Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Planning and Development Act 2000 to provide for the establishment of an independent planning regulator, and to provide for matters connected therewith.

I welcome the opportunity to introduce this Bill. It provides for the appointment of an independent planning regulator. The importance of having a planning regulator with real powers to regulate the planning sector was brought home to everybody in the past week. The Mahon tribunal, a necessary but expensive one, recommended that we would have in place the office of an independent planning regulator to end and root out corruption, be it at local government level or at national government level. We saw an example of people willing to engage in corruption last week, courtesy of RTE. We saw Joe, Hugh and John who were more than willing to accept bribes and money in return for dodgy planning.

Some would suggest we should take the power of zoning and other planning powers, such as the Part 8 provisions, from planners. We, in Sinn Féin, would disagree with that and we would not support it. That is a very simplistic view. The majority of decisions taken by councillors are good ones. They represent and are accountable to their local community. The vast majority of the 949 councillors are decent men and women who represent their community and best interests of their locality and their county. However, there will always be a few and the stopping of those few is what this Bill is about.

The Government pledged in 2011 that it would implement the recommendations of that tribunal and the key recommendation, to which I referred, has not been acted on. I note that the Government brought a Bill to Cabinet today to provide for the establishment of a planning regulator. However, there are key differences between what I and Sinn Féin are proposing in the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill and what the Government is proposing in its Bill. If the proposed office of planning regulator does not have teeth or real powers, it will not be effective. The Government's proposed Bill will provide that such an office would have the power to monitor and make recommendations and to give feedback to local authorities but does not go much further than that. The difference between it and our proposed Bill is that such an office would not only have the power to make independent appraisal of local area plans, county development plans and guidelines but it would have the power to give directions to planning authorities, local authorities and regional authorities. Such an office would have the power to investigate systemic problems and irregularities in the planning system and report back to this House. Such an office would provide training for councillors, which is essential, because there is a big turnover of councillors at every local election. It is good that there is a turnover of councillors but we must equip them. Where there are instances of wrongdoing, people will be fined or imprisoned under our proposed Bill and it provides for sanctions to be imposed on those few people who are willing to engage in this type of practice. Firm sanctions are required to stamp it out. Crucially, such an office would have the power to bring proceedings for an offence under the planning regulations and people could be prosecuted by the planning regulator.

I note that the Government side accepted or did not oppose the previous two Bills and it brought forward a planning Bill to Cabinet today but none of us in this House is as smart as all of us together. We do not possess all the wisdom in this area nor does the Government. In the spirit of co-operation, we should be all singing from the one hymn sheet on this issue. We need to stamp out corruption because it is corrosive to local government and the body politic and it drags down the whole political system. We should start 2016, the centenary of the 1916 Rising, by ensuring we do everything possible to stamp out corruption in that year. Acceptance of this proposed Bill is a good way to start off that year. The Taoiseach has his Bill and we have our one and there are sections of our Bill that would make his Bill stronger. I ask him to accept this Bill and to let it progress to Committee Stage in order that we can stamp out that type of corruption. We have the opportunity with this proposed Bill to do that.

It can be moved.

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.