Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2021: Committee and Remaining Stages

Proceedings on this Bill shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 6.15 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government. The proceedings shall be interrupted after two hours for 15 minutes to allow for the sanitisation of the Chamber and the order of debate shall resume thereafter. There are 70 amendments, which means we have less than two and a half minutes to discuss each of them, excluding any comment on the actual Bill. We will try to get through this as efficiently as we can. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, back to the House. Amendment No. 1 is out of order because it is not relevant to the subject matter of the Bill.

Amendment No. 1 not moved.
Section 1 agreed to.
SECTION 2

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 2:
"In page 4, line 10, to delete “and section 11D”."

I apologise to Members that I am a little disorganised with my folder as I go through the amendments. We are getting there. As we finish, the Bills Office is working to speed and scale. I thank all of the officials in the Department who are working with such a short timeframe.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are Government amendments. These technical drafting amendments have been recommended by the Office of the Attorney General to clarify the interaction between the provisions set out in sections 2 and 3 of the Bill and ensure the cross-references between these sections operate more effectively.

I would like a lot more clarification from the Minister of State in respect of these amendments. I have a number of amendments, to which I will come later, around strengthening the provisions that are currently in section 11D. Given that so many of the amendments refer to section 11D, I am quite concerned about whether this implies that the consideration of the factors within section 11D is diminished because those factors include some of the most crucial considerations in respect of any extension, including the consideration of strategic environmental assessments and appropriate assessments, and the impact that any extension might have on European sites or both. I would like specific clarification from the Minister of State on the impact of removing section 11D from sections 9A(1) and 9A(2). Will he clarify precisely what this means for the operation of the provisions under section 11D? Does it have implications?

No, it does not have any implications. It is just a circular drafting issue. The Office of the Attorney General deemed that it was unnecessary and was causing confusion to have section 11D in again. It was not making sense when one followed the circular through, so the decision was taken on the advice of the Office of the Attorney General.

To clarify, this section of the Bill, which provides for the proposed new section 9A, refers to "Modification to operation of section 9". I see that the proposed new section 11D refers back to section 9. Section 9A refers to section 11D. Section 11D(2) provides that "Before making a decision under subsection (9), the planning authority shall be satisfied that ... the effect of the proposed extension of the duration of the existing development plan for the area is not likely to have significant effects on the environment" or on a strategic environmental site and so forth. I do not see an equivalent text providing that it shall be satisfied before making a decision under section 9A. Maybe the decision will be made under section 9 and section 9A is a qualifier, but it is still a little unclear. The Attorney General may be concerned about the risk of duplication but I am worried about a risk of dilution. I would like to have that clarified because notwithstanding section 9, section 9A is almost a caveat to the operation of section 9 in providing for modifications to its operation. The proposed new section 11D contains caveats to the operation of section 9 as a whole but I am concerned that section 9A might over rule section 9 in that sense. The Minister of State will understand that this is one of the problems that arise when Committee and Report Stages are taken together. Otherwise, I could leave it go through in good faith and we could pick it up on Report Stage. As we are only seeing these amendments now, I want to have absolute clarity that there is no question of any diminution of the requirements set out in section 11D in respect of the operation of section 9 under the conditions of section 9A.

It is purely a question of the order in which the provisions apply. There is absolutely no change or diminution of the section. It is just circular, to make sure that the references make sense. You follow down through it in direct order - that is all it is.

I would reserve the right to challenge it on Report Stage but we will not have the opportunity, unfortunately. I would want to have had clarity on exactly how these provisions will unfold. Perhaps we will get to hear that at a later stage.

Amendment put and declared carried.
Government amendment No. 3:
In page 4, line 25, to delete “and section 11D”.
Amendment put and declared carried.

Amendments Nos. 4 to 6, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 4:
In page 4, lines 31 and 32, to delete “not less than three quarters of the members of a planning authority may approve a resolution” and substitute “the members of a planning authority may, by simple majority, approve a resolution”.

Amendments Nos. 4 and 6 are Government amendments. Amendment No. 5, as proposed by Senator Fitzpatrick, seeks to achieve the same end as amendment No. 4.

Amendment No. 4 is a technical drafting amendment recommended by the Office of the Attorney General to ensure consistency with the other provisions relating to decision-making by the members of the planning authority, as set out in sections 2 and 3 of the Bill.

The decision-making arrangements set out at the proposed new sections 9A(3) on the taking of additional time to prepare the new development plan and 11D(9) on the extension of the duration of the existing development plan of the 2000 Act require a simple majority as opposed to a three-quarters majority. Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 propose to amend the requirement for a three-quarters majority of members in the proposed new section 9A(2) to a simple majority.

Amendment No. 6 is a technical drafting amendment recommended by the Office of the Attorney General to clarify that it is the members of the planning authority who will decide by resolution that a further period is necessary to complete the development plan review.

I thank the Minister of State for accepting the amendment and moving his own amendments. It is very important that we as a House copper-fasten the superior authority of the elected members of each local authority. I am very conscious that local authority members, especially here in Dublin, are undertaking marathon meetings, most of which have been virtual due to Covid, and it is most important that we support them to make the best possible development plans for their cities and counties. This amendment gives the power to local authority members, but most importantly also, it takes a pragmatic approach of having a simple majority.

I thank the Minister of State for taking the amendment on board. It was something Senator Fitzpatrick and other Senators raised on Second Stage. As she says, it is a pragmatic approach to move towards a simple majority as opposed to the two-thirds majority required. It will be of assistance to local authority members across the country.

We have spoken before in the House about the importance of equipping councillors with more reserved powers. I was here on Second Stage when the issue was discussed. I welcome the fact that Senator Fitzpatrick has tabled this amendment. I also welcome the fact that the Government is sufficiently open minded to accept it. A simple majority is the norm so that is reflective of good practice to say the least.

When it comes to development plans it should start and finish with the county councillors. It should be a reserved function in all senses. Local government will evolve and will need to be reformed. That will always be the case. I would like to see more reserved functions given to county councillors because they are the people who get the mandate every five years. There was a time in the 1990s when reserved functions were taken from councillors and there were reasons for that, but we have seen a modernisation of councillors, whose calibre is like no other in terms of the scope of their experience and the professional manner in which they do their work. That has been met by the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, in terms of the recent announcement regarding terms and conditions, which brings local government in this country into a modern sphere. Part of the evolving modern sphere is to have more reserved functions.

I will not be speaking again on this but while I am on my feet, I have said previously that county councillors should have access to both independent legal advice and independent planning advice. In the deliberations on a development plan, if a councillor or one or more groups of councillors within a local authority feel they need to retain outside expertise, totally independent of the executive of the council, there needs to be a facility where that can happen. Likewise, if various groups within a council want to get separate independent advice to advise them then a mechanism to provide that must be considered also. As I see it, that is all part of the modernisation and positive evolution of local government in this country.

I thank Senator Conway very much. That was very well put, but possibly not that relevant to this section. We are trying to stick to the amendments given that we have 70 amendments in total.

I strongly agree with the importance of local authorities and their members and the fact that they should have more power and more reserved functions. I also very much agree that they should be supported to get independent legal and planning advice. In that sense, I am very happy to support amendment No. 6, which clarifies that it is the members of the local authority making a key decision. However, I strongly oppose amendments Nos. 4 and 5 in respect of lowering the threshold. This is not the normal run of affairs. This is not a matter of being consistent with how we do everything else. All of our planning takes place within a wider framework, much of which has been chipped away. It is in the context of Covid, in an emergency context, where there is a particular health concern and delays that there is a request that there would be extensions. I refer to cases that are not new development plans, variations on development plans or the normal run of events. That is why it requires primary legislation.

I slightly disagree with the statement that it begins and ends with councillors. While they are key, it begins and ends with the people who live in a place. Already, 752 of them in Dublin have given submissions on what they want in the place they live. To delay a development plan is a very significant decision and there will be circumstances where it may be needed, but it is an extremely significant decision because it is not simply a decision of convenience for the elected members or the officials within a local authority, it has an impact on the people.

A lot has changed since the previous development plans were agreed. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities needs to be realised. We have the sustainable development goals which need to be realised. We have a very different environmental context than we had when the previous plan was drawn up, so it is a significant step to delay it. What we have seen in this House and across the country is that people have been very willing to work on a cross-party basis where there is a genuine emergency and public health concerns. It would be the case that one would be able to get a three-quarters majority in respect of a delay in a plan where the health case is made, but a case must be made and it should not be something that can be done simply because of there being a simple majority on a council. It should be a decision that is recognised as exceptional and is made according to a higher bar. In that context, I must oppose the lowering of that bar from a three-quarters majority to a simple majority.

I thank most Members for their support for the amendment. Senator Higgins is incorrect in that it is consistent with the Planning and Development Act. Sections 9 and 11 deal with the extension of development plans currently. They have been extended by a number of local authorities by agreement of a majority of the members. We are not conflating it with variations or other such types of vote. We are being consistent. The Attorney General is in agreement with that and backed up this request as well, so there is no issue. This is not a delay. It is giving local authorities that may need an opportunity to have more time to complete vital and key public consultation while preparing their plan. I wish to be very clear that it is not a delay or a pause.

It is a delay, and the delay may well be justified in order to produce a good plan.

