Urban Renewal Bill, 1998: Report and Final Stages.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 6, line 24, after "pattern," to insert "including the co-ordination and upgrading of shop frontages,".

Section 7(6)(a)(i) provides that an integrated area plan may, where appropriate to the area it refers to, include objectives for the renewal, preservation, conservation, restoration, development and redevelopment of the streetscape, layout and building pattern of the area. Deputies Hayes and Dukes proposed an amendment to this subparagraph on Committee Stage which sought to introduce a provision to the effect that these objectives must include the co-ordination and upgrading of shop frontages. I fully accepted that objectives relating to the co-ordinating and upgrading of shop frontages were appropriate for inclusion in many integrated area plans. I was of the view, however, that the provisions of the Bill relating to the content of integrated area plans were broad enough to allow for such objectives to be included in plans, where considered necessary, by the local authority or the company preparing such a plan. The difficulty about making the inclusion of objectives relating to shop frontages mandatory for all plans was that this may not be appropriate in all cases, such as plans for areas where there are large areas of dereliction or environmental degradation.

However, I have had a further look at the matter and I am now putting forward the amendment which will incorporate a specific reference to the co-ordination and upgrading of shop frontages in the range of objectives which may, where appropriate, be included in integrated area plans. The formulation I propose allows a specific reference to be made to the important issue of shop frontages without giving rise to the difficulties I mentioned on Committee Stage. I am introducing this amendment in response to the case made by the Opposition Deputies last night.

I thank the Minister for introducing this amendment. I fully accept it. I will even go so far as to say that aesthetically and politically I am hugely impressed by the Spartan economy of the language and the efficiency with which the Minister has translated my original intention.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 7, line 28, after "plan," to insert "and having satisfied himself or herself that the council of any corporation or urban district whose functional area is wholly or partly within the functional area of the local authority concerned or to which the authorised company concerned relates has been given a reasonable opportunity to make observations thereon,".

I move this amendment more in hope than expectation. We had a debate on this matter in Committee yesterday and sufficient time has not elapsed for the Minister to profoundly change this view. The import of the amendment is to require the Minister, before he takes a decision under section 9 of the Bill to designate an area, to satisfy himself that the urban authority functioning in the area has been fully consulted and given a reasonable opportunity to make observations on the integrated area plan submitted.

From the response I received in Committee, I understand that the Minister fully accepts the thrust of the amendment but has difficulty in relation to the timing in that he feels it would delay the process if the 70 odd integrated programmes submitted had to be resubmitted to the sponsoring local authority or approved authority to ensure that they had a proper consultation with relevant local authorities.

I have reflected on the Minister's case as well and I accept the validity of what he said, but at the end of the discussions yesterday I asked that the Minister should ensure that there would be statutory provision for this to take place in any future scheme. I hoped the Minister might have brought forward his own amendment to make provision for that. Unfortunately, the fact that Report Stage followed Committee Stage so quickly did not give much time for that sort of reflection. Even a commitment in the House that it would be the intention to include it in any future regulations would give me some degree of confidence that in future the consultation appropriate for statutory bodies at sub-county level would and should take place.

Section 9 of the Bill provides that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government may, having considered an integrated area plan submitted under section 7 and any recommendations which were contained in or accompanied such a plan as provided for under section 8, recommend to the Minister for Finance that he or she should make an order directing that an area or areas located within the boundaries of an area to which an integrated area plan relates shall be a qualifying area for the purposes of one or more of the urban renewal tax reliefs provided for in Chapter 7, Part X, of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997. It was a matter for each local authority to decide the priority area for which integrated area plans should be prepared and on the arrangements to be put in place locally for the preparation of such plans. The guidelines which were issued in relation to the selection of priority areas for the purposes of the new scheme and on the content of the integrated area plans emphasised that wide cross-sectoral consultation and involvement should form an essential element in the preparation of each integrated area plan. The extent of the consultations in the preparation of plans with all relevant interests, including elected members at county, borough and urban level, will be of the utmost importance in considering the question of making recommendations to the Minister for Finance on the basis of the integrated area plans which have been submitted to the Department.

Given the stage the process has now reached, and the uncertainty which could arise in relation to plans which have been completed, I would be reluctant to introduce a retrospective requirement which would in effect make it mandatory for all councils, corporations or urban districts with functional areas within the functional area of the relevant local authority to have been formally given an opportunity to make observations on the particular integrated area plan concerned before any recommendation could be made under the provisions of section 9 of the Bill. However, I give an undertaking that there will be a mandatory requirement for the various elected bodies to be given a full opportunity to participate in any future arrangements for preparing integrated area plans. The guidelines in that respect will in future be more explicit. The guidelines which are provided for in the Bill will be taken into consideration when decisions are being made in regard to recommendations to the Minister for Finance as to what level of consultation did take place. Preliminary guidelines were issued in May 1997 and formal guidelines were issued in November 1997. Under the heading "Consultation, Participation and Partnership" it is stated:

Wide cross-sectoral consultation and involvement should form an essential element in integrated area plan preparation. The need for such consultation will first arise at the initial data gathering stage when the needs, strengths and weaknesses of the area are being analysed. The second opportunity will arise when key issues have been identified and draft strategies are being formulated. Linkages will need to be established between the local authority team preparing the IAP and a wide range of public sector agencies, representative bodies, local community groups, local businesses etc.

