Amendment No. 21 arises out of committee proceedings.
Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016: Report Stage (Resumed)
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 44, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 2 of Principal Act
7. The Principal Act is amended by the insertion of the following section after section 2:
“2A. Planning authorities, the Office of the Planning Regulator, the Government, and other public authorities in the exercise of their functions under this Act, shall ensure consistency with the National Transition Objective established in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015.”.”.
Amendment No. 21 requires that planning decisions and plans such as development plans, as well as any other decisions taken under the Act, are consistent with the national transition objective. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 establishes the national objective of transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient, environmentally sustainable economy by 2050. The Act requires that public authorities have regard to this objective. Unfortunately, "have regard to" has been found in practice to mean very little. It is a test which is met by simply discussing climate issues in a vague manner. Therefore, I am proposing that the test be one which actually has an impact on the decisions made in the planning system.
The concept of requiring consistency with other plans runs throughout the planning system. For example, city and county development plans are required to be consistent with the regional, spatial and economic strategies. Given that climate change is the greatest challenge we face as a species, I propose that we require our planning decisions to be consistent with our national objective of transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient, environmentally sustainable economy by 2050.
I second the amendment.
I cannot accept the amendment proposed by Senator O'Sullivan. The Bill as drafted ensures that the office of the planning regulator shall have regard to the policies and objectives of the Government, planning authorities and any other public authorities whose functions have a bearing on proper planning and development. Furthermore, section 10 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, already provides that local authorities must take account of many of the directives and plans identified in these amendments in preparing development plans. Section 23 of the 2000 Act has similar provisions with regard to the preparation of regional, spatial and economic strategies. By extension, the planning regulator will be required to have regard to all of these matters when evaluating and assessing development plans and regional strategies.
The Bill as drafted further provides that when the planning regulator is assessing and evaluating development plans, she or he shall address the relevant legislative and policy matters relating to the development plans but also take account of the national planning framework and all relevant ministerial planning guidelines and policy directives. Consequently, I believe these provisions, as outlined in the Bill, are sufficiently broad and comprehensive to ensure that the planning regulator will have regard to all relevant policies, objectives and EU directives, including the ones mentioned in the Senator's amendment in assessing development plans and regional strategies. Accordingly, I do not believe it is necessary to specify particular Government objectives as put forward in the amendment.
I understand the motive behind the amendment but I think it is not necessary and I hope the Senator understands why we cannot accept it.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Black, Frances.
- Boyhan, Victor.
- Conway-Walsh, Rose.
- Devine, Máire.
- Humphreys, Kevin.
- Kelleher, Colette.
- Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
- O'Sullivan, Grace.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- Warfield, Fintan.
- Burke, Colm.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Maria.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Conway, Martin.
- Hopkins, Maura.
- Lawlor, Anthony.
- McFadden, Gabrielle.
- Mulherin, Michelle.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Mahony, John.
- O'Reilly, Joe.
- Reilly, James.
- Richmond, Neale.
Amendments Nos. 26 and 27 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 26:
In page 44, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:
"8. Section 13 of the Principal Act is amended by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (1):
"(1A) Notwithstanding paragraph (e) of subsection (10) of section 140 of the Local Government Act 2001 as amended by the Local Government Reform Act 2014, a resolution under that section may apply or extend to the executive function of initiating a variation under this section.".".
The adoption of a development plan is a reserved function to elected councillors, as is the making of a variation to the development plan. The Act currently provides that the initiation of a variation is an executive function of the council's chief executive. Therefore, although councillors have the ultimate power to make a variation, they cannot initiate the process to exercise that power. On Committee Stage, Senator Boyhan and I argued for the power to initiate a variation to be made a reserved function of councillors. The Minister of State understood our concerns but he was concerned that the full shift of function might go too far. Taking that into account, I propose that we enable the use of a special, important power in section 140 of the Local Government Act, which allows councillors to direct the chief executive of a local authority to exercise an executive function in a particular instance. That power does not generally apply to functions under the Planning and Development Act. I propose that the function of initiating a variation should be the only planning power where the section 140 procedure could be used.
The Minister of State is aware of some of the circumstances in which such a variation would be initiated by local councillors if my amendment is agreed. For example, in the case of St. Catherine's Park in County Kildare, the Fingal county development plan contains an objective for a major road leading straight into the park. The development plan objective is in the plan because Fingal councillors did not realise where the road led. As soon as they understood the implications of the plan, they set about trying to vary the plan to delete the road objective. However, they soon found that, as councillors, they cannot initiate a variation. For whatever reason, the chief executive has not initiated the variation and local residents and councillors on both sides of the Fingal-Kildare boundary are left with a development plan which they unanimously want to change. My party colleagues, Councillor Roderic O'Gorman in Fingal County Council and Vincent P. Martin in Kildare have drawn this matter to my attention. That is only one example but it is a very good one. More information will emerge about this case on which councillors want to make a good decision. I hope the Minister of State will agree to this amendment to ensure the democratic effectiveness of our planning system.
I second the amendment.
I wish to speak to my amendment No. 27 if that is in order.
That is in order as amendments Nos. 26 and 27 are being discussed together.
I welcome the Minister of State and his officials who have done a great deal of background work. I thank them for their co-operation and the ongoing discussions on these matters. The making of variations to development plans is an important function and one which is a reserved function of the council executive. Many aspects of the Bill address the outcome of the Mahon tribunal. Accountability and transparency are key words that echo throughout this Bill. They are also Government policy. We are proposing that councillors should at least be able to initiate a variation to a development plan. Much of this about language and process. Local government will not work unless there is a healthy, respectful relationship between the executive and the management.
So much of planning now is controlled by the matrix of the hierarchy of planning. We have a national planning framework and national planning structures. We have regional plans, local plans, strategic development zones in certain cases and, of course, the county development plans. Councillors are rightly proud guardians of their county development plans. The Minister of State, Deputy English, as a former active councillor in Meath, will be aware of the role councillors play in them. County development plans are important public documents. Catherine McGuinness, in a Supreme Court decision, found that the county development plan was a contract with the people and the people had a legitimate expectation to expect the roll-out of the county development plan.
However, there is always a time for a variation of a county development plan. The Department will be contacting all 31 local authorities, if it has not already done so, to ask them to vary the county development plan to give effect to the national planning framework or the national plan. The Department does not really have to do that but I understand this is what it will do. That should be kept in.
There is ongoing policy development. I told the Minister of State previously I took the time to look at a number of local authorities. I did, and I am happy to say that the last few variations to the Meath development plan have all been initiated by policy. They have been to bring into effect policy and they have been supported.
However, there is a case where members should be able to initiate a report. Amendment No. 27 proposes, in page 44, between lines 18 and 19, [and before section 8,] to insert the following:
"Amendment of section 13 of the Principal Act ...
"(1A) (a) The members of a planning authority may at any time, for stated reasons, submit a resolution to the manager of the planning authority requesting him or her to prepare a report on a proposal by them to initiate a process to consider the variation of the development plan which for the time being is in force where three quarters [not two councillors get an idea in their head and making it up] of the members of that authority have approved such a resolution,
(b) the manager of a planning authority shall submit a report further to a request under paragraph (a) to the elected members within four weeks of the adoption of the resolution.".".
That is reasonable. If we are to talk about a process, I do not want members having to talk to the chief executive on the back stairs of a county hall about some suggestion that they have. I do not want anyone perceiving anyone looking to manipulate a situation. I do not want any chief executive saying to an elected member of a local authority that it is an absolute reserve function, it is nothing to do with the elected member and he or she will not deal with it. I am saying one should allow a member to seek by resolution, formally, in an open and transparent way, that he or she wants to do this, then it is debated and the manager gives a report. Might I add, there is a real absence of managers' reports regarding many planning issues. Recently, I took the time to look at a local area plan in a particular local authority and I was shocked that there were not even any reports. The manager was having to make decisions on the hoof about proper planning and sustainable development. I want to formalise the process so that there is a written structure, there is a reporting structure, what the members do is fully open and transparent, and what the chief executive does is fully open and transparent. I hope we will have the Minister of State's support.
