Private Members' Business. - Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1996: Second Stage.

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

I reserve the right to share my time with my colleague, Deputy Michael McDowell.

This is the first major conservation Bill since the foundation of the State. Its purpose is to give proper protection in law to our built environment. The provisions of this Bill extend not only to buildings of particular architectural importance but also to buildings of historic, cultural an artistic significance. The Bill amends and extends the powers of local planning authorities. Armed with these new powers the local authorties will be required to act as custodians of our built environment. The Bill puts in place a package of planning controls on the one hand and recommends a range of tax relief type incentives on the other. We are confident this is the proper balance and will put a halt to the wilful dereliction and wanton demolitian of our rich architectural inheritance that is rampant in our cities, towns and villages. The house in which James Joyce set his hauntingly beautiful story, The Dead, at 15 Usher's Island was vandalised in recent weeks and is now stripped of its top storey. There is no law to require any developer to restore and repair that building. I could cite a dozen similar examples from this and other cities up and down the country. There is an urgent need to enact this legislation without delay. In that spirit I appeal to the Minister not to vote down the Bill but to seek to get all-party support for it before referring it to a committee where it can be improved upon, if that is deemed fit. Time is not on our side. I hope the Government will see its way to supporting this Bill.

Our built environment is a central part of our heritage and a significant segment of our cultural legacy. Down the ages man has always been inspired and awe-struck by fine craftsmanship and fine buildings and the human spirit has been demeaned by being required to live among dingy buildings. Fifty years ago the Northern Ireland poet, Louis MacNeice wrote the following poem, Dublin:

This was never my town. I was not born nor bred nor schooled here. She will not have me alive or dead but yet she holds my mind with her seedy elegance and all her ghosts that walk and all that hides behind her Georgian facade. Yet she holds my mind.

That is the grip that good architecture can have on the fine mind of a good poet. I wonder if MacNeice were alive and writing to Dublin today, would he write in that vein, in that tone or would he write at all? It is a fact that buildings define our values, demonstrate our appreciation of the past and declare our expectations of the future.

The conservation of interesting buildings and streetscapes is a well recognised precondition for a successful tourism trade. Despite all that, in the past 30 years there has been wanton and widescale destruction and despoliation of much of Dublin's Georgian heritage. In addition, buildings of unique historic significance and architectural merits have been razed to the ground. I could list the buildings but that would hold me here for a long time. I will mention but a few important buildings that ought to be still with us but no longer are. Among them I would mention the Weaver's Hall in the Coombe, the Peasants' Asylum in Camden Street, the Female Orphan's Home in North Circular Road, Woodhill House in Tivoli in Cork, the house where Sarah Curran held tryst with her romantic hero, Robert Emmet. A host of other fine buildings have been razed to the ground, among them the Talbot Lodge in Black-rock where Eamon de Valera spent his final days. This wilful dereliction and wanton destruction is going on under our very noses. The Hilton Hotel scheme for College Street proposes gross interference in an area that, above any urban area, ought to be designated as a conservation area. Under the proposal in question it is proposed to demolish no less than four list one buildings, two, list two buildings and three further buildings in the immediate area. That proposal further entails the unnecessary and complete demolition of three wide street commissioner's buildings on Westmoreland Street and of numbers 3 and 4, College Street. That is a loss that cannot be repaired. There is nothing in law to prevent that irreversible destruction from taking place. As well as that, there is a proposal to demolish the house at number 2, Millbourne Avenue, Drumcondra, a house where James Joyce lived. The house in question has been described by a nephew of James Joyce, Mr. Ken Monaghan, as "the most important of the Dublin houses of James Joyce". I mentioned already the Joyce house at 15 Usher's Island. I have been told that an application has been lodged for the demolition of another unlisted house in Philsboro, where Joyce spent an important part of his childhood. Where lies the logic in spending million of pounds of taxpayers' money in marketing this country as a tourism destination on the one hand and simultaneously destroying the very item tourists want to see? Surely of all items of importance in this city and of all cultural and tourism assets in this city among the most important have to be anything tangible to do with James Joyce. Houses associated with him ought not alone be preserved but promoted and jealously guarded. Can it be that we alone among civilised countries have such a poor appreciation of our built environment? I wonder why. These are those who might argue that the Irish people are capable of being passionate only about our poetry, our songs and our literature and if that was the case it would be to dismiss us as nothing more than a nation of word merchants, who are visual illiterates. We would not like if other people said that about us but they would have plenty of reason for so doing, considering our history in relation to our built environment. There are historical reasons for our lack of cultural affinity particularly with fine buildings and streetscapes that predate the foundation of the State.

In the early 1920s the Government of the fledgling Free State set about restoring the Four Courts, the Custom House and the GPO to their former grandeur at a time when Exchequer funding was scarce. It had, at least, a sufficient sense of their importance. O'Connell Street was also restored, as was Patrick Street in Cork. What has gone wrong in the meantime? Why was its good example not followed through? That is not to say that there have not been a number of remarkably successful conservation projects throughout the country since.

Kilkenny city is a model of good practice. Major restoration of houses has yielded significant success in my own city and county. These include Doneraile Court which has been magnificently restored, Barryscourt Castle, Queen Anne House in Pope's Quay where the leader of my party opened an architectural exhibition a number of years ago and Skiddy's Arms House in Shandon, to mention but a few.

With its splendid collection of 18th century houses, Kinsale, happily and deservedly in the news today having been voted the best kept town in Ireland, is a classic example of what can be done when an innovative county architect interacts successfully with a sophisticated and discerning local commercial community. This community has demonstrated without doubt that conservation pays handsomely in terms of economic return and has given fine example to the rest of the country. Other coastal towns in County Cork such as Clonakilty and Skibbereen, as well as Kenmare in County Kerry, are fine examples of good conservation and architectural practice.

We have much to learn from the building conservation policies pursued in Northern Ireland where since 1974 the Department of the Environment, with the advice of its Historic Buildings Council, has listed more than 7,000 buildings as being of special architectural or historic interest, 26 conservation areas have been designated and more than £20 million has been disbursed in support of conservation schemes. This policy has worked remarkably well there.

