I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Cuireann sé áthas orm ar mo shon féin agus ar son an Aire Comhshaoil agus Rialtais Áitiúil an Bille tábhachtach seo a chur os comhair na Dála. Bille stairiúil atá anseo, a thabharfaidh cosaint cuimsitheach d'ár n-oidhreacht tógtha. Tá an chosaint sin tuillte go maith ag an gcuid sin d'ár n-oidhreacht. Is cuid lárnach é an Bille seo den obair atá curtha i gcrích ag an Rialtas seo chun cabhrú le slanú na bhfoirgneamh suntasach sin a d'fhág ár sinsear ina ndiaidh mar bhronntanas orainne agus ar na glúnta atá le teacht.
On behalf of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, I am pleased to introduce this important Bill to the Dáil. It forms a central part of the package of measures this Government has put in place to ensure the protection and survival into the future of our built heritage. The Bill on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage which the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands has introduced will complement the provisions of this Bill to ensure comprehensive legal protection for the architectural heritage. In addition, the Government has ensured the legislation is backed up with adequate resources in terms of financial assistance and conservation expertise to enable the legislation to work effectively. The Bill has already been passed by the Seanad where it was warmly received by all sides. I am sure it will receive a similar welcome in this House.
Every generation carries a great onus to ensure that its heritage and culture are preserved and passed on to future generations. So it is with our built heritage. It is often said that architecture is the mother of all arts. The Bill will ensure that we live up to our responsibilities to protect that built heritage.
There is widespread agreement that we need to have a more effective regime if we are to properly fulfil our responsibility to our own and future generations to protect our architectural heritage from the threats against it – threats that can arise from lack of resources, carelessness, ignorance and greed. This new regime decided on by the Government for the protection of our architectural heritage can be said to comprise three pillars: modern robust comprehensive legislation, dedicated financial resources and the employment of adequate expertise and knowledge.
The first pillar consists of this Bill, which will transform the legislative protection afforded to the architectural heritage. It has been drafted following comprehensive consultation and consideration of all the issues involved. Many of the provisions derive from the report of the Interdepartmental Working Group on Strengthening the Protection of the Architectural Heritage which was published in September 1996. The committee had consulted widely before reporting and many observations were received following publication of the report. This Bill expands and improves on the working group's recommendations. It has been through careful scrutiny in the Seanad, where a number of improvements were made to its provisions thanks to contributions from Members on all sides.
I take this opportunity to correct recent reports in the media that the Bill does not fulfil the promise of the 1996 report. All of the major legislative recommendations in that report will be implemented by the two related Bills which are currently before the Oireachtas. As recommended in the report, the statutory obligation on local authorities to protect the built environment is included. The respective roles of the Department of the Environment and Local Government, local authorities and Dúchas are precisely as recommended in the report and the extent of the protection afforded to those buildings which are protected under the Bill is yet again as recommended in the report. Those criticising the Bill are more intent in causing mischief than in making constructive contributions to strengthening the legal protection afforded to our built heritage.
The Bill introduces a systematic approach to the protection of buildings. Local authorities have been criticised in the past for widely divergent approaches to listing buildings for protection in their development plans. Some local authorities have very comprehensive lists, some have none; some authorities have one list, others have six or seven. Distinctions are often made between objectives to preserve buildings and objectives to consider their preservation.
The Bill will bring uniformity to the way in which buildings are protected in the future. The formal record of protected structures created under the Bill will be kept in a standard format common to all local authorities. It will remove the distinctions between lists. If a building is worth placing on the record of protected structures then it is worth protecting.
This new systematic approach to protecting the built heritage will be enhanced by using the resources of the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage which is administered by the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. The inventory will be used as a national database to record Ireland's built environment. It is intended that those buildings which are identified by the inventory as being of international, national or regional significance will be recommended to local authorities for protection.