I want to speak on these amendments, in particular, in favour of amendment No. 27 because I see the rationale for it. I would ask that the Minister of State take that amendment into account.
Senator Boyhan quite rightly mentioned two words, "accountability" and "transparency". The making of a county development plan or local area plan is the reserve function of councillors but they require the assistance of the executive - the management and the planners - of that local authority.
It is also a reserve function of councillors to vary that plan when it is deemed fit or when there is a necessity, as in the past. It is a reasonable amendment given that it requires three quarters of the councillors to promote the resolution. As Senator Boyhan stated, it is not merely two or three councillors coming together to make a variation. This is a substantial majority of a local authority. It is reasonable to expect a manager or CEO of a local authority to give a comprehensive written report on the passing of such a resolution by three quarters of that local authority.
With regard to reserve functions, we all recognise the significance of the making and adoption of county development plans and their importance for local areas. I highlight an area in that respect. Sometimes we have variations where possibly they could have been avoided in the first instance if we had proper structures around how local area plans are made. For example, where two local authorities are bounding on the same city or town, there may not be coherent planning objectives of each local authority despite it referring to the same town. I speak specifically about Waterford city which is bounded by Kilkenny council. It also applies to Athlone and Drogheda.
The Minister of State, Deputy English, will be aware that in Project Ireland 2040 and the new national planning framework there are ambitious growth targets established for those cities and towns right around the country. If we are to set those targets as a policy objective of Government, we need also to put in place legislation to ensure that the adoption of the county plans or the local area plans in those areas follows that national objective. For example, Waterford - I am only using the city because I know it best - is one of the four regional cities identified in the national planning framework for substantial growth where it is planned to increase the city's population by 50% in the next 20 years and it is important that the reserve powers of the councillors on both sides of the county boundary in that city have the reserve powers to achieve the growth target set. Currently, Kilkenny County Council would adopt its county development plan and Waterford City and County Council would adopt its plan but on the bounds of that city we may not have the coherence that we necessarily need. There is provision in the Planning and Development Act 2000 for local authorities to come together. I would be calling for this, specifically, in these towns that I mention, because we must have coherent sustainable planning frameworks for our cities and towns. Where two local authorities are involved, it is imperative that we bring elected representatives from both local authorities together to map out a local area plan for that municipal district. That is a reasonable request given the ambitious targets that are being set.
In 2016, the Government decided not to extend the Waterford city boundary. I understand the sensitivities around it from a county perspective but that should not stop us legislating from a planning perspective. The Government decided not to extend the boundary and last week it decided to extend the Cork city boundary. Following the same logic, I propose that a joint authority of some sort to make a local area plan for the entire municipal area is required if we are to reach the targets of the national planning framework. It is an important element that needs to be considered in this and future legislation.
Those local area districts, if established, could report to the regional assemblies with regard to the regional spatial strategies and planning given the regional context of the ambition for those towns. It, specifically, as I said, applies to Waterford, Drogheda and Athlone, which have local authorities across either side of their boundary. Such a proposal would alleviate the concerns of individuals regarding county identity but it would also resolve the planning sustainability concerns of me and many others, in essence, that cities and towns cannot grow unless we have a combined planning strategy for the full suburban area.
It is something I would ask the Minister of State to consider with his colleagues in government. I feel strongly about this. It is something that we need to get right. We have not got it right to date but there are opportunities to do so in this legislation and, indeed, in further legislation that I understand will be coming before both Houses of the Oireachtas shortly. I would be interested to hear the Minister of State's response.
I support Senator Boyhan in his amendment on accountability regarding executives. The less variations, the better. One must have a comprehensive process in making a local area plan or county development plan. I am proposing one resolution to that in terms of our cities and towns. One will always have necessity for variations and if one can legislate to ensure that local authority officials are more accountable, it would be a positive step forward.
I will second amendment No. 27, if it has not already been seconded.
The Senator can second the amendment when it is moved, but it can be discussed now.
I will give an example of why it is a good idea. Recently I sat down with a group of residents and councillors, which was a cross-party group. We were trying to resolve the housing crisis in the immediate area and to identify land that could be used for housing that is not currently zoned for housing. We came up with a number of ideas and the local councillors from all parties wish to rezone those lands. They will have to convince the area manager to include a variation to the local area plan. The councillors can speak with their colleagues within their parties and to those who are not in parties to get agreement for a variation to the development plan to build approximately 25 houses. It is, however, an onerous task because the first step is to convince management to move the variation to the plan.
Amendment No. 27 is a good, common-sense amendment. It gives ownership of the development plan back to councillors. Councillors do a huge amount of work, and some Senators have been councillors. In major urban areas councillors must review substantial amounts of documents over a period of time. They take great ownership and do an enormous amount of work. I have seen amendments to development plans run to 500 amendments, which are discussed at council meetings and so on. Variations to development plans are not made lightly. The amendment suggests that three quarters of the members of the local authority must approve the resolution, which is a good suggestion. I might like to see this reviewed in a few years when we see how it works in practice.
If we are to really empower local government and take the discussion on land rezoning away from the back stairwell this amendment puts that power into the council chamber, which is broadcast on the Internet and has 100% transparency of minutes for formal agreements. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy English, to take on board this common-sense amendment. I would like to see it go forward but we could make incremental steps around the transfer of power to the elected councillors and away from the management. I support amendment No. 27.
I support amendment No. 27. Like other Members I have been through many county and local development plans. It is important that this proposal to a variation considered is included in the legislation. We all hear about accountability and transparency. We have been working on the national planning framework 2040 but a local or county development plan, and how exactly an area is zoned, has a big impact on people's lives. It affects issues such as one-off housing in rural areas or the setting up of a business by an individual. There is nothing as important as a local councillor going in and making proper representation, with the council chief executive officer. It is part of the accountability. This is a good change because it represents the people; the ordinary person on the street who is looking for planning or looking to open a business. We need to get this country moving forward. I feel this is a really good step and I will support this amendment 100%.
I add my full support to amendment No. 27, tabled by my colleague, Senator Boyhan. I formally second the amendment. It is a very sensible amendment. Questions have been raised about the balance of power between the executive and the elected councillors. Councillors have reserved functions in areas such as finance, planning, budgeting and capital spending but they are not able to adequately enforce those powers. As many of my colleagues have already said, this amendment is about opening up the decision-making process to transparency, openness and more accountability.
One of the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal, which was addressed in the 2014 Act, was around the powers of councillors to be able to influence planning decisions. Unfortunately, the powers to direct a planning matter under the former section 140 were, admittedly, abused. Effectively, councillors had less democratic power over the council executive in directing the decision-making process. The way that amendment No. 27 is crafted addresses this aspect in a very sensible way. It directs the area manager to consider the variation of a development plan, where 75% of the elected councillors have voted to approve such a resolution. Democratic accountability and openness are tied into that.
The concerns of the Mahon tribunal were around the capturing of councillors by developers. It was absolutely right that those concerns were addressed by the Department. It does not mean, however, that an individual council chief executive can bring forward an amendment to a development plan as one person recommending it. While I do not suggest that it is happening, chief executives and ordinary people can get captured by developers as well as elected councillors. If accepted, the proposals in this amendment would be much safer than the current system because at least the decision is made out in the open, it goes before a full council meeting and 75% of the elected councillors in that area must vote to approve it. The amendment would bring a lot of improvements to the table.
