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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 16 Jun 2022

Vol. 286 No. 4

Planning and Development (Built Heritage Protection) Bill 2022: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The combined opening speech of the proposer, the Father of the House, Senator Norris, and the seconder shall not exceed 16 minutes but, let us be honest, on a day like today that will probably not be observed. I will allow loads of latitude on that. Before I call Senator Norris, I thank him for coming to the House today to propose this legislation - one of many Bills he has proposed throughout his service to Leinster House as the longest continuously serving Senator in the history of the State - on Bloomsday, a day so associated with Ireland and the Senator. It was an honour to have him here today for the dedication and unveiling of his portrait. For the first time, we have a portrait of a sitting Member in Leinster House in acknowledgement of his great, long and distinguished service to the State and the Seanad. Senator Norris is most welcome back to Leinster House. We look forward to hearing his contribution.

I thank the Cathaoirleach very much. I am very honoured by the unveiling of the portrait, which was great fun and very moving for me. As the Cathaoirleach mentioned, this is Bloomsday. It is inevitable I should mention Bloomsday on a day like this. James Joyce said that if Dublin were destroyed, it could be rebuilt from the pages of Ulysses. He was not right. What we would get is a very accurate street map but with almost no description of architectural frontage whatever so that part of it is not accurate.

I thank Ms Karin O'Flanagan and the Mountjoy Square residents' association because they provided me with the Bill and the explanatory memorandum on which I will rely. The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Planning and Development Acts to improve the level of protection afforded to Ireland's built heritage. The Bill will ensure that such protection and the expertise available to support it are based on the existence of effective expertise within planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála. This is obvious. If we having planning situations, we must have people with the expertise to deal with them. The Bill also aims to strengthen the protection afforded by the architectural conservation area designation and to increase the enforced mechanisms and penalties for breaches of planning legislation leading to damage to built heritage.

The provisions of the Bill are perfectly standard. Part 1 is preliminary and general provisions. Section 1 contains the Short Title. Section 2 contains the interpretation. This is all absolutely standard.

Part 2 contains provisions relating to the role and function of architectural conservation officers in both planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála to facilitate the protection of built heritage. Section 3 sets out the minimum qualification requirements for architectural conservation officers. Section 4 requires all planning authorities and the board to have a conservation architect with the experience of building conservation practice and requires planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála to have a sufficient number of such practitioners available to fulfil their statutory functions. The section also requires that any person performing position of head of planning within a planning authority should have suitable qualifications in planning.

Section 5 requires all planning authorities have regard for the observations of architectural conservation officers in relation to their planning activities within their functional area. A similar obligation is imposed on An Bord Pleanála. Section 6 sets out the functions of architectural conservation officers in both planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála in relation to the planning function. Section 7 permits an architectural conservation officer to raise specific concerns about specific structures with the CEO of the planning authority. Section 8 requires each CEO of a planning authority to publish an annual report dealing with the conservation and management of the built heritage within the functional area.

Section 9 requires the appointment of a national built heritage conservation officer to advise the Government generally on the provision of architectural conservation services for the State and to provide advice and support to the Minister on such issues.

Part 3 contains amendments to Part IV of the Planning and Development Act 2000. Section 10 allows the planning authority to add a structure to the record of protected structures, RPS, or designate it as a proposed protected structure even though the existing planning permissions may attach to the structure where the structure is deemed to be of special architectural importance. The section also contains a provision for a planning authority to issue an interim designation order for a building that is in imminent threat of damage to the fabric or integrity of a building that would be eligible for inclusion in the RPS.

Section 11 introduces a new requirement to list the name and address of the legal owner of a property in the RPS and for a notification of the change of owner to be made to the RPS within 30 days of completion. Section 12 broadens the nature of the guidelines that the Minister can issue to the planning authorities concerning architectural conservation areas, ACAs. Section 13 removes the discretion of planning authorities to comply with the recommendation made by the Minister in relation to including properties in the RPS for the area. Section 14 requires the deletion of a property from the RPS by a local authority to have secured the consent of the Minister before having effect. Section 15 strengthens protection for heritage properties by extending the limit on exempt development status to properties within ACAs and by requiring works on all heritage properties covered by the section to seek a declaration confirming that the works would not materially affect the character of the structure in order to secure exempted development designation.

Section 16 removes the power of a planning authority or the board to permit the demolition of a heritage property. If such a property is to be demolished, it must first be removed from the RPS through the process set out in the legislation. Section 17 redefines the basis on which a retention permission can be granted by a planning authority or the board for works on a protected structure by inserting some conditions that need to be met in order for such permission to be granted. This includes compliance with an enforcement notice or confirmation that the works were necessitated to preserve the building. It clarifies that the carrying out of works to protect or safeguard a building following a breach of the Planning Acts shall not prejudice the legal rights of the planning authority concerning the structure concerned.

Section 18 extends the scope of existing section 57 declarations to the exempted development provisions under section 5 of the Planning Act. Section 19 reduces the statutory defences against the prosecution for damaging a structure where the person acted recklessly or failed to engage with the authority. Section 20 changes the title of “development plans” to “development and management plans” to clarify that the statutory plans are not just about creating new developments, but also about managing existing developments and land.

Section 21 requires the professional advisers engaged in the transfer of a property to notify the purchaser or lessee of the heritage designation of a listed property or a property within the ACA. Section 22 imposes an obligation on planning authorities when making a development and management plan to actively review areas within their functional area to be designated ACAs. Section 23 contains an obligation on planning authorities to include an objective in statutory plans to preserve the character of areas of special interest or value, as defined, or which contribute to the appreciation of protected structures and which need to be preserved. Section 24 reinforces the protection afforded by ACA designation for properties in public realm within ACAs.

