Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 25 Jan 2018

Vol. 964 No. 3

Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2018: Motion

I move:

"That Dáil Éireann approves the following Regulations in draft:

Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2018,

a copy of which has been laid in draft form before Dáil Éireann on 13th December, 2017.”

I welcome the opportunity to present these three sets of proposed planning and development amendment regulations to the House. The regulations were considered by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government last Tuesday when I had detailed discussions on them with the members. Many members of the committee were broadly supportive of the proposals contained-----

There is a problem with the sound.

It could be the speed. Will I start again?

Speak up, there.

Speed is never a problem for the Minister of State.

I will press rewind and start again. I will bring the House with me on this journey.

I welcome the opportunity to present these three sets of proposed planning and development amendment regulations to the House. The regulations were considered by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government last Tuesday when I had detailed discussions on them with the members. Many members of the committee were broadly supportive of the proposals contained in the three sets of proposed regulations and we got agreement on them. I will take a few moments to give an overview of each set of regulations, all of which contain very important provisions and touch on a number of points raised by the committee. At the outset, I note that the draft regulations do not propose to provide blanket exemptions, rather, it is the case that each set of exemptions have specific conditions or limitations which will apply. In addition, they are also subject to general restrictions and exemptions as set out in the Planning Acts or regulation, for example, development shall not be exempted development if an environmental impact assessment or an appropriate assessment is required. In addition, where a particular type of development is not covered by an exemption, planning permission will still need to be sought in the normal course.

The first set of proposed regulations, namely, the Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2018, relate to the provision of a number of exemptions for development works undertaken by Irish Water in the provision of water services. This involves the insertion of a dedicated new class of exempted development, namely, class 58, in Part 1 of the Schedule to the principal regulations. The proposed exemptions will permit Irish Water to undertake works relating to its normal day-to-day activities without the need to obtain planning permission from the relevant local authority. This was raised at the committee in which regard I note that the provision is in line with the exemptions local authorities had previously. It is nothing more or less than local authorities always had. That concern was raised at the committee and, as such, I clarify it again here.

The second set of regulations, namely, the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2018, propose to provide an exemption in respect of the need to obtain planning permission for change of use and any related works in respect of converting to residential use certain vacant commercial premises, including vacant spaces over shops. These proposals emanate from a commitment in action 5.9 of Rebuilding Ireland to bring forward proposals in this regard and in the Action Plan for Rural Development as well as from a similar proposal in a Bill brought forward by Deputies Barry Cowen and Pat Casey of Fianna Fáil in 2017. There is a threefold benefit to the regulations. First, they will bring on stream urgently needed housing supply in high-demand areas; second, they will maximise the use of vacant and underutilised spaces; and, third, they will rejuvenate and breathe new life into inner core urban areas in towns and cities nationally.

The draft regulations propose that after they come into operation, the exemption will apply for a limited period ending in December 2021, which is concurrent with the lifetime of Rebuilding Ireland. This is with a view to encouraging the commencement and undertaking of the necessary conversion works as soon as possible and while increased housing supply is much needed. It will apply to commercial buildings which have been lying vacant for at least two years. While the proposed exemption relates primarily to works to the interior of such buildings, it is proposed that some limited alterations to the exteriors of such buildings will also be permitted subject to the requirement that such alterations are in keeping with the building and neighbouring properties.

The regulations also propose that a number of conditions will apply to exempted development works. As such, these are not blanket exemptions. One condition is that a maximum of nine residential units may be provided in any one building. Specified minimum standards relating to floor areas, storage space and the provision of natural light must also be met for each unit, thereby enhancing residential amenity for occupants. On that point and following the discussions last Tuesday when concerns were voiced that the proposed planning exemptions might result in the application of lower building standards for residential units, I stress, as I did at the committee, that this exemption only removes the requirement to obtain planning permission. Importantly, I emphasise that development works to vacant commercial buildings which are being converted to residential use under the proposed planning exemptions will still have to comply with the requirements of the building regulations. The standard building control procedures and supplementary statutory guidance on safety, including fire safety, structural stability and ventilation, etc., will apply. The draft regulations will not in any way change or diminish the relevant statutory building control requirements whereby all conversion works for this type of development will still require a design certifier, an assigned certifier, inspection plans during the undertaking of the works and statutory certification of compliance on completion. This is to ensure that the relevant building control standards are complied with - that is absolutely the case. There is no doubting it.

