I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, to the House. Page 112 of the Housing For All document talks about extending planning exemptions to 2025 to complement Town Centre First objectives, "We will review and extend the regulations that exempt certain vacant commercial premises, such as 'over the shop' type spaces, from requiring planning permission for change of use". It puts the timeline of quarter 4 of this year beside the objective.
I have been raising this issue since my election to the Seanad. It was one of the very first issues I raised on the floor of the Seanad. The changes that were introduced by the Minister of State's predecessor with the same portfolio, the Minister of State, Deputy English, in February 2018 to exempt certain classes of commercial premises from the requirement to seek panning permission if the building was to be utilised for residential use was a very welcome move.
The aim of the exemption was to add much-needed housing stock while also maximising the use of vacant and underutilised spaces. I have seen evidence of it working in my own city of Waterford where more than 20 housing units have been delivered via this planning exemption. Many more, however, could, and should, have been delivered with the use of this exemption if it had been extended to former pubs. I do not believe it was ever the intention of the Minister of State or his officials to exclude former pubs from the planning exemption but the issue lies in the fact that pubs are not a particular class of building covered by the exemption. Pubs, in fact, do not have a particular class, to my knowledge.
While I understand that some local authorities have been using a liberal approach to the regulations, there is no doubt that an issue will arise down the line if and when the owner tries to sell the building as they were not be in compliance.
Article 6 of the planning and development regulations, 2001 to 2019, exempts certain changes of use, including change of use from use as a public house to use as a shop. Article 10(6) permits a change of use from a shop to a residential use. However, I understand that to avail of this particular exemption, it has to be considered that the premises was in use as a shop for a period of 12 months, which is counter-intuitive and would again add to delays when we are trying to speed up delivery here. Logic suggests that someone should be able to go from a pub directly to residential use without establishing that intermediate retail use.
As the Minister of State will be aware, Waterford has been to the forefront in bringing derelict and vacant properties back into use under the repair and leasing scheme. Some 50% of all repair and leasing units in the country have been delivered in my own county and I compliment the team at Waterford City and County Council and the owners of properties who have engaged with the scheme to bring these properties back into use.
This exemption needs to be extended to pubs because I have examples in the past 12 months alone of people who have been looking to deliver units under the repair and leasing scheme to Waterford City and County Council and have been stuck in a planning process of six, eight or nine months while attracting large development contributions for bringing back a pub into residential use. The owner of the shop, however, on the other corner of the street directly facing that former pub can deliver its four units without the need to go to the planning process. I know that this is something that the Minister of State is looking at and that as a Government we are committed to doing more in this space to bring former derelict and underutilised spaces back into use but I ask him to expedite the extension of this exemption to pubs without delay.