Section 25 provides that permission should be refused by a planning authority or the board for works on structures within an ACA if the proposed development is contrary to the conservation objectives of the ACA. Section 26 strengthens the protection afforded the buildings within an ACA by requiring the planning authority to have regard for the authenticity of the surviving built fabric. Section 27 provides that the de-designation of an area such as an ACA can only take place with the prior written consent of the Minister. It also prevents an application for retention where the provisions of an enforcement notice have not been fulfilled. There are also additional powers granted to planning authorities to intervene to stop unauthorised works within ACAs and to confer similar powers as exist for protective structures for buildings within ACAs.

Section 28 extends the power of section 22 of the Act of a planning authority to acquire a structure within an ACA where it appears necessary to do so for the protection of the structure. Section 29 compels the planning authority to actively manage the ACAs. It also requires property owners within ACAs and owners of properties on the RPS to actively maintain their properties and not to allow them to suffer dereliction or damage. The section also requires owners of properties within ACAs or properties on the RPS to notify the planning authority of their ownership of the property within 90 days of the commencement of the section or 90 days of the acquisition of the property, whichever is the sooner. This section also requires persons carrying out works to an RPS or a property within an ACA to provide the planning authority with a conservation report when submitting a planning application for such works.

Section 30 requires someone applying for planning permission for works on a property on the RPS or within an ACA to specify that the property carries such a designation on any planning notice. Section 31 tightens the exempted development provisions as they apply to properties within an ACA or properties on the RPS.

Part 5 contains provisions relating to An Bord Pleanála. Section 32 increases the number of ordinary members of the board from seven to eight. Section 33 provides that one member of the board must be a grade one conservation architect. Section 34 expressly requires the board in the performance of its functions to have regard to policies and objectives of public authorities, including those concerning the conservation management of areas.

Part 6 contains provisions relating to enforcement. Section 35 amends section 152(2) by removing the discretion of a planning authority not to issue a warning letter where an enforcement issue arises in an ACA or concerns a building on the RPS. Section 36 reduces the time limit for issuing a warning level from six weeks to three working days- which is very severe - recognising the challenges involved in protecting conservation properties. Section 37 gives the power to ensure enforcement concerning a building on the RPS or within an ACA on the conservation officer of the local authority. Section 38 introduces a new provision compelling a local authority to send the conservation officer to a property within three working days where a complaint has been received that the original fabric of the building is at risk of loss due to unauthorised development.

Section 39 reduces the period within which a local authority must take enforcement actions following a warning letter. Section 40 makes it an offence for a person, when acting as the agent, the owner or developer of the property, not to disclose the existence of an enforcement notice or failure to comply with an enforcement notice. Section 41 requires planning authorities to maintain a register of warning and enforcement notices against properties which should be placed on public display. Any agent acting for a person selling, renting or developing the property will be on notice of enforcement issues on the register.

Section 42 increases the penalties arising from convictions concerning properties in an ACA or on the RPS. Section 43 is a new provision requiring a court to have regard to the extent of loss of a reasonable built fabric of a building and the willful nature of such damage when inserting the appropriate penalty to be imposed on conviction. Section 44 amends section 164A of the Act by providing that criminal prosecutions under the Act are taken by the Director for Public Prosecutions, DPP. It also includes a provision allowing the Criminal Assets Bureau to assist in such criminal prosecutions, including assisting in the recovery of assets.

Section 45 creates an obligation on each planning authority’s CEO to publish an annual report on the steps taken by the authority to safeguard built heritage in the preceding year, including development, management and development control initiatives.

I thank the Cathaoirleach.

Go raibh míle maith agat, Senator Norris. I call Senator Boyhan to second the Bill.

I am very happy to second the Planning and Development (Built Heritage Protection) Bill 2022 in my name and those of Senators Norris, McDowell, Craughwell, Keogan, Mullen and Clonan.

We do so because we think this is really important legislation. I thank the Cathaoirleach for the role he played as chairman of the portraits and arts committee here in respect of the hanging, dare I say it, of the portrait of Senator Norris today in the House. It was a very moving and special moment. I know the important role the Cathaoirleach played. He made a very convincing case. It was not difficult to make that convincing case on behalf of Senator Norris but the Cathaoirleach made that case to the commission, which agreed to it. It was a great day for all of us today that a portrait of Senator Norris hangs in the central hall of Leinster House, of our Parliament. No doubt, he will be the subject of conversation of many people who will pass through these corridors in the years to come.

I also welcome the Minister of State, who has significant commitment and lives in the wonderful county of Kilkenny, which is full of protected structures. It is important to point out that local planning authorities are required in law to maintain a record of protected structures known as the RPS. That must be part of the county development plan process. There is extensive public engagement in respect of that. In simple terms, a protected structure must fit a number of criteria, specifically architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social and technical interest. They are the strict criteria for a protected structure. I think it is important that we do not suggest that because somebody likes the colour or shape of a building, it should be designated a protected structure. This is very strongly rooted in conservation and heritage protection and is also addressed in a number of conservation guidelines by the Department. I also acknowledge the enormous work of the Department in this area, the conservation officers that do exist in some local authorities and the councillors who are constantly promoting the inclusion of a number of buildings that meet the criteria for protected structures into the RPS.

