Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009: Committee Stage.

SECTION 1.
Government amendment No. 1:
In page 5, subsection (2), line 15, to delete "The Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2007" and substitute "The Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2009".

This is a technical amendment to update the collective citation of the Planning Acts to read "The Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2009". Subsequent to the publication of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009 on 3 June, the Harbours (Amendment) Act was enacted in July 2009. Section 21(3) of the Harbours (Amendment) Act 2009 amended the collective citation of the Planning Acts to read "The Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2009". Accordingly section 1(2) of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009 is being amended to reflect the subsequent enactment of the Harbours (Amendment) Act 2009.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 1, as amended, agreed to.
Section 2 agreed to.
SECTION 3.

Amendments Nos. 2, 6 and 7 are related. Amendment No. 5 is alternate to amendment No. 6. Amendments Nos. 2 and 5 to 7, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 6, to delete lines 18 to 20.

On Second Stage, I predicted that the Bill would be heavily amended as it went through subsequent Stages. I felt the Bill was very incomplete as has been borne out by the number of Government and Opposition amendments.

Regarding amendments Nos. 2 and 5 to 7, inclusive, Fine Gael has a fundamental difficulty with everything being defined on the basis of a core strategy that is then referenced in development objectives as being consistent with the national spatial strategy and the regional planning guidelines. We acknowledge that improvements are needed in the planning and development area and these need to be made through legislation. The continued references to core strategy and requiring that development plans must comply with the national spatial strategy and the regional planning guidelines appear to be an attempt by the Minister to manage planning from the top down, rather than from the bottom up, which was the case heretofore when local authority members elected by their communities had a defining say on the strengths and weaknesses of their particular local development plan. Those strengths and weaknesses can be clearly outlined in the development plan, which is compiled through a very thorough process of public consultation with reference to the elected members and also incorporates recommendations and advice from the professional staff of the planning sections, which in principle should give a good bottom-up approach to planning.

Unfortunately there has been a lack of co-ordination through various development plans and strategies. It is through this lack of co-ordination that we see the difficulties with planning. We have seen development take place without transport links, or school or community facilities. We would have liked a more co-ordinated approach to that. I accept a genuine attempt is being made here. However, our specific difficulty is how the national spatial strategy is formulated and adopted. Fine Gael agrees we need a national spatial strategy or a national plan. However, the Bill gives it a new status given that all development plans are required to comply with it.

I was provided with a very good document from the Houses of the Oireachtas Library and research service, which defines the national spatial strategy as follows:

The National Spatial Strategy 2002-2020 is the national strategic planning framework aimed at achieving a better balance of social, economic and physical development across Ireland, supported by more effective and integrated planning (Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, 2007). The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is responsible for leading implementation of the NSS. The commitment to prepare the Strategy was included in the National Development Plan 2000-2006.

We would agree with much of that and we agree with the implementation of the national spatial strategy. However, as far as I am aware it has never been approved by the Oireachtas. In other words, the legislation we are discussing requires all development plans to comply in law with a document that has not received the approval of the Oireachtas. Moreover, in the formulation of that document, there has been no consultation with the public similar to that which occurs in respect of local authority development plans. In any democracy the public should have a strong say in how plans relevant to the national economy and national development are formulated. The national spatial strategy was never subject to the thorough degree of public consultation which takes place in respect of regional development plans, yet under this legislation, all development plans are to be based on the national spatial strategy. While the current strategy includes many positive aspects, there is nothing in the Bill to prevent a future Minister from changing that strategy at a whim, thus affording him or her direct power to influence all development plans arising from it. That is why we are proposing amendments to delete many of the references to the national spatial strategy and the regional development objectives.

The Bill will give new and much enhanced powers to regional authorities. Heretofore, they prepared regional development plans which offered guidance to local authorities on how a region should develop in a proper and sustainable manner. The reality is that every region has its unique strengths and weaknesses and one size does not fit all. My own region, the south east, is no different. For example, one of the weaknesses is that it is the only region in the State without a university, but we also enjoy many advantages. These provisions suggest the Minister is seeking, through the national spatial strategy and the regional authorities' plans, to micro-manage all development plans throughout the State. That is not the way to go. I am interested in the Minister of State's views on this issue, as well as those of other Members.

