bit of common sense would recognise the huge demand for properties in these areas. The introduction of tax incentives for these towns at this stage would not achieve the objective of the Bill, which is to alleviate dereliction and decay and bring life back into rural towns.

This legislation is a chance to help the sun to shine on rural Ireland for a change. It is the first proposal of which I am aware that can have a substantial beneficial effect on these towns if utilised properly and fully. It would defeat the whole purpose of the legislation to extend the proposals to towns in Dublin where the rural town problem does not exist.

I was pleased to hear the Minister of State say that this legislation would boost the provision of residential properties in some rural towns. The Government has employed Bacon for the third time to draw up another report.

We will deal first with the amendment. The points the Senator is making are more appropriate to the section than to the amendment.

I was speaking to the Minister's reply. I cannot equate his claim that the legislation will boost housing supply with the Govern ment's employment of Bacon for the third time to draw up a report recommending financial controls of 9% stamp duty and 2% tax over three years on property investments. The Minister of State said that the number of residential property units will grow in these areas. If people with money wish to invest in these run down areas to bring them back to life, where is the incentive for them to do so given the Bacon report? How does he see the Bacon report—

I cannot allow a discussion on this amendment to develop into a debate on the Bacon report.

No, but the Minister of State said that the number of residential units will grow in these rural towns. How does he see that happening, given that the Government will crucify people who invest in these properties? I cannot understand how he can equate the two.

I am amazed that the Minister of State should infer that a person elected to one of the Houses of the Oireachtas should be parochial in his or her perusal of legislation that has a national effect. One must consider the national dimension while first giving priority to and fully appreciating the local scenario. It is for that reason I tabled my amendment.

Although towns close to Dublin enjoy an economic advantage, many of them suffer a degree of dereliction. The centres of many towns close to Dublin are very shabby and run down, despite being surrounded by wonderful suburbs. Many of these towns have benefited from urban renewal schemes but others, such as Ballybrack, Shankill, Cabinteely, Glasthule, Balbriggan and Newcastle, have not. I am amazed that the Minister of State has not paid greater attention to towns such as Newcastle in the constituency of his party leader, the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney. His explanation is not convincing.

Senator Taylor-Quinn's concern for the Dublin area is touching. I commend her for proposing this amendment because it highlights two significant differences between the policies of the main Opposition party and the Government. Few economists would agree with the main Opposition party in promoting tax incentives for residential development in Dublin. The day for that is long past.

The development of rural Ireland, particularly the west, midlands and Border region, is a main feature of Government policy. The town renewal scheme will assist and encourage commercial and industrial development in areas of need. The amendment would fly in the face of this policy. This difference between the policies of Fine Gael and the Government is interesting.

With regard to the Senator's comment on the Tánaiste's constituency, the Minister of State is to be commended for concentrating on the revitalis ation of rural Ireland and overlooking narrow political gain.

The Minister of State invited me to respond on the question of narrow political gain.

It would not be appropriate to argue the merits of the Government's proposals for housing when discussing this amendment. However, I point out to the Senator who raised the issue that the Government's concern is for people who are finding it difficult to buy their first home. We are anxious to moderate house prices so that people who had a reasonable expectation of being able to buy a house will again be able to do so. This is why a major change was made in the stamp duty requirement, exempting first time buyers of houses under £150,000.

If the Senator is referring to the decision to increase stamp duty to 9% on all houses being purchased for investment purposes only, it should be understood that the levy does not apply if the person making the investment is prepared to register as a landlord, provide a rent book and comply with the requirements laid down for landlords of residential property. A person who is a professionally legitimate landlord in the house rental market should have no fear of the levy proposed in Action on Housing published two weeks ago. He will, however, have to pay 9% stamp duty on the purchase price. This measure is aimed at people who are buying up multiples of houses and pushing first time buyers out of the market. First time buyers cannot compete with people who in some instances have bought all the new houses on offer. We have heard of cases where 100 new houses were put up for sale and people wishing to buy them were told that the first three people in the queue had bought them all. We want to discourage this practice as much as we can. That is why we have introduced fairly penal levels of stamp duty in those instances because we want to bring about some equilibrium in the market and protect people in a weaker financial position.

I do not see any justification in what has been said for accepting this amendment. The town renewal scheme gives a tax incentive to people to encourage them to invest in their own property or others to invest in property in rural towns. This is done in the hope that investment will flow, that the towns will be renewed and that a new spirit will be brought back into them.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Section 1 agreed to.
Section 2 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 5, subsection (3), between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following new paragraphs:

"(e) the social and economic integration of disadvantaged groups of residents, and

(f) the promotion of the Gaeltacht language and culture where a town is in a Gaeltacht area.”.

My amendment is very straightforward. I want certain considerations to be taken into account along with those already in the Bill.

The Minister of State will fully appreciate why I have tabled my amendment, particularly paragraph (e) which refers to the social and economic integration of disadvantaged groups of residents. In every town the economic status of residents can vary quite considerably. There is quite a deprived group of people in some towns. In recent years there has been an attempt to address this problem through the introduction of a variety of schemes by the Department of Social, Family and Community Affairs and the Department of the Taoiseach. The town renewal scheme provides an additional opportunity for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and the county councils to provide incentives to break the division that exists in the social and economic strata of communities in small to medium sized towns.

The Minister of State may find, on examining the proposals put forward for many of the towns, that some of them may not include the areas of greatest social disadvantage. This is partly due to the fact that local authority housing already exists in some of these areas or local authority houses have been purchased for private use. We need to ensure that there is balanced investment in towns and that it is not concentrated in the middle-class areas. I know this is a delicate matter. In the interest of balance we must focus on the areas of greatest social disadvantage. I appreciate that this is a difficult matter but I want the Minister and his Department to use their expertise to examine this matter.

My amendment also proposes another paragraph relating to the promotion of the Gaeltacht language and culture where a town is in a Gaeltacht area. I am sure the Minister with his fluency in Irish and representing a constituency that has a large Gaeltacht area fully appreciates what is involved here. Recently I heard one of his constituents on national radio who was deeply concerned about a large local authority housing development proposed by Galway County Council. There was a great fear among the native people there that by imposing quite a large number of non Irish speaking people on that area, there was a danger that the Gaeltacht and the Irish language would be subsumed by the English cultures and traditions.

