Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill 2016: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill 2016 in the Seanad. I thank Members for facilitating the debate on this important Bill and the commitment I understand they have made to try to take Committee and Report Stages next week. The timeline for the legislation is important as we are anxious to complete it before the end of the year. I really appreciate the facilitation and hope we can work through some of the issues that will be raised.

As I think we can all agree, the current housing supply shortage is one of the most urgent and pressing challenges faced by the Government and the country as a whole. It has an impact on all forms of housing tenure, be it social, private or private rental.

This housing supply shortage has consequential knock-on impacts for house prices and rents, affecting thousands of individuals and households throughout the country who are in rented accommodation or who are trying to purchase homes, with knock-on impacts on their cost of living and further impacts on wage increase demands. The housing shortage also impacts on our ability to attract inward investment for the purpose of expanding our economy, so overall it has very real and significant impacts for society and individual families with which everybody in this Chamber is familiar, as well as our economy in general.

To put this in context, we are at present only building between 12,000 and 13,000 new housing units per year when we should be building upwards of 25,000 units to meet the demand that prevails. It is not an overstatement to say that this level of under-supply is a crisis situation which, as I have stated, has significant impacts on people in all walks of life. Accordingly, it is imperative that every possible effort is made to address it as urgently as we can to help better control house prices and rental cost increases. The Government's commitment to ending the housing shortage and tackling homelessness is clearly evidenced and underpinned in the Government's strategy, Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, two pillars of which are about building more homes and making our permitting and approvals systems more efficient and improving the rental sector. In this regard, the action plan includes a number of innovative legislative measures to rapidly increase housing supply and reinforce the rental sector. The main purpose of the Bill which we are discussing today is to give early effect to and underpin these measures, which include: the introduction of temporary fast-track planning arrangements in respect of large-scale housing developments; streamlining the timelines for presenting and considering local authority own development proposals through the Part 8 processes, including social housing proposals; providing for further limited extensions of duration of planning permissions for specified housing proposals; introducing certain legislative amendments to enhance the functioning of the private rented sector; and facilitating higher education institutes to borrow moneys from the Housing Finance Agency for the purposes of financing student accommodation provision.

The Bill also proposes to address a number of other urgent measures which are unrelated to the Rebuilding Ireland action plan and housing supply, namely, the introduction of new environmental impact assessment screening arrangements in respect of certain development works, including flood-related works, and enabling the transfer of moneys from the local government fund to the Exchequer in 2016, as envisaged in the recently-published Estimates. A legislative provision is required to allow this transfer arrangement each year. The environmental impact assessment element of this legislation followed a conversation with the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Seán Canney, on ensuring we could progress flood relief programmes in a more timely manner than we have been able to do in the past. This maintains the integrity of the system but streamlines the decision-making process, which is what we are trying to do in respect of planning too.

Moving on to the contents and structure of the Bill, it contains 39 sections over five parts, to which I will now turn in more detail. Part 1, covering sections 1 and 2, contains the normal standard provisions dealing with the Title, collective citations, definitions and commencement. Part 2 comprises three chapters relating to amendments to the Planning and Development Act 2000 and is a substantial element of the Bill. Chapter 1, covering sections 3 to 19, deals with strategic housing developments and proposes the introduction, for a limited time period, of new streamlined planning processes in respect of large-scale housing developments, defined as those comprising 100 housing units or more or 200 or more student accommodation bed spaces, allowing the making of planning applications for such developments directly to An Bord Pleanála. The primary provisions are contained in sections 3 to 12, with the supporting provisions for this temporary measure contained in sections 13 to 19.

Rather than go through each section individually, I will instead outline the key elements of the provisions. The new fast-track planning procedures will apply for an initial period of three years - until the end of 2019 - with the possibility to extend that period by a further two years to coincide with the timeframe of Rebuilding Ireland.

Under the new procedures, An Bord Pleanála will be required to complete pre-planning application consultations regarding proposed developments with the concerned developers and the relevant local authority within a maximum period of nine weeks. It subsequently will be required to make a final determination in respect of planning applications for concerned developments within 16 weeks of receipt of the planning application. This will potentially result in planning decisions for concerned large developments within 25 weeks of commencement of the pre-application consultation process, as against the current two-stage planning process which can, in certain circumstances, take up to 18 to 24 months from initial design stage to securing ultimate approval.

I will give a practical example of why this is necessary. There have been 15 applications for housing developments of more than 100 units submitted to An Bord Pleanála this year and the average length of time it has taken, from pre-planning consultation through to getting a decision for those 15 applications, is 78 weeks. We are proposing to change that but also to involve local authorities and councillors in the pre-planning consultation. Perhaps we can tease the issues out here today because I know there are some concerns over how we can maintain a strong role for local authorities. I stress that this will be on land that has been zoned for housing and An Bord Pleanála is required to ensure that its decisions are consistent with that. For the first time, statutory timelines will be in place to ensure that developers and providers of finance will have some certainty, as will local authorities and An Bord Pleanála, with a nine-week pre-planning consultation process and a 16-week assessment and potential approval process for An Bord Pleanála. The big change is for developers rather than anybody else because the quality of their applications and of the work that will be required by them before they enter the formal pre-planning consultation will be a lot higher than it is at the moment. Those Members who have been in local authorities and who have worked with them know that poor applications often come in, followed by a long drawn-out process in preparation for a formal planning application with county council engineers, architects and designers to bang the application into shape before it goes to a formal application process with the local authority. This can take months and months. A lot of that early work needs to be done in a much more professional way and this will mean that the best developers will have a system that supports them.

To ensure that the board has capacity to manage the flow of proposals, a dedicated strategic housing division will be established in the board with additional dedicated technical and administrative support resources to conduct the pre-planning consultation arrangements and make determinations on planning applications in respect of such strategic housing developments. I had quite a long meeting with An Bord Pleanála yesterday to understand what it needs.

I also make the following points on the proposed new fast-track planning procedures. First, the vast majority of large housing development proposals currently end up being appealed to An Bord Pleanála resulting, as I have indicated, in decision timelines of up to two years before the granting of final planning permission. This, in my view, is much too long in the current climate when large volumes of housing supply are urgently required to address the shortage situation in the right areas. This is the key thing - we are not going to promote large-scale housing development in parts of the country where it is not viable, which was the mistake that was made in the past.

The reality is house prices will not allow it.

Planning applications to the board in respect of these housing developments will be confined to lands already zoned for residential purposes by the local elected members in local development plans. In addition, public participation will remain a fundamental part of the process. In this regard, my Department has obtained legal advice from the Attorney General that the proposed arrangements are fully compliant with the requirements of the Aarhus Convention, the EU directive on public participation in environmental decision-making, and the environmental impact assessment directive.

The procedures for a new direct application to An Bord Pleanála in respect of large housing developments are not entirely new. They are modelled on the existing arrangements which have operated in respect of strategic infrastructure developments since 2006. Accordingly, they are well tested. Ultimately, as I have indicated, the new streamlining procedures are intended to provide greater certainty for developers for the timelines for decision making, while also facilitating the earlier provision of much needed housing supply and helping to address the current housing supply shortage situation.

Chapter 2 of Part 2, covering sections 20 and 21, proposes to introduce new screening arrangements for the conducting of environmental impact assessments, EIAs, in respect of certain types of works, including emergency flood relief works with the aim of further streamlining the process for the undertaking of such types of works. Some Members come from towns which have been waiting for the necessary flood protections and relief works to be put in place. Significant delays can be encountered in the undertaking of flood-related works having regard to the EIA requirements in the planning system. In this regard, flood-related works have a relatively low threshold for EIA purposes and for planning permission purposes. EIAs are required for most flood-related works, even though many of the proposed works do not have any environmental impacts.

The introduction of the new EIA screening arrangements will enable planning authorities to determine if an EIA is required for specific proposed works with the screening decision having to be made within a maximum of four weeks. If an EIA is screened in, a full EIA will be required in respect of the proposed works, while planning permission will also be required. However, if an EIA is screened out by virtue of no significant environmental impacts being anticipated arising from the undertaking of the proposed works, no EIA will be required. Planning permission will also not be required if the proposed works are below the exempted development thresholds. These new provisions should ultimately reduce the number of EIAs having to be undertaken in respect of flood works, thereby generally speeding up the process.

Chapter 3, covering sections 22 and 23, relates to two further amendments to the Planning and Development Act. Section 22 provides that a further extension of duration of permission may be granted by a planning authority in case of a housing development comprising 20 houses or more, where the authority considers that a further extension is necessary to enable the development to be completed. This will remove the requirement to go through the planning process again and expedite the completion of the housing developments in question. Many medium-sized housing developments did not move ahead because house prices collapsed and the viability of building was not there for the past nine years. As a result of that freeze period, planning permissions are now running out. Rather than having to go through a long application process again, if it is consistent with the local area plan, then those zoned lands would progress. If a chief executive of a local authority is happy with that, there is a facility now to automatically provide for a second renewal, a provision not currently provided for in law.

Section 23 relates to new streamlined procedures to be followed by local authorities under section 179 of the Planning and Development Act and Part 8 of the planning regulations under the Part 8 process relating to the bringing forward of local authority own development proposals, including social housing, local roads, fire stations, libraries, etc. Most local authority own development proposals are generally approved by the elected members fairly quickly. However, on occasion some delays can be encountered with social housing projects arising from local opposition. Under the current provisions, no maximum timeframe is set for deciding on local authority own development proposals under the Part 8 process. This is a major cause of the delays encountered in some, but not all, circumstances.