The city of Edinburgh has set a fine headline for the preservation of a Georgian heritage which in its case is still largely intact. A rolling programme of restoration has been under way for almost 20 years based on a partnership between the state, the local authority and conservation groups. There are, therefore, many models to which we can look for inspiration when framing legislation.

Some people have said to me that this Bill has come 30 years too late. In one sense it has when one considers the sheer scale of the fine buildings which have been lost in that time, but in another sense this is a Bill whose time has come. I set its demands in the context of the promise made by the Government to reform and revitalise local government. If the Minister's word means anything, local government will be reformed and revitalised, given proper functions and adequate finance sooner rather than later.

We believe that this work can best be done in a local setting where local people can be enthused and their support enlisted for the preservation of items worth preserving in their area. This is entirely consistent with the philosophy of the Progressive Democrats. We do not believe that every time there is a new idea a new body should be set up to put it into practice. That goes against everything we stand for. Responsibility for the implementation and enforcement of this legislation would rest with the newly revitalised and reformed local government. In that sense there could hardly be a better time to introduce legislation of this kind in terms of its implementation.

The objectives of this Bill would best be met if we had a system under which the mayors of cities were directly elected by the people, given executive functions and five years in which to achieve their objectives. The experience of other cities across Europe and America shows that where public opinion is led by a concerned and enlightened mayor good preservation and conservation policies are put in place and maintained. We see the two as coming together.

We see this Bill as an opportunity to give the art and science of architecture a proper lift. It saddened me greatly that architecture scarcely merited a mention in the arts plan, the bible for art development and funding over the next five years. That is indicative of the attitude at official level towards architecture and its importance in society.

The Bill would give a new range of responsibilities and powers to local authorities. Part I contains the definitions section which features a number of innovations. Part II deals with development plans and planning permission. Part III provides for new enforcement measures to ensure adequate day to day protection for the built environment. Part IV contains a number of important miscellaneous provisions.

One of the most important definitions in the Bill is the definition of what constitutes a building. It states that a building constitutes the exterior, the interior and the curtilage. If a building is to be conserved, it should be conserved in its natural historic setting. That is a new concept. Under existing law there is no requirement to conserve or preserve the interior of a listed building, only the exterior. That would change under this Bill.

We are also putting forward a new concept of the built heritage which is defined in the Bill. The detail will be provided later. Married to this in a single planning code is the concept of cultural importance. We rate them as being of equal importance. There is a further innovation with the inclusion of the concept of internal spatial arrangements in deference to the importance of retaining the exterior of a building.

A pointer as to what constitutes architectural or historic interest is included, namely, anything which dates from 1850 or earlier or is distinguished by the use of unusual or innovative technology, techniques or material, or is associated with a person or event of local, national or international importance. The definition of buildings is of key importance.

Part II of the Bill deals with the development plan and section 4 proposes to extend the duties of a planning authority when preparing a development plan. The compilation of the list of elements of built heritage will be mandatory under this Bill, rather than optional, as is the case at present. Furthermore, the planning authority is obliged to include all items of artistic, architectural, cultural or historical interest; this casts a new and much more comprehensive duty on local authorities.

The concept of the conservation area is placed on a statutory basis. Planning authorities will be required to establish conservation areas and to draw up plans for the preservation and enhancement of these areas. Applications for the development of these areas will be judged on the criteria of environmental improvement. A planning authority would be obliged to have regard to a list compiled by the heritage council of elements of built heritage or conservation areas within the authority's area. The planning authority must include anything on the heritage council's list or on its own list unless there is good reason for not so doing. If a local authority refuses to put an item recommended for inclusion by the heritage council on the list, the Minister may intervene and require the local authority to include that item on its list.

We have brought together the powers of the local authority and the heritage council. Initially we thought to give the Heritage Council the sole right of requiring the local authority to include an excluded item on its list but we thought better of it. It is better to reserve that power for the Minister and thus keep democratic accountability in place from the Minister to the local authority. We have given the Heritage Council largely an advisory and monitoring role in this Bill. In the interest of democracy it is better to give all the responsibility and power to local authorities. We have brought together in a very clever way the expertise of the Heritage Council and the authority of the local authorities.

A planning authority will be required to include a proposal for a scheme to establish a revolving fund to be used in the acquisition and refurbishment of elements of built heritage. The availability of such a fund is of key importance and has worked very well in other jurisdictions. All the other existing provisions of the planning code in respect of public participation in the making or variation of a development plan will be retained. References to dedicated bodies like An Taisce will continue to apply. The key element is that local authorities will be required to list buildings which will then be enshrined in the development plan.

Section 5 of the Bill, which is very short, has two features one of which I already mentioned. The interior of buildings has previously been exempt from planning permission. We removed this exemption and planning permission will also be required for the demolition of listed building or the demolition of any building, listed or unlisted, in a conservation area. A developer can no longer demolish a listed building or an unlisted building in a conservation area without first seeking planning permission.

Section 7 deals with planning permission and environmental improvements. The criteria usually applied to an application under existing law is the proper planning and development of the area of the planning authority. We propose, following in that vein, to institute a new step in the planning process as it applies to an element of the built heritage. A planning authority, before it considers the proper planning and development of the area, must be satisfied that the proposed development of the element of built heritage will confer an environmental improvement.

The proper planning and development of the area is not defined in the Principal Act and in the same way we have not attempted to define what is meant by the term "environmental improvement" in this Bill. However, it will have to be construed and applied efficiently by planning authorities so that a developer who wants to get permission to in any way change, build, rebuild, restore or repair a building in a conservation area or a listed building will have to demonstrate when seeking planning permission that such alteration will achieve an environmental improvement. This will have to be proven by the developer and the use of the words "be satisfied" rather than "is satisfied" places the onus on the developer to satisfy the planning authority as to the environmental improvement in question. This requirement is a feature of most progressive planning regimes in Europe.

Provision is also made in the Bill for the application for planning permission in circumstances in which there is not a list of elements of built heritage. It is also proposed — this is of fundamental importance — to give planning authorities a specific power when granting planning permission to attach conditions relating to preservation, protection, guarding or inspecting of an element of built heritage during the carrying out of the work authorised by the development. Thus, a planning authority could require a developer to take specified steps for guarding a building during its development. If this had been a requirement of law when planning permission was sought for the current development in Usher's Quay, the James Joyce house at 15 Usher's Quay would not have been destroyed, allowed to fall into dereliction or vandalised, as is now the case.

