Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2017: Second Stage

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

Obtaining planning permission is one of the key steps in enabling housing providers to produce the homes we all need. The process of obtaining planning permission takes time, reflecting the importance of getting the location and design of new development right. Once permission is granted, it normally lasts for five years to enable the relevant development to be built out. However, due to the economic recession of recent years and the resulting downturn in construction activity and slow pace of sales, many approved housing developments could not be built out within the timeframe of their original permissions. We discussed this last December in this House. This is the case even where some of these benefitted from an initial five-year extension of duration, which is already facilitated under the Planning Acts. Recognising these extraordinary economic and market conditions and to avoid time-consuming and pointless repeat applications for planning permission at a time of unprecedented housing need, pillar 3 of Rebuilding Ireland committed the Government to amending planning legislation to temporarily allow for a second extension of duration of planning permissions over the period of the action plan to 2021.

Section 28 of the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016, that is, the 2016 Act, was originally drafted to amend section 42 of the main Act and address the extension of duration provisions. Specifically, section 28 of the 2016 Act provides, under section 28(1), a permanent change to section 42 of the 2000 Act, providing that extensions of duration would no longer apply where environmental impact assessment or appropriate assessment was required in respect of the original planning permission. This is to bring the planning code fully into line with EU law requirements.

Under section 28(2), a temporary change is being made to section 42 of the 2000 Act, providing that a second extension of duration of planning permission could be approved for a development of 20 or more homes in certain circumstances and where development had substantially commenced within the original permission period. It was always intended to commence these provisions separately, as the first was drafted in response to EU requirements. As is the norm with such new legislative requirements, there needs to be a transitional period for practical arrangements to be made to meet them. Developers need time to consider and comply with the new EU law requirements, and, as the case may be, apply for an extension of duration or a new planning permission. This is the reason we are not commencing this provision immediately but expect to do so by the end of this year.

The second provision is more urgent. If a second extension of duration is required to deliver housing that is in short supply, the Government is anxious that this be acted on as soon as possible. However, owing to the legal construction of section 28 with these two separate provisions, as I have outlined, legal advice received indicates that it is not possible to specifically commence the second provision without also commencing the first. Accordingly, the Bill before the House today seeks to allow the Government to commence this second provision separately and without delay.

Another reason to enact the Bill before the House quickly is to address a further issue that came to light during consideration of amendments to the 2016 Act during the debates on the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016 which is currently on Report Stage in the Dáil. Some housing providers are not able to avail of a second extension of duration in cases where the development had substantially commenced but had done so within the period of the extended planning permission, that is, after year five, as opposed to during the original five-year planning permission period.

During discussions on the Bill, the Government tabled amendments and signalled that it would be considering other changes in the 2016 Bill, taking account of the constructive and helpful views from Opposition Members. The Government is eager to facilitate as broad a cohort of house builders to be able to avail of this temporary flexibility to deliver as much new and permitted housing stock into the market as early as possible. However, recognising that the 2016 Bill will not be enacted until the autumn, it has moved decisively to bring these changes into effect as soon as possible. This is to minimise delays and provide certainty for developers, their financiers and planning authorities. The provisions before the House are, therefore, not new, but are, in fact, simplified and allow for greater flexibility for eligible permissions seeking a further extension. We discussed this issue during the debate in December and the need for this. Most people, while they had other issues with that Bill at the time, were quite supportive of this situation to allow common sense to prevail with respect to planning applications that were moving through the system.

I will briefly go through the provisions in the Bill. Section 1 proposes to delete section 28(2)(a) of the 2016 Act and substitute new text to address the issues above and enable separate commencements to the different parts of section 28. Section 1 also extends the opportunity for second durations of permission to those developments whose permissions have expired, or are due to expire, regardless of whether the developments commenced during their initial period of permission, or during the first extension period.

Section 2 contains standard provisions of a general nature, dealing with such matters as Short Title, collective citation and construction. As the Bill contains no commencement provision, the enacted provisions will come into force upon the date of signature of the President.

