Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016: Motions

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, to the House. A message has been received from the Dáil concerning amendments made by the Seanad to the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016. The message has been set down on the Order Paper. The list of amendments made by the Seanad and considered by the Dáil has been circulated for the information of Members. The Dáil has not agreed to amendment Nos. 41 and 42 and desires that Seanad Éireann should not insist thereon. Senators may move, in respect of the original amendment Nos. 41 and 42, either "That the Seanad do not insist on the amendments" or "That the Seanad do insist on the amendments". Senators may speak once only, except the proposer of the motion who has the right of reply. Any Senator who wishes to move either of the permissible motions may do so now.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann do not insist on Seanad amendment No. 41.

Amendment No. 41 was tabled by Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill. We outlined the case in this regard quite strongly here on the day, and last week in the Dáil we went over the need not to have this amendment and over how it would affect the Bill if adopted. The Bill as drafted already provides that any draft of a revised or new framework must be submitted for the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas rather than a vote. This is a sufficient and indeed appropriate provision in this regard. It is also important to be clear here that the introduction of this amendment would not apply retrospectively to the current framework which has already been adopted and published by the Government for the purposes of section 2 of the Planning and Development Act. The current framework is on a statutory footing afforded by the provisions of existing legislation and would not have been impacted by the introduction of this amendment.

There was a further issue of concern with the proposed amendment. Introducing it would have placed new and onerous statutory obligations on the Oireachtas relating to complying with European environmental law. This is because the amendment would have had 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 directive and appropriate assessment under the habitats directive. We did speak on that on the day. I went through it in detail and asked Members to understand that they could consult with the Department if they wanted to get a bit more information. I am conscious that quite a few Members did do that and they got some advice and direction in that regard. It would be quite a serious thing if the Dáil also became the responsible authority for those matters. It is not as straightforward as having a final vote. Members might reflect on that.

The amendments also propose that the framework be subject to an annual review. As a long-term strategy the national planning framework is not readily amenable to annual review. This Bill already provides that the national planning framework will be reviewed every six years, which is a more meaningful timeline, particularly for data gathering and analysis of outcomes. Another aspect of these amendments was based on a misunderstanding of the legislative meaning of an appropriate assessment report, which is wholly separate from the public spending code. Consequently to have linked the two in legislation, as was proposed, based on an entirely erroneous assumption would have been a serious mistake. Again I ask Members to accept the decision of the Dáil on these amendments.

In contrast to the Minister of State, I want to express my disappointment that amendments Nos. 41 and 42 have been voted down by the Dáil. I am particularly disappointed that Fianna Fáil Members of this House had supported the amendments and yet Fianna Fáil abstained on the same vote in the Dáil, making it inevitable that those amendments would fall. Without rehearsing the previous debates, when the planning framework was launched in February Sinn Féin began raising questions about the validity of the plan without a vote in the Oireachtas. Other parties articulated their concerns at the time. Deputy Barry Cowen said, "Fianna Fáil has put down a number of amendments in the Seanad to strengthen the role of the Oireachtas in overseeing the National Planning Framework." We can discuss the era of new politics all we want but when we are faced with the notion that processes should be outward-looking, open and transparent it seems the powers that be consistently buckle.

We have had this conversation before. The planning framework is a huge undertaking of State capital and taxpayers' money. These processes should not go unvouched and unchecked by these Houses. It demeans the work of Deputies and Senators. I appreciate that the Minister of State, Deputy English, has in debates on these amendments committed to constant interaction with Members on regional and county plans. However, this should be open to public discourse and scrutiny rather than interaction in the privacy of Government Buildings.

While I am frustrated about the important amendments that have been dealt a blow in the Dáil, I accept the decision. In the true spirit of an open democracy, I call on the Minister of State to engage in the Houses on all further plans relating to the planning framework and to support us and those we represent.

I, too, am disappointed that a vote will not be taken in both Houses. The Minister of State referred to the Attorney General's legal advice about the statutory footing. It is important that people understand this. I am of the firm belief that the national planning framework will have a significant impact on people's lives in the form of their local authorities, work and so on. As such, it is crucial that we review it every six years.

I thank the Minister of State for listening to me. Like other Senators, I was on a council for years. Be it a local authority development plan or a national plan, a planning framework can be major for a constituency, Ireland or everyone in general. The impact can be crucial.

I am disappointed, but we must accept the Attorney General's advice about the statutory footing. It is important that everyone, including Senators, submit recommendations when our national planning framework is reviewed.