We appreciate that this is a difficult and a delicate matter and we recognise the constitutional rights of individuals to free movement, ownership and so on. However, there is a need to preserve what is good in our tradition and culture, especially in Gaeltacht areas. It is important that this is also a consideration and I ask the Minister to incorporate both of these paragraphs into subsection (3).

I support the broad thrust of Senator Madeleine Taylor-Quinn's point regarding these two matters, particularly the social and economic integration of disadvantaged groups of residents. Molaim í freisin as an suim atá aici i gcur chun cinn na Gaeilge.

While agreeing with the sentiments behind the amendment, I wonder whether it is necessary. The Town Renewal Bill deals with small towns and villages with a population of between 500 and 6,000, where there is not the social disparity evident in larger towns or cities. We are referring to rural Ireland where there is quite good social integration, such as in those areas that have applied, for example Bunclody, Ferns, Rosslare Harbour and Taghmon and places like these where there is not any great social divide. I know from my local authority's submission that we focused on areas within those towns and villages in need of refurbishment and revitalisation.

While agreeing with the broad thrust of the amendment, I would have thought from reading through the Bill that the spirit of what the Senator has suggested is encapsulated in the broader remit of the Bill.

The criteria specified by the Minister in this Bill cover the broad policies and principles which underpin the guidelines for the scheme. These broad criteria include the promotion of physical renewal and revitalisation of towns as cultural, commercial, social and residential centres. The amendment which the Senator proposes seeks to address the issues of disadvantaged groups of residents in the promotion of the Gaeltacht language and culture. The criteria (a) to (d) as laid out in subsection (3) are, in effect, the broad principles on which the detailed guidelines of the scheme are premised and they encompass the various objectives outlined in the guidelines. Due to their broad scope, it seems unnecessary to add more specific objectives in this subsection as the guidelines are sufficiently broad to accommodate the issues being raised.

We do not want to have repetition or unnecessary verbiage when this measure is already provided for in terms of what is contained in subsection (3). While the focus of the scheme is on physical restoration and revitalisation, there are other direct benefits which will flow from the successful implementation of the scheme. Bear in mind too that the scheme will apply to quite small towns which will not have the critical mass to justify the large-scale integrated approach which characterised the previous scheme, the urban renewal scheme.

Maidir leis an nGaeilge de, táim sásta go bhfuil bunús sásúil sa Bhille i dtaca le stádas na Gaeilge agus le cultúr na Gaeltachta. Tá sé ar intinn agam go dtabharfar aird chuimsitheach ar phrionsabail áirithe nuair a bheidh pleananna athnuachana á gcur le chéile agus go gcuirfear cúrsaí cultúrdha san áireamh ach go háirithe, rud atá soiléir sa Bhille atá os ár gcomhair.

Agus muid ag tabhairt faoi chúrsaí cultúrdha bheadh sé dochreidte muna dtabharfaí tús áite do chúrsaí teanga. Mar is eol daoibh chomh maith, mar bhí díospóireacht ar an ábhar anseo tamall beag ó shin, tá cosaint speisialta sa Bhille um Pleanáil agus Forbairt don Ghaeilge agus do chúrsaí cultúrdha maidir le pleananna forbartha na n-údarás áitiúla. Tá sé leagtha síos chomh maith in the Planning and Development Bill, 1999, which has been passed by the Houses. It provides for "the protection of the linguistic and cultural heritage of the Gaeltacht, including the promotion of Irish as the community language where there is a Gaeltacht area in the area of the development plan".

As I stated yesterday, the implementation of the town renewal plan must comply with the proper planning and development of the area outlined in the county development plan. Heed must be taken of the objectives stated in the county development plan and the new planning and development legislation already takes language into account by including Gaeltacht areas. There is no need for the amendment. The additional criteria are provided for in the legislation and in the Planning and Development Bill, 1999.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. However, the deficiency in the subsection is that while the criteria are outlined, they are broad and the danger is that they can be interpreted any way one wishes, whereas if they were more specific one could not interpret them as broadly or with such variance. Broad criteria can be interpreted in a variety of ways and that could be seen as a deficiency rather than a strength in the legislation. The inclusion of the additional criteria which I propose would not detract from the subsection but would strengthen it and give more specific guidance to the management of local authorities and to the Ministers for the Environment and Local Government and Finance in making specific decisions. Furthermore, it would be to the advantage of those charged with the responsibility of implementing the scheme to have them included. I hope the Minister of State will rethink his position.

Senator Walsh stated that social disparity is almost non-existent in smaller towns. Perhaps that is the case in Wexford but that has not been my experience throughout the country. There is much social disparity in small towns. This scheme applies to towns with populations between 500 and 6,000 and social disparity is quite evident in towns with populations of between 3,000 and 4,000. I agree with Senator Walsh with regard to small villages with populations of between 500 and 700 but a different scenario applies in larger towns with populations of 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000. This is important and should be taken on board. I accept that a reference to social disparity is included in section 3(3)(b) but the two additional criteria I propose would be of assistance. I invite the Minister of State to take them on board as they would not detract from the criteria which have been included. They would strengthen the legislation.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill."

This section covers every aspect of a town which is lucky enough to qualify under the scheme. When the scheme was debated at local authority level, I recall that the total area in qualifying towns covered by the scheme was to be between one and one and a half acres. It appears that the entire town could be covered under the section. If that is so, will plans prepared by local authorities be contrary to the section? The local authorities prepare their plans to include between one and a half to two acres in each of the qualifying towns.

The guidelines make it clear that the maximum size towns will have populations of 6,000. The guidelines state that there will be no more than seven acres of new building and half of that must be residential development. That acreage will be scaled down for smaller towns with a population of fewer than 6,000. There is no specification that only one acre will qualify for tax incentives. I heard someone in Mayo say that on the radio but he was incorrect and I wrote to inform him of that.

The officials of Mayo County Council pointed out to us that the maximum area that would be included in each of the towns was one and a half acres. Will the Minister state that the whole of any town lucky enough to qualify will be eligible for tax relief?

This is a misconception. I have not received any plans yet from the advisory committee so I cannot say if Mayo confined the designation area to one and half acres. The guidelines refer to between one and three hectares, with three hectares applying to the maximum size town with a population of 6,000. The reference to an area specifically relates to anything newly built.