Amendment No. 2 proposes the deletion of the definition of "core strategy". However, the evidence-based core strategy is a cornerstone of these provisions and ensures a sound development plan, key to ensuring good planning at local level and a central plank of zoning reform. Decisions taken at the development plan stage affect all other planning decisions. Therefore, the amendment is not acceptable.

The core strategy and the development plans will provide relevant information on how the plans and the housing strategy are consistent with regional planning guidelines and the national spatial strategy. The location, quantum and phasing of proposed developments must be shown, as well as projected population growth, details of transport plans and retail development, and proposals for developments in rural areas. This more strategic approach to zoning will allow development to take place at the right time and in the right place and will allow the State to plan for the provision of infrastructure with much greater certainty. It will facilitate an evidence-based rationale for future development in terms of what needs to be done and where and why it should be done. All of this is key to the economic renewal agenda.

Government amendment No. 5 proposes the insertion of new subsections (1A), (1B) and (1C). Subsections (1A) and (1B) are proposed to obligate planning authorities to vary development plans not later than one year after making regional planning guidelines to provide for a core strategy within existing development plans. Subsection (1C) provides that where a planning authority is already commencing preparations for a new development, namely, four years after making the existing plan, the requirement to prepare a variation is not necessary and the core strategy can be incorporated as part of the preparation of the new plan.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 propose the deletion of provisions regarding the core strategy. On the basis of our commitment to these provisions, the amendments are not acceptable.

As I said, it is unacceptable that statutory development plans and regional guidelines should have to be compliant with what are non-statutory documents such as the national development plan and the national spatial strategy. These documents are prepared without public consultation or democratic approval and can be amended at the whim of the Minister. That is my fundamental difficulty with the legislation. We acknowledge that the current national spatial strategy includes a good number of positive and sustainable planning directions, but its contents can be changed by the Minister or his successors. That is why we are opposed to this part of the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 3 and 65 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 3:
In page 6, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:
""flood risk assessment" means a study to assess the risk of flooding that may result from matters including current and projected future—
(a) use of land,
(b) development of land,
(c) management of flood risk, and
(d) changes in climate;”.

Amendment No. 3 provides for a definition of "flood risk assessment". Put simply, it is a study to assess and, if appropriate, manage a flood risk taking into account relevant issues such as current and potential future land use and development, and possible changes in climate. The First Schedule to the principal Act is to be amended to provide for the inclusion in the development plans of an objective in respect of the carrying out of a flood risk assessment as part of the control and regulation of development in areas at risk of flooding. This is to ensure that, where appropriate, a flood risk assessment is fully integrated into the planning process.

To facilitate the provision of information for stakeholders on these new mechanisms for incorporating a flood risk assessment into the planning process, the Department, in association with the Office of Public Works, will, following a comprehensive public consultation process, publish guidelines for planning authorities on the planning system and the flood risk assessment, under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, on 30 November. These guidelines will explain in detail how to assess and manage flood risk at all stages of the planning process. They will include a commitment to a review of the exempt development provisions in the planning and development regulations which currently allow for paving of residential gardens to provide off-street car parking or hard landscaping. This review will be conducted as part of an overall review of the regulations to follow enactment of the Bill. The review will consider ways of ensuring future exemptions only apply where such developments comply with sustainable drainage principles. It should be noted that the Bill allows for the provision of an additional four-week period for the assessment of planning applications, accompanied by a flood risk assessment.

I welcome the proposal to require local authorities to carry out flood risk assessments. We are all aware of cases where conflicts have arisen in regard to development plans where, for example, development has been allowed in areas where significant Exchequer investment has been required to guard against flooding. This provision will oblige local authorities to focus on flood risk assessments in areas particularly vulnerable to flooding. It is a welcome inclusion in planning legislation which should have been in place long before now.

It is important to note that there are people who have invested large sums of money in developing land. The investment predates the legislation and this particular division but I welcome this important development. Some people will not like the amendment because they have invested a great deal of money and they will find they have a less valuable resource. At the same time, the flooding risk assessment in an important provision for planning and I support it in that context.