As I mentioned to the committee last Tuesday, the building control standards generally relate to new build construction. To facilitate the development of existing vacant buildings for residential use, a working group, chaired by my Department, was established in late 2017 to develop new guidance to provide clarity on the regulatory requirements which will apply in these circumstances and to provide advice on how best to facilitate the reuse or development of underutilised older buildings. It is intended that this revised guidance will be finalised in the coming months to supplement the exempted development planning regulations before the House. This is an issue the committee discussed previously in the context of the Fianna Fáil Bill. We can discuss the guidelines at the committee again, but in their absence, the existing rules are there. I cannot be clearer on that. I hope that brings clarity to the issue for the House.

I have no issue with the statutory instruments concerning water and broadband. My concerns are about the draft exempted regulations change of use issue. It is on foot of a Bill that was proposed by us, passed by the House and scrutinised by the committee. It shared the intention of the Minister of State and his Government through this statutory instrument which is to ensure the quicker conversion of vacant units into residential use, especially those that have commercial zoning but are not in use and over-the-shop developments and refurbishments. Currently, such applications are adjudicated on or interpreted by local authorities on foot of the only guidelines that exist which are for new builds. The constraints of such guidelines in the case of refurbishment mean that developments of that nature do not take place. That is in addition to the thrust of our Bill which was agreed with by those of other parties and none. It proposed the putting in place of a one-stop-shop in local authorities whereby the various certifications for fire, health and safety and preservation amongst others would be brought under one roof with a speedier timeline agreed between both parties and certification to follow thereafter during and on completion of the construction. I welcome the Government's commitment to the Bill but on Committee Stage it was nervous that those guidelines had not been put in place. Here we are with a statutory instrument that still does not have those same guidelines in place. Unfortunately, I was not present when the Minister of State brought this to committee on Tuesday. I had a prior commitment at a housing conference hosted by ICTU. Deputy Casey was there. Our party is always represented at committee and it was no different on this occasion. Deputy Casey raised concerns with the Minister of State. I furnished a letter to the Minister yesterday, as soon as I could after realising those difficulties. I have just received that response from the Minister. I do not have sufficient time to peruse it adequately or respond appropriately. When we discussed this issue and many others in committee, including the performance of the Government on Rebuilding Ireland, the Minister of State said his officials are fast approaching providing the necessary guidelines to meet with our requirements. On foot of our commitment, will the Minister of State request the Business Committee to allow time within a few weeks for him to inform the House he is in a position to honour the commitment with those guidelines being updated to meet the demands? That is notwithstanding other issues we have on the lack of proper definitions and the issues Deputy Casey raised the other day. We hope and expect to pursue those if we can with the passage of our Bill which will further assist the sector and the market to respond to the need. That is in addition to the initiatives and financial assistance that can be given in the form of a grant or tax initiatives to bring those void units into use to revitalise and re-energise many towns and villages throughout the country which unfortunately do not have the help and necessary means to do this. Many months ago we proved the Government's effort with the repair and lease scheme was failing, despite the best of intentions. We made recommendations and I acknowledge the Government has now committed to improving them.

I thank the Minister of State for the further information. Sinn Féin has no difficulty with regulation 1 and 3. I will make some comments on the second one. We absolutely support the intention of the regulation. All of the parties in this House want to see over-the-shop commercial units, in particular, brought into residential use particularly in rural towns and inner city areas as quickly as possible. I raised some questions at committee before I had to leave on Tuesday but I read the Official Report afterwards. I discussed the matter with the Minister of State last night and we had opportunities to question the Minister, Deputy Murphy, about it today.