Consequently, the Bill proposes several amendments to the existing section 179 provisions, including the setting of a maximum timeframe of 20 weeks for the determination of local authority own development proposals by the elected members, thereby providing greater certainty in the progression of such development proposals, including the easier delivery of social housing, in particular. There was much discussion before this section was put together. Local authority members were concerned that there was a danger that they might be taken out of the process. We have ensured they are the ones who vote this through. We have introduced a timeline by which the process has to happen. Essentially, this puts some pressure on a chief executive of a local authority and his or her team to be able to put the proposals, along with any amendments, to councillors in a timely manner. Again, it is about having certainty around timescale. When there is an awkward planning application through a Part 8 process and because of local political considerations, the matter gets put off. We have to find a way to make decisions and move on with projects which we need to make happen.

Part 3, covering sections 24 to 37, inclusive, and the associated Schedule, relates to the rental sector and provides for amendments to the Residential Tenancies Acts. We are all aware of the acute pressures in the rental market. We had a useful and informative debate in this House last month on the pressures on rents in particular. These pressures are driven by several factors, including rising demand, a lack of supply and the high costs that indebted landlords face in servicing their loans. The problems in the rental sector are one of the most significant issues facing us today and an absolute priority for me. That being said, there is no doubt that the problems in the rental sector are part of a larger problem.

Ireland is in the midst of a housing crisis. The problems caused by high rents reflect, and are reflected in, the other issues facing the housing market. There are not enough homes for first-time buyers, increased demand for social housing and unacceptable levels of homelessness. While many factors contribute to these problems, the one factor common to all of them is the prolonged and chronic lack of supply of new houses.

The Bill implements the commitment in pillar 4 of Rebuilding Ireland to bring forward legislation to amend the Residential Tenancies Acts for early enactment. One of the most significant proposals to be introduced in the Bill is to be found in section 30. It provides that where a landlord proposes to sell 20 or more units within a single multi-unit development at the same time, the sale will be subject to the existing tenants remaining in situ. The purpose of this amendment is to prevent a future recurrence of situations where large numbers of residents in a single development have had their tenancies terminated simultaneously.

Section 31 further improves security of tenure for tenants by providing for the abolition of a landlord's right during the first six months of a further Part 4 tenancy to terminate that tenancy for no stated ground. This is an important amendment and one that has been welcomed both by those working with tenants and those working to prevent homelessness.

Sections 33 to 37, inclusive, provide for several other early actions which will enhance the Residential Tenancies Board's enforcement and dispute resolution powers, including accelerated dispute resolution timeframes. We cannot have a situation where we have a falling out between a landlord and a tenant, whether it is non-payment of rent or some other issue, that goes on for months. The powers and mechanisms have to be available to the Residential Tenancies Board to be able to act on that, to get to the bottom of the issue and to make a determination consistent with law.

That is what we are doing here. The provision of the Bill, as committed to in Rebuilding Ireland, will be supplemented by a new rental strategy which I intend to launch next month with a view to delivering a mature and stable rental sector, providing a balance between the rights and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants. I know both are under pressure in many cases at present. Many families who find themselves homeless have been pushed out of the market because of those pressures. The provision in the Bill is a fundamental part of this process but it is only a part of the process. I hope I will be returning to the Seanad to debate that rental strategy before the end of the year.

Part 4, covering section 38, gives effect to action 4.9 of Rebuilding Ireland, to amend the Housing Finance Agency Act 1981 to enable the Housing Finance Agency, HFA, to provide low-cost finance to higher education institutes for the purpose of providing student accommodation.

In addition, and as the new initiative identified in Rebuilding Ireland, the Housing Agency is to be provided with capital funding of €70 million with the specific focus of acquiring properties from financial institutions for social housing nationally, thereby increasing social housing provision. At present the Housing Agency is talking to banks primarily with a view to acquiring properties that are vacant so that they can get them into the market faster in order to alleviate some of the pressures on the social housing provision and supply. That €70 million is effectively seed capital and the agency should be able to acquire over time about 1,200 homes in this category. We may go beyond that, but that is the target initially. As a support mechanism towards giving effect to action 2.9 of Rebuilding Ireland, provision is being made for the HFA to lend to the Housing Agency for this purpose, subject to obtaining the relevant ministerial consent and compliance with the prevailing fiscal rules. In other words, we cannot simply spend money and ignore it in the context of our overall expenditure ceilings. We must talk to the Department of Finance in that regard.

Part 5, comprising section 39, is aimed at enabling me, as Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to make the required payment to a maximum amount of €420 million from the local government fund to the Exchequer, as envisaged in the Revised Estimates volume in 2016. It is necessary to provide for the legislative underpinning of this proposed transfer of funding to the Exchequer by amending section 6 of the Local Government Act 1998.

I think Members will agree that this Bill contains a number of fundamental and important legislative measures emanating from the Government's Action Plan on Housing and Homelessness. We have a great deal of debate on that, both in committee and outside it. Specifically the two pillars relating to building more homes and making our permitting and approval systems more efficient and improving the private rental sector. As I have outlined, these are priority matters for Government and indeed for all of us.

I look forward to the contributions from Senators in debating the detail of this Bill. I look forward to continuing the debate into next week so that we can bring it to the Dáil and enact it very early in the new year.

I call Senator Murnane O'Connor, who has eight minutes.

I thank the Minister for introducing a good Bill. All Members recognise the need for change. The provision of the fast-track planning for developments of more than 100 housing units in which the application will be made directly to An Bord Pleanála will boost supply. In the long term it will create jobs for builders, who did not have that much work in the past few years. However, in the past when large housing developments were appealed to An Bord Pleanála it took up to two years for a decision. The decision time definitely needs to be addressed. It is important that the proposed changes in the legislation do not impact on the democratic role of councillors in preparing area development plans and county development plans.

I went to a meeting of my local authority on Monday. The issue of fast-track planning for developments of 100 houses was raised, but councillors were not aware that this provision is for a two-year period up to 31 December 2019. The Carlow councillors were not aware of the provisions and required further information. I think the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government should have contacted every local authority. It is more than ten years since Carlow County Council had a builder build more than 100 houses. This provision is welcome, especially in the bigger cities such as Dublin, but the small rural counties, such as Carlow and its neighbouring counties, we would seldom have a developer building 100 houses in the county. Has the Minister considered making provision for the smaller counties? I would love it if a developer proposed to build more than 100 houses and I know that Carlow County Council would be delighted also, but it is more than ten years since we have had building on this scale. However, I request the Minister to look again at this provision as it needs to be tailored for small counties.

In my view the main reason for the hold up in the supply of social housing is with the Department. The Department is not approving social housing projects, voluntary housing projects or local authority housing. I remember the directive from the Department to dezone lands which had been zoned for housing. That was fine at the time eight years ago as there was a great deal of land zoned for housing, but again we are in a crisis and I believe part of the plan should be to allow local authorities to take the initiative on rezoning the land that was dezoned. Some of this dezoned land belongs to the local authorities. The Minister needs to look at these issues in his plan.

The Minister referred to environmental impact assessment, EIA, screening arrangements in respect of certain development works, including flood related works. As someone who has lived in an area prone to flooding for years, I know this is very important. Approximately eight years ago, the Department provided €22 million for the Carlow flood relief scheme. People have had a whole new life since the work was done as previously we had massive flooding in Carlow every year. This provision in the Bill is a must for anybody affected by flooding. I have seen elderly people cry because every year their house had been flooded from the River Barrow. This provision in the Bill is welcome and is a very good initiative.

The Bill proposed to amend a section of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004. I understand that in cases where a landlord proposes to sell 20 or more units within a single multi-unit development at the same time, the sale will be subject to the existing tenants remaining in situ. However, this will not apply if the landlord can show that the market price of the dwelling, subject to the tenant remaining, is more than 20% below the price that he or she would receive if the dwelling was vacant. One can see this provision is based on the pattern in Dublin. If one looks at multi-unit developments in Carlow, one does not have development of 20 plus units. The provisions of the section need to take account of the developments in the smaller counties. I believe that the provision should refer to five units and not 20 or more units.

Like all councillors and Senators, I would have dealings with the Private Residential Tenancies Board. The enforcement of housing standards in rented accommodation is an issue. The local authorities do not have the staff to cover enforcement any more. Unless the Minister puts something in place so that enforcement officers can assess properties every six months or every year, it will not work. Some of the rented accommodation that people have to live in is not fit for humans. I have visited these properties, so I highlight this as an issue the Minister will have to look at.

A tenancy is a four-year phase, but I think the Minister needs to be lenient. If people got some leeway on that they would stay longer. I definitely agree with the Minister's point that the landlords and local authorities must work together to ensure that the tenant has the proper standard of accommodation and has rights, like the landlord. It is most important that everybody works together.

I believe the Government should develop a new borrowing framework for the institutes of technology to fund infrastructural development, including student accommodation and campus facilities.

The University Act 1997 contains a provision for universities to borrow within a framework agreed with the Higher Education Authority.

I have a love of local authorities. There are two great colleges in Carlow, Carlow Institute of Technology and St. Patrick's. People cannot find rental accommodation because everything is gone. Once there are third level institutes and colleges, naturally landlords will get a better price. Students are inclined to get first leniency. There is now a crisis and many people attend a homeless clinic every Wednesday but we cannot find accommodation for them.