The Bill aims to bring about the renewal and revitalisation of old buildings so this scheme will encourage a great deal of refurbishment. Allow ance has been made for tax incentives for new building but that will be confined to three hectares in a town of 6,000. That is an area of approximately seven and a half acres. There was never any direction that the area for incentives be confined to one and a half acres.

Question put and agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 6, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following new subsection:

"(4) The Minister shall cause all advice submitted to him or her in accordance with subsection (1) to be published.”.

This section is very important. It gives the Minister the right to consult and seek advice from persons with relevant expertise in town renewal. How will the Minister decide who has the necessary expertise and how is such expertise classified? It is also important that those providing this advice are not providing advice to potential developers or people with interests other than those of the Minister. For those reasons it is vital that this section be taken on board.

The Minister must also ensure that all advice he is given is published. We need to avoid confusion and ensure there are no conflicts of interest. This amendment would ensure that people advising the Minister are not advising anyone else. In the past we have seen too many vested interests working and we know it was not in the public interest, as Senator Walsh would agree.

I am surprised that this amendment was tabled. I mentioned yesterday that it is my intention to operate this scheme in as open and transparent a manner as possible. In keeping with the practice introduced in the 1999 urban renewal scheme, it is intended to publish the report and the advice of the expert advisory panel. Details of recommendations in relation to each plan submitted will be available and will be published on the Department's website. The provisions of the Freedom of Information Act will also apply to material within the Department on the consideration of plans submitted.

There is a condition in the Bill which states that any person acting on the advisory panel must declare any interest in advance of consideration of a matter in which he or she has an interest. That declaration of interest is a statutory requirement under this Bill. I introduced that measure in the previous Bill – the first time that such a procedure was implemented in relation to the introduction of urban renewal schemes – and it is being done here again. The legislation proposing tax incentives for urban and rural areas has been introduced in the most open and trans parent fashion ever undertaken by any Minister introducing similar legislation. My actions contrast starkly with those of some of my predecessors.

No one will be able point the finger at this legislation and say it is not open. Everything will be included on the website. The minutes of the advisory group in its consideration of each town plan were all published in the previous integrated area plans and will be published when the plans under this scheme are finalised. We hope to be in a position to announce the publication of the plans under this scheme in the next three weeks.

I appreciate the Minister's intentions but he may not be in his current position forever. In that event, it is vital that the Oireachtas copperfastens legislation that will act as guidelines for the Minister's successors. While appreciating that material will be published on the Internet and that there will be an annual report of the advisory committee, if an adviser comes into the Minister's office, the existing legislation will not ensure that every consultation with the Minister will be published.

Given what has emerged at the tribunals, the more protected every situation is by legislation the better. That is why it is particularly important to include this new subsection in the Bill. I have no problem with the advisory group which is being established, but the reality is that it can be "got to". The real concern, however, is about people who whisper in the Minister's ear during a back-room chat, yet there is no record of this. We must ensure that as much evidence as possible comes to light so there will be no opportunity for irregular or untoward activities.

The Minister is well intentioned and I have every confidence that he will do as he has stated, but it could be quite different with another Minister in charge. Where developments take place which include tax incentives, big-wigs descend like vultures and get around any obstacles that may arise. There has been ample evidence of that across the country and this new subsection is aimed at reducing such activity. The Minister should accept the amendment.

The Senator has totally misunderstood the process involved. I do not have any consultations with anybody with regard to the plans which come into the Department and are passed on by the officials to the advisory group. That group examines them, looks at the towns and comes to conclusions on whether the plans, as submitted, comply with the guidelines and objectives of the scheme. It then makes a decision and makes recommendations to the Minister.

As I said more than once yesterday on Second Stage, I have not received the recommendations yet and I have not seen any of these matters. When I receive the recommendations I will do exactly as was done on the previous occasion – I will bring them to Cabinet. I expect the Cabinet will accept the recommendations of the advisory board, as I will be recommending.

I have no role in meeting people, discussing what they have submitted, or in adding to or subtracting from what they may require. To say otherwise demonstrates a total misunderstanding by the Senator of how the system operates. Perhaps her suspicions arise from her knowledge of times when her party was in Government. I do not know.

The Minister was Minister for Local Government in a Fianna Fáil Administration in the 1960s. He knows well what went on in those times, as I do. We will not put that on the record because it would not read well.

It is a lot of bluff. Under the Freedom of Information Act anybody can access any material concerning what has been submitted in connection with plans under the scheme. I have made provision in the legislation to ensure that the system is open and transparent, and that there will be no hokey-pokey as there was in the past.

I am delighted the Minister admits there was hokey-pokey in the past.

By the Senator's Government and by other Governments.

I will not put on the record what I could in relation to various Fianna Fáil Governments—

It is all coming out.

—prior to the establishment of An Bord Pleanála. That would make interesting history.

The Minister has not said what persons he will "consult with and seek the advice of", as section 4(1) states. Subsection (1) refers to "such persons as appear to the Minister to have relevant expertise in respect of the renewal of towns. . . ". The Minister may have his own criteria as to who he may consider has the relevant expertise, but his successors may have very different views as to whom they may so classify. It is imperative that the new subsection be added to section 4.

I subscribe to the view of Senator Taylor-Quinn that the issue should be as open and transparent as possible. In his response, the Minister has clearly illustrated that will be case. However, I am concerned about the import of some of the other suggestions made by the Senator. Given the current climate where some people in public life have transgressed the normal standards one would expect from politicians, there is a tendency to make such suggestions. It would be a travesty, however, if as a consequence we were to set up a system to remove the democratic power which rests with elected representatives, by virtue of the public's exercise of suffrage, and grant it to unelected bodies. I strongly support the right of politicians, at local and national level, to exercise power prudently and fairly. They should make decisions and not hand that function over to unelected people.

In this instance there is an expert panel. In the last urban renewal plan a similar structure and system was in place and most people were satisfied with the process and with the subsequent publication of reports. Having gone through the documentation, I was impressed by the manner in which details of the exercise were made available publicly. With modern technology, it will be available on a website.

Not everything will be on the website.