While I appreciate that consideration of such a provision would normally make its way through the legislative process in the traditional manner, we do not have the luxury of waiting for the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016, which will extend into the autumn. There are many issues related to that Bill that Members will wish to discuss at length. Rather than trying to rush the taking of that Bill last week, it was important that we separate out the most urgent amendment, which is what we are discussing. We are aware there are a substantial number of commenced housing projects, possibly between 50 and 100, throughout the country that could be further built out without further delay, were the amending legislation and relevant commencement arrangements to be expedited. If not, that building activity may be obliged to cease. We have heard of cases where people have been told they would have leave a site as their time is nearly up because the planning permission in due to expire. That is what has happened with housing developments. Some of those houses are badly needed. Some of them involve social housing developments and others involve private housing developments. Also, many people who plan to build houses this summer are of the understanding that we passed this measure last December. They do not get to follow all the ins and outs of what we do or how we do our business here. They assumed that when we had the debate before Christmas that this measure is in law already. Some people think their permissions are up to date and they are making plans to build in the months ahead. Therefore, it was important that we got this dealt with. As soon as it became clear from scheduling arrangements that the Oireachtas would not be able to conclude its deliberations on the 2016 Bill before the recess, the Government acted immediately to seek to progress this key provision by means of this fast-track stand-alone Bill.

We did not want to rush consideration of the wide range of issues in that Bill.

They include the important proposals on the establishment of the Office of the Planning Regulator which require the careful scrutiny of this House. That planning Bill took a long time on Committee Stage also. I know that people are genuinely interested in that Bill. It is an important one. It also reflects some of the results of the tribunal and it is important we give it proper consideration and time.

This Bill ensures the affected housing providers who have substantially commenced development in an extended planning permission period are able to apply for a second extension of duration without the need to cease work while they apply for a new permission. It also means those with projects that had substantially commenced within their original planning permission period would be able to avail of a second extension. It is important to note that this provision will apply only to projects that have substantially commenced and will not apply to projects that have not commenced. This is to discourage the hoarding of planning permissions without going ahead and delivering homes. I know much of the discussion would have happened here in December and in the Dáil subsequent to that in the past week, where this was discussed. There is a fear of hoarding and we do not want to do anything to encourage more hoarding. This is the opposite. It is to try to get people to bring forward their land and to activate it as quickly as they possibly can. As facilitated under the original provisions of the 2016 Act, any qualifying permitted development that had expired between the publication of Rebuilding Ireland on 19 July 2016 and the commencement date of this provision will still be eligible to apply for a second extension.

I commend the Bill to the House. I thank Members on all sides for facilitating this important matter at short notice. I know that we have had conversations with many about this and appreciate people's efforts in the past two weeks to try to facilitate this Bill to come through to be discussed and debated in a common-sense manner, which I think is important to doing our job here. Everyone has issues we have to debate, but it is also important that we be effective on the ground where there are people who are on site, have their jobs and are working. They want to continue to finish those houses and we have to facilitate that as well as we can, but it requires proper planning to do so.

I thank the Minister of State for his briefing. I assure him, first, that Fianna Fáil will support the Bill and its passage through the Oireachtas at great speed. We have all, at different points throughout the past year, made clear that the idea of putting through all Stages of any Bill is not a good precedent. It is not a good idea to ram legislation through, but we understand the necessity for it in this particular situation. That said, it is hard to believe we are in a situation where this Bill has to come to us at all. It seems that we have to resolve matters which arise from a technical drafting error that should have been spotted when the legislation was being passed before Christmas. Without this provision to extend, as the Minister of State has said, there are between 50 and 100 projects - we seem to have a figure of around 70 - of more than 20 units which had been granted permission in advance of 2009 which, if this were not passed now, would have to stop construction, the sites would have to be left, and people would have to be laid off, all of which would further reduce the very limited supply of housing of all types, as the Minister of State outlined. It is a time when we need houses more than ever and we have a situation where it seems we have to rush this through because of something that was not spotted earlier. It could be argued that the amount of time we spend discussing judicial appointments or other things is the reason we do not get adequate time to deal with this kind of thing and we cannot lay the blame for that with a Fine Gael Minister. It is important that this be done and that we do it as expeditiously and as quickly as possible because we do not want to see a reduction in supply or people being laid off when we need construction workers more than ever.

I would like to hear from the Minister of State, or from his officials through him, what happened with the various Acts around Christmas and why we have to rush this through now. What happened to the planning Bill around Christmas when we sat until 22 or 23 December to deal with it and which we supported? Why did a situation like this arise? I support the concept that it is a use it or lose it provision. We understand the economic situation, but we do not want people to hoard planning permission and we do not want people to think that they can get planning permission in a particular period and then keep sitting on it as house prices go up. It is equally important that, where there are extensions of planning permissions and a county development plan changes and introduces better or improved standards, people should not be able to renew their planning permission. I know that was not the case in the past and that if the development plan changed standards, people would often be refused the permission to build things that had been permitted under an old development plan but were no longer allowed under the new development plan.