However, it is a delay. To be clear, there is a difference in the date on which a new plan will start. It is an extension at a point at which we face multiple crises. We face the Covid-19 crisis, but we also face other crises, such as climate, for example. In that context, this has been brought through as something that is needed, because of an exceptional circumstance. It should be treated in that context as having to meet very high standards, and not normal standards. I am not saying it is not consistent, but that the circumstances are not usual. That is why the provisions in other parts of the planning Act in relation to the normal run events are perhaps not appropriate.

I am going to put the amendment.

Amendment put and declared carried.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 4, line 31, to delete “not less than three quarters” and substitute “a simple majority”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 6:
In page 5, line 5, after “plans,” to insert “the members of”.
Amendment put and declared carried.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 5, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:

“(6A) Any decision of a local authority to initiate a process to extend the duration of a development plan under this section or section 11D(1), shall require an associated resolution of the members of the planning authority in respect of such an extension in accordance with subsection (2), and such an extension shall not have effect, until the obligations under subsections (2) to (10) of section 11D have been addressed, and subsections (12) to (14) of section 11D shall apply as if to an extension made under that section.”.

This is again on the three quarters issue. It is really about addressing ambiguity. It could be argued that the resolution in the new section 9A(2) of the three quarters of members to approve the extension, applies to any of the multiple extensions that could arise under section 9A or section 11D. However, it is not clearly worded, so we want to make it clear that such a resolution is necessary. I know members of Government parties in the Seanad said that three quarters was too high. However, this is a significant decision, to effectively suspend the progress of the most fundamental cornerstone of planning in our system, the county development plans. It is also not clear if section 11D(1) allows for a further extension, or if it tries to do all the necessary things to follow through on extensions proposed under section 9A. Most importantly, section 11D only introduces the strategic environmental assessment, SEA, and appropriate assessment, AA, checks. It is ambiguous and unclear whether these AA and SEA checks apply to all the points at which an extension can be granted under section 9A or under section 11D.

Some parts of this have been made somewhat redundant, by the previous amendments that were passed. The concern is that this three-quarter threshold, which is an appropriately high threshold for these decisions, might not be applied to all of the extensions that might be made consequentially in this Act. Now that the threshold has been lowered, the bar has dipped backwards. This was a concern around ensuring the consistency of an exceptionally high standard. That exceptionally high standard no longer applies, unfortunately. There are still concerns in relation to section 9A, which I also enumerated.

I will be brief. We need to be careful in our language here, particularly in saying that we are dropping below high standards. When we take a vote on legislation in this House, we have a simple majority. I do not hear anybody questioning that high bar of democratic voting processes we have in place in this House, or that is in place in houses across the world. I would ask that to be taken into consideration.

Does the Minister of State want to respond to the debate?

I will address opposition amendment No. 7. While I understand the intention behind the proposed changes, I must oppose this amendment. Proposed new sections, section 9A(1) and section 9A(2), to be inserted into the 2000 Act, set out two alternative means of initiating the process set out in the Bill, in respect of taking an additional period of time to prepare a new development plan. Section 9A(1) provides that a planning authority, in practical terms, the executive of the authority, can initiate the process. Under section 9A(2), the members of the authority can initiate the process. Where such an initial decision has been taken, proposed new section 11D(1) provides that a planning authority may decide to extend the existing development plan, but only subject to complying with section 11D(2) and (9), which includes at subsection (9), the requirement for the decision to extend the duration of the existing development plan to be made by the members of the authority. It is not necessary to require such a decision to be subject to compliance with section 11D(10), as has been proposed by the amendment, as that subsection relates to a notification of the decision itself.

Where a decision has been made under proposed new section 11D to extend the duration of an existing development plan, the members of the planning authority may then, under new section 9A(3), decide to take additional time to prepare the new plan. The obligation set down in subsections (12) and (14) must be complied with. It is not necessary to include a provision to this effect.

In summary, the provisions, as set out in the Bill, allow for the process to be initiated by either the executive or the members of the authority. However, any decisions relating to the extension of the duration of the existing plan, and the final decision to take additional time to prepare the new plan are reserved functions. Accordingly, amendment No. 7 is rejected.

One part of the amendment has been partially addressed by amendment No. 6, which I supported. It clarifies that it is the members of a planning authority. That was one part. The concern about the two points of initiation is to be clear where the decision would sit. There is still a concern. The Minister of State mentioned some parts, like section 11D(10), not being a concern. However, the concerns are things like the consideration of the effects and the impact the plan or the extension might have, in respect of a European site, the strategic environmental assessment, or an appropriate assessment, and so forth. The hope would be, and this is almost in the second part of this amendment, that the extension would not have an effect until the appropriate various environmental checks and so forth had been conducted, and that the members were satisfied in relation to those. That was a sequencing issue, but an important one.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 5, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following: “(6A) Notwithstanding anything in this section, or in section 11D, a planning authority shall not extend the duration of the development plan more than twice, and for no more than an accumulated period of one year.”.

This is to stop incrementally extending and thus trying to avoid triggering a strategic environmental assessment and an appropriate assessment. It is to make explicit that the absolute maximum extension is one year in total, in order to avoid introducing incoherence into the planning framework, and delaying the updates to county development plans, to accord with necessary climate action and mitigation.

I can speak to this amendment. I have a similar amendment which I do not think was grouped. Can I check that my amendment was not grouped?

There was no grouping in regard to amendment No. 8.

I will come to a similar amendment, amendment No. 17, shortly.

Because of the safeguard provisions in section 11D, that is, the effect of the extension on the development plan, the environment, European sites and the need for a strategic environmental assessment or an appropriate assessment, the concern is that screening as to whether these assessments are needed and any related period of extension could have a significant impact. The concern is that there could be a two-month extension, a five-month extension or another six-month extension, and that each individual extension might not in itself constitute much. I have tried to deal with this issue more specifically in amendment No. 17, where I specifically reference "cumulative" in relation to these assessments. The concern is that it is pushed out. In terms of the bigger picture, a year is a long time and two years is a very long time. In terms of our environmental or climate goals, we have ten years in which to halve our emissions. Each year matters significantly. The concern is that what we have is a piecemeal approach, with each extension being viewed as "only six months". We are trying to address that in this amendment. We want the Bill to state that there would be cumulatively no more than one year in terms of triggering these things. I drill down a little more specifically on that point in amendment No. 17.

While I understand the intention behind the proposed changes, I must oppose the amendment. Proposed new sections 11D(13) and 9A(4) already provide that a planning authority may make more than one decision to extend the duration of the existing development plan and take additional time to prepare a new development plan, but the cumulative period of any such periods shall not exceed one year. It would not be reasonable to restrict the planning authority to make only two decisions under these provisions as the period subject of the decisions may vary in length from one day to one year. The authority may, having made two decisions, take only a short period of additional time and subsequently require more time. Accordingly, these amendments are rejected.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 9 to 11, inclusive, 41 to 43, inclusive, 47 to 50, inclusive, and 63 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 5, line 28, to delete "1 January 2024" and substitute "1 January 2022".

These amendments seek to pull back the period over which the provisions allowing for an extension of a county development plan is permitted to be effected. There is no justification for allowing multiple extensions out to 1 January 2024. Such extensions will operate not only to provide for potential disconnects with other county development plans, the national planning framework, regional guidelines, spatial strategies and core strategies in county development plans, CDPs, but settlement strategies will also be compromised. They will maintain the status quo for developers and also delay the development of new CDPs which provide for necessary climate action and mitigation as is required in legislation and which are expressly required to be assessed by the planning regulator.

The Oireachtas has been more than accommodating where there is evidence and need established in the context of the pandemic, but the prescription proposed here to effectively subvert the planning system is disproportionate and inadequately justified at the point of legislating for it.

The periods here are just too long. We have suggested a range of different dates in the amendments. Senator Warfield's amendment suggests 1 January 2022 and I have given a slightly lengthier period and suggested 1 October 2022, which sees us through another winter, spring, summer and autumn. I have also suggested, in a few different places, the date of 1 January 2023. The date of 1 January 2024 is too long. It is an extremely long extension and it provides for a delay potentially in county development plans right across the country. It goes against huge areas of public policy that are dependent on new development plans. We are balancing matters of urgency here, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the sustainable development goals, which the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, will recall are in the programme for Government and are designed to be fulfilled during the term of Government and, specifically, in relation to local development plans, SDG 11 on sustainable cities and communities being key. These are sustainable development goals that need to be achieved by 2030. We have substantial climate goals and we will have a climate budget and local authority climate budgets through the climate Bill, which will need to be achieved by 2025.

The date of 1 January 2024, as the period of time in which new plans to address these issues might be arising, is too late. We are losing precious time in extending this provision to that point. The world does not stop turning because, maybe, we want it to. The planning process certainly will not stop turning because we will be seeing more commitments given and more planning granted under previous basis and previous existing standards, some of which will necessarily potentially be moving in an opposite direction to our current direction. For example, on data centres, we have different directives in respect of what data centres might mean and where their positioning might be. In the case of marine protected areas, will we have areas being considered for marine protected areas at the same time as they might be marked for intensive or industrial development under an old county development plan? There are little caveats written in, but 2024 is too late to be starting. There are many local authorities that have made great efforts on public consultation and are ambitious and want to do great things that potentially might need to use this legislation to delay for six months or one year in the current context. I understand that. My concern is that in providing for 1 January 2024 we will see extensions being granted in 2022 or 2023 and a whole swathe of development plans that are perhaps not suited to our current purpose. We will then go into another round of local elections where people will be explaining how they could not do whatever they needed or wanted to do because they were waiting for the new development plan and it did not happen but that the next one will be great and it will deliver on disability, environment and everything else.