I hope the amendment is acceptable. It has been suggested that it could be reviewed after 12 or 24 months. It is a sensible amendment and if we are serious about strengthening local democratic accountability for people, then I believe this is the best way forward. Development plans can very often have a tenure of five years and we have seen how the economic cycles of the State dictate whether those development plans are valid at any given time. In Dublin there is a need to rezone land for housing and perhaps councillors cannot initiate that process of their own accord. This amendment would allow them to do that. It is a sensible amendment.
I will address the Opposition amendments Nos. 26 and 27 together, as tabled by Senators Grace O'Sullivan and Boyhan, respectively.
Both amendments have the same overall objective of the initiation, at the behest of the elected representative of the council, of a process for the variation of the local development plan or local area plan by way of a resolution adopted at a council meeting. We have had some discussions around this proposal over the past months as the Bill has come through the Houses. There is a lot of merit in the amendments and everyone here has spoken in favour of one or other of them.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan gave a good explanation of an example of why her amendment is needed. Other Senators spoke about increasing transparency and giving more ownership of development plans to local authority elected members. I have also spoken with Senator Humphreys on it.
Local councillors own their local area development plans and a lot of work goes into them; nights, days and weeks of work. Councillors should be able to own the plan right through the process. It is about putting down a process that does not abuse the ownership, or where one person will not take up a lot of time with unnecessary amendments or variations after councillors have gone through all the work. I am conscious that in some cases 30 or 40 councillors can put in a lot of work and if the process allows one or two people to step in with variations one week later it would defeat all the work that had been carried out. This was the concern of the Department. We want to define a process that allows for ownership and the ability to make the changes for necessary variations, but not lose all the work that has already gone into a plan, so the plan is copper-fastened for the following five years or so. A development plan cannot have changes every week.
While I accept the importance of both amendments, and the intention behind them, amendment No. 27 as proposed by Senator Boyhan is probably the amendment preferred by the Department. It is more balanced and developed. It also contains more detail on the process to be followed by the elected members in proposing a possible variation of a development plan, and by the council executive in responding to the variation proposal. We have the copper-fastened approach that suggests 75% of elected members must approve the resolution and that the local authority and county manager have to come back to consider it. Perhaps Senator Grace O'Sullivan will agree that amendment No. 27 is a more teased out amendment. Both Senators want the same provision.
This is an amendment we can support and accept. There are perhaps other ways of doing it, but if Members wish to accept such an amendment, it is not something we will oppose.
Amendment No. 27 in the name of Senator Victor Boyhan effectively proposes to amend section 13 of the principal Act to provide that the members of a planning authority may at any time for stated reasons submit a resolution to the manager of the planning authority requesting him or her to prepare a report on a proposal made by them to initiate a process to consider the variation of a development plan, which for the time being is in force and where three quarters of the members of the authority have adopted such a resolution. The reference to three quarters of the members of the authority is important. If we are to have this change, it is something that can be reviewed and monitored to see whether it is working or being abused. I expect that for the most part it will not be abused because most councillors want to do their job correctly. It is good logic to include the reference to three quarters of the members of the authority.
The amendment further proposes that the manager of a planning authority submit a report further to such a variation request to the elected members within four weeks of the adoption of the resolution. While I consider that the matter could potentially be dealt with by way of a department circulars - a point I made clear previously - and that we do not need to include the measure in legislation, because I sense a desire in the House to do it, I do not have any objection to it. The Department has no objection in principle to the proposed legislative amendment as it will strengthen the role of elected members in proposing variations to development plans, thereby giving them more powers than they currently have in that regard, as well as greater ownership of and responsibility for their own development plan. We want to get more people involved.
Furthermore, the proposed amendment is well balanced and has appropriate checks and balances in place, whereby any variation proposed by a councillor must have the support of three quarters of the elected members of the council before the executive will have to examine it. Therefore, an elected member cannot submit a development plan variation on a whim or without having the necessary 75% support. I ask councillors to use this power wisely and not to abuse their own work because a lot of work by people in all parties goes into a development plan and having it finalised. If the amendment is accepted, I hope subsequent reviews will show that it has been well used and not abused.
The chief executive is required to prepare a report on the proposed variation within four weeks of the acceptance of a resolution. If he or she considers the proposal is not justified, he or she is required to outline his or her reasons for not initiating the variation process in the written report to be submitted to the elected members. These arrangements are in line with the principle of increased transparency, something we have discussed here in recent years following on from the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal to increase transparency, as well as responsibility in planning matters. The arrangements are in line with that approach and will provide for greater transparency in the development plan process, something we all support in the context of the planning code.
Moreover, the right to formally initiate the process to vary a development plan will remain an executive function, but at least now with this legislative amendment elected members will have the right to make proposals in the consideration of a proposed variation to a development plan which, as I have outlined, is a power they have not had up until now. Accordingly, Senator Victor Boyhan's amendment is positive in enhancing the powers of elected members in the local government system and, therefore, one I can accept and support in the circumstances, if the House also agrees to it. It is probably the better of the two amendments, but I understand both are coming from the right agenda. Members probably worked on them together in the past. If that is what the House wants to do, we will not oppose the amendment.
In response to the issues raised by Senator Paudie Coffey, what he said makes good sense. He has made the practical suggestion that we find better ways to deal with transboundary issues. He referred to Waterford and Kilkenny. I have seen it myself in County Meath in the case of Drogheda and the border with County Louth. It is also evident in Athlone in the boundaries with counties Roscommon and Westmeath. We are trying to find better ways to make decisions on planning and other issues in border areas, especially where the boundaries of cities and towns cross two jurisdictions. A line on a map should not result in bad planning. We want to find ways to deal with problematic issues. The planning Act allows for co-operation and Senator Paudie Coffey suggested it become mandatory. He is probably thinking along the right lines. I do not disagree with his proposal, but I do not think we need to do it in this Bill as a local government Bill is due to be brought before the House in the near future. The Department will examine the issue to see whether we can deal with it in that context. The logic of the approach suggested to be taken is correct. I expect everyone here agrees with it also.
We should do whatever we can to provide for better planning in towns and cities. Apart from having legislation to allow for and encourage co-operation, we will consider strengthening it to introduce a mandatory decision-making process. The funding that underpins the ambitious plans outlined in Project Ireland 2040 will encourage co-operation and best practice. That sends the message to local authorities that they must work together on good initiatives in their border areas and urban centres that need development and that they will then be able to draw down funding. It is a carrot and stick approach. Senator Paudie Coffey has suggested we all recognise the carrots with the funds given that there is a lot of money in the pot, but perhaps a bit more stick is also needed. We need a bit of both. The best way to have good planning is by bringing everyone together. I will undertake to examine the matter in the forthcoming Bill and the local government review.
Do I understand Senator Grace O’Sullivan is withdrawing her amendment No. 26 in favour of amendment No. 27?
Yes, that is correct.
I move amendment No. 27:
In page 44, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 13 of the Principal Act
8. Section 13 of the Principal Act is amended by inserting the following subsection after subsection (1):
“(1A) (a) The members of a planning authority may at any time, for stated reasons, submit a resolution to the manager of the planning authority requesting him or her to prepare a report on a proposal by them to initiate a process to consider the variation of the development plan which for the time being is in force where three quarters of the members of that authority have approved such a resolution,
(b) the manager of a planning authority shall submit a report further to a request under paragraph (a) to the elected members within four weeks of the adoption of the resolution.”.”.
I thank the Minister of State. This has been a good process in which we have teased out a lot. I also thank the officials for their ongoing discussion of the issue. I take on board that we cannot allow for abuse of the measure. I agree that there should be a review at some point. The Minister of State referred to a circular. It is important that we still have a circular because we will need clarification. The legislation is good and councillors of all parties and none will be very happy with it because it addresses a major concern.
I second the amendment.
Amendment No. 28 has already been discussed with amendment No. 6.