There is a reference to the possibility of providing support for community organisations to assist them in preparing their inputs to IAPs and to the fact that the consultative process involves the community strategy groups established to promote co-ordination generally between the local development bodies.

They are now on ice.

The concepts of partnership and development trusts may be useful models for the implementation of a particular objective in a strategic area.

There is a strong requirement for consultation. I am satisfied that nearly all the local authorities involved themselves in extensive local consultation. It did come to light, through the contributions of a number of Deputies, that there may have been areas where the level of consultation was not what we hoped or expected and there was not a full response to the guidelines. I assure the House that new guidelines will be much more specific in that area and will make that level of consultation mandatory.

I am grateful to the Minister. My request, in so far as it can be met, has been met by what the Minister said. I was unhappy with his initial response that cross-sectoral discussions or observations would be sought. Democratically elected local councils have a unique standing and should not be lumped in with other cross-sectoral negotiations and discussion. I am satisfied the Minister has given the commitment that in future there will be a binding requirement for proper consultation with all statutory local authorities within the functional area of any authority or authorised company submitting an integrated action plan. For that reason, I withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 7, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:

"10. —The Minister shall lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a statement of the reasons for making or refusing to make any recommendation under section 9.".

This is the most important of the three Report Stage amendments. We had a long discussion in relation to this matter. There is an important degree of new transparency that I acknowledged on Second and Committee Stages and readily acknowledge again today. This is a much improved process for designating areas for urban renewal and I congratulate the Minister for progressing matters to this level.

This idea was initiated by the former Government. We wanted to do it this way and great credit should go to the former Minister of State, Deputy McManus, who nurtured this concept but it has been brought to its current phase in a Bill before the House by the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy. I welcome that but the transparency seems to end when it reaches Government Buildings because the final decision on any area to be designated and to benefit under the Taxes Consolidation Act is at the discretion of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government in the first instance and, subsequently, the Minister for Finance.

On Second Stage many Deputies commented on the lack of transparency in relation to this final stage. I do not wish the Minister to rehearse all the merits of the various other stages, the transparencies involved and the fact that the Freedom of Information Act will apply to the different stages and submissions — I can envisage what is written down in front of the Minister of State. The bottom line in relation to the final decision-making process is that it is not a transparent exercise. It is reasonable to expect that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, who makes the final recommendations to the Minister for Finance, would be required to make a statement on reasons for making or refusing to make a recommendation under section 9 and lay those before the Houses of the Oireachtas. That is transparency and it is a better requirement than, for example, a requirement of the Minister for Finance to give a reason for his particular decisions.

The argument was made in relation to the duties of the Minister for Finance to balance taxes and so on, but this is purely a decision of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government who examines the recommendations made to him by the expert group which has had an opportunity to examine all the integrated action plans and, for whatever good reasons, recommends some to the Minister for Finance and does not recommend others. It is important that there should be a simple reasoning for that decision and that it should be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

I appeal to the Minister to accept this important amendment which will give a final layer of transparency to an already good and transparent Bill. It will be to his credit if he is in a position to accept it.

I support Deputy Howlin's amendment for a number of the reasons he has advanced and also for other reasons which I will not go into at length because I spoke about this matter on Second and Committee Stages. I repeat, however, that the final stage in this process of deciding on designations is one where the Minister for the Environment and Local Government will make a recommendation to the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Finance will make the final decision, assuming the two Ministers agree on the final decision, as to which areas will be designated. It is clear that not all of the areas where the proposals are made will be designated. It is not possible to state, from a reading of the Bill and a perusal of the proposals that are made, which of them will be successful and which will not. I am not imputing any improper motive or improper consideration in any of this; I am simply saying that the final decision made will be an arbitrary one. I do not suggest it will be made badly or for any wrong reasons. I am simply saying that in terms of the structure of the measure before us, there are no clear criteria on which one meritorious proposal will be preferred to another.

For that reason, something at least of the nature Deputy Howlin is proposing should be provided for although it would be a departure from previous practice in tax law because that is what we are talking about. I would have preferred to see a different method being adopted in the Bill but I realise that is not possible at this stage. I support Deputy Howlin's amendment and commend that approach to the Minister of State.