I join others in welcoming this provision. It is unfortunate that people get caught at different stages when legislation is introduced but a wider public interest is involved, which Senator Coffey outlined eloquently. I support the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 4, 8 and 14 are related and may be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 4:
In page 6, line 31, to delete ""urban settlement hierarchy"" and substitute ""settlement hierarchy"".

Amendments Nos. 4 and 8 propose to delete the word "urban" to clarify the settlement hierarchy requirement for the same are all encompassing to include all levels of settlement in rural areas. Amendment No. 14 is a consequential amendment to the same reference.

I welcome this amendment, which gives us an insight into the thinking behind the legislation. The draft wording used was "urban settlement hierarchy". I raised a concern on Second Stage that the planning law was moving swiftly towards urbanisation. The mindset and the language of the Bill, as drafted, clearly outlines that. The reference was to "urban settlement hierarchy" but somebody must have spoken to the Minister of State and his officials in the meantime to make them realise two thirds of the country is rural. Many people live in rural areas and they should be acknowledged in a settlement hierarchy and, therefore, I welcome the amendments to remove the reference to "urban". It is important to do so. Urbanisation was one of my basic concerns and the failure to take into account the settlement needs of those who were born and bred in the countryside. There are many thousands of people like that.

I support and welcome the amendment as someone who was born and bred in the countryside. I arguedad nauseam as a member of Westmeath County Council for due recognition to be given to sustaining rural developments and communities. Such communities are driven by people and one of the greatest barometers of the declining population in many parts of Ireland is where a number of parishes have to come together to field a football or hurling team. Where a number of houses are clustered in a rural area, help should be given to local authorities to confer village status on them because, at the end of the day, there has been a great decline in the number of rural shops, which are an integral part of rural infrastructure together with the Garda station, the school, the church and the post office. The Minister should act to sustain rural communities. The amendment is a step in the right direction and I commend the Minister of State for that.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 3, as amended, agreed to.
Section 4 agreed to.
SECTION 5.
Government amendment No. 5:
In page 7, to delete lines 8 to 15 and substitute the following:
"(a) by the insertion of the following subsections after subsection (1):
"(1A) The written statement referred to in subsection (1) shall include a core strategy which shows that the development objectives in the development plan are consistent, as far as practicable, with national and regional development objectives set out in the National Spatial Strategy and regional planning guidelines.
(1B) A planning authority shall prepare a core strategy, other than where subsection (1C) applies, as soon as practicable and in any event not later than a period of one year after the making of regional planning guidelines under Chapter III which affect the area of the development plan, and shall accordingly vary the development plan under section 13 to include the core strategy.
(1C) Where a period of more than 4 years has expired since the making of the development plan when regional planning guidelines under Chapter III which affect the area of the development plan are made, the planning authority shall prepare a core strategy for inclusion in the new development plan under sections 11 and 12.".".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 6 not moved.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 7, lines 33 to 47, page 8 and in page 9, lines 1 to 38, to delete paragraph (c).

Amendment put.
Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."
The Committee divided: Tá, 28; Níl, 11.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Alex.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Twomey, Liam.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paudie Coffey and Maurice Cummins.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Government amendment No. 8:
In page 8, lines 19 and 20, to delete "set out an urban settlement hierarchy" and substitute "set out a settlement hierarchy".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 9 to 13, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 9:
In page 8, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following:
"(vi) aggregate projected population, other than population referred to in subparagraph (v), in—
(l) villages and smaller towns with a population of under 1,500 persons, and
(ll) open countryside outside of villages and towns,".

Amendment No. 9 extends the requirement of the settlement hierarchy to provide details of aggregate projected population growth of villages and small towns with a population of under 1,500 persons and open countryside outside of villages and towns. These figures would be derived by each city and county council from within the regional planning guideline population targets. Amendments Nos. 10 to 12, inclusive, provide for the renumbering of these in light of the insertion arising from the amendment No. 9. Amendment No. 12 provides for the deletion of the words "rural areas". Amendment No. 13 alters the consequential reference in light of a new paragraph inserted to take account of the aggregate population growth of the remaining areas referred to above.