This Bill attempts to increase the number of conservation officers per the number of protected structures. Dublin city, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and Cork would be at the top of the pyramid. Already the architectural inventory is doing work. It has not been completed in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. It is very significant there, as it is in Dublin. This Bill seeks to address the role of architectural conservation officers, the qualifications of architectural conservation officers and the role they will play between planning and architecture because many local authorities run a separate architectural department. There needs to be a greater synergy between town planning, landscape, biodiversity, heritage and culture. They are all intertwined and we need greater synergies between them.

I also acknowledge the significant and successful work of Kilkenny County Council, which is one of the leading councils with regard to heritage. Why would it not be with such a wonderful city? We want the placing of architectural conservation officers to be central as part of this legislation, the creation of possibly a State conservation officer to co-ordinate, resource and upskill architectural conservation officers in the future and a review of the planning legislation. What a timely opportunity in this legislation when the Attorney General is considering extensive law reform and proposals that I know the Minister of State is very much involved with in terms of a new planning Bill and the consolidation and streamlining of a planning and development Bill. This is very important. The proposals in this Bill will hopefully guide and influence some of that consideration. We know a number of local authorities have outstanding legal issues that they have not closed off with regard to protected structures and that there is an issue with resources and employment. Over decades, we have seen that many protected structures have been undermined and in some cases, demolished and people have not been taken to court successfully in some cases. I acknowledge the importance of what this Bill is attempting to do.

In summary, our Bill seeks to strengthen the protection of our built heritage and ensure that planning authorities have the necessary powers, functions, resources, finances and expertise to act quickly to protect protected structures. We want to support the local authorities that have architectural conservation officers and to see an architectural conservation officer in every local authority. We acknowledge the work they are doing under very difficult circumstances and do not doubt the CCMA's commitment to heritage protection. I thank Senator Norris for his enormous work in the protection of Georgian Dublin. I thank the Dublin Civic Trust and An Taisce for their enormous work.

I acknowledge the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, who announced the other day that he had boosted the budget of the Irish Environmental Network from €1 million to €1.7 million. For those who do not know, the Irish Environmental Network distributes that funding to 34 environmental groups, of which An Taisce is one. I want to put on the record that An Taisce does enormously good and positive work yet has been the subject of bad press in certain parts of the country. What I like about the maturity of the Government and the Minister is that they accept that it is a critical component of consultation in planning and the Government has funded it. There is a real role in terms of partnership with the Irish Environmental Network, An Taisce, the Irish Georgian Society and the Heritage Council, which the Minister of State has done a lot of work with. Our Bill wants to strengthen and resource the conservation officers and educate, assist, support and protect unique heritage buildings be they protected structures, buildings in conservation areas or buildings in architectural conservation areas. I commend this legislation. I thank Senator Norris and the rest of my colleagues for the work they put into it and the support of An Taisce, the Irish Georgian Society, the Dublin Civic Trust and others. I hope this will be the basis of a discussion. Yes, we do not have everything right in this legislation and there may be a need for improvements but we can work out something with the Department and officials that can strengthen the protection of our unique, special and treasured built heritage.

I acknowledge the role of the Cathaoirleach in Senator Norris's portrait being displayed in Leinster House. It is very fitting. I was going to say it is long overdue. It is not long overdue but it is certainly very fitting that it has been done. It is well deserved given Senator Norris's time, service and dedication to the public over a long period of time. As someone who is a relatively new Senator, I know from other colleagues from all parties that we always find it a privilege to be a colleague of Senator Norris. I wish him well and acknowledge his work on this Bill. I acknowledge the work of the Minister of State as well. I have found him to be incredibly supportive in the past two years. There have been issues in my county he has led on and aided. Knocklofty House is one of these issues. I know we are talking about built heritage but I have not yet had the opportunity to thank the Minister of State for that support. There is a real history with that building and the Minister of State's support and commitment to it is very much appreciated.

Senator Cummins could not be here today. He would have been leading on this. Fine Gael will not oppose this Bill. There are obviously concerns from our side about staffing issues and the chief executive having control of staffing issues, although it is nothing that could not be worked out. When Senator Norris goes through the Bill, it is clear that an awful lot of it is just common sense. It is really important to have stronger protection for that within local authorities. If we can work through issues, we can reach a middle ground.

Senator Boyhan spoke about reviewing planning legislation. We are at the stage where we really should be doing this. Many things get held up. One of the things I hear quite a lot, certainly in Tipperary, is that it takes the same length of time to go through the planning process if you are building a 5,000 sq. m house as it does when you are building an extension. Things have not been updated in quite some time.

I would therefore support a review of that planning legislation.

I commend all the Senators involved on getting the Bill to this point. My party will work with them to make sure that it gets over the line.

I welcome the Minister of State. I know that this is an area of great personal interest to him. I join others in complimenting Senator Norris. Today is Bloomsday. One of the lines in Ulysses reads: "The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring." The work of art that is the portrait of Senator Norris springs from a very deep life, and this legislation, as a very practical piece of work, springs from a very deep knowledge and understanding of heritage issues and the cultural, architectural, social and environmental importance of our built heritage. The legislation is really important. It is timely. It should and must be strongly reflected in the new building guidelines that have been brought through. In the limited time I have, I will highlight a couple of aspects of the Bill that are important.