The date of 1 January 2024 is too long. If we do have a further or escalating health crisis mid-2022 or in 2023, the most likely scenario being if Europe continues to drop the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, TRIPS, waiver and allow further variants to develop, the Government can come back with new legislation and we can then discuss what we might need to prioritise, what a variation might need to look like or how we are going to balance what will then be ever more urgent climate imperatives with our public health imperatives. The date of 1 January 2024 is too long. In each of the amendments a swathe of alternative dates is suggested. In terms of the impact on Part XAB of the Act of 2000, the extension to 1 January 2024 is particularly too long. I urge the Minister of State to pick one of the dates in 2022 or 2023 that have been put forward and show that he understands 2024 to be an overreach in legislation that is being framed as emergency legislation.

Amendments Nos. 9, 41, 47, 50 and 63 are jointly tabled by Senators Warfield, Boyhan, Gavan and Ó Donnghaile and amendments Nos. 10, 11, 42, 43, 48 and 49 are tabled by Senator Higgins.

While I understand the intention behind these proposed changes, I must oppose them. The proposed amendments seek to amend the date on which provisions set out under sections 2, 3, 5, 6 and 8 will cease to apply by shortening the application of the provisions for varying lengths of time. The relevant provisions in the Bill, as proposed, will cease to have effect on 1 January 2024, or will end on 31 December 2023, to allow the planning authority which has commenced the process of reviewing a development plan and preparing a new development plan for the area to complete such a review and make the new development plan.

The process of preparing a development plan can, under current provisions in the Planning and Development Act 2000, take two years. The proposals set out in the Bill will enable the planning authority, subject to complying with the obligations relating to the extension of the duration of existing development plans in force, including the necessary environmental assessments, to take up to one additional year to complete the process, having regard to disruption caused thus far by Covid-19 restrictions. Given the timescales and processes involved, it would not be possible for the planning authority to make a necessary decision, as set out in the Bill, to facilitate the taking of an additional period of up to one year and to prepare and complete a new development plan within the timescale proposed in the amendments. Accordingly, the proposed amendments are rejected.

Several Members drew attention to climate action and mitigation. There is nothing in the Bill that is reducing environmental thresholds. At each step of the way, if a strategic environmental assessment or appropriate assessment is required, it will have to be carried out. I want to be very clear about that because many Members seem to be suggesting in their contributions that this Bill is in some way watering down climate action. It is not. I hope the process we are embarking upon today will add value for citizens by allowing consultation of better quality for those who are limited through Covid. I remind Members that we are still in a pandemic.

Consultation of the best quality is consultation in which you get heard and that has an impact. I understand people are making submissions. In fact, they have been extremely active in doing so. There is urgency. It is not simply about the environment. We will come to that later. Although there are the matters of the strategic environmental assessment and other environmental issues, there is also a section 15 obligation, regarding which the planning regulator would normally be involved and giving an assessment in respect of these areas. That is another concern where the provision needs to be strengthened in an extension.

The key point concerns the period of a year. We may well be facing another general or local election and it looks as if we are extending past the period in which we will have responsive county and city development plans. We hear all the time rhetoric on moving more decisions to An Bord Pleanála. We have had the strategic housing developments, which were an attempt to bypass local authorities altogether. There are often very heated comments on how bad it is that local authorities and so forth are engaging on various policies. Therefore, I worry that we are going to see an acceleration of certain forms of planning without county development plans that allow local authority members to take the lead in framing how their local areas respond to these challenges. I worry that we will see instead planning that is led by the Land Development Agency, An Bord Pleanála and the Minister because we will have city and county development plans that are not of the moment in the way they could be and in the way their authors might wish them to be. I am concerned about that. Even during Covid, there has sometimes been quite escalated usage of the caps in terms of planning applications and co-ordinated pushes. I worry that the voice of the public, which is ready for change, will be put on ice. That is the fear. I accept the circumstances right now but 2024 is an overreach. Therefore, I will have to press at least one or two of these amendments.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 5, line 28, to delete "1 January 2024" and substitute "1 October 2022".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 5, line 28, to delete "1 January 2024" and substitute "1 January 2023".

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 8; Níl, 25.

  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Keogan, Sharon.
  • Moynihan, Rebecca.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Chambers, Lisa.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Crowe, Ollie.
  • Cummins, John.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Garvey, Róisín.
  • Horkan, Gerry.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Martin, Vincent P.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Fintan Warfield; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne.
Amendment declared lost.
Section 2, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 3

Amendments Nos. 12 to 15, inclusive, are related and may be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 6, to delete lines 1 to 8 and substitute the following:

“(a) a screening determination is made to determine the requirement to carry out a strategic environmental assessment and an appropriate assessment, in relation to the development plan as extended by any period of extension proposed by the planning authority under section 9A or 11D,

(b) such determination is published and made available as part of the consultation notified on the proposed extension under subsection(4), and

(c) a strategic environmental assessment or an appropriate assessment or both such assessments, as necessary, has or have been carried out in respect of the development plan as extended, as is necessary and required.”.

This amendment seeks to ensure that the screening for the strategic environmental assessment and the appropriate assessment does not just look at the effect of the extended period as a default situation. That is impermissible in the context of the appropriate assessment, as highlighted by the High Court in the Shannon LNG case.

Can I confirm that we are discussing amendments Nos. 12 to 15, inclusive?

That includes a number of Government amendments. These amendments seek to ensure that the two aspects of the screening determination, one in respect of the screening as to whether there is a need for a strategic environmental assessment or appropriate assessment, as well as the actual assessments. The concern is that in screening, only the extension period will be looked at, rather than, for example, asking if an existing development plan requires an strategic environmental assessment and whether there are dangers there. Such dangers could include, for example, a development that is planned for an area that has turned out to be a likely flood plain or other concerns that might arise. Therefore, there is a question in terms of the environmental impacts of existing plans. The concern is that it is quite narrowly framed in the Bill. The question is whether the extension period would have an impact, rather than whether business as usual would perhaps have a negative impact that may not have been anticipated fully when the original county or city development plan was being drawn up a number of years ago. That is the concern that is addressed in our amendment.

There are two concerns. One concern is the existing plan being properly considered as to whether it needs strategic environmental assessment or appropriate assessment further to what it would have had three or four years previously. Then, there is the question of the extension period. There is another extension issue that I will address when I speak on amendment No. 17.

However, I wish to acknowledge the another issue about which I am concerned, namely, the extension of the extension periods. Therefore, there are almost two issues. One is the residual existing plan, then there is the question of the screening of the extension and there is also the consideration of the incremental extension, as we discussed earlier.

I wish to acknowledge that amendments Nos. 13 and 15 from the Government partially address the second of those concerns. They do not address my first concern around the question of whether it is business as usual and its impact are being properly assessed, but they address the second concern. I thank the Minister's officials. I have had engagement with them over the last week and I wish to acknowledge that. I thank the Minister for taking on board and addressing the concern that extensions, when considered alone, are as appropriate in combination with the previous extensions of the plan. They should always be considered in combination with previous extensions. I do not know that the phrase "as appropriate" needs to be included. However, I wish to acknowledge that the Government amendments at least require for some small amount of cumulative impacts over the course of the year to be recognised. Those are my views.

I support amendment Nos. 13 and 15 from the Government. I may have worded them slightly differently, but I fundamentally support them. However, there is another issue that remains unaddressed, as set out in amendment No. 12.

I will address amendment No. 12, which I must oppose. The proposed new section 11D(2)(a) already provides that screening for strategic environmental assessment and appropriate assessment is undertaken as a minimum in order for the planning authority to be satisfied that "the effect of the proposed extension of duration of the existing development plan for the area ... is not likely to have significant effects on the environment or to have a significant effect on a European site, or both".

It should be noted that it is not necessary to refer to section 9A in this provision, as proposed by the amendment, as section 9A relates to the taking of additional time to prepare a new development plan. The current provisions within the Planning and Development Act 2000 already require a strategic environmental assessment and an appropriate assessment to be carried out in respect of the preparation of a new development plan independently of the particular temporary provisions set out in this Bill.

Where necessary, the proposed new section 11D(2)(b) already provides that a strategic environmental assessment or appropriate assessment, or both such assessments, as the case may be, shall be carried out before any decision on the extension of the duration of an existing development plan can be made.

In summary, the provision as drafted in the Bill permits a planning authority to screen in respect of strategic environmental assessment, SEA, and appropriate assessment, AA, under paragraph (a) and, depending on the particular circumstances, this may be sufficient to satisfy the planning authority as to the environmental effects and effects on a European site. However, where this is not sufficient, paragraph (b) provides for the planning authority to carry out a strategic environmental assessment, appropriate assessment or both such assessments as the case may be. It is not appropriate for both screening and full SEA and AA to be carried out in all cases as requirements will depend on particular circumstances.

Under section 11D(4)(b) the planning authority is already required to make a copy of any relevant assessment under subsection (2) available for inspection. The provisions sought under amendment No. 12 are either already provided for, or are not appropriate and, accordingly, the amendment is rejected.