I am glad the Minister referred to HAP. It is a good scheme, but until the rental market is sorted out in terms of how much people can pay or what caps will be in place, it will not work. He referred to extra staffing. In the local authority in Carlow, 120 staff have been lost. The Minister has provided five extra staff. There are two new engineers, a new technician and two administrative staff. However, we are down over 100 staff. I ask the Minister to try to provide extra staff to local authorities. It is a must. The morale of staff is being affected. Everybody is doing his or her best and I have to compliment all local authority staff. At the end of the day, when one is under pressure it is hard work.

I refer to the housing purchase loan scheme. It has not been discussed, but it is a major issue. Most people who come to my clinics are falling between the nets. They are not eligible for local authority housing lists because there are only 27,500, something which needs to be addressed, but also cannot get a mortgage. They are coming to local authorities in Carlow for mortgages. Those affected include prison officers and teachers. Can the Minister promote mortgages from local authorities and once again give people the chance to buy a house so that if they do not get a loan from a bank or building society, they will qualify for local authority loans?

Will the Minister put a scheme in place to address people who are falling through the net, cannot get onto local authority housing lists and are paying rent of €800 or €1,000 a month? They are asking me whether they can get local authority loans in order to buy houses. I know the Minister will address these issues and I thank him.

I welcome the Minister to the House and genuinely wish him well with the Bill to which I want to confine my remarks. We have very limited time and I want to focus on some, rather than all, aspects of the Bill. Before I go any further, I want to thank the Minister's officials for the very meaningful and helpful engagement yesterday which was arranged by the Minister and his Department. While few attended the meeting, it was interesting. I do not know what feedback the Minister received, but we will move on.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive report. I have spoken to approximately 45 councillors around the country, so I know the level of engagement the Minister has had. He has heard the concerns and reservations of representatives. The Minister's Action Plan on Housing and Homelessness: Rebuilding Ireland is a very comprehensive document. He has a target of 47,000 houses and has set his own timelines and dates. There are five pillars and 84 key objectives. The committee, which is working well, examined the document, and I want to salute Senator Maria Bailey, the team and all the support staff. It is a positive forum. I am very much behind the Minister and his policies, and I am happy to play my part.

We also have to deal with some realities. It has been confirmed by the Minister's officials that there are over 27,000 live planning applications in Dublin alone. We need to remember that the Minister's objective is 47,000 within the lifetime of the plan. Why is nothing happening?

There are 27,000 planning permissions, rather than applications.

The Minister might confirm that a substantial number of planning permissions have been granted that are withering on the vine.

We also have strategic development zones. I spoke to people yesterday who were involved in one and they said they would be on the Minister's case very shortly. They said they wanted to get out of it because of the Minister's system. They said the strategic development zone process is happening too slowly. They see the Minister's scheme as an option. The Minister may or may not allow them-----

They can do so.

I will finish my contribution, and the Minister can come back to me. I am delighted he will confirm that today because one of my key objectives was to elicit from him whether people can transfer from a strategic development zone to the fast-tracking process.

There are 31 local authorities. I am sympathetic to the argument that this is anti-democratic, in breach of the Aarhus Convention in terms of public engagement and has various constitutional concerns. Local government is enshrined in the Constitution. The Minister is Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, and I would expect him to strengthen the role of local government, devolve more power from central government to local government and support councillors and the executive, which is one arm of local government. Councillors have an elected mandate and are another arm of local government. Councillors have told me that more power has been taken away from them.

The Minister will correctly argue that councillors do not have many planning functions, but they do. They have more than one would think. They are involved in the county development plan process, local area plans and strategic development zones.

An Bord Pleanála is contravening development. I will not cite a particular case, but in south county Dublin two weeks ago it overturned the key objectives of an area plan. It has the right to do so, which the Minister's officials will confirm. Council officials can, in certain circumstances, contravene a county development plan. The Minister needs to strengthen the rules. No board should be able to contravene a county development plan. I want the Minister to bring forward legislation on that.

I will table a number of amendments next week. I have prepared them and to be helpful, I will try to send them to the Minister's office as quickly as possible. They include strengthening democracy for councillors. There is no reference to statutory engagement with councillors or a statutory process in the Bill.

The Minister proposed that there would be a fast-track process to An Bord Pleanála. There will be no appeal system. The citizen is being cut out of the process. At least in the current system, one can pay a €20 fee - we might discuss fees later - and have a right of appeal to An Bord Pleanála. Third party appeals are being dropped. No doubt the Minister will tell me there can be a judicial review of matters, but that costs a lot of money. We are talking about engagement.

A very substantial judgement from Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness refers to the role of the county development plan as a contract with the people. This ruling has never been undermined or challenged - it is case law. It refers to a contract with the people in regard to county development plans. I printed off 35 cases on challenges to county development yesterday, all of which referred to the same principle, namely, that the county development plan is a very powerful instrument. People have a legitimate expectation and right to know how their communities are being planned and developed. I do not know whether the Minister's officials will address my concern.

We know there are over 4,000 people in emergency accommodation in the State. It is not something of which we should be proud and we need to address the problem. Winter is upon us. We have had a very mild winter this year. I do not want to be Dublin-centric, but Dublin is a key problem. Dublin City Council, according to the Minister when I last spoke to him at a meeting, is supposed to deliver three new projects before Christmas, comprising 200 units. The Minister might share progress on that. There is one month to go.

We want transparency and to open up government. The Minister, through the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, launched an open up government dialogue, which is on the Government's website.

I am not sure if this is the answer.

The Minister spoke about a sunset clause of three or five years at most. Is he serious about this? Is he prepared, for example, to give an undertaking that it will be set at three years rather than five, given that it is a temporary measure? If 47,000 housing units are built within three years, will he wind down the measure or continue to crank it up? While I fully respect that he is entitled to maintain the measure, we must keep decisions in local communities.

Planners in local authorities are asking whether staff will be seconded to the board. Will the Minister address that issue? The public service recruitment embargo has caused a decline in the number of local authority staff and some councils no longer deal with pre-planning applications. I have received tonnes of mail from developers who cannot secure pre-planning meetings with local authorities. The Minister knows that the issue is one of resources because his Department has written to the chief executives of local authorities asking them to address the problem and speed up the process, but local authorities need money to recruit staff.

While it is great that the Minister proposes to fast-track housing construction, my concern is that the process appears to lack transparency and is anti-democratic and that the legislation does not enshrine statutory rights for members of local authorities who are elected by communities to run local authorities in conjunction with the executive. Will the Minister meet us halfway by setting out how he proposes to strengthen the role of local authority members? That is the weakness of the legislation. It is easy for me to speak about anti-democratic decisions, a lack of engagement, breaches of the Aarhus Convention and the famous High Court case. While I like the Minister which helps in politics, support him in principle and do not doubt his integrity or commitment, he has been a member of the Government for the past five years. As such, none of this is new and the problem did not fall from the sky. Will he meet us halfway by addressing the democratic deficit that is of concern to local councillors?

I am sure the Minister appreciates the Senator's endorsement.

We also like Senator Victor Boyhan and enjoy his contributions which are positive and proactive, as are those of many other Senators.

It is important that we continue the debate on housing because it is the number one issue in the country. I acknowledge the presence of the Minister in the Seanad. He has come to the House on a number of occasions and is here again to afford the Seanad the privilege of commencing this important legislation. This debate gives us all an opportunity to express our views on behalf of those we represent, whether we agree or disagree with the Bill. I look forward to further engagement with colleagues and the contributions of other speakers.

There is no doubt that the Minister has made housing a priority. This is reflected not only in words, as set out in the Rebuilding Ireland programme the Minister announced and published, but also in the budget allocation provided for the various housing initiatives to motivate and kick-start social and private housing nationwide. We all agree that there is a housing crisis which has not come as a surprise, given the economic crash of unprecedented proportions we experienced. It also requires unprecedented responses and emergency interventions and legislation is sometimes required to make such interventions effective.

The Bill is timely. I note the Minister's comment that the time required to pass it will impact on many of the large-scale housing schemes we badly need in larger urban areas. The programme sets high targets for increasing the number of housing units. The Government wants to double housing construction and achieve a target of at least 25,000 new housing units per annum by 2020. For want of a better expression, we cannot allow the grass to grow under our feet. We all know what the problems are and are all good at advising others on them. They came about because we have a dysfunctional housing market, builders went bust and barriers were erected to prevent access to credit. An urgent and quick response is needed. I acknowledge that the legislation is an urgent response to fast-track large-scale housing in areas where it is most urgently needed, namely, the larger cities, primarily Dublin and Cork, as well as some other larger urban centres. Having listened to Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, as a Senator from Waterford, I sympathise with much of what she said. Nevertheless, the current planning process is sufficient to deal with housing provision in rural areas and smaller urban centres. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand the legislation is focused on areas where there is significant pressure and high demand for housing. While I do not doubt that there is demand for housing in Carlow, Waterford and other areas, the focus of the Bill is on areas where the pressure on housing is intense and affects not only those who do not have a house and those on the housing list but also the wider economy. I refer, for example, to the need to provide student accommodation, family homes and apartments for people who work in the cities.

The viability and cost of housing, from concept through design to construction, are also issues that need to be addressed. The Housing Agency is working on a programme to make comparisons and identify where efficiencies can be built into the process.