We sometimes get the idea that architectural heritage is nice but that we have other priorities against which we need to balance it. I wish to be very clear that a stronger focus on our built and architectural heritage is, in fact, complementary to our other priorities. I am a member of the climate committee, where over recent months we have had a series of hearings on the renovation wave across Europe and different sustainable approaches to building. One thing that comes across again and again is that the most sustainable building is the one that already exists, that is renovated and that maybe sometimes is extended or changed. A new tower may happen to have a renewable energy source built into it. Restoring buildings and bringing them back into use can be incredibly powerful and is one of the most significant ways to address the challenges we face. That has been highlighted at European level. A European Commission has spoken about it.

We need to be extraordinarily careful about demolition. In that context, I welcome the aspect of the Bill - I think it is section 15 - which states that there should not be a short-circuiting on demolition. Not solely for the benefit of heritage but in general, demolition should become the absolute exception rather than the rule, given that heritage experts and environmental experts have told us that it takes up to 60 to 70 years to come back from the massive amount of emissions that come from unnecessary demolition, particularly in these early years of our climate action.

I make these points because they highlight the fact that there is a complementarity. There are all those strong cases that have been there before but there are also new cases and new social, environmental and heritage-related arguments for architectural preservation and the building of skills. The climate committee has discussed that also. When we have referred in our reports to just transition, new skills and climate skills, we have emphasised that it is not just about new technological skills and other new skills. Some of the really important things for climate resilience and restoration are those repair skills, the kinds of heritage skills and the apprenticeships we need in restoring shutters, bringing buildings back into use, managing the built fabric we share across the country and our extraordinary built heritage, and the old practices of salvage. Those practices are crucial and central to the new renovation wave. The climate committee has discussed that. I wanted to say that in order that when the Government goes into these building regulations, these really practical, strong and clear proposals from Senator Norris, they are not left as a wish list or a thing we would like to keep but seen as core to plans that will work.

I will highlight one other aspect of the Bill that is particularly strong and important, namely, the removal of defence in cases of reckless action. We have all heard the stories about the building knocked down or the wall damaged on a bank holiday Sunday to a point at which the building becomes unsavable. There should not be defences of those kinds of actions because we know that they are reckless and that there are intentional actions whereby it is considered better to apologise afterwards but to move on. That is the idea. That is where there should be a real strengthening of powers, including powers of prosecution and the potential involvement of the Criminal Assets Bureau, which I really welcome. If our shared heritage is damaged, we need to make sure that persons do not profit from it and that it becomes a matter in respect of which the State can intervene.

This Bill comes from somebody who knows heritage in all its possibilities and in every obstacle it encounters. That it is why it is a lengthy Bill. It is detailed. It goes to each of the levers and points in the system. I urge the Minister not just to embrace the Bill as a lovely idea but also to let us build this proposal into our new planning framework for Ireland.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. I thank and commend Senator Norris for this legislation, which I, on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party in the Seanad, will support. I urge the Minister of State and the Government to support and to adopt it.

This Bill is a labour of love. It comes from the heart. It is not dead or boring legislation or just words on paper. It really comes from a person who not only knows our city and our heritage but who also absolutely loves, values and cherishes it. In this legislation Senator Norris, I believe, is seeking to get the State to demonstrate the same passion, commitment and love for our built heritage. He comes from my part of the world, central Dublin, specifically the north inner city and, more specifically, North Great George's Street, where he lives. He is sandwiched right between Parnell Square and Mountjoy Square. We have five Georgian squares in Dublin, but Mountjoy Square is architecturally the most perfect of them. It is equal in length on each of its four sides. It stands at a height above the Custom House and is linked to the Custom House by Gardiner Street. I know that it is at a height because when I try to cycle there from out here I feel it, but I am getting better at that. Luke Gardiner, who conceived the idea of Mountjoy Square, if he were alive today, would be pilloried as a developer and a builder and would draw the wrath of the populace. Mountjoy Square dates back to 1790. It is a gem. It is not just architecturally a gem but also a living gem in the context of its biodiversity, human activity and human diversity. The nations of the world meet on Mountjoy Square. This Sunday is Super Soul Sunday, when gospel choirs from all over the city will converge on Mountjoy Square. That will be another reason to visit.

To return to the legislation, I do not say this just to point the finger at Dublin City Council or other authorities, but we as a city need to be honest about the fact that we could have done a lot better in protecting our built heritage. We can do an awful lot better at protecting our built heritage, not just conserving it but also ensuring that it is sustained into the future for future generations to experience.

Our architectural and built heritage is what makes Dublin city unique. While I spend most of my time urging new building, in particular the building of new homes that must be built to modern standards, our rich built heritage is so precious and fragile and, in far too many instances, it has been neglected. The neglect is due to myriad reasons, some of them unique to each individual built property. It can be to do with ownership, the financial situation of the owners or myriad other issues. If we truly believe that our built heritage is of value and we truly want to demonstrate as a country and a nation a commitment to it, then we need to legislate to protect it, conserve it and ensure that it is sustained into the future.

I apologise as I was not present for the Minister of State's opening remarks, but I presume he will advise the House that there is a bigger piece of work - a review of the overall planning structures. I accept and support that, but when the Government deals with the review and reform of our planning processes and structures, it needs to take a very distinct look at the conservation of our built heritage and ensure actions are specified in that regard. It needs to ensure experts empowered to use their expertise and knowledge to serve all of us and to preserve our built heritage. It must ensure powers are in place to enforce the protections and to prosecute those who abuse, vandalise and destroy because there are far too many of those experiences out there. I look forward to the remarks of the Minister of State. I urge him and the Government to accept the Bill, to support it and to bring if forward and make it a reality.