As I mentioned on Second Stage, development plans will be required by law to refer to projected population statistics. It is fundamental that whatever projected population statistics are used are credible. I am sure the Central Statistics Office and other such organisations will be referred to. As we have seen with the compilation of the electoral register, many of the statistics we use are out of kilter with the reality and official records do not reflect the true population. However, we will require development plans to refer to those statistics. It is fundamental that statistics are credible and that local authorities which use them are sure they are accurate. If they are not and if we draft development plans based on projections which are not accurate, those plans will not be accurate.

This will have a detrimental effect on smaller towns which want to develop. There is a hierarchy of towns. I come from a county with two hub towns — Castlebar and Ballina. Those towns will have to grow to the projected populations to the detriment of smaller towns. Unless the hub town reaches the projected population, nothing will happen to the smaller ones in regard to water and sewerage schemes. Some of the smaller towns require their treatment plants to be upgraded or require pipelines and treatment plants. This measure will be to the detriment of less populated areas.

As Senator Coffey said, the CSO figures are static and, in some cases, they have fallen. We should look seriously at this measure as it will affect development. Rural counties such as County Mayo need smaller towns to develop if we want to build infrastructure for buses and a proper bus service between smaller towns and the larger hubs. We need a certain population in smaller towns to enable them to grow and make services such as shops viable. It is fine to let the centres grow but it should not be at the expense of the smaller towns. As Senator Coffey said, CSO figures are down.

The councils will decide on the figures. They will not take figures willy-nilly from anywhere, including the CSO. It is a matter for the councils whether they have a local area plan. There is no attempt in the legislation to impose area plans on them. This is an opportunity for councils to bring in area plans but there is no legal requirement obliging them to do so.

I accept the Minister of State's point that there is no legal requirement on the councils but that could be a problem. I see no reason smaller towns and villages should not be legally required to have area plans in the same way as larger ones. Every town and village should have the opportunity to grow or exploit its potential to grow. A legal requirement on a town or village to provide an area plan would help that process.

I and many other people are aware of instances where councillors have stated that their town or village has been ignored in a county development plan. That could be because they do not have the number of elected representatives other towns or areas have. For that reason, a town or village might believe it is being left behind. Officials can decide and recommend to members of the council what towns or villages have a local area plan but when there is no legal requirement, some towns or villages could be neglected or ignored because of their size, social history, etc. We make this point to safeguard against that.

No matter how small a town or village, it should be entitled to have a development plan and not to be excluded. As I said previously, every town, community and individual should have aspirations to develop and grow. It is an aspiration every village community or individual should have. We should encourage that at all times, including in legislation. I do not see why smaller towns and villages should be excluded.

If any town, small or large, was precluded from having a town plan, I would raise my eyebrows but I understand that is not the case and they can have a town plan or an area plan. I am reasonably satisfied this measure will not stultify the progression of towns and villages. If I thought otherwise, I would say so.

There is a hierarchy of towns. The gateways and hubs must grow to a certain level of population, as specified in the national spatial strategy. As Senator Coffey said, the CSO figures are static. Nothing can happen to the smaller towns until the hubs and gateways grow to the projected populations, as specified in the national spatial strategy. There will be no activities in the smaller towns. It will be a waste of time putting any plan in place in those smaller towns until the protected population is achieved in those hubs and the gateways. This is a farce.

There is no requirement on any local authority, its members or its executive to bring in an area plan or a local plan up to a population base of 5,000. We all know that in almost every county, councillors and the officials have moved in regard to those small villages. Villages with populations of 200 or 300 have area plans. There is still that entitlement. They will have the same opportunity to do this next year as they had last year. There is no change in that respect.

The other point worth noting is that what we are proposing in respect of gateway and hub towns are targets to which one should aspire to achieve. We cannot invent people. Targets are as much as we can propose.

