Government policy on local government reform was set out in the 2012 policy document Putting People First, Action Programme for Local Government which committed to strengthening the role of local government and providing for a wider range of suitable functions. The Local Government Reform Act 2014 provided for inter alia a refocusing of the role of local government on economic, social and community development and for the functions of a number of government departments and State bodies to be devolved to local authorities.
Local government has direct functional relationships with several Government Departments covering a wide range of policy and operational areas. In the context of those areas for which my Department has direct responsibility, local authority powers have been significantly varied in two instances since my appointment as Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government on 14 June 2017.
In the first instance, the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 enabled planning applications for strategic housing developments (SHDs) of 100 housing units or more, or student accommodation or shared accommodation developments of 200 bed spaces or more, to be made directly to An Bord Pleanála for determination instead of going to local planning authorities. This change took effect on 3 July 2017.
In the second instance, the Local Government Rates and Other Matters Act 2019 that was enacted in July 2019 contains a number of new powers for local authorities in respect of the levying and collection of rates. In particular, local authorities can make locally targeted Rates Alleviation Schemes.
Looking to potential further devolution of powers to local government, the work currently underway in my Department on the establishment of a directly elected Mayor with executive functions in Limerick is examining the potential of the role into the future and possible extra functions that the Mayor and/or the elected Council could take on.
To that end on 2 December 2019, I with the Mayor of the City and County of Limerick, launched an Implementation Advisory Group, independently chaired and comprising representatives of the elected Council, the Executive and the main stakeholders in Limerick to report to me by June 2020 on how best to establish and shape the role of directly elected Mayor for Limerick.