I thank the Independent Members, in particular Senator Norris, for bringing forward this Bill, which is comprehensive, wide-ranging and contains stick measures in it as well for failure to protect the built heritage. I am very pleased the Bill is before the House and we are strongly supportive of it, as well as of a review and consolidation of wider planning legislation that the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage has been examining.

The Bill tackles a number of different issues, many of which have needed to be addressed for a long time. We have all seen the impact of failing to properly protect our built heritage in the situations that have emerged. I refer in my area in particular to the wanton destruction of the Iveagh Markets and the Iveagh building, which have been in the possession of a developer for the past 20 years. It is falling apart. We are still in negotiations on what will happen to the building, but it will never be the same again. It will require tens of millions of euro to bring it up to the standard at which it was handed over when it was operational as the dry market in the city at the end of the 1990s.

Another building I wish to highlight is the Player Wills factory, which I fought very hard for many years to get added to the Record of Protected Structures, RPS. The initial planning applications that came in from the developer, Hines, involved essentially just keeping the facade of the building. It is a very good example of not just Georgian and Victorian architecture, which many people value, but also 20th century modern architecture and industrial heritage that we must value as an important part of our built heritage. It does not get the same fame or attention, but it is important to the city.

Failing to adequately protect our built heritage has impacts that go far beyond dilapidation and planning compliance and goes to the very core of our architectural and social history. I am pleased that the Bill provides for the introduction of architectural conservation officers, together with restrictions on situations in which a building can be removed from the RPS. That is often done to suit new planning applications as they come in. As it stands, it is far too easy for planning authorities and developers to simply gloss over or ignore the fact that a building is a protected structure. The RPS has no teeth at the moment, and it is time to ensure that it does what it is intended to do, that is, to protect our built heritage and not simply for buildings to be recorded on a page while they fall into dilapidation.

I know from personal experience how long the process can take to get a building entered on the RPS, but I also know that the power is with the local authority managers in terms of protection and putting something on the RPS. I ask that we look in more detail at it becoming a reserved function of councillors on local authorities, as long as it is backed up by valid architectural reasons a building should be on the register. In the past two years, the reports of this happening have been relentless.

The former Player Wills factory on South Circular Road is of great historical significance, particularly in the industrial heritage of Dublin city. It is important that such buildings are protected for future generations and for the character of the city and country. It is possible to build and develop areas significantly while keeping the historical integrity and architectural history of areas intact.

The treatment, or rather lack of it, of the Iveagh buildings in the Liberties encapsulates how badly we have failed to protect our built heritage. A historic building, which should be the jewel of the south-west inner city has been left vacant and in ruinous condition for far too long. It was built in 1902, is situated on Francis Street in Dublin 8 and it has fallen into severe dereliction. An Taisce has it on a list of the top ten endangered buildings. The building is overgrown, there is extensive water damage, and it is essentially being used as a car park for vans owned by a pub in Temple Bar. It has so much potential and yet here we are in this situation. It should never have been allowed get to the situation where the building has been allowed to be hoarded and to fall into such disrepair and dilapidation that it requires tens of millions of euro worth of work. In that regard, I am very pleased section 43 will require a court to have regard to the extent of loss of the original built fabric of a building and the wilful nature of such damage when assessing the appropriate penalty to be imposed on conviction.

There is a list of protected buildings in the city and country, yet people are deliberately allowing them to fall into dereliction and are being facilitated to do so to put in more extensive planning applications. The Bill is very strong, and it will go some way towards tackling these problems. We are very supportive of the Bill. I know the Minister of State, who has been working hard on these issues and has a particular grá and feeling for it, will incorporate these elements of this Bill into the overall consolidation of planning legislation.

As one of the co-sponsors of this Bill, I thank Senator Norris for his initiative in bringing this legislation before the House. I also thank those who inspired him to do so, in particular the Mountjoy residents' association and other conservationists in Dublin.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. A few points have occurred to me regarding the conservation of our heritage. One relates to something Senator Fitzpatrick mentioned, namely, Mountjoy Square, which is an area I have a connection with, in that my father was born in one of the houses on the square at the time it was beginning its nosedive into neglect. He was born in 1912. By the 1960s or 1970s, one side of the square was in a state of ruin and had collapsed completely. Happily, at that time, it was considered perfectly right to reinstate the facades so that at least the integrity of the square was recreated. There was not any pointy-nosed blather about pastiche architecture or whatever else; it was just done. I agree with Senator Fitzpatrick that the result is extremely pleasant now that the square itself has been revitalised.

I am talking about the open ground in the middle of the square. It is now a place which is up and coming and its future is now guaranteed. However, I remember when I was a student, looking around it and thinking it was a disaster. It looked more like a part of east Berlin, rather than anywhere else.

While we are on that subject, the ESB buildings on Fitzwilliam Street are an improvement on what was there before. However, it is a pity that Deputy Jim O'Callaghan's proposal that the facades be reinstated was not implemented. Although Grafton Architects have done a very good job at recreating some echoes of the street's Georgian past by using brickwork and the like, the modern bits of the buildings, which are internalised courtyards, are the most disappointing. It would have been better to learn from the Mountjoy Square experience. The ESB could have built a very impressive headquarters facing on to James Street East and undone the damage its predecessors did at an earlier stage.