I oppose amendment No. 14 as tabled by Senator Higgins. Subsection (2) of proposed new section 11D requires that before making a decision under subsection (9) to extend the duration of the existing development plan, the planning authority must be satisfied that:

(a) the effect of the proposed extension of the duration of the existing development for the area is not likely to have significant effects on the environment or have a significant effect on a European site, or both, or

(b) a strategic environmental assessment or an appropriate assessment or both such assessments, as necessary, has or have been carried out in respect of the effect of the proposed extension of duration of the existing development plan for the area.

The provision as drafted in the Bill permits a planning authority to screen in respect of strategic environmental assessment and appropriate assessment under paragraph (a) and, depending on the particular circumstances, this may be sufficient to satisfy the planning authority as to the environmental effects and effects on a European site. However, where this is not sufficient, paragraph (b) provides for the planning authority to carry out a strategic environmental assessment or an appropriate assessment or both such assessments as the case may be. As such, it is not appropriate for both screening in full SEA, or AA, to be carried out in all cases as the requirements will depend on the particular circumstances. On this basis, the amendment is rejected.

Government amendments Nos. 13 and 15 are technical drafting amendments recommended by the Office of the Attorney General to ensure that where a planning authority is considering the effects of a proposed extension of duration of an existing development plan on an environment and the integrity of a European site they must also, as appropriate, consider the proposal in combination with any previous extension of that plan.

I have one small question and I will then raise a technical matter. On amendment No. 12 specifically, I accept the wording is probably stronger than amendment No. 14. Amendment No. 12 states: "such determination is published and made available as part of the consultation notified on the proposed extension". The Minister of State mentioned publication. Can he again clarify that when a determination is made, for example, when it is not believed that a strategic environmental assessment or appropriate assessment is needed, where that would be published? Can he also clarify that it will be made clear there will be consultation with the public in respect of any determination made? The Minister of State mentioned it in passing, but I ask him to restate it because it will address my concern in amendment No. 12(b).

On a technical matter, the Government amendments might need to be formally moved.

They will be moved. I cannot move them until we have disposed of amendment No. 12.

The determinations will be published in the normal way on the website of the relevant local authority. Again, I stress there is no diminution of the thresholds for SEAs, AAs or any environmental impact or climate change measures, on the work we are doing today.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Government amendment No. 13:
In page 6, line 2, to delete “for the area” and substitute the following:
“for the area, when considered alone or, as appropriate, in combination with any previous extension of that plan,”.
Amendment put and declared carried.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 6, line 4, to delete “or” where it secondly occurs and substitute “and”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 15:
In page 6, line 8, to delete “for the area” and substitute the following:
“for the area, when considered alone or, as appropriate, in combination with any previous extension of that plan”.
Amendment put and declared carried.

Amendments Nos. 16, 17, 21 and 40 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 6, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:

“(2A) (a) In deciding whether to pursue any and all extensions of the duration of the development plan, the elected members and the chief executive of the planning authority shall undertake an assessment to support the obligation to have regard to the matters specified under section 15 of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, and any targets or plans which may be specified under that Act relevant for the planning authority and the effect of any and all proposed extensions of the duration of the development plan, and their obligations in relation to that Act.

(b) The determinations and assessments made in relation to paragraph (a) shall be published and made available as part of the public consultation on any and all proposed extensions of the duration of the development plan.”.

This amendment makes the requirement to consider the effect on climate action and mitigation explicit. This should be delayed given the extension of development plans under section 15 of the climate Bill. It flags an important consequence and also brings into focus the wider obligations we expect will flow from the process of the climate Bill. It also requires the position to be published and subject to consultation. It may be important in highlighting deficiencies in negative screening for SEA and AA or the adequacy of the SEA and the AA where done.

This amendment is effectively around trying to copper-fasten the climate aspects. We have interlocking sets of environmental protections in our planning piece, some of which are less robust than previously because they involve an intersection between the Departments responsible for planning and heritage, a check and balance that is now gone. We are looking at that set of environmental protections, many of which tend to be looked at in strategic environmental assessment or appropriate assessment. It should be borne in mind that appropriate assessment includes Natura 2000 sites, which are sites of particularly high sensitivity.

My concern relates to the climate aspects, specifically those in section 15 of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. Of course, that will now become, we hope, strengthened in the climate Bill in the future. I am simply trying to make sure that there would be an assessment as to the impact the extension might have on fulfilling obligations to reduce emissions under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act.

The Minister of State mentioned publishing things. When we publish this on the local authority's website prior to a consultation, hopefully in a timely manner, there should be clear information as to how duties under section 15 have been considered. I am effectively adding climate obligations alongside some of our heritage obligations regarding Natura 2000 sites and stating this is another one of the pieces around environmental considerations we need to apply at that point.

Amendment No. 17 partially addresses my concern about culminative extensions. To some extent, culminative extensions are addressed in amendments Nos. 13 and 15, which is the idea that where there are extensions, they have to be combined and considered. However, my amendment No. 17 goes a little further in that I suggest that where the development plan has been culminatively extended for a period of more than six months, a strategic environmental assessment should be considered as required. Again, I am quite open to the Minister of State, perhaps in the Dáil, considering whether it is six or eight months. While six months might not seem like a long period of time, it is more than 5% of the time we have remaining to reach our climate targets, for example. If we look to what we have to achieve in emissions reductions by 2030, every six-month period is quite a considerable amount of the time remaining.

A six-month period will be 10% of any climate budget, for example. In that context, and given the galloping rate of biodiversity loss we have and that we are at a threshold in many areas, a strategic environmental assessment should be done, whenever a period of more than six months is concerned. That is what is happening with amendment No. 17.

Amendment No. 21 stipulates that the report the chief executive would make to members to inform their decision should include an assessment of the potential impact of an extension under section 15 of the climate action Act. It is reasonable that it be reflected in the chief executive's report.

Amendment No. 40 relates to 2(a) and 2(b). Where a specific concern is identified, the Minister outlined 2(a) and 2(b). The former is the screening provision while the latter is the assessment provision. This is the missing piece. If a strategic environmental assessment is considered to be required, is done on an extension period and tells us something, what happens next? What happens if there is an extension for one year, a strategic environmental assessment is done and it identifies a key issue of environmental concern that could be effected by the 12-month period? This attempts to clarify how that might intersect with the process for making a variation.

The making of a variation is a lengthy process which could create its own delays so I have made a suggestion. The Minister of State and his drafters may consider this issue in the Dáil but I suggest something approximating a preventative variation, whereby it may be decided not to do a full variation on the county development plan but to press pause on a certain form of development or in a certain geographic area that has been identified as a matter of concern by the strategic environmental assessment. It looks to a precautionary principle. It states "shall continue with a variation prohibiting such development in the area where such concerns have been identified." Another of my upcoming amendments, amendment No. 38, also addresses that. That suggests a more detailed version of a variation. Will the Minister of State indicate what happens if the strategic environmental assessment associated with an extension identifies a concern? What do we do? I say this not to cause trouble. I am trying to identify that we might not want to go back to the drawing board on everything but a specific issue may be flagged. What are the steps taken next during the extension period in respect of that concern?

I welcome the Minister of State. I refer to amendments Nos. 16 and 17 and variations of county development plans. There is no great flexibility in county development plans. The national development plan is running at the moment and trying to grow the regions by cities. Some smaller towns may have zoning for development land for enterprise or industry which is no longer required but it is still in the development plan under a zoning that might not apply for housing. The matrix would not apply to it. There is no great flexibility in the plan for the county manager or the members to say they will dezone a piece of land because it is zoned enterprise, development or commercial and rezone it for housing. If land is rezoned, some other place has to be dezoned. Where land is already zoned, whether for enterprise, development or whatever and the council or manager feels housing could be appropriate to that land because it might be near schools or some infrastructure, then this should be allowed in the matrix rather than having to dezone land in some other place. It does not allow the flexibility in a development plan that should be required. It is too rigid and it is at a cost to housing. The land is lying idle. It may never have an industry or a small factory put on it but housing could be put on it. In small and medium-sized towns throughout the county, there is a lot of land zoned industrial, enterprise and so forth that could be zoned for housing. However, to rezone it, land has to be dezoned somewhere else. Councillors will not do that in county development plans. It would be a problem for them if they had to dezone land that is zoned for housing or whatever. The Minister of State should look at the issue and give country development plans more flexibility, whether to the manager or members, as a variation of plans or whatever. Some tool could be used to make it more flexible.

I thank Members for their contribution. I will address Opposition amendments No. 16, 17, 21 and 40. While I understand the intention behind each of them, the Government must reject them.

Amendments Nos. 16 and 21 both seek to require an assessment of the potential impact of an extension on the local authority's achievement of obligations as a relevant body under section 15 of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 to be undertaken before a decision is made as to whether or not the duration of an existing development plan can be extended. Amendment No. 16 also seeks to require the planning authority to consider any relevant targets or plans which may be specified under that Act and its obligations in relation to the Act with the determinations and assessments made to be published and made available as part of the public consultation.

