Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill 2006: Report and Final Stages.

I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, to the House.

Before we commence, I remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of the amendment, who may reply to the discussions on the amendment. Each amendment must be seconded on Report Stage.

Amendment No. 1 in the name of Senator Bannon is consequential on amendment No. 2, and amendments Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, and amendment No. 28 are related. Amendments Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, and amendment No. 28 may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 6, between lines 1 and 2, to insert the following:

""the Agency" means the Environmental Protection Agency as established by the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992;".

These amendments would bring greater clarity to the Bill and improve it for the purpose of interpretation. The Minister gave a negative response to these amendments on Committee Stage but perhaps now that he has had time to read them in greater detail he has changed his mind about them. I would appreciate if he could take them on board because they would improve the drafting of the Bill.

I second the amendment.

I am grateful to the Senator for his persistence and charm. Regrettably, my answer will be the same as it was on Committee Stage.

Before I reply to the Senator, however, I wish to speak on a personal note. I recall the former Senator Codd, who was from Wexford. I am aware that Senators have just paid tribute to him, and to former Senator Mannion, and while it may be inappropriate for me to do so, I wish to be associated with those fine tributes. I extend my sympathy to the members of Fine Gael, who have lost two former colleagues.

This group of amendments seeks to revise the description of the actors in the planning process, namely, the Environmental Protection Agency and the prospective applicants, with the consequential deletions. On Committee Stage I sympathised with Senator Bannon's attempts to simplify the language of the Bill as virtually every Bill could do with some simplification. I made it clear, however, that while the language may seem excessively complicated the phrasing used by the Parliamentary Counsel is the best and most appropriate way of expressing our intentions.

None of these amendments would add value and they could reduce the legal certainty of the text. I regret that I am not in a position to accept any of the amendments. We will later discuss another amendment which demonstrates the dangers of accepting textual amendments on the hoof.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 2 to 5, inclusive, not moved.

Amendment No. 27 is consequential on amendment No. 6 in the name of Senator Bannon. Amendments Nos. 6 and 27 will be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 7, to delete lines 39 to 44 and substitute the following:

"(7) In this section ‘appropriate planning authority' means the appropriate planning authority that would have ordinarily dealt with the application referred to in that subsection, prior to the enactment of section 3 of thePlanning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006.".

I commend these amendments containing drafting improvements to the House.

In amendment No. 27, I propose deleting lines 18 to 24 and replacing them with ""appropriate planning authority" has the meaning assigned to it in section 37B(7)." On Committee Stage the Minister promised that he would look at this section and said he might consider it on Report Stage. I would welcome his views after consideration of those amendments, particularly amendment No. 27 because the Minister said there could be some improvement in this section.

I second the amendment.

I regret being negative because I told the Senator that I am disposed to using commonplace language in legislation. The strong advice, however, is that the language used here is the normal phrase to be used in such circumstances and it would be unwise to accept the amendments. With regret I am not in a position to be positive.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 7 to 10, inclusive, and Nos. 33 to 36, inclusive, form a composite proposal and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 9, lines 23 and 24, to delete "of the proposed development".

Most of these eight amendments are technical and would tidy up and clarify the Bill. On Committee Stage, the Minister committed himself to considering some of those amendments and giving a final decision on them today. I look forward to hearing the Minister's view.

I second the amendment.

The words "the proposed development" appear in all eight of these amendments. It appears somewhat pedantic to reference "the proposed development" in each section. The amendments concern a change in style rather than a fundamental change to the text.

In other cases, however, Senator Bannon proposed to include some words to clarify the meaning of some of the text. In these cases he proposes to edit them. In the interests of consistency I will not accept these amendments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 8 to 10, inclusive, not moved.

Amendments Nos. 11, 12 and 53 are technical drafting amendments and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 10, line 4, to delete "from the" and substitute "of".

These are technical amendments. Amendment No. 11 proposes a grammatical improvement. I await the Minister's response to these amendments.

I second the amendment.

Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 propose minor changes relating to the drafting of the text. They do not add value to the text and they may have unforeseen consequences. I do not propose to accept them.