Amendment No. 29 has been ruled out of order.
Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 30:
In page 46, to delete lines 26 to 29 and substitute the following:
“(8) The Government shall submit the draft of the revised or new National Planning Framework, together with the Environmental Report and Appropriate Assessment Report to a vote of each House of the Oireachtas before it is published and will be bound by that vote.”.
Amendment No. 30 relates to the national planning framework. Initially, my understanding and that of many colleagues to whom I spoke was that the national planning framework in draft and final form would be debated in both Houses of the Oireachtas and voted on prior to any implementation decision. This is, after all, an excellent plan, for which I want to give the Government credit. I made submissions during phases 1 and 2 of the plan because I thought it was important to do so and felt it was the right path to follow. We should have a long-term vision for the country. Having a 20-year vision is the way to go. I give credit to the officials working in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government who spent so much time in consulting, drafting and crafting the plan prior to its publication. Ultimately, it was sent for public consultation, but, unfortunately, after the first phase of the public consultation process no feedback was given to those who had made submissions. Following the second call for submissions, again, there was no feedback and no report was published.
Much criticism was levelled at previous national development plans and frameworks. I understand Project Ireland 2040 is the sixth national development plan since the 1980s. Criticism was levelled at previous plans by the Government because they were "too political". My focus is not on whether the Government was right or wrong in stating that; I am just saying what happened. I agree that many decisions taken in previous plans were too political and that there was an absolute lack of joined-up thinking and project appraisal. Subsequent to this, excellent work was done during the time of the previous Government in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in putting particular frameworks together for capital expenditure by the State across various Departments. One of the initiatives was an updated public spending code which provided an appraisal toolkit to appraise capital expenditure. One of my criticisms of the code is that it is confined to projects with a cost in excess of €20 million. The threshold should be brought down, as also identified by the IMF which made 27 specific recommendations on how Ireland should improve transparency and accountability in expenditure on major capital projects.
I hope the Government will take those recommendations on board in their entirety before any money is spent on the national planning framework.
Ten years from now, members of the current Government cannot look back and say this Government may have got it wrong and should have obtained better value for money. That is what will happen if we let a runaway train down the track without having proper parameters in place. We see it in the case of national children's hospital project, which is running well over budget. There will be many more such projects.
Amendment No. 30 requires simply that we have a debate in both Houses of the Oireachtas on the national planning framework. While it is an excellent framework, it also has shortcomings, some of which I identified in my submissions. Apart from the statements to which I contributed in the House, I have not had an opportunity to debate the new framework. Statements are simply statements. I am not a member of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government and nor are 95% of Members of the Oireachtas who are members of other committees and must deal with the work that involves.
If the Government wants the buy-in it seeks and believes it has achieved, why will it not have a debate in these Houses? Why not allow every Member of the Seanad and Dáil who wants to participate to speak on the national planning framework given that it sets out a 20-year vision for the country? As national parliamentarians, we should all have an opportunity to provide an input into that process. Our only input so far has been through the public consultation process. It is wrong that we are not having an input in either of these Houses and that there will not be a vote on the framework.
Linked to the national planning framework is the capital expenditure programme of €116 billion set out in the national development plan. Much of this expenditure is tied up in the five urban centres, in particular, the capital city. I am not criticising the programme but calling for a debate. If we are to move away from the days of decisions being taken without proper economic scrutiny, why not publish the cost-benefit analyses carried out on the MetroLink project, for example? Why the secrecy? Why can we not get a copy of those cost-benefit analyses? Major decisions are being taken without transparency.
The Government should avail of the opportunity to have a debate in both Houses. The public would reward it for doing so as it would be the right thing to do. It would also be rewarded politically in forthcoming elections. It would be wrong for the Minister of State to try to proceed with this project with a Fine Gael banner wrapped around it, particularly with the rural-urban divide that has been created in this country. Regardless of whether this divide is real, it has been created in the public mind and members of the public have been talking about it more than politicians have. It is wrong that people living in rural areas feel isolated. I am not suggesting there is a lack of capital investment in rural areas but there is a perception that the national development plan only deals with urban areas. If it proceeds without proper scrutiny in the Houses, that perception could detract from all of the expenditure and good work in the plan.
I am confident the Minister of State will accept the amendment and I see no reason he would not do so. We spoke, on the previous amendment, about transparency and accountability, giving power to councillors and having democratic oversight. This is exactly what the amendment proposes to achieve. It is about giving elected Deputies and Senators democratic oversight of the national planning framework. Approximately €120 billion will be spent in the first ten years of the plan, with up to €500 billion to be spent by the State in the period to 2040. It does not make sense not to debate this plan on its initiation.
Amendment No. 31 deals with an annual review of the national planning framework. The national spatial strategy, for example, was an excellent plan with good objectives but progress in meeting these objectives was not measured and no annual or democratic review took place.
I will give the Minister of State, who I realise must liaise with his officials, a second. I am interested in having his ear as well because he is well aware of this plan.
I have two ears.
I commend the Minister of State on his work on this plan. I am not being critical but trying to help him. If he goes down the road of not having a debate in the Houses, he will be penalised for it in years to come and there will be political mud thrown from all sides.
The Senator is hoping that will be the case.
The Minister of State will eventually throw mud at other political parties when they are in government and he finds himself unable to unravel what he has done. A decision to avoid proper democratic scrutiny by the Oireachtas of a major national plan brings us into dangerous territory. This is the sixth plan and also the largest date with the longest timeframe. It is wrong that there is no proper debate on it and that the Houses will not vote on it.
I am asking for an annual review to allow the relevant Oireachtas committee to debate the plan and discuss its progress. There is no point in having a 20-year strategy for the country if we do not know where it is going and we cannot review it annually. Under the review, all relevant economic data on the various projects would be made available. Some progress has been made in developing a capital tracker in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Having studied the tracker, I find the information available on the website extremely vague as it does not provide any details. None of the documentation required to carry out a review has been published. The tracker, which is little more than one line, is poor and the International Monetary Fund will not be satisfied if it is not improved. It certainly falls a long way short of the recommendations made by the IMF.
I am not sure whether the Minister of State is willing to accept these amendments which seek to ensure major capital investment projects are not made on a political whim. I am not saying that will occur under this Government but there will probably be four, five, six or seven Governments between now and 2040. Will we allow each of them to make decisions based on a political whim as opposed to factual, hardcore information on financial economics and whether the projects stand up?
The national planning framework provides for major investment in the future of the country. It will dictate where people live, work and access services, how we deal with the housing crisis, how we ensure more people live on the west coast and not only on the east coast, and how major capital investment projects by the State are funded and progressed. The toolkit is available in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. While the public spending code is mentioned in the national planning framework documentation, I emphasise the word "mentioned" because it does not provide the specifics that are required.
This will be our only opportunity to debate the legislative standing of the national planning framework if the Minister of State does not accept these amendments. I hope he will do so and I will be interested in hearing his reasoning in the event that he does not do so. What is the reason for the reluctance to allow both Houses democratic oversight of both of these national plans? Will the Minister of State explain the fear of doing so?
Will Fine Gael turn around in five or ten years and blame the new Government, of which it may not be a part, for wrong decisions made on public expenditure on capital projects when it could have put the necessary oversight mechanism in place in 2018? The Minister of State has the tools available to do that now but Fine Gael will not be able ten years from now to blame anyone else for overrunning on budgets unless it is willing to put the legislative provisions in place now that would address that. I would be interested to hear what the Minister of State has to say on that matter.
