Deputy Jimmy Deenihan — sorry, Deputy John Dennehy was in possession. I beg your pardon, Deputy. The Deputy may now resume the debate.
Local Government (Planning and Development) (No. 2) Bill, 1988: Second Stage (Resumed).
The mistake which you just made is a fairly regular one. As a matter of fact I received a phone call at 7.30 a.m. this morning for Deputy Deenihan. Many people make that mistake.
On Tuesday evening last I was dealing with one issue in the context of comments made by Deputy Shatter in relation to local councils working in isolation when drawing up their development plans. I would like to return to that topic because there is a relationship between the number of claims for compensation, the general hassle in the planning area and the number of section 4 proposals placed on council agendas and the care which goes into preparing any development plan on the other hand. I want to stress the amount of care that I feel is necessary in this area. A lot of hard work is called for from local councillors and there is a great responsibility on them. They carry out one of the most important statutory jobs in the life of any council and they must do this in the best possible fashion. As I have emphasised previously, there is a particular need for great co-ordination of effort between the elected members of the various councils and the managerial and professional staff involved.
Deputy Shatter made a strong case for regional plans. I take it he is suggesting that there is no need for local authority plans as such. I accept that we will see more regional planning. I would go against the argument that we should cease working at local authority level. It is my belief that one cannot over-plan because each additional review affords an insight into the problems faced by local authorities. In general, as a nation, I would question whether we are good forward planners. At times we are probably too impatient for action without taking account of the requisite research and examination of all the implications of any scheme mooted. For example, in the carpentry, steel fabrication and some other trades there is an old, sensible motto: measure twice and cut once. That motto could well be applied to forward planning because it constitutes something of a critical path analysis which, if properly utilised, will highlight any defects in proposals. It should be remembered that very often such proposals are put forward in isolation when they will not appear defective.
Rather than have five-year development plans for each local authority I suggest that there be greater flexibility. As I said on Tuesday evening last, the local authorities in Cork have taken the initiative with regard to area plans in general covering parish-type development. Probably planning in Dublin has suffered from the lack of similar type thinking, that is breaking planning proposals into the smallest possible units. On the other hand, for obvious reasons more regional planning will be necessary within the newly developing scene in the EC. That planning is already under way. The responsible Minister has notified each local authority of what are the relevant regions, who should be involved and so on.
I accept that issues arise, such as those raised on the Order of Business this morning with regard to contributions from and involvement of local authorities. The Minister of State, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, is moving in the right direction, putting these regional plans in place, getting action going in preparation for 1992. There is need for co-ordination in that area. Planning must evolve right from parish to regional level.
Deputy Shatter based his argument on the fact that there can be overlapping, that people working in isolation will not be aware of their neighbouring local authority's plans or possibly ignore their implications. That is a very real danger. There can also be overlapping in regional development. There would appear to be a need for the establishment of a national co-ordinating body, which I understand is being dealt with at present. We need to examine our input into planning. Too often we criticise speculators and others while we may not have done a very good job within the ambit of our own planning area, thus leading to much hassle.
I hope the Ceann Comhairle will bear with me if I mention a topical problem which arose in the course of debates in the past week, that is the question of smog. At least one contributor was critical of the Minister contending that the problem had obtained for several weeks and the Minister had done nothing about it. Surely that type of criticism must reflect on the contributor because we should remember that smog is not a new phenomenon. My father-in-law, who has lived out of Dublin for the past 50 years, can clearly recall the problem having obtained in this city 50 years ago. It is unfortunate that such criticism is levelled at a Minister who, for the first time, proposes to do something about a very real problem. It is inappropriate that people who held senior posts in former administrations should criticise his initiative. It is my belief that the Minister is doing very well in that area. Indeed, I will talk with him later in the day to inform him of the problem we are experiencing in Cork when, hopefully, he will take similar action there.
Another problem which has been brought to our attention by the Construction Industry Federation and which has given rise to public disquiet, particularly on the part of members of the building construction industry, is the unsatisfactory delay occasioned in dealing with appeals by An Bord Pleanála. It has been suggested to me that a statutory minimum period within which the board would have to take a decision on any appeal before them should be stipulated. Initially I was tempted to think it was a good suggestion which sounded rather logical. Having checked with a number of sources, having carried out my own research, bearing in mind the present waiting period compared with what was regarded as normal, say two years ago, I do not believe we need to effect that change in local government legislation. I have no wish to see valuable capital tied up in the course of planning appeals or potential jobs in the construction industry for the same reason. I should not like to see some of the defects of existing legislation incorporated into newer legislation. A minimum specific time clause could lead to planning permission being granted by default or, in many cases, to a threat of court action, leading to perhaps hasty, incorrect decisions. Such decisions could lead to a serious erosion of the rights of appellants in planning appeals, whether they be first or third party. We must endeavour to strike the correct balance between preserving their rights while ensuring an appropriate degree of expediency.
Having examined the matter it is my belief that the Minister's approach of encouraging An Bord Pleanála to speed up their operations is the correct one. I am aware that the Minister has sought greater co-operation in this area, he too being worried about the delays which are occurring. If my information is correct, there has been approximately a 50 per cent decrease in that time lag since the present Minister assumed office. I might congratulate him and the members of the board on having achieved that improvement and encourage them to maintain it.
The opportunity should not be lost, particularly on the part of Members on this side of the House, to refer, however briefly, to a topical subject about which there have been many negative comments recently, that is, the availability of national lottery funding. I want to say clearly and unequivocally that the local authorities for Cork city and county have been enabled to undertake an enormous amount of developmental work over the past 12 months or so in the environmental area as a result of having received such funding. In the general slagging match that takes place in the Chamber we might lose sight of that fact. Deputy Quill who is in the Chamber will support my point that what we have seen is the icing on the cake. The potential environmental schemes had been at a standstill because of our financial circumstances. Now I see works such as recreational parks, game pitches, car parks, riverside walks and a whole range of amenities being developed. These were included in our local development plans but they could never have been touched but for the availability of this money because works relating to sewerage, water and roads would have taken precedence. We should recognise the good points about what we have done. Members from all sides of the House can take credit for achieving things that up to now were pious platitudes.
I have already asked the Minister to look at the problems that were created in the past by unfinished housing estates and so on. Deputy Quill highlighted another problem in the context of this Bill and that is the fact that local authorities or other State bodies do not require planning permission. In Cork we have only had one major problem with this issue but it certainly is an area which can cause a lot of aggravation.
The Deputy will agree that the case referred to was a case too many.
I agree that it was possibly one too many but that was seven years ago. I accept that there is need for control in that area. A balancing factor here, however, is the development works which do not require planning permission, for instance games pitches and so on. These would need planning permission if private individuals were building them.
I read many of the contributions that have already been made on the Bill and I found some inconsistency in the contributions from some of the spokespeople. Regarding the credentials of local planners, some speakers said these people would not have the ability, the expertise, to adjudicate on planning applications, possible pollution results and so on. Yet the submission from the Irish Planning Institute was quoted at length. Deputy Keating practically read the full submission into the record relating to the basis for compensation. Still, in his contribution, I think he suggested that these people would be incompetent when it comes to judging the merits of a planning application. The Deputies cannot have it both ways. I have confidence in the expertise and integrity of our planning officials and I take note of their submissions.
The Minister in his opening speech on Second Stage indicated his willingness to take on board any meaningful amendments to close any loopholes that Members might highlight. These loopholes might occur under section 13 and the Third Schedule, paragraph 9 of which has been most widely quoted. The Minister has undertaken to consider all the arguments put up. Paragraph 9 of the Third Schedule deals with the question of compensation being excluded where planning permission is refused because development would materially contravene an objective of a development plan which was in operation when the developer acquired his interest in the site. This is probably the nub of the whole Bill.
Behind that paragraph and others lies the whole question of the constitutionality of imposing too restrictive regulations relating to the amount of compensation. It occurred to me that a test case should have been taken in the courts and it emerged during the debate that Dublin County Council are taking a test case. They are appealing the £2 million award of last year. That case which relates to section 55 of the 1963 Act is down for mention in February or March and it will go to the Supreme Court. If the decision goes in favour of Dublin County Council the Minister can start rewriting this Bill and much of our other local government legislation. All of the arguments against this Bill have been based on the fact that the Government have been advised that it would be unconstitutional to impose too rigid a regime in this area. The Government are prohibited from promoting legislation which is known to be unconstitutional. On the advice given to them the Government have introduced this Bill, but if that case is found in favour of Dublin County Council we can all go back to the drawing board. In the meantime I would stress that the Minister is quite willing to take on board any reasonable amendments. This is such a complex area that I am delighted the Minister has taken this attitude.
Some people have written off all of the good aspects of the Bill. Deputy Quill said that it went three-quarters of the way towards solving the problem. Others have simply said they are voting against this Bill and that is it. That would be a pity as there is need for legislation and need for changes here. The pressure put on planners particularly in the Dublin area has been a disgrace. I am not too worried about the claims awarded but about the pressure, regardless of whether that pressure relates back to the original development plans. There are other parts of the Bill which ought to be welcomed, for instance, the whole question of tree preservation orders. Last year I listened with great interest to weeks of rowing about Coolattin Woods and its problems and the lack of legislation to control activities there. The Minister and everybody else found themselves spancelled in that area. They could do nothing to deal with the problem. Now, in this Bill, we have legislation to deal with that. I welcome this and all parties should welcome it too. What the Minister is saying is that without paying compensation, which is the nub of the problem, portions of woodlands may need to be preserved for the felling of trees, perhaps for over 20 years. That move is to be welcomed.
In the past we had problems in the area of the preservation of buildings of artistic, architectural or historical interest, or the internal works or features of such buildings. Legislation was very weak in this area because there was the right to claim massive amounts in compensation for any restriction placed on a developer. Under section 13 and the Fourth Schedule of the Bill, paragraphs 15 and 16, the Minister is attaching conditions to the planning permissions to preserve these buildings without paying compensation. It must be stressed that the Minister is taking the initiative in this area.
Deputies mentioned "undertakings"— a term used by planners which means doing an under-the-table deal with developers, telling them that if they withdraw or do not proceed with one planning application they will be granted planning permission on another occasion. That was a very cloudy area and the Minister is trying to deal with it as effectively as possible. Hopefully he will strike the right balance.
Some of the other issues raised will not be dealt with in this Bill because it relates almost totally to the compensation, but hopefully the debate will lead to some of these issues being addressed in future legislation. The teasing out of the present problem of compensation will possibly be decided for us outside this House in the coming year. One speaker mentioned that to date the courts had not been asked to tease out what is meant by the public and the common good, for example, in linking Article 43 with the third part of Article 40 of the Constitution. That has been raised in the Grange Development case and we will have a decision on it next year.
A problem for people in the planning area of local authorities has been the scattering of legislation and trying to put legislation together when you want to examine the implications of any planning submission. As I mentioned last Tuesday, I am the chairman of the planning committee of Cork Corporation and I am aware of the difficulties in trying to relate one piece of legislation to another. The Minister is to be congratulated for bringing together under the one Bill all aspects of the planning law relative to compensation claims. We have been depending on the planning officers to explain what was covered in different Acts, but there have been many amendments to the planning legislation since 1963 and it is difficult to follow them. Just when you think you have covered all points of a particular application, you suddenly find there is amending legislation and you must read up on that. Now all this is covered in the one Bill and the Minister is to be congratulated for this.
In the past, the scattering of legislation as well as vagueness in the legislation have allowed some very clever groups of speculators, who employed teams, to take advantage of loopholes in the law. We need to differentiate between the speculators, the make a killing individual, and the legitimate developer and builder. Just as I do not like to see politicians tarred with the one brush, I would not like to see all developers tarred with the one brush. We need legislation which will protect the honest, legitimate developer but which will halt the get-rich-quickly merchant who has the legal back-up to exploit the situation.
The fears experienced by planning authorities have been dealt with and the fears of local authority managers may not even be known to council members. This is one area which could never be quantified, unlike the way compensation claims and payments have been quantified since 1982. There was a very real need to tighten up this area so that the rules will prohibit any undue pressure being applied to anyone.
Deputy Keating told us he was trying to assist a developer but found difficulty getting detailed advice for the applicant as to what development should take place or what might be acceptable. I do not think this difficulty should ever arise. I would like to refer to the Cork scene versus the Dublin scene. In our local authority there is an open door to the city manager's office and, if necessary, to the city council. This is the way it should be rather than have somebody submit a detailed planning application which may cost many thousands of pounds and which could lead to conflict. There should be as much dialogue as possible between the public representatives, the professional staff and the management. I do not know if that happens in Dublin, but I take it from Deputy Keating's remarks that it does not. This is one area where Dublin might learn from our own humble city.
Humility is one of our biggest handicaps, but we do the best we can. Last Monday week we had an application for a major development and we teased out many of the problems which could arise. If there was more of that kind of dialogue some of the problems which arise could be eliminated. It is bad enough to have obscure legislation, but if dialogue is not possible, then we are really in trouble. This is an area where things are happening.