Local authorities will continue to have an ongoing role in identifying buildings for protection independently of the inventory. They will have to determine the buildings which are of significance to the local community and, therefore, deserving of protection. Guidance will be given to local authorities to help them carry out these functions in a consistent manner. Once buildings are identified for protection they will be subject to comprehensive protection. The protection extended to buildings under the Planning and Development Act, 1963, was too narrow and too many interiors have been lost because they were not specifically listed. The Bill will ensure that where a building is protected, the whole building, interior and curtilage, will be subject to that protection. Any works which would affect the character of the building will require planning permission. It is recognised that this proposal could be quite onerous on owners of protected buildings. Therefore, the Bill provides that owners and occupiers of protected buildings will be entitled to a declaration from the planning authority which would determine the types of works which the planning authority considers would affect the character of the building.
Another key issue in providing comprehensive protection is the need to protect buildings independently of the statutory five year review of development plans. The Bill facilitates the addition of buildings to the record of protected buildings as the need arises. Furthermore, it tackles the issue of protected buildings being allowed to become dilapidated due to the neglect of the owner or occupier and will allow local authorities take a proactive role in ensuring protected buildings are not neglected. These provisions are modelled on the Derelict Sites Act, 1990.
The Bill also responds to the need to identify and make provision in development plans for special streetscapes or other areas of interest which need to be protected. This will allow planning authorities to apply local planning policies to these areas in a way which will ensure that any development is compatible with the character of the area. For example, this will facilitate protection of an entire square rather than just individual buildings.
Legislation in itself is not sufficient to ensure the protection of the built heritage: it needs to be backed by resources. This brings me to the second pillar – money. The Government announced last May that it would provide a new budget line of £5 million per annum from 1999 onwards to ensure that the package of measures can be fully implemented. Out of this around £4 million will be available for grant-aid for protected buildings.
The new scheme of grant-aid will be administered by the principal local authorities as it is the local authorities who will have the statutory function of protecting buildings under this Bill. An advisory group made up of representatives from the Departments of the Environment and Local Government and Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, the Heritage Council and the County and City Managers' Association is finalising recommendations on the detailed terms and conditions of the new grant scheme for protected structures. We are aiming for effective and consistent administration of grant aid throughout the country. It is expected that, in the initial years at least, those buildings most at risk will be a priority.
Local authorities are also being provided with £300,000 per annum to assist them in employing the necessary conservation expertise to ensure that all buildings worthy of listing are identified, the legislation enforced and the grant scheme operated effectively. It is hoped the local government service could employ 15 to 20 conservation officers to enable it carry out its functions fully. This new cadre of conservation experts will constitute part of the third pillar – the expertise to which I referred earlier.
The provision of proper conservation advice is fundamental to the success of the Bill. I am certain, therefore, that the deployment of conservation expertise in the local authority service will bring such expertise to local authorities. This local expertise will, in turn, be backed up by comprehensive guidelines drawn up at central level by Dúchas, the heritage service of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, in consultation with the Department of the Environment and Local Government. Dúchas will also act as a central unit providing day to day advice to conservation officers and local authorities regarding their functions. This system will bring a consistency of approach to the conservation of the built environment in Ireland which has been lacking up to now.
I will turn now briefly to the main provisions of the Bill. A very comprehensive explanatory memorandum has been provided, therefore, I will concentrate on the essential features. The definitions of "structure" and "protected structure" in section 1 are crucial to the understanding of the Bill. The effect of these definitions is that when a building is included in the record of protected structures, the interior of the protected structure, including its fixtures and features and the land and structures immediately around it – the curtilage – will be automatically protected and will no longer require specific listing. This marks a major advance on the present limited provisions. Other features in the grounds of the structure beyond the curtilage – for example, a folly or ornamental fountain – which add to the architectural interest of the building may also be included for protection if specifically identified on the record. The term "protected structure", as a legal term, will replace the term "listed building". This is in line with common international practice.
Section 2 provides that planning authorities will be obliged to have a record of structures of special architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, scientific, social or technical interest which will form part of the development plan for the area. This constitutes a wider definition of "architectural heritage" than the reference to buildings of "artistic, historic or architectural interest" in the existing legislation. The record of protected structures will continue in existence, even where a review or a variation of a development plan is made under Part III of the 1963 Act.
The requirement to establish a record is linked to the mandatory provision to include objectives in the development plan for the protection of the architectural heritage which is provided by the amendment of section 19 of the Planning Act, 1963, by section 33 of the Bill. This amendment also obliges planning authorities to include objectives in the development plan to protect groups of structures and places, including townscapes.