Is the Minister of State saying that in a rural county such as Mayo with a designated hub or gateway town, the smaller towns, if they have a plan in place, can develop without the hub or gateway town reaching the targeted population figure? The senior Minister has clearly said in this House that the targeted population figures for hub and gateway towns must be reached before anything can done in the smaller towns. Therefore, we are at a crossroads in that respect. I understood the senior Minister to say the projected population figures for hub and gateway towns must be reached before anything can happen in the smaller towns. We should be clear about what he said because we are getting mixed messages on the issue.

I do not have the exact wording used by the Minister to hand but in this context, he mentioned the targets for gateway and hub towns. As I said, they are simply targets. Local authorities make their plans for different areas and a target for the main town in County Mayo, County Westmeath or County Sligo is simply that. That is what the Minister said.

I do not want to harp on about this issue or waste any more of the time of the House on it, but the Minister rejected some county development plans because the local authorities concerned had not taken the status of the national spatial strategy into consideration in terms of hub and gateway towns when adopting their plans. It is clearly spelled out that there is a hierarchy of towns. It is also clearly spelled out that the targeted population figures have to be reached. I interpret this differently from the Minister of State in terms of the advice he has received from the officials present. When a local authority moves to adopt a county development plan, the executive will tell members that there is a hierarchy of towns, that the national spatial strategy has to be implemented and that the targeted population figures for gateway and hub towns have to be reached before any activity or development can take place in the smaller towns. We can have all the plans possible but nothing will happen. It will be a waste of taxpayers' time and councils' resources to put all these plans in place until the targeted population figures are reached, unless a change in that respect is made in the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 10:
In page 8, to delete line 36 and substitute the following:
"(vii) relevant roads that have been classified as".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 11:
In page 8, to delete line 41 and substitute the following:
"(viii) relevant inter-urban and commuter rail".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 12:
In page 8, to delete line 43 and substitute the following:
"(ix) where appropriate, rural areas in respect".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 13:
In page 9, lines 11 and 12, to delete all words from and including "referred" in line 11 down to and including "paragraph (g)” in line 12 and substitute the following:
"referred to in subparagraphs (vii) to (ix) of paragraph (f) and in paragraph (g)”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 14:
In page 9, line 15, to delete "‘urban settlement hierarchy'" and substitute "‘settlement hierarchy'".
Amendment agreed to.
Question put: "That section 5, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
The Committee divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 12.

  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Alex.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Twomey, Liam.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paudie Coffey and Maurice Cummins.
Question declared carried.
SECTION 6.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 9, lines 40 to 48 and in page 10, lines 1 to 4, to delete paragraph (a).

I note the Minister made the not unreasonable point on Second Stage that section 6 proposes to deal with the question of the scope of the submissions and observations on a development plan. He sought for the scope to be more strategic in nature at this early stage of the preparation of the development plan. He remarked on Second Stage that the development plan process should be more transparent and should move away from being distracted by zoning, especially zoning of land parcels, to a more strategic land use planning approach. There is a good deal of merit in the Minister's proposal in this regard. That said, I wish to test the issue to establish whether he is going too far in respect of what is proposed to be included in section 11 of the principal Act.

I have no great difficulty with first part, that is, the time allowed for consultation and so on. However, as a general point, it has often occurred to me in respect of the preparation of a development plan that notices must be published in newspapers and that the various interested parties must be contacted by the local authority. I refer to the extent and level of information and notice imparted to the wider community in the run-up to the preparation of a development plan, although I have no wish to visit any particular criticism on anyone. I am a former member of a local authority, admittedly in a suburban area, which may have contrasting issues from those of colleagues who are more familiar with local authorities in other areas. However, there is a level at which material appears in the newspaper but not much attention is paid it by most of us. That is the reality of life. As practising politicians we know that planning issues only come to the attention of people when they see a proposal for a zoning or development further down the line. When somebody tells them there is an application, people object and get exercised about planning. The idea of a development plan in the original legislation we are now amending is that the wider community is involved at an earlier stage. It should be proactively involved in commenting on, debating, considering and planning how the area will look, what its physical state will be and what services will be provided. This may occur to people over a period of time but they never assimilate or deal with it when considering the development plan. My general point is that we must examine the extent to which we involve people in the early stage of planning. I am not sure I have the answer to this point but the question is worth exploring. We have been involved in situations where people suddenly wake up to a planning problem and one can point out that the proposal was included in the development plan or that the person could have made a submission on the matter at an earlier stage. With the best will in the world, people do not do this because they have busy lives and do not have the opportunity.

