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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 8 Dec 2021

Vol. 1015 No. 5

Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021: Report and Final Stages

As the Deputy is not present to move amendment No. 1, we will move on. Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 4, lines 23 and 24, to delete “, or such other percentage as may be prescribed,”.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 concern large-scale residential developments, LRDs. The Bill is the replacement for the strategic housing development, SHD, legislation and requires that not less than 70% of any large-scale development should be either homes or student accommodation, or homes and student accommodation. It then provides a get-out clause, which suggests it could be any other percentage that may be prescribed. We are seeking to delete that because there should not be any wriggle room in the need to provide the accommodation that is desperately needed to address the accommodation crisis, the housing crisis and the student accommodation crisis.

We have many other concerns regarding the legislation's ability to address the failures of the SHD model, and we will discuss those later. In this regard, we want to make sure there is no wriggle room in the proportion of the development that has to deliver accommodation.

For the floor space that is not used for housing, which may be necessary in a large-scale development, what goes into that floor space should be dictated through a proper consultation with the local community and what it feels is needed in that space that is not being provided or used for accommodation. It should not just come down to what the developer might wish to put in there, with a focus on how it can maximise its profits. If we are building large-scale housing developments, we want to make sure the services that will be provided as part of those developments will be beneficial to the community and will be what the community wants. The community should determine those things. That is the point of these two amendments.

This is extremely interesting. When you are deciding what will be built in a large-scale development, it is obvious that the people building the development are not stupid. They would only build what the market needs and what is required in an area. For instance, in County Kerry we have a desperate urgency and need for one and two-bedroom accommodation. I know the Minister is acutely aware of that and in a recent visit to Kerry he heard that and acknowledged it, and I know he is deeply interested in helping to provide that type of accommodation. Each place around this country is unique in its own way and we have different pressures in different areas.

I have a worry when it comes to regulating. I know Deputy Boyd Barrett has good intentions when he mentions wriggle room but the thing about wriggle room is that we have to be careful that we do not bring in legislation that is so rigid that it frightens people away from developing and providing accommodation and that they would decide not to develop a piece of ground, rejuvenate a site, invest, spend money, borrow money or put money towards accommodation. It comes back to the old story of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We want to provide accommodation of all different types and sizes. I am detailing the unique and urgent need we have in County Kerry for one and two-bedroom accommodation. We need ordinary three and four-bedroom accommodation as well but our local authority has clearly identified what we want. I have no doubt Deputy Boyd Barrett is acutely aware of what is required in his area; probably nobody would know better. If you bring in legislation and it is made too rigid, I am fearful we could bring about the opposite effect to what we want. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to come in.

I thank Deputies Boyd Barrett, Gino Kenny, Paul Murphy and Bríd Smith for tabling these amendments. We discussed this at some length on Committee Stage and we had a good engagement where I was able to explain the rationale behind this. I agree with Deputy Healy-Rae. I know he is not a member of the Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage so he did not take part in that discussion but what we are doing with this Bill is bringing planning back to local authorities. Instead of An Bord Pleanála making decisions above and over the heads of local authorities, we are bringing it back to local authorities and redemocratising many aspects of planning. It is not a replacement of the HSE - gabh mo leithscéal, I meant to say it is not a replacement of the SHD, strategic housing development, process. Rather, we are ending it-----

We could do with a replacement for the HSE as well.

We cannot do everything at once. We are bringing that back to our councils, where it should be. In a compliment to Deputy Boyd Barrett, Deputy Healy-Rae said no one would know the housing needs in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown better than him. I put it to him that maybe the only people who would are the planners in that area and that is the purpose of this. We cannot be, nor should we be, overly prescriptive in allowing certain discretions to happen at local authority level.

There has been good engagement on this and broadly positive acceptance of most of the measures within this legislation. That has not happened with all of the measures and that is fine. That is the way we can frame legislation better and we have made some changes on the way through this Bill. The reality of it is that any local authority will need to have the ability to respond to circumstances that may arise in the future. Where do we see large-scale residential developments, LRDs, and this 30% coming in? It is not an attack on the residential element of it. If anything it is the opposite. It is doing exactly what the Deputy has been asking for and it is making sure that, in the larger developments, we have the complementary and other services that are required to make that development viable, livable and good quality.