In playing political games with the current controversy, there is a danger that we will undermine the whole political process. That would be a retrograde step, not only for the profession of politics but also for the democratic process which has contributed enormously to our economic success. While a small minority may not have subscribed to the accepted standards, when everything has been dusted down by the tribunals we will find that they are, indeed, a tiny minority. It is wrong to brand everybody in the same way, although many people are trying to do so. If we subscribed to that we would be at fault.

Amendment put.

Burke, Paddy.Caffrey, Ernie.Coghlan, Paul.Cosgrave, Liam T.Cregan, Denis (Dino).Doyle, Joe.Jackman, Mary.Keogh, Helen.

McDonagh, Jarlath.Norris, David.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Meara, Kathleen.Quinn, Feargal.Ross, Shane.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.


Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Cregan, John.Dardis, John.Farrell, Willie.Fitzgerald, Liam.Fitzgerald, Tom.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Gibbons, Jim.Glennon, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.Kett, Tony.

Kiely, Daniel.Lanigan, Mick.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.O'Donovan, Denis.Ó Fearghail, Seán.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.
Question proposed: "That section 4 stand part of the Bill."

Section 4(1) is too open. While I agree with Senator Taylor-Quinn that the Minister has included consultation in the section, he should go further and include the publication of the report.

It is intended to publish the report.

That is good news for the Opposition again.

The Senator has not got a clue what is going on. He should leave it to Senator Walsh who is doing a good job.

Question put and agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 6, subsection (1)(a), line 39, after “parts” to insert “or the whole”.

It does not make sense that subsection (1)(a) states that “a part or parts of the area to which the town renewal plan relates ought to be a qualifying area for the purposes of one or more sections of Chapter 10 (inserted by the Finance Act, 2000)”. It would be prudent to include “a part or parts or the whole of the area to which the town renewal plan relates ought to be a qualifying area for the purposes of one or more sections of Chapter 10”. The fact it is not stated seems to be an omission by the Minister.

I welcome this Bill, although I have not been here for most of its passage through the House. It affects Castlepollard which it is proposed to include.

The Senator did not refer to the fact this Bill covers the entire country.

Derelict areas of rural villages will be included for funding so people will be able to carry out the necessary work immediately. I know many Senators made long contributions on the Bill. The Bill seeks to ensure that work will commence almost immediately.

What has that got to do with the amendment?

We hope that planners will co-operate with the Minister and implement all sections of the Bill.

The amendment seeks to expand the area to which all incentives may apply to cover the entire area of the town renewal plan. The effect of this amendment would be to allow a blanket designation approach to be adopted in relation to the application of incentives for both residential and commercial projects. This would conflict with the targeted approach which focuses on areas most in need of renewal. This approach was followed not just in this case but also, as the Senators will recall, in the case of the current urban renewal scheme.

The application of incentives represents a cost to the Exchequer and it is important that we ensure maximum value for money and the best possible benefit in the application of public resources to supporting town renewal objectives. The idea is to target areas of dereliction which need renewal and to get the maximum benefit rather than have blanket designations. In these circumstances, I regret it is not possible to accept the amendment.

We might be a little confused. I appreciate that submissions have been made which outline specific areas in each town rather than entire towns. Maps have also been presented with the submissions for the areas in each town which the local authority wishes to designate. Each local authority's proposed town renewal plan complies with the criteria laid down by the Department of the Environment and Local Government.

I am afraid this section will allow the Minister to reduce the areas within the proposed plan which conform with the criteria. I am not suggesting a blanket designation for each town but that the plan, as presented by the local authority and which complies with the criteria laid down by the Department, and the maps accompanying it, which provide specific areas for residential and commercial designation, be accepted. However, under this section only "a part or parts of the area" can be included. This amendment seeks to include the whole of the submission by the local authority. I am sure Senator Walsh, who has a strong interest in local authorities, fully understands my point. We are not talking about a blanket designation but about accepting the plan as presented for each town.

I agree with the Minister about relevant designated areas. However, the definition of a designated area could be the middle of a lane. There were many designated areas in Cork city over the years. The north side of Tobin's Lane, for example, was a designated area but the south side was not. If we designate a particular area, the whole of the area should be included, although I know that is not easy to do. Although the south side of the lane was as deprived as the north side, it was not designated. We should include areas rather than lines in towns, villages or cities. It should be the backs of areas rather than up the middle of a street. For instance, how can we designate between one side of a lane in the middle of Castlepollard or Ennis? I am not saying all areas should be designated because no work would be done then but the Minister is right. Cork has proved to be very well served by the designation of particular areas, particularly inner city areas, but the other side of the designated areas suffered. That is the problem. We should include the whole street. If one side of the middle of a lane is designated and the other is falling apart, that is most unfair. I do not see a whole town or area being included but that is where the definition of "whole" would work.

If the Minister would clarify Chapter 10 of Part X of the Act of 1997 it might crystallise thinking in this regard. My understanding is that "part or parts" refers to a specific type of development, perhaps residential development, and that it is open to county councils to include in their plans a variety of developments that will qualify. I think that is what it refers to but perhaps the Minister would clarify that.

On previous occasions I might have seen merit in the proposal from Senators Taylor-Quinn and Cregan but in Westmeath, meetings were held with the planners and all the people in Kilbeggan, Moate and Castlepollard and the planners actually walked the little roads and the townlands with everyone concerned. As a result of the Tidy Towns competition, derelict areas, poor buildings and the shabby appearance of various public places, etc., were taken into account and agreement was reached with all the local organisations. I understand there was a difficulty in one or two other parts of the country, and I can see where Senators are coming from in that they were born in and represent one of those areas, but from the experience we have in Westmeath with the planner concerned, we had nothing but co-operation, consultation and communication. I agree with the wording in the Bill but I understand the difficulty that was experienced in another county in particular.

I can see an instance happening as described by the previous speakers. The Minister said earlier that the maximum amount of land that can be developed in towns with a population of fewer than 6,000 is six acres. If that is the case a town with a population of only 1,500 could only develop a maximum of two acres, or one and a half acres. Is it the case that the maximum amount of land that can be developed in towns with a population of fewer than 6,000 is six acres?

Seven and a half acres. That is for new build.

That does not take into account old or derelict buildings?

Fair enough.

That is stated clearly in the guidelines.