I formally second amendment No. 30 and indicate that I will also formally second amendment No. 31. I will be brief as I am conscious there are time constraints and that we want to make progress. I have always supported the national planning framework. It is a very good and positive document. I genuinely believe a mistake was made about it. As I have said previously, there was an expectation it would come before the Houses of the Oireachtas and be approved. I do not believe it would have been defeated. There is an amazing confidence and supply arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. I wonder at times when I come into this House to debate measures, and when my colleagues go into the other House, having put much energy and effort into bringing forward measures and debating them, only to find that the matter has all been done and dusted. A much more elaborate system underpinning this confidence and supply Government is working in the complex of Leinster House. Much effort is put in by politicians but, essentially, we are banging our heads against a brick wall, despite the great success of the previous amendment.
It only happened five minutes ago.
It was a lost opportunity because I believe Fianna Fáil would have-----
We might need to revisit the other amendments.
-----fully supported Fine Gael on it. It is a fantastic plan. I was in Athy and Sligo the other day and they are wonderful towns but they are falling down on their knees, as it were. I was also in Ennistymon the other day. There seems to be no sense of there being a bigger national plan. We need a national plan. This is a big document. Another mistake that was made is that it was too wrapped around and built around Fine Gael and the Government parties, and I acknowledge there are other add-ons to the current Administration. That had the potential to alienate certain people but it has been done and we must move on. There is a strong case to bring such a plan before the Houses of the Oireachtas, which is dealt with in amendments Nos. 30 and 31, and to have a debate on it.
As a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, of which Senator Murnane O'Connor is also a member, this document has been discussed extensively and we have had amazing input on it. There is a very strong relationship with all facets and aspects of the Department in terms of the work. As members of that committee, we will ask some months hence, if we are all still here, for an update on it. The Minister of State made valid points. He has my support. It is a national plan for all the people. That is the way it must be sold. That is the way it will be successful and embraced, namely, that it is a national vision and a national plan. Regardless of who is in government in six months or in two or three years, the plan must continue. We have not had consistency and a continuation in planning for this country. We need to get our villages, towns and cities up and running and make them attractive places in which to live and work.
These are two important aspects and I agree it is important that these reports should come before these Houses and that we should have ongoing discussion on them.
I agree with the previous speakers. I and the Fianna Fáil Party will be supporting amendments Nos. 30 and 31. Like, Senator Boyhan, I am a member of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government and I have seen the work involved in preparing Project Ireland 2040, the national planning framework. At our meetings we extended the process because we did not get as many submissions as we had expected. I will wait until the Minister of State is finished talking.
I am listening to the Senator.
I can wait. I also need to have the ear of the Minister of State.
I am listening.
I am a firm believer that the national planning framework for 2040 will have a massive impact on people's lives. As a former councillor and a Senator and like most Members, I would have seen that over the years. This plan is crucial. It did not come before the Houses of the Oireachtas to be voted on. Senator Boyhan spoke about its launch. I was not aware it was to be launched in Sligo and I am a member of the housing committee. The first I heard of that was on radio on the morning of the launch. That is not appropriate. It is a very good plan. We are working on our vision for Carlow. Value for money must be secured. It involves public spending and there must be accountability and transparency. I know how hard members of that committee, the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, worked. I have been part of this process but certain things were not done right. The plan was not brought before the Houses for Members to discuss it and to know when it would be launched. I only heard on radio on the morning of the launch that the Taoiseach would launch it in Sligo. That was unacceptable. We should never allow that to happen again.
This is a planning framework up to 2040. It is a major plan. It will affect everybody. We all need to work together to make sure that will not happen again. It is all about accountability, ensuring that money is put in the proper areas and that we will not have a rural-urban divide. I have spoken to the Minister of State about that. Rural and urban areas both need to have the same level of funding. Everything needs to be properly divided. As I have said to the Minister of State on several occasions, he cannot forget Carlow, and I will always say that to him.
Where does the Senator come from?
While it is a national planning framework, every county needs to get equal funding. I will be supporting amendments Nos. 30 and 31 and I hope the Minister of State will support them also, as they are good measures.
It has been suggested to me that my amendment No. 29 has been ruled out of order because I called for a vote on the previous Stage? Is that correct?
I will give the Senator the official ruling. It is not my ruling but the ruling of the Cathaoirleach. Amendment No. 29 is a repeat of an amendment No. 34 from the Committee Stage of the Seanad which was considered and rejected. Accordingly, the amendment must be ruled out of order in accordance with Standing Order 159, as it was previously rejected in a committee of the whole Seanad. The House has decided on that particular matter. We are now discussing amendments Nos. 30 and 31.
Thankfully Senator Ó Domhnaill has tabled amendment No. 30. In the absence of amendment No. 29, Sinn Féin will support amendment No. 30. We have consistently called on the Government to ensure that a vote is held on the final draft. I do not need to tell the Minister of State again that Sinn Féin engaged with every step of the process, and constructive and detailed submissions were made. We need to learn lessons from this process. If a document is to be placed on a statutory footing, it is imperative that a vote of the Oireachtas is held on it. We identified gaps in the document in the north west and in the North-South dimension. There must be a much stronger all-Ireland focus and a North-South dimension in the context of Brexit. We hear talk about how we cannot unite Ireland with a 50% plus one majority. Rather than open up the Good Friday Agreement and allow it to be entirely rewritten, we should accept that that conversation was had, namely, the democratic will of the people who supported the Good Friday Agreement. We should have confidence in getting buy-in and greater consensus on a united Ireland project, a huge European project of our time with international buy-in. We believe a much stronger focus, an all-Ireland focus, is needed. Symbolic gestures are welcome and necessary but actions speak louder than words. This national development plan does not go far enough on the North-South dimension. I have spoken previously about the failure to address socioeconomic disadvantage. We will be supporting amendment No. 30.
I am not questioning the length of or the efforts that went into the consultation process by Members of this House, the Dáil and the committee and by members of the public and the local authorities.
Every effort was made. We have to learn lessons from the past and particularly from what the country has gone through over recent years. The proposed amendment No. 30 is a good suggestion because it means there will be a final debate on the national plan. I ask Senators to cast their minds back to the introduction of other national plans not so long ago. When a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats plan was drawn up, Tom Parlon put up signs saying "Parlon country" with no understanding of proper spatial planning. This amendment relates to what will happen at the end of the day after the process of consultation. I am delighted that people are starting to learn. I hope Fianna Fáil will support this because we have to learn from the mistakes of previous Fianna Fáil Governments.
Mistakes have been made by all Governments.
I think this amendment has some merit because it will give Members of the Oireachtas an opportunity to debate the framework after it has been finished but before it takes its place as a statutory enactment. I ask the Minister of State to take the amendment on board. We need to learn from the past. If both Houses need to debate these matters as part of a belt-and-braces approach to making sure the public understands what is happening, so be it. The review has excellent merit.
On Committee Stage of the climate change legislation that went through under the last Government, I proposed that Ministers should report to each of the Houses of the Oireachtas on an annual basis. That took place recently. Some Ministers are taking that more seriously than others, which is unfortunate, but at least there is an opportunity for both Houses to discuss whether we are reaching our targets and what is going on within the Department.
The Government launched the national planning framework programme - the national plan - in Sligo some months ago. There is a real need for both Houses to have an opportunity to review, debate and consider the progress being made with this national plan and to evaluate whether it needs to be fine-tuned. Something that is designed now will not be as relevant in five years' time. Each plan will have to be considered, reviewed and improved, if necessary, on a regular basis. I ask the Minister of State to accept both amendments. By agreeing the previous amendment, which was proposed by Senator Boyhan, we have legislated to enhance the powers of councillors. These amendments propose to enhance the powers of Deputies and Senators. I ask the Minister of State to accept them.