The Bill impinges on a number of important areas, the most notable of which is, as Senator Victor Boyhan noted, the streamlining of large-scale housing. The Minister has noted that the Bill makes an amendment to the Residential Tenancies Acts to provide that the sale of estates of more than 20 units will be made conditional on tenants remaining in situ following purchase. This is an important change which will help to alleviate some of the pressures in the housing market.

I also welcome some of the measures on the Housing Finance Agency which will be allowed to provide loans for higher education institutions, subject to scrutiny. This is providing another leg of the stool, one which will enable the institutions in question which know best what the accommodation needs of students are to put in place plans and programmes to construct student accommodation. This measure will also help to alleviate the problem.

Local authority members are close to people on the ground because they deal daily with issues raised by constituents related to housing and other matters. I acknowledge the primacy of the local area and county development plans which are the blueprint for all developments. Local authority members have a reserved function in this area which will not change under the legislation. As the Minister indicated, it is unlikely that any application will be considered unless it applies to zoned lands. By adopting a local area plan or a country development plan, local authority members are making their intentions clear in respect of housing developments in their respective local areas.

The legislation provides that local authorities are required to give an opinion to An Bord Pleanála on applications. I ask the Minister to give some assurance that local authority members will be involved in this process, either by receiving a report on the opinion from the chief executive or director of planning or by having an opportunity to express a view on it. This would alleviate some of the concerns expressed by councillors. The Minister has met many councillors and representatives of the Association of Irish Local Government to discuss the legislation and other housing matters. I ask that some linkage be made between local councillors and the opinion submitted by the executive of the local authority to An Bord Pleanála. It is important to keep the democratically elected members of local authorities in the loop.

If passed, the Bill will assist developers in fast-tracking large-scale housing projects. On the other side of the coin, if developers secure permission through this process, they should be required to commence construction within a specified period. I am aware that interventions such as the imposition of a vacant sites levy are being made to prevent land hoarding and stop people from sitting on planning permissions in the hope prices will rise. There is a legitimate concern that if developers take advantage of the fast-tracking process, the purpose of which is to benefit society through the provision of housing, they should be required to commence the relevant schemes within a certain timeframe.

It will give further reassurance in the best interests of society rather than in the best interests of the developer.

Concerns have been expressed to me over the review process. If somebody objects to a development obviously they go through the normal channels and object to An Bord Pleanála but if a decision is to be appealed it is by judicial review. A simple layman's guide should be provided for any member of the public who may want to proceed to judicial review so that they do not feel that just because it has to go through the courts process they are being excluded from bringing what they might feel is a genuine appeal to a further hearing. Some assistance is required to show the way for people who may wish to bring a legitimate appeal through the court.

I welcome the Bill, which contains a sunset clause limiting the time. It is an emergency period of time and we need emergency responses.

I was involved in this when I was a Minister of State in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. I welcome the consent process around the EIA screening where floods happen. When flooding happens on a person's property, the amount of bureaucracy in terms of permits, waste licences and planning permission before they can actually repair a riverbank excludes people from carrying out essential works. This process will fast-track a consent process that has buy-in from all the stakeholders and give people permission to put those banks back in place to protect their properties.

Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire. Nuair a bunaíodh an Rialtas seo, gheall sé go ndíreodh sé ar ghéarchéim na tithíochta a réiteach. D'admhaigh an Rialtas go raibh géarchéim ann agus go mbeadh sé ag feidhmiú dá réir seo. Leis an mBille seo, bhí deis ann reachtaíocht láidir a thabhairt isteach chun éifeacht a thabhairt do na rudaí is tábhachtaí a bhí leagtha amach sa phlean tithíochta.

The cited aim of the Bill is to facilitate the increased supply of housing and to enhance the functioning of the private rented sector. Despite the Bill's laudable aims we believe that it represents a missed opportunity. To fix a broken housing sector we need to be bold. Increasing the supply of housing by tampering with the planning system and enhancing the functioning of the private rented sector, by providing a solution for 0.56% of landlords and an even smaller amount of tenants, will not do the trick.

Some of the smaller provisions are welcome. For example, Part 4 which allows universities to access Housing Finance Agency funds for student accommodation is a sensible development. Student accommodation is sorely needed in places like Galway and hopefully this measure will lead to more purpose-built student accommodation in the county. However, I hope that will be in mixed developments within the fabric of the city rather than in ghettoised areas. We also welcome the measures contained in Part 2, Chapter 3, which streamline the timelines for presenting and considering local authority development proposals through the Part 8 processes.

I am concerned about the provision on strategic housing developments in Part 2. The Bill proposes to introduce a fast-track planning procedure for residential developments of 100 units or more and large-scale student accommodation projects with 200 or more bed spaces. The Bill also places a statutory requirement on An Bord Pleanála to report back in 16 weeks.

One of the Minister's major urban housing delivery sites announced last Friday is in Ardaun in Galway city. While I welcome the announcement, at present it is just an announcement. Cé gur gcuirim fáilte roimh an fhógra seo, níl ann ach fógra go dtí seo. An rud is tábhachtaí faoi ghéarcheim na tithíochta ná nach mbeidh fógraí agus pleananna ann ach rudaí a dhéanfaidh an ghéarchéim a leigheas. We need to move forward from the announcement stage to actual bricks and mortar.

The problem with this provision is that the Government appears to be tampering with planning law in order to facilitate a few developments. The Minister has not provided a sufficient evidence base for this proposal, nor has he demonstrated that the move will not undermine good planning and further alienate communities from the planning process. Sinn Féin is not convinced that better solutions were not considered, such as facilitating greater use of pre-planning engagement with local communities. I am not convinced that planning delays are the main reason for housing projects being held up.

My main criticism of the Bill is saved for the lacklustre amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, contained in Part 3. We believe the measures in this section do not go far enough and we have stated categorically many times that the Minister missed an opportunity to amend the Bill and insert rent certainty provisions. The provisions that are contained in the Bill are weak.

The Tyrellstown amendment, a proposal to strengthen tenants' rights in developments of more than 20 units, is weak. The measure only covers 0.56% of landlords and a tiny percentage of rental tenants. The overwhelming majority of those living in the private rented sector will not benefit from this change. This means that those families at risk of homelessness because of buy-to-let properties being repossessed by the banks will continue to be at risk of homelessness. The sale of any rented property should not lead to the termination of a tenancy. Section 34 of the Residential Tenancies Act should be reviewed to remove sale as a justification for the termination of a tenancy in any case where the property is in the ownership of an institutional landlord or where the landlord in question works as a property professional.

The strengthening of the powers of the RTB is welcome as long as it is properly resourced to carry out the additional functions as required. The Minister's ongoing refusal to entertain the concept of rent certainty is incredible considering the impact of the rental crisis on all of society. Students, tenants on social housing supports, such as HAP, working families and young professionals are all being squeezed by rising rents. I note with some irony the Fianna Fáil conversion on the road to Damascus on this issue in recent days, even though it did not support our Rent Certainty Bill earlier in the year.

Let me provide some facts that highlight the severity of the crisis we are facing. The Government is failing the 705,000 people currently living in the private rented sector. This is evidenced by the data contained in successive daft.ie rental reports. The most recent report on the market for the third quarter of 2016 is hugely concerning. The average monthly rent is now €1,077. This is an increase of almost 4% on the second quarter of 2016. The annual rate of rental inflation in the State is now 11.7%, which, according to daft.ie, is the highest recorded by it since its records began in 2002.

Rents in Galway city have increased by 10.9% in a year and in the county by nearly 8%. Compared with eight years ago rents are up in Galway city by 14%. That is a massive rise for people who are already struggling with stagnant wages and other high living costs. It means at best that people have had to move out from the city and at worst rent hikes such as this have resulted in people becoming homeless.

The rising cost of rents is unsustainable and is pushing more and more families into emergency accommodation. The recently released homeless figures for September 2016 reflected this. There were 4,283 adults, 1,173 families and 2,426 children sleeping in emergency accommodation in September. That represents a significant increase on the previous month. These figures do not include those who are sofa surfing or those refused access to emergency accommodation despite having no home of their own.

The tenants who are managing to pay the exorbitant rent prices have little or no security of tenure. As it stands, the property can be sold from under them at the whim of the landlord. As a report by National Oversight & Audit Commission on local authority inspections of rented accommodation shows that 55% of properties inspected were substandard. Rent certainty would have put a break on rising rents. If Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil had supported our Rent Certainty Bill back in June, hard-pressed renters could have saved up to €2,000 per year. Fine Gael opposed it again in this Chamber a couple of months ago, again aided and abetted by its partners in government, Fianna Fáil.

If the Minister really wanted to enhance the functioning of the private rented sector, he would have tabled a rent certainty amendment and he could have given tenants real security of tenure by amending the Residential Tenancies Act to remove the criteria for serving notices to quit relating to sale of property, own use or use of family member, and change of use.

Is léir ón méid a chloisim ón bpobal go bhfuil tacaíocht ann dá leithéid de reachtaíocht. Bíonn eagla agus éadóchas ar dhaoine nuair nach féidir leo bheith cinnte faoin todhchaí. Mar shampla, i gcathair na Gaillimhe, cén cinnteacht atá ann do dhaoine nach mbeidh na cíosanna ag ardú 14% mar atá ag tarlú le hocht mbliain anuas? Mura bhfuil an chinnteacht sin ann, ní féidir le daoine aon phleanáil a dhéanamh. Tá sé deacair aon suaimhneas nó sonas a bhaint as an saol má tá an chontúirt ann i gcónaí don duine nach mbeidh sé in ann a chuid a íoc.