I have been a critic of SHDs and they have failed to deliver what they were intended to deliver because we have not seen the throughput of effective planning permissions that have been granted. It was a restriction to 15%. In the research we did on that we found it was making it more difficult to develop out and provide good developments that had coffee shops, crèches and all of those things, especially in brownfield site developments. That is where I see a lot of the LRDs, although not all of them, focusing - on the brownfield sites that we have not been able to develop heretofore at any decent scale in any of our cities or major regional towns. I am sure in Tralee, Killarney, Dublin, Dún Laoghaire, Buncrana or wherever we will all know brownfield sites that have not been developed. We need to let our local authorities get back to doing that properly. Why are we doing LRDs and why am I bringing in this legislation? First, I am doing it to end the SHD process from 17 December. Second, I am doing it to make sure we can streamline and provide the many thousands of homes we need. We will not deliver them with a planning process like the SHD process, which does not lead to planning permissions being effected and homes being delivered.

Understanding the motive behind the Deputy’s amendments, I think they would have the reverse effect. He would be tying the hands of local planners to decide on specific applications that come in. I put it to the Deputy that the best people to decide on planning are not politicians but planners. They are the ones who are charged with doing that job in each of the local authorities. By getting rid of SHDs, the LRD process allows the publicly elected councillors to know about the applications and it allows the residents to make observations in a two-stage planning process at the early stage. I know we will get to the question of pre-application soon. The LRD process is also time-bound and efficient. It has strict time constraints and turnaround times for requests for pre-application, holding those meetings, the planning application going in, and everything else that is required for it.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 relate to the other uses allowed in LRDs and we need that to make viable and livable developments. Amendment No. 2 seeks to remove the ability to vary the percentage of residential use that must be provided in the LRD development by way of a regulation. I consider that the proposed amendment would limit the ability to respond to future circumstances. We have set the threshold at 70 but we will allow that to be varied. The amendment would limit flexibility that might be required to address the operation of the scheme in practice over time, which may also effect the viability of those sites being developed out and the quality of those developments. That would mean we would continue to have brownfield sites, that we all know of, not developed and not providing good and high-density developments for our people. High-density developments can be good when planned properly and at a local area. This is particularly with regard to urban areas and brownfield sites.

The ability to vary by regulation the percentage of LRD "other use" floor space that makes up a development will allow the planning system to respond to changing market conditions also. It would allow it to see what the circumstances are in any given area and determine if there is an over supply of a certain type of commercial activity in a given area or if there is too little residential development in another. There is nothing to be feared from this provision. If anything, it will make things better. Restricting the ability of our planners to make that decision would be a mistake which is why I cannot accept amendment No. 2.

Amendment No. 3 proposes that a public consultation shall take place with individuals and community groups in relation to "other use" floor space. The planning authority will have to have due regard to any observations received in connection with determining the granting of permission for "other use" floor spaces. We are bringing the process back so that people will actually be able to make submissions at planning stage. We will get to the pre-application stage shortly as we move through and there will be other mechanisms there whereby there will be proper transparency around pre-planning, which is needed. The decision on whether or not to grant permission, with or without conditions, is a matter for the local authority concerned. In making its decision on a planning application, the local authority is required to have regard to, among other things, any submissions or observations received in respect of planning applications. Why is that important? It is important because up to now, as we discussed on Committee Stage, when there was an SHD application, the first time an individual, apart from the local authority, could make a submission was directly to An Bord Pleanála. That is why we have seen an increase in judicial reviews in that space. If people were not happy with a decision, they had to go further and go to court. That will not be the case in this instance. Observations are back at the right stage, where they should be, which is at the start of the planning process when a planning application is lodged. All of the details of the development are made public and people will be able to make their observations. Furthermore, as I mentioned on Committee Stage, every elected member within that local authority area must be advised, and not at the discretion of the council, of any application under LRD that is lodged in the council area.

As I mentioned in relation to other proposed amendments on Committee Stage last week, the submission of observations on planning applications is the correct and long-established way for members of the public, be they individuals, community groups or any other interested parties, to have their say and to provide their input on such planning applications, including on the "other use" component. We varied that component on the basis of research which showed that the 15% limit ensured that a lot of developments did not happen and would not have been of the quality needed. For those reasons, I cannot accept amendments Nos. 2 or 3.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 4, line 25, after “development” to insert the following:

“with regard to the LRD floor space not used for the purposes of housing,a public consultation shall take place with individuals and community groups which the planning authority shall have due regard to in determinations of the granting of permissions for such floor space”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

With the permission of the House, I am going to go back to amendment No.1. I probably cannot do that so I need the permission of the House. Is the Minister in agreement on that?

