I will do my best to comment on the points raised by Senators in the four or five minutes remaining. To take the last point first, the proposals for the forest park are private and would not be affected by this Bill in any way. If Senator Leyden or any other Senator believes that any official in my Department has behaved improperly, there are ways other that the debate on this Bill to raise their concerns.
The National Competitiveness Council in its recent annual report pointed out that, in terms of investment and infrastructure, Ireland is now ranked 13th out of 16 developed countries. That is a position that we, as a progressive, modern, forward-looking economy cannot tolerate. Many Senators on both sides of the House spoke thoughtfully on the Bill and I mention in particular the contribution by Senator Quinn. He acknowledged the difficult decisions that have to be made and I agree with him on that. Getting the balance right, as mentioned by Senator Bradford, is crucial. I agree with Senators Quinn and Bradford that getting the balance right is exactly what this Bill is about.
This legislation is putting the public interest to the fore and all too frequently that is left out debates. Senators Coghlan, Maurice Hayes, Phelan and Browne expressed concerns about the resources available to An Bord Pleanála. I assure the House I have been in discussions with the board on the issue of resources. Significant additional resources have been allocated for 2006 and the board is content with the resources at its disposal. Senator Browne also mentioned the issue of resources for individual local planning authorities. The important point is that this Bill will shift onerous, large-scale projects into the remit of An Bord Pleanála, which will come as a relief to the local authorities.
Senator Maurice Hayes welcomed the development of a central competence within the board. That is why I chose to have the strategic focus within the board, rather than setting up a separate body. Senator Norris was not confident of the board's competence, which is a little unfair. There is significant competence within the board, which has been amply demonstrated and it is not right to adopt anà la carte attitude to An Bord Pleanála, praising it when it agrees with our particular prejudices and then criticising it when it does not.
Senator Ryan made an interesting point with regard to the tremendous improvement in the handling of road development, about which he is correct. That has come about as a result of Government decisions in 2000 to amend the process. This Bill simply extends that improved system and its economic and social benefits to other strategic infrastructural projects. If Senator Ryan welcomes the improvement for roads, I trust he will also welcome the improvement for other infrastructural areas.
Senator McCarthy demonstrated an imperfect understanding of the Bill and its intent. He suggested, as did others, that the Bill removes the local democratic element from the planning system but nothing could be further from the truth. Since 1963 planning rules have specifically excluded elected councillors from making interventions in individual planning cases. Planning decisions are an Executive function. This is the first legislation in 43 years to write the councillors back into the process.
A number of Senators made reference to the Poolbeg incinerator and asked why it will not come under the remit of the Bill. The answer to that is simple. Any planning application which is under way when the Bill comes into operation will not be covered. The Bill will not have retrospective application. Broadband was mentioned by Senators Paddy Burke and McCarthy but it is not affected by the Bill in any way.
A number of Senators raised the issue of balanced regional development and referred to rail and other projects. I agree that this Bill will be critical in developing balanced regional infrastructure. The problem we have had to date is that the roll-out of the infrastructure can take an inordinate amount of time. In that context, a number of Senators raised the case of the Glen of the Downs road project, which is a classic example. Extraordinary claims were made in that case. People who are now in politics in this country have never apologised for misleading the public. People were saying that every tree in the glen would be cut down and there was a genuine belief that this would happen. The project was held up for the best part of two years, tens of millions of euro were added to the cost of the project and who paid? The taxpayer and the people who were stuck in their cars paid. Senator Browne made that point and one could apply it to a number of other areas.
A number of Senators expressed concern about sustainable rural housing guidelines and their application. That is obviously not dealt with by this Bill but I wish to make a point which touches on courtesy and the way local authorities operate. I am keeping the implementation of the rural planning guidelines under close observation. They are not something that can be applied as adesideratum by planning officials. They apply and must be applied uniformly across the country. I will keep a close eye on this matter and if Members know of individual cases where they believe the guidelines are being breached, I would be delighted to hear from them.
I have also published draft development management guidelines. These will deal with issues such as good manners and management, consistency of approach, and good communications, all of which we expect from the public service.
On the issue of the value of a substratum, section 33 will value land 10 m or more below the surface of that land at nil. It is a progressive and positive provision which works, as several Senators observed, in Spain and elsewhere. It should work well in Ireland.
Senator Finucane wrongly suggested that it is generally impossible to get planning permission for major projects. Exaggerating the problem is not the best way to finding a solution for it. Some 83% of planning applications are granted and up to 60% are decided by eight weeks.
Although much good work has been done in the planning process, I am the first to accept there is room for improvement. Legislation alone will not fulfil our demands for infrastructural development. However, without a strong and certain framework for processing modern infrastructural applications, certainty in projects will not be assured. The Bill is part of an overall jigsaw that incorporates funding and structural innovations.
Senators referred to the role of the courts in the planning process. I cannot legislate for the courts as they set their arrangements. It is recognised that large improvements have occurred in the High Court's process for dealing with planning matters, particularly with the advent of the Commercial Court. The courts have shown themselves to be innovative in this area. I am certain that if we, as legislators, do our business, the Judiciary will do its.
I thank Members for their contributions. In the short time that was available, I could not, as I like to, deal with each individual contribution. We can deal with those various matters in more detail on Committee Stage.