It is an underlying principle in the new approach to urban renewal that decisions on designation of areas for urban renewal reliefs will in future be based on carefully prepared integrated plans which set out a basis on which designation on a selective and targeted basis would assist in achieving the objectives of such plans. Accordingly, the legislation under discussion provides that integrated area plans may contain or be accompanied by recommendations from a local authority or authorised company to the effect that an area or areas within the boundary of the area to which the plan relates shall be a qualifying area for the purposes of urban renewal tax reliefs.

Section 9 provides that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, having considered the integrated area plan and any recommendations contained in or accompanying the plan, may recommend to the Minister for Finance that the latter Minister should make an order directing that an area or areas within the area to which the plan relates shall be a qualifying area for the purposes of urban renewal tax reliefs. It is then a matter for the Minister for Finance to make a decision on whether to make any such order having regard to all of the issues involved, including the extent and nature of any designation proposed and the potential cost to the Exchequer.

It is my intention that the outcome of any submission made by a local authority or authorised company in the context of an integrated area plan will be communicated to the local authority or authorised company concerned, including as much information as it is possible to give with regard to the grounds for any decision taken in response to the proposals of the local authorities or authorised companies.

The provisions of the Freedom of Information Act will also apply in relation to material in the Department relating to the consideration of plans submitted. However, the making of recommendations by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government is just one step in a process which starts with the preparation of the IAP by the local authority or authorised company and must cross various hurdles before any decision is made on whether and to what extent incentives are to be applied in any particular case.

I am reluctant, therefore, to introduce a formal reporting requirement on the lines set out in the amendments proposed by the Deputy at one particular stage of a process which could not, at that stage, have terminated and which must of necessity have a degree of flexibility built into it. For those reasons and all the other reasons we debated at great length last night, I cannot accept the amendment. Deputy Howlin does not wish me to repeat all the arguments put forward last night when I laid out clearly my views on this matter, but the intention is that there will be as much transparency as possible. In the communication my Department will make to those local authorities which have made submissions, every effort will be made to explain to them the reasons for decisions in regard to each case. I cannot give the statutory assurance being sought in the Deputy's amendment because it would place an obligation on the Minister for the Environment and Local Government who is involved in only one of the processes. The decision in regard to the actual designation under section 9 is made by the Minister for Finance.

Therefore, the amendment would not make much sense if the Minister for the Environment and Local Government had to lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas the reasons for making or refusing to make any recommendations under section 9. When he makes the recommendations to the Minister for Finance, as the Deputies know from their own experience, there will be a discussion on any matters of concern to the Minister for Finance and, presumably, agreement reached on the ultimate decision. Whatever decision is made, it will be acceptable to both Ministers. The final decision rests with the Minister for Finance who is responsible for taxation and budgetary policy. Placing responsibility such as is intended by this amendment on the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, who merely makes recommendations in the matter to the Minister for Finance, would not be appropriate in the circumstances.

I am disappointed with the response of the Minister who has not moved one whit from last night in his thinking. He is deliberately down-playing the strategic importance of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. The other hurdles to be crossed are by local authorities making submissions and developing integrated plans, which arrive on the Minister's desk. At the end of the day they are considered by the expert group and evaluated and recommendations are made to the Minister. The Minister is the penultimate hurdle, and he will decide what is recommended. By and large that will be the critical juncture in terms of whether an area is included for designation. There should be transparency in that mechanism. There should be a legal requirement, which is not a great one, on the Minister to state the reasons for including or refusing a recommendation for a particular area.

I have not asked that the requirement in regard to the final decision be placed upon the Minister for Finance because he has to balance budgetary matters, take into account possible revenue foregone and so on. This critical issue is the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government who is the sponsoring Minister for this Bill. He is responsible and accountable to the House for his decisions, but there is no mechanism to make him accountable other than acceptance of this amendment. I am determined that it should be pushed.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 53; Níl, 63.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Bell, Michael.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • Belton, Louis.
  • McDowell, Derek.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • Broughan, Thomas.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Mitchell, Gay.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Mitchell, Jim.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Cosgrave, Michael.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Currie, Austin.
  • Owen, Nora.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Perry, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Dukes, Alan.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Durkan, Bernard.
  • Reynolds, Gerard.
  • Ferris, Michael.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Gilmore, Éamon.
  • Sheehan, Patrick.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Higgins, Michael.
  • Yates, Ivan.
  • Hogan, Philip.

Níl

  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • McDaid, James.
  • Brennan, Matt.
  • McGennis, Marian.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • O'Flynn, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • Ellis, John.
  • O'Malley, Desmond.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Healy-Rae, Jackie.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Wade, Eddie.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Kitt, Michael.
  • Wright, G. V.
  • Kitt, Tom.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Stagg and Barrett; Níl, Deputies S. Brennan and Power. Amendment declared lost.
Bill reported with amendment and passed.