I have four concerns. The Minister of State addressed one of them, which was the compliance requirements, although I still wonder if it would not have been more appropriate to have something making that very clear in the statutory instrument as opposed to the verbal commitments afterwards. I also have a question about whether the enforcement powers of the local authorities with regard to breaches of regulations are in any way diminished by the absence of the planning permission. For example, if, notwithstanding the fact there are still assigned certifiers, there is something inappropriate, can the local authority still go in and do inspections and carry out enforcement action in the absence of a planning permission?

I absolutely share Deputy Cowen's concern about the fire safety technical guidance documents. The worry is somebody might apply, or not apply as the case may be, for this exemption following the passing yet there is a grey area in terms of what exactly are the technical requirements. I am specifically concerned with fire safety. I support Deputy Cowen's request for further information about that at the soonest opportunity. The deadline for consultation on the new draft guidelines for minimum apartment sizes was today and I am not clear how that is going to affect this. In many cases they will be apartments and it is not clear whether the new guidelines are only for new build apartments or for renovations.

We do not want to delay this. We do not want to stand in its way but our concerns are genuine. If there is anything else the Minister of State can say to us today in committee or on the floor of the House to allay our concerns we would be very grateful.

I also urge an extra level of vigilance if this is to go through. Notwithstanding that we are supporting enthusiastically the Fianna Fáil Bill and we want to see the one-stop-shop enacted, an extra level of vigilance should be put in place both at Department and local authority level to stamp out situations where an unscrupulous property owner sees an opportunity to subdivide inappropriately and create substandard accommodation for people, some of whom may be in very vulnerable positions. I am uncomfortable having to make a decision in the absence of some of that information today although I appreciate there was a clash with committee on Tuesday and that is not the Minister's fault. These are genuine concerns and it is really important they are addressed today and in the days and weeks coming.

I am not a member of the committee; I know I can attend but I was not present because I had a clashing commitment. I have very much the same position as the previous speakers. I do not think there are any particular issues with the regulations that deal with water or antennae and broadband. I do not have anything particular to say about those.

The regulation on the conversion of vacant commercial units for residential use is by far the most substantial of the three regulations. I will not oppose it either. We want to see this happening quickly. There have been a number of previous schemes designed to bring vacant properties back into use particularly the living over the shop scheme which sounded like a great idea but never really delivered. The living city initiative was supposed to, in my city in particular, bring good results but has been really slow. It has been modified somewhat and hopefully that will be effective.

There must be movement regarding vacant properties, particularly in the centres of our towns, villages and cities. I would like the modified initiative to be effective.

I do not have particular difficulties with the specific recommendations but I support what previous speakers said. I particularly support Fianna Fáil's proposals for a one-stop shop. I have read some of Orla Hegarty's work on the matter and it makes complete sense. It would make matters much clearer for those who are trying to do things quickly as a result of the urgent need to have people living in these spaces, which one sees when one visits other European cities. When I was in Paris recently for a rugby match involving Munster, I looked at lovely homes over commercial premises all over the city. The position is the same in other large cities. We need to see that this happens in Ireland.

I hope that what is proposed will speed up the process but we also need to ensure that empty buildings are filled, especially in many of the towns throughout the country that have empty premises in their heart. It is slightly beyond the focus of this debate but I want there to be a focus on that also. I do not know why local authorities should not be given funds to acquire these premises, many of which could be purchased cheaply because they are run down and have been vacant for a long time. Local authorities could renovate them and let them out as social homes. When I was in the Minister of State's position, I worked with Athy town council on this. I allocated the funding and the council did the work to bring properties back into use. That is one example of what can be done. I would love to see it happen throughout the country and I would love the Minister of State to take action. It is not covered by what we are discussing but it is part of the idea of bringing people back to live in what could be homes in our towns, villages and cities. That is very important.

I also have concerns regarding the proposal relating to minimum apartment sizes, although that is not before the House today. The Minister of State might give us an indication of the plans in this regard. Questions on fire safety and technical guidance were raised by previous speakers.

We do not want to delay this proposal. We need to see quick progress, particularly on vacant commercial units that can become homes for the people who so badly need them.