At this stage, Rebuilding Ireland is almost a year old and progress has been relatively limited. We can talk about reports and what is in the pipeline and while I know houses cannot be built overnight, we are nonetheless a long way from what was forecast and projected a year ago. I would like to hear from the Minister of State what progress he is making or he feels can be made in the short and medium term. Figures came out yesterday that showed the most expensive areas to buy houses. Two of the top five in the country are in my former electoral area of Stillorgan, Foxrock and Mount Merrion. There are huge prices for houses that are not necessarily enormous. It is the issue of supply versus demand. A relatively tiny number of houses are available with many people chasing them, as a result of which the house prices go up, leaving people who are not necessarily wealthy with very large mortgages and a very long time to service them. We now have figures for rents that are higher than they ever were. They are higher than they were at the peak of the boom in 2008, with the average rent for a one-bed place in Dublin now at 69% of average monthly earnings. These are all issues that need to be addressed. We are facilitating the Minister of State's Bill, but there is much more work to be done. I would appreciate the Minister of State's response about how it has happened that we are having to pass this legislation quickly and an assurance that this behaviour of rushing things through will not happen again.

I welcome the Minister of State and his officials. There is a housing crisis. We know that there is a shortage of supply of social and affordable housing and housing generally on the market. The Government published Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness. That is the policy. Therefore, it has to be pursued, not blindly by us but ultimately by the Government because it is its plan. We discussed it at great length and the reality is we must not see it in isolation from the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. There is a huge amount of legislation on proper planning and sustainable development. It does not all just spring out. This has always been there. We have a good planning code and a good planning system. We have 31 planning authorities that are vigilant. My understanding - I am open to correction - is that this legislation does not limit or stop a planning authority from giving a two-year restriction of a second extension of an extension, if the Minister of State knows what I mean. He might confirm this because it is important. It does not take that discretion from the local planning authorities, which is very important, because we hold a great deal of hope about the situation. I have to say on behalf of the planning authorities with which I have dealt, since I hold them in high esteem, that they are critical to the work and the function and that we have an independent appeals process in certain places.

Coming back to the issue, while that is an important point to make, the target of Rebuilding Ireland is 47,000 social houses. It has taken longer than most would have envisaged to bed down, but it is the policy and, in time, we in the House will be holding the Government to account for the next roll-out in the next eight or nine months and how it progresses. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and we are regularly exercised by the delivery of social and affordable housing. In fairness to the Minister, the Minister of State and departmental officials, they constantly attend and engage. I acknowledge the importance of that process too.

Extending the time for house building makes sense. For that reason I will support the Minister of State's legislative proposals that are before the House. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and the Minister of State, Deputy English, are ultimately responsible for delivery of the housing element of the programme. This is about a second extension for planning permissions over and above the first extension. The Bill seeks to ensure the extensions to planning permissions are legislatively provided for in a timely manner, which is very important, and allow house builders to complete unfinished housing estates under certain circumstances and conditions. It is not a blanket open permission but is under circumstances and specific conditions. There is discretion within the planning authority, which is very important. During the financial crisis we know that construction companies had to fold up, walk off sites and not complete them. They should never have been completed in some cases because they were not good enough, but there are issues and we have to accept the reality and live with it that there were issues which meant that developments did not get under way in a timely manner. That is a fact. Our objective must always be to deliver more housing at every level in the market. Therefore, the Bill is to be welcomed.

As a member of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, I have been made aware in recent times that there are approximately 70 to 75 developments - the Minister of State referred to between 50 and 100 - throughout this country that are awaiting the commencement this legislation before obtaining planning permission. People are waiting and ready and want either start or recommence work. That is an important point. When we discussed all of this, it was pointed out that there would be further amendments to the Planning and Development Act 2000 to extend the duration of planning permissions that had already benefited from a first extension of duration. The Bill is, therefore, giving effect to something that we had discussed previously. It is not all new to us.

