That, pursuant to Standing Order 200, Standing Order 154 is modified to provide that it be an instruction to the Committee, to which the Local Government (Rates) Bill 2018 may be recommitted, in respect of certain amendments that the Committee has power to make provision in the Bill in relation to:
(a) technical amendments to the Planning and Development Act 2000 to;
(i) provide one-off transitional arrangements to ensure that the Minister may issue a Direction to Regional Assemblies, if required, regarding their Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies, where the process commenced prior to establishment of the Office of the Planning Regulator; and,
(ii) underpin the special provisions for Cork City and County Councils to extend the period for review of their county development, for the purpose of incorporating the National Planning Framework and Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy into their development plans;
(b) amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 and the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 relating to;
(i) an exemption from the rent increase restriction in rent pressure zones in respect of the first rent setting only following works effecting a substantial change to the nature of a dwelling that is within or is a (proposed) protected structure where that dwelling has not been rented in the previous 12 months;
(ii) the provisions that apply to tenancies and licences in student-specific accommodation, and,
(iii) transitional arrangements for the commencement of provisions connected to student-specific accommodation and approved housing bodies, and
to change the title of the Bill and make other consequential amendments required to take account of these changes.
The core purpose of the Bill is to modernise various enactments that govern the powers of local authorities to levy and collect commercial rates. The Bill should make the commercial rates regime more efficient and effective for ratepayers and local authorities. Commercial rates are a vital source of local authority income, making up approximately one third of local government current income every year, making them the single largest source of income for local authorities and providing income to the sector of almost €1.5 billion per annum. This income provides between 16% and 53% of total funding for local services at individual local authority level and makes a vital contribution to the delivery of local services that businesses and communities benefit from.
The core objective of the Bill concerns improvements in commercial rates and further proposed amendments will include making additions to the valuation list immediately effective for rating. Furthermore, there are proposed critical and time-sensitive amendments to other legislation. For reasons of efficiency and urgency, it is proposed to include a number of additional amendments in the Bill. These were signalled on Committee Stage and members of the select committee were briefed by my officials.
As the House is aware, the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019, enacted on 24 May, introduces a number of key measures and reforms designed to enhance enforcement powers for the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, provide greater security of tenure for tenants and underpin further the operation of the rent pressure zone, RPZ, arrangements, along with further targeted priority measures. While the majority of the provisions in the Act have already been commenced, it is the Minister's intention to commence the provisions relating to student accommodation in July, ahead of the upcoming academic year. The remaining provisions, relating to annual registration, are scheduled for commencement in the first quarter of 2020, when the RTB is in a position to roll out annual registration.
The Minister has worked closely with the Minister of State with responsibility for higher education, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, the Attorney General and members of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government to deliver these important protections for students, living in student-specific accommodation. It is important that the 4% per annum rent increase restriction in RPZs applies in this sector and that there is recourse for students to the dispute resolution services of the RTB. Students in both private and public residential accommodation are deserving of equal protection. Tenancy and licence registration requirements and the new RTB sanctioning regime for improper conduct will also apply to the student-specific accommodation.
The changes relating to the recently enacted student-specific accommodation provisions, including section 37, of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 are primarily technical. The amendment to section 37 also has the effect of closing off a potential means of circumventing the application of aspects of the Act of 2004 to student-specific accommodation occupied under licence. Technical amendments are also proposed to clarify that the student-specific accommodation provisions and the provisions requiring annual registration can come into force separately and to replace "include" with "apply to" in the new section 3(1A)(a) that was inserted into the Act of 2004 by section 3 of the Act of 2019. The student-specific accommodation provisions are intended to commence in mid-July, prior to the later commencement of the provisions requiring annual registration that are expected to commence in quarter 1 of 2020, hence the urgency to address this issue before the summer recess.
The Act of 2019 also amended section 19 of the Act of 2004 to specify the types of works, including energy rating improvement works, that could qualify for the exemption from the RPZ rent increase restrictions that apply where a substantial change in the nature of the rental accommodation has been achieved that warrants a greater rent level. As protected structures are unable to qualify for this exemption on the basis of works to improve their building energy rating, it is proposed to further amend section 19(5)(a) of the Act of 2004 to allow the first rent set under the tenancy of a protected structure dwelling not rented in the previous 12 months to be the market rent.
I move now to the planning amendments referred to in the motion. An amendment is required to the Planning and Development Act 2000 to provide for transitional arrangements that are required, following the recent establishment of the Office of the Planning Regulator. This is a time-critical amendment in the context of the preparation of regional spatial and economic strategies, RSES, by the three regional assemblies, which are at an advanced stage. As currently enacted, the legislation provides only that the Minister can issue a direction in regard to the strategies on foot of a recommendation made to him by the planning regulator on the basis of the regulator having already been involved in the RSES process from the outset and having made submissions on the draft RSES document. However, the requirement relating to the planning regulator being involved from the outset cannot be satisfied for the current strategies as the process for all three had formally commenced prior to the establishment of the office. In all three cases, a draft regional strategy was published prior to the establishment of the Office of the Planning Regulator and submissions have already been made by the Minister.
The amendment now proposed provides for transitional arrangements to ensure that the Minister has a robust legal basis to issue a direction to a regional assembly, if necessary, that is not dependent on a recommendation by the planning regulator. The amendment will allow the Minister to issue a ministerial direction to the regional assemblies, if required, to ensure that the RSES is consistent with the national planning framework or other key Government strategies and national policies. This amendment has the effect of reverting back to the position that pertained prior to the establishment of the Office of the Planning Regulator. However, in the spirit of the Act, and in recognition that the new office has since been established, the proposed transitional arrangements include provision for the regulator to be requested by the Minister to enter into the RSES process in an advisory capacity. To facilitate this advisory engagement in the context of the current RSES process, the four-week timeframe for the Minister to issue a draft direction, which was the norm prior to the establishment of the Office of the Planning Regulator, is being extended to six weeks.
A further minor technical amendment is also being proposed to section 11(1)(b) of the Act to underpin the special provisions for Cork city and county councils to extend the period for review of their development plans, in order to incorporate the regional spatial and economic strategy into their plan. This ensures consistency in section 11(1)(a) and 11(1)(b) provisions.
In light of the urgent nature of the proposed amendments I have described, I commend the motion to the House.