We will have an opportunity to submit amendments to the Bill next week on Committee Stage. It is ambitious to think we will finish Committee Stage next week because I think there will be many amendments from across the House. I appreciate what the Minister has said, but it is important to get the legislation right. He said that he was open to constructive proposals for improving the Bill and they need to be fully debated. Sinn Féin will be tabling amendments designed to improve the legislation and we hope the Minister will give them serious consideration.

I call Senator Kelleher who proposes to share her time with Senator Grace O'Sullivan. Is that correct?

Is that agreed? Agreed. I advise that the Senators have four minutes each.

I welcome the Minister to the House again. I welcome the Bill and its provisions. In particular, I welcome the provisions in Part 3 that provide additional protections to tenants. I refer to measures to prevent another Tyrrelstown where over 40 families were served with eviction notices when a vulture fund took over the properties. I welcome the measures to close the loopholes in the Residential Tenancies Act 2014.

I welcome the measures outlined in Part 4 that provide for lending by the Housing Finance Agency to certain bodies for specified purposes, including the purchase of vacant properties for social housing. There are many vacant properties all over cities and towns in Ireland that could be turned into homes.

The provisions in Part 3 will only help a minority of tenants. We urgently need wholesale security of tenure and rent certainty measures as they would protect all tenants. The call for security of tenure and full rent certainty is supported by a range of civil society groups, including the Simon Communities of Ireland. I worked for the Cork Simon Community for many years so I saw at first hand the devastating impact homelessness has on people. Let us be in no doubt that rising rents and a lack of rental security drive people into homelessness. This morning Focus Ireland provided a briefing. It highlighted that in the past two years a growing number of families have cited landlords selling up as the primary reason for them experiencing homelessness. All of the good work that has been done to address the homelessness problem is being undone by people falling into homelessness due to properties being sold. Legislation needs to protect families when this happens and new measures are needed.

People have suffered and continue to suffer the impact of an under regulated rental market. The market is broken and dysfunctional so needs to be fixed. We need to make the market operate in the best way possible. Rent stability measures were introduced in 2015 but they have not had the desired effect of slowing down the market and off-setting rising rents. Last month the Simon Communities of Ireland published a report entitled Locked Out of the Market. I draw the attention of the Minister to the following figures contained in the report and I quote:

Rents increased in Cork City by an average 18.2% in the year to Q2 2016;

rents increased in Dublin City Centre by an average of 10% in the year to Q2 2016; and

rents increased in County Louth by an average of 14.6% in the year to Q2 2016.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh mentioned Galway city and I can inform him about rent increase because the report continued as follows:

Rents increased in Galway city by an average of 13.9% in the year to Q2 2016;

rents increased in County Kildare by an average of 12.5% in the year to Q2 2016;

rents increased in County Leitrim by an average of 7.5% in the year to Q2 2016;

rents increased in Limerick city by an average of 15.5% in the year to Q2 2016;

rents increased in County Laois by an average of 12% in the year to Q2 2016; and

rents increased in County Sligo by an average of 3.8% in the year to Q2 2016.

The report shows rising rents are a problem for people nationwide and it is not just a problem for people who live in the cities of Dublin and Cork.

The commendable and ambitious Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness - Rebuilding Ireland commits to creating a sustainable, secure and affordable rental sector. The action plan contains a commitment that reads, "Security - bringing greater certainty to tenants and landlords". Unfortunately, this Bill does not fully provide any of that and I agree that it is a missed opportunity.

I welcome the fact that the Bill will be supplemented by a new rental strategy that will be launched next month. It is kind of the Minister to offer to bring it to the House in order to give us an opportunity to debate the legislation. I acknowledge that the Bill is a welcome step in the right direction but we need more action sooner rather than later for the thousands of children, families, men and women who are homeless around Ireland tonight.

It is great to see the Minister in the House again. Unlike my colleague, Senator Coffey, I believe we need to build units urgently in the right way and not at any cost.

I welcome the Bill but we need to be careful to make the planning system work better. Making it work efficiently and effectively is a priority. We have a huge backlog of permitted housing units that have not been brought to the market. As Senator Boyhan has said, we have planning permission for 27,000 units in Dublin but most of them have not been acted upon. If unreasonable delays in the planning system exist then they should be addressed. It is incorrect to suggest that it is the planning system alone that has caused delays in the supply of housing.

The changes proposed in this legislation reduces public participation in the planning process. They completely remove the participation of local councillors through the area committee. There is no provision for an appeals mechanism for some of the most planning decisions affecting an area. These provisions are in breach of Ireland's obligation under the Aarhus Convention and are contrary to the Maastricht recommendations on public participation. We need more planning scrutiny and more public participation, not less.

Chapter 2 of Part 2 dwells on the screening of an environment impact assessment. I am concerned about the proposed changes to the EIA regime. I should be grateful if the Minister would address some aspects of the chapter. First, what is the provision for public participation in the EIA screening process?

Second, there is a particular focus on flood alleviation projects in the section. As the Minister will be aware, Ireland is required under the Water Framework Directive to achieve good status in all of its water bodies. Recently the EPA published its State of the Environment report and it demonstrates just how badly Ireland is failing in that regard. The European Court of Justice in the Weser case made it clear that member states must refuse consent for projects that could cause a deterioration in water status. How will the Minister ensure that this approach gives effect to the ruling by the European Court of Justice and enables Ireland to comply with the Water Framework Directive?

My third question is on Chapter 3 of Part 2, section 22 dealing with extension of permissions. How many housing units does the provision apply to? Section 23 of Chapter 3 of Part 2 refers to a Part VIII procedure. I welcome the chief executive's timely report as I understand that reports did not come to the fore in the past. However, there is no justification to reduce the public consultation period.

The Bill addresses aspects of Part VIII procedures that badly need reform. I want to refer to the adequacy of the information that is put on public display. The information required for a Part VIII application is minimal. If a normal planning application was submitted with the information acceptable for Part VIII approval it would be immediately rejected as invalid. I ask the Minister to table a simple amendment requesting that the information supplied in a Part VIII application is the same as that specified in the regulations for a standard planning application.

In terms of tenant protections in Part 3 of the Bill, it is incredible that the protection of tenants shall apply only where a landlord proposes to sell 20 or more units. Sales of investment properties by professional landlords should provide for the existing tenants remaining in situ whether the properties are sold singularly or in groups of any size. We have repeatedly heard about people being evicted in order for the properties in which they live can be sold. This is an unacceptable situation. Often the initiative is driven by a bank recovering on its mortgage that makes no difference. Where a property was bought as an investment and the bank lent money as an investment then the property should be sold as an investment. What on earth suggests that it is acceptable to evict people when they live in a group of fewer than 20 properties?

Finally, the Minister has said this legislation is only the first part of provisions to provide better protection for tenants. If this is how he intends to continue the current provisions will make no difference to the lives of tenants. Also, he will fail to make renting any more secure, affordable or attractive. We all know what the FFF stands for - fair rent, fixity of tenure and free sale. Surely in the 21st century we can offer tenants the right that Michael Davitt and the Land League won in the 19th century. I ask the Minister to bring forward an amendment to Part 3 that will protect all tenants.

Before I call Senator Lombard I would like to welcome Deputy Tony McLoughlin and his guests to the Visitors Gallery. They are all welcome and I hope they enjoy their stay in Leinster House.

I welcome the Minister to the House. He is no stranger to the Seanad. Out of all of the Ministers he has been the most active in attending here over the past few months.

This Bill is important and forms part of the Rebuilding Ireland document that the Minister proudly announced earlier in the year. It is a framework that will help us work towards sorting out an important issue for the State. Housing is a primary and basic commodity that should be open to anybody. This Bill goes a long way to ensure that everybody in this State can be housed.

We are in unusual circumstances in that our housing market and building sector collapsed over the past decade. This legislation is a start to rebuild that market and get it going again. There are many issues in the market from financial issues, planning and the affordability factor. This Bill deals with the planning process and getting the development of housing units through it. Between 12,000 and 13,000 housing units were built last year. This will be doubled over the next several years. Due to the dramatic change in the housing sector, it will need dramatic measures to deal with it. This fast-track process for planning permission for three years, with the possibility of extending it after the next two years, for larger developments of over 100 units is positive. It is what we need. Can we afford to spend 24 months in a planning process? We cannot if we have people who need to be housed. This process will bring it down to, hopefully, 25 weeks. That is an appropriate step.

In some ways, the Bill's measures are nothing new when one looks at the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006. That was a precursor which gave the approval process for major strategic projects to An Bord Pleanála and bypassed local government to a degree. There were mistakes made in that legislation, however. One was that there was no timeline put on the process. We saw that in Cork with a decision by An Bord Pleanála regarding an incinerator which was extended. This Bill contains a timeline which is an important element.

One key element of the 2006 Act was that a local authority chief executive officer could bring a report before local authority members who could then make an addition to it. That was positive in the way the chief executive officer and the members could all get their views out there. What worked with that Act and its good elements should be incorporated in this Bill.

We have worked on the extension of duration, as outlined in Chapter 3, before. Will the Minister clarify where we are going with this measure? We have seen developments where it has been extended for five years but cannot be extended again. If a development's permission has been extended, do we have the opportunity to extend it again? Previously, these extension durations applied to one-off housing all the way up to large developments. Will this Bill's provisions apply to the 20-house model or one-off housing?