Another matter which needs to be tackled in the Bill is the splitting up of the compulsory purchase of land for local authorities and compensation for normal development outside that area. Up to now they were both under the same heading. The objectives should be totally different in the two areas. The CPO would be for the common good; compensation for normal developments would be seen to be for the good of the individual making the application. It was a necessary step to separate these and I welcome it.
The Minister has not just suggested but spelt out strongly — and the meaning was questioned but I think it is quite clear — a consensus generally on the need to strengthen community bias in the area of planning compensation, that is to extend the range of non-compensatable circumstances and to provide a mechanism for avoiding compensation in the form of alternative development consents. The Bill will go a long way towards doing that. It is quite easy to understand what is meant by strengthening the community bias in the area of planning compensation. It means simply that we do not believe the taxpaying public should be the victims of speculators; speculators should not be able to use the law in an underhand or other fashion to get the taxpayers' money. That is what the Minister meant and that is what he is attempting to implement in this Bill.
The Minister stressed his objective when he suggested that we want to encourage as much development as the environment can reasonably accommodate. In that context there has been questioning about the other forms of pollution which could arise but which are not addressed in the Bill. I ask the Minister of State to look at that area. Changing technology brings possible pollution from radiation, to mention just one, but there are other areas such as noise. If anybody needs examples of how we do not cope with the new circumstances, let us look at industrial legislation which provides that 90 rate dbs is the maximum allowable in industry and workers must be protected by signs posted warning them that within a certain area noise levels are above that and that ear protection must be worn. It is very emphatic in the legislation, yet, as we have seen recently, one can go into a disco and encounter at least double the accepted level. It is important to stress that measuring dbs is not simply a straightforward calculation, one and one making two and the noise just double at the higher figure. There is a multiplying factor and we have seen that people can be rendered deaf in a short time in disco circumstances, and there is no legislation to cover that. That is proof that we can legislate for one area and possibly skip others.
To come back to the Bill, in that regard let me say that Cork county area is the centre for the pharmaceutical and chemical industry generally and we are aware of the possible hazards of pollution. That is why I have mentioned the credentials of planners. I believe they have the expertise to deal with planning applications and where there is any weakness they are quite happy to employ people who have any extra knowledge that may be needed. I ask that the Bill be extended to cover certain matters because I do not support the kind of activity I saw in my area last week where an industry was working within the legislation with a local authority licence and observing all the restrictions placed on it, while a group were committing an act of piracy against that company, trying to hold up their production and generally be as awkward as possible. Once we bring in legislation and give planning permission etc. that is the end of it. There are bodies to monitor and to ensure that industry is staying within the parameters set for it. From that point of view it is very easy to be overcritical if one is in a very nice, safe, secure, well paid position.
We must also look at the attitude of unemployed persons in this regard. They might be much more willing to compromise in regard to pollution controls because of their circumstances. There is need for balance. The extremists are not good in any area. There is a need to protect the genuine investor, developer and industrialist and there is a need to protect jobs. It is not a case of selling our soul or anything like that. I am speaking as a representative from an area which, as I have said, is the centre for pharmaceutical and chemical processing and I am aware of possible dangers, but I am also aware of the massive unemployment in the country. I ask for public acceptance of the decisions of the planning authority in that regard. We are all aware of the need to protect the environment and of potential dangers to that environment. That is why I mention to the Minister of State the point raised by Deputy Farrelly about extending areas for pollution control. Noise and radiation are two obvious instances and others may be mentioned.
We now have positive legislation for changing the area in regard to artistic buildings and I welcome that. I am sure the term "speculator's charter" will be brought up again before the debate concludes. Such phrases are trotted out, but they are no great help. I say to people who have worries about section 9 or any other portion of the Bill that if they put forward clear cut, specific amendments or raise issues the Minister of State and the Minister will be quite capable of taking them on board and incorporating into the Bill anything that will block the loopholes that have been described. In my short time here I have tried to bring a little balance to issues where I think there is need to be critical of the Bill and to amend it. When, on the other hand, I see progressive legislation like this I commend it and, rather than anybody putting up the shutters at this stage and saying emphatically they will vote against it, I hope people will discuss it and that we will come back with a good, solid Bill which is badly needed and long overdue.
In relation to this question of land and land speculation and compensation, as a socialist I do not accept at all that land should be used as a commodity, that it should be bought and sold as one buys and sells a car or any other disposable commodity. That would be true in the case of land used for agricultural purposes, industry, housing, leisure or infrastructure. That is not to say that land should not be transferred from one community to another or from one person to another or that the use of the land should not be altered depending on the needs of the community, or, as has often been laid at our door, that we oppose the idea that a person should own his own home; that is not the case. What we are saying is that land is an asset that belongs to the community as a whole and not to any one individual who may own it for the time being because of birth, inheritance or because he or she happens to have access to considerable wealth.
I argue that no individual or private company has the right to dictate the use of land or to hoard land or to make vast fortunes out of it as a result of the decisions of a democratically elected local authority in relation to what use should be made of it or what services should be provided to it, and that nobody has the right to make fortunes out of land as a result of hoarding it.
When a killing is made on land the money made is not conjured out of the air. It comes from someone else. In the case of compensation arising from planning applications it comes directly from the taxpayer. In other cases it may not be so obvious where the money is coming from; but if it is land designated for industrial use the industrialist who buys it must recoup the price he pays for the land, and if it has been inflated by speculation then the products and the workers working in the industry producing those products have to pay the cost of that land. If it is used for agriculture the products produced by the land have to bear the cost that the farmer paid for the land. Whatever way one looks at it the killings made by speculators come directly from the pockets of the taxpayers and the consumers, from the pockets of workers, through taxation or other pressures on their wage package.
I have no sympathy at all with speculators who may be whinging that this Bill is too stringent. I do not accept that it is. I consider that it is riddled with loopholes. There are large tracts of land on the north side of Dublin city which are being held by two or three individuals in the hope that it will be rezoned. If that land is rezoned for housing the people who own it will become millionaires overnight. It may be that one or two of them are already millionaires. I regard that as immoral. I regard that kind of activity as parasitic. It is robbing the community in their own personal interest. People have to pay for it through low wages, high taxation, high mortgages etc. At the end of the day the community pays for the killings made by the speculators.
I am arguing that every person who holds land is a speculator. There are people who legitimately buy land because they want to use it for building a factory or building a home and so on. I am not attempting to paint every person who holds land with the same brush; but it has to be said that this Bill fails to do what it purports to do. The explanatory memorandum says on page 1 at paragraph 4:
the most important purpose of the Bill is to clarify and extend the reasons whereby planning authorities may refuse to attach conditions to a planning permission without incurring a liability to compensation.
The Bill however fails this principal test which it has set for itself. The Bill does not adequately protect local authorities against claims for compensation. Land owners who are refused planning permission for zoning reasons will still be able to extract large sums of money from the taxpayers' pocket. In effect, I regard the Bill as it stands as a sham. It is phoney legislation. It purports to curb compensation and fails to do so.
It has to be said, as other Deputies have already said, that there are some welcome features in the Bill. The cutting out of compensation where water and sewerage facilities are provided is good. The provision relating to the refusal of planning permission where a development would require services or produce pollution in an area is a useful provision in the Bill. So, too, is the change which will remove the automatic right to connection to public sewers and make this subject to the consent of the sanitary authority.
The big, inescapable weakness in this Bill is paragraph 9 in the Third Schedule which excludes from the provisions relating to a development plan any land in ownership prior to 20 October 1988. This weakness is compounded by the further exclusion of the same land passed on in a family settlement or by inheritance. Other Deputies have referred to this matter but I think it is worth repeating. This means that somebody who owned land prior to 20 October can still claim compensation if they are refused planning permission for the reason that it would materially contravene the objectives of a development plan at the time the developer acquired his interest in the land. The Irish Planning Institute, in their commentary on the Bill, point out that this leaves a further loophole whereby a compensation claim may be valid even though the development plan may have been subsequently changed. The Irish Planning Institute goes on to point out that those who stand to benefit from this loophole include not only individual landowners and their families, for generations to come let is be said, but also development companies holding land as part of their long term land banks and limited companies holding land where even if the shareholders change, the entitlement to compensation remains. The Irish Planning Institute explain how the loophole can be exploited even if the land is being sold; the existing owner can simply apply for planning permission prior to the sale and thereby become eligible for compensation. It would appear that it will be very difficult even to restrict these generous let-outs to the pre-20 October owners since the planning authority would first have to establish the date on which the applicant acquired his interest and would then have to show that the interest in the land did not arise due to inheritance or family settlement. This Bill therefore, instead of closing the compensation loophole, opens a second and even more generous loophole.
A number of Deputies and parties in this House have said that they oppose the Bill for this reason and I am tempted to say the same thing at this stage. The Minister, however, said on Second Stage, that he was willing to consider amendments. I propose to wait and see what the Minister says in response to the Second Stage debate, to see whether he has taken on board the points consistently raised by Deputies in this House in relation to loopholes in this Bill. If he indicates that he intends to introduce his own amendments to close these loopholes, or to accept amendments from this side of the House, we will not oppose the Bill. I will not delay the debate any further because most of the points I am concerned about have been dealt with by other Members. However, I should like to emphasise that if the Minister does not indicate when closing the debate his intention to close the loopholes in the Bill, The Workers' Party will oppose the passage of Second Stage.
The Bill, as other speakers have said, attempts to tackle a problem that has been with us for many years. Indeed, it is a problem that has caused dissension and controversy, particularly in the last 20 years. Controversy and debate on this issue has flared up at various times, particularly following well publicised court decisions to award huge sums in compensation to builders and speculators arising out of planning decisions by local authorities or, in more recent times, by An Bord Pleanála. The debate on this issue has divided along lines of ideology with those of the Left contending that compensation should not be paid to speculators who exploit the system for their own advantage while those on the extreme Right express belief in the absolute right to property and a right to exploit it. The Left believe that huge sums of money should not be paid from the public purse to speculators while those on the extreme Right hold that it is right to make maximum profits from whatever a person has. The latter believe that there should not be any restrictions on the right to make money be it by developing land or by using, and abusing in some cases, the planning laws to extract huge sums of money from the public purse. I have to say that both views are extreme.
An attempt is being made in the Bill to secure a workable solution, a median between the two opposing and extreme views. On the one hand our Constitution offers certain guarantees in regard to property rights and property ownership. Most people will agree that such provisions were included because of our history of dispossessions of the 17th and 18th centuries and the landlord and tenant system we had from the 18th century on. During that time tenants had no rights and the landlord was the master with life and death control over his tenants. The land struggle by Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell led to an eventual solution but, more particularly, it left a deep commitment on the part of the Irish people to the right to hold on to their land and to use it in whatever way they wished. That struggle left an indelible mark on the nation and it was reflected in our Constitution. It was very much in the minds of those who drew up the Constitution. I contend that the concept of landownership and right over land is one that must be respected and retained. Being from a rural constituency I can say that there is nothing that causes greater controversy than land and the ownership of it. I am not talking about ranches because even a very small area of land can cause major problems.
While recognising the property rights in the Constitution I must point out that the Constitution was conceived as a means of protecting the rights of all citizens, an effort to ensure that the common good was served by the law and the institutions of the State. Many contend — I do not agree that this is confined to people on the Left of the political spectrum — that the common good is not being served by the award of huge sums of money in compensation to speculators. In particular, it is not being served where it can be seen that the original intention of the speculator was simply to secure a court award. It has happened that speculators have purchased land knowing that they would be unable to use it for building or other purposes and that they would stand a reasonably good chance of receiving compensation as a result of a decision of a planning authority. I do not think the courts in the past have taken sufficient note of the common good in such cases. With the passage of the Bill I hope that will be rectified.
In the tradition of the House the Opposition can afford the luxury of adopting one or other extreme in this argument, that compensation should not be paid or that everybody should be compensated, but the Government must be seen to be promoting legislation that is workable, fair and, above all constitutional. As a relatively new Member I was astounded at the suggestion put forward by Deputy Quinn that the Minister should promote legislation and leave it to the courts to decide its constitutionality. The function of the House is to promote workable legislation. Too often in the past we have left the legislative function to our courts. Deputy Quinn's suggestion was outrageous particularly if the Government had been advised that such legislation was unconstitutional. In my view the Bill is workable, fair and constitutional. It goes as far as we can to ensure fairness and equity and stays within the bounds of the Constitution. It should be noted that although Members of the Opposition are doing a lot of huffing and puffing about various aspects of the Bill, in their contributions they are sending out the message that they are satisfied that the Bill is going in the right direction although it may need strengthening in certain areas. The Minister has conceded that he is prepared to accept any reasonable amendments that are put forward. I am sure Members will accept that the Bill represents a reasonable effort to deal with this problem.