I agree with the general thrust of the intention of this measure. The earlier stage should be the strategic stage, with a wider vision of the area or the county. The motivation for this amendment, to delete the new section to be inserted by the Minister of State, is that it goes too far. I refer particularly to the second part of the amendment on page 10: "indicate that the submissions or observations referred to in paragraph (b) shall not relate to a request or proposal for the zoning of specific lands for any purpose”. I understand the Minister of State wants to exclude proposals for rezoning at this stage but to go so far as to say that submissions or observations cannot refer to them is perhaps excessive at this early stage. If there is a zoning proposal on the agenda, the dogs on the street know about it. It is excessive to exclude reference to it. I can understand the thrust of this initiative but what motivates my amendment is the question of whether this goes too far.

Amendment No. 15 proposes to delete the proposed amendment in the published Bill, which requires that in seeking initial views from the public on strategic issues to inform the initial preparation and drafting of the draft development plan, the planning authority can specify that it will not consider submissions or proposals related to the zonings of specific land. Planning authorities must maintain strategic focus on the preparation of the draft development plan and, if they are drawn into considering specific proposals for the zoning of specific plans, they are exposed to losing sight of the strategic objectives. Section 11(2) provides for focusing the scope of submissions or observations on strategic issues in preparation of the draft development plan. It requires that submissions or observations are aimed at objectives and policies to deliver an overall strategy for the proper planning and sustainable development of an area of the development plan and that submissions for observations must not relate to a request for a proposal for the zoning of specific lands for any purpose. It is the intention that the local authority will provide issue papers that will involve the public at the onset.

Will those issue papers be published? The Planning and Development Act 2000 refers to the notice given to the Minister, to other authorities, to adjoining planning authorities, to the board and other people and stipulates that it shall be published in one or more newspapers circulated in the area. Should these issue papers be given wider circulation than simply making them available or uploading them to websites? I do not denigrate the idea of using a website. People are becoming used to monitoring what is happening in an area through websites. The South Dublin County Council website is particularly good but I am sure others are very good. I do not denigrate the approach but it is not enough for many people. It is not noticed in the newspaper. A bald notice in a newspaper to the effect that the authority is going to prepare a development plan is not enough when people have so much else on their minds and complexity in their lives.

I will not press this amendment on Committee Stage and I will consider what the Minister of State says before possibly reintroducing it, or some version of it, on Report Stage. Another point supports my proposal. If we completely eliminate this approach, there will not be proposals for rezoning at this stage. I accept that this should be the case. Perhaps developers have been publicising a proposal and it may be discussed widely in an area. Where there is a live proposal or a publicised intention to make an application for rezoning, one excludes any commentary by concerned citizens about this. My worry is that this goes too far. It is almost censoring any reference to the prospect of a rezoning application, concerns in respect of it or opposition to it. That is excessive. I agree with the basic thrust of the Minister of State's suggestion but to exclude anything about rezoning is excessive and may work against local residents and citizens. My concern is that it will force discussions about zoning and informal discussions into a less transparent area. There may be discussions and meetings taking place off-line rather than on-line. That is my worry.

It is my understanding that an advertisement will be placed in the public press, indicating that the issue papers are available from the local authority. I am sure it will appear on the website as well. Those who have an interest can get access to the issue papers. Senator White has picked up on the same message we are trying to get across, namely, that there is public engagement from the very start. It is better that there is a strategic overview first, rather than focusing on a particular piece of land to be zoned at an early stage of deliberation. This is our intention and we hope it will work.

I understand what the Ministers of State is saying but I think it is excessive. I will not press this amendment and will examine it in the context of Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 6 agreed to.
SECTION 7.