I do not mind. I have no objection but is that permitted under Standing Orders?

I think there is discretion but I certainly need the agreement of the House.

I will be guided by the Leas-Cheann Comhairle on this but I have no objection.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

It was a real dash to get over here. I was caught at something else. I was waiting for a vote on the last one but it did not happen-----

We do not always have to divide. Sometimes there is unanimity.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:

“ ‘Community Organisation’ means an established, active and representative, residents organisation, based in the locality of the proposed development;”.

We will see how we get on. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the House for agreeing to take these amendments out of order. I apologise for not getting here on time. We had a discussion on these amendments on Committee Stage. Amendment No.1 provides that a definition of a community organisation be included in section 2. Amendment No. 21, which is also being discussed in this group, is the amendment to which the community organisation relates and what happens in that regard.

As I said during the Committee Stage debate, it is important that the local communities in which developments are taking place would be able to get involved in the process at a very early stage. That would be of benefit to the developers as well as the local communities in that it would remove a lot of the misinformation that is put about in relation to developments and so on. It is important for communities to get involved at an early stage so they can see exactly what is planned and exchanges of documentation would mean they are aware of what is happening. The Minister emphasised on Committee Stage that councillors would have to be provided with information on developments and he argued that this would meet the need of communities but I do not agree. I believe that communities need to be informed as well. That is very important. The Minister has also argued that there could be some difficulty with how community organisations would be identified in local authority areas but I do not believe it is difficult for local authorities to identify community organisations that they would have lots of experience of dealing with. I do not believe it is beyond the realm of possibility that it could be done. I do not accept that as a reasonable explanation for not doing this in the legislation. Ultimately, this is the crux of the problem and there is a real need for communities to be involved at an early stage.

Like Deputy Pringle, I also rushed over - so much so that I forgot my jacket - and I am glad that the House has agreed to take the amendment at this point. Something very fundamental is happening in this Bill. We are restoring to the local authority level the first opportunity for decisions on planning applications and that is really crucial. There have been lots of issues with developments in my community and in many other communities. Often when one breaks it down, there are multiple reasons for that. There are people who are opposed to high-rise developments. Many communities have rejected the model that the market has brought forward, the buy-to-let-only developments which mean that people will never be able to purchase a home. There are also people who are deeply annoyed that their community did not get what they would see as the first say on a planning application, with their local councillors and their established community activists. I recognise what this Bill does, which is to restore to local communities and their local authorities, the first opportunity to assess a planning application. That is really important. This is something that the Minister has been working on for some time. There are legal difficulties and transition arrangements but I, along with others like Deputy Lahart, will be very pleased to see this Bill pass because we know it will end SHDs and will restore that community voice.

What did we learn during the SHD process? We learned that by consulting with communities, we iron out many of the issues that need to be resolved in a planning application and that by not giving communities a say, the problem gets pushed further down the process. People's only option, in many cases, was to take judicial reviews. That was done very successfully in my community in relation to the Glenhill development where residents felt there was a contravention of the development plan without any adequate reason and they were supported. In Santry, residents opposed a particular development but unfortunately, because of the huge burden of responsibility of putting together a case, they failed to meet the required timeline and felt they were stymied at both ends. We learned that giving communities a say actually helps the planning process, helps applications to get through and helps to improve the final outcome.

Therefore, I think Deputy Pringle's amendment has great merit, not least because it is very similar to an amendment I put forward on Committee Stage. There was one slight difference between our two amendments. We are both saying that at pre-planning levels, communities should have a say. I agree that the level and significance of that needs to be teased out and perhaps legislation is a hard place to do that. However, there is nothing wrong with giving communities access to information that applications are coming down the tracks and that councils are actively engaging with developers. If we follow the principle that by giving communities more involvement, it will help the overall process, the logical conclusion is that we notify communities when pre-planning happens.

A lot of pre-planning goes nowhere. That is fine. We have to make sure that we do not swamp communities which are excluded because they cannot keep up with the flow of information coming at them. The Minister told me on Committee Stage that he would consider the principle of my amendment and that of Deputy Pringle and that he might come back on Report Stage. The fundamental difference between the two was that my amendment would use the public participation network, PPN, which is the local authority-approved structure and the secretariat which is paid to provide secretarial services to the PPN. It would effectively allow residents' associations to register with their PPN as they do already and by using that statutory structure, it would allow them to be notified of pre-planning applications that are coming in.