Deputy Shatter spoke about various aspects of planning. In relation to the Bill he used words like "might" or this section "may" and suggested a few changes, a few words here and a few words there. He was very vague in his contribution towards improving the Bill. Basically he was in broad agreement with the Bill.
Deputy Quinn gave us a learned exposition on the history and difficulties of various Government Ministers in trying to tackle the problem of compensation in Governments of which — as he said — he had the honour to be a member. I took this — though perhaps he did not mean it to be — as a backhanded compliment to the Minister because of the fact that this has been around for so long and has not actually come to the House before. I took it that he was praising the Minister for his courage in preparing and presenting the Bill to the House. Although Deputy Quinn may have some ideological hang-ups about it, as a reasonable and fairminded man I think he sees this as reasonable legislation. He made a suggestion at one time — not in the House — that the legislation should outlaw earlier awards of compensation granted by the courts and that the legislation should be amended to include that. I find it very hard to believe that a Deputy of his experience would be seriously making such a proposal because it would display a very cavalier attitude by this House to our courts and our systems of justice. I did not hear him repeat it in the House so I presume it was something he said off the top of his head when he was caught at an interview.
It is remarkable that in Deputy Keating's initial outburst he suddenly appears to believe that he has become an expert in planning and compensation claims. He devoted a considerable part of his speech decrying the fact that the Bill was not adequate and complaining about the fact that his own party's Bill — which was entirely different — was defeated earlier this year. In the context of what we are discussing today, his party's Bill was totally inadequate and did not even address the major issue of compensation in any meaningful way. It devoted two sections to planning and compensation and even those two sections were seriously flawed, because they did not address the legal point on which the recent award of £2 million was made against Dublin County Council. Suddenly Deputy Keating believes he is an expert in planning and compensation and in that case I do not know how his own Bill did not even cover those particular points.
However, despite those small criticisms by the Opposition parties there is broad agreement that some legislation in the area of compensation and planning is absolutely necessary. Most people believe it is important to encourage as much development as we possibly can and every Member of this House would wish to ensure that councils and local authorities have as much power as possible to deal with planning matters, whether to allow or prohibit development in the common good. Most people would also believe that there are cases where a landowner should be compensated for decisions made by a local authority to restrain the free use of his land. The Bill has been drafted with these three principles in mind and as such it is a step in the right direction. For that reason it deserves a speedy passage through the House.
There are one or two points I would like to make in general terms about the Bill and then about planning in general. The Bill is to be welcomed from a technical point of view — most Deputies have recognised this — in that it draws together all the laws relating to compensation and planning cases. We are all aware that this is a highly complicated area with a huge variety of Acts, Schedules and so on. The fact that we will now have an Act where all the different aspects of compensation are brought together will make things much easier from a technical sense. On that point, the idea of consolidation in the planning area, as in a number of other areas, should be followed and we should try at this point in time to have a consolidated Planning Act.
Since the original Act was passed in 1963 — the amendments followed in 1976 and later years — there has been a huge number of legal cases and a huge casework file has built up in relation to planning. Now is the time that we should have a serious look at trying to consolidate and set it all out in one single Act. I am aware from my contacts with local authorities, and the planning staff of local authorities, of the huge volume of legal cases; the variety of Acts, Schedules and so on is a major headache for those in the planning section. People who should spend a considerable amount of their time out doing field work, in relation to planning and trying to ensure proper planning and development in an area, spend most of their time in an office looking up various Acts and various court cases to ensure that when they do give a decision they will not find themselves in court over compensation claims or otherwise. I hope this Bill is the first of a number of moves to try to get all the planning laws into one single Act.
At this point it would be fair to say that the view of planners is that all planning should be channelled into towns and villages. It certainly seems to be the policy that is most often quoted in our county. The concept of controlling physical planning had its origins in the 1934 Planning Act. That Act was introduced to regulate and control planning for the common good and to ensure that there would be some kind of orderly development. That was the basis of the original Planning Act; the basis of that in turn was that planning was about people and ensuring that development took place to facilitate individuals and communities. It was designed to protect the rights and property of people already living in a particular area, but also it was there to facilitate further development as far as possible. For that reason I am a strong believer that planning should be about people and geared towards protecting their rights and reflecting their interests.
Deputy Quinn referred to increasing urbanisation in Irish society and the change that has occurred over the past 50 years. He said that at times it was startling — and, indeed, it has been — and probably over the next 20 years the increased urbanisation will accelerate. The conventional wisdom among planners now is to channel all development into towns and villages. There are very obvious reasons for this type of a general planning approach because it is much easier and cheaper to provide local authority services such as water and sewerage in towns and villages. It is also much more economic for Telecom Éireann, An Post and so on to provide services in those built-up areas. From a local authority point of view there is less need to provide infrastructure, such as roads in rural areas. Also, community facilities are available be they schools, churches, shops, etc. There are very obvious, sound economic reasons for following that general policy.
In relation to planning being for people, if this policy is pursued to its extreme I wonder what the long-term social effects will be? There may not be major problems in the near future in, say, five, ten or 15 years, but from then on this policy can have serious social implications for sons and daughters from rural families who are being forced into towns and villages. One aspect to the social dimension is that in 15 to 20 years time we will have a very elderly rural population, a considerable number of whom will be living on their own. The question which will arise at that stage is who is going to take care of these elderly people living alone in rural areas. Questions about the cost of providing institutional care and of providing community services, such as public health nurses, will also arise. I am not saying that families will abandon their parents but problems will arise particularly if sons and daughters are forced to live some distance away from their parents.
Another aspect of the social dimension is that many rural communities are being denuded of their best young people. When we talk about emigration it is stated very often that we are losing our best young people. Equally, rural communities are being denuded of their best young people, which leads to the breakup of families and community spirit. This is as a result of pursuing a policy to the extreme, and I emphasise the word "extreme". Another effect of this policy is that huge built-up areas have been created with a consequent increase in crime and vandalism and the loss of identity, which we in Ireland cherish.
As I said, the effect of depopulation in the countryside can and will have severe, serious and broader economic repercussions in the years ahead. The famous Mansholt Plan was put forward in Europe 25 years ago but the emphasis is now being put on integrated rural development and this is a signal to us in Ireland that denuding our rural communities is not the answer to our problems. As I say, I am not condemning the general theory of channelling people into towns and villages but I urge a cautious implementation of this type of approach. A reasoned and balanced approach should be maintained in the implementation of this policy.
On the other hand, there are those who would argue against restricting development in rural areas. They favour a laissezfaire approach and very often cite a person's right to choose where he wants to live or his right to dispose or use his land in whatever way he sees fit. To adopt this approach, which is at the other extreme, is to abrogate our responsibility towards future generations. It is very important that a balance be maintained. I say this because the results of the latter approach I mentioned would be disastrous and if anyone needs any proof of this all he need do is travel the short distance to see what has happened in the portion of County Meath nearest to Dublin. I suspect that possibly the same is true of the portions of County Wicklow and County Kildare adjacent to Dublin. During the seventies these areas experienced a population boom as more and more people moved from the Dublin area to live in the countryside and to commute to work from there. Meath County Council at that time recognised the problems which could result and they attempted to restrict the granting of planning permission for single houses in rural areas and to try to restrict the granting of permission to those living on the land.
I regret to say that this policy was thwarted by the planning appeals system which was only changed after 1977. About 98 per cent of all appeals against planning refusals during that period in County Meath were upheld. We are still experiencing the legacy of that era. In 1984 the county council decided they had to take action. The services in this area in County Meath were not able to cope with the huge increase in population with the result that there were inadequate water supplies, sewerage facilities and a road network which was crumbling. The area has been declared overdeveloped even though some would contend that it is underdeveloped in that the services are not able to meet demand. Strict planning regulations now apply in County Meath.
The random development of single houses in rural areas has led to problems such as the loss of agricultural land in an unplanned way. In some cases brought to my attention, planning permission was granted under the old system. This is not a criticism of the county council for allowing developments along the side of roads with the result that people had no access to the land at the back of those developments. We have now reached the stage where if there is any further development there will be a potential risk to health because of the danger of pollution in the water table as a result of seepages from septic tanks.
Another major problem is that rural dwellers expect urban conditions, for example, they expect a water supply, lighting, footpaths and so on to be available out in the middle of the countryside when the money is not there to provide these services. Some of those who have moved out to live in the countryside — and let me say that they are exemplary citizens and good members of the community — do not understand the ways of country life. They do not appreciate that if one lives in the countryside there are certain drawbacks at certain times of the year, such as having to put up with the smell of silage and other smells which one would not have to put up with in O'Connell Street, although on reflection when one considers the conditions of the past three or four weeks I would think that the smells which one has to put up with in the countryside are lesser evils. That laissez-faire approach to planning is at the other extreme of what I referred to earlier and it cannot be allowed as we have to try to maintain a balance.
I think all of us welcome the sections of the Bill dealing with trees and woodlands, in particular section 21 which reduces the number of grounds for the granting of compensation where a licence for tree felling is refused or in cases where restrictions are imposed. A natural follow-on from this would be for the local authorities, in conjunction with the Forestry Division of the Department, to increase the number of tree preservation orders in each county. At this stage there is also a need for the local authorities and the Department of the Environment to come together with the Forestry Division of the Department to try to produce a workable agreement. At present if an application for a tree felling licence is received in the Forestry Division of the Department they ask the local authority for their observations. I presume the Forestry Division take their observations into account and issue whatever licences they believe are required. I should like to see a little more co-operation in this area between the local authorities and the Forestry Division. Perhaps the Forestry Division could initially do what I suggested earlier on and provide an inventory of trees and woodlands in each county so that the county councils could follow that up by putting tree preservation orders not on every tree but on every cluster of trees which they regarded as significant.
My experience with regard to tree felling licences is that the Forestry Division have granted these licences in County Meath and various other areas but I have not noticed any great follow on from that. We often get representations about tree felling licences but once they are granted there seems to be little or no control over the people who have the licences. There does not seem to be any supervision carried out and I suggest that some structures should be set up so that either the Forestry Division or the local authority would have the power to monitor the terms of the licence. In the case of a tree felling licence, the Forestry Division should make the conditions of the licence known to the local authority and they should have the power to monitor the tree felling operation. In addition, the local authority should be paid for this monitoring facility carried out on behalf of the Forestry Division.
With regard to the requirement in the Bill to replant, I should like that requirement to be strengthened somewhat. Perhaps this is not necessary but I should like the Minister to address section 21 (b) in Part IV. Perhaps we could insert a phrase in that section saying that the local authority should have the power to state the species of trees to be replanted. At present there is only a requirement to replant and it does not state what species of trees must be planted. I believe it is important that the local authority should have the power to state the species of trees that should be replanted. If that provision is included in the Bill I hope local authorities will emphasise the necessity to replant native species of trees. If we continue the way we are going at present I believe that in 20 or 25 years time we will be like the Scandinavian countries which have only coniferous trees and so on. The Minister took a step in the right direction when he said that there should be a 20 per cent retention of trees in a particular group. That is a welcome provision. I am sure some people would not agree with it and believe that it should be more but it is an initial step and it can be looked at again.
There are a number of brief points I should like to make with regard to planning. I want to make a general comment in relation to complaints by builders. Generally builders tend to say that the planning system is very slow, they want to spend money, create employment and build beautiful houses and beautiful estates but that they are hampered by red tape and bureaucracy. They would almost convince you that there should be no restrictions on them or that there should be no planning laws, that they are very responsible people and they would not do anything which would upset anybody. I do not think there is a Deputy or a member of a local authority anywhere who has not at some time or other had complaints about unfinished estates.
We had debates in this House earlier in the year about this problem and the Minister is compiling a report on the situation. Builders put forward the notion that they are being tied up in red tape but I believe and I have made quite a few representations on behalf of builders and individuals — that the slowness in the system of planning, whether at local authority level or higher up than that, is generally the fault of the builders themselves. They put in planning applications which are very general, provide very skimpy information and will try to get away with whatever they can. It is only then that the local authorities can ask for further information and in many cases even the further information is not sufficient and they have to look for additional information. I have had representations from builders and I arranged for my local authority to meet with the north-east branch of the Construction Industry Federation. Two officers would be put at the disposal of the CIF for a half day or full day meeting so that they could explain exactly what is needed in relation to planning applications. I did this by way of trying to be helpful to builders and their representative bodies. This offer was made six or eight months ago but I am still awaiting a response from them. Therefore, I take complaints from builders about the slowness of local authorities in dealing with planning applications with a grain of salt.
Undoubtedly there will be delays in local authorities and apart from the fact that they do not get adequate information from the builders, the other problem which arises relates to the serious legal situation a local authority are in when a planning application is submitted to them. Planning is now a quasi-judicial function and, as I said earlier, this is a very complicated function and local authorities have to be very careful every step of the way in processing a planning application. The delays caused at An Bord Pleanála level should be kept to a minimum but — and I think Deputy Dennehy referred to this — the board have to be careful because the threat of compensation and the possibility of a claim is always there if people in An Bord Pleanála do not dot the "i" or cross the "t".