Section 15 of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 requires that a relevant body, meaning a prescribed or public body, shall in performance of its functions have regard to the most recent approved national mitigation plan, the most recent approved national adaptation framework and approved sectoral adaptation plans, the furtherance of the national transition objective and the objectives of mitigating greenhouse gas omissions and adapting to the effects of climate change in the State. A planning authority is required under section 11(1A) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 to ensure the preparation of a development plan takes into account the statutory obligations of any local authority in the area and any relevant policies or objectives at that time of a Minister or Department, which may include policies and objectives relating to climate action. A planning authority is required under section 10(2)(n) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 to include in the development plan an objective relating to the promotion of sustainable settlement and transportation strategies in urban and rural areas, including the promotion of measures to, first, reduce energy demand in response to the likelihood of increases in energy and other costs due to long-term decline in national renewable resources, second, reduce greenhouse gas omissions and, third, address the necessity of adaptation to climate change.

These requirements are reinforced further by the commitment by all local authorities by way of the climate action charter to a significant scale up of efforts to deliver effective climate action across the extensive range of functions performed at local authority and regional authority levels, and the requirement for the local authorities to prepare adaptation strategies and climate change action plans. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill proposes to amend section 10(2)(n) of the 2000 Act to include specific reference to a local authority climate change action plan within the development plan.

However, the provisions set out in this Bill relate to the extension of duration of the existing adopted development plan for a relatively minor period of up to one year, in order to facilitate the preparation of a new development plan for the area, having regard to the disruption to the process caused by Covid-19 restrictions. It would not be reasonable to require an assessment relating to the impact of the temporary extension of the existing plan on obligations under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 or to meet targets set out within the climate action plans. Under the provisions set out in this Bill, it would not be possible to amend or vary existing development plans accordingly. Such matters will be addressed in preparation of the new development plan for the area under the current provisions as set out in the 2000 Act. Therefore, those amendments are rejected.

Amendment No. 17 seeks to require that where an extension of a development plan cumulatively amounts to more than six months, a strategic environmental assessment shall be considered to be required. The process of strategic environmental assessment, SEA, is based on the assessment of the effects of a plan or programme on the environment and it is intrinsically linked to the particular circumstances of the plan or programme itself and the receiving environment. Accordingly, it is not appropriate to make a judgment on the length of time beyond which the extension of duration of an individual plan might require a strategic environmental assessment. The planning authority, as the competent authority for the purposes of the SEA directive, must make the requisite assessment based on the circumstances of the case, taking into account any previous extensions of that plan. The amendment is rejected on that basis.

Where issues arise to a strategic environmental assessment carried out under the provision set out in the Bill, amendment No. 40 seeks that the existing development plan is varied to prohibit such development in the area. With regard to the appropriate assessment and strategic environmental assessment which appeared to be the focus of the amendments, a planning authority may only extend the duration of the existing development plan under the provisions set out in the Bill where it can be satisfied as to the environmental implications. Where this is not possible, it may not extend the duration of the existing plan, and accordingly cannot take additional time to prepare a new development plan.

The provisions set out in the Bill on the development of plans do not relate to the variation of existing development plans which is provided for under section 13 of the 2000 Act. That section does not provide for additional time to be taken to prepare a new development plan, other than the extension of duration to existing plans. As such, the proposed amendment which seeks a variation of the plan is not necessary or appropriate and is rejected.

There was a question about what happens if issues arise with an SEA. The members and executive of a local authority must take those issues into account. That is a key component of public consultation. As a former member of a local authority, I fully appreciate that they do that well.

Senator Burke made a very interesting point about land zoned for other uses that may be suitable for housing. I will just make one point relating to the next six years. Mayo County Council is currently building approximately 355 residential units per annum. Over the next five years it is projected to build 538 per annum which means its current output is about 50% short, based on the lands already zoned. If there are zoned areas that are suitable for housing and have the infrastructure accompanying them, it should not be at a cost of dezoning other residential land. As with any local authority in the State, if we have appropriate land with the infrastructure and everything to support housing, we do not want to dezone other land that has potential, simply to accommodate it.

We do not want to be reinventing the wheel and asking the State to pick up a significant tab for greenfield sites. Some local authorities need to increase their housing output by 250% and some by 100%. Sometimes local authorities will claim they are precluded from zoning more land and they need to zone much more land when they are not close to meeting their current targets on the land already zoned. It is about having zoned land in the appropriate places with the infrastructure available. I accept we have major stress points regarding Irish Water and other bodies delivering the infrastructure needed for many of these developments. Some of them are held back and we are working in the national development plan to do that.

If the Senator is concerned about any particular cases, he should bring them to my attention. I have looked at the result of the Westmeath county development plan - obviously I am not involved because I am precluded, as Minister of State. The initial report back from the Office of the Planning Regulator, OPR, was a significant letter of concern. The local authority came back and showed concrete evidence in areas where it had to exceed its numbers. It gave strong reasons behind it because some villages had zoned land with good accompanying infrastructure to allow it to be developed. I do not see any issue in that case. It is important to engage with them. If there are any specific issues on it, we can look at it.

Some counties have their development plans finished and they may not come up again for another four or five years. In the meantime, this land may well be suitable for housing. How can they go about it rather than the local authority CEO bringing forward a variation of the plan? Would the Department have an input into it?

It is for each local authority to assess what it wants to do regarding housing and zoning. Obviously, any change in zoning requires a variation. The Department's remit on that is with the OPR. The OPR assesses every variation that is made in the State to see if it meets best practice that is currently underpinned in the planning and development Acts. If it does, there is good reason for it. If not, the OPR will raise questions with the members. They have a defined opportunity under the planning and development Acts to revert to the OPR and give evidence for the case in favour of making a variation. That is the process to be followed.

It is important to focus on delivering high-quality housing and have zoned land in the right locations. We should fight for that as much as possible. Obviously, as Minister of State, I cannot comment on the land that is zoned or should be zoned in Mayo. I can comment on the broader policy. I am always conscious of the argument that there are certain restrictions and that certain local authorities need to dezone land. That argument needs to be premised on where we are and how we are fulfilling the obligations on us to deliver housing on the lands that are currently zoned. We need to look at both sides of the debate.

We may have already touched on this point when we discussed housing. I am concerned about amendment No. 40 on the variations. The answer seemed to be that if issues were identified under the SEA, there would be no extension. I understand there may be circumstances where it is a very specific issue and I do not want to create a dynamic in which one very specific issue will interfere with this period. It may be as localised as one particular site, for example. I was trying to tease out how the variation tools might be used. It may be a matter of sequencing. It may require a variation, following which an extension could be sought. I am trying to solve the problem of how to address issues that arise. We cannot work on the assumption that no issues will arise. They may well arise.

When we talk about the escalating responsibilities for climate change over the next year or two, I am keen that local authorities would not miss out on opportunities.

We have the suspension of the fiscal rules for the next two-year period. We know a large part of the recovery and resilience funding coming from Europe is in respect of green projects and infrastructure. When I talk about climate obligations and obligations under the climate Bill, it is not as a brake to measures that might be able to be taken but to take account of, for example, an old development plan that is not equipped to take advantage of opportunities in funding, zoning and resources that could be accessed. It is important to give that context. Some local authorities have strong climate provisions. The Minister of State mentioned section 10(2)(n), which we will discuss later. Some local authorities have those provisions embedded quite strongly in their existing development plans whereas others would have moved on quite considerably in their engagement on those issues in the past two or three years.

Does the Minister of State wish to respond?

No, I think I was clear enough in what I said.

Is Senator Warfield pressing his amendment?

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 6, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:

“(2A) Where an extension of a development plan amounts cumulatively to a period of more than six months a strategic environmental assessment shall be considered to be required.”.

In recognition of amendments Nos. 13 and 15, which address at least half of my concern in amendment No. 17, I will withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment Nos. 18 to 20, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 6, line 28, to delete “4 weeks” and substitute “8 weeks”.

These simple amendments are self-explanatory. Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 propose to amend “4 weeks” to “8 weeks” in section 3(4)(b) and (c), respectively, and amendment No. 20 proposes to amend “8 weeks” to “12 weeks” in section 3(5)(a). I await the Minister of State’s response and I hope he can accept these amendments.

These amendments seek to mirror the period of time that would be available for public consultation. Quite a strong argument was made earlier that a vote on the extension would mirror similar votes on other development plans or variants of development plans. I discussed with others the question of a three quarters majority vote or a simple majority vote during the interval in voting. I accept there is a strong case for a simple majority. I like the idea of a three quarters majority but I could see a strong case for a simple majority. I acknowledge that because I am listening to the arguments being made on the other side. However, if the same standard is being applied to development plans or variants of development plans in terms of a simple majority vote by the local authority members, similarly, the same provision that would apply to a local development plan or a variant of a local development plan should be given to the public and thereby the period should be eight weeks rather than four. Consequently, the period provided for the chief executive would be 12 weeks rather than eight. If we apply the same rules to local authority members in respect of voting as we would in respect of a general development plan, we should give the same grace period to the public in terms of their views as we would in a normal development plan.

While I understand the intention behind the proposed changes, I must oppose these amendments.

The provision of a period of not less than four weeks for the making of submissions and observations following notification of the proposed extension of duration of the existing development plan, as set out under proposed new section 11D(4)(c), with the same period required for display of any relevant environmental assessment, is consistent with the periods provided for under sections 12 and 13 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 in respect of the making of a development plan and the variation of a development plan, respectively. It would not be appropriate to require a longer period, as proposed in amendments No. 18 and 19, for submissions and observations to be received in relation to the extension of duration of an existing development plan, as provided for in the Bill.