Rebuilding Ireland has a deadline to 31 December 2021. I want reassurances on this because this is something with which I have a bit of a problem. Am I correct in thinking there will be no further extensions and that this will die at that point? I want reassurances that there will be no extensions after 2021, which is the deadline for the completion of Rebuilding Ireland. This is important. Could the Minister of State clarify the position? I would really like to hear the Minister of State's views on planning authorities' discretion to only extend it by two years. Is that an option? The Minister of State might reassure us on that point.

The bottom line is that we need more housing. The delivery of more housing in every sector across the country is necessary in order to address a housing crisis. That is why I will be supporting the Bill. I am aware that there are a number of amendments. I have read those amendments and have no difficulty with any of them. I stand open to correction that all of the matters to which they relate are adequately dealt with in legislation, be it building control legislation, the Planning and Development Acts and various other mechanisms. I am particularly drawn to the point relating to building controls, planning and development and climate mitigation and the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. All of these areas are adequately covered. If I thought they were not adequately covered, I would be supporting the amendments. I do not think it is necessary to support them. I am supportive of the principle behind them but I would like to hear whether they are already provided for or whether safeguards and mechanisms are already in place that render the amendments unnecessary. I would like to get the Minister of State's feedback on that issue also.

I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber, a place with which he has been very familiar in recent years. This is an important day. We are trying to put legislation in place that will be very important for the Rebuilding Ireland initiative and society. What we hope to do is ensure that we can maximise the potential in every site the throughout Ireland. We are all aware of sites that have not been finished. We now have an opportunity to ensure these sites will be finished in a timely and orderly manner. That is appropriate.

The second extension is something that has been sought for many years. It has been talked about by many local authorities. I know that it is limited to developments of over 20 homes, but it has been an issue for some time. The original extension was introduced in 2011 and was very positive. It gave people who were under pressure the opportunity to stall their developments and keep them alive. We are now saying that if the developments are starting, they have the opportunity to finish the development. It is positive legislation that will deliver housing as part of Pillar 3 of Rebuilding Ireland. I compliment the Minister on bringing it forward.

The larger issue is supply. How can we increase supply throughout the country? This is about trying to ensure that housing is built. This is a part of it, as is planning permission. Ensuring that planning permissions do not die is part of it. Ensuring finance is available is another key part.

Another matter we need to consider relates to who is going to build houses. This is becoming a major issue across the country. Unemployment is falling rapidly and heading below 7%. Trying to get staff to ensure we can build these houses is very important. It is said we need six men to build ten houses in a year. We do not have them. I have been talking to builders in Cork. Their biggest issue is finance. They have issues regarding planning permission but trying to get qualified tradesmen to deliver the rebuilding project is becoming a huge problem. We have lost so many. Some have come back but others have not. That will probably be the biggest struggle we will have over the next few months and years in the context of ensuring that we can get the supply up and running.

The Minister and the Department are doing their utmost to ensure they have opened up sites. This is another initiative. We have seen the initiative regarding bringing large planning permissions straight to An Bord Pleanála, which indicates that large master plan sites can get through the process faster, so there are major initiatives in the Rebuilding Ireland strategy which must be welcomed. I am confident that it will deliver.

My one worry is the staffing element. Based on what I am hearing, my great fear is that the number of qualified tradesmen - the men we need to deliver these plans we are making today - is limited. We must do something to ensure we have the potential to deliver the plans we are making.

Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Ag deireadh na bliana seo caite bhí muid ag déileáil leis an mBille um fhorbairt tithíochta. Bhí muid deireanach go maith sa mbliain agus dar liom féin gur cuireadh i bhfad an iomarca brú ar an mBille a ritheadh roimh an Nollaig. Feictear dom go bhfuil an fhadhb chéanna againn leis an mBille seo. Ní bhfuair muid féin ná ár gcomhgleacaithe sá Dáil dóthain ama le dul tríd na hathruithe uilig ar an bpríomhacht.

I welcome the Minister of State, but I have concerns about the way the Bill is being rushed through the Houses. I do not believe this is the way to do business. My colleagues in the Dáil and I are deeply frustrated by the lack of time to scrutinise and examine the complex planning issues in the Bill. We are dealing with a Bill that seeks to close a loophole in the legislative process which could put a stop to planned developments or developments already underway. Therefore, ample time should always be given to legislation seeking to close a loophole in order to ensure that another one is not opened. When this legislation was before the Dáil, Deputy Ó Broin wrote to the Minister to ask whether he and his Department were aware of individual developments where house construction might have to cease because of this legislative difficulty. After The Sunday Business Post reported that approximately 75 developments could be affected, Deputy Ó Broin again wrote to the Minister to repeat that simple request for information. It would have been valuable to share said information with Members of the Oireachtas who, after all, are dealing with an already highly complicated planning and development environment. I understand that at least two social housing developments, one of which is being progressed by Túath Housing, could be affected. If the Minister is asking us to take him at his word while working through the legislation in this way, it would have been fair for him to share the information held by the officials in his office.