If there were dilapidated areas in a sprawling town, I thought difficulties might arise if the town went beyond the maximum number of acres allowed in the guidelines. Would a degree of latitude be given if that were to happen? It may help Senator Taylor-Quinn in relation to the amendment she has put forward which refers to the whole of a town.

A number of points have been raised but as regards the amendment before us, the intent is to focus and target the incentives on specific properties that are deemed to qualify under the terms of the guidelines and the objectives of the Bill to achieve renewal and improvement. A consultant's study was carried out on the outcome of the earlier urban renewal schemes that had been designated throughout the country. One of the main conclusions in that study was that blanket designations should not be given in future town renewal schemes. Previous Ministers just ran their thumb down a street and designated the whole of that street, irrespective of the fact that a new building might have been completed on the same street a month previously. It was crude and it was done extensively like that. It was also very arbitrary. I have taken on board in the IAP and in this town renewal scheme the recommendations of the consultants. That is the reason I oppose this amendment which refers to the whole area.

On the point raised by Senator Cregan about where the line is to be drawn on the street, pre vious urban renewal schemes were decided by the Minister in an arbitrary way. In the IAPs which I brought before the House and which are now in operation, and in this plan, the local authorities put forward the proposals and there must be full consultation at local level. I was delighted to hear the way it was done in Westmeath, as mentioned by Senator Cassidy, where there was the fullest of consultation, the planners walked the areas involved and they were all agreed. It is the principle of subsidiarity, to which I have always subscribed, long before it became common language in Europe and in looking for reform in local government, and this is part of that reform. These decisions can be made by the people nearest to the ground. They have the most local knowledge, they are the ones who can have the best input into it and they must be consulted. These lines were drawn locally. On this occasion they should have been drawn in consultation with local people and local elected representatives and it is the councils that decide this eventually and send it to the Department. Where they drew the line was a local matter but in the guidelines we issued we have indicated that they should go behind the buildings rather than do what was described by the Senator where there was disparity between one side of the street and another. However, if the buildings on the other side of the street were not in need of designation to achieve the objectives, there would not be any need to include them either so in some circumstances it might be a sound proposal to have the line going down the middle of a street. We have to draw the line somewhere but generally we suggest that if they are drawing a line, they should draw it at the back of buildings rather than have one set facing the other in that way.

On the question of the acreage, I want to refer to the guidelines which were issued this time last year to every local authority; I think I sent them to every Member of the House as well at the time. I certainly tried to disseminate the information as widely as possible. The guidelines state that in the case of towns at the maximum population of size eligible under the scheme, the area for new build development designated should not exceed three hectares, this limit to decrease proportionately for smaller towns. They further state that at least 50% of the total new build designated area should be for residential use. That is repeating what I have already said to Senators in regard to that. I subsequently informed the local authorities, through my officials, that they were not to interpret the reducing size too strictly. As long as they did not go over the three hectares it would have been reasonable to make some relationship between that and the size of population of the town.

I was asked about Chapter 10. This sets out the functions of county councils and the criteria that must be taken into account in the making of recommendations, that areas be qualifying areas for the purpose of town renewal tax reliefs pro vided for under Chapter 10 of Part X of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997, as inserted by the Finance Act, 2000, which the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, included in this year's Finance Act in anticipation of the passing of this Bill. These reliefs comprise residential, industrial, commercial and new build incentives. They contain the full range of incentives allowable in certain circumstances. Therefore, I must reject the proposed amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 7, subsection (2), lines 14 to 17, to delete paragraph (c) and substitute the following new paragraph:

"(c) the market conditions in the eligible town or the area, and”.

The amendment provides that in making a recommendation referred to in subsection (1) the county council concerned shall have regard to the market conditions in the eligible town or the area.

I propose the deletion from subsection (2)(c) of the words “or areas of the eligible town concerned as respects the supply of, and current and anticipated demand for, the relevant types of development”, as they indicate an anticipatory element. We are not in a position to legislate for anticipated situations, we can only legislate for what we deem to be realities. Section 2(c), as drafted, includes a nebulous element and I am not sure that nebulous element can be taken into account in legislation. I do not consider such words beneficial to the Bill or to any consideration under a town renewal scheme. The wording of subsection (2)(c) should be as I propose and subsection (2)(d) should refer to “the nature and extent of any impediments to the carrying out of the relevant types of development”. It would be wise if the Minister of State accepted the changes I propose to subsection (2)(c).

The section sets out the criteria that must taken into account by a local authority when making a recommendation under section 5(1). The effect of this amendment would be to delete important considerations that must be taken into account by local authorities when making recommendations, specifically on the assessment of current and anticipated demand for the types of development under consideration, including residential and commercial.

I mentioned the KPMG report on the previous urban renewal scheme, which was critical of the cases of dead weight and displacement that occurred with the awarding of tax incentives on a blanket scale. That report recommended that the proposed designated areas should be identified during the preparation of plans with the focus only on areas where needs would be addressed by tax incentives only. This recommendation for a coherent, targeted approach to incentivisation was adopted in respect of the 1999 urban renewal scheme, on which this scheme is modelled.

We are not in the business of applying incentives willy-nilly. It is important for county councils to consider issues such as supply, current demand and anticipated demand for the relevant types of development to ensure that incentives are recommended only where they can be justified. Questions as to why a site is difficult to develop without incentives, whether incentives are necessary to secure a desired development, or whether a development will cause displacement elsewhere must be addressed when making recommendations to ensure that the income forgone by the Exchequer is justified. I intend to retain the section as drafted. Therefore, I reject the amendment.

I am not satisfied with the Minister of State's reply. There is a limit to what county councils can be expected to judge regarding their areas and the reference to anticipated demand in subsection (2)(c) is airy fairy. It is difficult to anticipate what the demand will be. In some instances, the actual demand under previous schemes, whether the urban renewal scheme or the seaside resort scheme, was way beyond the wildest expectations of local authorities.

On Second Stage I said that local authorities might be in a position to anticipate demand in a more prudent way if, for example, the Government was able to introduce a town renewal scheme having regard to its decentralisation policy. It could incorporate in this formula consideration of public service personnel who would be decentralised to certain towns and indicate to the local authorities concerned that such decentralisation of personnel would occur. Decentralisation would constitute more than an anticipated demand, it would be something concrete and definite. The reference to anticipated demand is vague and I hope the Minister of State takes my point into account.