There is certainly a case to be made in relation to compensation, which is what the Bill is about, and for the Department to meet compensation claims which arise from decisions made by An Bord Pleanála, particularly if a decision they make overturns a local authority decision. If a local authority make a decision and An Bord Pleanála decide to change that afterwards it is unfair that the local authority can be hit for compensation. I believe local authorities have enough financial problems without having these threats for compensation hanging over their heads. I should like the Minister to address this matter.
There are two other aspects in relation to An Bord Pleanála which I think should be mentioned, one of which relates to oral appeals. At present An Bord Pleanála can spend a considerable time considering planning applications. There were two major appeals in County Meath during the past two years, each of which went on for two or three days. People went to a lot of trouble and spent a lot of time and money preparing their cases, submitting them, attending the appeals and getting various experts in to support their cases. The board then take all this evidence and in time make a decision. As a result of all their deliberations, they produce two pages, one which gives the decision and the other which gives the reason for it. That is not adequate. An Bord Pleanála, particularly after oral appeals where much time and money has been spent by concerned members of the community or local authorities in putting forward a case, should be asked to outline clearly the reasons for the decision as well as the reasons that they give for the individual conditions that they might pose. The basic underlying reason for granting or refusing an application should be laid out clearly.
To a certain extent An Bord Pleanála are hamstrung, which probably goes back to the legal situation. They seem able only to take very strict planning considerations into account when deciding appeals. While I realise the possible danger in allowing them to take other matters into consideration, the framework is unduly rigid. An important matter that should be taken into account, going back to the earlier point that I made about planning being about people, is that the views of the local people should be taken into consideration to a greater extent.
Two recent decisions of An Bord Pleanála in Meath, to which I referred following appeals, give rise to serious concern on my part and that of a number of people in the county. One decision was in relation to a quarry in a place called Donore not too far from Drogheda. Application was made to have a quarry on a historic site, that of the Battle of the Boyne. With the exception of Newgrange in the same area, I doubt if you could have any more significant site. That site is significant for many reasons and probably it will become even more significant in three years' time. There was very strong local opposition to the development, not only from local people because of the obvious effects of quarrying but also from archaeologists, historians and even Bord Fáilte. Despite that opposition, the board decided to grant planning permission. It is a little ironic that the county council, in an area about half a mile either side of the Boyne in what is termed the Boyne Valley Amenity Area, will not allow even a single house to be built because it would spoil the view of the Boyne and yet An Bord Pleanála could give that decision.
A more recent case, which has been referred to earlier by myself and by Deputy Farrelly, refers to the Radio Tara application which was opposed by the entire community. It was opposed very reasonably, very democratically. It was refused by the majority of Meath County Council under a Section 4 motion. The voting was 21 to 1. It went to the Planning Appeals Board. A very strong and reasonable case was made by the people in the area at great expense to themselves. Again, the decision went in favour of the developer. It causes me great concern that the views and attitudes of people would seem to have been ignored in both of these cases. I am responsible enough to know that no matter what anybody tries to do now, there will always be somebody objecting on some ground, but there are particular cases, and those were two, in which the views of the local people should have been taken more into account.
I want to touch very briefly on one or two areas in relation to the planning laws, which perhaps could be included in this Bill. One refers to the area of agricultural structures. Quite a number of these are now excluded from the terms of the planning laws. The reasons for that exclusion would have been fairly obvious in times past, but it is time now to have a look into the matter. With the present consciousness of pollution threats, practically all agricultural structures should be included under the Planning Acts. Only very minor structures and ones which will clearly not give rise to any form of pollution or effluent should be exempt. I appreciate that this may cause problems for farm development and financial problems but there are ways and means around such problems. We can no longer talk of being serious about tackling pollution if we allow exemption from the planning laws to any type of structure or building that would be likely to give rise to pollution.
In relation to the fees regulations, Statutory Instrument No. 358 of 1984 contains definitions — and again this appertains to agriculture — which are very vague. They should be more clearly expressed, particularly the definition of agriculture. Under exemptions, the term "voluntary organisations" should be a little more clearly defined. I know that it is causing problems. As somebody who would be involved in many voluntary and community organisations, I would like to see a clear definition in a broader sense rather than a narrower one. I would not like the definition to become too restrictive. At the moment there are organsations that I feel would, or should, qualify for exemption and do not.
In the case of refunds in connection with planning applications, the situation is that a planning application is accompanied by a fee and there is no provision at all for a refund if the application is withdrawn. If it is withdrawn, at whatever stage, a pro rata refund should be allowed by local authorities. There is some provision, but I understand that most local authorities are reluctant to use the particular article, I think it is No. 11, in this context.
I wish to make two final points. Section 4 motions have been mentioned here by a number of speakers and one or two have condemned their use. I do not mind any Member of this House, whether he be a member of a local authority or not, condemning the abuse of Section 4 motions in relation to planning, but I would have strong objections to people condemning their use. I feel strongly that Section 4 motions should not be abused, but I have equally strong views that Section 4 motions should not be interfered with in any way, in relation to planning or anything else. At present, enough decisions are being made by faceless civil servants, by public servants who are not answerable to the public, who are answerable basically to nobody except themselves. I will resist and fight any attempt to interfere with the rights of public representatives to reflect the views of the electorate because it is the one section that gives councillors powers to override the decision of a paid public official who is answerable to nobody. It should not be interfered with, if anything it should be strengthened. I condemn the abuse of Section 4 motions but I would not be in favour — as some Deputies have advocated — of the removal of that power from county councils.
I am not sure if this is the proper Bill to deal with unauthorised development. Some people are riding roughshod over our planning laws and are involved in unauthorised development. They knock buildings and erect new structures without applying for planning permission. When this is brought to their attention, by way of an enforcement notice or something else, they are all apologies and apply for retention of the building. They put the gun to the heads of local authorities by saying that the building is there and that they might as well grant planning permission. The law should be amended so that a person could be brought to court and fined for unauthorised development. The fact that he is applying for planning permission should have no bearing on the matter because if a person flouts the law he should be made to suffer for it.
I may have strayed a little from the central theme of the Bill but I am not alone in that. As I said at the outset, while this Bill may not answer all our problems in relation to planning and compensation it certainly goes a long way towards achieving it and deserves the support of the House.
I listened with great interest to the last speaker and, from his dissertation, I assume that the problems affecting Meath County Council and their functional area probably similarly affect County Kildare and County Offaly. I am glad that the Minister of State is here to get first hand knowledge of the problems we face.
I can only give the Bill a half welcome because it is only half a Bill. The whole purpose of its introduction was to eliminate the abuses where, through greed, selfishness or avarice, people in the past sought to use the loophole in the Act to get extraordinary compensation in respect of what were otherwise legitimately refused planning permissions and, as a result, brought the Planning Act into disrepute.
If the purpose of the Bill is to eliminate abuse and the burden that such compensations placed on a couple of local authorities, obviously the inclusion of "20th October" completely undermines and negatives the purpose of the introduction of the Bill in the first place because, as far as I am aware, the greatest majority of contentious cases — and which are likely to be contentious for the next four or five or maybe ten years — are those where the property has been owned or held in trust for the last ten years. I refer to the kind of cases which Deputy De Rossa mentioned a few moments ago. The Bill will not eliminate those abuses. When you consider that quite an amount of land has been zoned in various towns and villages — and adjacent to them — as potential development land but has not yet been developed because of lack of services, it is obvious that it opens up the whole question again and turns the Bill into a sham. I ask the Minister of State, if possible, to use his influence with his colleague to introduce — or to be allowed introduce — amendments which would ensure that the Bill will be effective.
Local authorities adjacent to the capital city and those within County Dublin have had ample experience of going into court to defend their case in relation to the kind of problem envisaged in the Bill. In a couple of cases a very high price was paid. Fortunately, so far, in the local authority which I represent, Kildare County Council, we have not had that experience. We have had battles and jousts but, in almost all cases, the local authority emerged victorious. How long can that continue? The inclusion of the clause "20th October" is a signal to those people who are waiting and hoping that they may be able to secure compensation. This olive branch has been extended to them, it gives them another loophole to go through the system again to make a killing. It is absolutely disgraceful and brings the whole purpose for the introduction of the Bill into dispute. It will not resolve the problem it purports to resolve. The phrase "20th October" will be quoted again and again and there will be a series of cases where it will be alleged that family settlements were made or legal arrangements entered into prior to 20 October which would allow a developer to make a case that he owned this land.
If a person or developer is seeking compensation in respect of land which he purchased or acquired after 20 October, what logical case can be made by the planning authorities or by An Bord Pleanála if this case is refused? The person making the claim will be able to point to someone who owned property two or three days earlier, two or three hours earlier or even one hour earlier, and ask why he cannot get the same kind of compensation. I do not agree with the point of view, but in theory he can make such a legitimate claim.
If the Minister is serious about addressing the problem, surely the obvious thing was to make it applicable to all development? Forget about 20 October. I know of a number of cases that have received public attention whereby the inclusion of 20 October is going to be a lifeline. The repeated assertions by the local authority or by An Bord Pleanála that a particular development is not acceptable for one reason or another, by virtue of prematurity or lack of services, will not be accepted by the developer. He can see this clause in the Act as a beacon, like a lighthouse in a fog, on which he can home in and be able to quote in subsequent court cases. I would have to seriously ask the Minister to plead with his colleague to try to have that provision looked at again. It will serve no useful purpose but it will bring the whole matter into disrepute. After looking at the Bill a couple of times, it is doubtful as to whether it is even half a Bill.
Another matter I want to refer to in relation to planning laws and legislation — those of us who are members of local authorities, as the Minister of State has been, will know this — is the obvious need to pay great care and attention to every line of every section in minute detail. Because of the nature of the business, there are and there will be people who can afford to call on the sophisticated and expensive expertise that is available in such cases in order to work their way around the system and the various sections, paragraphs and sentences in the Planning Act. The history of planning, of which we are all aware as members of local authorities, must have thought us that much.
The Bill is good in the sense that it gives us an opportunity to bring up matters which have been brought to our attention time and again, to reiterate them and concentrate somebody's mind on what is happening on the ground. I have said on countless occasions in the past that since I became a Member of this House, had the good fortune to be able to take part in the passing of legislation and see how it is operated, I have seen that very often by the time legislation percolates right down to the people whom it ultimately affects it has not always worked in the letter and the spirit in which it was intended. That is unfortunate but that is the way the system works. It underlines the importance of carefully studying the individual lines and phrases of an Act.
I mentioned earlier, and I have no hesitation in saying again, that this Bill was introduced because in a number of cases extraordinary and disgraceful compensation had to be paid for no obvious reasons that we could see, even as members of local authorities. I do not think the Bill will solve that problem. It probably would not have been necessary to introduce it in the first place had it not been for greed. People get an inch and they want a mile. The original Act was introduced in order to ensure that fair play existed, for example where some individual who made a legitimate planning application, maybe someone who wanted to extend his property — I am not talking about a large scale development — was refused. Perhaps due to a death in the family a person wanted to sell part of a garden site or a site that was on the fringes of a development area but was refused and that person may have felt it was his constitutional right to get compensation. If the Planning Acts had been left alone and if there had not been close scrutiny by people who wanted to make a killing it would have been quite all right. People who have a genuine case should always be catered for but those are the people who will be affected most by this legislation and there is nothing we can do about that. Unfortunately, the public good is not always, if ever, recognised by those who want to make a financial killing.
The reason I mention that type of case is that I am sure that, not so much in the country areas but certainly in cities and towns, where a road reservation line is laid — it could be there for ten, 12 or 14 years — people experiencing hardship have been unable to dispose of their property or to get anyone to buy it simply because nobody wants to buy property that has a line running across the garden. As a result those people have had to live in penury for years. Those are isolated cases but the fact that they are isolated does not mean they are not genuine. Because they are isolated it often means that nothing will be done for them. Planners readily admit that such cases exist and that the planning laws have to be used in order to protect reservation lines and so on. Little is done by way of compensating people who find themselves in those circumstances. I can think of quite a number of such genuine cases, not in my own constituency but in this capital city. I am not talking about large scale developments but about individual cases.
I want to refer to a point that was made by Deputy Dempsey, that is the whole question of discussion as to what should prevail in terms of the type of planning and development that is taking place at present. Modern planners believe strongly in the theory that all development should take place in so far as possible in urban areas, thereby making the provision of services more economical. On the other hand, sociologists decry that idea on the basis that by crushing people into box-like houses, living close to their neighbours and having comparatively little access to open space is wrong. In terms of the quality of life I would have to agree with the sociologists. It is unfortunate that we do not always get the balance right. It is true to say that it is more economical to provide services in an urban community. It is much more efficient to have everybody, as it were, in a conurbation whereby there will be no urban sprawl or ribbon developments. It is also true to say that from the point of view of access to services of such communities it is much more efficient and economical for those providing the services and those to whom the services are to be provided. Having said that, there always has been a tradition of rural community life and that is in danger of being overlooked.