As I examined the proposal, I realised there is a lot of work yet to do on this. My amendment, which I hoped would facilitate it, still needs more work so I can appreciate why the Minister might not be in a position to accept Deputy Pringle's amendment. However, I urge the Minister to consider a scheme that would use regulations along the lines that Deputy Pringle and I are proposing so that local communities would be alerted at pre-planning stage of applications that are coming down the tracks and on which local authority officials are engaging with developers. We say "developers" but that often refers to approved housing bodies and others. We have put a lot of work into ensuring that there is public housing on public land. Sometimes that is done through the Part 8 system and sometimes through the regular planning system.

We have a similar amendment but we support Deputy Pringle's amendment. I am surprised they are not grouped. Deputy Pringle's is a bit more fleshed out. It relates to the earlier discussion about the non-residential space in these large-scale developments. The point about these developments is that they are large scale and they have big impacts on towns, communities and populations in a way that relatively small-scale developments do not. They need to be viewed differently because they can fundamentally alter the character of an area. They can alter the landscape of an area and significantly impact in a lasting way. To go slightly off the point, some would say that the biggest disaster that ever happened in Dún Laoghaire was Dún Laoghaire shopping centre. I actually quite liked it when I was a teenager but arguably it has become a major problem in the town's development.

One can never perfectly legislate for these kinds of things but with the benefit of experience of the wrong kind of development often happening and the SHD being a particular model which has failed and done so quite spectacularly, we need to learn some lessons to try and do it better the next time around. One lesson is that with large sites, where there is potential for a big development impact, we cannot see it in terms of waiting to see what the developer hits us with. Then we are on the back foot from the word go because sites are sitting there for ages and often people do not know even who owns them. Then out of the blue - bang - there is a massive big development that is going to fundamentally impact on the people not only in the immediate vicinity but also on the entire town and that could fundamentally change the character of the area and impact on large numbers of people. We have to have a different approach to that kind of development than we do to the common or garden small or modest development. That means one gets the community in on the ground floor rather than having the community on the back foot reacting. Then there is an adversarial thing where people accuse one of always being a naysayer and serial objector. It is adversarial and confrontational from the word go. We need to change that.

I will give an example. I appreciate that the supporters of the Government are keen to say that this is a positive change and that they are bringing it back to the local authorities, that it is what we called for and it is. I accept that. Credit where it is due. However, things were not perfect around large-scale development before either. The SHD process was particularly bad but things had not been perfect before that. Therefore, returning to the pre-SHD status quo is not good enough. One can say the planners are good. Of course they are but the planners are also reacting to the proposals by private property owners who are primarily motivated by the concern to make money out of the site. Let us be honest here. These people are not primarily developing these sites in order to benefit the local community. That is not their purpose. Their purpose is to maximise the value of the site. They often have no connection whatever with the community but have come in because they see an opportunity to make money. There was a point about who knows what and whether they have good judgment and that we should not tie their hands when it comes to the site's viability. Think about some of the disastrous decisions these developers make simply on the basis of how they think they can make money. They cannot even get that right and they build stuff they cannot even make money out of. I would give the example of the Seamark Building on Merrion Road. I keep talking about this because it has been there for ten years. I pass it and it drives me absolutely ballistic every single day. This massive building built by McNamara is right beside St. Vincent's Hospital. It should be part of the hospital but it is just sitting there empty. It is an absolute disgrace. What a big mistake that was. Would the local community have ever suggested building that? They absolutely would not have suggested it.

The most recent example in my area is St. Michael's. One of the big SHDs that really broke the camel's back for many in Dún Laoghaire was a plan for a massive development on the St. Michael's Hospital carpark. First, it is shameful that the carpark of a public hospital - even if it is owned by a private religious charity but which we all pay for, it is our flipping hospital - was allowed to be sold to a developer. Then a big SHD was proposed. Everyone was going ballistic about it. It went to judicial review and then because, I think, the developers knew that the judicial review would not go well, they pulled out. Now, with this proposal, they would just put in a new application for a SHD on the site and that is allowed. This is a critical site. We in Dún Laoghaire will be dealing with another SHD, despite this legislation, on an absolutely critical site for the future development of Dún Laoghaire. This is on a historic, heritage site, overlooking the harbour, right next to the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council buildings. The people of Dún Laoghaire and the community organisations have ideas about what could be done with that site and always have had.