Given that most local authorities have only just finalised or nearly finalised their county development plans, it is timely, as Senator Taylor-Quinn said, that this legislation is being considered. The one-stop-shop concept will be included in the action plans, such as one commenced in the north Westmeath local authority area last Friday and the one-stop-shop concept being incorporated into action plans in the local authority areas of Clare, Meath, Donegal and other countries. The provisions of this legislation, including the reference to anticipated demand, can be included in such action plans.

This is possibly the best legislation that has been introduced for rural areas as it will impact on every village in that it will allow people, who have done well in business in large towns and cities as a result of the Celtic tiger, to avail of tax incentives to reinvest in their home areas. As the poet, Patrick Farrell said, where is the one who does not love the land where he was born? I commend the Minister of State on introducing this initiative that will benefit rural areas.

I am not sure this amendment is necessary. One could make the point that in making recommendations the county council concerned shall have regard to the market conditions in the eligible town or areas of it and one could take it as read as to the market conditions referred to. However, the words proposed to be deleted qualify precisely what is meant by the market conditions. While there is a demand throughout the country for residential development, if for example there was a demand for industrial or commercial development in a town or village, consideration would have to be given to the demand in the area concerned for the specified type of development included in an action plan.

It is common sense to qualify what market conditions are referred to, although I appreciate one could argue that is not necessary. A corollary to that is Senator Quinn's earlier argument about extending, for the purpose of clarification, other areas of the Bill to ensure there is no doubt as to what is intended.

There is not much more I can add. It would be extraordinary if I accepted an amendment that proposed to remove from the Bill a requirement that an assessment of current and anticipated demand for the different types of development under consideration should be taken into account in arriving at a decision on whether to include an area for tax designation. Acceptance of the amendment would leave that provision hanging in the air, so to speak, without further elaboration of what was meant by market conditions.

The Senator queried the ability of a local authority to arrive at an educated opinion on the levels of demand for certain facilities in its area. These matters are being decided at council level and the local community are consulted on them. Local authority members have a right to be consulted and to make an input and they also have a right to obtain additional professional advice or information from people who are qualified in that area to help them make the best decision possible. I do not think it would be wise to exclude that. To do so would be a retrograde step, especially in view of the comments made in the KPMG report in regard to what happened where this was done without due consideration being given to these matters. Rate remissions which were being granted are not available now because of the European intervention.

In my town, under the earlier urban renewal designations, the existing shopkeepers in areas not included for designation felt sorely aggrieved that spanking new buildings, new shopping arcades and new commercial enterprises which were in direct competition with the older buildings were given capital allowances, rates relief, double rent allowances and beneficial tax incentives. This proposal is to ensure that due consideration is given to all these factors at local level before a final decision is made to include or exclude a particular building.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill."

The Minister of State has made strong points on the type of developments created under previous urban renewal schemes in designated areas in particular towns and cities. I agree with him. Those who were already in business suffered the consequences because others got the benefits in designated areas. Those designated areas were agreed by particular individuals and the Government of the day. The Minister of State made the point that about 50% of all new designated areas, that is greenfield sites, will have to be residential. Does it have to be just 50% or more?

At least 50%.

That is very important. Again the Minister of State has indicated the thinking in Europe. In my city there is about 3 million square feet of accommodation over shops that is not being used. Residential accommodation is being sought urgently. In many European cities people live over their businesses; curtains are open and lights are on even when the shops are closed. That does not happen here, although it is being promoted. Are there any designated tax incentives that can be given? The fact is that in cities and big towns people are moving out because there are no benefits for developing over their commercial premises. What consideration is being given to providing such incentives? Is it relevant to another Bill or can they get the tax benefits if they restructure over their shops?

The Senator will be aware there was an over the shop tax incentive scheme previously and it was deemed not to have been a great success. As the take-up was not great, there were no further extensions of the scheme. We visited that again at the behest of Dublin Corporation and have looked at it again. Much study has gone into it. It was deemed that by pitching the scheme in a certain way it would be possible to overcome some of the obstacles property owners saw to availing of it.

I accept the point made by the Senator that there is a critical need for additional residential accommodation. There is a great deal of empty space over shops in the larger cities which could be converted into residential accommodation with the right conditions and circumstances. Under the previous scheme there were fire regulation and access problems. Having looked at all those issues the Government announced its intention to re-introduce a living over the shop tax incentive scheme when it launched its Action on Housing two weeks ago. Action on Housing, under urban renewal incentives and other measures taken, states, "A new living over the shop scheme which is aimed at tackling the problem of vacant upper storey space in major urban areas will be introduced. The scheme which is tax-incentive based has the potential to release a significant number of residential units in high demand areas particularly in Dublin."

While the legislation has not been worked out, it is proposed that the scheme will be made available in the larger cities in the county boroughs where there would be extensive availability and a greater possibility in some streets of designations being made. Local authorities will make recommendations on the streets to be designated and where they consider the best results can be achieved. The Government has made its decision and will bring forward the legislation.

I welcome the Minister of State's decision. He has answered all my questions and understands my point. While the scheme has been announced is it properly promoted? There is no reason 3 million square feet of over the shop space is not used from 5 p.m. onwards and that car spaces are vacant in high rise car parks. The residents in such accommodation should be able to use the vacant car spaces and the incentives should be provided for them in public and private car parks. There is no reason they cannot park there from 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. onwards and be resident in the city. However, there is no incentive to do it. As a member of Cork City Council for the past 21 years I have not seen an incentive to do it. The planners have for many years voiced their particular ideas.

The amount of space over shops which is not being used has increased in the past five years to 3 million square feet in Cork city alone. One can imagine what is available in Dublin. With no disrespect, apartments of 450 or 500 square feet are built and sold for £150,000 in the centre of this city. All the idle space could be renovated and restructured if the necessary regulations were put in place and if planners, management and the Government came together to ensure every possible benefit is provided to ensure places such as O'Connell Street and many other streets in Dublin are properly utilised. There should be lights over premises but that is not the case. It reflects badly on us in comparison with other European cities. If one walks around Brussels or Paris at night one will see that people live over the shops. It even happens in London.

A Senator

The Senator is well travelled.

At my own expense.