I will comment on Government amendment No. 53 which is a technical correction. It is necessary to ensure that numbering of inserted sections is correct and has no impact on the substance of the Bill. The amendment simply inserts "(1)" into the subsection to correct and tidy up the text.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 12 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 13, 15 to 17, inclusive, and 30 form a composite proposal and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 10, line 39, to delete "for permission".

The Minister promised on Committee Stage that he would give consideration to those amendments on Report Stage. I await his views. These are technical amendments which would improve the Bill and provide greater clarity.

I second the amendment.

These amendments delete the words "for permission" from the phrase "applicant for permission". In this case the phrase is clearer with the words "for permission" in it. I stated previously that I did not believe this achieved the objective Senator Bannon was trying to achieve, which was to make things a little shorter and more concise. There is no added value and some tiny ambiguity is introduced if I were to delete the words "for permission". Although I gave the matter consideration I do not propose to accept the amendments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 10, line 43, after "indicate" to insert "where applicable".

This is a technical amendment which would greatly improve the grammar of the Bill. I ask the Minister to consider accepting it.

I second the amendment.

The amendment proposes to insert the phrase "where applicable" in the paragraph permitting the board to indicate that it considered granting permission subject to the applicant for permission submitting revised drawings, with the addition of the phrase "where applicable". This is unnecessary because the section states that the board has an absolute discretion as to when it can fulfil the function outlined in the section. The provision concerned, therefore, is one of the important changes sought by the board to allow it greater flexibility and powers in handling major applications and will allow the board ensure the right development in the right place. For this reason and because I do not believe the addition of the phrase would add anything to the Bill and as it runs contrary to the earlier editing that Senator Bannon was proposing, I regret I cannot accept the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 15 to 17, inclusive, not moved.

Amendments Nos. 18 to 20, inclusive, 23 and 24 form a composite proposal and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 11, line 52, to delete "or for the purposes of an activity for which".

These are technical amendments which would tidy up and give greater clarity to the Bill. When they were discussed on Committee Stage the Minister stated he would give consideration to them.

I second the amendment.

Amendments Nos. 18, 20, 23 and 24, propose to delete the words "or for the purposes of an activity for which", from section 5 and would reinstate a similar phrase later on. This phrase, "comprising or for the purposes of an activity" is used throughout the Planning and Development Act 2000, the Environmental Protection Act and the Waste Management Act. It is a common phrase which seems to be somewhat cumbersome. I think it is sufficiently broad to ensure that the EPA is consulted where necessary for the board to obtain its views and therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment. There is a particular risk of confusion where different language is used in different sections to express the same idea. Much of the language used in the Bill is based on the existing phraseology in the 2000 Act, as amended by the Protection of the Environment Act 2003.

Senator Bannon suggested on Committee Stage that this language had been used to amend these Acts in the Protection of the Environment Act. I refer the Senator to section 99F, inserted by section 15 of the 2003 Act in which the language used is the same as is used here.

With regard to amendment No. 19, it would simply delete the word, "a", in the phrase, "an integrated pollution control licence or a waste licence" in subsection (5). The phrase is correct as it is and I do not propose to change it as this would be a disimprovement.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 not moved.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 12, line 11, after "subsection (5)", to insert the following:

", and it shall not make such a decision within that period without having either—

(i) considered the observations of the Agency, or

(ii) received notification from the Agency that the Agency does not intend to make a submission".

As I stated on Committee Stage, it is important to maintain democratic participation in vital decision-making affecting the general public. Decisions should be taken in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency which is doing a good job.

I second the amendment.

The board requests the observation in the previous section of the Bill which means it will take them into consideration. It is straightforward from that point of view.

Senator Brady is correct. I explained on Committee Stage that this amendment is unnecessary. The amendment proposes to prevent the board making a decision on an application, where there is a live request to the Environmental Protection Agency to make observations on an application which, "comprises or is for the purposes of" an IPPC or waste-licensable activity. I do not propose to accept the amendment. It should be noted that the board does not make decisions without having sought the views of the EPA where the board considers they are necessary.

The planning and IPPC licensing systems are separate but related processes. There is, however, an interface between them, the principles of which are set down in the Environmental Protection Act 1992, as amended by the 2003 Protection of the Environment Act. The current arrangements enable the planning system and the IPPC's licensing systems to reach their own conclusions on applications and for planning permission to be refused on environmental grounds, but opportunities are taken for each system to acknowledge the other and for the separate consent authorities to consult each other.