As for what is going on some of the areas adjacent to that, in and around Eblana Avenue and so on, people have long thought we could do brilliant things for Dún Laoghaire. We have already got the abomination of Richard Barrett's Bartra co-living development going up just around the corner. It got in under the wire and is now towering above Dún Laoghaire. Potentially, the group could still get an SHD on a site around the corner.

We are way over time. The Deputy will get a chance to come back in.

I thank Deputy Pringle for putting down the amendment. I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on it. There is broad consensus across all parties in the House that the sooner you bring people into the planning process, the more likely you are to get a development that mostly everybody is happy with. I do not think you will ever get one everybody is happy with. We should not ever be trying to chase that. I think every developer knows that and every resident does as well. What you do is bring people together.

Our planning system is very participative, right the way back. We end up with these conflicts when the drawing goes up and people see it and see five or six storeys or whatever it may be. However, our planning system is participative way back before that. The local residents elect councillors and that is a democratic process. Those councillors craft development plans and pass them. Then applications come in based on that development plan on which people can submit their observations. Those observations can be positive or negative. We always think in terms of objections but it is a submission and an observation on a planning application. I believe developers would be willing to engage in non-statutory consultations with local residents as well because they do not want a long, drawn-out process. They do not want a development that is going to be highly contentious and may end up in judicial review, and we have seen many of them going down that route. It makes a lot of sense. The earlier you bring people into the process, the more likely it is you are going to get an outcome that is acceptable to many people.

Deputy McAuliffe referred to bringing in the PPN, perhaps at the stage of the pre-planning consultations. I am not sure how that would work but at that stage, it would be sensible to try to bring in a community representative group. That would have to be an entity that exists so the PPN might actually be the right one. If you were trying to bring in a residents’ association it might be especially onerous on it to do that, whereas the PPN has those established links with the local authority already. It has those contacts out in the community and it could send that information out into the community where it is relevant. I hope the Minister will be able to look at this in the positive manner everybody is speaking about it with.

We are all aware we need to build more housing. That is obvious and every single one of us knows that. We do not hear people speaking about enough and in positive terms is that we have a limited amount of space in our town centres and in our towns and cities and we need to build at higher densities. It is always going to be contentious when you try to fit a large number of houses into an area where people have got used, over a generation, to having the type of three-bedroom semi-detached residential layout with eight to the acre and 20 to the hectare. That is the way we planned for the past 40 or 50 years. We planned all around the car and had this continuous sprawl out into the suburbs that results in people having commutes of two hours or more hour. They might be doing an hour and a half in the morning and the same in the evening. That has become normalised and it is really unacceptable.

We cannot make any more land and we cannot move it around. We know that. It is an unusual item in that sense. However, we must make the most of the land we have. Higher density make absolute sense to me. With higher density it is not just a matter of getting as many units as possible onto a single piece of land. It must bring other aspects into the whole planning process. It must bring a sense of community gain into it as well. It must provide for pocket parks or places where people can have recreation. Obviously, with higher density we are not going to be able to have front and back gardens of the same size as we had in the housing estates of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Thus, we must have that community gain and provision we see in many European developments. That is the way we are going to have to go and I think we know that. It allows us to provide transport and all those things that match that scale and the economies of scale that go with that. Bringing the community into the whole development process at that pre-planning stage where they can make those points makes a lot of sense.

I hope the Minister will take away these comments. I think that across the board here, Members believe he should look at this, either by regulation or whatever stage it may be, and come up with a process. Moreover, it should be a process that is sensible because not every pre-planning application is going to end up as a planning application. There are some that may not. We have seen examples of that in other areas where a site notice will go up and the application may be withdrawn. Then another site notice goes up. I had an example in my own town where there were about six or seven such notices up at the same time. That does not comply with the planning Act. You are meant to take your site notices down. People got confused and in the end they stopped paying attention to it. We do not want to end up in a situation like that, where we keep feeding out all this information, like saying there is a pre-planning consultation going on and nothing ever happens with it. Thus it needs to be gauged and done carefully. I hope the Minister will consider that as he thinks about this and brings it in through regulation or at the next stage, and takes on board what the Deputies have said.

I support both Deputy Pringle's amendments, as well as his comments and those of Deputies McAuliffe, Matthews and Boyd Barrett. Many of us have been arguing for quite some time that the earlier you involve third parties in any planning process, the better outcomes we get for everybody. However, I wish to put on record a slightly different view to a number of the comments.