As it is not considered appropriate to provide a longer period for the making of submissions and observations than the period of not less than four weeks, which is provided for in the Planning and Development Act 2000, in respect of the making of a development plan and the variation of a development plan, it is therefore also not necessary to provide that the chief executive’s report is prepared within 12 weeks of the giving of notice of the proposed extension of duration of the existing development plan instead of eight weeks, as proposed under amendment No. 20. The period of not later than eight weeks set out at proposed new section 11D(5)(a), which is consistent with sections 12 and 13 of the 2000 Act, is considered sufficient and appropriate. Accordingly the amendments are rejected.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 6, line 33, to delete “4 weeks” and substitute “8 weeks”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 6, line 36, to delete “8 weeks” and substitute “12 weeks”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 7, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

“(ia) include an assessment of the potential impact of an extension on the local authorities achievement of obligations as a relevant body under section 15 of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015,”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 22 to 25, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

Amendment No. 25 is slightly different and might be taken separately but I am happy to speak to them together.

The Senator is allowed to discuss amendments Nos. 22 to 25, inclusive. I presume she can reference them all.

I presume the House has no issue with that.

I will address them and I might have to go back and forth a few times.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 7, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

“(ia) include an assessment of the potential impact of an extension on the local authorities achievement of obligations as a relevant body in respect of the public duty on equality and human rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability,”.

Amendments Nos. 22 to 25, inclusive, relate to matters that should be considered in the chief executive's report in respect of matters that will inform whether an extension will be given. I identified a few key issues in the chief executive's report that are important in the consideration of an extension. We have talked at length about the importance of the climate gaols. One of my amendments proposes the chief executive would report on the impact of an extension on a local authority's achievement of its obligations as a relevant body under the climate action Bill. Amendment No. 22 relates to one of the other important obligations, namely, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD. It has been ratified in the period since the preparation of most city and county development plans. It is a newly ratified international obligation. I sit on the committee dealing with its implementation.

It would be appropriate for a chief executive, when reporting on the impact on the impact of an extension, to provide an assessment of the potential impact on a local authority's achievement of its obligations as a relevant body. These are new, strengthened obligations. Every year or two years of people's lives where they cannot fully access their rights has a significant impact. The inclusion of such an assessment is important, not simply with regard to the decision about whether to extend but also to ensure that if we extend the existing plan by a year or two and avoid delivering a progressive change that might be in the next development plan for people with a disability, we will look at other ameliorating steps and measures. That should be a consideration.

I also specify the public duty regarding equality and human rights. In anything they do, public bodies have a duty to consider both the positive and negative impacts on equality and human rights. Extending a development plan for 20% longer than its originally planned period, which is substantial, requires consideration from an equality and human rights perspective.

On amendment No. 23, the Minister of State mentioned section 10(2)(n), which relates to specific climate, environmental and sustainability obligations that local authorities have and ensuring that they are considered. These are all matters which should be in the chief executive's report and in front of local authority members when they decide to extend.

Amendment No. 24 relates to a combination of environmental factors. The principal Act states, "the preservation of public rights of way which give access to seashore, mountain, lakeshore, riverbank or other place of natural beauty or recreational utility, which public rights of way shall be identified both by marking them on at least one of the maps". Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 incorporate the climate goals with respect to public rights of way. This is a positive opportunity. I have had constructive engagement with officials in the Minister of State's Department. A serious consequence is likely to arise in November this year with the right to register easements. These include private and personal rights of way, which potentially form the foundation of future public rights of way, and well-established easements such as cow roads and laneways. They all have common usage and form part of a crucial network of connectivity in our countryside and the permeability of our urban landscape. We always talk about the 15-minute city or the ten-minute town. We want people to be able to walk or cycle short distances to connect themselves with basic amenities, public areas, facilities, shops and schools. That idea of a permeable landscape and town is crucial. It comprises two main factors. One is the public network of rights of way as set out in section 10(2)(o) of the principal Act. The other factor is the personal easements that people have used for decades or even centuries in some cases.

This entire Bill relates to the fact that periods of time may need to be extended in recognition of Covid. I signal to the Minister of State an extension which is necessary. Unfortunately, it was not possible for me as an Opposition Member to successfully table that amendment but I believe that it may be possible for the Minister of State, along with the Minister for Justice, to address this issue in the Dáil. The registration of easements may be allowed again after November but the clock will reset to zero so people who have ten or 20 years of established use will effectively be reset to having no easement rights from November. That process of registration and awareness about it have been impacted by Covid. I urge the Minister of State to extend that. It is important to extend the right to register an easement because when easements are registered, they connect with networks of public rights of way as set out in section 10(2)(o) and may provide the key to some of our public policy goals.

The Joint Committee on Climate Action has discussed green and interconnected networks that would allow members of a family of all ages to walk safely and have an alternative to road usage. Once these are gone, they are gone. To preserve that policy space for ourselves in the future and to preserve the connectivity and permeability of our towns and communities, I urge the Minister of State to extend that period. It is a simple, one-line amendment to the conveyancing legislation. It will ensure that in the new development plans in two or three years, which may be delayed, that we have not inadvertently lost one of our greatest resources when we try to set out a vision. I had hoped to address that amendment separately but I recognise that it was grouped with the others.

Unfortunately, I must oppose these amendments, which propose that a planning authority must, before making a decision as to whether to extend the duration of the existing development plan, undertake various assessments.

Amendment No. 22 seeks an assessment of the potential impact of an extension on the local authority's achievement of obligations as a relevant body in respect of the public duty regarding equality and human rights and the UNCRPD. There is no obligation under the provisions relating to the preparation of a development plan or the variation of that plan as set out in the 2000 Act, which requires an assessment of the potential impact of a plan in respect of the public duty regarding equality, human rights and the UNCRPD, and it would not be reasonable to require such an assessment in respect of the extension of duration of a plan, as provided for in the Bill. General obligations on a local authority under relevant legislation and conventions will apply notwithstanding the provisions set out in the Bill. It would not be appropriate to require a specific reference to such matters within these provisions. Accordingly, the amendment is rejected.

Amendment No. 23 and part of amendment No. 24 relate to the requirements under section 10(2)(n) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 to include the following within the development plan:

the promotion of sustainable settlement and transportation strategies in urban and rural areas including the promotion of measures to —

(i) reduce energy demand in response to the likelihood of increases in energy and other costs due to long-term decline in non-renewable resources,

(ii) reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and

(iii) address the necessity of adaptation to climate change;

Amendment No. 25 and part of amendment No. 24 relate to the requirements under section 10(2)(o) of the 2000 Act to include in the development plan an objective related to the preservation of certain public rights of way. Given that the provisions under this Bill relate to the temporal extension of the existing plan and do not involve the variation of that plan, it would not be reasonable or appropriate to require assessments of this nature before a decision is made about whether to extend the duration of the plan. Such matters will be addressed separately in the preparation of the new development plan for the area under the current provisions set out in the 2000 Act.

Accordingly, amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 25 cannot be accepted. In light of Senator Higgins's issue with public rights of way, I will undertake to work with the Minister for Rural and Community Development about the valid concerns she raised in the debate. We can have a bilateral on it and come back to her with a response or course of action.

I thank the Minister of State for his answer. I will probably introduce a one-line Bill but I would be quite happy if the Government included it in some other Bill. I note that there is precedent. The period of time was previously extended by a similar one-line provision in a miscellaneous Bill a few years ago so it is a simple matter that would give us the space to do this kind of mapping of public rights of way while ensuring we keep the network of private easements and look at them in synergy. It could be a very useful process in the next couple of years. I look forward to engaging with the Minister of State on that matter.

Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 7, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

"(ia) include an assessment of the potential impact of an extension on matters identified under section 10(2)(n),".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 7, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

“(ia) include an assessment of the potential impact of an extension on matters identified under section 10(2)(n) to (o),”.

I will withdraw amendments Nos. 24 and 25 in light of the Minister of State's indicated engagement.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 7, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

“(ia) include an assessment of the potential impact of an extension on matters identified under section 10(2)(o),”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Sitting suspended at 5.22 p.m. and resumed at 5.36 p.m.

Amendments Nos. 26, 30 and 31 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Could I just clarify whether amendment No. 28 is included in the grouping?

No. It is in the next grouping with amendments Nos. 27 and 29.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 7, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

“(ia) include observations made by the Office of the Planning Regulator,”.

Amendment No. 26 suggests that the chief executive's report that is given to local authority members before they determine whether to provide an extension to the period of a development plan would include observations made by the Office of the Planning Regulator. There is an obligation in that regard. There is a mention in the Bill of the observations being invited from the Office of the Planning Regulator. I have tabled amendments later in the Bill that specify and clarify that the duties of the Planning Regulator should apply to these extensions, as they do to normal development plans and to variations of them. The key point is that the Office of the Planning Regulator goes back to the environmental factors again, in particular in terms of the climate provisions, where there is a specific responsibility envisaged regarding the Office of the Planning Regulator having a key assessment of matters under section 10(n), some of which we have discussed.