As a member of a local authority for 13 years, I know the changes to the Part 8 process are badly needed. This measure has failed us in so many ways. Local authority chief executives have made Part 8 proposals with no timelines or no reports brought before members. This area needs to be tidied up. I have an issue in my part of the world where a Part 8 development issue has been running for 18 months and it still has not been brought forward. The timeline in this regard is exceptionally important because it has been one of the key mistakes in the process so far.

There are four elements of approval in the planning process involving the Department. It has to preapprove the idea, the design, the planning and the tender. We have to streamline the Department's process too and reduce its elements to two. Essentially, the idea should be approved and then the tenders approved. Predesigned and actual planning really drags out the process. It is about keeping it tight.

One cynical issue which has popped up in my part of Cork involves the thresholds for building Part 8 housing. A developer building for Cork County Council will get €40,000 less than the developer for Cork City Council, even though there might be less than a mile between the developments. The same developer might even be doing both developments. We need to examine the thresholds in the Department and how we are going to deal with those.

This Bill is important and the Minister has done a significant amount of work to ensure it was brought before us today. It is up to us to approve this Bill over the next two weeks. The last thing the Seanad wants to do is to slow this up and delay ensuring people have housing.

I welcome the Minister to the House. There are many positive proposals in this Bill. I welcome the proposal on the fast-tracking of environmental impact assessments for alleviation works in flood-risk areas. In his speech, I noted the Minister emphasised three times that a planning application for a major housing project can take 24 months. Before I conclude, I will give an example of one local authority which turns that on its head. Will the Minister provide some evidence that it takes 24 months for planning applications to go through?

The Minister specifically mentioned the advice he got from the Attorney General on the Aarhus Convention. Will he clarify this?

I agree with the Minister that there is no point in developers going ahead with developments when they will not sell houses. How does he see developers getting their act together at preplanning stage before they ever approach a local authority? Most problems occur in planning applications because the developer has not done his or her homework before the preplanning stage. The number of times further information is sought in planning applications is spellbinding. It is not the fault of the planner but of the person applying.

I welcome the section regarding Part 8 developments. That makes common sense, provided local councillors have an input into it and can vote on it. The time commitment in that area is necessary because, for some strange reason, officials in local authorities, as it involves their own developments, do not push the issues and let it lag.

I welcome the provision which will protect tenants during the sale of houses. Why was the figure of 20 and upwards selected? I welcome the proposal regarding the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB. I dealt with a specific incident with the RTB which took 11 weeks to resolve. This is an improvement from two years ago when it took two years to resolve disputes. However, it is still a long time if a tenant, who is threatened with being turfed out on the street, has to wait for a decision for 11 weeks.

An Bord Pleanála is already failing to meet the statutory 18-week rule on most of its decisions. In the Dublin area, there is the potential to deliver 46,000 homes on zoned lands with essential services already in place, 33,000 units have permission and another 7,000 are in the planning process. There are many houses in the system. It is trying to get those who have got the planning permissions to move and stop them sitting on sites waiting for the value to go up.

In 2015 in Dublin City Council, permission was granted to 11 applications for developments of over 100 houses out of 4,000 applications. While there was no issue with the granting of permission, the problem was the lack of activation of the planning permissions and the need for developers to provide further information, as I have already pointed out.

Regarding fast-tracking, with respect, the Minister, is trying to solve a problem which does not exist. Instead, he is turning this towards the courts.

There will be more judicial reviews because councillors and other citizens will only be able to partake in the planning process at the An Bord Pleanála stage instead of en route to it. If people do not have a say at local level, they will take the only option open to them, which is a judicial review.

While councillors do not have a direct input into planning decisions, they are entitled to raise any planning application for discussion at area, municipal district and full council levels. That will be denied them now. I want the Minister to think about that.

As elected members it will be.

No. I will answer.

The Minister might clarify the matter. If someone from An Bord Pleanála visits Kilsheelan in County Tipperary from Dublin to review an application involving in excess of 100 houses, the lack of local knowledge poses a major problem. Whatever about the resources that the Minister has stated are being invested, if one does not have local knowledge, one does not have local knowledge.

The Minister stated that only lands that had already been zoned would be affected, but they have been zoned for housing. A developer might seek to build a housing development, a pub and a takeaway, but there would be no input from local councillors. Takeaways are a major problem in housing developments. Most people do not want them, but there will be no local input. As Senator Murnane O'Connor stated, if the Government provided the €1.4 million that it is giving An Bord Pleanála to local government instead and gave local authorities staff, the fast-tracking could be done at local level instead of centrally.

The proposal will have no benefit. According to figures from a recent survey undertaken by Fingal County Council, there was no lack of applications or delay in issuing decisions. From January to August of 2016, there was a 16.6% increase in the volume of planning applications compared with 2015. The council received 822 planning applications, of which 758 were deemed valid, and made 850 planning decisions on applications to the end of August, of which 739 were valid and 91% were granted permission. The breakdown of the permissions shows that 83 were for single house construction, 326 were for domestic extensions, 202 were for commercial or retail properties and 40 were for housing developments. Of those 40, seven related to developments in excess of 100 housing units and 24 related to developments of fewer than 20 units. It is not a significant problem in Fingal, which is a major urban area on the fringes of this city.

According to the Irish Planning Institute, allowing applications for the development of more than 100 homes to be made directly to An Bord Pleanála will damage democracy and increase the risk of judicial review. Ms Deirdre Fallon, the institute's president, called it misconceived and stated that the planning process was not holding construction back. Will the Minister reconsider this section of the Bill?

My party is introducing a rent certainty Bill, an issue that the Minister has said is in the Government's pipeline. I call on the Minister to support our Bill because, as he acknowledged, the issue of rent increases is not tackled in the Bill that is currently before us.

I thank the Minister for attending and commend him on many of his efforts in this Bill, although the Bill itself is a poor attempt to fix the worsening crisis in the housing sector. My colleague, Senator Ó Clochartaigh, has welcomed some of the smaller provisions, such as access to Housing Finance Agency funds for third level institutions in order to construct purpose-built student accommodation. The focus of the Bill is on fixing the supply side of the problem. While positive, this is at best a medium-term solution to a problem that needs solutions now.

The rental sector is broken. The Bill provided the Government with an opportunity to introduce meaningful provisions to safeguard tenants' rights and to provide landlords and tenants with some certainty regarding rental prices. The weak amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 contained in Part 3 of the Bill do not go far enough and the Bill should have been amended to include rent certainty. We will table an amendment to that effect on Committee Stage next week.

The so-called Tyrrelstown amendment, a proposal to strengthen tenants' rights in developments of more than 20 units, is not helpful to the overwhelming majority of tenants whose landlords each own 19 or fewer properties. According to RTB figures, 65% of landlords own just one property each and just 10% have more than three properties. How many tenants will be protected under this amendment? Sinn Féin would like to see real tenant protection measures inserted into the Residential Tenancies Act and section 34 of that Act to be amended so as to remove sale as a justification for the termination of a tenancy in any case where the property is in the ownership of an institutional landlord or the landlord is a property professional.

Fine Gael's refusal to introduce rent certainty is disappointing. A few months ago, Fine Gael Seanadóirí voted down our Rent Certainty (No. 2) Bill 2016, which could have saved renters up to €2,000 per year. It could also have saved additional families needing emergency accommodation due to unaffordable rental costs. These are working families. On the Minister's watch, nearly 2,500 children will be in emergency accommodation this Christmas. A litany of reports by Savills and Daft.ie have shown that unsustainable rent increases are not confined to Dublin. The most recent Daft.ie report shows that average monthly rent is €1,077 and that the annual rate of rental inflation is 11.7%, which Daft.ie states is the highest recorded by it since its records began in 2002. Rents in Mayo have increased by 5.1% in a year and tenants who are struggling to afford these increases have little security of tenure. The Residential Tenancies Act must be amended to remove the sale of property, own use, use by a family member and change of use criteria for serving notices to quit.

There is a misconception that the rental crisis only applies to Dublin and other urban centres. However, it can be even more difficult for people in rural areas to move from locations of high rent than it is for people in cities. High rents and the fact that people often have no choice but to pay them can lead to a host of other problems. Fuel poverty and food poverty often come about due to money being diverted into ever spiralling rent and mortgage costs. The fact that rent certainty was voted down twice in the Oireachtas has added to the sense of hopelessness of those people who have been facing increases, in some cases for the past eight years.

The programme for Government commits to having up to 175,000 of the 200,000 new jobs outside Dublin. If people cannot afford to live in rural areas where these new jobs will be supplied, there will be no uptake and no subsequent regeneration. Rent certainty is needed for economic growth outside Dublin. Rural Members who voted against Sinn Féin's Bill know this, as do the people of rural Ireland. Rent certainty would have put a pause to rising rents. We will table an amendment to this effect. I hope that Fianna Fáil will support it.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh addressed some of our concerns regarding the planning elements of the Bill. Amending our planning laws to facilitate a few developments is not the best way to solve the problem. This amendment will only serve to remove local communities from the planning process further and will potentially undermine good planning policy.

We will submit amendments to the Bill next week on Committee Stage. We are not going out of our way to be awkward or to put a stop to the Minister's plans. However, the legislation could be strengthened considerably. Families do not just "find themselves homeless". They are made homeless through a failure of Government policy to protect them and a failure to recognise that a home is a basic human right.