It is my understanding there is a problem with the process relating to the first extension of planning permissions. When extensions are sought, there is a sense among elected representatives and third parties that, in many local authority areas, it is a rubber-stamping exercise. Where substantial changes have happened in a development or in the environmental circumstances, it is very difficult for people to influence and engage in the first extension period regardless of whether the developer is responsible for the delay or has a bad track record of completing existing parts of a development.

The intention is to ensure that if a developer is on site and only has a couple of months left but needs a year or two years, the development will not be stopped. However, as the Bill is drafted, someone could commence a development, for example, put in the foundations, to a significant degree and then pause or sit on it for a while. With house price inflation at 10%, it may be better for the developer to leave it for a period. There is a real possibility that a rogue or greedy developer, as opposed to the genuine developers this Bill is trying to help, could avail of this extension and meet the criteria to benefit from one year, two or three years of additional house price inflation. Will the Minister of State indicate the safeguards that are in place to ensure this will not be abused? How can he be sure people will not seek extensions merely to play the market? I am concerned that endless extensions granted across the State would lead to extended delays and increased house prices. A Sinn Féin amendment was accepted in the Dáil in respect of this matter - namely, that developers must provide a reason an extension to a permission is being sought. I would like to hear from the Minister of State that the Government will follow up on it.

This is the second time we have dealt with fast-tracking legislation that is primarily for the benefit of private housing developments. There is a desperate need for the Department to come back with a similar set of proposals to fast-track social housing developments. The 18 to 24-month approval and procurement process is slowing the pace of social housing delivery to a level that is unacceptable.

We are being told of the urgency of fixing this problem, but there is a huge problem with the State's delivery of social housing. It is taking far too long and the measures introduced by the former Minister are not having the desired impact on the ground or in speeding up the four-stage process. We need legislation that will ultimately move us from an 18 or 24-month approval process to a six or nine-month one-stage process. That would be eminently deliverable without compromising on standards or on the quality of accommodation.

Ar an mhór-chuid, cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille seo ach caithfimid uilig béim a chur ar thógáil tithíochta sósialta. Má tá an tAire chun reachtaíocht a bhrú tríd na Tithe go tapaidh, caithfidh sé gach eolas atá aige a thabairt dúinne mar Bhaill de na Tithe.

I welcome the Minister of State. The last time I spoke to him about housing was on 2 March when we were debating the introduction of a pilot scheme for affordable housing on the Irish Glass Bottle site. The Minister of State may remember the Commencement matter that we discussed. On that occasion I asked him for a pilot scheme and he responded that there was no need because work was well under way for a national scheme. I read last week in The Irish Times that up to 1,600 social units in Dublin city, in O'Devaney Gardens and St. Michael's Estate, for example, will be delayed because of the lack of legislation dealing with affordable housing. The article also mentioned the possibility of delaying progress on the 3,500 homes being developed on the Irish Glass Bottle site for the same reason.

I find it very unfortunate that we are not seeing any emergency legislation being rushed through the House today to ensure these developments go ahead that will give affordable housing and affordable rental accommodation to people in this city. Where is that legislation? When will we see it rushed through this House? We are talking about legislation that would help real people with real jobs get real homes. Today we are seeing what is, by and large, rushed legislation for approximately 1,500 units. There is a supply issue throughout the country and I have no intention of blocking this Bill. The last time I heard language like "substantially commenced", however, was when the former Minister and Deputy Martin Cullen was bringing legislation through both Houses during the boom that prevented the delivery of the 20% quota for social and affordable housing. What he did on that occasion was to give exemptions to planned developments throughout the country that had substantially commenced without defining what that meant. My challenge to the Minister of State is to define what he means by "substantially commenced". Does it mean a hole in the ground? Does it mean that foundations have been laid, that the outer walls have been built or that the roof is on? Can we have a definition of "substantially commenced"?

