The Labour Party is far from happy with this Bill. It is not at all clear to us what problem is being solved in respect of a number of issues. A variety of issues arose at various times in respect of planning. All sorts of lobby groups, IBEC in particular, chambers of commerce and Engineers Ireland, the professional body of which I am a member, have suggested at various stages that the legal process was too long-winded and complicated and that infrastructural development was being held back by the complications of planning.
I keep a close watch on the National Roads Authority and An Bord Pleanála and am aware of what occurs when a proposal for a major road infrastructure project is made public. This involves a CPO and environmental impact statement and usually an oral hearing by an official of An Bord Pleanála. An Bord Pleanála is currently doing an extremely efficient job regarding such issues and there is not a scrap of evidence that our road infrastructure development is being delayed by planning complications.
There are two reasons for the delay in road infrastructure development, the first of which is the inadequacy of the Government's plan of 2002, whereby it was to have us supplied with motorways or high-quality dual carriageways by this year. The truth is that it was not a plan but a series of lines drawn on a series of maps. Furthermore, a sum of money was plucked out of thin air, which turned out to be hopelessly inadequate. This was not a question of planning in the An Bord Pleanála sense but of the ineptitude of Government planning.
My long-stated view is that the fundamental problem with large-scale infrastructural developments, be they associated with roads or telecommunications, which represents the other major infrastructural deficit in this country, is that there is a difference of opinion between those of us who believe one uses infrastructural development to shape the market and those who do not. If one builds good road, rail, telecommunications and energy infrastructure throughout the country, particularly in the BMW region, it moves the market in the direction of that region and away from areas of excess demand, particularly the eastern region.
The alternative view, which dominates the thinking of the major funding Department in this State, is that infrastructure must follow the market. In other words, one must prove in advance that the demand exists. If one adopts this model, as the Department of Finance has done historically, one will always have an infrastructural deficit and one region will always be overloaded and swamped with excess demand.
If there was an extremely good road infrastructure between Dublin and the towns of Galway, Tralee, Letterkenny and Sligo, it would be of no great significance to multinationals where they were based. If our infrastructure is such that one can get to one of the major international airports in a couple of hours, provided the airports are able to survive, one's location does not matter.
The Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, is as aware as I am of the potential disaster facing Cork Airport if it is forced to take on a burden of debt it has had no hand in accumulating. If we manage to run good airports, our infrastructure will decide where development happens. This morning's newspapers quote tourism industry representatives as saying the number of visitors to Dublin has continued to increase while the number of visitors to the rest of the country has dropped dramatically because of our poor transport infrastructure. This is not caused by An Bord Pleanála or the planning process. Saying so is a smokescreen to divert people's attention from the inadequacy of Government policy, funding and managerial systems. It is nothing more than this and that is one reason this Bill is unacceptable.
The second reason is because one is extremely sceptical of the willingness of the Government to use what already exists. The toleration of unauthorised developments, which are ultimately given retention approval, is so high that some cite figures of 80%. It is difficult to ascertain the exact figures but those which are available suggest we do not take the planning laws too seriously anyway. I am not only referring to someone who happens to build an unauthorised back porch. An Bord Pleanála made an unfortunate decision to grant retention permission for a major industrial development in the midlands in recent months. We will not change that by changing the law, but by changing the will. If we do not want to enforce existing law, there is no point in pretending that the introduction of new law will help to solve the problem.
I would like to speak about the problem of the capacity of individuals to play games with the spirit of legislation, while observing the letter of the law. I refer in particular to a widely reported decision that was made by a local authority in Killarney recently. A member of the local authority who was potentially a major beneficiary, at least through business, of the authority's decision declared his interest and abstained from the vote. However, he stayed in the council chamber actively lobbying the rest of the members of the local authority to take a decision that would benefit the business he was running. That was not a breach of the law, but it was a profound affront to the spirit of the legislation. If the spirit of the law had been properly observed, the individual would have stayed away from the chamber, rather than abstaining from the decision and lobbying his local authority colleagues during an adjournment of the meeting. The Bill will not change that attitude and set of values, which is a problem in this country that should be dealt with by the political party that helps people like the man in question to get involved in politics.