Part III of the Bill deals with the duty of owners. A duty is imposed on the owner or occupier of a listed element of built heritage to prevent it from becoming endangered. The provisions of the 1976 Act are extended to a material breach of the duty imposed by this legislation. The effect of this is that the planning authority or any person can apply for an injunction restraining the endangerment of an element of built heritage. It is envisaged that the Minister for the Environment will make regulations as to what steps must be taken in this regard when the Bill becomes law.

Section 2 sets out the planning authority's duty. A duty is imposed on the planning authority to ensure that a listed element of built heritage does not become or continue to be endangered. A planning authority will be able to give grants to prevent a listed building from becoming or continuing to be endangered in certain very restricted circumstances. Section 12 deals with enforcement notices. A planning authority will not be restricted to seeking injunctions. It is proposed under the Bill that the planning authority will be able to serve a notice on the owner or occupier of an element of built heritage where the authority feels that it has become or is continuing to be endangered. Alternatively, the planning authority may be instructed by the Minister to serve notice in these circumstances. If the notice is not complied with within the specified time the planning authority may do the work specified therein and recover the costs from the owner, the occupier or the addressee of the notice.

It is proposed that elements of the built heritage which are dangerous structures within the meaning of the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act will be dealt with under this new Bill rather than under the 1974 Act, in other words that they will be preserved rather than demolished unless demolition is absolutely necessary. If there is one phrase that sums up the essence of this Bill it is that buildings, where at all possible, should be preserved rather than demolished. That is the central thought of this Bill.

Section 13 deals with the role of the Minister. This section empowers the Minister to order a planning authority to serve a notice under section 9. While a planning authority is confined to listed elements of built heritage, the Minister may order the planning authority to serve a notice in respect of lands on which any element of built heritage is situated, whether or not it is listed. The Heritage Council is empowered to advise the Minister in this regard.

Section 14 deals with compulsory acquisition and compensation. A planning authority will be able to compulsorily acquire any land in respect of which a notice under section 12 has been served and compensation will be payable, but important qualifications are introduced in this Bill in relation to compensation. Where expenditure is required either under the general duty imposed on an occupier or owner or under a notice issued by the planning authority to prevent an element of built heritage from becoming or remaining in danger, that expenditure is taken into account when assessing compensation. The amount of compensation payable in respect of a site which contains an element of built heritage which has been deliberately endangered in order to justify demolition and development of the site or an adjoining site shall be assessed on the assumption that planning permission for the development of the land or anything thereon would not be granted. That is an important provision because in the past developers have allowed buildings to become derelict or have hastened the dereliction deliberately in order to put themselves in a position where they would enhance its value and then apply for planning permission for the property. That cannot happen under this Bill. Compensation will now be assessed by the planning authority as if planning permission would not be granted. A local authority can move in if it wishes and carry out the work. If the planning authority has to carry out the work itself it can offset the cost against the owner or the occupier.

Part IV sets out a range of incentives which are essential if the objectives of this Bill are to be met. It is proposed to widen the definition of "buildings" in respect of which tax relief for repair, restoration or maintenance is given pursuant to section 19 of the Finance Act. Under the current wording of section 19 the owner or occupier of a building must apply to the Commissioner of Public Works for a determination that the building is "intrinsically of significant scientific, historical, architectural or aesthetic interest". It is proposed to amend that requirement and to establish a presumption that if a building is listed it comes with the definition and would qualify if all other conditions are met for section 19 type tax relief. That is the most efficient way to use incentives rather than giving direct grants, except in exceptional circumstances. Tax reliefs put a requirement on an owner or occupier to make an effort and to make a financial arrangement on, for example, a pound for pound basis. It is a joint venture between the Department of Finance and the owner of the building.

Bearing in mind that some important buildings are still in private ownership and are used as residential buildings they are not eligible for section 19 type tax relief because there is a requirement that the house be open to the public for 60 days. If we want to repair and restore houses of artistic merit, listed buildings that are currently used as residential properties, we will have to make some concessions to owners who are not in a position to carry out essential repairs and restoration work themselves. We would extend section 19 type tax relief concessions but only for repair and restoration, not for maintenance.

The remainder of the Bill is mainly a series of miscellaneous provisions and abolitions of certain compensations. The Bill is an attempt to put in place legislations that would give proper protection to elements of our built environment. In the course of preparing this Bill I put much time and thought into it. I conferred widely with people who have much expertise in this area, people who are concerned that our conservation programmes are not up to speed as opposed to other countries. From them I received support and advice which is incorporated in the Bill.

By any standards this is a good Bill. It meets the requirements of the time. It is carefully crafted and for the reason I appeal to the Minister not to vote it down. When one considers the number of buildings in this city which are in danger, time is of the essence. Every week there is some development in place in this city and in other cities throughout the country that is endangering buildings that ought to be preserved, buildings that are part of our heritage which we hold in trust for this and the next generation. There are those who would argue that this legislation is a luxury, that it is not terribly important to the economy, but that is a short-sighted way of looking at the assets that are our architectural heritage.

In a country that is so dependent on tourism for jobs and economic success one of our best assets is our built environment. It is short-term economic thinking not to put this legislation on to the Statute Book sooner rather than later.

I commend the Bill to the House.

I listened with interest to Deputy Quill's contribution and I appreciate her genuine concern. She began by quoting from one writer and referring to another. It might be worth noting that both writers chose to live elsewhere. Considering his perspective and outlook on life, I think Louis MacNeice would have quite happily exchanged the seedy elegance of Dublin for the vibrant city that is so rich in cultural life today. Certainly James Joyce chose exile because of the stifling effect the city had on him. We have to ensure that what we are talking about is a living environment. I agree with Deputy Quill that in this changing world the importance to present and future generations of protecting our built heritage cannot be overstated, but it sets out certain challenges and requirements that have to be met realistically.