The amendment would put the strategic consent process out of step with the arrangements currently in place for dealing with non-strategic planning cases, which are working fine in practice. I am sure such an effect was not the Senator's intention but that would be one of the practical implications of what he proposes.

The proposed change would also introduce a delay into the strategic process which is contrary to what we are trying to achieve in this Bill and contradictory to the Senator's subsequent amendment to reduce the time the board has to make a decision. It would effectively tie the hands of the board in key cases, when in practice we need to ensure the board has the flexibility to make efficient and robust decisions. Senator Bannon in his contribution strongly supported the idea of making robust and timely decisions. He suggested an even more timely period than the 18 weeks provided in the Bill.

There is a contradiction in terms of the effect of the proposed amendment. First, it would have the unforeseen circumstance of rendering the consent process out of step with the arrangements currently in place for non-strategic cases and, ironically, would result in a further tieing of the hands of the board, which is contrary to good amendments put forward by the Senator in other cases. In the interests of ensuring the Senator is consistent, I will not accept the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 22:
In page 12, line 33, after "provision," to insert "the report (and the recommendations, if any, attached to it) submitted by a planning authority in accordance with section 37E(4),".

On Committee Stage in response to an Opposition amendment submitted by Senator McCarthy and supported by Senator Bannon, I said I would consider amending the Bill to specify that the board shall consider the planning authority's report to it and take into account any recommendations by the elected members. It was always the intention that this would be the case.

As I said in my Second Stage contribution, one of the unusual features of this Bill is that we are returning to a situation that has not pertained since 1963 in giving councillors, the elected representatives of the people, a statutory right to have their voice heard.

However, I have decided that the explicit inclusion of the report and recommendations in the list of matters to be considered by the board in making a determination is appropriate and I take this opportunity to do so. It underlines the importance I attach to the views of the authority and, in particular, the views of elected representatives being taken on board as part of the deliberations.

The two main Opposition parties would be strongly supportive of this view. That argument was made by Senators McCarthy and Bannon. I am pleased to propose this amendment in response to the cogent argument made by Senator Bannon and in response to my ethos, which is to give a real role to local authority members to make their expressions and will heard.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 not moved.
Government amendment No. 25:
In page 15, line 7, to delete "to be specified by the Board,".

Throughout my responses on Committee Stage and today, I repeated that the Government must rely on the advice of the Parliamentary Counsel on the correct and accurate expression of our intentions in this legislation. It has been on this basis that I have refused to accept most of the textual amendments put forward. However, I indicated that I had sympathy with this amendment when it was tabled by Senator Bannon and I raised it again with the Parliamentary Counsel, as I promised I would on Committee Stage.

This is a good example of how a seemingly innocuous amendment with a reasonable justification — Senator Bannon made a reasonable case for its inclusion on the last occasion — could create legal difficulty by affecting the overall balance of a studied and carefully worded text. While it initially appeared to have no impact on the meaning of the section, the Parliamentary Counsel has pointed out that it could be read in a different way, meaning that the board could indicate after giving its decision what community facility or service was to be funded, instead of indicating that at the time the decision was given. This would be a perverse interpretation because this is certainly not what Senator Bannon had in mind, nor I when I was supportive of his proposal.

The Parliamentary Counsel suggested a number of amendments to rectify this problem, which would have to follow through in each case the community gain provision occurs and would add substantially to the complexity of the language, something of which I know the Senator would not approve and would not want to impose on the Bill.

The simpler solution appears to be to delete the text in question and return the phrasing to the original, which is most appropriate to our objective and that is what I propose we should do.

The views of the Parliamentary Counsel on the impact of the proposed change were precisely the opposite to the reasonable argument put forward by the Senator. I propose that we delete the words that were added and which I was agreeable to add and to return to the original text.

This is a good example of how the Parliamentary Counsel can prudently come up with, to put it mildly, meanings and that could be construed in a court case or in a challenge to the legislation to be contrary to the effects the Senator and I had hoped to achieve. What I propose is not a sleight on Senator Bannon, as if it were, it would be a sleight on me. I am simply bowing to the well argued case put forward by the Parliamentary Counsel. I hope the House will support this amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 26 and 45 are cognate and they may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 15, to delete lines 11 to 17.