The Minister of State might also clarify what he means by something being an extension to planning permission. If developments are given planning permission without meeting the 10% social quota, can they then carry to on to completion without meeting this provision at all? Is this covered in the Bill? I can see that the departmental officials are quickly checking that matter. Is there any control over whether planning applications include infrastructure for storage and water? Are there safeguards to make the local authorities ensure this infrastructure is in place? What level of building quality will be stipulated? Health and safety has to be a concern for every Member of this House and building standards have changed over this period. To what regulation standards will these "substantially commenced" buildings be subject?

Returning to my first point, I would like to know more about the 1,600 units on Dublin City Council land that are delayed because of the lack of the required legislation. Do we have to wait for October, November or December to see progress? Will it ultimately delay the Irish Glass Bottle site, which could potentially deliver up to 3,500 units? The Minister of State tells us that this particular Bill, which may deliver up to 1,500 units, is urgent. Where is his sense of urgency with regard to the larger sites I mention? Some clarity would certainly be helpful.

I want to contribute to this debate for a number of reasons. First, the second time extension mentioned must be given on the basis that these units will be built. I would not like to see this being open to abuse if developers were to seek a second extension and then let their developments sit for five years. That is not on.

I would like to discuss a second issue coming to the fore. I will give an example from my own area of Newport in north Tipperary. There is an estate in the town called Glencree, in front of which is a crane that has been left sitting there for the past five or six years. It has now gone rusty. Meanwhile the units that were to be in the front of the estate have still not been built; therefore, residents are driving through a wilderness to get their own home. These are people who put down hard-earned money to buy their house. This legislation has to be used to ensure houses are built. If they are not built, we need to ensure the sites will either be returned to green areas or given to someone else on which to build units. We cannot have a situation where developers apply for a time extension and then seek a change in design. This could see a development going from a reasonable standard to something substandard, leaving us with something that looks poor and is essentially the result of the developer looking to make a quick buck.

I know how committed the Minister of State is to building units and houses. There is, however, a problem with the message. The message needs to go out loud and clear that money is available for local authorities to build social units. It is up to the local authorities to apply for this money and deal with the matter. We all know of situations where units that should have been built are not being built at the appropriate speed. A further issue is that the bureaucracy involved in approving these local authority funding applications is taking too long. Whether it is at council or Department level, this needs to be sorted out. There is also a need for a full audit of all land owned by local authorities. Perhaps this is ongoing. If these lands can be built on, they should be. Furthermore, they should be built on in a sustainable way. Large estates do not work; they are unsustainable and we do not want them. The local authorities should, in the main, be building social housing consistently throughout the country, but this is not happening consistently. A total of 255 units have been built or are under construction in my Limerick city area, for example.

My final point concerns private housing. An activation fund has been put in place to open up areas to private development. What needs to be done, however, is to make it crystal clear that this funding will not be available to private developers unless they can give a value as to how much they will sell the affordable units for on the market. We cannot have public moneys going into housing developments without any knowledge of how much the affordable units will be sold for. What is required I think is an onus on local authorities to get on with the social building programme and an onus on private developers to either put up or shut up. With all of these sites lying idle, developers need either to build the units or sell the land in order that the units can be built at an affordable rate.

I will try to address as many questions as I possibly can. I thank all of the Senators who spoke for their contributions, with all of the colleagues who spoke on this matter in the Dáil last week.

The purpose of the Bill is twofold. The first purpose is to enable the immediate commencement of section 28(2) of the Planning and Development Housing and Residential Bill 2016 which was enacted on 23 December last year to allow housing providers to apply for a second extension of the duration of planning permissions. The second purpose is to broaden the qualifying circumstances within which a second extension of duration of planning permission for a substantially commenced development would be permitted.

Under the Bill projects that commenced within an extended period are included as opposed to those in the initial planning permission period as was allowed for in the 2016 legislation. That was one of the key issues identified as an amendment. We also took legal advice since we had our debate here last December when we felt we could have moved ahead with this with regulation but the Attorney General strongly advised that it would have needed enabling legislation. That is why we had hoped to deal with it as an amendment in the bigger planning Bill coming through the Dáil but that would have taken too long. It was on the schedule on numerous occasions in April, May and June but it eventually became obvious to all that it would not get through either House in time and we could be caught over the summer with people who had to leave sites. That would be lunacy and would not be appropriate for anybody. It was not necessarily a technical error; it was probably a timing error, coupled with the strong legal advice. It would have added value to what we discussed in December. It was one of the Fianna Fáil Members who raised it during the discussion of the larger planning Bill in the Dáil.