Deputy Quill has underlined the need for vigilance and action if we are to ensure that our architectural heritage is preserved. The increasingly rapid pace of change in our cities, towns and villages has brought about a wider acknowledgment of the need for effective measures to conserve our built endowment. At the same time, the growing economic importance of tourism and culture, and the increased appreciation of the importance of the physical elements of our history, have led to a wider recognition of both the social and economic benefits of conserving this essential part of our cultural inheritance.'

There is general agreement that the present system of protecting buildings of artistic, architectural or historic importance under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Acts is inadequate. Deficiencies have been highlighted in recent years by the public and by the many bodies who have an interest in this area. In response to these perceived weaknesses, the Government's policy agreement, A Government of Renewal, contained a commitment to improve the protection for listed buildings and to introduce incentives for the proper upkeep and maintenance of such buildings.

As a first step towards giving effect to this commitment, the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht established an interdepartmental working group, comprising officials of their Departments and of the Office of Public Works, to examine the complex issues involved and to report back to the Ministers concerned with recommendations.

The two Ministers have just this week received the report of the working group which contains a series of extensive and detailed recommendations to improve the protection of our built environment. The report will be given careful consideration by the Government Departments and Ministers concerned and will be published as soon as this process is complete. I will come back to the report of the working group later.

This Government already has a proven track record in responding to the many factors contributing to neglect and decay of the built environment of our cities and towns. We are conscious of the fact that our architectural heritage is a physical link with our past history and that our care and preservation of it is our gift to future generations, but conservation for conservation's sake is not enough. If these buildings are to be truly preserved, new uses will have to be found for them.

Since 1995 significant financial support has been provided through the Operational Programme for Local Urban and Rural Development, 1994 to 1999 for the conservation of our built heritage, complementing the existing programme of urban renewal incentives. The urban and village renewal sub-programme provides a framework for a range of measures to revitalise the social and economic life of towns and villages, rehabilitate the built environment and conserve important examples of our architectural heritage. It offers an opportunity to make a decisive intervention over the next five years to improve the physical appearance of our cities, towns and villages. Total spending over the life of this sub-programme will total more than £110 million.

Within the sub-programme, there are five separate measures. These include implementation of a flagship project in each of the five main cities; urban improvements, including environmental works and small scale infrastructure; village improvements; urban conservation projects, through restoration of urban architecture and heritage buildings; and completion of the Temple Bar cultural quarter.

The areas to benefit under the terms of the urban and village renewal sub-programme have been identified by the local authorities in their action plans. Allocations for 1996 include £2.7 million for the five major initiatives and urban and village grants totalling about £5 million have been notified to county councils.

The grant assistance, under the fourth measure for building conservation, in particular, will make a vital contribution to town conservation in its widest sense. These conservation grants are allocated to local authorities and conservation groups, on the basis of matching funds being provided locally. This year, I allocated grants amounting to £900,000 to local authorities and conservation bodies for the conservation of our architectural heritage. In all, a total of 29 project are being assisted this year and a similar level of activity will be continued for the remaining three years of the operational programme. Examples include grants of £75,000 to Green Street Trust for work on the Debtor's Prison and £50,000 to Limerick Corporation for St. Mary's Cathedral. A sum of £3.5 million is also being made available for urban and rural regeneration measures in Border counties, under the peace initiative.

I have established an advisory panel to advise and assist me on the selection of individual projects for conservation grants and on architectural conservation generally. The panel is composed of persons nominated by a dozen professional and cultural bodies and it is currently engaged in the preparation of advisory guidelines dealing with a range of conservation topics. These will take the form of booklets dealing with best practice in conservation. Topics will include the principles of conservation as well as technical advice in relation to ironwork, plasterwork and so on.

The measures in place under the operational programme complement the existing tax based urban renewal scheme. The second phase of that scheme, launched in 1994, focused more sharply on residential and refurbishment works rather than new works. The floor area limit for apartments has been raised for refurbishment and conservation works, to encourage conversion of former Georgian-style houses into multi-residential use without loss of their overall character and appearance. Similarly, the living over the shop initiative is intended to encourage rehabilitation and beneficial use of existing buildings. On a recent visit to Cork I was very impressed by the way such a scheme operated there.

Tax reliefs are also available for repair, restoration and maintenance works to buildings that are intrinsically of significant scientific, historical, architectural or aesthetic interest. Under section 19 of the Finance Act, 1982, as amended, such expenditure is allowable against income tax, subject to reasonable access being provided to the public for a minimum of 60 days per annum. Relief is also available under the Capital Acquisition Act, 1976, subject to a public access requirement of 90 days.

The Government's policy agreement, A Government of Renewal, also gave a commitment that a full architectural audit would be undertaken. This work, in the form of the National Inventory of Architecture, is being carried out by the Office of Public Works. This complements the Archaeological Survey of Ireland which has a rough cut-off date of 1700. The National Inventory of Architecture involves the recording of buildings and structures constructed after that date. A total of 19 towns have been recorded so far; the inventory for one town has been circulated and it is hoped to circulate six more by the end of the year.

The National Inventory of Architecture will involve the recording of buildings and structures in a consistent manner throughout the country. In turn, the inventory will be a valuable resource when judgments are being made on which buildings and structures should be preserved and protected in development plans.

This range of schemes and incentives shows that the Government is taking practical action aimed at conserving and preserving our built environment. In relation to the specific issue of listing of buildings, there is broad agreement on the major issues that have to be addressed in order to improve the system which currently applies.

There is a need for greater consistency in the approach adopted by local authorities to the listing of buildings of artistic, architectural and historical interest. This relates to the actual mechanisms used by local authorities in listing buildings and to the importance local authorities attach to preserving their architectural heritage in the first place. The listing of buildings is an optional objective of local authority development plans under present legislative arrangements. That listing should now be mandatory.

Present arrangements are also deficient in regard to the protection that listing affords to the interiors of listed buildings. At present, protection can be extended only to the specific fixtures or features of a listed building which are set out in the development plan. Work on interiors not specifically listed is considered to be exempted development. This has meant that the interiors of many listed buildings have not enjoyed the protection they deserved. The whole question of exempted development in relation to listed buildings, therefore, needs action.