I will be brief. I welcome the Minister of State back to the House. It is clear from what he said that upholding the Seanad amendments would only have delayed the Bill's enactment by three months. That is not necessary and would not have had the material effect that some Senators within the Chamber want. I must put it on the record that Fianna Fáil Senators in particular have been in contravention of their party's position in the Dáil. That is their right. Senator Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister of State to listen, but it is a great pity that she did not listen to him. In our previous debate, he outlined clearly the advice of the Attorney General and that this would be critical if the Bill was to proceed and establish the office of the planning regulator, which most parties want. It is also critical that we put the national planning framework on a statutory footing if we are to give it the teeth we want it to have throughout our regions, local authority areas and local communities. What is set out in the national planning framework will have a positive impact on the country.

I will say no more. It is unfortunate that the Minister of State had to revert to the House and clarify the situation and that the Dáil had to rectify matters. I support the Minister of State's position.

I welcome the Minister of State. Since the framework's launch, we have had a discussion about the importance of planning and being able to prepare for the future. During an Order of Business last week, Senator Davitt spoke about going on a mystical tour of Ireland. I would love to take him on a real tour and show him the import and future consequences of the national planning framework.

I will not personalise my next remark in any shape or form but, as Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell said, we must be a listening House. That means the Government side listening to other Members, which we do, and Members listening to the advice of the Attorney General or Ministers. It is also about ensuring that we deliver greater transparency, efficiency and integrity in the planning system.

If the Acting Chairman will indulge me for a minute, my next remark will be made in the context of the need for a planning regulator. I am disappointed by the decision of An Bord Pleanála to award a waste incineration licence to Indaver at Ringaskiddy. It is regrettable, not least because the oral hearing, which was held in a transparent manner, demonstrated to me and many others like me that there was no compelling case for the awarding of the licence. There has been much political commentary on the matter.

We must ensure that there is accountability in planning. We have touched on various tribunal reports that dealt with planning matters. It is probably not popular to say it, but we as elected Members need some type of engagement with planners. I am talking about having a role in, rather than influence over, the planning process. Sometimes, decisions are made purely by the book, that is, the learned opinion is A, B and C whereas the lived reality is different. I am confident that the national planning framework will deliver for people in a multiplicity of communities across the country. For example, Cork city will become a real rival to Dublin in light of the former's growth projections. I welcome that the city will have an increased footprint. This is why there is a need to make provision for what is contained within the national planning framework. This is about Ireland in 2040.

As I was walking down the marina last Sunday, I looked across the river at the Port of Cork and could not help thinking about its potential for growth. On yesterday's Order of Business, Senator Humphreys referenced the Irish Glass Bottle Company site. Similarly, we in Cork have an opportunity to grow and develop our city, increase its population and make it a city of scale that will attract further investment. This is why the framework is important. I commend the Minister of State, who gets what this is about in terms of housing delivery and holding local authorities to account.

Despite our back-and-forth discussions at times, I understand where Senator Murnane O'Connor is coming from on this. We need accountability and to see deliverables. We have not forgotten the Fianna Fáil Government's national spatial plan with its hub towns that never existed and buildings that are now empty because of bad decision making.

Senator Humphreys and I have discussed housing many times. He is right about Airbnb, but the ghost estates are nearly all gone. Seven years ago, our country was awash with them.

The Leader knows we have 10,000 people in homelessness. I have just enough time to speak to the Leader. He has-----

Senator Buttimer without interruption.

There are 10,000 homeless people on our housing lists.

Senator Buttimer has 15 seconds.

I have never heard Senator Murnane O'Connor, to be fair, understand the importance of collectivity in housing.

I admire her for the way she supports her party in the Chamber. She has a duty to do that, but the reality is that we must implement this plan to deliver for Carlow, Cork, Waterford, Meath, Dublin and beyond.

I was not going to contribute, but then the Leader did. He was right on many matters, for example, density and balanced regional growth. We want to deliver sustainable communities, not just in Dublin, but also in Cork, Galway, Carlow, Kilkenny and many other places. There is significant potential in areas like unused docklands. The structures of the strategic development zones present an opportunity to pursue that in a planned way. However, there must also be quality and sustainable communities.

When the Bill was before the Seanad previously, I voiced a concern when the Minister of State tabled an amendment on shared living spaces. I will flag it again now. One of the major flaws in the Bill is the amendment on what I call "student living for adults". I have checked our previous debate. The Minister of State said that the market would decide. Unfortunately, my discussions since then with real estate investment trusts, REITs, and people working in the business have shown that shared living is what will be offered to young people who are leaving college or going into work.

Nobody asked them whether they wanted it, but that is what will be offered to them. I have grave reservations about that amendment and still believe the downfall in the long term in future development will be shared living or student accommodation for those who are starting work. They want their own accommodation. Everyone to whom I have spoken in the 25 to 35 age group says he or she wants his or her own accommodation. They do not necessarily want to move into student accommodation - they did that all the way through college - but that is what the major developers and the REITS company will offer them and that is all that will be in the markets in major urban areas. It was introduced very late in this legislation-----

I know. I will not speak about this again; I just want to flag it. I do not expect or want the Minister of State to respond.