Today is Bloomsday. I think Usher's Island is in Senator Moynihan's constituency. It is interesting that the house where The Dead is located is sitting there and was in danger of being redeveloped in the most inappropriate way, with structures out the back of it, to be a student hostel. We could do James Joyce some greater honour than to ruin that building. Curiously, there was a twin house right beside it. All that is left of it is the ground floor. I know an enlightened Dublin City Council would think of a scheme to acquire both of those properties, bring them back to a decent state of repair and do honour to James Joyce in that way.

Conservation architecture is important. I knew of one individual, a near neighbour of mine in Ranelagh, who had a preserved structure. When he went to do a major job to bring it back into very good repair, the conservation architects from Dublin City Council told him that a major joist, which ran from the front to the back of the structure, could not be removed and replaced by a new wooden or steel joist enclosed likewise in the floor. It had to be kept in place, although it was rotten, with plating on all sides. The point I am making is that this joist is hidden in the floor. Nobody can see it. That is the kind of excessive zeal which means that people will run away from conservation structures when they are told they cannot do what is sensible to keep a building functional, in proper condition and usable.

When I say that I support this Bill in its spirit completely, I will make one point clear. One can have overzealous conservation approaches. I notice there was a programme on RTÉ about houses. The owner of a house near the Royal Canal bank was told that she had to keep a window frame which was set the wrong way round, as an economy measure, in the 1950s. She had to keep the sash window on its side because the conservation architect thought that was a condition to allowing her refurbish the house which was falling down in its entirety.

Having said that, I am very much a fan of conservation of buildings and planning authorities taking their job seriously and remedies being there. I take all of the points that have been made in this debate thus far, but I do not want to bring into being a regime in which the rules are so stacked against people that they run away from conservation and find better things to do with the rest of their lives.

I commend Senator Norris and the Independent Group on bringing forward the Bill. I also welcome the Minister of State to the House. I will make a couple of points. I have been a member of the culture committee for years and heritage was taken away from us by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I welcome the increases that have been given to the Heritage Council by the Department. I think it was given €14 million in recent times. That figure had lingered at around €1 million, €2 million or €3 million from 2009 to 2018, the last time I collated the figures. It is a significant increase.

For years, Fáilte Ireland was probably the body funding heritage. That is problematic in its own way because communities had to justify their heritage projects on the basis of their tourism offering. That being the value we place on heritage is kind of twisted in a way. It is great to see the Heritage Council get its funding back to those levels. It would also be good for the House to have statements on Heritage Ireland 2030 at some point but, for now, I welcome this Bill and commend An Taisce and the Dublin Civic Trust on their work on it.

Some of the tenets we support include mandating the employment and increasing the number of conservation officers per number of protected structures in local authorities; prescribing the role of conservation officers; making the architectural conservation officer central to the formation of built heritage policy and planning enforcement in local authorities; significantly advancing planning enforcement powers, reporting times and actions required; clarifying and enhancing protections of architectural conservation areas; and increasing criminal penalties for damage to built heritage.

I cannot allow this debate to pass without expressing regret and sadness at the demolition of the O'Rahilly house but today, I welcome the Bill. I commend Senator Norris. I was expecting to have to commend his work over many years. It is a difficult job to do as a gay man. It is more of a feeling of respect and admiration. It is a privilege to have been able to work with him, especially in the last term, and to have had him co-sign my legislation on LGBT rights and to have co-signed his motions and work. I have absolute respect for him. If I try to articulate that, I will not do it justice.

I know Senator Norris would be touched by Senator Warfield's tribute to him.

I join Members in paying tribute to Senator Norris. It is a great privilege to be here to take this Bill this afternoon and to be present for the unveiling of the beautiful portrait of the Senator. He is an absolute hero of mine, for many reasons, heritage being one of them.

I will give a response to the contributions and then the departmental spiel on it in a moment. I found an article entitled "David Norris on 40 years of saving North Great George’s Street". It is reflected in the points made about Mountjoy Square. Sometimes it takes positive contagion and for one premises owner to be a champion. It then spreads out across a street. Senator Norris said:

In the mid-1970s I was running a gay disco on Parnell Square. Numbers began to fall dramatically and it turned out that two enterprising capitalists had opened a commercial disco just around the corner. I had never heard of North Great George’s Street but I went round to case the joint. Once in the street I fell in love with it and decided to purchase a house, which I did in the autumn of 1978.

That began his love affair with Georgian Dublin. I am sure it was a love affair he had for many years. He met with other residents, Brendan and Josephine O’Connell, who were repairing a house. Residents received a small grant from the Heritage Council which they wanted to put it into individual grants. Senator Norris said, "No", and that they should blow it all on an exhibition, which they did.

That really highlighted the chronic crisis that had taken place around the decay. It was so forward-thinking for that time, and so visionary from Senator David Norris to bring us from that time in 1978 to today, in 2022, when he has brought forward this really fantastic legislation.

Senators will also have received correspondence from Geraldine Walsh and Graham Hickey of the Dublin Civic Trust, and from Ian Lumley of An Taisce. This correspondence says:

Over the last decade, we have witnessed increasing numbers of Protected Structures and properties within Architectural Conservation Areas being damaged through unauthorised development, including the removal of original fixtures and fittings, inappropriate replacement of historic features, and occasionally wholesale demolition - without any recourse to the existing provisions of Part IV of the Act. Some cases involve speculators acquiring properties from vulture funds or distressed loan sales, while others consist of old-fashioned gutting for substandard residential sub-division.

The letter goes on to outline why the Dublin Civic Trust feels it is hugely important that this Bill is supported. Before I respond to the Bill formally, I give the commitment that we will be taking the Bill and this correspondence from the Dublin Civic Trust to inform the planning review.

