I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to have the opportunity to introduce Second Stage of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2015 to the Dáil. It was introduced in the Seanad last week, where general support was expressed for its main provisions and purpose. The primary background to the Bill is the Government's recently approved package of measures to deal with the problems being observed in the housing market. The housing package, entitled Stabilising Rents, Boosting Supply, which followed on from extensive engagement between the Minister for Finance and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, as well as officials from our respective Departments, encompasses a comprehensive range of measures to improve the operation of the private rental sector, tackle increasing homelessness and support increased housing supply.
The package's rent stability measures, which are primarily intended to give greater protection to tenants in the private rental sector, are being separately progressed in the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012. This follows on from the unprecedented €4 billion package for the provision of social housing in the period to 2020 that I announced this year. While the provision of new social housing and enhancements to the operation of the private rental sector are essential to help counteract homelessness and provide tenants with greater certainty in terms of security of tenure and the level of rents applied, boosting housing supply is also critical in addressing our overall housing problems. The housing supply shortage is unquestionably one of the most pressing and challenging priorities facing the Government, being particularly acute in Dublin with demand for housing well outstripping supply. This shortage has consequential knock-on effects for house prices and rents and impacts negatively on thousands of households throughout the country.
The housing package announced last month contains some important measures to help address the housing supply shortage problem, including the introduction of a targeted development contribution rebate scheme to support and make more economically viable the delivery of affordable starter homes in Dublin and Cork, which will need to be completed and sold in 2016 and 2017, and the provision of financial support by the Ireland Strategic Infrastructure Fund, ISIF, for the provision of housing-related enabling infrastructure in large-scale priority development areas. These measures follow on from previous actions, for example, a 26% reduction in development contributions in the Dublin area, legislative changes via the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act, which was enacted last July and allows for these development contribution reductions to be applied to certain unactivated planning permissions, reductions via the same Act in the Part V obligations on developers in respect of the provision of social and affordable housing, which are estimated to reduce housing costs by up to €10,000 per housing unit, and the suite of actions already being implemented under the Government's Construction 2020 strategy, which is aimed at restoring and increasing activity in the wider construction sector.
Two further elements of the housing package announced last month that are designed to increase housing supply require legislative underpinning and are incorporated in this Bill. These relate to ensuring that planning authorities do not seek requirements above the national standards set out in ministerial planning guidelines issued under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, for example, in respect of apartment standards, and streamlining the arrangements for the making of modifications to strategic development zone, SDZ, planning schemes.
The Bill contains seven sections that propose to amend sections 28 and 34 and Part IX of the 2000 Act. Section 1 provides for the necessary definitions. Sections 2 and 3 provide for amendments in connection with ministerial planning guidelines issued to planning authorities. Section 2 amends section 28 of the planning Act relating to the issuing of ministerial planning guidelines to planning authorities. Currently, section 28 provides that planning authorities shall have regard to ministerial guidelines in the performance of their planning functions, such as in the determination of planning applications and the adoption of development plans. The amendment to this section elaborates on that by introducing a new power whereby the Minister may, within the section 28 guidelines, expressly state specific national planning policy requirements to be applied by An Bord Pleanála or planning authorities, as appropriate, in the exercise of their functions. Therefore, the content of guidelines will distinguish between advisory or general commentary on the one hand and, on the other, specific requirements that must be mandatorily applied by planning authorities.
This amendment is a critical underpinning to revisions that will shortly issue to replace the 2007 apartment standard guidelines. Those revisions will contain specific new requirements in respect of minimum apartment sizes, the number of lifts per number of apartments, car parking provision, floor-to-ceiling heights, the provision of dual aspect apartments, storage provision and so on with a view to ensuring their consistent application. Such revised guidelines would represent a change in national planning policy that should, on foot of this amendment, be implemented by planning authorities in the determination of planning applications and the adoption of development plans.