He will not be coming back in.

I am disparaging the provision because the Bill has sold out on young people in apprenticeships and college who will be looking for accommodation in the near future.

The Bill seeks to give them a future.

Question put and declared carried.

I move: "That the Seanad do not insist on amendment No. 42."

Again, this relates to the issue of an annual review. Having an annual review would not help us in trying to achieve long-term planning. There might have been a misunderstanding of what we were trying to achieve, which is why I hope the Seanad will understand that when we think of long-term planning, it would be hard to prove the results every year. We are thinking about having a review every six years and I commit to doing so. We can have ongoing consultation here on local and regional plans. I will be happy to do so because it is an important topic which should be discussed here often. I commit to doing so and accept the request for same.

It is unrealistic to expect a national plan to be reviewed yearly. It will be evaluated constantly by various stakeholders from local authorities to regional assemblies, Departments and the national Parliament. Through our parliamentary work, we will continuously evaluate the national planning framework to see how it is working. On a statutory basis, it is correct that we review it and adopt a new plan every six years, similar to the way in which a local area plan or a county or city development plan is adopted. I have heard other speakers talk about the ambitions of the national planning framework to grow the population in large urban centres. I know that the Minister of State has engaged deeply on the aspirations of Waterford city to be a new growth centre in the south east. There is real potential there, as Senators Kevin Humphreys, Jerry Buttimer and others have said about Cork. The north quays in Waterford city have been identified as a strategic development zone, on which there has been huge engagement, consultation and discussion conducted by the local authority with the public, all of the various arms and agencies and stakeholders. It is ripe for development to grow the city in a sustainable way. It is welcome that the Minister of State is supportive of the development.

We are dealing with amendment No. 42.

It is important, in relation to the national planning framework and early reviews-----

The amendment is not about a particular part of the country.

I understand that and respect the Chair's ruling, but it is important that I set out that any framework must be evaluated from a planning perspective. I am outlining the realistic potential in one of the cities identified in the national planning framework that will be reviewed after six years. I hope Waterford city, when the new national planning framework is reviewed in six years time, will be well on the way to reaching the aspirations set out for it under Project Ireland 2040.

Having a review every six years is important. The lesson from this is - I know that we will vote on this issue tonight - that no Taoiseach should ever go on a solo run and launch a plan without the Seanad and the Dáil knowing. Having respect for Senators and Deputies is more important. Everybody should know what is happening, but that did not happen this time in the case of the national planning framework. Senator Paudie Coffey should know that is why accountability was sought here because Senators and Deputies did not even know that it was being launched. Lessons have been learned. It does not matter who is in power - everybody should know. It is about accountability and letting Members of the Oireachtas know what is happening. That is why the issue was so crucial.

On having a review every six years, it is not possible for local authorities and staff to work on a new plan every year, but it is important that we make sure there is no city-urban divide. Development of urban areas is crucial. In my area of Carlow and other urban areas we need to make sure jobs and apprenticeships are created. We are lucky to have the new technological university in Carlow-Waterford, which is really welcome and a good development. These are all positives, but we must all work together to make sure urban areas receive their fair share of funding, as well as everywhere else.

I want to make a number of comments that are pertinent to the debate in the context of the amendment. I believed initially that there should be a yearly evaluation, but, on reflection, I accept that that is probably unrealistic. The Acting Chairman was a member of a local authority and we sat through discussions on development plans to modify local area plans and have strategic nodes and so on. One of the things we must do is ensure there is accountability. I do not mean this to be a negative, even though it could be construed as such, but what drives people daft is lack of action. We saw it in the case of the national spatial strategy and must move on from it. I am focusing on my city of Cork. Looking at what we have tried to achieve-----

On a national basis. We are dealing with amendment No. 42.

He can learn lessons from what happens on a local basis.

Lots of examples are being given which I do not doubt are very helpful.

The point Senator Kevin Humphreys made yesterday on the Order of Business is one from which we should learn. He referenced a particular site which has potential. In Cork we have the docklands to grow and develop the city. The one thing I share with the Tánaiste is our ambitions for Cork. We want to see-----

No, one of the many. I thank the Acting Chair for seeking clarification. The Tánaiste and I share many things. We are both anxious that the national development plan, Ireland 2040, focus on generating growth beyond the M50. I know that Senator Kevin Humphreys is focused on Dublin, while the Minister of State is focused on his area, but for those of us in the south, in the context of amendment No. 42 and having targets to achieve every six years, if we cannot put tangible targets on paper to be achieved, we will be going nowhere. We are looking to grow the population of Cork from 120,000 to almost 360,000. That will require a buy-in by private investors, the local authorities and the State. One of the ways by which we can achieve that target is through the delivery of a six year plan.