I absolutely welcome the return to a two-stage process. The core of this Bill is a good proposition and many of us argued for it when we opposed SHDs at the outset. However, returning to a two-stage process is not, in and of itself, automatically going to result in a reduction in judicial reviews. I say that because the dramatic rise in judicial reviews of residential developments, which is something that was unheard of until 2020, is not actually due to the absence of a two-stage process. It stems from the conflict between the city and county development plans and the mandatory ministerial guidelines on building heights and design standards introduced by Eoghan Murphy, as well as the misapplication of the planning objectives contained in the national planning framework by An Bord Pleanála in some recent decisions. The difficulty is even though we will return to a two-stage process and that is good, the board, on appeal, potentially by a developer, may well continue the questionable practice it has been engaged in during the last two years. This has not only resulted in an increase in judicial reviews but a dramatic increase in the number of judicial reviews lost, at great cost to the Exchequer. It seems some members of the board do not seem to be cognisant of the fact they are repeatedly approving decisions on grounds that are repeatedly being challenged and defeated in the courts, and the taxpayer foots the Bill. We may not get to speak to them but Deputy Cian O’Callaghan has tabled amendments that deal with those issues with the mandatory ministerial guidelines. At some point, the Minister is going to have to deal with those.

Likewise, irrespective of the two-stage process, the very generous transitional mechanism, especially for applicants for the SHD process that are only entering pre-application now, is also going to lead to judicial reviews. When we discussed this at some length on an earlier Stage, I suggested there may well be a rush of applications to the board for pre-planning under SHD. The Minister said he did not believe that would be the case. On the front page of Monday’s edition of The Irish Times, Arthur Beesley has a good story showing there has been a significant increase in those pre-applications in the past three months when compared to this time last year. That relates to Deputy Boyd Barrett’s point. SHD applications will continue, in certain instances, until June 2022, with decisions by the board and potential challenges until October of next year. That is going to be highly problematic. Therefore, Deputy Matthew’s suggestion the Minister looks again at earlier pre-planning participation in a new large-scale residential development absolutely has merit. The essence of Deputy Pringle’s amendment is trying to achieve just that.

Unless we tackle those other two key issues, unfortunately, potential conflict will continue, not just between applicants for planning permission and third parties but between the board and our local authorities. From memory, nine local authorities have been in direct conflict with the board over planning decisions. The Minister and I are on record as questioning the logic of legal challenges involving two arms of the State. My view is that Dublin City Council has done the right thing in challenging the board on its disastrous decisions with respect to the docklands strategic development zone. The courts have upheld those legal challenges. Either way, that is not a good planning space to be in.

I anticipate the Minister will not accept many of these amendments we will get to, but these are issues we will have to return to. The Minister and his eminent officials will need to come back to us about them at a later stage. Otherwise, we will be going around in circles, as we have done for the past three or four years, on these important issues.

The integrity of our planning system can be summed up in one word - transparency. This means transparency in our planning laws, consultation, decision-making and appeals process. Pre-planning is a lesser known but very important part of the planning system, especially when it comes to large-scale developments. It is also a very important element of this Bill, which will deal with those developments. We all accept that meaningful collaboration with communities and residents is key to good planning. It is how developers achieve a plan that is a fit for the area as well as helping to tackle the housing crisis.

One of the benefits of the SHD process, and we can all agree there were not very many, was the dedicated website for residents. It worked. If the Minister makes provision for consultation mechanisms, similar to what is being discussed today, he should relook at that dedicated website for SHDs to see how it can be incorporated into this law. If he does that, it is vital that he goes beyond that and requires search engine optimisation so that those websites are easily found. That is the kind of transparency I refer to when I talk about the integrity of our planning system.

I support these amendments. The importance of early consultation and engagement with communities can create a win-win situation, reduce conflict and, what is very important, get local knowledge into the outline pre-planning process. Very often, that local knowledge is not held by developers, the people working for them or planners. It is very important to get that in. Exactly as Deputy Boyd Barrett said, we are talking about large applications that have significant impacts. To get that local knowledge in early is very useful.

The Minister said this is about redemocratising the planning system and bringing decision-making back to local authorities. Getting rid of the SHD process is doing that, but there are two problems here that need to be addressed, especially if we want to see less conflict and fewer judicial reviews. Apart from the SHDs, the other part of the problem is the section 28 mandatory ministerial guidelines, which have undermined development plans. The SHD process has been the vehicle to implement that undermining of the development plans, but those guidelines, in particular, have been a problem.