I have a few concerns on this matter. Everybody wants to see this being done in circumstances where commercial units can be brought into use for families and individuals. No one wants to delay the process but it is right that there should be some debate because what is proposed is that, until the end of 2021, vacant commercial units can become residential units without being subjected to the planning process. That is an important change that could have an impact in towns, villages, residential areas and so on. It may have visual consequences. It allows exterior changes to be made and people will not have the right to object. There is also the question of fire safety and other issues where there could be serious consequences.

I am also concerned about enforcement. Anybody who has been a local councillor or who has been around and about knows that, as a result of a lack of staff in councils, it is impossible to ensure enforcement in respect of breaches. Will the Government beef up staffing levels to allow for enforcement?

The standards must be very high, but that is not the case with building control standards in this country.

The matter about which I am most concerned relates to telecommunications and broadband. Over the years, I have had much experience of people's concern regarding masts, in particular, and antennae, which are exempt development for most commercial buildings but which are often located near schools and residential areas where communities are not given the opportunity to object. It is a significant cause for concern that people have no opportunity to have a say. We need answers on these issues.

I have been asking for this debate since it was originally scheduled that the regulations be disposed of by the House without debate. I will not oppose these measures. Indeed, I do not know if we have the power to do so.

The Deputy does have that power. I hope he will not use it but he does have it.

There is an overriding need to get empty units back into use. I do not have a problem with the Irish Water side of things. On change of use, the overriding imperative is to get over-the-shop units into use. There are many such units in Dún Laoghaire. In fact, there are dozens of them and they could be used to provide much-needed accommodation.

I appreciate the fact that officials from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government contacted me to discuss this matter. However, I was not entirely satisfied with the answers I received about how we will ensure that the safety and building regulations and standards will be policed and guaranteed, and that there will be checks and enforcement to ensure that these buildings are up to standard. We know that there are plenty of landlords who are quite happy to allow people to exist in squalid, sometimes horrific, conditions, often in damp apartments. There are landlords who are very capable of allowing people to rent in these circumstances and we must have guarantees that this will not be allowed to happen and that this will be genuinely policed by local authorities, given the exceptional nature of waiving planning permission in this regard. Will the Minister of State give us assurances on this?

What will we do when controversial planning applications are submitted? Take the current example of Bullock Harbour, where there was significant opposition to a completely inappropriate development. That opposition led to the submission of a second planning application, which included supposedly marine-related commercial units in an effort to neutralise opposition to excessive residential development. Is it the case that a developer could choose to not use those for commercial purposes and a year later say that they are being changed to residential even when this flies in the face of the reason for which planning permission was originally given?

On antennae, the issues have already been raised about people's concerns. How can the real concerns that communities have on this matter be addressed?

Deputy Fitzmaurice will speak in the time available to the Independents 4 Change.

I support the regulations. For years, many elected representatives here have said that planning must be made simpler in certain situations in order that we have housing. Unfortunately, many people have moved out of towns and small villages in rural areas and this has left them like ghost towns because no one is living there any longer. We need to ensure that we make things simple. At its best, the planning system can be very onerous, particularly in the context of many of our rural areas.

There was a time when there could have been ten or 12 licensed premises in a town and many shops. Unfortunately, we have seen how banks have absconded from rural parts of Ireland. We note the change of use which is required which could facilitate a circumstance where instead of a building looking shabby, that it could be done up and have people living in it, and provide them with a home. It is very important. It would be a step in the right direction. It would not solve all our problems but it would help and would be a step in the right direction.

I agree with others who spoke of the need to ensure that fire regulations etc. are adhered to.

What we need - it is grand putting down a motion here to change regulations or whatever - is staff up to speed in the different authorities so that they do not put applicants through torture for hours on end trying to get something through because sometimes procedures can be differently in different local authorities around the country.

I have something to ask the Minister of State that is not directly connected to this motion but that relates to the planning issue. A circular was issued to county managers about one-off housing. For living communities, we need the sons and daughters of families to be able to live in those areas. If we keep letting populations go down, we will continue to see the numbers in some schools in rural areas decline. The Minister of State, Deputy English, coming from a rural area, probably understands this better than most. Whatever his officials, who might not live and work in rural parts of Ireland, might think, the Minister of State knows it fairly well. I would ask Deputy English to put a stop to that type of thinking straight away. We also need to ensure we simplify the planning process as much as possible.