Section 3 provides that the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands may, after consulting the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, issue guidelines to planning authorities to assist them in carrying out their functions under the Bill in protecting buildings and townscapes. The guidelines will ensure a consistent approach to protecting the built heritage is adopted nationwide.
Section 4 provides that, in addition to the above guidelines, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands may recommend the inclusion of structures in the record of protected structures. This will be based on the information contained in the national inventory of the architectural heritage.
Section 5 provides that a planning authority may add a building to the record of protected structures where it considers such a building warrants protection or may delete a structure where protection is no longer warranted. The making of a deletion from, or an addition to, the record of protected structures may be carried out when reviewing the development plan as part of the statutory five year review or in accordance with the provisions laid down in section 6.
Section 6 sets out the procedure for amending the record of protected structures independently of the development plan review process. This will allow buildings to be protected as the need arises without having to wait for the five year development plan review process – a weak point of the old system. The final decision on what structures are to be accorded protected status will rest with the elected members of the authority.
Section 8 provides that planning permission will be required for works on a protected structure which affect its character. As the protection will extend to the interior of structures, permission may be required for interior decorating activity, such as plastering, if it would affect the character of the structure. To clarify for owners and occupiers of protected structures exactly what works they are permitted to do without permission, they may request the local authority to indicate those works in a declaration. For example, a declaration could state that works to the interior would not affect the character of the building and, therefore, would not require permission where redecoration was being contemplated. Planning authorities will be required to issue the declarations within three months of a request, although provision has been made in the transitional arrangements to extend the time if a large number of requests for declarations are made when the Bill is enacted.
Special consideration is given to structures used for religious worship. Planning authorities will be obliged to respect liturgical requirements and consult the relevant Church authorities when issuing a declaration. The same will apply to a planning application that affects the interior of a protected church.
Section 9 provides that it will be an offence to deliberately damage a protected structure, with fines of up to £1 million on indictment. Owners and occupiers will be under a duty to ensure a protected structure is not endangered, either through their actions or neglect.
Section 10 provides that, if a protected structure is endangered, planning authorities may issue a notice to the owner or occupier requiring works to be carried out. The planning authority may, at its discretion, assist the owner or occupier in carrying out the works, either financially or otherwise.
Section 11 provides that the planning authority can require the owner or occupier of a protected structure to carry out works to restore the character of a protected building. This could include, for example, the removal of incongruous signs on a protected building or street, even if such signs were erected lawfully. The planning authority will, however, have to pay the full cost of works to be carried out under this section.
Sections 22 to 29, inclusive, give a power to planning authorities to purchase a protected structure which is endangered, if necessary compulsorily, and set out the procedures to be followed if this happens.
Section 30 requires sanitary authorities, before issuing a dangerous buildings notice in relation to a protected building, to consider instead whether a notice to carry out works under the Bill or the Derelict Sites Act would be appropriate. This is not an attempt to circumscribe a sanitary authority's powers, merely to oblige it to consider that it may be dealing with a protected building which should be preserved, if possible.
Section 38 provides for transitional arrangements for buildings currently listed for protection or preservation under a development plan. These will automatically become protected buildings under the Bill. Owners and occupiers of these buildings will, however, be consulted and entitled to make representations to the planning authority on whether their building should remain a protected structure.
The Bill marks a major advance in the way we preserve and look after the precious heritage of buildings which we are lucky to possess. It is a mark of our maturity as a society that there is widespread support for devoting some of our increased wealth to preserving our physical history for our edification and those who come after us.
Taispeánann an Bille freisin go bhfuil muid dáiríre i dtaobh úsáid agus athnuachan na bhfoirgneamh atá againn, i dtreo is go dtig linn iad a úsáid sna blianta atá le teacht sa gcaoi chéanna inar úsáideadh iad leis na blianta a chuaigh thart, thar na céadta bliain in ammana. Foirgnimh bheo atá iontu, ní seoda iad atá coinnithe faoi ghlas i músaem. Athraíonn siad agus athraítear iad de réir mar a athraíonn an saol agus an tsochaí thart orthu. I commend the Bill to the House.