Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2017: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2016 to ensure that development with the object or effect of deterring homeless persons from obtaining shelter from a structure, land or building is not exempted development, and to provide for related matters.

This purpose of this Bill is to introduce an amendment that would allow objections to be submitted to planning authorities when planning permission is sought for building modifications such as spikes, bars, sloped windowsills and sprinklers which are aimed at deterring rough sleepers from sleeping at those buildings. The Bill seeks to empower concerned citizens, individuals, activists and organisations around the issue of homelessness and to enable them to object to any building modifications that can reasonably be determined to be aimed at deterring rough sleepers from obtaining a modicum of shelter from the worst of the elements. I have already referred to spikes, sprinklers and so on.

People are dying on our streets. We have record levels of homelessness. People are not sleeping on the streets as a lifestyle choice. They are doing so because of the homelessness emergency that has been raging in this country, in particular in the last three years. The impetus for drafting this Bill was the fact that a tattoo parlour in Temple Bar installed sprinklers to stop people from bedding down on a low lying window sill. The effect of this was that people who had been sleeping there were left to the elements and put at risk of hypothermia. Last January there was a Facebook post by Ms Gráinne O'Sullivan, of which the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government may be aware, who described the tragic situation of her brother Patrick who sleeps rough. He is not addicted to drugs or alcohol but has mental health issues. He was evicted by the HSE last year after 22 years as a long-stay patient with severe and enduring mental illness. His 22-year-long diagnosis of schizophrenia was suddenly changed to personality disorder. Patrick was evicted and given a piece of paper with contact details for emergency accommodation. However, because he was not registered as being homeless, he could not access a bed. His mental health issues meant that he was not suited to the type of accommodation that was available and he ended up sleeping rough. One day when he arrived at the place where he used to sleep he found so-called defensive architecture in place to prevent him from bedding down. This is someone who is extremely vulnerable. Last week, it was reported that 12 families were told to go to Garda stations because there was no emergency accommodation available. We should not allow the putting up of this type of architecture to deter people who are homeless when we have a housing emergency.

One of our councillors on Dublin City Council, Mr. Michael O'Brien, sought to bring this issue up in the housing strategic policy committee, SPC, of the council with a view to getting by-laws introduced. However, the council was informed that this would require a change to the Planning and Development Act. I note that the Minister is here and I ask him to facilitate this legislation. We do not need to humiliate people who are forced onto the streets or to expose them to potential hypothermia because they cannot lie in a sheltered place. Despite the efforts of this Government, there is not sufficient emergency accommodation and we know that for a fact, based on the events of last week.

How many others are in similar situations to Patrick? The genesis of the Bill was the story told by a sister about her brother. That led to councillors trying to prevent the modification of buildings but they were told that they are powerless to do anything unless there is a change in the law. This is a very simple Bill. We do not need to treat people like vermin. This type of defensive architecture should not be allowed because it sends a message to homeless people that they are not wanted. We do not need public opprobrium and inhumane measures against people who are sleeping rough.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

As 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.