There can be conflicting interests regarding the need to conserve important buildings which may have become dangerous due to fire damage or neglect, while at the same time ensuring that the public is not put at risk by any dangerous building. While the safety of the public is paramount, there is a need to look at the interaction of procedures under the law which governs dangerous buildings, and the protection of listed buildings under the planning and development Acts to see how current arrangements might be improved.

There is a need to look at the obligations imposed on the owners of listed buildings to ensure that buildings do not fall into disrepair in the first place. Obligations of this kind have financial implications which need to be addressed.

If we accept that deficiencies exist in the present arrangements, we must then address several fundamental points when considering how best to deal with these deficiencies. Should the listing of buildings remain within the local government system? Should it remain part of the planning code as at present? Is there a need for a separate national body to take charge of protecting the built heritage? There is the question of costs and how they might be met; these would include the cost implications for local authorities of additional legal obligations, the costs of any new administrative structure, the direct costs on the State and local authorities of any grant scheme and the indirect costs of any tax incentives through lost revenue. It is interesting that the Bill was brought forward by the Progressive Democrats who have stated their opposition to increases in public spending and who have argued for tax reform. Yet these issues were not addressed in Deputy Quill's speech.

Another fundamental question that needs careful consideration relates to the constitutional protection given to private property rights, especially the imposition of any obligation on owners to maintain their property.

These complex issues were given detailed and careful consideration by the interdepartmental working group to which I referred earlier. The group has now completed its work and submitted its report.

In preparing the report, the working group consulted extensively with local authorities, non-governmental organisations and other statutory bodies and also looked at arrangements in other jurisdictions. In their deliberations, the members of the group explored a range of approaches to improving the protection of our architectural heritage covering legislative, administrative and financial matters.

The group addressed the question of how the planning legislation could be amended to more effectively support conservation measures and controls. It looked at how a more coherent listing system might be put in place, while at the same time ensuring that any new system retains the key elements of subsidiarity, local accountability and public participation. It looked at how the process of listing could be made more flexible and responsive than under current legislative arrangements. The group also considered how a better knowledge and understanding of listing and its consequences could be communicated to the owners of listed buildings.

The whole question of how a broader range of more effective financial incentives should be put in place, to facilitate both public agencies and private developers in conservation, was also examined at length. I am advised that a comprehensive and costed set of recommendations has been produced, looking at taxation and grant-based measures, within a framework that would ensure resources were effectively targeted and applied. The group also looked in depth at the areas of training, education and advice. The need to ensure that human resources were made available to supplement and give effect to the proposed measures was also addressed.

We are all in general agreement that a package of measures is needed to ensure the preservation of buildings that are of artistic, architectural or historical interest. Improved legislation must form part of that package. However, legislation alone will not suffice. There is little point in introducing legislation such as is proposed unless the local authorities have the resources to implement it. This means staff to draw up the lists, staff to deal with planning applications for such listed buildings and to enforce the provisions of the Act. If we enact legislation without the necessary administrative and financial support, we only bring our legislation into disrepute.

I believe, therefore, that we should not enact legislation on the protection of listed buildings until we have decided on the range of measures required. It is the Government's responsibility to implement legislation passed by the Oireachtas and it therefore also has a duty to ensure that legislative proposals are workable and well developed to achieve their objectives and that it will be possible to provide the resources required for implementation. We must look at the provisions of the Bill in the light of the obligations I have mentioned.

While the general objective of the Bill is acceptable, some of the provisions are a cause of some serious concern. For instance, further consideration needs to be given to the role proposed for the Heritage Council. The Bill would make it obligatory to list buildings in development plans. It envisages that in drawing up lists planning authorities would be required to have regard to lists compiled by the Heritage Council. Such a role for the council is new and, while it is likely that some authority at central level will be needed to offer technical advice and to ensure consistency of approach among planning authorities, there are options available other than the Heritage Council. For example, there is a corps of expertise available in the Office of Public Works which could be drawn on.

Section 12 provides that the Heritage Council may advise a planning authority on the exercise of its functions in relation to an endangered element of the built heritage and that it shall be the duty of the planning authority to implement such advice. Such a role for the Heritage Council is contrary to the Government's policy of devolving as much decision making as possible to local authorities. It also contravenes Deputy Quill's views, as stated tonight, on the need to strengthen local government. While local authorities should have the best advice available to them, it should be left to them as local democratic bodies to decide ultimately what is in the best interests of their area.

While I sympathise with the Deputy's wish to establish conservation areas, I have serious doubts regarding the way the Bill approaches the issue. While there is a need to ensure that the system offers protection to groups of buildings, streetscapes, etc., the definition of conservation areas, which local authorities would be obliged to establish, is cast so widely that the central core of every town or village could conceivably be contained in such areas. This could in fact be counterproductive and might discourage developers from getting involved in urban regeneration schemes which could improve employment prospects in the area while protecting listed buildings and giving them a new lease of life.

The Bill would require planning authorities to establish a revolving fund in the development plan for the acquisition and refurbishment of listed buildings. While there is some merit in a planning authority operating such a fund if it wished, it should not be mandatory, nor should it be included in the development plan, which is a statement of local land use policy. The Bill does not mention where planning authorities are to find the capital resources to establish such funds or the resources to implement section 11 which enables planning authorities to make grants to owners of listed buildings to assist in the preservation of such buildings. These two proposals impose financial burdens on local authorities without giving them any new possibilities of raising additional revenue. This is a serious shortcoming of the Bill. It is surprising the Progressive Democrats have not addressed the issue of public spending.

We are not permitted to impose a charge on the Exchequer in a Private Members' Bill.

Financial burden would be placed on local authorities if this Bill was passed. It would be wrong of me not to make that clear to the House.

There are also staffing implications for planning authorities. Specifically, the Bill places a new duty on planning authorities, including An Bord Pleanála, to deploy persons with conservation expertise. Such a legal provision would be ineffectual on its own and could leave the planning authorities open to legal action. Planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála must have discretion in relation to the expertise which they wish to employ. Local authorities and An Bord Pleanála in any event engage consultants for specific tasks where they have no expertise and they also consult with relevant national bodies.