There is something else I would like the Minister of State to do that would be of benefit to the country. We have talked about it over the past few months. We saw the Apple planning process in Athenry and what the company has gone through. I note that one of the same people is on the high road again, objecting to a project in Dublin. We need to forward-plan and perhaps pick out eight or ten areas of the country that would be suitable and do all our planning. One must go through due process - I am not saying that the State does not do that - but we need to have shovel-ready sites prepared rather than have companies being dragged through the courts. We welcome investment in rural parts of Ireland that create jobs because they are required. If we could do some forward planning on that, it would be helpful. Otherwise, we will keep going down the same road with the same people. They are nearly driving around the country following projects to keep objecting to everything, which is intolerable, is costing jobs and is affecting rural communities. Everybody cannot live and work in Dublin. We need to make vibrant communities. As the Minister of State is involved in the national planning framework, I hope that when it is published in two or three weeks' time, it is a totally different document than the draft we got a few weeks ago because it was a lame excuse from a Department in the context of trying to achieve regional developments in all parts.

I understand Deputy Michael Collins is sharing with Deputy Mattie McGrath.

Yes. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I wish to raise a number of issues under these proposed regulations or rather, other issues relating to planning and development regulations that are not addressed by this document but have been passed on to the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government.

I agree at the outset about over-the-shop living. I fought strongly for it to be included in the programme for Government because it gives the Minister an opportunity to rejuvenate towns and villages throughout Ireland that have lost out. There are plenty of them in my own constituency, for example, Leap, Castletownbere, Skibbereen, Goleen, Kinsale, Dunmanway and Drimoleague. All of these towns need more life and there are loads of people looking for housing in these towns and they are unable to get it. A two-bedroom council house has become available in Ballydehob in the past couple of days and while I have received a number of calls about it, they cannot all get into that house. If there was a opportunity for more over-the-shop development, there would be an opportunity for at least some accommodation for these people.

Making planning more simplified is something I plead with the Minister of State to fight for. I refer to the difficulties the ordinary couple who are trying to start off in life encounter. We all receive representations from such couples in our constituencies every day of the week. They have been run out of their own ground. They have acres of ground and they cannot find a site on it. They look for a nice place to set up living and they have difficulties with the banks and with planning. They spend 12 months fighting with the planners costing tens of thousands of euro. They need to be in a situation where the planner sits down with them and identifies a site, they go forward and work towards their planning in a three-to-four month period, and for it not to be dragged out the way it is being done for them.

I have brought up the issue of giving planning exemptions on many occasions with the Minister of State. We have to be careful. We saw what has happened with the Bantry mechanical harvesting situation. Deputy English is tired of and worn out from hearing me. I say genuinely the Minister of State is not to blame. I will make that clear from the floor of the Dáil here. Deputy English did not sign that document. I am not saying that, but the Minister of State will be aware the planning process was very flawed on that.

It was not an exemption, to be clear. One must not mislead the Houses.

I know that. What I am saying is that Deputy English was not to blame. I will say this. Under section 12(2), he can revoke the licence with no financial implications to the Government.

I will say this to the Minister of State before I conclude. There is a public meeting to which Deputy English has been invited on Sunday next and perhaps he can relay his message or some of the Deputies from Fine Gael can relay the message to the people of Bantry and allay their fear. What I am saying is this. If the Minister of State can, under section 12(2), revoke the licence, he can put it back through the planning system and let everybody have their say on it.

I too want to speak on this. I especially welcome the situation regarding the over-the-shop developments. I lobbied, with Deputy Michael Collins and the Rural Independent Group, for this to be included in the programme for Government, and several times since and previously. Indeed, I made a submission to the County Tipperary development plan. In addition to the floors upstairs above shops, many of the huge shops downstairs will never again be turned into a shop, and they have nice facades. I also note in this regard that the Government will allow some change to facades. That is fine, once it is not an extravagant change. The regulation is badly needed and I support it 100%. The sooner it is passed, the better.