I support everything Senator Cregan has said. What he has said impinges on the Bill to a certain extent. It applies not only to Cork and Dublin cities but to other rural towns where there is an under utilisation of vacant space. At a time when accommodation is being sought the whole thrust is towards new buildings.

I ask the Minister of State in looking at the criteria for this scheme and in accepting the advice of his advisers not to allow a repeat of what happened under the previous scheme. One street in New Ross, Mary's Street, got owner occupier status for refurbishment. Anybody who looks at the street can see that that cannot be achieved. They are large houses. The same applies to the over the shop concept. It has to be looked at from the point of view of section 23 and allowing people to refurbish the properties for rent. There is nothing wrong—

The regulations are something else.

Yes. There is nothing wrong with good quality, private rented accommodation being provided in those areas when it is the only means of bringing such property into the overall accommodation programme. Senator Cregan's comments should be examined in the Department and, in so far as they relate to this Bill, should be implemented. However, there should probably be another Bill to provide for the release of all that vacant space to bring it into the accommodation sector.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendment No. 7 is related to amendment No. 6 and they may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 7, line 23, to delete "may" and substitute "shall, having satisfied himself or herself that the plan and the recommendations are in conformity with the criteria referred to in section 3(3) and 3(4) and the guidelines referred to in section 3(5), shall”.

This is a straightforward amendment to section 6. Amendment No. 7 seeks to insert, after "1997", the phrase "and the Minister for Finance shall make the order." The amendments elaborate on the section and give it more clarity and definition. Although the section already refers to "a town renewal plan submitted to him or her under section 3", the amendments will further strengthen the provision.

These amendments would have the effect of removing the discretion of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and the Minister for Finance in regard to recommending qualifying areas and the consequent making of orders.

The aim of the Bill is to facilitate the development of smaller towns. There is already a precedent in the urban renewal scheme whereby the recommendations made by local authorities, as modified by the expert advisory panel on urban renewal, were accepted and adopted without any changes being made by the Ministers. It is proposed to follow this independent and objective approach to the application of incentives in this scheme.

The making of recommendations by the Ministers is one step in a process which starts with the selection by local authorities of suitable towns which would benefit under the scheme. It was never the intention to waste the time or resources of local authorities in preparing plans which would not be considered in full. If the plans submitted meet the criteria set out in the guidelines, it is envisaged that the towns will benefit from the incentives, subject to the recommendations of the expert panel. The Ministers are accountable to the Oireachtas and it would be prudent to retain this discretion.

In addition, amendment No. 7 attempts to limit the powers of the Minister for Finance by imposing a mandatory requirement to apply incentives as recommended by county councils. Legal powers in relation to the application of tax incentives are entrusted to the Minister for Finance. The proposal is not legally, and probably not constitutionally, sound.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 7 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 6 stand part of the Bill."

Although Senator Cassidy said that the county development plan for his area has been finalised, a number of county development plans are not yet in place. There are various reasons for that, such as planners being under pressure, shortage of planners and so forth. The problem is that certain areas in towns might be omitted. Can they be included at a later stage?

We have seen instances in the past where areas have been forgotten or not included in a designation, even though people were of the opinion that they should have been included. Under this section, will it be possible to include a property or a section of land, which was not included in the plan finalised by the local authority and forwarded to the Minister, at some stage in the future before the term of the scheme concludes? The area might have been omitted due to the county development plan not being finalised. Can provision be made in another section of the Bill to include areas that were omitted in the original plan?

The Bill has tremendous beneficial potential for small towns and villages. I hope the Minister will include as many of the applicants as possible. The benefits are enormous for local communities and they will not distort tax revenues or the commercial ethos of a county.

I hope consideration will be given at some stage to villages with populations of less than 500. In the selection process in Wexford there was great difficulty leaving out villages such as Campile and Duncannon, which were ripe for this type of renewal programme but did not meet the qualifying criteria. I hope the population criterion will be looked at again in the future.

The scheme was announced, the guidelines were issued and an invitation was extended to local authorities to submit their plans. The plans were decided locally and then submitted to the Department. Once we have accepted the recommendations of the advisory committee and published the plans, it is not intended that there will be any appeals. That is it. The designations on the areas set out in the plans will be in operation for a period of three years.

I said yesterday that we will examine progress in the implementation of the town renewal plans. There is a monitoring responsibility on local authorities and they must report to the Minister at the end of each year. We will watch progress in the scheme. We are looking on it as a first phase and the intention at present is that there will be a second phase. However, no decision has been made with regard to when it might happen. Obviously, once we see how the scheme is operating we will be inclined to move to the next phase and issue a second invitation to councils.

It is most unlikely that a local authority, when asked to bring forward a second group of proposals, will give a further extension of the incentives to a town which was included in the first phase. The towns which were not included in the first phase should be entitled to be included in the second phase. If that did not happen, there would be great difficulty on the ground. From a practical point of view, that would be the fairest option. No decision has yet been made with regard to a second phase but there is an expectation.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 7 stand part of the Bill."

Is the Minister tying his or the Department's hands by providing in section 7 that "unless the county council which prepared the town renewal plan concerned has certified in writing, in a manner specified by the Minister, that such construction, refurbishment or conversion is consistent with the objectives of that town renewal plan"? That is saying that it is not relevant to the town renewal plan unless the council is involved. I have been involved in council work for many years. I do not claim that everything the council does is right or that it is ahead of everybody else. If someone proposes to upgrade a certain area which is not relevant to the town renewal plan or previous applications, one could be tying people's hands.

I call on the Acting Leader of the House who wishes to propose an amendment to the Order of Business as agreed this morning.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that we conclude this Bill now and that the Firearms (Firearm Certificates for Non-Residents) Bill, 2000, be taken at 2 p.m.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Is there a proposal for a sos?

There will be a sos between the conclusion of this Bill and 2 p.m.

I believe section 7 will tie the Department's hands by providing that the proposal must be relevant to the town development plan at a particular time. Will the Minister of State include a proposal where, if the Department so wishes, a building can be restructured? He should not tie the hands of the Department, particularly at this time when there is a shortage of planners in all county and urban councils. There are huge delays in some urban and county councils in relation to planning and people should not be penalised if a development plan is not in order.