Having heard the views of various Senators, I want to give an alternative view. I have genuine fears in this regard. My concerns are based on past experience of previous national plans. Senators have mentioned the national spatial strategy, which has been an abject failure. It was diluted too strongly to the point where there was something for everyone in the audience. The Fianna Fáil-led Government that introduced the spatial strategy in the last decade then transposed it by means of other measures, such as the decentralisation plan, which was pulled like a rabbit out of a hat to satisfy political demands rather than to uphold the exigencies of proper sustainable planning involving regional growth areas and a proper hierarchy of planning needs. If we bring that type of thinking to what Senators are now proposing in this amendment, it will affect the current national planning framework, which sets out a clear and definitive hierarchy of priorities and specifies the cities and towns that need to grow and the nature of the rural development that will follow.
I hope the media can take account of the next point I am about to make. Senators can correct me if they think I am wrong in this regard. If we were to bring the current national planning framework before the Seanad and the Dáil, I believe it would be torn to shreds due to the Government's current minority status. I suggest it would be diluted beyond recognition and would no longer be a sustainable planning framework. I do not think it would recognise the hierarchy of the regional cities we need to have in this country. It is quite right that Deputies fight their corner, but if every Deputy wants regional and county towns to have the services to which cities normally aspire, we will not have good planning.
The national planning framework should be adopted by the Government of the day after it has been informed by deep consultation. It is acknowledged by Senators that the Government has been so informed in this instance. There was consultation at every level when the national planning framework was being drawn up. There was consultation at Oireachtas committees and regional assemblies. There were various regional meetings as well. The Government took on board the concerns that were expressed in the various regions. That is why the national planning framework has been broadly welcomed. I do not see anybody being too critical of it. If we start making the national planning framework a location for the parish pump in the Oireachtas, we will be going down a very bad road. I would love to have everything in the constituency I come from. At the moment, we are fighting for regional services for our hospital. The south east is one of the few regions that does not have 24-7 cardiac care. I do not believe there should be a hospital at every crossroads, or city services at every crossroads.
That does not make sense.
That is what the national planning framework devises. If we are going to bring the national planning framework in here to have it voted on by every Deputy and Senator, it will be torn to shreds. The national spatial strategy that was proposed by Fianna Fáil in the 2000s proved that, as did the subsequent decentralisation programme. It is not good planning and it is not good governance. It would be a retrograde step to introduce such a measure here this evening.
We had a lengthy discussion on this issue previously when various amendments were proposed. I feel a little sympathy for Senator Warfield because he is unable to get in on the action officially. The amendments are pretty much the same, but were dealt with in the Houses at an earlier stage. We went through them and voted on them.
He was able to contribute on amendments Nos. 30 and 31.
I am just saying it is fair to recognise that everyone has a problem with this. Some people want a final vote on it. We debated this difficulty at length a few months ago. I was here for that debate. I do not have time to go back over the entire conversation. I ask people to think seriously about how they intend to vote on this proposal. Senator Coffey mentioned a few issues that I would like to go through in detail. This legislation relates to the national planning framework rather than to Project Ireland 2040. Project Ireland 2040 brings together two plans - the national planning framework and the ten-year national capital plan.
They are separate.
They are separate.
They are separate. Some Senators have discussed matters that are not relevant to this legislation. They are separate. The capital plan part - the expenditure of €116 billion, and probably a few more billion on top of it - is led by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I ask Senators to trust me when I say that Department spends its money wisely. It adheres to all the codes and procedures. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and the officials in the Department are very careful in what they do with taxpayers' money. They spend it wisely. They go through all the procedures. The Department does not spend money willy-nilly. There is no political influence. That is not what the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform does. It is very clear on these issues.
The planning framework sets out where we are going from a planning point of view over a period of 20 to 25 years. The capital plan funds some of the infrastructure to go with that. It funds some other things as well. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is in charge of the capital money. That money goes through the budgetary process here every year, just like every other euro of taxpayers' money that is spent. I ask Senators not to try to insinuate that there is political inference in this process, because that is not the case. All the proper codes are observed. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, is very clear on that. As he has outlined, there are other projects he might have wanted to include but he could not do so because they had not gone through all the procedures. I ask Senators to separate Project Ireland 2040 and the national planning framework because they are not the same. Project Ireland 2040 is the document that brings the two together for discussion. There was a launch and so on. Senators are very upset about the launch, but I think it is time for them to get over that, to be honest.
It should have been held in Carlow.
There are two separate issues at stake here. I remember sitting in the Dáil while Brian Cowen launched the national development plan somewhere else down the road. I understand the annoyance of Senators about that. They need to get over it because it is a separate issue. The issue of the launch is not the same as the planning issue we are talking about. The launch is not the same as the actual process of drawing up the plan. The plan is what is important.
In this legislation, we are setting out a process for formulating that plan. This legislation was not in place when we started the last plan. It is still not in place. Everyone admits that we tried to honour the spirit of it when we launched the plan. Most people here say it is a great plan. Everyone is complimenting the consultation process. I am confused over what the actual argument is about. In the absence of this legislation having been passed, we made sure to honour the spirit of it by going through all the consultation. I will not go back over that again.
Last night Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill made a point about feedback during the process, but he had left the Chamber by the time I addressed it. I said that if we had failed in that process, in the case of the marine strategy we were certainly making sure there would be proper feedback. During the debate on that strategy last night I committed to making sure we would get the feedback loop right. I had thought we had done it right in the last process, but the Senator has doubts in that regard. I was present at all of the meetings throughout the country, at the committee, in this House and everywhere else. I thought we were giving feedback, but perhaps it was not done during the formal process. We will learn from it and make sure the feedback loop is in place for future plans. We will certainly do it in the case of the marine strategy also. We are prepared to learn.
The Senator was not here last night when I made the position clear. He made a charge that the changes made at the end of the national planning framework process were political changes and represented interference at the last minute. That is not true. I watched the changes being developed as they fed through the system. They came from councillors, Deputies, Senators, the thousands of submissions received, the discussions and especially the regional meetings which were not controlled by the Government, local authorities meetings and the committee meetings I attended. The Senator can track them through that process, if he wants to take the time to examine it because I was present at the meetings and know about them. The changes came through in the right way through the consultation process. It was in place because we honoured the spirit of the legislation. It is now being turned into a formal process.
I will deal with the detail of the amendments, but for most of his contribution the Senator spoke about the sponsoring of and having a debate here on amendment No. 30. The amendment refers to having a vote, but in his contribution on it, it was all about having a debate. We have had a debate here and there will be ample time to have further debates on it. I was available, as was the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. We had committee meetings and were in this House and the Dáil for statements on the issue. We can come back every week and have a debate on it, if that is what Members want. They are in charge of what is debated in this House. The Senator's amendment requests a vote, not a debate, on the final document. We have had all of the debates Members wanted and I offered to have more, as did the Minister. There was no issue in that regard. I ask Members not to confuse the two issues because there has been no shortage of debate. The legislation proposed encourages debate. The Senator's issue was with a vote on the final document, but in his contribution it was alleged that we had not had a debate. That is not true and it is not what is envisaged for the future. They are two separate matters, namely, having a debate and a discussion and who gets to finally sign-off on the document. There is also a reason for that and I went through it.
The wording of the Bill, as it stands, refers to seeking the approval of the Oireachtas, rather than a vote. Achieving consensus on the content of a national planning framework requires extensive engagement with a spectrum of stakeholders, interests and experts, including in but also beyond the political realm. It is very important that it not just be a political document; it is a planning document for the country and all of the different stakeholders should be involved. I sat in at a workshop this morning and met an advisory group on the new marine strategy and all stakeholders were represented. They are not political; perhaps they are in their own right but they were not there wearing political hats. They were there representing their stakeholders and agency groups. Likewise, the planning framework process provided for the same consultation. It is not just a political document or Members' framework, it is everybody's, the country's, planning document.