I am not for one moment suggesting extensive or intensive development in rural areas. Generally there is incorporated in most county development plans a provision whereby, development within reason can take place in rural areas. It goes wrong when those who go to live in rural areas expect the kind of service normally provided for an urban community. It cannot work and it would be totally uneconomic to provide such services. A typical example is that of a person who is fortunate, or unfortunate, to receive planning permission — perhaps a relative of a landowner or some such person — in a rural area having, perhaps, lived in a town or city all their lives. Such people may want to get into the countryside, have privacy and so on, all of which is to be commended. They may decide that the drain which has been there for the past 400 years, the water course needs to be piped. No longer do we have drains running along the main streets of our towns and cities. Such people may approach their local public representative, local authority officials and engineers, advancing all the good reasons for that drain being piped which when done may lead to a flooding problem. As we all know, the whole purpose of having water courses is to have drainage. Indeed, in agricultural or open space areas the best way of achieving that is through open drainage. That is the only way it was ever meant to be done; otherwise it does not work efficiently. One can pipe drains as often as one likes but it will not have the same effect. It will be effective for the conveyance of water from one area to another but not from the point of view of absorbing the water which naturally converges on an area. There may also be demands for public lighting. If we were to be expected to provide public lighting all over rural communities, outside every house in such areas, we might as well forget about it because we could not even attempt to pay for it.
Then there may be the odd case where it is taken a step further when, perhaps in some rural area, somebody decides he would like a footpath laid down. At that stage we have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. There has to be a demarcation line drawn up. In the granting of planning permissions in rural areas one thing that must be kept to the fore at all times is the realisation that somebody going to live in a rural area cannot expect or demand the types of services normally associated with an urban area.
I read Frank McDonald's articles in The Irish Times from time to time, his dissertations on planning and development generally. I do not agree with many of the things he says. Nonetheless I would have to agree with many of the sentiments he expresses about our capital city. There are so many examples of absolutely blatant planning deviations, for want of a better description, within this city and many others. They are abominations to the eye which apparently did not receive a great deal of attention at the time they were planned or commenced. Whether they received permission before, during or after some such development remains to be seen or may be in question.
I was reminded of an example some time ago of an American being brought on a tour of the capital city by a relative. They happened to travel down along the quays. The American looked at the Central Bank building against the skyline and remarked that it would be a wonderful building if it were roofed. That is a typical example of the type of architecture to which there is no rhyme or reason. That is what is seen by visitors when they travel around this city. Of course they see many derelict sites as well. Here I am not blaming the public representatives at local or national levels but somebody somewhere should begin to take note of some of the planning atrocities or monstrosities which adorn the horizon. I could cite countless instances of architecturally and aesthetically acceptable buildings having been demolished to be replaced by absolute monstrosities. I am sure other Members could cite similar examples.
It appears to me that Frank McDonald appears to have something of a blind spot once he leaves Newlands' Cross, Clondalkin, and travels down the country. The impression given is that he goes along with the general theory I mentioned in relation to planning, that it should take place in urban areas only, but that nothing should take place in rural areas. That is to go to the other extreme which is unacceptable. People have the right to have a good standard of housing in rural areas as well. They have absolutely every right to the same quality of life in their households and communities as anybody else in the country. The general theory that houses in rural areas should consist of two gables, a hip roof, four walls, a door back and front, perhaps four windows to the front and three to the back, went out with the dark ages. People are entitled to indulge in some little bit of architectural flair other than the basic design some people and many planners regard — and I am not now referring to Frank McDonald — as the norm or acceptable in a rural area. That is not necessarily the case. When I mention architectural flair I am not talking about architectural madness; I am talking about something within reason which blends aesthetically with other buildings in an area, something that is visually acceptable and does not cause offence to anybody, at the same time allowing a person who may live in that house, or its designer, some feeling of its being part of them. That is the way is should be.
I do not go along with the idea of absolute architectural madness when some architect may have flicked over the pages of a book of plans from colonial days and decided to site some building on the top of a hill overlooking a valley, hopefully within sight of a river and possibly the sea as well, so that he or she can design something which will stand out literally and metaphorically on the horizon, to such an extent that anybody coming within ten miles of it for the next 50 years — unless trees are grown there very quickly — will say: "In heaven's name, how did that ever get there?" That is a type of architectural madness which should not be encouraged.
I might revert to what I said at the outset, that a balance has to be struck. Generally speaking, it is my belief that planners are reasonable people. There will be the odd extreme examples of planners when determining planning applications; the odd one who will have a hangup about some particular aspect, some type of house or development, or who, perhaps, is just experiencing a bad day. Generally speaking I have found them to be reasonable, fair and prepared to listen to reasonable suggestions put to them. Likewise, architects are fairly consistent; it is on occasion only that they go off at a tangent. However, the problem is occasioned by the fact that the remainder of the community has to live with it thereafter. We must remember that, once planning permission has been granted and a building put in place, we cannot change it, we cannot erase it as can the planner on a map. It will be there for future generations to decide whether the people who presided over the planning decision were of sound mind.
The question of how planning has evolved has often been referred to in this House. Quite often major developments that have taken place, took place because somebody decided that it would be a good idea to lay a water main or a sewer along a certain road with access to other services. As a result planning permission was applied for and granted. Because of that an urban community would build up around a service. Surely that is the worst possible way to plan for development. An overall government body should decide as to where it is advisable for development to take place having regard to the provision of and access to services. Development should take place where it is needed and for no other reason, and then zoning would follow for the right reasons. We would meet the needs of the community rather than the need of an individual who happened to avail of an opportunity to buy up a few hundred acres of land in order to be in the right place at the right time.
I totally agree with Deputy De Rossa in the points he made. I fully support the right to own land and property and to sell it. The problem arises when an unfortunate person must dispose of property for financial or family reasons to a person who can hold on to it until he can make a killing. I object to that sort of speculation most strenuously. This has happened on countless occasions. If this Bill is passed as it stands hopefully in 20 years time it will deal with that sort of abuse but it will not eliminate those abuses now because of the 20 October cut off date. However, that is something we will deal with on Committee Stage.
The Government in their wisdom abolished the RDOs which dealt with planning development. Then it transpired that they had to reintroduce a whole system of new regions in order to accommodate the European inspired regional development plans. It was a retrograde step to abolish the RDOs. They had made quite a considerable input in relation to planning and development requirements, they had amassed quite an amount of information on computer and the local authorities involved could co-ordinate their views as to what was required. All that work was scrapped because the Minister abolished the RDOs. The Minister also said that he would abolish potholes but he has not got around to that yet. Because of the depth of some of the potholes in the roads at the moment the Minister could almost step in to one and not be seen over the top.
It was a retrograde step to abolish the RDOs and to then have to introduce a new scheme. At this stage we do not know if there will be any co-ordination or reference to the information previously gleaned by the RDOs in relation to what is required. Planning and development should be governed by a general agency either at regional level or at national level in such a way as to bring about an equitable balance in the community.
Deputy Dempsey mentioned the role of the councillors and the use of section 4 orders. I agree that there should always be a role for councillors to play whether it be by way of veto in the processing of a section 4 order or whether it be in relation to implementing the power of section 4 to impress on the system that a certain person was being unfairly treated or that a community was being unfairly treated. Many councillors do not seem to understand the important role they have to play. The councillors in a local authority are the planning authority. They can chart a course and impress it on the staff and the manager in the council. Of course, they must be prepared to stand over their decision afterwards. If something goes wrong they cannot hide and say it was the officials who are to blame. We should all take our responsibilities seriously in that matter, and where necessary we should be prepared to put our imprimatur in a real way on the development that takes place within our respective local authorities.
There have been unfortunate abuses of section 4 orders, some worse than others. I am glad that so far in County Kildare we have never yet had to use a section 4 order and hopefully we never will. I hope that the planners will never become so complacent as to think we will never use it and on the other hand I hope our councillors will never do something irresponsible by way of a section 4 order which would trigger off a lot of other irresponsible actions.
The problem with section 4 is that a genuine case can often be made and there can be a hundred and one good reasons why a permission should be granted but political life being what it is, at what stage do we determine what is a valid application? We could have a situation where the councillors would have to overlook every single application. That simply is not on. It could not and it should not be. There have been abuses of section 4, but I would hope that public representatives would be responsible enough not to go down that road indefinitely because if they do, the power of section 4 will be taken from them. Then another problem will arise.
Another thing which worries me slightly is that there is a tendency in some local authorities for planners, in virtually all cases, to refuse a planning permission if there is an objector. That has become more prevalent in recent years. It may arise from claims for compensation or simply from a fear on the part of the local authorities of being involved, being too close to the action, knowing too many of the personalities involved, and not wishing to get involved or to make a decision, and so they decide to refuse rather than do anything wrong and pass the decision over to somebody else. That is fair enough, but it is not acceptable and it is not what the Planning Act meant to do. The Planning Act allowed a planning permission to be evaluated on merit and to have regard to objectors, but it was never understood that the existence of an objector automatically validated the objection. It never did, it never should and it never will.
I have had experience of a couple of cases — and I am sure other public representatives have dealt with similar cases — where an individual looking for an extension to a house, building a wall out in the country or something like that, nothing dramatic like building a fly over and where suddenly an objector came forward. Immediately the planning authorities adopted a defensive position. The chances are that such an application will be refused and the board will uphold the decision of the council in about seven cases out of ten.
A case comes to mind where a person applied for planning permission to provide a childcare or baby minding service in a housing estate. This is a service for housewives, a place where a mother can leave the baby while she is going to work, by virtue of necessity, and she wants to leave the baby with somebody nearby, somebody in the neighbourhood. There are countless such cases throughout the country where a woman whose husband is unemployed, or a widow, can eke out an existence by looking after a few children in the mornings or afternoons. I came across such as case and somebody decided to object. As soon as the objection was mooted, fear could be seen in the eyes of the planners and they backed off, they ran for cover and the application was subsequently refused by An Bord Pleanála.
Why not refuse all such applications? Why not tell everybody they cannot provide this service in a residential area, despite the fact that it is most acceptable, useful and helpful and that it is provided in residential areas throughout the country? That is why I said the existence of an objector does not always mean that the objection is valid or that it should be taken as a guideline for either granting or refusing the planning permission. That may be an isolated case, but I would not like that trend to become the norm.
This would not be bringing the planning laws within the ambit of what I would regard as fair play. Consequently I hope the planners do not take the easy way out. I am not suggesting they should grant permission in all cases, and I accept that in this case there were traffic reasons, but there must be traffic reasons in similar cases. All movement of people generates traffic of one kind or another. Therefore, it is not right to say that we will allow this development at A, B and C but not at D and E.
Deputy Dempsey referred to the damage done to roads as a result of rural development. I disagree with him. The roads are not damaged by rural development but because nobody looks after them or has money to spend on them. The local authorities have scarcely touched main and county roads for the past ten or 15 years and in the last five, three, two or even one year, virtually nothing has been done in terms of what is needed for today's traffic on our main and county roads. We are dealing with a situation which is completely different from that which existed ten or 15 years ago and we are not providing enough money to solve the problem that now exists, and will continue to exist, unless something is done about it.
The future life of Kildare County Council hangs in the balance because we have failed to adopt a book of estimates. We failed to adopt a book of estimates because our main and county roads are neglected to such an extent that school buses no longer collect children, milk deliveries and collections are being stopped and other utility services are being cut off simply as a result of the roads being impassable. Only last week a schoolgirl who had to cycle to school because the school bus was no longer prepared to travel the road had an accident and ended up in hospital. The accident was caused by the condition of the road. Something will be done about this only when a serious successful claim is made against the council.
I do not want to abuse the privileges of this House by digressing, but the planning and development question was raised by Deputy Dempsey. This is the responsibility of the local authorities, through the Department of the Environment who are providing virtually all the funds for the local authorities to ensure that the roads are kept in a reasonable condition.
I do not accept the excuse trotted out by planners that they refuse applications on the basis that they would be an unnecessary charge on the local authorities now or at some stage in the future, or that it would mean extra traffic on the roads. A planning application should be dealt with on its planning merits. Whether they are in a rural or urban area, roads are a requirement, not a luxury. There are services which can be identified as being rural and or urban, but roads are universal. They either exist or they do not exist.
The last point I want to make relates to the question of oral hearings. Deputy Dempsey mentioned the long period that elapses prior to a decision being made following an oral hearing. I would be quite happy with that provided it could be shown afterwards that careful consideration had been given and that we could stand over the decision. I would be far happier to see an applicant or an appellant having the opportunity to stand before an inspector to state his case with questions and supplementaries asked on both sides to ensure that the case is heard fairly on the basis of all the information being available, than to simply have the application referred to the board and getting a reply that, in seven cases out of ten, sustains the decision already taken by the local authority. I fully realise that we cannot have a situation whereby everybody who makes an application to have a bathroom or bedroom extended would get an oral hearing, but I know from experience that there are circumstances where decisions are more acceptable when there is an oral hearing, no matter who the decision favours.