The other point I make is that I now believe we need to have a directly-elected mayor for the city of Cork. We are growing the city of Cork through the amalgamation of areas, thus expanding the city boundaries. We are creating clear, new lines to allow a city of scale to be created.

What that now requires is a directly-elected mayor in tandem with what is being offered under Project Ireland 2040. What Project Ireland 2040 is giving us is a plan, a roadmap to develop parts of the city that are now used for warehousing, industry and the Port of Cork. What the plan will do in tandem with the directly-elected mayor will be to create a new type of Cork, one that can be competitive on the international and world stage. We are fortunate that we have industries of scale in the city and on the periphery but through the new local government structure and the really exciting plan for the city, we are on the cusp of continuing to grow, develop and expand. I believe that if we have a six-year plan for the city in tandem with what we are trying to achieve under the national planning framework, Ireland 2040, then we need to have a directly-elected mayor. I will conclude on this point. I know it is not necessarily part of the plan but it is analogous to it. We need to drive the development of the airport in Cork. It is important. I am bordering on straining----

The Senator is over his time.

Cork Airport is a brilliant airport. In fairness to the chief executive, Mr. Niall McCarthy, and his team the airport is growing. An article published last week in the Evening Echo stated that Horgan's Quay was the third terminal for Dublin Airport. That was a bit unfair. What is happening is that people in the south are choosing, in my opinion, erroneously to travel to Dublin when those from Portlaoise down could use Cork Airport. It is good for parking-----

-----going through the gate. The new check-in offering-----

I ask the Senator to conclude.

I will conclude on this point.

The Senator has concluded. I thank him.

I thank the Chair for indulging me.

The Acting Chairman is very good when indulging the Leader of the House.

I indulged the Senator occasionally.

I recognise that. I want to ask the Minister about the six-year review. It is good to review a plan to ensure we are reaching the targets. Senator Murnane O'Connor made a good point on how it was launched. We had to learn from the mistakes of the past and we should have learned from the launch of the national spatial plan, because on Morning Ireland the lead issue for discussion was on "Parlon country". For many, this was the first time they heard about the launch of the spatial plan, which undermined the spatial plan launched by the PDs and Fianna Fáil Party. That left a bad taste. The Project Ireland 2040 plan also led to a bad sense. We need to move on and we need to learn. What the Leader of the House has been saying is quite constructive. I like to think I am not just Dublin focused.

Senator Buttimer referred to the Mayor and I think Cork needs a directly-elected Mayor. I do not think electing a mayor should be limited to Cork and Dublin. Waterford has the potential. Senator Coffey will tell Members that it has the potential to become a pharmaceutical hub. By giving a city the focus of a directly-elected mayor-----

We are discussing amendment No. 42.

I know and I will finish up. We need to listen to each other and learn from it.

We have all mentioned SDZs and how they operate in and around the country. We need to review the structures of strategic development zones. There is a lot going for the Poolbeg west SDZ, but mistakes have been made. I have tabled two Commencement matters on the social and affordable housing element of it. It is being challenged at An Bord Pleanála. We need to look at the SDZ process to ensure it is robust enough not to be challenged at An Bord Pleanála. When the local authority makes a plan and it is agreed, the legislation supporting it should be robust enough that it cannot be challenged at An Bord Pleanála. It is in all our interests, whether the National Planning Framework 2040 or an SDZ, that the legislation behind it is robust enough that we can drive it on and that it cannot be delayed by appeals to different bodies, be it An Bord Pleanála or the Supreme Court.

I ask the Minister to look at what is happening in the SDZ and Poolbeg west, because that site has the potential to deliver 3,500 units but there is the potential to delay that significantly unless we resolve the 900 units that were promised under social and affordable provisions. We need to put our heads together and work out a solution. I put forward solutions to Mr. Brendan Kenny and to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Perhaps we could sit down with the Minister and Minister of State to put forward constructive suggestions on how to get around the impasse.

I thank Senator Humphreys. I should have brought the Minister of State back in at the end of amendment No. 41. Amendment No. 41 has been dealt with. Will he reply to the debate on amendment No. 42?

I accept that the thrust of what Members are saying is that most people would agree that it is sensible not to have a one-year review. I am glad, on reflection, that we can agree on that as well. Again I am happy to confirm that we will have ongoing discussions on this. I am not going to go back into the National Planning Framework 2040 because it will upset people.

Question put and agreed to.

The Clerk will send a message to the Clerk of the Dáil certifying the determination of the Seanad.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy English, who has always been available and accessible to the Seanad. His contributions have been insightful and I thank him for that on a person level.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy English, on behalf of the House for his cooperation on the matter.