The requirement for planning applications relating to all listed buildings and areas to demonstrate "environmental improvement" is difficult to interpret, would give rise to a lot of difficulties in practice and, contrary to its intention, is likely to discourage rehabilitation of listed buildings. The Bill also proposes to alter the basis on which planning applications relating to listed buildings or conservation areas are to be treated. Before considering planning applications relating to listed buildings or conservation areas, planning authorities would have to be satisfied that the proposed development would confer an "environmental improvement". Thus, the local planning authority would first have to decide on the issue of "environmental improvement" before deciding on the totality of the application. The decision on environmental improvement could then be appealed to An Bord Pleanála and it would only be at this stage, given a positive decision by the board, that the substantive planning issue could be dealt with. This could lead to a decision-making period of up to 12 months and would lead to a serious disincentive to developers to redevelop or rehabilitate listed buildings or buildings in proposed conservation areas. This well intentioned provision could have the opposite effect to that desired.

The Bill imposes a duty on the owners of all listed buildings to ensure that the building does not deteriorate or become neglected. It further provides that failure to meet this obligation could result in a court action. While I understand the reasoning behind such an obligation, I believe it needs careful consideration. It is likely that without provisions for financial support or other compensatory mechanisms, it would be open to legal challenge as it would have very significant effects on property owners, regardless of their means. The proposed restrictions on compensation in the compulsory purchase provisions of the Bill would also need very careful consideration.

I accept that the provisions of the Sanitary Services Act must be looked at in the context of listed buildings. However, the proposals before us are not an appropriate response. The Bill states that the provisions relating to dangerous buildings in the 1964 Sanitary Services Act would not apply to buildings on land subject to a notice under the Bill. Consequently, local authorities would be unable to take immediate action in the interests of public safety where a building is found to be in a dangerous condition, for example, due to fire. I am not sure this is realistic.

Section 19 of the Finance Act, 1982, as amended, provides tax relief for works to buildings of intrinsically significant interest. The Bill would greatly extend the scope of the existing concession by entitling all listed buildings to this generous relief. It would also exempt listed buildings from residential property tax. The use of tax relief to support the preservation of listed buildings has merit and this has been addressed by the interdepartmental group. However, the question of extending tax reliefs to all listed buildings can only be considered by the Government in the context of costing the complete package of measures to protect important buildings.

The Bill provides that the Building Control Acts would be amended to facilitate listed buildings. The legal effect of the amendments proposed is unclear at this stage. However, the impact of the building control system on existing buildings is being considered as part of the current review being undertaken by my Department of the technical guidance documents.

I have outlined some of the concerns that we have identified in relation to the Private Members' Bill before us. While we share the objectives of improving the statutory protection for buildings of artistic, architectural or historic interest, the Government cannot accept the Bill. There are major concerns about some of its principal provisions and it would not be possible to deal satisfactorily with these in Committee because of the fundamental nature of the concerns.

The report of the interdepartmental working group on listed buildings was submitted to the Ministers for the Environment and Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht in the past few days and will now be considered in detail. Deputy Quill's Bill, and the debate on it, will make a very valuable input into the consideration of the total package of measures which the Government is committed to bringing forward. In these circumstances I trust the Deputy will be able to accept the reasons for the Government's inability to accept her Bill are genuine as are her motives in introducing it.

I congratulate Deputy Quill on taking the initiative of bringing this Bill before the House. It is a welcome and comprehensive Bill. As Fianna Fáil spokesperson on arts, culture and heritage, I support it and urge the Government, even though we have had a negative response from the Minister, to accept it as a step on the road to preserving our past. Heritage is important in securing the identity of a important part of the overall framework that identifies us and our past. Up to now we have been careless in maintaining that heritage. Shameful acts were perpetrated and much important material has fallen victim to the demolition ball.

This Bill points out many of the weaknesses in current legislation. It is an indictment of the Ministers for the Environment and Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht that it is an Opposition party that brought forward the Bill. The Government, with its resources and parliamentary draftspeople, should have introduced legislative proposals before now.

The Fianna Fáil Party has notable achievements under its belt in terms of conservation issues. Some people may think we made mistakes in the past in terms of conservation work, but I am sure everyone in every party could point to mistakes made by their parties with regard to conservation. There is now a much greater understanding of the meaning of conservation and for that reason this discussion is taking place this evening. Among Fianna Fáil's notable achievements in this area is the preservation of Temple Bar. My party also brought forward a policy document on the preservation of Georgian Dublin. That was due in great part to Deputy Eoin Ryan. These works are part of a new and continuing enlightenment on conservation and preservation. I hope to bring to fruition in the near future a position paper on heritage.

This Bill has many strong features. The decision to include the curtilage in the definition of a building for preservation purposes is a very good one. In this way conservation may apply not only to the actual physical structure but also to the environment within which it is set. This would have major significance for many great Irish houses which have seen new houses encroach on their doorsteps. The definition of "element of built heritage" is a good and encompassing one. This has been a major weakness of conservation provisions in the past, with important elements of the built heritage not preserved. Staircases, plaster work, wood work, fixtures and features often disappeared during renovations. In some instances, developers took a minimalist view of conservation. Elements of built heritage also fell victim to State vandalism.

The threat to built heritage continues. The Irish Georgian Society recently highlighted the planned development of Nos. 82 and 83 Merrion Square, which poses a threat to the built heritage in these fine houses. The threat is not just to the two houses involved but also to other such fine squares. If permission is given for this development, the integrity of all such houses will be threatened. Mountjoy Square and St. Stephen's Green are examples of gradual decline. One third of the houses in Mountjoy Square have been demolished and it now resembles a mouth with missing teeth, with massive gaping holes in its landscape. While many would argue that Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square seem intact, beyond the hall door it is a different story. While the external fabric of the buildings may be listed, internal features are not so. I understand from the Irish Georgian Society that the interiors of only four houses in Merrion Square and one in Fitzwilliam Square are listed. These fine examples of 18th century Dublin squares must be preserved and their interiors should not be left vulnerable to careless development.

Fianna Fáil previously emphasised the necessity for a national authority for listed buildings, including interiors, and will continue to urge that course of action. There have been instances in the past where listed buildings, or about-tobe listed buildings suffered atrocities and had to be demolished. Mysterious fires and other such disasters have struck at key times. Special provision is made in the Bill for buildings and listed built heritage within conservation areas which are maliciously destroyed, and that is a welcome inclusion.