The amendment will also enable future revisions to any other current guideline, for example, on development management and sustainable residential development, as well as to new planning guidelines that may be developed to ensure that they are expressed and applied in a clearer manner. This will improve consistency and certainty in the planning process generally by distinguishing in policy terms between matters to be determined locally and by national policy.
Section 3 further underpins this approach by addressing a number of supplementary amendments required to section 34 of the 2000 Act relating to the granting of planning permissions by planning authorities. The first amendment in this section will require planning authorities to consider expressly any specific national planning policy requirements arising from section 28 guidelines issued by the Minister in the determination of planning applications. To avoid doubt, the second amendment provides that, where such guidelines and the standards or provisions of a local development plan differ, the national planning policy as reflected in ministerial guidelines takes precedence. This amendment will, for example, obviate the need for and preclude the adoption by planning authorities of their own local standards, thereby preventing a multiplicity of approaches throughout the country, effectively requiring planning authorities to comply with the national guidelines issued by the Minister of the time.
The third amendment in section 3 is aimed at streamlining the assessment of applications seeking modifications to existing planning permissions in respect of multi-unit housing developments - primarily apartment block and duplex-type developments - on foot of the issuing of new or revised apartment standard guidelines by the Minister of the time. The amendment will restrict the assessment of any such planning application to the modifications proposed for the purpose of complying with any new guideline and so that the whole previously granted permission and the question of the suitability of the development for housing as already determined are not reopened.
In the case of internal changes only - regarding an apartment block, for instance - arising from new or revised apartment standard guidelines, and where there is no materially significant change to the external structure of the development, the amendment precludes the right of third party appeal.
Sections 4, 5 and 6 amend existing provisions of the Planning Act 2000 relating to strategic development zones, SDZs, or SDZ planning schemes. Section 4 amends section 169 of the Act of 2000 relating to the procedures to be followed in the adoption and approval of SDZ planning schemes. SDZs are set by Government order and designate areas that are considered to be of economic or social importance to the State.
Following designation, SDZ schemes setting out objectives for specified development in designated areas are drawn up by prescribed development agencies, which may include a local authority, in respect of the designated areas concerned and are subject to public consultation procedures before being submitted to the elected members of the relevant planning authority for adoption.
The experience has been that all SDZ planning schemes that have been approved by planning authorities to date have been appealed to An Bord Pleanála for final determination. Under the current section 169 provisions, An Bord Pleanála can make modifications to an SDZ scheme only where they are considered to be minor in nature and are, therefore, unlikely to have significant effects on the environment or on a European site designated under the habitats or birds directives. Where An Bord Pleanála considers that the scheme requires modification of a more material nature, it is effectively required to uphold the appeal and refuse the modification, requiring the recommencement of the overall SDZ planning scheme process under section 169 if the relevant planning authority or development agency wishes to pursue the scheme with the proposed modifications. Section 4, therefore, amends the current section 169 provisions to provide that An Bord Pleanála can, as before, approve an SDZ planning scheme with modifications of a minor nature. However, under the new section 4 provisions, An Bord Pleanála will now also be allowed to approve the SDZ planning scheme with a modification or modifications that would constitute a material change to the scheme provided that such modification or modifications would not constitute a change in the overall objectives of the scheme concerned.
These new arrangements would mean that where modifications of a material nature are considered necessary by An Bord Pleanála on appeal, the relevant planning authority or development agency responsible for bringing forward the scheme would not have to recommence the whole SDZ planning scheme process again. However, the proposed new procedures insert considerable checks and controls to ensure that where proposed modifications of a material nature to an SDZ planning scheme may have significant effects on the environment, An Bord Pleanála shall require the planning authority to undertake a strategic environmental assessment, as per the EU SEA directive, an appropriate assessment, as per the EU habitats directive, or both such assessments in regard to the proposed modifications; undertake full public consultation on the proposed changes, including the forwarding of the proposed changes to prescribed bodies, publishing notice of the proposed changes in local newspapers and putting them on public display for a minimum of four weeks; and, following the public consultation, prepare a detailed report for submission to An Bord Pleanála for its consideration.