I would like to thank the Chair for allowing me to ramble on for so long. Planning matters affect every member of a local authority. When we get an opportunity to talk about these matters in the House we should do so and hopefully our thoughts, meandering though they may be at times, will trigger off mechanisms in some quarter which will alert people to some of the problems we have to deal with. I would ask the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, who is present, to use his influence with his colleagues to try to bring about an amendment to this Bill which will deal with the whole question of 20 October, because if this is not dealt with now the purpose of the Bill will be negatived. I implore the Minister to allow amendments to be introduced on Committee Stage.
I found the rambling of Deputy Durkan very interesting. It is significant that many of the contributors to this debate are, like myself, members of local authorities. They have a lot to say and a great deal of personal experience in the whole local authority process. I hope that as a result of this debate we will have an improved Bill.
The Minister is to be congratulated on introducing this Bill to the House. Over the last ten years or so the public, planning experts and politicians have been demanding legislation to deal with the issue of planning compensation. It has to be said — and I do not like to repeat political points — that members of the last Coalition Government had been most vocal on the need for legislation prior to taking up office, but sadly they were remarkably quiet over their four years in Government and no legislation was introduced.
It was always going to be difficult to introduce a Bill that was well balanced as between the common good and the constitutional property rights of the individual. This has always been the dilemma and that is why it has been so difficult. The Minister has faced up to this difficulty and we have a very valuable Bill before the House.
The Minister has recognised that the Town and Regional Planning Act, 1934 is outdated and inadequate to cope with the needs for the proper, orderly growth of our cities and towns and the need to preserve so many valuable amenities in the country. The Minister has also recognised that local authorities have found themselves in most vulnerable circumstances in the face of opportunistic speculators seeking massive compensation, particularly in the greater Dublin area. He is arming them with new controls and powers in this Bill. The public interest is being well served by this Bill. Planning authorities will be able to prevent undesirable developments and this is well overdue. In the County Dublin area, with which I am very familiar, having been a member of Dublin County Council for the last nine years, I must admit that damage has been done to our orderly planning process. Mistakes have been made. It is time for us to get our act together and we will be able to do so with this Bill.
The Bill will give new protective powers to our local authorities. We know all too well how in the past speculators have managed legally to take advantage of loopholes, but the Bill has updated and, in some cases, rewritten and consolidated all of the laws on planning compensation in one document. It has been done as clearly and as simply as possible so that it is not cumbersome with legal jargon. This is something that the 1963 Act failed to do. Those of us who are involved in local government are very aware of the need to protect the individual where restraint is being placed on his or her property rights. This is a very important element in this legislation. The individual who finds, for example, that the routing of a motorway through his or her front garden has been planned must be compensated and this legislation recognises that fact. It recognises equally the public demand and the urgent need for our planning laws to be tightened up so that local authorities and the taxpayer will be protected against huge compensation claims.
Section 13 and the Third Schedule contain some important new provisions. The fact that the local authority can refuse planning permission without fear of a compensation claim where water and sewerage services are inadequate is a positive development, as is the reference to the protective clause that the services could be required for other prospective developments. A submission which I received from my own local authority, Dublin County Council, in relation to this section of the Bill should be seriously considered by the Minister. They have suggested that in paragraph 1 the word "premature" and the words "a period within which the constraints involved may reasonably be expected to cease" should be omitted. The effect would be to omit the concept of prematurity which if retained is likely to give rise to further litigation in the future. It should be sufficient to establish that there is an existing deficiency in services and the word "premature" could be retained in paragraphs 2 and 3.
I believe that some improvements can be made to this section. I welcome the fact that the Minister has proposed that conditions may be attached to a planning permission without compensation in relation to the preservation of buildings of artistic, architectural or historical interest. I am convinced that there should be a paragraph in the Third Schedule to provide that a refusal of permission for the reason that the development would prejudice the preservation of historical buildings, or would prejudice the preservation of plaster work, staircases, woodwork or other fixtures or features of artistic, architectural or historical interest forming part of the interior structures, should not attract compensation. I am sure the Minister of State at the Department of Finance would be interested in that feature. It is provided in the Bill that the attachment of conditions relating to such matters is non-compensatable and it would be reasonable that refusal of permission for the same reasons should also be non-compensatable.
This Government have rightly placed strong emphasis on the development of our tourism industry. A key feature of that industry is the growing interest of our tourists in our historic castles and other buildings. Great progress has been made recently, in protecting and refurbishing many of our castles and national monuments and I give credit to the Minister of State who is present with us in that regard. On a recent visit to County Clare I saw at first hand the tremendous improvements in that area. Unfortunately, many of our national monuments are still being spoiled by unscrupulous developers, and the planning laws have been inadequate in stopping this sabotage. This Bill presents us with a unique opportunity to comprehensively protect this aspect of our culture and heritage, this great national asset, and the relatively minor amendments I have proposed will strengthen our hand legally in this regard. A paragraph should also be added to provide that compensation shall not be payable if a reason for refusal was that the proposed development contravened the provisions of any other enactments, for example, the National Monuments Act.
This Bill has responded to the urgent need for adequate protection of our woodlands. Section 21 refers to tree preservation orders. We have not seen the implementation of many of these orders and the number I have seen do not seem to have been very effective. Mention has been made of Coolattin and there was another very prominent case regarding tree preservation in the Shankill area of County Dublin only a couple of years ago. Basically at issue was the power of the local authority to vary as part of a grant of planning permission a tree preservation order covering trees in the locality, and then who or which body really had the power to make sure trees are not felled without proper permission. It seems that the tree preservation orders should not be variable or amendable in the granting of a planning permission unless the specific approval of the elected councillors is agreed. Secondly, I believe complete control over trees, including felling licences, etc., should be vested in the local authority. Rather than the Garda issuing a felling licence the county council should consider trees that should be protected or felled, and the Forestry Department are there all the time on the fringes. It is said too many cooks spoil the broth. We must put the full responsibility in the hands of only one of these bodies.
I welcome warmly a number of features in the Bill, particularly the provision in section 14 whereby a planning authority can issue a notice preventing compensation. This is an eminently sensible and practical approach. It is not all that unusual for a prospective developer to submit a planning application to a local authority for permission for development that may be utterly out of character for the area or vastly excessive in scale. Such a developer would often be well aware of these factors but he decides to have a go, to chance it, especially as he is aware of just how sensitive planning officials may be about the prospect of having a compensation claim lodged against them. Unfortunately this has been the case and local authorities have been arriving at decisions out of fear. Dublin County Council have literally had to sit down with developers and do a deal. It is important in debating this issue that we give them credit for working and living within the system because it has been difficult. This new provision will make such developers think twice before using such a tactic. It will also strengthen the power of the local authority in regulating the good and orderly planning for the areas rather than leaving all that to the dictates of market forces. I feel it would ease the potential concerns of local authorities to know they have the facility to offer some alternative type of permission for the lands concerned rather than be simply faced with the prospect of a compensation claim. This is an important factor which has not been referred to often enough in this debate. This aspect of the Bill ensures that we will not have a repeat of what took place in the Grange Developments case. Now the local authority can issue a notice that the land in question should attract an alternative development. This issue was not adequately addressed by the Progressive Democrats' Bill. The Minister has responded and is to be commended for doing so.
The Bill is to be welcomed because it does a number of other things. First, it rationalises in a more coherent way than heretofore the whole issue of compensation for refusal of planning permission. Compensation has been an issue of serious concern to residents in County Dublin in recent years and I have no doubt that many of the people contributing to this debate will be from that area. We have seen decisions of Dublin County Council reversed by An Bord Pleanála, decisions which the council had carefully couched in terms that would not allow for a compensation claim. What happens then? In a number of cases that have been highly publicised An Bord Pleanála on appeal endorsed the council's decision without using non-compensatable terms. As a result Dublin County Council and the residents of Dublin county are then faced with a compensation claim for non-grant of planning permission because An Bord Pleanála, the ultimate planning authority, failed to make the decision using non-compensatable reasons. Dublin county ends up paying the price for An Bord Pleanála's sins. It is bad enough to have to pay a price for your own sins but to have to pay the price for somebody else's sins is a bit much. This Bill rationalises the issue of compensation.
Secondly, an interesting feature the Bill specifically provides for is that an arbitrator can make a nil award. This is a significant and useful feature which should caution prospective compensation seekers, claimants, that they could, if successful in their claim, end up with a nil award. This should make them think twice if they set their mind on using some loophole to get in a claim which they would not be morally entitled to. In other words, throughout the Bill it is being made much more difficult for people who are very expert in this area, particularly in the legal area.
Another encouraging feature is that which sets a six month limit on the lodging of the compensation claim, though I would prefer to see this significantly reduced. With all the time involved in an appeals procedure I would have thought anyone would have enough time to be quite clear on his or her compensation claim grounds without having to delay for up to six months after a planning decision has been made. In Dublin county attempts by the county council to come to a reasonable understanding for an alternative development permission instead of facing claims have foundered because, first, the council did not expressly have the kind of power this section gives them, second, the courts in a couple of cases could not see their way to support the council's approach to have a claim settled in a pragmatic way without the residents of Dublin having to pay up for a claim for compensation, the fault for which lay with An Bord Pleanála, not Dublin County Council, and, third, some developers simply found themselves with an easy way of making money with no outlay on their part.
It is very timely that we are debating this Bill while the future of a very famous football ground is being decided outside this House by others. I am talking about the future of Shamrock Rovers' football ground in Milltown. I am convinced that these grounds must be saved and I have already put my view on record in this House when we debated the Progressive Democrat Bill. Glenmalure Park has rightly been described as more than a football ground. It is a meeting place for all social classes on Dublin's south side. There professional people, tradesmen and all others would rub shoulders in the terraces and enjoy a common interest. Again we hear the argument that nothing can be done, that commercial interests will prevail and so the bulldozers must go in, the apartment blocks must go up and as many units as possible built because property values are soaring, especially on the south side and a quick kill can be made.
There is a difference in this instance. Not all people in the construction industry and the property market are as uncaring and insensitive to the mood of Dublin people with regard to this matter. I have heard that many in the property and construction business would not touch this property, first, because they understand it is not just a green field but part of Dublin's history and heritage and, secondly, it would be too controversial and might not be in the interests of a company to become involved. I would like to acknowledge at this stage the moral support given to KRAM, the support group, Keep Rovers at Milltown. I acknowledge the moral support given by the Minister for Sport and, indeed, the Minister for Education in this case. Their position on the possibility of lottery assistance is understandable, that such funding could not be provided unless the grounds were in the ownership of the club and the development programme was in place.
The facts are that John McNamara, the new Chairman and owner of the club, had offered almost £500,000 for the site. He was willing to negotiate upwards, yet his proposal was not entertained. I read a brief statement from the auctioneer and selling agent, Sherry FitzGerald which I quote: "Selling agents Sherry FitzGerald announce this evening that they have successfully sold Glenmalure Park, former home of Shamrock Rovers." It sounds so much like an epitaph that I believe it should have been placed in a "death column". I refuse to accept that we have lost Shamrock Rovers' football grounds. The new owners of the club have put forward a viable commercial proposal for the future of the club, a sound marketing strategy to bring families on the southside back to the grounds. The proposal is to establish health and leisure facilities for the local community within the Glenmalure complex to be available throughout the week. We are all aware of the growth of the health and leisure market within the country, and worldwide, and I am convinced that the proposal to open a club to the community would be a rewarding one financially. I am convinced that a marketing drive to bring people back to Milltown would work.
The events at Shamrock Rovers' grounds are very relevant to the debate, as I will point out. In fact, an element of the Bill deals specifically with cases such as that at Glenmalure. Under a provision in the Bill persons acquiring lands after 20 October 1988 will have no claim for compensation if they are subsequently refused planning permission on the basis that development would materially contravene an objective of the development plan which related to the land at the time of its acquisition. It is important to stress that point. The land I have referred to has been zoned "amenity". I can only presume, and hope, that Dublin Corporation will refuse planning permission. There is a growing awareness that the planning process, and those involved in it, should put people before buildings. The deep and sincere feelings of the people who have devoted so much of their time and energy into saving this famous football ground must be noted by politicians, planners and, in particular, by the business community. The many supporters who have held all-night vigils outside those grounds deserve our support.
I should like to ask the Government to take note of what is happening at Glenmalure Park. I do not think that valuable amenity has been lost. When a planning application is lodged with Dublin Corporation the amenity will still not be lost. In fact, the campaign will be starting in earnest. The Government should monitor developments closely and if all other options fail they should intervene to ensure that this valuable amenity is not wiped off the map. Future generations will not thank us if we allow that to happen on the 1,000th birthday of the city of Dublin. As has been said, "people look at things and ask, why; Irish people look at things and ask, why not"? Rather than accept that these grounds must go to commercial interests, we must look at every possible means at our disposal to save them. We must ask ourselves, "why not?" and follow through on that principle.