I was disappointed not only to hear that the Minister is not happy with the references to conservation areas because they seem to be too wide in defination but even more so that she did not put forward proposals in this regard. She could have taken the opportunity to explore that aspect in her contribution.

Section 4 makes the list of elements of built heritage mandatory rather than optional as at present. It is worth considering that proposal. The onus is now on the planning authorities to establish conservation areas and to draw up plans for their preservation and enhancement. Applications in these areas will be judged on the criteria of environmental improvements.

I support the further links the Bill proposes between the National Heritage Council and the planning authorities. I welcome section 5 which makes it clear that demolition requires planning permission either for a listed element of built heritage or for an unlisted building in a conservation area. It is a positive step that a planning authority could require a developer to take specified steps for guarding a building during its development.

I share Deputy Quill's concern for buildings which in the past have been allowed to become endangered which, in turn, led to dereliction. The Bill will call a halt to this regressive behaviour which is, as Deputy Quill points out, the very heart of the Bill. I welcome the extension of the powers to local authorities to deal with this matter. The references in the Bill in this regard are to injunctions, the ability to serve notices on the owner or occupier, the powers of the local authority to recoup costs if necessary from the addressee of the notice and the question of compensation.

The Minister of State said the Bill placed great emphasis on the need for further action from local government and that for local government to take up that challenge there would be a great need to examine the whole question of staff and resources. She also outlined the need for strengthening local government and we all share the view that cannot be done without additional resources.

It is not enough for the Minister of State to simply make a bald statement in this House. She represents the Government and I hoped she would have given some inkling of the resources that would have been made available by the Government to help promote this Bill and matters of heritage generally.

The Minister's statement that the references in the Bill to grants and tax incentives did not take account of the difficult economic realities we now face was disappointing. As Deputy Quill said in reply to the Minister of State, that was not the business of a Private Member's Bill and, in any event, the references would not have prevented the Minister putting forward her views on the way in which tax incentives or grants could be made available.

I listened carefully to the contributions of the Minister of State and Deputy Quill and I was struck by the differences in approach. Deputy Quill expounded a committed view but, unfortunately, that could only be matched by a type of nit-picking by the Minister. The Minister is correct in saying legislation is needed and that such Bills should be given every consideration but in doing so there must be a recognition that action is needed now. We do not need more consideration that does not lead to action.

In addition to legislation from the Government we also need to examine the importance of education in regard to our heritage. At every available opportunity in the debate on the arts plan, the White Paper on Education or discussions in the House on matters of heritage, I have said we must encourage our young people to not only recognise but appreciate more deeply our heritage. We can do that by giving them an opportunity to experience our heritage through primary, secondary and third level education.

I should have said I wish to share my time with Deputy Eoin Ryan.

There are 19 minutes remaining in the time slot.

I want to highlight the importance of education in regard to our heritage. Although the proposal has not met with a positive response from the opposite side of the House, I hope the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, the Minister of State, Deputy McManus, and the Minister for Education will get together to discuss a common approach with regard to our education system.

I want to refer to the important issue of conservation and preservation which is not confined merely to towns and cities. It is important to refer to the commitment in the programme for Government in relation to legislation for the national heritage areas because no such Bill has materialised. Our built heritage is not confined to urban areas; many other aspects of our heritage need to be preserved. Further legislation, not more promises, is required to do that.

I hope the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht introduces legislation with regard to the proposed national heritage areas on which we can have an open and frank debate. This issue is causing great concern, particularly among farmers, many of whom believe they have not been consulted with regard to these proposed national heritage areas. Farmers could be regarded as the first conservationalists. They should be recognised as such and given an opportunity to take on this task. Farmers have been working the land for many generations and the only way the national heritage areas will operate effectively is through consultation and co-operation with them.

Fianna Fáil favours a balanced approach to conservation where the rights of landowners are respected. Farmers have a key role to play and the development of heritage areas must take place in conjunction with them. The conservation proposals must be developed in such a way as to ensure farmers' incomes are not jeopardised. Fianna Fáil is proposing that development of the areas should be carried out in the context of an overall plan for economic and rural regeneration under which farmers would have an opportunity to replace lost farming income with income from conservation duties. Fianna Fáil had a number of discussions with experts in this field and will continue to do so.

I thank Deputy Quill for introducing this important legislation which provided us with an opportunity to discuss what should be a major element in any Government's armoury. I am disappointed at the lack of a positive response from the Minister of State, Deputy McManus. I hope that as she listens to further contributions she may change her mind and, in turn, convince her colleagues this is a worthwhile Bill.

I thank my colleague, Deputy de Valera, for sharing her time. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party I welcome and support the Bill and congratulate Deputy Quill on bringing it forward. It is obvious the Deputy put an enormous amount of work into the preparation of the Bill which is a timely move by herself and her party. I welcome this opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill.

The principle of this Bill, which aims to protect the interiors and surroundings of buildings not protected at present and to strengthen existing provisions for listed buildings, has already been strongly advocated by Fianna Fáil. As my party's spokesperson on urban renewal, I recently published Fianna Fáil's policy position on Georgian Dublin. That policy, which my party is committed to implementing in Government, aims to rejuvenate as a living quarter the heart of Dublin, which is its Georgian squares and streets. Fianna Fáil also recognises the potential for similar schemes to be put into operation in many provincial towns. In proposing a package of tax measures to encourage the conversion of Georgian houses from offices and bedsits into family homes and some measure of mixed usage, the need for legislation such as this was recognised as a vital plank in the development of our built heritage. This Bill is timely and worthwhile.

The present situation is recognised by all sides as inadequate. The listing of buildings is totally inadequate and provides little practical protection. The destruction of our built heritage, once wholesale, continues at a steady and corrosive pace. Ireland, in comparison with other European countries, has a relatively small stock of historic buildings. Consequently, we must exercise a special duty of care. There is palpable anger and considerable shame among this generation at the historical neglect of our built heritage. Remarks about "belted earls" and the "blue rinse brigade" that at one time roused a cheer are now rightly viewed with embarrassment. This Bill seeks to address the fact that, although opinion has moved on, the law has not. The law is entirely inadequate to protect our heritage.