As part of the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage's scrutiny process of this legislation, the Dublin Democratic Planning Alliance stated:

We see that our cities and communities are being destroyed through a planning system that is increasingly and detrimentally altered under the pressure from private developers and institutional investment funds interested only in short-term gains. Meanwhile, democratically designed Development Plans are being undermined and hollowed out.

Specifically, the undemocratic and unsustainable changes to our planning system are facilitated by the implementation and continuation of planning legislation that was introduced in a well-intended, but misguided attempt to ease the housing crisis. Introduced at the behest of the property industry ... [the] legislation was based on the false premise that the planning process was slowing down the delivery of housing. This has never been the case...

This organisation goes on to state that SHD legislation and the section 28 ministerial guidelines are a particular problem. It is not just the Dublin Democratic Planning Alliance that has said that. In its recent review, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform also came to a similar conclusion that planning is not in fact the problem in respect of housing supply. It pointed out, as others have, that there is no shortage of planning permissions. The shortage of commencements and construction is the problem.

We need to take on the issue of the mandatory guidelines in engaging more with communities and reducing conflict and judicial reviews. The reduced standards that came with the guidelines were lobbied for on the basis they would make apartment delivery more viable. When they were introduced in 2015, the promise was that apartment delivery would come in at approximately €200,000 to €260,000. In 2018, the promise was that apartment delivery would be viable from €240,000 up and in 2021 we see viability figures for apartments in places such as Dublin city centre coming in at figures such as €500,000.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform review also pointed out that what is happening now is that the kind of build-to-rent delivery with reduced standards that is coming in, at the behest of investment funds, is only viable or affordable for households with a gross income of €100,000. This drive towards reduced standards that is being facilitated by those mandatory guidelines has been a disaster. It has not delivered the viability or affordability that was promised. If anything, the opposite has taken place. The section 28 mandatory guidelines have to be addressed in addition to the overall SHD legislation.

I thank Deputy Pringle and all the other Deputies who have contributed. I will deal with a couple of matters relating to the process. To follow on from Deputy O'Callaghan's point, no one would state, and I certainly have not, that this Bill is the silver bullet to solve our issues in the planning process. It is not. Likewise, I agree with Deputy Ó Broin that the return to the two-stage planning process will not mean the end of judicial reviews and residential developments.

Colleagues in government will know, as will Deputies Higgins and McAuliffe, that we are engaged in the most comprehensive review of planning that has been undertaken in decades. We intend to work closely with the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Its Chair, Deputy Matthews, was in the Chamber earlier. My Department, along with the Attorney General, will be moving that work forward with the aim of producing a report by next September, which means five years' work will be done in about ten to 12 months. We need to look at the options for what we can do. Fundamentally, to address the point most Deputies have made, including Deputies Higgins and McAuliffe - I met Deputy McAuliffe's constituents in Santry, which has seen an explosion of developments - we need homes. Let us be straight about it. We talked about housing commencements, which are, thankfully, up substantially year on year, as are commencements in respect of construction. We want to see that. As Minister, I want to see that.

The fact that people felt they were disengaged from the original process was a real problem. It led to issues in communities, including a feeling of disenfranchisement, which was shared by local councillors, in addition to helplessness. In many instances, all councillors could do was send a submission to their local authority that would go to An Bord Pleanála. That is not the way I want to see planning done in Ireland. It is not the way this Government wants to see it done. Hence we are bringing in this legislation.

Developments should be plan-led and should not be a surprise to residents. There is a job of work to be done as to how development plans feed into applications and that clarity is provided for existing residents about what will happen. You will never keep everyone happy. I have seen objections to good developments and good proposals for a wide range of reasons. That is people's want and desire, but I always encourage people to recognise where we are as a State. Fundamentally, we need more homes for our people. I have seen people and councillors objecting to social housing developments and affordable housing developments. That is a right people have and they can stand over it but, in fairness, we need at least to ensure the process becomes more transparent so that, we hope, those types of objections are reduced and good developments happen sooner and in a more efficient way.

What will we do at a pre-planning level? We may not get to pre-planning as we move through the Bill, but we discussed it at length at committee. If someone has a pre-planning consultation, all the records have to be kept by the local authority and when an application is made, they have to be published. They have to be accompanied with the planning application and published on the local authority website. Next week, when I bring in the regulations to support this legislation, we will retain that aspect of the website for the developer or the development in order that the pre-planning discussions must be published there.