Achieving consensus on either a draft, new or revised national planning framework in order for it to be brought before each House of the Oireachtas for approval signifies that an intense and complex engagement process has resulted in a workable document that is fit for approval and implementation. Requiring a vote in each House of the Oireachtas would risk opening up the overall development process to being revisited, triggering potential delays that would have significant implications. Senator Paudie Coffey was right in the point he made. As I mentioned, if we had come here to have a vote on the final document, the chances are we would never have got it finished.
I referenced the Action Plan for Jobs which was introduced five or six years ago, a time most people want to forget, when there was a 16% unemployment rate and it was heading towards 20%. The plan was put in place and turned things around. It did its job and involved hundreds of actions. If we had brought it forward in year one and tried to get consensus on it and held a vote to pass it, in the current set-up where we have a minority Government, it would never have got through. At the time we had to make decisions in the Labour Party-Fine Gael Government to implement and go with it. It was driven by the Government. Everyone would now say it has done its job. The unemployment rate is now down to approximately 5%. That might not suit everybody here, but it is the factual position. If we were to bring forward that plan today under the current working arrangements in the Dáil, we would be here for years trying to get it through and the unemployment rate would continue to move in the wrong direction. That is the danger in that regard.
Likewise, the danger with a planning document like this which is vast and involved a consultation process spanning three or four years with all stakeholders is that we could get stuck in trying to get it through for years with rows over tit-for-tat issues and making little changes here and there. I hope that will not happen because the majority of Members will be responsible but some will not be. We might never get it through and the country would stand still again or there might be bad planning in certain cases. That is the difficulty in having a vote on the final document. Somebody has to bring it to an end. That is the job of the Government. Governments change, as do political parties in office. I hope that will not happen in the near future, but it might. Governments come and go. We are putting in place a process to get us through the end result on a new planning framework and then the Dáil will discuss it, suggest and make changes to it and pass it for final decision-making by the Government of the day, but somebody has to end the conversation. This House had the chance to debate it and did so. The committee and the Dáil debated it and the Dáil made a decision - I am not sure if it was discussed in this House also - to let the committee do all of the formal work on all of the recommended changes and that happened. The committee went through all of the recommended changes and suggestions and brought a report to the Dáil. It was a cross-party committee, not one controlled by the Government. That was the decision taken by the Dáil, not a majority Government. Members handed the work over to the committee to be done on their behalf. Some of the debate and the detailed discussion took place at committee level because that was the decision that was made. Understandably, the debate could not take place for hour after hour on the floor of the Dáil. It is not true to say we did not have a debate; we had it and there will be further debates in the future because that is guaranteed by the legislation.
The amendment would have implications not only for the national planning framework approval process but also for the possibility of future alignment with the national development plan process which would impact on regional spaces, economic strategies and all statutory land-use plans across the country. It is important to note that the amendment would not apply retrospectively, as the current national planning framework was adopted and published by the Government on 16 February 2018 to replace the national spatial strategy for the purposes of section 2 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. Therefore, the current national planning framework is on a statutory footing afforded by the provisions of existing legislation and will not be impacted by the introduction of the amendment. I am not trying to ask Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill not to press the amendment because it would affect the current national planning framework because it would not. This is for the future when I might not even be in this position. It is not personal for me, my party or the Government; we are trying to encourage proper planning. I want to be very clear in that regard.
Introducing the amendment would also place new and onerous statutory obligations on the Oireachtas in complying with European environmental law, which requires further legal advice from the Attorney General's office to fully establish the exact role of the Oireachtas and the associated obligations by which each House of the Oireachtas would legally be bound. This is because the amendment would have the effect of making Dáil Éireann the designated competent authority for the purposes of considering and approving the environmental report under the strategic environmental assessment, SEA, directive and appropriate assessment under the habitats directive. Moreover, subsequent to a vote, if the national planning framework was to be amended, the Members of Dáil Éireann would be drawn into a very complex legal and scientific area and it might have a whole series of unintended consequences regarding the scope to make or amend policy.
I mentioned this previously in this House and made the offer that if anybody doubted me or wanted further discussion to engage with our officials who would explain the complexities surrounding it. I do not believe anybody took up the offer. If Members are genuine about requesting a vote, before proposing it I suggest they would have taken the advice and realised the complicated process in which they would be involving this House. That is not our role because we are not the competent planning authority. I do not believe any Member approached me or any of my officials to tease out the matter which is serious. I mentioned it here three or four times, but there was no follow up.
Members need to think deeply about what they are trying to do in requesting a final vote in terms of what they would be taking on. The legislation provides for a vote on the final draft, the publishing of a report and for the Minister to address it. That goes a long way towards ensuring transparency, proper planning, having everybody involved and copper-fastening a procedure, but we are down to a vote on the final document. That would change the game a lot and Members need to think much more about it. I am not sure if that level of thought has been given to the process involved.
I will give an example of something that might happen. Nine Members might want more flexibility in dealing with the issue of one-off housing. It is a popular issue and one with which we tried to deal in the national planning framework. It is also dealt with at European level. It is likely that an appropriate assessment would find this to be seriously problematic, if Members wanted to change it from a habitats directive perspective, thereby triggering complex legal mechanisms, for which the Oireachtas would be entirely responsible. That is one example, but there could be any number, even hundreds. That is what would happen because everybody would feel obliged to come and give their tuppence worth on local issues. We all say we would not do that, but it would happen. We would draw out the process here for a long time and it would also become legally complicated, but I am not sure everybody has taken this on board.
Amendment No. 31 proposes three additional requirements that do not appear to serve any practical purpose and would create an excessively elaborate monitoring and implementation process. I understand the practical reasons behind the suggestion of a review, but I am not convinced that providing for a one-year period would be practical. I understand what Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill is trying to achieve; he is seeking to ensure we will do our job right. I was involved in the process mentioned by Senator Kevin Humphreys, but it involved a Department doing work in a new area.
This is a planning framework for 20- or 25-year period and it will be hard to judge its success over six months or one year.
The first requirement in the amendment is to have an annual review of the national planning framework, which is to be laid before the Oireachtas. As a long-term framework, the NPF is not readily amenable to annual review. At a national spatial scale, the change on the ground in terms of outcomes will not be readily apparent on a year-to-year basis, nor will coherent or comparable databases be available to measure a clear national pattern. We have discussed here before a different timeframe and settled on six years. While I acknowledge that the proposal is genuine, a year will not achieve what the Senator wants and would be a cumbersome process to go through. It might not show much in the way of results given that this is a long-term planning framework that we are putting in place. There are local development plans, regional plans and a six-year review to assess all of the work. While we can have a discussion on that in the Houses, I am not convinced much would be achieved by holding annual reviews.
Subjecting a long-term strategy to annual review would embed uncertainty and create a near-constant process of reflection rather than an implementation of the content of the national planning framework. It would be disruptive to the development and implementation of plans and projects at regional and local levels which need certainty over a multi-annual period. In addition, it would not allow sufficient time for meaningful evidence to be gathered to inform the review process and duplicate the planned monitoring role of the office of the planning regulator which this legislation will establish. It will be the job of the regulator to monitor ongoing plans. In relation to an earlier amendment, for example, I discussed the ability to have variations. All of those changes will come through the regulator which will judge them to determine if they are in order under national planning policy and local or regional plans. It is an ongoing process. That is what Members are voting on, what the legislation is for and what the staff of the regulator will do.
The Bill already provides that the national planning framework will be reviewed every six years, which is a meaningful timeline, in particular for data gathering and the analysis of outcomes. We are doing long-term planning here. It is long-term thinking and rightly so. That is the whole idea of having a national planning framework. The legislation also provides for a six-year review cycle, mindful of the availability of CSO census data every five years and building in a further one-year period for the requisite analysis. As such, there is a logic to what we are trying to do here. We used a great deal of ESRI and CSO data in our planning of targets. The framework is built on data and evidence gathered over a period. It is not built on a whim. It is proper, logical planning based on evidence and involving the various stakeholders who contributed. Therefore, I cannot accept the first part of the amendment as it is contrary to what is already provided for elsewhere in the legislation, meaningless in practical terms and wholly unnecessary in the context of a long-term spatial planning framework. I accept the spirit of what is proposed. I am not trying to criticise what the Senator wants to achieve.