I acknowledge that there are positive things happening. I include the Bill being introduced later this evening by Senator O'Reilly and others, the Planning and Development (Solar Panels for Public Buildings, Schools, Homes and Other Premises) (Amendment) Bill 2021. Those are examples of the point I was making about this not being simply preventative; it is also to ensure that opportunities are seized. If the Office of the Planning Regulator is setting out that vision and is contributing to ensuring that, collectively, we are making the most of each planning opportunity in respect of our climate obligations, it would be appropriate that such observations would be included in the chief executive's report that is given to local authority members.

Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 relate to amendment No. 28. I am very concerned at what may be an inadvertent flaw or drafting error in the Bill, which is that at the moment on page 7 we have a process that is set out whereby four weeks is provided for public observations and the chief executive is to prepare a report. I have made a number of suggestions on elements I think should be in the report. My concern is that in section 11D(6) on page 7: "In considering whether to extend the duration of the existing development plan, the members of the planning authority shall be restricted to considering— (a) the reasons referred to in subsection (1) or (2)". They are restricted to only the reasons set out that a further extension might be wanted, rather than a positive statement that they need more time for this or that, and the very baseline measure of whether it will have "significant effects on the environment or a significant effect on a European site, or both, or adverse effects on the integrity of a European site." Those are the Natura 2000, the highest level sites. That is a very narrow window. Inadvertently, it does not allow the members of a local authority to consider what the public told them. It does not allow for them to consider the observations and submissions that the public may have made under subsection (4) if, for example, there is a strong public concern or urgency on a certain aspect or a strong public opinion on if and for how long an extension should be allowed. Also, it does not allow for them to consider any other matters that might be in the report of the chief executive.

The Minister is literally narrowing the items on the agenda for consideration by the local authority to those two items. That is putting us into a slight danger zone in respect of the public consultation because if we have public observations and public submissions being made, it is a reasonable expectation for people that those observations and submissions would be considered when a decision is being made. The reason I asked about the grouping was that I tried to address this through amendment No. 28, which states "shall consider" which would allow for more discussion rather than stating "shall be restricted to considering—" two things and it does not limit the discussion in terms of anything else being considered.

Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 as a combination specifically include "observations and submissions made" and "the report of the chief executive". I am concerned that the wording would create problems in terms of access to input on decision-making. Perhaps the Minister of State would indicate if he might be able to accept any of those amendments.

I will make a brief comment before the Minister of State responds. I am someone who sat on a local authority for 11 years. As other speakers have indicated, the agreement of a development plan is a reserved function of councillors that they take exceptionally seriously. We are not referring here to variations or deciding the detail of a development plan; this is purely about giving more time in order to consider the development plan as a result of what has happened with Covid. Anybody who has engaged with councillors across the country know they have found it exceptionally difficult to proceed with the development plan process in terms of consultation with the public, the planners and among themselves. It is a job of councillors. It is a reserved function and if they see fit, as is provided for in this legislation, to have an extension for any element of the plan from here on in they should be enabled to do so.

Putting restrictions in place and elongating the process takes away from the reserved functions the councillors should and do have in this process and in what we seek to provide for in this Bill.

I will address together amendments Nos. 26, 30 and 31, as grouped by the Bills Office. The amendments have been tabled by Senator Higgins and, unfortunately, I must oppose them.

As regards amendment No. 26, the proposed new section 11D already requires, at subsection (5)(c), that the report of the chief executive shall list the persons or bodies who made submissions or observations under that section. This may include the Office of the Planning Regulator as the planning authority is required under subsection 11D(3) to notify the Office of the Planning Regulator and to provide a summary of the issues raised in submissions and observations made.

As regards amendment No. 30, subsection (5) of the proposed new section 11D already requires that a summary of the submissions and observations received is included in the chief executive's report prepared for the members. Subsection (6) clarifies the matters which the members may consider and, accordingly, any relevant submissions and observations received will form part of this consideration.

Regarding amendment No. 31, subsection (9), subsection (a) of the proposed new section, 11D, already provides that members of the planning authority shall consider the proposed extension of duration of the existing development plan and the report to the chief executive under subsection (5). Accordingly, the amendments are not necessary and are rejected.

We need to be very clear. I hope this will be addressed in the Dáil. Subsection (6) does not set out the matters which the local authority members may consider; it sets out the matters to which they "shall be restricted to considering". That is the language. I am not looking to take anything away; I am looking to widen the power of the local authority members over the matters they consider when making their decision. This is not to take away from their making that decision - I believe they should make it - but is to specify that they would be able to consider the observations made by the public or at least the chief executive's report, which may incorporate the observations made by the public. At present the language is "shall be restricted to considering" and just two factors are listed. The Bill does not set out a "may consider" list. I will come in again on amendment No. 28. If the Minister of State is so inclined, he might accept that amendment, which includes the words "shall consider". That would address something closer to the "may consider" language the Minister of State is using. It is also probably closer to the intent. I do not believe the intent is to exclude or preclude local authority members from considering these issues but that is, unfortunately, somewhat of the effect or the implication of the language in the Bill at present.

I will further address that under amendment No. 28 in the next grouping.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Government amendment No. 27:
In page 7, line 10, to delete “the planning authority” and substitute “a planning authority”.

Amendments Nos. 27 to 29, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Amendments Nos. 27 and 29 are Government amendments. Amendment No. 27 should clarify that the provision relates to a planning authority as opposed to the Planning Authority. Amendment No. 29 is also a technical drafting amendment recommended by the Office of the Attorney General to ensure that where a planning authority is considering the effects of the proposed extension of duration of an existing development plan on the environment and on the integrity of a European site, it must also, as appropriate, consider the proposal in combination with any previous extension to that plan.

Unfortunately, I must oppose amendment No. 28, tabled by Senator Higgins. Subsection (6) of the proposed new section 11D relates to matters which the members of the authority may consider when making a decision whether to extend the duration of an existing development plan. Under these provisions, this consideration is limited to the particular reasons relating to the implications of Covid-19 restrictions for the making of a new development plan and the environmental implications of the proposal to extend the duration of the existing plan. The members may not consider any variation to the existing plan. It is therefore considered appropriate to ensure that the wording of the provision is clear in this regard. Accordingly, the amendment is rejected.

With respect, I understand that the Minister of State does not want to move towards or bring in other issues, but that is not what the restriction is. The restriction here still excludes; it excludes anything else that happens. Perhaps the fact that section 11D has been removed from section 9A means that section 11D is not here. It does not include the other subsections of section 11D. They are not reflected, including that process of observations made by the public, the submissions they made and such other matters as may have been highlighted. I am concerned about this language. This restriction effectively means that there will be arguments only about how much time members would like to continue the period. Observations raised may create concerns in that regard. They may be concerns about, for example, a counterbalancing urgency. There may be an opinion that an extension should last only six months and not a year. A lot of things may be in these observations and submissions the public may make. There is no provision, as it stands, for those to be considered, and that is a matter that should be addressed in the Bill. That is different from saying that only certain matters shall be considered or that the only thing that might be considered is the question of a time extension and not a variation. There are lots of other provisions and indeed later amendments in which we discuss the question of variations. I have an amendment in which I suggest a restriction on the kinds of variations that might be made in respect of such an extension. This is not about "anything goes" in these observations; the public may make relevant observations in submissions and they should be part of the consideration in the making of decisions. This wording may need to be re-examined in the Dáil.

Section 6 was deliberately drafted this way to ensure that time is the issue in terms of the extension and the adjudication, and the Office of the Attorney General has been over this quite solidly, so we are very happy about the way this aspect of the Bill is absolutely on purpose directed this way.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 28:

In page 7, lines 10 and 11, to delete “shall be restricted to considering” and substitute “shall consider”.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Government amendment No. 29:
In page 7, line 17, to delete “existing development plan” and substitute the following:
“existing development plan, when considered alone or, as appropriate, in combination with any previous extension of that plan,”.
Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 30:

In page 7, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:

“(c) observations and submissions made under subsection (4),”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 7, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:

“(c) the report of the chief executive as published under subsection (5).”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 32 to 34, inclusive, are related. Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 are physical alternatives to No. 32. The amendments may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 7, to delete lines 21 to 25 and substitute the following:

“(7) For the purposes of subsection (2)(a), in considering whether or not the development plan with the proposed extension of the duration would be likely to have a significant effect on a European site, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, a planning authority shall carry out a screening for appropriate assessment in accordance with section 177U.”.

This is a simple amendment to ensure that the planning authority shall carry out a screening for appropriate assessment.

I will address amendments Nos. 32 to 34, inclusive, together, in the manner in which they have been grouped by the Bills Office. Amendments Nos. 32 and 34 are tabled jointly by a number of Senators while amendment No. 33 is a Government amendment.

With regard to amendments Nos. 32 and 34, the proposed new section 11D(7) relates to the carrying out of a screening for appropriate assessment and requires that this be carried out in accordance with section 177U of the Planning and Development Act 2000. In accordance with Article 6 of the habitats directive, section 177U of the 2000 Act already requires the competent authority to assess, in view of best scientific knowledge, whether a land use plan, or in this case the extension of duration of an existing development plan, an existing development plan or a proposed development, individually or in combination with another plan or project, is likely to have a significant effect on the European site. As such, it is unnecessary to include the term "individually or in combination with other plans or projects" within the provisions set out in the Bill. The two amendments appear to differ only with regard to the reordering of the wording describing the extension of duration of the existing development plan. They have the same effect. Accordingly, the amendments are unnecessary and are rejected.