These are technical amendments.

I second the amendment.

I thank Senators Bannon and Cummins. These amendments relate to the new power being given to the board allowing it to attach community gain conditions to a draft permission, a matter on which we had a long discussion earlier. The amendments would delete the subsection (8) that provides for the community gain condition to be proportionate; the subsection states that the financial contribution required to comply with the community gain condition should not be so large as to essentially make it financially unviable for the developer to carry out the development.

I know all Senators support this change to planning law which, while simple, is in some way quite radical. I can appreciate the sentiment which would seek to ensure the absolute maximum for local communities is forthcoming after a planning case has been through the process. However, this clause was inserted on foot of discussions with the Parliamentary Counsel to ensure that the provision, or any condition imposed on it, could not be challenged as unfair. Furthermore, it is perfectly reasonable to ensure that the condition to provide for community gain is not used as a way of refusing permission by the back door, granting permission but making the community gain condition so burdensome as to essentially dissuade the applicant from carrying out the development.

There is another point. While reading through the papers earlier, it struck me that removing the word "conditional" could have two outcomes, namely, that a condition could be disproportionately large or disproportionately small. That would not be the intention of anybody in this House. The idea of having a proportionate community gain condition is wise and prudent in the circumstances. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to accept the amendments. If the Senator thinks through what I have said, particularly my last point, he would realise that all sorts of perverse and completely unforeseeable and undesirable changes could flow if we were to remove the word "conditional".

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 not moved.

I move amendment No. 29:

In page 17, line 26, to delete "18" and substitute "12".

This recommendation is to reduce the time for a decision from 18 to 12 weeks. A 12-week period is sufficient. We discussed this in great detail on Committee Stage and the Minister appeared to be undecided. Finally, while not conceding the issue, he more or less reverted to the 18 weeks. However, during his contribution I felt that he would allow the three-month period. A 12-week period is a long time but an 18-week interval puts considerable pressure on much of the development that is to take place. The Minister referred to my earlier amendment and said it would be contradictory to this. However, I do not believe so. The Minister could reduce the time-lag for a decision. One would complement the other and greater clarity would be brought to the Bill.

I second the amendment.

Some of the projects to be dealt with under this legislation will be among the largest in the history of the State. They will be even bigger into the future. I suggest that the 18-week interval could be found at some stage in the future to be too short and extensions may be sought. It does, at least, leave it open for decisions to be made quicker, if it says "within a period of 18 weeks". In the future, when some of the major projects come on stream, it could be that the time interval will need to be extended.

I said earlier, on Committee Stage, that I very much shared Senator Bannon's ambition that decisions should be made as quickly as possible. The Senator is quite right. We are talking about strategic infrastructure, which is an enormous gain for the community as a whole. It is therefore important we make decisions quickly, certainly more speedily than at present. In my constituency there is a piece of strategic infrastructure that has been tied up in the planning process for 12 and a half years. If I could get it down to 12 and a half months, I would be lucky. However, there are cogent arguments against bringing it right down to 12 weeks. A decision has to be made within 18 weeks, so the board is required to take the full period in which to reach it. The amendment is somewhat unrealistic, however, given the size of the projects we are talking about. Some of them will be of massive scale requiring a high level of quality in terms of the process and decision making involved. In practice, therefore, 18 weeks is the shortest feasible time within which the board can give thorough scrutiny to projects, especially in cases where oral hearings are required. In comparable cases in terms of size currently before the board, namely, local authority cases, the board made decisions in three quarters of them within the 18-week period. I therefore regard 18 weeks as quite ambitious.

As the Senator mentioned the last day, I have agreed to increase the board's staffing by an additional 24 people. That should ensure that the board can deal with ordinary appeals and absorb the new work. However, I think that to reduce the time interval from 18 to 12 weeks would be unwise because it would be overly ambitious. I share the Senator's ambition, nonetheless, that we should make these decisions as quickly as possible — and 18 weeks is probably getting it right.

