I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I thank Members for agreeing to take this Bill at very short notice. This is a small two section Bill, with just one section of a substantive nature. The amendment to section 217(6) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 proposed in this Bill was introduced and agreed on Committee Stage in the Dáil during discussions on the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009. That Bill is due to return to the Seanad next week for Report Stage and conclusion.
Unfortunately, a timing issue has arisen that necessitated the introduction at short notice of this Compulsory Purchase Orders (Extension of Time Limits) Bill 2010 to deal solely with the amendment to section 217(6) of the Planning and Development Act. Under that section, once An Bord Pleanála confirms a compulsory purchase order, the local authority has 18 months in which to serve notices to treat on any landowner affected. If it fails to do so, the CPO lapses.
Where judicial review proceedings are taken the likely timeframe for reaching a conclusion means that the CPO notices to treat may expire before the legal action concludes. The difficulty this presents is that work undertaken and expense incurred by local authorities on schemes that go into judicial review and are subsequently given the go-ahead will then be redundant because the prescribed time period for the CPO has expired. Such a situation may arise if this Bill is not enacted today.
The project involved is the Galway city outer bypass where, as the result of a referral to the European Court of Justice arising from a challenge to the approval by An Bord Pleanála of the road scheme, the CPO 18-month limit will expire at midnight. The current section 217(6) makes no allowance for the possibility of such legal challenges and, as a consequence, fails to factor in a holding provision that would maintain the validity of a CPO approval beyond the fixed 18-month period in circumstances where such challenges arise.
Under the current legislation it is open to a county council to make a new CPO, with all the costs and effort that would entail, to replace a lapsed CPO once the outcome of the legal challenge is finally determined. Apart from the waste of resources and duplication of effort involved, the new CPO would have to comply with all standard legal requirements, including publication of notices, availability for inspection by the public, objection procedures with a minimum period of six weeks allowed for making objections, submission of the CPO to An Bord Pleanála, holding of an oral hearing and determination of the matter by the board.
The process associated with a new CPO could easily take a year or more to complete, with obvious implications for the timeline attaching to the advancement and construction of the road scheme and also in respect of additional costs. As the Bill providing for the amendment to section 217 of the Planning and Development Act will not be enacted in time to deal with the lapse of the Galway CPO notices to treat, a Bill has been prepared that contains the relevant provision from the proposed Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill. This will resolve the situation where court proceedings lead to the expiry of local authority CPOs before a decision is reached. It will mean that the CPOs in the case of the Galway city outer bypass project will be extended to the earlier of 30 days after the conclusion of the legal proceedings or 18 months after the expiry of the initial 18-month period.
The European Court of Justice is not likely to rule on the referral for some time and therefore the purpose of the Bill is to avoid the considerable expense and work associated with repeating the CPO process in the event of a positive decision by the European Court of Justice. The Galway city outer bypass is regarded by the NRA as a high priority project and the construction of the bypass was provided for in Transport 21. In line with that provision, Galway County Council and Galway City Council, with the support of the NRA, progressed the planning of the project. The project was approved by An Bord Pleanála in November 2008.
There is, however, a legitimate issue to be resolved for to An Bord Pleanála approval for the Galway city outer bypass regarding the interpretation of Article 6(3) of the habitats directive and of Regulation 30 of the Habitat Regulations 1997. I am fully supportive of the Galway city outer bypass, subject to all necessary legal consents being obtained and compliance with all obligations under EU law. If, therefore, the legal situation is resolved I wish to see construction of the road going ahead as quickly as possible. This Bill will facilitate that possibility.
Section 1 of the Bill provides for the amendment of section 217 of the Planning and Development Act 2000. The effect of the proposed amendment is that where there are legal proceedings challenging a compulsory purchase or consents relating to a particular project and a notice to treat is not served within 18 months, the time limit for serving the notice can be extended to the earlier of 30 days after the conclusion of the legal proceedings or 18 months after the expiry of the initial 18 month period. This section also provides that in the event of legal proceedings not being concluded within the extended time limit provided for in section 1 the relevant local authority can apply to the High Court for a further extension and the High Court, if it considers there is sufficient grounds for doing so, can allow such a further extension as it considers reasonable and fair in the circumstances. This Bill only deals with CPOs and notices to treat involving local authorities. No Government agency, such as the NRA or CIE, will be in a position to avail of the provisions of this Bill. This is a matter which should be reviewed at a later stage.
Section 2 of the Bill is merely the Short Title and collective citation and is a standard provision in all Bills placed before the Houses of the Oireachtas. I again thank Members opposite for facilitating this process and the passage of this Bill. It is necessary to save money for the taxpayer, as well as to try to ensure that when this matter is resolved in the courts, if it is given the go-ahead, it may proceed without undue delay.