Amendment No. 33, a Government amendment, is also to be moved. This is a technical drafting amendment which has been recommended by the Office of the Attorney General to ensure that, where a planning authority is considering the effects of the proposed extension of duration of an existing development plan on the environment and on the integrity of a European site, it must also consider the proposal in combination with any previous extension of that plan, as appropriate.

Perhaps the Minister of State might give clarification as to the language regarding other plans or projects. Amendment No. 33 addresses, to some extent, one of our concerns, that is, that this must be considered in combination with other plans. However, we are seeking for the assessment to not only consider the impact of the extension of the plan in respect of land use but also how it may intersect with other projects. Other initiatives are also ongoing. I mentioned marine protection areas. There are also proposals with regard to strategic infrastructure whereby plans will bypass local authorities and go straight to An Bord Pleanála. There are a number of strands in respect of existing land use and also a number of concerns in that regard. We were really just trying to take a belt and braces approach to ensure that consideration of the impact on a European site would not be narrowed only to consideration of the impact of the extension but that the impact of the extension combined with such other measures would also be considered.

I am conscious that we need to copper-fasten and strengthen these protections because some protections that our Natura 2000 sites previously had have been chipped away at and eroded by recent planning legislation. For example, there was previously an obligation for the Minister to consult with the Minister responsible for heritage. This is no longer required as they are both the same Minister. That double-check is no longer required with regard to Natura 2000 sites. It may seem that we are doubling up but that is because we are conscious that certain other measures have been eroded slightly. We want to ensure any extension is being properly considered. The Minister of State indicated that it was his understanding that the consideration of the impact of the extension will encompass consideration of how that extension intersects with other plans and projects. Will he confirm this again?

Yes, all relevant plans are taken into consideration. Obviously, one cannot predict the future with regard to applications for infrastructure development or marine protection areas, but such applications have their own requirements for environmental studies, as appropriate. As I have said, due regard must also be had to other plans under this Bill.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Government amendment No. 33:
In page 7, line 22, to delete “existing development plan” and substitute the following:
“existing development plan, when considered alone or, as appropriate, in combination with any previous extension of that plan,”.
Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 34:

In page 7, line 23, to delete “have a significant effect on a European site” and substitute the following:

“be likely to have a significant effect on a European site, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 35 to 37, inclusive, are related. Amendments Nos. 36 and 37 are physical alternatives to No. 35. The amendments may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 7, to delete lines 26 to 29 and substitute the following:

“(8) For the purposes of subsection (2)(b), where necessary, a planning authority shall carry out an appropriate assessment in respect of the existing development plan as extended by the proposed extension of its duration in accordance with Part XAB.”.

This amendment again aims to ensure that the planning authority would carry out an appropriate assessment in respect of the existing development plan.

I am concerned by the proposed section 11D(8) because it contains somewhat of an anomaly. We discussed sections 11D(2)(a) and 11D(2)(b). The former provides for a screening to see if an appropriate assessment or strategic environmental assessment is required while the latter sets out that the assessments are to be carried out and published. My concern relates to the language in the proposed section 11D(8). It states, "For the purposes of subsection (2)(b), where necessary, a planning authority shall carry out an appropriate assessment in respect of the extension." The Bill seems to provide only for an appropriate assessment and not for a strategic environmental assessment. A process is provided for whereby one sees whether either of these two things is needed but then there is the other process, in respect of which we had the discussion about "and" or "or". If it is decided that either a strategic environmental assessment or an appropriate assessment is needed, they are to be carried out but, with regard to land use and Part XAB, the provisions allowing for things to actually be done only seem to allow for appropriate assessment. Where are the provisions with regard to the implementation of the other element of section 11D(2)(b), the strategic environmental assessment, should such an assessment be deemed necessary?

Unfortunately, we oppose amendment No. 35, tabled jointly by Senators Warfield, Boylan, Gavan and Ó Donnghaile, and amendment No. 36, tabled by Senator Higgins. Amendment No. 35 appears to require that an existing development plan, as extended, should be subject to appropriate assessment. In preparing a development plan under the current provisions set out in the 2000 Act, the planning authority is required to carry out an appropriate assessment. This will form the basis for assessing the potential effects of the temporal extension of the plan under the provisions outlined in the Bill. However, it is not necessary to undertake an appropriate assessment in respect of the existing plan under these proposals, rather it is the extension of duration of that plan which must be assessed.

Accordingly, the amendment is rejected.

Amendment No. 36 seeks to insert a reference to strategic environmental assessment into subsection (8) of the proposed new section 11D, which relates to an assessment being carried out in accordance with Part XAB of the 2000 Act. As Part XAB relates only to appropriate assessments and not to strategic environmental assessments, this amendment is rejected.

Amendment No. 37, which is a Government amendment, is a technical drafting amendment recommended by the Office of the Attorney General to ensure that where a planning authority is considering the effects of the proposed extension of duration of an existing development plan on the environment and on the integrity of a European site, it must also, as appropriate, consider the proposal "in combination with any previous extension of that plan".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 7, line 27, after “out” to insert “a strategic environmental assessment and”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 37:
In page 7, line 28, to delete “existing development plan” and substitute the following:
“existing development plan, when considered alone or, as appropriate, in combination with any previous extension of that plan,”.
Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 38:

In page 7, to delete lines 33 to 39 and substitute the following:

“(b) The members of the authority, having considered the proposed extension of the duration of the existing development plan and the chief executive’s report may determine the need to make variations to the development plan to accommodate only the essential changes required consequent on mitigation identified and required by the Appropriate Assessment or by the Strategic Environmental Assessment Environmental Report performed in relation to a proposed extension of the duration of the development plan, or both such assessments, but where any such variation or variations are strictly limited to such requirements, in addition to the change to the duration of the plan.

(c) Where such variations constitute material variations to the development plan, the procedures set out in section 13(5), and such further requirements which follow from that shall be followed, save that any variations shall be limited to—

(i) those indicated in paragraph (b) above, and

(ii) the proposed extension of the duration of the development plan, or any change to that proposed extension specified under the Appropriate Assessment or Strategic Environmental Assessment Environmental Report, or both, and where the earlier of any such date applies.

(d) Where such variations do not constitute a material variation to the development plan, the members of the planning authority may decide to vary the development plan strictly limited to the essential changes referred to in paragraph (b) above, and to extend the duration of the development plan in accordance with the proposed extension, or where any change to that extension is specified under the Appropriate Assessment or Strategic Environmental Assessment Environmental Report, or both, the plan shall only be extended by the earlier of such dates indicated under the assessments, and where three quarters of the members of that authority vote in favour of the resolution.”.

This amendment speaks for itself. It is about what the chief executive's report may include.

This is a question of variations and the scenario where an issue has arisen. It may be the view of the local authority and its members that to a very large degree they are very happy to have an extension of the current plan pending the full creation of a new plan. However, a specific area of concern may have arisen from the appropriate assessment, the strategic environmental assessment or the environmental report. It may be as simple as a specific site in which it is felt that concerns have arisen over a specific form of development. I mentioned data centres earlier. There may be a different perspective coming now from the energy regulator or others. There are many such examples. It is around a specific provision. This is suggesting that a variation is quite a long process. The Minister of State mentioned earlier that the goal is not to open up plans for many different variations and changes for a period of just one year. Nobody wants that. I am trying to provide that there may be a very limited variation which I would describe as a precautionary variation. One might choose to continue with the existing plan in recognition of the delays caused by Covid-19 in producing a full new comprehensive plan with everything that entails, but I suggest it should be possible to apply a precautionary principle with regard to specific concerns that may have been identified through environmental assessment or appropriate assessment. I think it is quite a measured proposal. It is a slightly different variation. There is some provision in the Bill for narrower versions of variations. At the moment, under section 13 of the existing Act, it is called the modification of a variation. This is almost trying to apply that same narrow parameter where we are not doing something wild or excessive. We are not talking about massive rezonings - we are almost pressing pause on certain matters for that period of extension. This might be a useful tool within the suite of tools in the section on variations in the existing Act.

The proposed new section 11D(9)(b), which amendment No. 38 seeks to delete and replace, provides for the decision by the planning authority to extend the duration of the existing development plan in connection with the need to take additional time to prepare a new development plan. If this provision were deleted, it would not be possible to extend the duration of the existing plan and thereby take the additional time necessary to prepare a new plan. The proposed replacement provision, as set out in amendment No. 38, requires instead a decision by the members on whether the existing development plan needs to be varied to accommodate only the essential changes required, consequent on mitigation identified and required by the appropriate assessment or by the strategic environmental assessment undertaken with different arrangements set out in respect of material and non-material variations. The provisions set out in this Bill on development plans do not involve the variation of the existing development plan which is provided for under section 13 of the 2000 Act. The section does not provide for additional time to be taken to prepare the new development plan or for the extension of an existing plan.

As it is now 6.15 p.m. I am required to put the following question in accordance with the order of the Seanad of this day: "That amendment No. 38 is hereby negatived in Committee; section 3, as amended, is hereby agreed to in Committee; the Government amendments undisposed of are hereby made to the Bill; in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, the section or, as appropriate, the section, as amended, is hereby agreed to in Committee; the Preamble and Title are hereby agreed to in Committee and the Bill, as amended, is accordingly reported to the House; Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby received for final consideration; and the Bill is hereby passed."

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 6.17 p.m. and resumed at 6.46 p.m.