In the debate reference was made to the problems that have arisen in regard to taking charge of estates. I am aware of a number of cases in County Dublin of serious breaches of the planning laws by developers who refused to finish housing estates properly before moving on to another development. I accept that there has been a dramatic improvement in the last two years. Housing developments are smaller and more compact. The design of estates has improved enormously and we have more cul-de-sac type developments and, thankfully, we no longer have large sprawling estates of hundreds of houses. The majority of builders comply with the planning laws but there are still a number who do not. Existing planning legislation does not check the record of the builder. Each application is looked at separately and I do not think that is correct. For example, a builder after erecting a number of houses may move on to another development leaving the roads and open spaces in a mess and the residents without street lighting. The planning legislation does not connect the two developments in any way. In fact, a builder could trade under a new name.
I should like to ask the Minister to consider linking developments carried out by a builder. A builder should not be granted planning permission for a new development until he has completed an estate under construction to the satisfaction of the local authority. In other words, we should give local authorities power to investigate the record of builders. I appreciate that the issue is not directly related to the question of compensation but I should like to ask the Minister to take advantage of this golden opportunity to deal with the problem.
I should now like to deal with the question of local authority development plans. Members will be aware that local authorities review their development plans from time to time. In Dublin the review is carried out approximately every five years. The full council — in the case of Dublin council that amounts to 78 members — meet to decide on the proper zoning for the different parts of the county. Inevitably, the zoning of land is changed, some from agricultural zoning to residential. We have all read extensive reports of the proceedings of such meetings. Decisions reached at those meetings have been criticised although in my view most of them were based on sound planning rules. The demand for houses in County Dublin has grown and we have to deal with the plans for three satellite towns. I accept that mistakes have been made and one way of ensuring that no more mistakes are made would be to make the members of the council accountable for their own areas.
Members will be aware that Dublin County Council is divided into three sections, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown in the south, Belgard in the west and Fingal in the north. Those areas form the basis for three new councils. With a membership of 78, which is larger than the Seanad, one can appreciate how difficult it is for the county council to conduct their business. While I appreciate that there will be huge financial implications involved in the change to three new councils, I appeal to the Minister to establish them as a matter of urgency. Council members in the three areas could adopt their own development plan. They know their area and are in touch with the community. If they were responsible for the development plan I have no doubt that they would make the right decisions in regard to zoning objectives.
I welcome the Bill. It has taken a long time for it to surface and I am pleased that the Minister for the Environment has made an effort to deal with the problems members of local authorities have had to face over the years. Officials in the planning office have had difficulty trying to cope with existing legislation. Planning experts and politicians have been calling for this legislation for a long time and I am pleased that the Minister has brought it forward. I look forward to the day when the legislation is on the Statute Book, because I am convinced it will improve the planning process.
I welcome the debate. In fact, the House should hold an annual debate on our planning laws to see if we can improve them or limit the abuses of them. The debate is timely. Every civilised society has a need for good and orderly planning and we are no different from that general premise. Indeed, as a society and public representatives we should go further and insist on good planning at all times. If necessary we should impose good planning on reluctant parties. In recent years we have had planning by default, by fear, by cowardice and under the threat of powerful influential people who were out to exploit loopholes in our planning laws. They were not doing that in the interest of the common good or good planning but in the interest of greed and profit. Our cities and towns must, therefore, be protected. They need or good planning. In the past we have suffered from bad planning. Anybody who travels throughout the country will see far too many blots on our landscape, regardless of Deputy Durkan's charitable attitude towards architects and so on. Some architects would do well to leave their drawing boards alone and take up some other pursuit because many of them are not good architects and merely copy developers in other countries. This does not in any way enhance our environment. Perhaps that has been changing in recent times. After some of the abuses and excesses in the sixties and seventies we need more originality, more imagination, more initiative in our designs and anybody who disagrees with me should open their eyes when travelling throughout the country and they will see differently.
Some cities are attempting to undo some of the bad design. Kilkenny, for instance, has done much to undo the damage of past decades and I applaud that. There is no reason whatsoever that we cannot have good functional buildings and good design. It is a myth to say that architects are in the hands of their clients, that they cannot do very much themselves and are more or less prisoners of captives. There is no reason we cannot have good design, good building, good materials and good workmanship combined in any building.
We should have seminars and symposia throughout the country, not only for planning officers but for public representatives as well. We all need to be made aware of what is good planning. While some of us have learned the hard way in local authorities through trial and error, we can always benefit from people in other countries who have done better than us and who have gone through some of the excesses we have gone through and have learned from them. Through that process we can increase public awareness and public consciousness of what good planning and good building is all about.
I am not in favour of a cranks' charter and we have cranks at loose in our society, some preverse, eccentric nuisances and sometimes journalists who pursue their own ends indefinitely and are not out for the general good. I am not talking about cranks as in a cranks' charter. I am talking about raising the level of awareness and consciousness of ordinary people because that is something from which we could all benefit. The community will benefit, our environment will benefit and the character of our buildings and cities will benefit also. We have a long way to go. Any dispassionate and objective observer travelling throughout our cities and towns will see ruins, derelict buildings, that have been left there for decades. These ruined buildings disfigure and disgrace our cities and towns and our environment. We have a long way to go in trying to rid our communities of these blots and blights.
Recently the Minister of State, Deputy Connolly and the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn have spoken a good deal about the need for urban renewal. As a building craftsman I am all in favour of that. I know what urban renewal is all about in terms of building programmes. Unless we have people to flesh out — in every sense of the word — urban renewal those programmes will be no good. We must have co-ordinated integrated policies of urban renewal. Private development of shops, of commercial development, of industries, are all very welcome in our cities and towns but we must have housing as well, especially housing for old people. Too often in the past, in many of our larger urban areas, we have banished old people to bungalows far outside our cities, to the hinterland of those cities. In those areas they are prey to vandalism and crime. Life is difficult enough for them at any time but it is made more difficult by sending them to these outer areas. We have a good case to make for urban renewal programmes for housing development — bungalows and housing units — in our centre city areas. We have not done enough of that. The phrase "urban renewal" is meaningless unless we can get people back to live in the centre city areas.
As somebody who has come up through the ranks in local government I can say that much of our compulsory purchase order legislation is far too convoluted and complicated, that it is wasteful and time-consuming. Some people would say it is democratic but it is shameful and wrong that people who have property lying dormant in our centre city areas can hold out for payment much higher than the going rate if a local authority attempt to buy the property, by way of a compulsory purchase order. I am in favour of paying compensation to people. I would not be brutal or undemocratic in my attitude to that but it is wrong that some person because of greed or profit motive, because they are stubborn, would hold up the development of a city, town or street because they are anxious to enrich themselves. That happens often and it is most unfair.
We hear much in this House and in our community at large about the rights of property owners but we do not hear much about responsibility for property and the common good. There is no way that the interests of one individual, in those circumstances, should predominate over the interests of a community, particularly at present. We must have changes in our legislation to take account of that and to give more authority to the Government or local authorities to acquire property in order to develop our cities and towns and improve the character of them and of the environment. A small bit of encouragement is useful. How many times have we seen in an area that was run down somebody new coming in, giving one or two buildings a face lift or rebuilding them and then other people following suit. The old Irish phrase, mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí, is important to keep in mind in this context. Some encouragement can bring along other developments in the wake of initial starts even if this start is made by the local authority or by an individual. A headline is often very useful in a city or town to lift the whole environment.
We have had too much ribbon building in the past. That has been dealt with to some degree by Deputy Durkan. The concept of having a country estate appeals to many people. I do not mind rural people living in the country. That is where they came from and they are entitled to live there. Many people have aims and ambitions to live in the country, almost like a feudal law, reversing the trend we had in the past. I have no ambition to have any kind of country estate, I am very happy living in a city. Many people who go to the country go for the wrong reasons. This ribbon building disgraces and disfigures our environment and our countryside. It also spreads our resources too thinly on the ground. People have to get used to the habit of living together in urban environments. There is nothing wrong with that in a country that is under-populated, not over-populated. There is no reason with a little commonsense and a little give and take that people cannot live together in urban environments. The concept of going out to the country from the city and having your own house is a kind of grandiose nineteenth century concept. I do not think it has any place in our modern society and the sooner we in this House disabuse people's minds the better.
Unfortunately we are going through a recession in the building industry. The industry is in the doldrums. This has led to many social ills. Building workers, tradesmen, apprentices, carpenters, masons, plasterers, plumbers, painters and general operatives have gone to Britain, to America — illegally — to Australia and New Zealand and some have gone to Germany and the Continent. I know many of them personally because they will be coming home at Christmas to see their families and friends. As a building tradesman it is sad for me to have to stand up in this House and talk about this emigration because I was once an emigrant. That was about 30 years ago. I benefited to some degree from going away. It broadened my horizons and perhaps gave me a different view of the world than if I had stayed at home. The point is that some people are fitted for emigration but others are not.
We cannot turn our backs on the heritage of these building tradesmen because they have given a good account of their stewardship in this country. We cannot turn our backs on the skills of these workers who have worked hard here. Building workers are the most productive workers in this land. We can see that around us. Productivity is on the increase every year in the building industry. Buildings are now built in half, sometimes quarter of the time it took ten, 20, 30 or 40 years ago. Unfortunately, we are back to the old stop-go, the boom and slump in the building industry. That is no good because expediency has prevailed in relation to the Government's attitude to the industry.
The building industry can be turned on and off like a tap and unfortunately that has happened again. Building workers are expendable, they are used as fodder. That is not good enough. We should use this period of recession to update the skills of our building tradesmen. The modern restoration work that has taken place in our country was mentioned earlier in the debate. It is good that many old buildings are being restored in order to give them character and bring distinction to our society. When one thinks of Ireland one thinks predominantly of stone buildings, stone castles and so on. There is no reason why in the present recession we cannot upgrade our skills and train more people in finer and higher quality building work. In my earlier remarks I was critical of some architects.
We should use more of our natural materials in building work, such as stone which is a most natural material and which has been used for hundreds of thousands of years. It can be used in an imaginative and flexible way through modern methods of working, machines and so on. It has a long and honourable history in our society and we should not turn our backs on that material. We should use and incorporate it more in modern day building and there is no reason why it should be so costly. Stone work is now cost effective and stone is readily available. Skills have been updated, machines are being used and stone can beautify and improve buildings in our cities and towns. Let us hope that some of the architects I have spoken about will learn how to use those skills, and their intelligence in using more stone not merely as a cladding material but rather as part and parcel of the fabric of building as it does lend character to our buildings.
I have said previously in this House that half the number of bricks we use are imported, mainly from Britain and Belgium. I accept that for some specialist work we have to import certain materials but there is no reason why we cannot manufacture our own bricks. It is sad that I, as a mason and bricklayer, have to say these things in this House. At a time of recession we are creating jobs elsewhere, when we should be able to manufacture our own bricks. One would not have to be an Einstein to learn how to make bricks. Let us hope we can do something about this problem and turn the tide. As I say, more than half the bricks we use are imported, mainly from Britain.
We should also use more brick in building so as to beautify buildings. I mentioned earlier that the Department of the Environment should try to influence planning officers towards better buildings. The planning officer is a very important person in the planning process. He can help, guide, nudge and push developers towards good designs for developments. Unfortunately this does not happen.
The loopholes in the planning laws have been referred to in this debate. I will not rehash the points that have been made or cover the ground which has been covered already by other speakers, but let me say, with all due respect to the Minister, that I do not think all the loopholes have been closed in the Bill. We should try as hard as we can, using whatever expertise is available in the House, to close any loopholes which may be used by unscrupulous people. There are too many greedy and selfish vultures waiting in the wings to exploit the planning process. They have done so in the past playing on planning officers who feared what would happen if these cases ever reached the courts. In many cases the planning applications were bogus and spurious.
Another loophole exploited in the past is where a so-called developer, who says that he wishes to develop a site, presents various forms of applications for the one scheme so that a planning officer would not know which application he is dealing with at any given time. This is done to cause confusion and mislead the planning officer or the local authority concerned. Because of this loophole most local authorities do not like the idea of getting involved in a court case and as a result these cases are settled out of court or else they try to placate the developer in some way. This is no good as one cannot operate in that manner. The planning officer must act independently as he cannot operate under fear or duress. I would like the Minister to take on board some of my ideas and close that loophole.
Our Constitution has also been abused by those people. Those people have no interest in our Constitution and they have no interest in the common good, but yet they use the Constitution in a callous way to enrich themselves. Our Constitution was written with different objectives in mind. I hope this abuse will be ended as soon as possible.
