I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce this Bill.
I sincerely thank the Seanad for facilitating the urgent passage of what is very important legislation, and facilitating its passage not just here in the Seanad but starting it here for it to conclude very shortly, before the recess. For this reason I have asked the House to consider a motion to enable the President to sign the Bill earlier than would be routine.
I am bringing forward the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2021, as a matter of urgency, in order to address delays and disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic on the completion of construction projects, including housing projects, and for the completion of development plan programmes, in particular having regard to arrangements for consultation with elected members and the public. These are matters that have been raised by Senators and councillors directly with me, and this is a response to ensure that we ease the situation somewhat for them.
The Bill will also bring forward urgently needed amendments to the ministerial order procedure of the Planning Act to ensure such orders will apply to development by or on behalf of statutory undertakers, and amendments to the Fifth Schedule to the Planning and Development Act 2000.
Due to the urgent need for this legislation, I made a request to the Business Committee of the Houses to waive the requirement for pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme by the joint Oireachtas committee. The waiver was granted earlier this week following a briefing session by my officials with members of the joint Oireachtas committee.
With regard to the purpose of Planning and Development (Amendment) (No.3) Bill 2021, the first two provisions I will discuss are proposed in the context of delays and disruptions to certain elements of the planning system due to Covid-19 restrictions and the pandemic itself.
The first provision proposes at sections 2 to 6, inclusive, and 8 to allow a planning authority should it so decide - and that will be a decision of the elected members and not the executive - to take an additional period of up to one year over and above the statutory period set out in the Planning and Development Act to prepare a new development plan for their area. Some local authorities have indicated that while they have remained open for business, despite Covid-19 restrictions, and have facilitated public participation in the plan-making process, restrictions have resulted in unavoidable disruption to the development plan programme, in particular the arrangements relating to consultation with elected members and the public. I have had numerous examples of that brought to my attention and this is a sensible provision that will enable us to rectify that situation.
Public participation, as I have said in this House before, is a core principle of the planning and development system. It requires that people have the opportunity to participate in decisions at both the strategic plan-making and individual planning application levels. The public participation elements of the planning system were previously recognised as an "essential service" in SI 448 of 2020 and, therefore, were not subject to travel restrictions. The mandatory requirement to hold public meetings, in terms of a proposed development plan, has been replaced with the obligation for planning authorities to consult with members of the public in such a manner as it considers appropriate and also to invite submissions in writing from members of the public on a proposed development plan, which may include the holding of a public meeting.
Notwithstanding this, however, some planning authorities have indicated that it has been necessary to delay certain stages of the plan-making process to ensure that the appropriate level of engagement with the planning system can be facilitated with elected members and that other practical matters, which have arisen, can be addressed. As a result, they may not be able to finalise new development plans within the statutory periods set out in the Act.
It is, therefore, proposed that where a planning authority requires additional time to prepare a new development plan, it would need to consider and set out its reasons for doing so, and extend the duration of its existing development plan accordingly but taking appropriate account of any potential environmental effects, or any effects, on a designated European site which might result. This is a practical measure and I expect that local authority members will know themselves where they need additional time, where they need to pause a development plan or where they need to extend it. This will be brought forward by way of a motion tabled by a member or members on the floor of a council where it will be the members who will decide should the development plan be extended, not the executive, because it is their reserve function. As I have said many times in this House, I am a firm believer in local government. We want to continue to rebalance the powers between our councillors and the executive, and this is a real-life example of doing so but a practical measure as well that I believe will help the process.
The second provision in section 7 is grounded in the need to ensure timely delivery of housing, of other projects and the completion of construction projects, in the context of delays caused by Covid-19. The amendment to the planning Act will allow, on a temporary basis, for further extensions of planning permissions previously extended, where those developments were commenced with substantial works carried out by a period of up to two years or until 31 December 2023, whichever first occurs. The general scheme of the Bill, as approved by Cabinet last week, had originally provided for a single year extension. We have gone further to provide a two-year extension because if we look through Covid, we have had 15, 16 or 17 months of disruption and by the time capacity is built up, particularly on construction sites, there is a further lag time. Again, this is a practical measure that will help people to extend their planning permissions and then we can get back out, effect those permissions and get them building. Two years was considered a reasonable period, not only due to the direct delays in construction but as I said, also due to the possible disruption to logistics and supply chains, etc. The provisions will allow for the further extension of permissions which have expired or are due to expire during the period from 8 January 2021 to the day before section 7 comes into operation.
If colleagues have not done so, I would ask them to have a look at the exact provisions within the Bill and we can tease them out further on Committee Stage. The measures we brought forward are timely and appropriate. Any further extensions will be subject to a condition that environmental assessment is not required in relation to the proposed extension of time. If an environmental impact assessment, EIA, or appropriate assessment is required, then a fresh planning application will need to be made in order to continue the development as this allows for updated environmental assessments and public participation in that process. That would happen in a small number of cases.
Separate to these Covid-19 related amendments, at section 9, the Bill proposes to amend the ministerial order provisions in section 181 of the Act, for the avoidance of doubt, to include development by or on behalf of statutory undertakers. This amendment is being made at the request of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and on the advice of the Attorney General.
Section 181 enables a Government Minister by order to disapply the planning Act to development to be carried out by or on behalf of the Minister or the Office of Public Works, OPW. The relevant Minister must be satisfied that carrying out the development is required by reason of an accident or emergency and the development may be subject to an environmental assessment procedure carried out by An Bord Pleanála before any order is made where such assessments are determined to be required.
The final provision at section 10 of the Bill is a technical amendment that proposes to amend the Fifth Schedule to the Planning and Development Act 2000, which sets out conditions that may be imposed as part of a planning permission, without attracting compensation. The new provision relates to a condition which restricts the persons of a particular class or description who may use a dwelling which has been approved as part of the planning permission.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and Senators for their time. Those are my opening remarks on Second Stage of what is an important and urgent Bill. We need to ensure that this passes the Seanad and the Dáil and there is an earlier signature by An tUachtarán to be able to bring these provisions in before the recess of both Houses.