This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 118, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question, "That the Bill be received for final consideration," the Minister of State may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. The Minister of State will deal separately with the subject matter of each related group of amendments. I have circulated the proposed groupings in the House. A Senator may contribute only once on each group. I remind Senator that the only matters that may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil.
Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2015 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil]: Report and Final Stages
Government amendments Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, were passed by the Dáil yesterday. They relate to sections 2 and 3 of the Bill and have been grouped together for discussion. These are primarily minor or technical in nature and I will address them in turn.
Section 2 inserts a new provision in section 28 of the principal Act to indicate that guidelines issued by the Minister may now contain specific planning policy requirements that are to be applied by planning authorities. Amendment No. 1 provides further clarity on this point by inserting the phrase "notwithstanding subsection (1), are required”. This indicates a clearer distinction between matters in ministerial guidelines that planning authorities shall have regard to in subsection (1) and the specific planning policy requirements that they must now apply as set out in the new provision, subsection (1C).
With regard to amendments Nos. 2 and 3, section 3 provides for a number of amendments to section 34(2) of the Act to support the new provisions relating to ministerial guidelines. Section 34(2) deals with factors that planning authorities must have regard to or consider when making a decision on planning applications. Amendment No. 2 removes the text “requirements of" from subparagraph (ia). This will mean that planning authorities must have regard to the guidelines generally, as they are primarily advisory in nature. Amendment No. 3 introduces a new subsection (2)(aa) to the Bill. This will mean that, when considering a planning application, planning authorities must apply the specific planning policy requirements of ministerial guidelines. Like amendment No. 1, this provides a clearer distinction between matters in ministerial guidelines that are advisory in nature and to which planning authorities shall have regard, and matters that are mandatory in nature and must be applied.
With regard to amendment No. 4, section 3(b) amends section 34 of the Act to provide, for the avoidance of doubt, that where guidelines and the standards or provisions of a local development plan differ, the national planning policy as reflected in ministerial guidelines shall prevail and take precedence. Amendment No. 4 further clarifies that it is the specific planning policy requirements, or mandatory requirements of guidelines, as referred to in new subsection (2)(aa), that will prevail over local development plans as opposed to the advisory nature of guidelines.
Amendment No. 5 inserts a necessary definition in the Bill for specific planning policy requirement. In addition, section 3(c) introduces a new provision aimed at streamlining the assessment of applications seeking modifications to existing planning permissions in respect of multi-unit housing developments, primarily apartment block and duplex-type developments, on foot of the issuing of new or revised apartment standard guidelines by the Minister.
Amendment No. 6 clarifies that this provision for a new section 3(c) applies to applications seeking modifications to those existing planning permissions to take account of the "specific planning policy requirements”; that is, the mandatory requirements of such guidelines.
As no Member is seeking to contribute, we will move to the second group of amendments.
The second group of amendments comprises amendments Nos. 7 and 21. Amendment No. 7 which is of a technical nature amends section 168 of the principal Act which relates to the preparation of a draft planning scheme for strategic development zones, SDZs. Amendment No. 21 is also a technical amendment to two sections in Part XAB of the principal Act relating to appropriate assessment, namely, sections 177R(1) and 177S(2).
As no Member is offering to speak on that group, I ask the Minister to discuss the subject matter of the third group of amendments, amendments Nos. 8 to 20, inclusive, which are technical minor amendments to sections 4 and 5 relating to the making of amendments to planning schemes.
These amendments which are primarily technical relate to sections 4 and 5. They do not change the intention of the provisions but rather provide for either technical or minor amendments or amendments for the purposes of clarity and consistency.
Sections 4 and 5 provide, respectively, for the process to be followed for the modification of a SDZ planning scheme while it is going through the approval process and the amendment of a SDZ planning scheme after it is approved. The processes set out in each section generally mirror each other, and, therefore, a number of the amendments now proposed in section 4 are also proposed in section 5. Amendment No. 8 provides that planning authorities will take into consideration observations, as well as submissions, received on a proposed modification of a SDZ planning scheme. Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 amend section 5 to provide for consistency in the language used in similar provisions in section 4 regarding written submissions or observations made to the planning authority about a proposed amendment of a SDZ planning scheme. Amendments Nos. 9 and 16 provide a similar amendment in both sections 4 and 5 in that a planning authority’s report to the board on any modification or amendment to a SDZ planning scheme will be submitted within eight weeks of the public notification of the intention to make such modification or amendment. The amendments now provide that if additional time - more than eight weeks - is required to allow for a strategic environmental assessment or appropriate assessment to be undertaken, that can be agreed with the board.
Amendments Nos. 10 to 12, inclusive, to section 4 and amendments Nos. 17 to 19, inclusive, to section 5 which are related provide that a planning authority’s report to the board relating to a modification or amendment to a planning scheme shall include, if they are required, a report on any strategic environmental assessment or appropriate assessment, or both. Amendments Nos. 13 and 20 to sections 4 and 5, respectively, are also related and provide that when the board is making a determination on a proposed modification or amendment to a SDZ planning scheme it will, as the competent authority, comply with any requirements for carrying out appropriate assessments in accordance with Part XAB of the principal Act.
I wish to highlight something, as I have been contacted about it. Development plans are obliged to be drawn up with due regard to legislation, national policy, national planning advice and so forth. A development plan is a complex document drawn up by those who have unparalleled knowledge of their county and their aims for it. It is contributed to by the public through an extensive round of consultation. It is a collaborative, informed and visionary document for the local area by local people. It is totally unacceptable for the development plan to be subjugated to the whim of a Minister.
According to the contact, for the guidelines of a Minister to carry supremacy over local statements of intent regarding a development plan is an undermining of democracy of the worst kind. I would be interested in the Minister of State's comments in that regard.
I recognise the mandate of local councillors and their importance, given their power in drafting and adopting county, local area, conservation and other plans. Ministerial directions are rare, and the rarer, the better. We are adopting national planning frameworks and have regional plans under which we are trying to direct investment and public policy decision-making towards appropriate areas of development. Sometimes councils deviate from a national or regional plan. We must learn from the past. We have seen mistakes, with overzoning and overelaboration, that is, unnecessary building. Yesterday, I announced the outcome of a report on unfinished housing developments. Four or, at most, five years ago, we had almost 3,000 unfinished housing estates throughout the country. Unfortunately, many of these were in remote areas and places where it is possible they should not have been built.
I take on board the Senator's concerns about the local mandate. I recognise that democratic mandate, as well as the power and responsibility of local councillors to adopt plans, but it is not a new development for guidelines to issue. Under the Bill, the minimum standard we are setting for apartments is a good one and compares favourably with similar standards in the United Kingdom and Germany. We are adopting a minimum standard which will not stop any proposer, developer, builder or whoever from building far in excess of that minimum. We are introducing the guidelines to develop a consistent and balanced approach to address concerns regarding the viability of construction and ensure we can deliver the number of house and apartment units to meet current housing demand. We are not trying to undermine councils or bring back substandard apartments. We are setting a minimum standard that is viable, affordable and accessible for the people who most need those units.
As the Minister of State with responsibility, I am reluctant to interfere with county development plans. However, sometimes I must do so where they deviate from national and regional policies which are set in the best interests of citizens.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply.
In accordance with the order of the House today, the Seanad shall meet at 10 a.m. on Friday, 18 December 2015.