The key issue for me and the Government is that we work with, and support, those that have substantially commenced badly needed housing development. It is key that they are developments that are moving and that developers show an intention of developing a site and not sitting back for five, six or ten years. This is to encourage people who have proved that they intend to build, have started or made significant progress and want to continue. There are people outside sites. Deputy Ó Broin asked for a list and we have asked for the list to be delivered to him. We will try to get that. I am aware of some sites, two of which are social housing. Others are genuinely cases where the people did not realise that their planning permission was not going to qualify. They assumed this Bill had passed. That is why the list will grow when we get full information. As soon as we have that we will give it to Senators. There were builders who thought they could go ahead and start work next week or the week after not realising that their permission expired six, seven or eight months ago. They assumed because we had a debate here that it had been passed. That is the way people think. It did not go through for all the reasons we have discussed. It is important to get that list. It is not just a technicality.

In respect of the progress of Rebuilding Ireland, house building is one of the pillars and to increase the supply of housing we believe we are on track this year, based on the ESRI figures. There is some debate over what is a completed or finished house, with electricity connection and so on. Setting that aside, it is predicted that over 18,500 houses will be completed this year, maybe even more. The target for this year would have been around 18,000 in our plan and to get to 19,000 in 2020 and 2021. Some of these might have been started three or four years ago, but we are counting completions. We are ahead with that. All of the trends in respect of commencement and planning notices are coming on and they are right because they are up by between 38% and 45%. That would show the trends coming through for the next three or four years of housing completion. Our target is that a minimum of 25,000 houses will be completed per year by 2021. We will be ahead of that target. We recognise that we need to get to 28,000 or 29,000 and will do for some of those years. Since we published our plan the ESRI predicts that to stay ahead of demand we will need to 34,000 or 35,000 houses per year from 2021. We reckon we will have the system in a position to deliver at least 30,000 houses a year by 2020 or 2021. We will build on that figure thereafter.

I did not realise the Acting Chairman would cut me off after three minutes. Other questions were asked and I might get a chance later to answer them.

It might be helpful to let the Minister of State reply in full now as it would save time as the debate proceeded because our questions would have been answered.

The Minister of State can have two minutes.

Under the principal Act, the planning authority has discretion to state they do not need the five years. I think we are making progress with regard to Rebuilding Ireland. Compared with last year, there are now 10,000 houses in the social housing pipeline. They are not all on site, but over 2,000 are on site and being worked on. They were not there a year ago. That is progress. All of the trends are moving in the right direction and planning permission has been commenced. The infrastructural fund has been announced and individual projects are being worked on. We have identified over 800 sites in State ownership that will also be developed. That is progress. Each local authority must have plans in by September for all of those sites. It is a litle like the Action Plan for Jobs. A great deal of work had to go on in the first year on the foundations, for want of a better word, for building but the results will be visible in the years ahead. I am quite happy and have no doubt that in terms of housing units, completion and build that will happen in the next three or four years because of the work we have done in the past year. We want to make more progress in dealing with homelessness. We are slightly behind our target of getting people out of hotels. That will be dealt with in August and September. The planning and development can never be quick enough, but I am happy that is it on track.

The planning authority has discretion. That is in the principal Act. We will bring forward more amendments to the bigger planning Bill to deal with land hoarding and Senator Boyhan's concern. It will also deal with Senator Ó Clochartaigh's concerns.

Can it be extended beyond 31 December 2021?

No. That is it. We are saying up to 2021 under the Rebuilding Ireland action plan. I cannot say what some future Government will do, but that is not our intention.

Amendments are not necessary on Committee Stage. We discussed them in the Dáil already.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh asked if it would allow someone put in the foundations, then sit back and do nothing. That is not the case. We are very clear that substantial works have to be carried out. Other measures are coming forward in the legislation we will discuss in the autumn which will help with that concern. We do not want that to happen. We are on the same page.

Social housing is not covered in the Bill, but there are many plans to bring forward social housing. We are way ahead of what we did last year. It is not nearly enough and no one is saying it is. This planning permission change will aid some social housing projects and planning in general will deliver more social houses.

Question put and agreed to.