Where An Bord Pleanála makes a determination to make a modification constituting a material change to an SDZ planning scheme, it shall approve the scheme with the modification and notify the relevant planning authority or development agency accordingly.
While these revised procedures for the modification of planning schemes will take some time, having regard to the built-in public display and public consultation timeframes, they will still save considerable time in the making of modifications deemed necessary by comparison with having to recommence the overall SDZ process again. This process can take up to two years under the current provisions based on previous SDZ planning schemes and can lead to significant delays in the progression of SDZs, with consequential delays in the provision of housing and other commercial development.
Section 5 inserts a new section 170A into the Planning Act to provide for a new more flexible process for the amendment of an already approved SDZ planning scheme. As indicated, this is not possible under the current SDZ provisions where any amendment to a scheme requires the commencement of the overall SDZ planning scheme process again.
The new provisions in section 5 will allow a planning authority, on its own behalf where it is promoting an SDZ scheme, or on behalf of a development agency promoting an SDZ planning scheme, to make an application to An Bord Pleanála for an amendment to a previously approved SDZ scheme that may be in the course of being developed. Such a request may be in respect of modifications that are minor in nature or, although material in nature, meet certain specified criteria and do not affect the overall objectives of the scheme. The new provisions would, in effect, allow for amendments to an already approved SDZ scheme, as determined by An Bord Pleanála, following procedures along the lines of those contained in section 4 above, involving the undertaking of a strategic environmental assessment, an appropriate assessment, or both, as required, along with mandatory public consultation, but that would take a considerably shorter time than the current procedures requiring the commencement of the overall SDZ process again.
Section 6 is consequential to sections 4 and 5 and proposes the replacement of the existing section 171 of the 2000 Act relating to the revocation and amendment of SDZ planning schemes by inserting a new section 171. The new procedures in respect of the modification of SDZ planning schemes are now provided for in sections 4 and 5, as already outlined. Consequently section 6, inserting a replacement section 171 in the 2000 Act, now provides only for the procedures relating to the revocation of SDZ planning schemes.
Section 7 contains standard provisions relating to the Short Title, construction and collective citation.
I believe Members will agree this Bill contains a number of fundamental and important revisions to the Planning and Development Act 2000, emanating from the Government's housing package, Stabilising Rents, Boosting Supply, which are necessary to support increased housing supply.
As I have outlined, the amendments to sections 28 and 34 of the planning Act strengthen the status of aspects of ministerial guidelines to planning authorities to ensure their consistent application, particularly in regard to the proposed issue of revised apartment standard guidelines throughout the country and will require local authorities to comply with the national guidelines. This new provision will particularly apply in the first instance to revised apartment standard guidelines, which I propose to issue shortly. Even allowing for some reductions in the minimum floor areas as are currently applied by some local authorities, the revised guidelines will still ensure minimum floor sizes will be among the most generous in Europe.
In addition, the amendments to the Part IX provisions in respect of SDZ planning schemes will streamline the process for making modifications to such planning schemes that are not yet approved and are going through the approval process, in addition to planning schemes which have already been approved, thereby bringing greater flexibility in regard to the modification of SDZ schemes than is possible at present.
SDZ planning schemes are, by their nature, large-scale projects whose proposed development works can take a number of years to complete. They also contain a significant number of residential units. The timely delivery of SDZs, in the Dublin area especially, is critical to underpinning future housing supply. These SDZ streamlining proposals will also complete action 24 of the Construction 2020 strategy, aimed at revitalising the construction sector and bringing on stream housing units at a faster rate than at present.
I intend to make a number of amendments to the published Bill on Committee Stage in the Dáil, which is scheduled for next week. The amendments proposed are primarily technical and are aimed at strengthening and clarifying the provisions in the Bill regarding both the ministerial guidelines and the SDZ planning schemes.
Accordingly, I commend the Bill to the House.