In their contributions a number of Members mentioned Mountjoy Square. I was fortunate to meet with Mountjoy Square residents last year. We had a fantastic day there with the Dublin Civic Trust. There is a Kilkenny connection. The railings that were conserved around the square and two of the glass-blown lanterns around it - I believe there were 26 originally - have been reinstated. Both of these projects were carried out by Kilkenny companies: the ironmonger in Castlecomer, and Jerpoint Glass which carried out the glass blowing. There is a great connection there with the point raised by Senator Higgins on traditional skills. This is not just a twee side event: built heritage should become central to what we do with our housing policy, housing solutions, climate solutions and social cohesion solutions. This is why the Bill is hugely important. Senator Fitzpatrick also mentioned Mountjoy Square. I would love to be able to get up to that event on Sunday but unfortunately I will not be able to do so.

I will also outline a number of initiatives that have taken place in the context of the enabling. We are looking at the carrot and stick. Over the past months we have launched Places for People - The National Policy on Architecture. This is a vernacular strategy to conserve our traditional buildings and, in particular, thatched buildings. We have set up a working group to look at the issues around thatched buildings. The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage is still informing the record of protected structures for local authorities. I believe that more than 1,400 such structures were submitted to Dublin City Council in the last tranche.

I pay tribute to our built heritage section in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and our local authorities' conservation officers. We also run a number of really good grant schemes including the built heritage investment scheme; the historic structures fund; and the historic towns initiative, which is run by the Heritage Council. We also support the Irish Georgian Society, the Follies Trust, the Heritage Council and the Irish Landmark Trust. There is a broad range of actors in this space that are working collectively to really bring about cohesion. We do need to look at the grant schemes in particular to see where they could be more effective. We need to ramp up significantly the support for the owners of heritage properties to enable them to put them back into productive use. We are also participating in the New European Bauhaus around European architecture. There are a lot of really positive elements happening.

I support the points raised by Senators Moynihan and Higgins against demolition, and particularly of our industrial heritage. We are losing some really fantastic 20th century buildings. I do not know the reason for this. They could all be repurposed. I thank Members for their contributions.

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Planning and Development Acts to improve the level of protection afforded to Ireland's built heritage. This is an aim which is aligned with the commitments of the Government. For this reason, the Government has agreed not to oppose this Bill. The Bill seeks to ensure that the protection afforded to Ireland's built heritage and the expertise available to support that protection are based on the existence of effective expertise within planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála.

The Bill also aims to strengthen the protection afforded by architectural conservation area designation and to increase the enforcement mechanisms and penalties for breaches of planning legislation leading to damage to built heritage. While agreeing broadly with the intentions behind the Bill, I would like to note to the Seanad that these areas are currently under examination through the comprehensive review and consolidation of planning legislation that is under way. The review is being led by the Attorney General and it is intended to be completed by September to allow the revised legislation to be enacted by the end of the year. This review is the most comprehensive review of planning since the Act was first drafted. Its key aim is to ensure that the provisions align with policy and are more accessible and streamlined from a legal perspective.

The Planning and Development Act passed in 2000 has been amended many times, and as a result, can be somewhat impenetrable for the public and practitioners alike. The review will therefore bring: increased clarity and streamlining of the legislation; a chronological format for processes with clear signposts to other sections or legislation; improved coherence and usability of procedures; completeness of transposition of EU directives; and adherence to constitutional requirements. These aims will be achieved while also respecting the key role of public participation in the planning system. I am aware Senator Boyhan shares my very strong desire to see this happen.

In this context, colleagues in the Seanad should be aware that the issues addressed in Parts 3, 4 and 5 of Senator Norris's Bill are also being examined under the review. For example, as part of this work, the Attorney General's working group is considering the recommendations of a review of Part IV of the 2000 Act, which was undertaken in 2016 by the then Department of Arts, Heritage, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Included in the recommendations are provisions relating to architectural conservation areas and the register of protected structures. The working group will, where appropriate, incorporate them into any revised text.

The planning review is also examining the legislative provisions in relation to An Bord Pleanála, enforcement and development plans. As part of the review, my Department is engaging with stakeholders on the review and in this regard has established a planning advisory forum consisting of representatives from a broad range of sectors, including the public sector and the business, environmental, social and knowledge-based sectors. The forum members have the opportunity to discuss issues arising from the review. With regard to architectural heritage, the Heritage Council is represented on the forum and officials from my Department have also consulted the council directly on emerging issues.

Part 2 of the Bill contains provisions relating to the role and function of architectural conservation officers in planning authorities, including minimum qualification requirements for the post. It provides that planning authorities must have regard for the observations of architectural conservation officers in relation to their planning activities and permits them to raise specific concerns about specific structures with the chief executive of the planning authority. It requires the chief executive of a planning authority to publish an annual report dealing with conservation and management of the built heritage within its functional area. It also provides for the appointment of a national built heritage conservation officer to advise the Government and the Minister on architectural conservation issues.

I would like to take this opportunity to note that further consideration should be given to these particular proposals. It should be noted in relation to local authority staffing matters that there are already provisions in the Local Government Act 2001 for the setting of qualifications for the local government sector, and the power to set such qualifications is assigned to the appropriate Minister. It would not be appropriate to create a separate process to set qualifications for architectural conservation officers, to set educational requirements for specified directors of services, to take that power from the appropriate Minister, or to enshrine specific qualifications in primary legislation. The 2001 Act also provides that the chief executive is responsible for staffing matters. The provisions proposed in the Bill would seek to take that role as it relates to architectural conservation officers and the envisaged new role of buildings-at-risk officer. I have met with the Association of Architectural Conservation Officers.