I tabled this amendment out of frustration. The Minister is probably aware that I come from the BMW region where there is a major underspend of approved funding. A programme of funding was to be spent by 2007 and we are less than half way into the drawdown of these moneys. There are major problems with many of the large infrastructural projects. There are problems with the southern bypass for Longford and tourism development projects in Roscommon. Decisions have not been taken on those despite the public outcry for quick solutions. I have put down the amendment out of frustration because there are unnecessary delays in a great many areas, particularly in the drawdown in BMW areas, which stands at around 46% of the entire budget, and this is ridiculous. Those moneys were to be spent on the poorest areas of the country and the drawdown is very poor; I want that on the record of the House yet again. There is frustration among the general public as regards the lack of infrastructural development in the region. We are told the moneys were provided, but there are problems with planning and with getting projects off the ground.

I fully appreciate the points the Senator is making. I have voiced my feelings at the inappropriate use of the planning process simply to delay projects. He mentioned the southern bypass at Longford. As the Senator knows, I visited the town recently, and the frustration there is very real. One can discern there is a major impact on the quality of life on coming though the town, where one has to make a right and a left turn. The heavy traffic going through Longford town makes life impossible. Sadly, the Senator is quite right in his assertion that there are cases up and down the country where people are using the planning process — which is very open and democratic — as a means of simply delaying, very unreasonably, infrastructure that delivers benefits. In the BMW region, in particular, such infrastructure is necessary. The whole ethos of the Bill is about getting rid of such obstacles and achieving a better balance.

Notwithstanding that, I do not believe a 12-week period gives sufficient time. I realise the Senator has tactically tabled the amendment as a marker and I compliment him on that. If planning decisions could be taken within the 18-week period, we should all be very happy. It does not happen at the moment, but hopefully when the Bill goes through, it will. If we can get something through in a stipulated period, it will make life easier for those of us who wish to see this country with the type of infrastructure it needs in all areas, particularly in the BMW region. While I sympathise with the Senator's cause, I do not believe it is practical to try to tie matters down to 12 weeks. The 18-week interval is ambitious and we should keep it at that. I cannot accept the amendment, so I hope the Senator is not pressing it.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 30 not moved.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 18, line 17, after "of" to insert "a specified application or to".

Again, this is a technical amendment. I support the removal of the recommendation to insert "a specified application or to", in page 18, line 17, after "of". This would improve the Bill for interpretation purposes.

I second the amendment.

We discussed this matter at some length on Committee Stage and it is a very interesting proposition. However, it is not one I have sympathy with for the simple reason that it would leave the particular Minister of the day open to all types of challenges as regards abuse of power etc. The amendment proposes to empower the Minister to give direction to the board to prioritise a particular application. As I explained on Committee Stage, the text as it stands allows the Minister to give directions to the board to prioritise a class or certain classes of infrastructure that may be of particular importance at a given time. However, I thought I was clear in asserting that I could not accept this amendment as it would be inappropriate for a Minister of the day to have the specific power to fast-track a particular application, which is what is being proposed. As Minister, I do not wish to have this additional power.

The existing powers to direct the board to expedite certain broad types of case are sufficient. If Ministers were to intervene in the manner the Senator is proposing, in individual planning applications, this would raise the possibility of charges of political interference. It might well be political interference for a positive reason, but it is far better that we avoid giving the Minister of the day power to make a direction in the form suggested in the amendment as regards individual cases. It is preferable that the Bill should give the Minister power to prioritise a certain class or classes and leave it at that. I ask Senator Bannon to withdraw the amendment. I do not think it would be wise to push it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 32 is a Government amendment. Amendments Nos. 32 and 37 to 44, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 32:
In page 18, line 29, to delete "statutory undertaker" and substitute "person (hereafter referred to in this section as the ‘undertaker')".

I mentioned on Committee Stage that further consideration would need to be given to the electricity transmission consent procedures which are set out in sections 182A and 182B to ensure they would cover all of the infrastructural projects we have envisaged. At the request of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, we have decided to make a number of clarifying amendments to section 182A to ensure it encompasses the proposed east-west interconnector between Britain and Ireland.

The key issues are as follows. First, ensuring that the interconnector, which may not be owned by the ESB, can still come within the terms of the Bill, although in general the electricity transmission system is by definition owned by the ESB, there is an exception in the case of an electricity interconnector. Under new provisions to be enacted in the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006, an interconnector may be constructed, operated or owned by a person other than the ESB. Amendment No. 44 makes a parallel amendment to our legislation.