In any debate on planning and land I always hear the name of Michael Davitt invoked and the more I hear his name used the more sorrowful and sadder I get. Michael Davitt was a very decent man but I happen to think he was misguided. In founding the Land League and adopting the slogan "The land of Ireland for the people of Ireland" he was genuine in what he was doing but 66 years after obtaining self-rule we have only half the number of land owners that we had then. The number has been halved in 66 years. While the expression "The land of Ireland for the people of Ireland" may have been useful as a slogan it was also a misnomer because as time goes by fewer and fewer people own land; they may own their homes which in many cases have been paid for with mortgages from banks and building societies. I often think that Michael Davitt would have been far better off if he had spent his time helping the urban poor and the working class rather than the peasant landowners whom, it must be said, were not the most enlightened breed in the history of the world. As I have said, the number of landowners has been cut by half since 1922.
Good planning standards should be laid down. As a member of a local authority I often find that there is a great disparity between the decisions of An Bord Pleanála and those of the local authorities. This should not be the case and there should be greater co-ordination.
One issue which has been referred to quite often in this debate is the re-zoning of land. Unfortunately there have been too many abuses, with many people enriching themselves in the process. Another abuse at local level is where one developer obtains planning permission to develop a housing estate in a certain part of a city and then farms out the work to subcontractors who put down the bonds. The main developer does not put down any bond and evades his responsibilities. In the process, he places the onus on some of the subcontractors. In one recent case in Limerick one such subcontractor went into liquidation and this led to many problems which have still not been sorted out. In future we should try to ensure that the developer who obtains planning permission is held responsible for the completion of the estate.
I would now like to refer to the designated areas within our cities, with which the Minister is very familiar. At times I find developers will make applications for a number of sites at the one time and then will do nothing about them. They wait to see what trend emerges and to see if other people will move in. They keep track of their options and are able to pull out at a certain time without any expense. By doing this they prevent the development of a site and there is no reason why local authorities should not pull the plug on a would-be developer after a certain time or say that unless he starts the project by a certain date the local authority will offer the site to somebody else. This abuse should be ended. A person should be given a time limit within which to develop a site in a designated area and if he fails to do so permission should be withdrawn. By not developing the site he is preventing other, people from going in and carrying out the work, and he does so for all the wrong reasons.
There are others who do not bother to seek planning permission in the first instance, instead they go ahead illegally and start a project and seek permission later. This is a scandal and it is an abuse which we should attempt to end. At times An Bord Pleanála have been too generous in granting permission to people such as those who are cynical and who wish to find ways around the planning laws. We should also endeavour to close this loophole. One could talk perhaps till the cows come home, to use a colloquial expression, on other aspects of the Bill but I regard these as the salient points in the Bill and I hope the Minister will take some of them on board when he is replying.
Deputy Dick Roche.
On a point of order, can I be told why there are four Fianna Fáil speakers this morning and only one Fine Gael speaker. This is totally wrong.
According to the list——
I do not care about the list.
——it goes from a Government speaker to an Opposition speaker. That has been standard practice and I am abiding by the regulations.
That has not been agreed by this side.
I am calling Deputy Dick Roche.
I call for a quorum to hear Deputy Roche.
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,
I must say I am very flattered that Deputy Begley thought what I have to say is of such importance and significance that he suggested there should be a quorum in the House to hear me. However, I note that the benches on his side of the House are significantly empty and that he has repaired to a wetter part of the House in which to sulk. However, c'est la vie and such are the trials of a minority Government.
This is very welcome legislation. The only substantive complaint I would have about the legislation is that it comes five or six years too late but that blame can hardly be laid at the feet of the present Minister for the Environment; he brought forward the legislation. There can be little doubt that the good intentions of the Planning Act, 1963, have in recent years been insufficient in themselves to achieve all that the Act wishes to achieve.
The vexed issue of compensation which is at the core of this Bill has been the Achilles' heel of planning laws. The statistics on planning compensation given by the Minister at the outset of the debate were very illuminating. Compensation really only became an issue of grave public disquiet in the eighties. Given that fact it was amusing to hear some of the protestations from Fine Gael and Labour during the course of this debate. They believe that compensation has become an issue of public scandal. I believe that compensation has become an issue of public scandal; the Minister believes that compensation has become an issue of public scandal and the dogs in the street are in accord with all of us on that particular issue. However, while the gentlemen opposite have talked for a long time about the issue of compensation they have done nothing but talk while we have talked and acted.
You are welcome back, Deputy Begley.
At least I was not like Deputy Roche who sulked all week because he did not get an appointment.
That is below the belt; I never sulked and if I did sulk I would not leave it to Deputy Begley to interpret my feelings on the matter. However, we will leave that aside; it has nothing to do with this issue.
Deputy Roche should not have passed the remark.
As I have said so often before, politicians and their parties should not be judged only by their words — anybody can have a good intention and a good idea — but should be judged by their capacity to translate words and good intentions into action. This is a good Bill and it has much to commend it. The Minister is to be praised for bringing it forward. I suggest that he is also to be praised for indicating at the outset of the debate that he is prepared to listen to any reasonable argument put forward which he believes would help to improve the Bill and to further its intentions.
As the Minister said in his Second Stage speech, there is a remarkable contrast between the aggregate amount of compensation claims made and the actual amount of compensation paid in planning cases. During the past six years compensation claims totalling the extraordinary sum of £79 million have been lodged but payments in compensation amount to only £90,000. It is not the amount of compensation paid that is the important point here: the fact of compensation and, more to the point, the fear of compensation is the issue. Planning authorities all over the country cower at the merest mention of compensation. During my short time as a councillor in County Wicklow the threat of compensation has been used twice to ram through quite disgraceful developments. In the case of one development — the controversial Arklow to Carrickmines power line — the compensation threat was used in a most extraordinary manner by a State corporation, the Electricity Supply Board, to, in the words of one of their officials, on the one hand, tame the wild men in the statutory planning authority, among which I count myself, and on the other to intimidate, browbeat and deny the rights of home owners, land owners and the boards of two schools in County Wicklow — a group of people who were described in writing by one of the most senior officials of the ESB as an "undemocratic group", as if that gentleman or his board represented democracy.
The irony about the Arklow-Carrickmines power line — and this will help to illustrate some of the ludicrous aspects of the compensation issue — is that while the ESB were abusing or threatening to abuse the law in an effort to still valid criticism and to ruthlessly remove what the State owned company saw as obstacles to its passage, the ESB were proceeding to build a controversial power line under a 1980 planning permission which suffered from the same constitutional infirmity as did the ESB's planning permission in the O'Gorman case which was contested in Wexford some years ago. In the O'Gorman case the abuse by the ESB of their might, their monopoly and their spurious claims to compensation did not succeed in frightening off a courageous citizen who took the giant to court and in that case David conquered Goliath.
The problem for the ESB in the Wicklow case was that while the company knew that their 1980 planning permissions were unconstitutional, the second string to their bow — the 1986 planning permission — was also open to constitutional challenge. The question of the constitutional infirmity in the case of the 1986 planning permission lay in the means applied by An Bord Pleanála to process the planning application on appeal. From material discovered in a High Court action between a landowner in Wicklow and the ESB in which the ESB were joined in their defence by An Bord Pleanála, the actions of An Bord Pleanála are certainly open to constitutional challenge. While the infirmities in both permissions were well known in Wicklow, nobody had either sufficient confidence or, more to the point, sufficient resources to take the ESB on and to fight the matter through the courts to finality. On each and every occasion when the ESB were challenged, they abused the notion of compensation to browbeat people, to deny them their rights and to press ahead with a development which is unwanted, unwarranted, unsightly, despotic, destructive in the extreme. More to the point, that development of a power line in the 220 kv range is now open to serious question on health grounds.
When the issue of compensation comes to be discussed for those who have been affected by that power line, it is hoped that the ESB would be as generous as they have been in other cases where, surreptiously, they bought property in order to keep people quiet and to get their way. If it were justice in those cases for the ESB to pay over the market odds for property to people in Clare and elsewhere, I would expect the ESB, who are so conscious of compensation for themselves, to be conscious of the compensation issue when it comes to settling with the people of Wicklow. That is an issue that I will be raising at another time.
Of course, with regard to the Arklow to Carrickmines line, that issue should not have gone to the point where proper planning depended on third party objectors. The issue should have been resolved by the planning authority, to wit, the county council. When the matter came up for review by the planning authority, it was not resolved. It was not resolved because the county manager — and he had no choice in this matter — had to point out to those of us who were members of that planning authority that if we proceeded in a certain direction we would undoubtedly face substantial, massive, crippling claims for compensation from the ESB. If we as an elected authority representing the people of Wicklow could not have the courage collectively to oppose the ESB because we feared compensation claims, how can a private individual be expected to vindicate his own rights in the face of such claims from the ESB? That case is not yet closed. As I have said, the issue of compensation continues but the boot is now on the other foot. We will be looking for compensation for the people who have been affected. The ESB have in recent times stilled some criticisms by coming to some side arrangements but they still will not silence all criticism.
The second case that I mentioned, which well illustrates the ludicrous nature of compensation, has been the absolutely disgraceful behaviour of a developer — I use the term lightly — in the case of Coolattin Woods and the threat which that same developer now holds, like a sword, over Ireland's last piece of native self-rejuvenating oak forest in Tomnafinnoge. Coolattin is another planning disaster and one where we can never reverse the clock. In that planning disaster the bludgeon of compensation was used to push ahead with the most wanton and wholesale destruction of something which was unique, which was part of our heritage, which merited preservation, which would have had endless commercial possibilities in its preserved state if Messrs. Bridge Farm Limited, the people behind the destruction, had had the sense and the wit to look for an alternative way of using their resources. But no, compensation was again used in the case of Coolattin and it is now being used in the case of Tomnafinnoge to produce the most extraordinary and bizarre twist of events.
This case has adopted a peculiarly sinister twist in that the fear of compensation has at this very moment forced the county council, who have made an amenity order to protect Tomnafinnoge, into the courts against third party objectors who have taken a case to An Bord Pleanála. In this case, the third party objectors, including myself, are objecting to a consent granted by the planning authorities, again granted in the fear of compensation to the so-called developers. It is my belief that the developers — and I have said this before in this House — who have devastated Coolattin and who have plundered the magnificent oak woods, should not be let within five miles of any tree with a buzz saw in their hands. I am sure that Members on all sides of this House share in that concern.
I am pleased to note that members of this Government at a very senior level share that concern. The vandalism and destruction, the extraordinarily perverse behaviour that we can witness in that case are surely a monument to the ludicrous situation in which we find ourselves. It is surely a clear indication, a clear sign of the need for a Bill such as this.
The irony in the case of Tomnafinnoge and of Coolattin is that the elected representatives of the people of Wicklow who are entrusted with the defence of our resources in that county, the county council, while being charged with the task of establishing planning for the county and while we oppose the activities of the company in question in Tomnafinnoge and while we have made an amenity order to witness our opposition to this, in spite of all these facts and the public feelings on the issue in County Wicklow and throughout the country and the fact that the Leader of the Government took the time and trouble to come to Coolattin to express his solidarity and personal concern, the very county council which should be defending these woods now find themselves, by a perverse twist of fate, in the courts assisting the very dirty work which the elected representatives in Wicklow wish to resist. Such is the ridiculous level to which the compensation issue has reduced the local authority. We are not the only council that find ourselves in a difficulty on the compensation issue. Every planning authority find themselves in that situation.
The problem of planning compensation has given rise to a ludicrous genre of individual, the speculative non-developer, the compensation broker. It is my belief that this Bill goes a long way towards calling a halt to such people. Section 13 of the Bill and the Third Schedule codify for the first time the law on compensation. Many of the aspects of this codification have been dealt with already and some have been questioned. It is not my intention or wish to cover ground which has already been covered. There are, however, aspects of this section and of the accompanying schedule which have been ignored or not adequately covered. The listing and classification of the full range of non-compensation activities is the most welcome part of the Act. I am sure that this listing codification can be improved during the passage of the Bill through the House.
I would draw Members' attention to a number of items in this section and in the accompanying schedules which have not been adequately covered. Section 13 and Part III of the Third Schedule have been largely ignored. This, I would suggest, is a particularly wise piece of drafting allowing the prioritisation of land to avoid compensation. A Cheann Comhairle, at this stage do you wish me to conclude? I have one minute.
The hour is not yet nigh.
I have often had to fit much wisdom into one minute. Section 13, in particular the Third Schedule, is extremely important. It allows us to prioritise land to avoid compensation. I would also draw attention to section 13 and Part VI of the schedule where pollution is an issue. Again, this has been largely ignored. There is an aspect there which I shall deal with on the next occasion — that is noise pollution. I notice that various types of pollution are covered in this section but noise pollution is not. I would ask the Minister, while the Bill is passing through the House, to consider this omission. I think that it is an omission which was not intended. Noise pollution can be extremely damaging. It can certainly destroy the use of the amenities of a person's home, particularly if a certain type of development goes on in the vicinity. I would ask that the Minister include that.