The other aspect is Irish Water. I understand totally, as regards works and pipes in developments. We are doing a major job in Tipperary town at present. We must be able to proceed with all such works and the ancillary works as well. I merely seek clarification on Part 8. Do they need Part 8 for reservoirs or for bigger issues?

I also have an issue with the masts for health reasons. They must be located a distance away from schools and other public buildings. I note they are on Garda stations and many gardaí and their families are unhappy about them as well.

The issue I have with Irish Water - I tried to amend this - is that the combined sewer at the rear of houses, many of which were built by local authorities 70 years and which the local authorities always maintained, got dropped off in the transposing of the documents on the infrastructure of the local authorities across to Irish Water. I think it was deliberate. The same happened in England and they brought in legislation. I am trying to introduce a Private Members' Bill where householders have significant costs and problems with the backing up of sewers. This affects every town and many villages. These old pipes - these were quasi-public waterways because they were servicing all the houses - were installed by the local authorities and now Irish Water will not go near them. Irish Water will not allow in the local authority workers, who always cleaned them, for example, with DynoJet to unblock them, to free them and it is backing up in people's properties, causing anguish and angst, especially to the elderly. In a line, one house, at the end or in the middle of it, is getting the blockage. Others are expected to pay to have them cleaned, which is expensive. That needs to be looked at. Those quasi-public sewers should have been included in the transposition of the documents. I think it was deliberate. Whether it was an accident or deliberate, it should be rectified. That infrastructure should be brought in under this as well because it is causing enormous stress to many families.

In accordance with the order of the House, I must deal with the proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2018. The question is that the motion be agreed to. Is it agreed?

Is there time so that I can provide a couple of answers?

Can we not get some answers?

I am implementing the order of the House that there be eight five-minute slots. Those who maybe are wiser than I should have thought about that at the time but I cannot do this on an ad hoc basis.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle has discretion.

On a point of order, I am on the Business Committee as well.

What is different? The committee did not do it.

It came before us that we would allow for this debate today. Surely the Minister of State is entitled to reply.

This is very clear. The Order of Business provides for eight five-minute slots.

We have not used eight.

We have not used some.

Could we have a little flexibility?

We have only used seven.

It is farcical, if we will be allowed ask questions and not get answers.

Just one second, Deputy Mattie McGrath is a member of the Business Committee.

Yes. We did not discuss it at the Business Committee. We did it by telephone. We were asked to do it like this.

Whatever way, it was incorporeal or whatever.

There is an eighth slot left.

In light of the fact that seven slots were taken, I beg the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's indulgence to allow the eighth slot to the Minister for State to respond.

If the House agrees to this-----

Is the Minister of State proposing that we amend the Order of the House? It is normally done by the Whip.

We accept the amendment.

It is agreed. On with it. There will be no questions, only a few responses.

I have a few quick responses.

We need to hear these words of wisdom.

It is nice of the Deputy. I will remember that.

They had better be good.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to clarify a number of points. This is different from the way in which these motions are normally dealt with. The committee clashed last week and we did not get a full chance to discuss this in detail. If it is of help to Deputy Barry Cowen, I have here a copy of the reply to the letter he raised with the Minister. It deals with and brings clarity to many of the questions Deputy Cowen raised. I reassure the House that what is proposed is absolutely not a dumbing down of the building control regulations; it concerns an exemption from planning permission only. All the regulations on fire safety and so on will not change. Regarding the discussion about the guidance document, Deputy Cowen has asked that it come back before the House. I am happy to commit to that. I committed at the committee yesterday to do that. However, that is a matter of the desire to make it easier for these properties to be brought back into use. The guidance as of today exists until we have a discussion about it. There is no dumbing down whatsoever of the standards of these houses. That is not what we are encouraging here. What we are trying to do with these exemptions is to reflect the workings of this House, what all Deputies seek and what we want. The aim of Fianna Fáil's Bill, our recommendation in the Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness and the discussion at the committee is that these vacant buildings be brought back into use for residential purposes. That is what this is about. I acknowledge that most people here agree on that and I accept we did not get a chance to discuss it at the committee. I was there, and the way the committee landed did not suit. To put the House at ease, this is not a dumbing down of the quality of these houses.