Second, we want to change the words "statutory undertaker" in the sections, to "undertaker". This simple change is again intended to ensure that any private company proposing to construct the interconnector comes within the terms of this Bill.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 33 to 36, inclusive, not moved.

Amendment No. 37 is a Government amendment. It has already been discussed with amendment No. 32.

Government amendment No. 37:
In page 20, line 9, to delete "a statutory undertaker" and substitute "an undertaker".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 38 is a Government amendment. It has already been discussed with amendment No. 32.

Government amendment No. 38:
In page 20, line 40, to delete "a statutory undertaker" and substitute "an undertaker".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 39 is a Government amendment. It has already been discussed with amendment No. 32.

Government amendment No. 39:
In page 21, line 9, to delete "statutory".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 40 is a Government amendment. It has already been discussed with amendment No. 32.

Government amendment No. 40:
In page 21, line 13, to delete "statutory".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 41 is a Government amendment. It has already been discussed with amendment No. 32.

Government amendment No. 41:
In page 21, line 15, to delete "a statutory undertaker" and substitute "an undertaker".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 42 is a Government amendment. It has already been discussed with amendment No. 32.

Government amendment No. 42:
In page 21, line 24, to delete "statutory".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 42 is a Government amendment. It has already been discussed with amendment No. 32.

Government amendment No. 43:
In page 22, lines 16 and 17, to delete "statutory".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 43 is a Government amendment. It has already been discussed with amendment No. 32.

Government amendment No. 43:
In page 22, lines 16 and 17, to delete "statutory".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 44 is a Government amendment. It has already been discussed with amendment No. 32.

Government amendment No. 44:
In page 22, line 20, after "1999" to insert "but, for the purposes of this section, the foregoing expression, in relation to electricity, shall also be construed as meaning the transport of electricity by means of an interconnector, whether ownership of the interconnector will be vested in the undertaker concerned or not".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 45 not moved.

I move amendment No. 46:

In page 33, line 38, to delete "and" and substitute "or".

This is a technical amendment which I consider would improve the drafting of the Bill. Perhaps the Minister will take it on board.

I second the amendment.

In a sense, events have caught up with us. We have actually deleted the relevant section of the text to which the amendment applies. Obviously I cannot accept an amendment to deleted text. I am not being unkind. Disposed as I may have been to accept it, the relevant text no longer forms part of the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 47 is in the name of Senator Bannon. Amendments Nos. 48 to 50, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 47:

In page 34, line 25, to delete "50" and substitute "10".

This amendment relates to the size of windfarms. When I discussed this matter in detail on Committee Stage last week the Minister indicated he would give some consideration to a reduction in the size of the windfarm. Perhaps he will give an update on his position.

Amendment No. 48 relates to harbour areas. I propose to delete 20 hectares and substitute this with ten hectares. As I pointed out on Committee Stage, the need arises on the River Shannon — one of our finest waterways — to have small harbours for berthing purposes. The same is true of other areas and this should be accommodated in order to improve the tourism industry. An area of 20 hectares is large and this should be reduced to ten hectares. The Minister previously indicated he would consider a reduction in the size.

I also seek a reduction in the number of wind turbines from 50 to ten because many small windfarm enterprises are being developed, especially in the Cavan and midlands area. We should not put obstacles in place for these people but try to improve the planning system where possible to accommodate a clean energy supply.

I second the amendment.

I appreciate the Senator's arguments on the issue of thresholds but I think it is unwise at the outset of a new consent process to lower the thresholds down to the extent he proposed. For example, to take the thresholds for windfarms down from 50 to ten would cause difficulties.

I have given consideration to these amendments but on reflection I must conclude that the proposed thresholds are wise and prudent. We do not wish the new consent process to be overwhelmed with relatively small-scale projects, even though, as the Senator has indicated, they may be of importance locally. They should still be dealt with through the planning process.

The ElA thresholds used in the text as the general threshold appear to be the most appropriate to ensure the process is used exclusively for large-scale strategic infrastructure development. If we go below that level we will leave ourselves open to all sorts of ambiguity. However, once the system has been in operation for some time, we could well reflect on the experience and see if it is necessary to review the thresholds.