Amendments Nos. 16, 17 and 22 are related and will be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 16:
In page 11, lines 27 to 43, to delete paragraphs (d) and (e) and substitute the following:
"(d) in subsection (7)—
(i) by the substitution of the following for subsection(7)(a):
"(a) Subject to paragraphs (aa) to (ad) in a case where the proposed amendment would, if made, be a material alteration of the draft concerned, the planning authority shall, not later than 3 weeks after the passing of a resolution under subsection (6), publish notice of the proposed amendment in at least one newspaper circulating in its area and send notice and a copy of the proposed amendment to the Minister, the Board and the prescribed authorities.”,
(ii) by the insertion of the following paragraphs after paragraph (a) of subsection (7):
"(aa) In the performance of its functions under regulations made under section 10(5), the planning authority shall determine if there is, or may be, a requirement to carry out an assessment of the effects on the environment of one or more than one of the proposed amendments that would, if made, be a material alteration of the draft development plan.
(ab) The manager, not later than 6 weeks after a determination under paragraph (aa) shall specify such a period as he or she considers necessary following the passing of a resolution under subsection (6) as being required to facilitate an assessment referred to in paragraph (aa).
(ac) The planning authority shall publish notice of the proposed amendment and where appropriate in the circumstances, the making of a determination that an assessment referred to in paragraph (aa) is required, in at least one newspaper circulating in its area.
(ad) The planning authority shall cause an assessment referred to in paragraph (aa) to be carried out within the period specified by the manager under paragraph (ab).”,
(iii) in paragraph (b), by the substitution of “A notice under paragraph (a) or (ac) (inserted by section 7 of the Act of 2009)” for “A notice under paragraph (a)”.”.

This proposes to provide for the notification of the Minister, the board and the prescribed bodies at the draft amendment stage of the development plan. This is to rectify the anomaly that while the Minister, the board and the prescribed bodies are provided for as statutory consultees in the making of a draft development plan, it is only implicit thereafter that these should be consulted at the draft amendment stage. A further amendment on Committee Stage will allow additional time for both the strategic environment assessment and habitats appropriate assessment of proposed material amendments to a draft development plan and to allow the manager to decide how much additional time is required to carry out such assessments rather than prescribing a specific additional period. This will enable the authority to meet fully the requirements under EU directives.

Amendment No. 17 provides clarity that the resolution relates to any resolution as opposed to a specific resolution. Amendment No. 22 is proposed as a consequential amendment to that proposed above to allow the discretion of a manager to decide on additional time for an assessment, to allow the existing timeframe of two years where no environmental assessment of proposed amendments is necessary and where such an assessment is necessary to allow a maximum of four months. If appropriate in the circumstances it also provides flexibility to the manager to decide on a period of longer than two years or four months to facilitate such an assessment.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 17:
In page 12, lines 10 and 11, to delete "the resolution" and substitute "any resolution".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 18 and 24 are cognate and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 12, line 11, after "paragraph (a)” to insert the following:

"(other than a resolution accepting an amendment which has been approved by the Manager)".

This amendment is concerned with a possible defect in the Bill's treatment of amendments to the development plan, which it proposes will require a two thirds majority. Sometimes amendments are proposed by the manager and sometimes the manager will accept an amendment suggested by somebody else. The effect of the Bill as it stands is that the manager's amendments will be defeated unless two thirds of members vote for them. A case can be made that a simple majority would be more than adequate for amendments accepted by the manager. The matter of amendments opposed by the manager is dealt with in a separate amendment. The Bill as drafted seems to be quite bureaucratic and will make it very cumbersome to pass an amendment to which no one is opposed. It cannot even be passed by acclamation because a roll call would be legally required to show that two thirds of the overall membership voted for it. An issue seems to arise and the Minister of State might consider responding to it and addressing it. Amendment No. 24 is on the same point.

I appreciate what Senator Alex White stated and perhaps the Minister of State might examine this prior to Report Stage to see what can be done about it.

Amendments Nos. 18 and 24 are intrinsically linked to the issue of a two thirds majority as opposed to a simple majority. I will re-examine this matter in consultation with the parliamentary draftsman's office. I will not give a definite position on it but I am prepared to examine it.