The second part of the amendment appears to be based on a misunderstanding of the legislative meaning of an "appropriate assessment report", which is wholly separate from the public spending code. Appropriate assessment is a process further to the EU's birds and habitats directives whereby certain plans and programmes must be assessed to ensure they do not affect the integrity of an EU-designated habitat or species. It has nothing to do with the public spending code on value for money, which is a different process but must separately apply to the national planning framework in terms of general outcomes. To link the two in legislation, as proposed based on an erroneous presumption, would be a serious mistake and cannot be accepted.
The third part of the amendment proposes a factual clarification, the inclusion of which in primary legislation is unnecessary and would be better addressed by way of a note or definition in the preamble to the legislation. It is therefore unnecessary although it can be dealt with elsewhere. I must, therefore, oppose amendments Nos. 30 and 31. I hope Members understand that I am trying to be genuine. We have discussed this before and I opened the door for people to have discussions with officials to prove it is not a political desire on my part to avoid this. There are solid and logical planning reasons behind it, which I hope Senators will accept and vote accordingly.
I am disappointed, to say the least, at what the Minister of State has said. He appears to be trying to paint the picture that there is some misunderstanding on our part regarding these amendments. I assure him that there is no misinterpretation. Project Ireland 2040 was published by the Government and no Member of the Oireachtas outside Fine Gael or the Independent Alliance was invited to contribute.
That is not true.
It is true.
The Senator's colleagues were there.
Only Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance were involved. It is not the people's plan, it is a political one. Until the Government gets buy-in from the Houses, it will continue to be that way. It was a grave mistake. To give an example, neither of the two Fianna Fáil Deputies in the Sligo-Leitrim constituency was invited to the launch. While one of them turned up, he was not invited, which was not right. Of course the two programmes are linked. It is not true to claim the ten-year capital expenditure programme and the national planning framework are in some way separate. The Government's documentation and the foreword provided by the Minister of State's line Minister state categorically that they are intertwined, which they are.
For clarification, I clearly stated they were launched together and they are linked. I am referring here to the legislation, which deals with the national planning framework and is not related to the capital plan. I ask the Senator not to mix up my words. This is a serious issue. They are not linked in this legislation, which is what I said to the Senator at the start. I cannot be clearer than that. They are not linked. This has to do with planning law, not capital expenditure.
I accept fully what the Minister of State just said, but on page 45 of the legislation, at subsection 2(b), he will note that the national infrastructure priorities to address the strategic development requirements referred to in paragraph (a), which is the national planning framework, are included. As such and irrespective of what the Minister of State says, this is the only opportunity we have to raise our concerns. They are intertwined and interlinked. It is like day following night. Independent economists and professors in some of our leading universities in the Republic have stated that. It is not just me. I do not buy into the idea that, as the Minister of State says, we would be here for years if we had to have a debate in both Houses. That is very disingenuous having regard to the Deputies and Senators in these Houses and it takes them for parish pump fools. I do not accept that.
The Senator said that.
We saw that with decentralisation.
We are here for the good of the country and we are raising issues of national importance. I acknowledge that everyone has his or her own priorities and I am not for one moment suggesting that any Member of the Oireachtas would vote against the plan in any event because it is a good plan and it concerns the future of the country. If the Government had full confidence in the plan, it would have no difficulty putting it before both Houses for a vote. If the evidence based approach to which the Minister of State referred in his contribution were a matter of fact, he would have absolutely no difficulty allowing both Houses to vote on the plan. I am not sure what the fear factor is here. There are gaping holes in the plan, some of which relate to the Minister of State's own county and were raised with me by members of Meath County Council. These include the absence of recognition for major towns like Ratoath and Ashbourne. These are matters we want to raise and it is not about delaying the plan. Why not take the month of August or September to debate the plan here? There is nothing to stop us if we want to do it. Let us have a five or ten-day debate.
We were all here last year too.
Absolutely. It could be done at other times. For example, the Seanad does not sit on Mondays or Fridays and nor does the Dáil.
That is not a problem. The Houses are open.
We do not have to delay anything here. There are ways around it. The charge was made against other plans which were introduced, including the national spatial strategy introduced by a Fianna Fáil Government at the time, that they were political plans. How can that charge be levelled with any sense of reality when the same charge will be levelled at this plan if the Government does not accept the amendment? There is no parliamentary buy-in with this plan and it is the wrong approach to take. If the Government wants to move forward, if this is such a great plan and if it really is evidence based, the Minister of State would subscribe to the vote and look at reviewing the NPF sooner than in six years' time.
The Minister of State mentioned that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has a major input on the capital expenditure side, which it does. I welcome that as I welcome the excellent work the Department does in that context.
The Department is a leading authority across Europe in some of the work it has done. I acknowledge that it was under Deputy Howlin, when he was Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, that the best of that work was carried out. The one-year review, which I requested, is a very simple review. The information is already available within the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform because the tracker system has already been set up. It is just a matter of debating the tracker system and all the current projects under Project 2040. I do not see the difficulty in having an annual review. With a six-year period, two Governments, perhaps even three, could come and go. We are looking at 2026 before there will be a review of the national planning framework. We would be about 35% of the way into the project before there is a review. That is wrong. If we are moving along the wrong path on any element of the programme, it would be too late to try to make corrections. I do not agree with the Minister of State. There is no need to move in the direction in which he is moving. We should have the debate. All Members of both Houses would be very responsible and would wear the Irish jersey on this issue. It is not just about our county but about our country. We all have a right as parliamentarians, whether Deputies or Senators. Our constituencies are national. Most Senators in the House have a national constituency base and we want to raise those concerns validly here. This is not about delaying a plan. No one wants to see a cent delayed for the plan. If the implementation of the plan is in 2020, there is loads of time because we are in the middle of 2018. There is loads of time. It is not about delaying the plan; it is about giving the plan absolute democratic scrutiny. It is about democratic accountability, stakeholder buy-in and having all political parties and none subscribe to this plan.
I will return to the situation in Sligo. It was the wrong thing to do. It was very wrong to exclude Members of the Seanad and Dáil from that launch. It turned into a political launch. The Minister of State can correct that by accepting this amendment today. I appeal to the Minister of State. If there is any element of the wording of the amendment that he does not agree with I am happy to look at it but I appeal to him to accept it in the interest of democracy and buy-in for this very crucial plan for the future of our country. It would also give recognition to the officials who worked on the drafting of the plan and the work they did. This is not about one person's plan or one party's plan; it is the country's plan. Let us have the country's Parliament debate the plan properly so all can see. I do not think there is any difficulty with that.
- Black, Frances.
- Boyhan, Victor.
- Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
- Conway-Walsh, Rose.
- Daly, Paul.
- Devine, Máire.
- Gallagher, Robbie.
- Higgins, Alice-Mary.
- Horkan, Gerry.
- Humphreys, Kevin.
- Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
- Nash, Gerald.
- O'Sullivan, Grace.
- O'Sullivan, Ned.
- Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
- Warfield, Fintan.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Burke, Colm.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Butler, Ray.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Maria.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Conway, Martin.
- Hopkins, Maura.
- Lawlor, Anthony.
- McFadden, Gabrielle.
- Mulherin, Michelle.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Mahony, John.
- O'Reilly, Joe.
- Reilly, James.
- Richmond, Neale.
Before I move on to amendment No. 31, I have two very pleasant tasks to announce. First, I have been asked to welcome the Ballygarvan historical society from Cork to the Chamber. Senator Buttimer has a particular interest in that group.