I am of the view that the association must be given recognition. It is not formally recognised by the CCMA and I want that addressed. We also have different grades of architectural conservation officer in local authorities, some at senior executive grade and some at executive grade. We need to have them at senior executive grade. We need architectural conservation officers in every local authority, not just the handful we have. That must be addressed. There is a suite of policies that complement their work, such as town centres first, Housing for All, places for people, Croí Cónaithe and Heritage Ireland 2030. It is critically important that these officers are front and centre of the decision-making process.

I again thank Senator Norris for proposing this Private Members' Bill and reiterate that the Government does not oppose the Bill or its intentions. I reassure Senators that we will be taking the provisions set out in this Bill under consideration as part of this planning review, as well as the correspondence from Dublin Civic Trust and An Taisce. We want to ensure we take informed views on the review to make it fit for purpose. We need strong and rigorous enforcement but also an enabling capacity to support premises owners and to support and enable our built heritage and conservation to be brought up to a high standard. We should see them as productive buildings, rather than heritage for heritage's sake. They should be a central component of our housing policy and addressing issues around housing, as well as central component of our cultural well-being and sense of place. That is critically important, not just in Dublin but right around the country. Our Irish towns are also hugely important. I recall Paddy Shaffrey's 1975 book, The Irish Town: An Approach to Survival, in which he spoke about the heritage-led regeneration of our towns.

The timing of this Bill, in tandem with the review that is taking place, could not be more appropriate. It is also appropriate that it is Senator Norris who brought the Bill to the House. I thank all the Members for their work on it and all the conservation organisations that have inputted into this important Bill.

Before I sit down, I welcome the pupils in the Gallery. I am not sure what school they are from but-----

I think it is Ardfield National School.

They are very welcome to the Seanad. It is great to have them here and I hope they enjoy their day.

I thank the Minister of State for his kind words about Senator Norris and his long-standing interest in a range of issues, not least of which is the built environment and Georgian Dublin. That is just one of the many issues he has championed throughout the years, which is why we are so proud to have unveiled his portrait today, on Bloomsday.

I also join with the Minister of State in welcoming the students from Ardfield National School. It is in Kerry, is it?


It might be in Cork. I also welcome Senator Christopher O'Sullivan - sorry, Deputy O'Sullivan. We have not elevated him to a Senator yet. He is still in the Lower House. I thank him for bringing the students in today. I understand they are great debaters and won the all-Ireland debating competition. We heard they had won that competition and we are delighted for them. Would the debating team please stand up? Congratulations on winning the debate. We are delighted. Hopefully some day in the future they will all be in here debating legislation and contributing to the State.

We could have done with them last night.

We are open to new ideas. Congratulations and thanks to Ardfield National School for coming in today. I call Senator Boyhan.

I thank the Minister of State. We have had a good and positive debate. It is a start. It is a conversation. One of the things I like about our engagement here today is that everyone across the House got involved. I thank the Members who came to the House today to participate and gave up their time for this important legislation. I thank the Minister of State for his understanding. I said at the outset that this Bill is not perfect and is not our full recommendation. It is about getting a conversation going and engaging. It is about collaboration. We have to progress. My colleague Senator McDowell made a very good point. We want to encourage people into ownership of protected structures. We need to look at our vernacular and industrial architecture. Indeed, we need to look at our marine architecture, which is very significant on the island of Ireland.

It is very important that we support conservation officers. They have a meaningful role. In the council where I live, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, there are architectural conservation officers tied in with the architects department, which is separate from the planning department. We need to break down those demarcations because architecture, town planning, conservation and heritage, culture and biodiversity have to interplay and there has to be a greater synergy between them all. I am delighted with the Minister of State's commitment to look at extending this and his belief that we should have a conservation officer everywhere.

I thank everyone who has participated in the debate on the Bill. As Senator Fitzpatrick said, we are working extensively in the committee, as is the Government, on reform and consolidation of the Planning Acts. The Attorney General is doing a lot of work with all the Ministers in the Department. That is progressive. Hopefully a lot of this will inform and contribute to that debate.

There is one point we did not discuss today, namely, information planning, IT planning and e-planning. It is very onerous for an owner of a protected structure or a building within an architectural conservation area in some cases. They must furnish up to ten sets of plans and colour drawings to the planning authority at great expense. If Covid has taught us one thing, it is to embrace technology. There are local authorities in this country that do not even have colour scanners. If we want to modernise our planning system, we have to embrace technology. One of the best organisations in this country, the Irish Architectural Archive, is located in an amazing building at the end of Merrion Square, which can be seen directly out this window. I regularly bring planning applications and protected structure conservation drawings to that organisation and it welcomes them. Yet local authorities all around the country are throwing them in the bin. We have an issue there. We should have one repository for all this information. The Irish Architectural Archive acts as that. We need to look at that issue.

This has been a good day. It is a beginning and we look forward to working with the Minister of State in progressing the key objectives Senator Norris has set out in this Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 21 June 2022.
Cuireadh an Seanad ar athló ar 4.28 p.m. go dtí meán lae, Dé Máirt, 21 Meitheamh 2022.
The Seanad adjourned at 4.28 p.m. until 12 noon on Tuesday, 21 June 2022.