In those circumstances, I withdraw the amendment. I appreciate what the Minister of State and Senator Glynn have said.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 19, 20, 25 and 26 are alternative to each other and amendment No. 46 is related. These amendments will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 12, lines 12 and 13, to delete "a vote of not less than two-thirds" and substitute "a majority".

Fine Gael tabled this amendment because we do not see why the existing legislation should be changed. At present, a simple majority of the council can make a resolution to amend a development plan. That is local democracy in action. In this section, the Bill proposes that the passing of a resolution will take not less than two thirds of the members of the planning authority. In his Second Stage speech, the Minister stated the Bill would strengthen local democracy and I agree that many measures in it do so. However, we feel this section will strengthen a minority in a council and could create a minority rump that could hold up a development plan or amendment to it if it is not in agreement. A simple majority of the council might be in full agreement with a plan or an amendment to it but will be outvoted if this measure is passed into legislation. The existing legislation is more than adequate and reflects democracy in action as a simple majority of a council can pass a resolution to amend a development plan.

I fully support the amendments tabled by my colleague and the Labour Party on this. Having one third, or less than one third, of a local authority dictating the planning policy of that local authority is undemocratic. I see no problem with requiring two thirds for a material contravention but surely a simple majority is more than sufficient for drawing up a development plan for a particular local authority area. It would reflect the democratic wishes of the people. Seeking a two thirds majority for development plans is undemocratic and should be viewed as such. People elect local authority members to act on their behalf. A majority of members elects a chairman and dictates much of the business of the council, therefore why in the case of a development plan, which is a reserve function of the members, is the Minister trying to dictate that we should have a two thirds majority instead of a simple majority? Perhaps it suits his party, which has one or two members throughout the country. What the Minister is proposing in this regard is a negation of democracy.

I agree with my colleagues. I am concerned about the possibility of a minority rump in a council determining the outcomes of these very important issues. The rationale for having a two thirds majority as opposed to a simple majority is worth further debate in the House because it is one of the more important proposals in the Bill. I am not stating that I could be persuaded by the Minister of State but I cannot exclude the possibility that I might be if he puts forward a strong enough argument on why he regards it as so necessary. The Bill is good, the Labour Party supported it on Second Stage, the thrust of the legislation is progressive and correct and I believe the Labour Party will support the vast bulk of it.

I am open to argument on this question but as Senators Coffey and Cummins stated, it is proposed to change the existing situation and as such the burden falls on the Minister of State to set out why it is so necessary to change such a significant provision in the planning Acts. I am not excluding the possibility of the Labour Party being persuaded but it would require time, careful analysis and a careful explanation from the Minister of State. It would be a significant change to how these decisions are made in local authorities.

As someone who spent many years in a local authority and was party to quite a number of county development plans in the relative sense I believe the Minister of State should re-examine this.

As it is now 3 p.m. I ask Senator Glynn to report progress.

I propose that we take another five minutes to complete our discussions before adjourning the House.

Is the Senator proposing an amendment to the Order of Business?

Will we take the entire amendment? Our discussion will take longer than five minutes and could conclude in a vote.

Senator Glynn might on second thoughts reconsider his proposed course of action. We will have more time to deal with the amendment when we resume our deliberations.

On a point of order, Senator Glynn wants to raise important issues. It may be preferable to adjourn the Seanad to allow the Minister of State and his officials to reflect on this fundamental part of the Bill.

That is not a point of order.

I withdraw my proposal.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 25 November 2009.

On a point of order, why are we being asked to adjourn until Wednesday rather than Tuesday? I understand the Dáil will sit on Tuesday but the Acting Leader informs us that the Seanad will not. We should be given an explanation as to why that is the case.

Question put: "That the House shall adjourn until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 25 November 2009."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 22; Níl, 13.

  • Brady, Martin.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • White, Alex.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paudie Coffey and Maurice Cummins.
Question declared carried.

On a point of order, the RTE website reported that the House would not sit next Tuesday, before Senators were informed. Why is the House not sitting on Tuesday?

That is not a point of order. The House is adjourned.