If any change is made to parking guidelines with the new apartment guidelines that are coming through, it would change for this as well, but only if there are changes in that regard. There is no way around that.

To respond to Deputy Jan O'Sullivan's comments on funding, there are a number of schemes in this regard. Deputy Cowen referred to the repair-and-leasing scheme. I, for one, had hoped that would have worked a lot better. I am still not sure why it did not. We are making changes to the scheme to try to make it more attractive. To me, it was a good scheme even before any change. It is more attractive now but it needs to be pushed and encouraged, and I have asked local authorities to use the scheme to encourage people to bring forward accommodation for social housing. There is also funding through the purchase-and-renew scheme. Local authorities can buy up derelict or vacant properties, repair them and bring them back into use. There are other streams of funding as well. We want to tackle vacancy and dereliction as much as we possibly can. The aim of this exemption is to make it easier for those properties to be brought back into use and make the process less confusing and less costly, avoiding the need for the contributions people would have to pay. However, again, the scheme is only for developments of up to nine dwellings. We are not in favour of letting anyone avoid the social housing requirements under Part V.

To answer Deputy Mattie McGrath's questions about Irish Water, it cannot take part in Part 8.

To answer Deputy Michael Collins's question, Part 8 does not-----

Excuse me, did the Minister of State say "cannot"?

Irish Water is not a part of that. It cannot apply for planning permission under Part 8. We are giving Irish Water the same exemptions the local authorities had before - nothing less, nothing more, just exactly what was always there. A question was asked about pipes going through people's gardens, public pipes going through private gardens. Because gardens can extend over boundaries over lifetimes, what has generally happened is that the lanes that people own on council properties would disappear. That is being dealt with. We are trying to get a working arrangement to sort that out. If it needs legislation, we will introduce it. This was not done on purpose; it was missed during the changes made a number of years ago.

It could not have been missed.

Regarding Deputy Michael Collins's question, the issue he raised has nothing to do with an exemption. That is a planning permission and a licence permission issue, and it would be unfair to confuse this debate on exemptions in that way. There are other issues in this regard, and my job is to try to put conditions on the exemption to ensure we develop it sustainably. I have done what I can from my end. As Deputy Michael Collins himself said, it was granted a significant number of years ago by previous Ministers. I have tried to ensure we control it as best we possibly can.

Regarding the point as to how we can guarantee this, we will issue guidance to the local authorities specifically to monitor and watch this, but all the current building control regulations kick in. The assigned certifier, the design certifier - all that is there for any other building is there for this as well. There is no way out of this for anyone; it is not a quick way out. However, I agree with everyone here that we need to strengthen the local authorities' manpower and finances for building control in general and for development control. We will do that, but there is no lessening of regulations for these buildings in this exemption. Because of the nature of what we are doing here, I will ask local authorities to monitor this more closely and we will strengthen their resources to do that. However, again, we are not changing the rules for these buildings at all; we are just introducing an exemption from planning permission.

The planning enforcement powers will not change because of this proposal. This exemption does not lessen the planning enforcement powers the local authorities have. I agree with Deputy Ó Broin that, in terms of funding and personnel, we should strengthen their teams through this, not just for this case, and we will do that. There are issues with the vacancy Bill that we are still trying to tease through. We do not agree with everything in it, as we discussed at the committee yesterday, but this proposal is a reflection of much of what is in that Bill. I recognise the work that Fianna Fáil and the committee have done on that Bill. I was not trying to-----

Go raibh maith agat. We must now deal-----

I will drop Deputy Coppinger a letter about the telecommunications antennae but, again, the proposal only updates existing exemptions allowing for very small variations. It is not for large infrastructure at all. However, I will drop Deputy Coppinger a note on the matter to clarify it and put her mind at ease.

Question put and agreed to.