We are keen to hear from the Minister, so I will not take long. Others have expressed concerns regarding the Aarhus Convention and the crucial contract that is a county development plan, so I will focus on rent certainty. Section 30 relates to the restriction on terminations of tenancies by landlords.

Does the Minister think that is adequate, in terms of the many purchases made under the capital gains tax waiver which were required for a seven-year holding period and which will expire in the next three years? A large number of purchases were made by vulture funds, driven by the wrong decision on the capital gains tax waiver. How can we ensure we do not have wholesale evictions as funds look to maximise their profits?

I refer to the provisions of section 35A(3)(a) to be inserted into the Act of 2004 by section 30. I am very concerned about it and I would like to hear the thoughts of the Minister. Allowing landlords to avail of an exception that allows them to evict persons where they can show an existing tenancy would be 20% less valuable than a vacant tenancy may prove to be a block to future legislation on rent certainty. Can the Minister guarantee the section will not be invoked as a reason we cannot have uncertainty in the future? Would he consider removing or changing the provision?

I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I welcome the Bill and the issues that have been raised.

We are all aware of the shortage of family homes around the country. Planning permission for 365 new houses and apartments has been granted in Trim, which I welcome. However, we are repeating the mistakes of previous Governments during the Celtic tiger. For the past five years, the area has struggled with high numbers of people seeking places in schools which are oversubscribed. I was on a board of management in St. Mary's primary school where some 60 children could not be accommodated. Thankfully, an Educate Together school was established in the same year and took 20 or 25 children.

The sewage and water plant is 35 years old and is in need of investment. Unfortunately, the €1.3 million promised last year by Irish Water has since gone into the blue lagoon and we are back to square one. Raw sewage is leaking in five different locations in the town. This issue does not affect Trim alone; I could bring the Minister to several villages and towns in south County Meath where there are serious sewage and water problems. Last week, the main pipe in the centre of the town burst, leaving parts of south Meath, including surrounding villages, without water for 24 hours. The story made the front page of the local newspaper because there was a lake in the middle of the town.

Parts of the Bill are welcome but I firmly believe that local authorities and planning offices are not building infrastructure before making planning decisions. During the Celtic tiger, major mistakes were made. No schools were built, water services installed or facilities provided for the youth who came to live in the new houses. To this day, the decisions that were made have been catastrophic in the greater suburbs of Dublin in County Meath where there was major population growth.

I would like a strategic infrastructure department to be established in local authorities. When infrastructure is put in place, we can move forward with proper planning. I would like the Minister to clarify how infrastructure can be improved for large-scale developments and what measures he will put in place to address this.

I thank the Minister. I was fortunate to be in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown on Monday when the Minister launched a new housing scheme in Kilternan. As a councillor, I voted on the matter in a Part 8 decision in 2007. That shows that the development and delivery of Part 8 projects does not happen immediately.

I want to put on the record that everything the Minister is doing is well-intentioned. He does not have a hidden agenda and he is doing his very best. I listened to him very carefully when he spoke in Kilternan on Monday.

I have concerns about the fast-track planning process for developments comprising more than 100 units that is being introduced as part of the Bill. I accept it is an interim measure for a limited period but I have concerns. From 2002 to 2015, there were 87 different applications for developments of over 100 units in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, none of which were delayed at the council stage. The Bill is fast-tracking the process, but it is doing so by eliminating the appeals processes - effectively, there will be no appeals process. An Bord Pleanála will make the decision. I admit there is preplanning and so on, but it seems to me that An Bord Pleanála will make up its mind and that will be it. The Minister can correct me if I am wrong.

The democratic interaction that was in place in the past-----

What about the High Court?

I would imagine that concerns the process, rather than the decision. I am concerned, as somebody who lives in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, an area that is 5 miles wide and 8 miles long and where, as the Minister pointed out, the average house price is €200,000 more than the next highest average house price of any of the other 30 local authorities in Ireland.

I am not sure that if there is a problem in local authorities that An Bord Pleanála is the answer. The Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, has made some points on the same proposal. I welcome many other aspects of the Bill, such as student accommodation, which is a very useful and helpful provision. Other issues to do with landlords, tenants and vacant or non-vacant possession are good ideas. I wonder whether councils are the problem.

I accept An Bord Pleanála will be ramped up and additional staff will be brought in. In the short time between 2017 and 2019 for the fast-track process, it will be very difficult for it to ramp up and gain the experience of 31 different local authorities. I equally accept and acknowledge that not many local authorities will be dealing with developments comprising over 100 units. I would imagine the four Dublin local authorities, and probably those in Meath, Kildare, Wicklow, Cork, Galway, Waterford and perhaps Limerick would be affected. I see other Senators are nodding, so I think I may be correct in thinking that. I acknowledge there are some very good officials in the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government.

While we talk about empowering local government, planning has always been an executive function and should remain so. The last thing any councillor wants to be doing is granting planning permission for attic conversions, gate widenings, garage conversions, extensions and so on. However, the AILG has made five points. The general local authority planning function involves local authorities dealing with planning applications and An Bord Pleanála is the appeals process. The centralisation of the planning function to one body goes contrary to the view that we devolve power to local government. Instead, we are centralising applications to one body based in Marlborough Street. I am not sure how the process of being able to view plans will play out. Will they be available to view in local authority offices? Will they still come to area committees or municipal districts for planning, discussion and consultation so that members can have an input? While members do not make decisions, they have an in-depth knowledge of the process. They were elected by the people of their area, for all parties and none, and have a great knowledge of their local areas. I would be concerned that their knowledge would not be used. I understand planning permission was refused in 2005 for a building in Sandyford. The application sat with An Bord Pleanála for about four years and it kept deferring the application. I wonder how fast we can get enough extra planning staff to deal with the work of 31 local authorities in a planning facility within An Bord Pleanála, presumably in Marlborough Street or the general area. I acknowledge not all planning will involve 100 units. Would it be better to ramp up the appeals process or shorten the time period for dealing with planning applications?

I refer to public engagement. It is relatively easy for people to visit local authorities, deal with them, make submissions and so on. I am concerned that it will be much harder for people to deal with the planning process if it moves to a centralised location in Dublin.

Our party will support the Bill, as will I because that is our party position. I have concerns about the proposal regarding plans for developments of the 100 units or more, which I would like the Minister to bear in mind.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House to outline his proposals. The plan is a very positive one. I was a member of a local authority which was fortunate enough to be in a position to build public housing in recent years when other local authorities were not. The benefit of the housing plan can also be viewed from the perspective of job creation. There have been a number of welcome jobs announcements in Limerick recently but one of the factors affecting job applications was the housing shortage in the county.

The plan is very positive in lots of ways. Previous speakers referred to the Part 8 process and I voted on many Part 8 proposals during the 17 years that I spent on my local authority. The Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, visited Limerick recently for the launch of the hydro development which was closed down as a local authority development in 2002 and is only now being rebuilt. It is positive to see these units coming back on stream. The more investment in vacant units we see, the better and I know that is one element of the Minister's plan.

Up to now, local authorities have been very engaged and involved in the planning process. When I was in Australia I noted that the oral hearing system there was very effective. There are references to such hearings in the Bill in the context of exceptional circumstances. That might be one way of including members of local authorities, especially with regard to some of the bigger schemes. In the Australian system, the proposers of schemes are given a hearing, as are those who are opposed to them. Perhaps that system could be used more frequently rather than only being used in exceptional circumstances.

I am glad to see that the Bill will strengthen the powers of the Private Residential Tenancies Board because many tenants have been treated very badly by landlords. Landlords have been getting away with an awful lot. While some are very nice to their tenants, many treat them very badly. I was made aware of a case recently where the conduct of a landlord was simply deplorable. The tenant was bullied to such an extent that he was afraid to report the landlord. I hope we will see an end to that type of behaviour.

I would like to see a greater focus on unfinished estates. There is an unfinished retirement village in my electoral area comprised of 15 to 20 units. A developer has taken the estate over with the intention of finishing it but is being put through an enormous number of hoops. He is currently on his fourth or fifth planning application. People would be queuing up to get into the village because it comprises very nice bungalows in a very good location on the outskirts of the city. There is high demand but the developer is tearing his hair out with frustration. He is trying to get the project over the line. People are approaching him and telling him that they would like to buy one of the units but he is still awaiting final planning permission. I would urge the Department to focus on unfinished estates which are crucial to the development of villages, towns and cities.

The target in the plan is 47,000 social housing units per year and an increase of 25,000 in private units per year. Companies that are considering locating in Ireland take housing availability into account alongside issues such as the availability of a skilled workforce and access.

I welcome the Minister to the House and compliment him on his vigour and determination in addressing the problem of housing and homelessness in this country, as evidenced by the launch of Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness. I wish to focus on pillars 2 and 5, particularly in the context of existing housing stock. Pillar 2 focuses on the accelerated social housing objective and pillar 5 on the utilisation of existing housing.

I am very familiar with the housing issues in my own county of Mayo. The latest available figures show that 24% of the 65,000 units in the county are empty. At the same time, Mayo County Council has a housing list of 1,600. A survey was conducted by the Department in 2010. Inspectors who had previously been involved in inspections related to the first time buyer's grant went from house to house in Mayo and found that one quarter of the units were empty. We are in the same place right now. Recent census figures show that little has changed in six years. There is a fundamental problem there that the market is not addressing.