When this Bill was published, I was working on introducing a similar Bill. I congratulate Deputy Quill on her work and timing. There is an urgent need to tackle the problem whereby listing a building gives no protection to the interior and surroundings of an historic structure. Dublin has been scarred forever by gaping holes where once stood beautiful and historic staircases, carved marble fireplaces and stunning plaster ceilings. What has replaced these fixtures, when the entire structure has not been destroyed, has been infill that varies from the inadequate to the appalling.

The latest victim of the present official malaise is 15 Usher's Quay. Famous for its role in James Joyce's short story The Dead, it has been allowed to fall into decay. Similarly, the Regency gothic interiors, including magnificent plasterwork ceilings, in the Church of St. Michael and St. John beside the civic offices on the quays were taken out without recourse to any regulation or law. This was to make room for a museum featuring Viking relics and some thatched Viking cottages. While neglect and chauvinism were once the main enemies of preserving heritage, the danger now comes from unrelenting commercial pressure, an unnecessary side effect of our recently acquired prosperity.

Vigilance is required to preserve a building which misplaced development can destroy forever. Eternal vigilance is the price we must pay to preserve our heritage. In Dublin the external fabric of Merrion and Fitzwilliam Squares remains intact. Every house on both squares is listed for preservation in the Dublin city development plan, list 1. Unfortunately, this listing does not encompass the interiors. The separate listing for interior, list, 4, deals with the interior features of buildings. Incredibly, interiors of only four houses on Merrion Square are on list 4 and no houses in Fitzwilliam Square are on it. This means that our Georgian squares, a vast wealth of historical detail and an internationally recognised image of our capital city, are vulnerable to crass and poorly planned development. A great deal of damage has already been done. In 54 Fitzwilliam Square, for example, the internal walls and stairs at second and third floor levels were removed and replaced with open plan offices and a spiral staircase. This legislation would prevent this all too frequent occurrence.

The Government needs to take a number of actions simultaneously. First, it must ensure there is adequate legal provision for historic buildings, their interiors and surrounds. This Bill achieves that objective. Second, there must be provision for an integrated regime of tax incentives to secure a general change of use of historic houses from offices and bedsits to family homes. Fianna Fáil recently published a policy paper outlining how this can be done. Third, the Government, as the biggest landlord of historic buildings, should lead by example. Historic buildings in Government ownership are usually in offices, closed to the public and furnished in a way that is oblivious of the buildings' historical features.

Recently I tabled a number of questions to Ministers about historic buildings used by Government Departments. It was amazing to find out how many are not open to the public. The Government could make more of these historic buildings accessible to the public. Among the properties in the ownership of the State are 21 and 31 Fitzwilliam Square and 5, 6A, 16, 44, 45, 73, 88 and 89 Merrion Square. Is it any wonder that the light goes out of Georgian Dublin at 6 p.m. every evening? If the Government is serious about preserving our heritage it must develop a co-ordinated policy for its property portfolio. The best hope for the long-term preservation of Georgian houses is reconversion to family homes with, where desirable, a limited element of mixed usage. Fianna Fáil, as it has clearly set out in its policy document for Georgian Dublin, is committed to doing this.

This Bill seeks not only to protect the building and its interiors but also its curtilage. I welcome this. Intrinsic to a building is its surrounds. A great deal of bungled building on historic grounds might be prevented if this measure is enacted. However, I am concerned that the term "curtilage" might not be sufficinetly defined and might not be sufficiently wide. An architectural encyclopaedia I consulted defined curtilage as "the grounds adjacent to a dwelling and appertaining to a yard, garden or court". Would this be sufficient to prevent the proposed building of houses on the mall approaching Carton House from Maynooth, for example? The mall, strictly speaking, might not be part of the curtilage of Carton House. It is, however, absolutely intrinsic to the integrity of the building. This issue should be looked at on Committee Stage with a view to strengthening the provision.

The Bill also highlights the need for authorities to have trained and qualified personnel to deal with historic buildings. Local authorities, in particular, have much responsibility for the preservation of historic buildings. However, they seldom have the resources they require to carry out these duties properly. If the Government is serious about preserving our built heritage, it must act through a broad range of measures. Good intentions and ad hoc actions did nothing to stop 15 Usher's Quay from falling into disrepair. Can we wonder that James Joyce chose silence, exile and cunning as his weapons?

Up to today the inter-governmental working group's report on listed buildings has not been published. The Government has put this issue on the long finger since it came into office. We are continually lectured on the importance of our heritage but the Government is not supporting its talk with action. The Opposition parties, on the other hand, have published policy papers and legislation. There is no shortage of suggested remedies. What has been conspicuously lacking to date is the will to act.

It is strange that the interdepartmental working group's report is available to Government Ministers but is not before the House tonight. If the Government was really interested in this subject it would have made the report available as it would have added greatly to this debate. There is a huge amount of information in it which Members could have used. We are continually told the report will be released and, as the Ministers already have it, I cannot understand why it has not been made available to Members.

No political debate about the future of our built heritage should be completed without paying tribute to the voluntary organisations and concerned individuals who campaigned tirelessly to ensure that our built heritage passed on intact. All political parties should face the fact that we were latecomers to the idea of historical preservation. Together with the general population, we have only gradually realised the damage we have done to our heritage by neglect and poor development. Future generations owe a debt of gratitude to the foresight of a small number of individuals who fought to highlight the importance of our historic buildings and the danger that faces them. That danger is ever present.

This Bill will be a useful measure in ensuring that the present situation is improved. The Minister of State said that conservation for conservation's sake is not enough and that if these buildings are to be preserved new uses will have to be found for them. If tax incentives are provided and there is the right attitude, the market will look after the rest. A few years ago nobody would have thought that Temple Bar would contain children's theatres and breweries. The market takes care of such developments.

The market did not provide a children's theatre.

It provided the brewery. The market will ensure that uses will be found for such places. Ireland is full of people with imagination, as Temple Bar and other areas have proven. The Minister of State should believe in the market. Her party is coming round to seeing the great benefits the market can provide and is slowly dropping the ideological positions of old.

Debate adjourned.