This legislation will not alter the extraordinary inadequacy of this country's attempts to plan in a holistic way. The Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, knows as well as I do, if not better, that the southern part of Cork city, which is spreading out into County Cork, was developed in an extraordinary way, particularly in the Douglas area. Thousands of houses which have been built feed onto what is essentially a country lane. It does not appear to be within our capacity to recognise that if we are to allow a vast number of houses to be built, we have to ensure that those who live in them can get to where they work, shop and do everything else. We will not bring about change in that regard simply by changing the law until we get a proper sense of holistic planning.
If we are to allow thousands of houses to be built, we need to ensure that schools, shops, roads and public transport infrastructure are put in place. Unlike the Department of Finance, we should not wait until we see what happens. If we do not recognise, on the basis of past experience, that the construction of hundreds and thousands of houses will lead to hundreds and thousands of children living in an area, thereby necessitating the development of new schools, etc., all the legislation in the world will not make a scrap of difference.
I would like to speak about the issue of delays. I have already referred to delays in the construction of roads, but I would like to consider whether similar problems are encountered in the development of our railway infrastructure. Although I have not seen any evidence that the local communities which have objected to road developments have objected to improvements in railway services, there are significant delays in the expansion of our railway system, which should be the focus of our development of transport infrastructure. Why will it take years to reopen the railway line between Navan and Dublin? Why was it announced last October that the completion of the railway lines from Midleton and Blarney to Cork will take place a year later than was originally intended? Such delays do not relate to An Bord Pleanála, but to ineptitude, bad management and underresourcing.
I have often made the point that the Department of Finance is continuing to insist that projects like railway improvements need to be viable. Ireland is probably the only country in the world that is attempting, in accordance with the limited criteria of the Department of Finance, to develop a railway infrastructure that is commercially profitable. Most other countries recognise that the huge advantage of railways is that they bring about spectacular reductions in environmental impact. The consequent decrease in the use of private cars also has the benefit of freeing up traffic. One cannot quantify such benefits in a simple profit and loss account under a regime which deems that every ticket needs to be profitable.
If one approaches the development of infrastructure in such a manner, one will end up with a ridiculous situation like that in Britain following the privatisation of the railways there. The state subsidy in Britain is now bigger than ever, but there is less state control and less organisation and the railway service is fragmented. If we want to develop our railway infrastructure, we should not think it will be hindered by delays in planning.
This country's telecommunications infrastructure is probably its biggest mess. The last time I checked, we were in danger of having four parallel telecommunications infrastructure developments, one of which is owned by Eircom. The privatisation of Eircom has made a great deal of money for a few people while costing the country's citizens a few bob. It has resulted in the transfer of money from the hands of the Irish people and into the hands of people who can best be described as speculative capitalists. The company has suffered from under-investment and delays since it was privatised.
Eircom is touted by international investment analysts as one of the most spectacularly successful companies at dealing with regulators because it has frustrated the intentions of the communications regulators many times. We do not have a proper telecommunications infrastructure because of the inept policy decision to privatise Eircom that was made in the first place and the even more inept follow-up to that, rather than as a result of problems with the planning process.
Such mistakes are found in many areas. I have not even mentioned incineration. It is possible to envisage circumstances in which incineration is the right solution to a problem. One can deal with incineration only in the context of a properly joined-up waste management policy. There is an incinerator in Cork because An Bord Pleanála capitulated to the Government and agreed to its policy, against the advice of its own inspector. The level of ineptitude in the area of waste management defies description. We do not know from where the incinerator in Cork will get its waste. It will not get it locally because all the generators of hazardous waste in the Cork region are already dealing with that waste. I could mention a succession of issues of this nature. There is no need to change the law to deal with them because the problems lie outside the planning process — they lie in funding, in the Government's inability to manage and develop projects efficiently and on time and in the unwillingness to enforce existing legislation.
I will conclude by reiterating the need to retain general responsibility for planning at local level. I agree with Senator Moylan that it would be useful to establish a bank of centralised expertise to advise local planners. Such experts would not take over from the planners, but give them the intellectual, scientific and archaeological skills to match the expertise of developers. This problem is also found in Denmark, where the planning process is enormously decentralised. Some local authorities in that country feel inadequate in dealing with certain issues because not enough expertise is available to them. Much more money is spent on such matters in Denmark. We could do worse than to examine the Danish approach, understand the Danish problems and consider the Danish solutions, which do not involve bypassing democratic participation in decisions on development.