The empty housing stock in Mayo comprises both empty and half finished units. Approximately 1,500 of the empty units are at various stages of construction. Clearly these units need to be completed and occupied. There are 1,600 people on the housing list in Mayo and 1,500 semi-complete units. A focus on getting the existing housing stock occupied will go a long way towards addressing the housing needs of people in the county. Such a focus will also address the problem of dereliction and unfinished houses and estates. This should be done alongside the planned investment in new social housing.

The big questions are why these units have remained empty for the past six years or more and what can be done about it. Ordinary market forces are not addressing this issue. While I welcome the two new schemes announced by the Minister recently, namely, the repair and lease scheme and the buy and renew scheme, I am not sure how they will work. We need to get more houses in public ownership, that is, in the ownership of the local authority rather than approved housing bodies. It is not very attractive at the moment to be a landlord. It is very onerous, involving a lot of red tape, the payment of PRSI and so forth. The tax treatment of landlords is very different to PAYE workers, for example, and a lot of people, quite simply, do not want the bother. We know that there are ceilings on rent and we know the reasons for that but it is not attractive to be a landlord. The Minister has set aside more funding for the repair and lease scheme than for the buy and renew scheme. However, in Mayo, the buy and renew scheme is more appropriate and sensible.

We need to work out how we are going to get these empty units occupied, either by buying them or giving people grants to renovate them. We need to go about this in a systematic way, as was done in 2010. Inspectors must go around the county, door to door. In many cases, people do not know why units are empty. It might be that an older person has died and the house has been left empty because of issues relating to the deceased person's estate. It might be the case that builders have problems with banks or with NAMA and do not know where things stand. We must get to the bottom of this so that we can find the people with the decision making power. It is surely the case that people do not want to have properties empty when we have a homelessness and housing shortage problem.

The banks are very quick to sell houses and mortgages to vulture funds. Why are they not being required to approach local authorities first to offer them empty units? The banks should be forced to approach local authorities, tell them what units are available, what the situation is with regard to the debt and to sort things out. There are issues with regard to title in many cases, particularly with older houses.

Traditionally, local authorities had the power to correct difficulties with the legal title to a property. All these issues need to be examined. We must start knocking on doors, and if inspectors are not available as they were before, we should mandate local authority officers, clerks or technicians to do it. Resource the local authorities to do it. Then we would really get to grips with the empty houses. Will the Minister take this on board? These are very real experiences in Mayo. It would make a world of difference to the 1,600 people and families on the housing list. It would go a major way towards sorting out our problem with dealing with existing housing stock in a very practical way.

Many questions have been asked and I will try to deal with as many as I can. If I miss any please feel free to contact me before next week.

A number of themes came through. I am a little uncomfortable with the terminology "fast track planning" because it suggests it is being rushed and it is not. We are speaking about putting in place a properly resourced process whereby there is preplanning consultation which involves proper and significant engagement with local authorities and developers. Developers will have to prepare a much higher quality application, otherwise the timeline simply will not be sufficient to deal with the application and it will get thrown out. It will be deemed not to be ready for an application after nine weeks and the recommendation will probably be not to apply to An Bord Pleanála.

The idea that local councillors have no role is not the case. There is no reason the procedure that exists in local authorities, whereby controversial planning applications are referred to a committee for discussion and planners get feedback from democratically elected councillors on how they look at planning applications, cannot happen during the preplanning consultation process. Ultimately, planners make the recommendations on planning issues. Of course councillors make decisions and recommendations on zoning issues, local area plans, policy considerations and a series of other things that contribute to county development plans, city development plans and local area plans, and this will remain unaffected. The preplanning consultation process is about ensuring that on zoned land which has already been earmarked by councillors for houses, issues regarding quality, design, density, amenities and other facilities linked to large-scale development are provided for in the planning application. It will be a pretty robust exchange. There will be pressure on the developers in particular, knowing there is a nine week timeline and that is it, to get their ducks in a row and ensure they are consistent with local area plans to make the formal application to An Bord Pleanála.

The reason An Bord Pleanála is involved in the preplanning consultation with local authorities is so there is local knowledge when the application formally goes to An Bord Pleanála and somebody, or a team, from An Bord Pleanála has been involved or is receiving reports from the preplanning consultation process that happened over the previous nine week period. A good point was made that local authorities have local knowledge. An Bord Pleanála cannot be expected to have this level of local knowledge. The point of having it involved in the pre-application process is to ensure local knowledge is part of the consideration when it comes to the board.

I assure the House this is not a rush job. It is trying to ensure we have a statutory time limit in place so we have some certainty over decision-making which, from a minimum point of view, could be about 25 weeks of pretty rigorous assessment after which there will be another rigorous assessment of the formal application.

It would not be true to say the only appeal mechanism is a judicial review. A judicial review reviews the process by which the consideration took place and consistency with legality. It does not review the planning decision because no judge is a qualified planner. Perhaps one might happen to be, but it is not the connection that is relevant.

What is happening is the vast majority of large planning applications for residential developments end up with An Bord Pleanála anyway. We are including An Bord Pleanála in the pre-application stage so it understands local issues and can factor them into making a good decision over a 16 week period during which councillors, members of the public or anybody else for that matter can object and make observations.

They do not all listen. Most of the Minister's board members are not even planners.

The Minister without interruption. There will be plenty time on Committee Stage.

There is a planning division in An Bord Pleanála which will work on these applications. It is the board members who will make final decisions but the recommendations-----

They are not planners.

Senator Boyhan will have an opportunity on Committee Stage.

Let me finish. A housing division will be established in the board specifically to examine these in detail. It will be well resourced from a planning perspective. It will also have a sufficient number of members. We can tease through these issues again. I take the Senator's concern and I have not done this lightly.

The vast majority of houses which obtain planning permission next year will go through the normal process. This is just for the big applications to try to encourage people back to looking at large-scale housing developments and building communities. It is also about encouraging higher density in cities such as Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford to a certain extent. We are trying to encourage higher density high quality apartment complexes and student complexes so we get people living in urban communities and urban environments.

My understanding is, and I will clarify this, developers may well use the process in a strategic development zone if they want. As long as the outcome is consistent with the local area plan or the city development plan it is covered in the legislation. If I am wrong on this I will clarify it next week.

I acknowledge the concerns of the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG. I have not seen the document but I am aware of it. We will certainly look at it in the context of seeing what we might be able to do to alleviate some of these concerns. There is no effort to bypass local government I can assure the House. In the vast majority of councils, as I stated, there will be very few such applications. This year, 15 applications were made to An Bord Pleanála. Next year it expects perhaps 50. This is what it is gearing up to deal with. Thousands of planning applications will be made throughout the country. The House will be glad to hear the number of planning applications has increased on this time last year by approximately 40%. What we are doing is working and we are seeing increased activity. People see the State is now looking to support and gear up a construction industry to be able to build homes for people.

The comments on Part VIII were reasonably complimentary. Again, we ensure councillors are the key decision makers and there is an onus on senior management to get reports done in a timely manner.

A number of comments were made on the so-called Tyrrelstown amendment. On rent generally, and please work with me on this, this is not the complete story. A number of Senators in their contributions stated they would do more and would introduce an amendment to make it happen. We will launch a pretty significant rental strategy in approximately one month which will deal with some of the issues raised today. We are not ready to put an amendment into this legislation consistent with the policy because it is not yet finalised. Every political party, member of the public and stakeholder has had an opportunity to contribute in writing to a consultation process on the rental strategy. It is only three or four weeks away. As part of this, I may well introduce a significant Committee Stage amendment in the Dáil on some of the issues raised today. We need to ensure any amendment on rent predictability, rent certainty, balancing the concerns and rights of tenants and landlords has a proper balance. When we introduce something it needs to be comprehensive as opposed to having an unintended consequence, such as, perhaps shutting off supply or frightening investment out of the market, which is the last thing we need.

I am the first to accept that what we are doing on rental supports is only a small part of what will be announced in about a month's time; therefore, Members should not judge it as being the complete picture because it is not.

I will take on board the issues that have been raised. Concerning the figure of 20 units, we wanted to take early action before the rental strategy was complete. We wanted to be able to say to institutional investors who were buying up large-scale developments in cities such as Dublin that when these properties were being sold, the active tenancies within them would be protected. We picked a figure of 20 units because anything above it represented a medium-sized development. We want to make sure that when medium-sized and large-scale developments which, by and large, are managed by professionally managed funds, professional landlords and so-called vulture funds are bought by and sold to each other, tenants will be protected throughout the process in order that we will not have a repeat of what happened in Tyrrelstown. We have a very unusual rental market in Ireland in which nearly 90% of rental properties are owned by landlords who only own one property. Yes, of course, there is another discussion and debate we need to have about issues such as security of tenure and so on, but we should not put a landlord who owns one property and who may be an accidental landlord in the same category as professional investors. There are complexities in that regard.

We will tease out all of these issues and all of the questions raised by Members as we proceed through the various Stages and amendments next week. We hope to launch our rental strategy early next month. I signal that I hope we will be able to use the opportunity presented by this legislation to bring forward a comprehensive amendment on the strategy at a later stage. If we make a substantial amendment on Committee Stage in the Dáil, we will have to come back to the Seanad. That is my understanding. As I will not be ready or able to do so next week, I appeal to parties to wait and see what our response will be, taking account of the submissions made by many parties in that process. If we make amendments on Committee Stage in the Dáil, there will be an opportunity to debate them in this House. I look forward to the discussion next week.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 22 November 2016.