I support Senator Cregan's remarks. Our county development plan has not yet been put forward, never mind finalised. We are depending on a county development plan which is five or six years old. This legislation will be in existence for three years when I presume most councils will draw up a new county development plan. The proposals put forward under the town renewal plan are based on old county development plans, which may not be in conformity with each other. Will the Minister of State clarify if there can be a change in building or zoning in a town within that three year period?

Section 7 deals with certification. This means that the tax incentives available will not be extended to the individual who is entitled to benefit without the local authority certifying that the buildings have been built in a way that complies with the terms of the town renewal plan. The Deputies are looking at the reference to "town renewal plan" while talking about the county development plan. Any development undertaken with a view to benefiting from the tax incentives under the town renewal plan must comply with the terms of the county development plan as provided for under the Planning and Development Acts. I made it clear earlier that there would be no change in the areas designated once the plan is published. Perhaps other towns will get an opportunity in the second phase. This section deals only with certification and obviously the public purse must be protected and requirements must be completed and authenticated. The local authority is the authenticating authority. No tax incentives will be extended by Revenue to an individual unless he or she first produces a certificate.

The other questions that have arisen are not relevant to the section, even though I believe I have already answered the point raised.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 8 to 10, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Schedule be the Schedule to the Bill."

I oppose the Schedule which deliberately excludes all the towns in County Dublin. While I agree with the Minister of State that a number of towns benefit from being adjacent to the city, a small number of towns in County Dublin need some type of enhancement and to deliberately exclude them is unwise. They could be excluded following their submissions if the Minister of State deemed it appropriate. Therefore, I ask him to reconsider the blanket exclusion of all Dublin towns.

The House has already accepted section 1 which means the amendment to the Schedule falls.

Question put and declared carried.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

The Minister of State stated there will be staffing problems in some local authorities and that no provision has been made by either his Department or the Department of Finance to alleviate these constraints on local authorities which must implement and monitor the plan and report to his Department. I am a member of a local authority which has six or seven towns included in the plan. This will put enormous strain on the staffing levels in that local authority as the planning section and architect's office are currently stretched to the limit. Will the ratepayers of other towns have to pay for the extra staff employed to monitor the progress of the plan in these towns and report back to the Department? Extra staff and financial resources should be made available to local authorities which have a number of towns included in the scheme. This will put enormous strain on the resources of County Mayo.

As announced in the statement on housing, the Department will promote more widespread use of United Kingdom and European Union consultants for forward planning, emphasising expertise in high density design. It is intended to appoint additional staff on a consultancy basis to facilitate a quicker turn-around in planning applications by local authorities and An Bord Pleanála. It is hoped these measures will result in a major increase in the capacity of planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála. Local authority managers and members know that the appointment of additional staff has been sanctioned by the Department and the difficulty of finding staff is recognised. There has been some movement of local authority staff to An Bord Pleanála, and from both to the private sector where remuneration is greater.

The level of house building in the United Kingdom and in other EU member states is not as high as in Ireland and it is hoped that consultancy firms throughout Europe will be interested in working in Ireland to help us achieve the ambitious targets in the national development plan. Resources will be made available to local authorities. The Department will take measures to achieve the appointment of additional staff.

Senator Burke has raised the question of staffing. While I welcome the Minister's response to this question I am also concerned by it. The use of private sector consultants raises the danger of conflict of interest and is not satisfactory. During the Second Stage debate I requested the Minister of State to examine the staffing of local authorities and An Bord Pleanála and consider the remuneration of staff. It is important that those working in public plannning offices comply with the requirements of the public service. Consultants who also work for clients in the private sector may have a conflict of interest. Private consultants will cost much more than local authority staff.

Senator Walsh has mentioned the submissions made to the Department by local authorities. Local authorities did considerable work in preparing their plans and members made difficult political decisions in choosing the towns for sub mission. I hope the Minister of State will include all the towns submitted in his designation. The public spending involved will be minimal and, while the designation of towns will not have a great impact on the national economy, the benefit to local economies will be enormous. This hope is shared by Members on both sides of the House.

I agree that increased staffing is needed in planning offices but that is a separate issue. The implementation of this legislation will not significantly alter the work load of planners. I agree that it is important to ensure no conflict of interest arises when private consultants are used. The entire planning process must be examined and greater management efficiency is called for.

Many managers were late in responding with measures to meet the growth in demand for housing. There is a tendency within the public service to see increased staffing levels as the solution to all problems. This solution is often dwelt upon when others could be availed of.

Many applications to local authorities require a simple common sense decision. Are engineers and people with high level planning qualifications the most suitable people to make these decisions? Many people with administrative experience and common sense at more junior levels within local authorities could deal with planning decisions of a particular nature. The Department should encourage practical solutions such as this to local authority problems.

I find the Fine Gael position in this debate extraordinary. Fine Gael Senators complain on the one hand that there is not sufficient staff and on the other that consultants should not be appointed to clear the planning backlog.

I was simply showing a warning light.

The Senator should decide what she wants. She appears to oppose for opposition's sake. The practice of engaging consultants is well established and was availed of during her own party's time in Government. It is strange to hear her raise that hare.

It is not a hare. It is a reality.

I am grateful to the Senators who spoke and for the support from both sides of the House. We did not have a contribution from the Labour Party.

Nor from the Progressive Democrats.

We did indeed. Senator Quill spoke. Senator Taylor-Quinn has drawn attention to the fact that for long periods yesterday the Opposition absented itself from this very important debate on a major issue.

That is not true. We were not far away. We were able to hear you.

For long periods yesterday no Fine Gael, Labour or Independent Senator was present. My party colleague, Senator Quill, made a fine contribution yesterday, probably in Senator Taylor-Quinn's absence.

I hope local authorities will actively promote this scheme when it is announced. The scheme is aimed at individual owners as well as developers and investors, and it is important that individuals know the opportunities the scheme presents and are encouraged to avail of them. It will take two or three years to see the results of building development. Previous urban renewal schemes were not widely availed of until the third year of the schemes and then there were calls for extensions to them. If local authorities were more diligent in communicating the message individual owners would make investment decisions and arrange finance sooner. I hope this will happen and we see the level of renewal which we all hope for.

I hope the scheme will achieve the results all Senators wish to see and I am grateful to them for their contribution to the debate.

I compliment the Minister on introducing this legislation which we have sought for some time. It will benefit every small town in the country in years to come.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 1.20 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.