I regret I cannot accept the amendments, although I did give them a great deal of consideration because the arguments put forward by Senator Bannon were cogent. I hope he will agree, notwithstanding the good intentions of his amendments, that accepting them could result in overloading the system at an early stage, in addition to causing a great deal of unnecessary controversy around what is intended to deal with bottlenecks in strategic infrastructure.

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

I move amendment No. 48:

In page 35, line 11, to delete "20" and substitute "10".

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 49:

In page 36, line 29, to delete "30" and substitute "15".

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 50:

In page 36, line 31, to delete "10" and substitute "5".

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 51, 52, 58 and 59 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 51:
In page 44, to delete lines 4 to 7 and substitute "be taken to the Supreme Court.".

In responding to two Opposition amendments on Committee Stage, I agreed to give consideration, in consultation with the Parliamentary Counsel, to the clarification of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and its ability to make orders when it determines a point of law arising from a judicial review. I have taken the comments made on board and hope Senators will support this amendment, which will have the same effect as the proposed amendment, albeit in a slightly different format. I am conceding the principle but amending the wording on the advice of the Parliamentary Counsel.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 52:
In page 44, to delete lines 27 to 31 and substitute the following:
"(10) On an appeal from a determination of the Court in respect of an application referred to in subsection (9), the Supreme Court shall—
(a) have jurisdiction to determine only the point of law certified by the Court under subsection (6) (and to make only such order in the proceedings as follows from such determination), and
(b) in determining the appeal, act as expeditiously as possible consistent with the administration of justice.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 53:
In page 67, line 19, to delete "Where, as a result of the transfer of functions under section" and substitute "(1) Where, as a result of the transfer of functions under section".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 54 and 55 are related and both may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 54:
In page 78, lines 31 and 32, to delete "Environment and Local Government" and substitute "Environment, Heritage and Local Government".

My amendment is in response to a proposal made by Senator Bannon. I did not accept his amendment on Committee Stage on the basis that the functions in question are, rightly, a matter for the board. It would not be appropriate, therefore, to include a reference to both the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the board. However, on further consideration, I have taken on board the Senator's point about the word "Heritage". I have, therefore, inserted the word, as he suggested on Committee Stage.

The House will be safe.

I am pleased the Minister has taken on board my amendment because the word "Heritage" had been omitted in the Minister's title. Several departmental applications forms, which do not include the word "Heritage", are still in circulation. Our heritage is an important part of the environment and the Minister is doing a great deal in this area. It should, therefore, receive due recognition. The amendment was included to update references to the Minister's title and to give acknowledgement and recognition to his portfolio.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 55 is being discussed with amendment No. 54. Is the Minister accepting it?

The title is being corrected.

The amendment updates the reference to the Minister.

I move amendment No. 55:

In page 78, line 33, after "as" to insert the following "references to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and".

I second the amendment.

Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.

I am sorry, I am being overly generous.

The amendment is agreed.

Amendment No. 54 is being made instead of amendment No. 55.

Amendment No. 55 updates the reference to the Minister's title.

I am accepting in amendment No. 54 what the Minister intended in amendment No. 55. It is a moral victory for the Senator.

Amendments Nos. 54 and 55 are, therefore, agreed to.

No. Amendment No. 54 is being made instead of amendment No. 55.

Amendment No. 55 was not objected to and it was agreed by the House.

My amendment updates the reference and inserts the word "Heritage".

There was no objection to amendment No. 55.

On Committee Stage, I stated the reference in Senator Bannon's amendment to both the Minister and the board was inappropriate. I, therefore, tabled amendment No. 54. Senator Bannon proposes the insertion of the word "Heritage" in page 78, line 33, whereas the appropriate change should be made in page 78, lines 31 and 32. It is more appropriate to make the amendment in these lines.

The record of the House will show that amendments Nos. 54 and 55 have been agreed to. Amendment No. 55 can be deleted in the Dáil.

The amendment provides for the updating of the Minister's title.

The record of the House will show there was no objection.

I will make the change in the Dáil.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 56 is consequential on amendment No. 57 and both may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 56:

In page 79, line 50, after "be," to insert "either".

This is a technical amendment. The Minister indicated on Committee Stage he would take it on board for Report Stage. Amendment No. 57 is also technical. The Minister promised to examine it before Report Stage and he indicated that he would accept it and take it on board.

I second the amendment.

The amendments propose that the eight-week period for making an application for leave to apply for a judicial review should begin on the date of the making of the railway order or the date on which a copy of the relevant extracts from the railway order and the plan referred to therein are served on every, if any, occupier and every, if any, owner of the land. I do not propose to accept the amendments. The board must publicise the making of a railway order as early as possible following the decision and that will facilitate extensive notification of the making of the order. As a consequence, I consider it inappropriate that the eight-week period should begin on the date of the making of the order. It is also critical that any challenges should be taken as quickly as possible. I cannot extend the time limit potentially indefinitely and that would be an unforeseen consequence of the Senator's proposals. His amendments could also introduce a degree of confusion into the timeframe for the start of a legal challenge. We do not want to create another opportunity for legal challenges. For those reasons, I cannot accept these amendments, but I did consider the points made by the Senator.

We had a debate on clarity on Committee Stage. I felt that the eight week timeframe should not start until the notice is served. The date would be clearly marked on the notice. The Minister said that he would look into it and get back to me when he discussed it with his officials. I still believe that the eight week period should not start until the notice is served.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 57 not moved.
Government amendment No. 58:
In page 81, to delete lines 40 to 43 and substitute "appeal should be taken to the Supreme Court.".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 59:
In page 82, to delete lines 8 to 12 and substitute the following:
"(11) On an appeal from a determination of the Court in respect of an application referred to in subsection (10), the Supreme Court shall—
(a) have jurisdiction to determine only the point of law certified by the Court under subsection (7) (and to make only such order in the proceedings as follows from such determination), and
(b) in determining the appeal, act as expeditiously as possible consistent with the administration of justice.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

We all agree that Ireland needs a new and improved infrastructure across a number of areas, for reasons we have all outlined in this House. We need to tackle bottlenecks in our economy, to enhance our effectiveness and to create infrastructure where it is needed.

I thank Senator Bannon in particular for his contributions, but I thank all Members who have contributed throughout this lengthy debate. We have taken very important steps in this Bill. The Government is committed to the continued existence and extension of an efficient and fully democratic participative planning process. The Bill, as it now stands, reflects that commitment. It is a crucial development in our delivery of modern, quality infrastructure, but it does so in a way that is balanced as it will involve the local authorities.

I thank the Minister and other Members who contributed to the process. I also thank the departmental staff for enduring this long and often tedious debate.

There is much to be welcomed in the Bill. It will fast-track much development which is needed for the improvement of the country's infrastructure. The crucial projects are those related to transport, the development of our harbours, of the electricity network and the extension of the gas pipeline, including the development of spurs to the towns and villages that have not been connected. Natural gas is a clean form of energy and is important to the development of our towns and villages, especially in the midlands. We are starved of different types of energy and we must rely on electricity. Other forms of energy will make us more competitive. Wind energy is provided for in the Bill. I had a number of amendments to that particular section, but unfortunately they were not accepted. However, we will revisit this Bill in three years. The Government is encouraging people to develop off-farm enterprises and many farmers will chose to provide other forms of energy.

We support this Bill and we wish it a speedy passage through the Oireachtas. I thank the Minister for taking on board many amendments from this side of the House. This will improve the Act when it becomes law. However, much needs to be done outside the Houses. There also needs to be judicial reforms and we will need greater resources. The Government must also change its attitude in trying to bring about balanced regional development. I highlighted the shortfall in spending in the BMW region and this needs to be examined quickly. There are several major tourist developments in the midlands and in the west of Ireland, but they have been held up for quite a while by planning problems. This Bill will allow these projects to be fast-tracked and that is very welcome. We all want to see Ireland develop and become a proud part of Europe from a tourism, agricultural and industrial perspective.

I thank the Minister and his officials and commend them on the progressive stance taken on this Bill. This is one of the most important Bills for the future of the country as we are economically in the position to plan ahead for these developments. I look forward to discussing aspects of this Bill with Senator Bannon.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 4.50 p.m. and resumed at 5.30 p.m.