The question of what the opinion was at pre-planning also arises. What are we saying? We are saying that good pre-planning happens within set timeframes, with four weeks to request the pre-planning meeting and that request to be turned around, and with the meeting to happen after four weeks. Following a total of eight weeks in the pre-planning process, an opinion must be given. If there are issues with a development and it is inappropriate, that should be known very clearly if someone proceeds with planning. For example, a resident will see that Deputy Ó Broin has applied for a 20-storey apartment block in the middle of Clondalkin, but the planners have actually said-----

It was 25 storeys.

Great. If Deputy Ó Broin has applied for a 25-storey apartment block and the local authority has said it is highly inappropriate and should not happen, people will be able to see that and point to that in their observations. If that goes to An Bord Pleanála, there are other issues there which we will deal with. That is all part of the process. That is transparency. The passing of this legislation will mean that this has to happen as part of the process. I discussed this at committee with Deputy McAuliffe.

I am afraid I can accept the thrust of neither of Deputy Ó Broin's amendments at this stage. I want to put an end to SHDs in order that the new regime will kick in from 17 December. With regard to public participation, I refer Deputies to section 4, on page 6 of the Bill:

The planning authority may, prior to the LRD meeting taking place, consult with any person who may, in the opinion of the planning authority, have information that is relevant for the purposes of the LRD meeting in relation to a proposed development.

That aspect of it is included, but I will certainly look at the matter further. It is not appropriate to this Bill. Is there a mechanism to provide for this through a PPN? Deputy Pringle mentions "the locality" in his amendment , which proposes that "'Community Organisation’ means an established, active and representative, residents organisation, based in the locality of the proposed development". That would require us to get into defining "the locality". What is "the locality"? Is that the local electoral area? Is it the county? Is it the region? Given all of those things, one could not just take that amendment as it is. It could very well lead to having people involved in a pre-planning situation who should not be involved and who may get involved for other reasons, as well.

We want to make sure that pre-planning is transparent and it will be. More work can be done on involvement at a pre-planning stage. It has been mentioned that ad hoc pre-planning consultations can happen. In my job as Deputy, I have certainly seen such consultations in my area between the proposed builder or developer and the local community. This can lead to many of the potential issues and fears being dissipated and a better scheme coming in. I mentioned an issue at committee. That will happen anyway. We do not lead to legislate for common sense. Common sense should prevail, in many instances. Where people work with communities-----

(Interruptions).

There were many comments on this.

The Minister will be able to come back in.

Is Deputy Pringle coming in?

He has the opportunity.

If Deputy Pringle comes in, I will come back in after him.

I thank the Minister for his explanation, which raises many further questions. He has spoken about ad hoc meetings taking place with regard to developments in his area, which shows that this is needed.

I am talking about communities.

Yes, we are talking here about ad hoc meetings taking place between communities and developers. We are talking about doing it on a structured level and in a way that ensures it has to take place for developments. My amendment refers to organisations that are "based in the locality of the proposed development". I will use the example of the meetings the Minister had in Santry. The council will know that a residents group in Santry is interested in what is happening there. It will know that if a residents group based in Finglas, Glasnevin or Drumcondra seeks to get involved, it is not based in Santry. The local authority will know that. It will know what happens in an area. It is like saying that Donegal County Council would let a local community group from Letterkenny talk about a development in Killybegs. The local authorities know all these matters. This is already what happens.

The Minister mentioned that he has had a dealing with this. Page 6 of the Bill provides that a local authority "may" develop. The problem I see with it is that the local authority "may" do it. There is no onus on it to do so. It is open to the discretion of the local authority whether it does this. That is ultimately the problem with the whole thing. As has been said by other Members, these are large developments that will have a big impact on the communities they are in. That needs to be taken on board and stressed.

I am anxious to allow the Minister to continue, because he was going in a certain direction. He said something important that I had not taken into account. While the amendment is very important for all of the reasons we discussed earlier, if it were to be accepted, I imagine the Bill would have to go back to the Seanad, which may stretch out the Bill and cause us to miss the timeline. As much as I want to make sure we have pre-planning consultation, I want to see an end to the SHD process. Therefore, we cannot miss our timeline. I had not given consideration to that point. I hear the Minister's point that the current arrangements allow for it, but I would like to see that fleshed out more at regulation level.

Deputy Pringle is right in the point he makes about a community group being known, but the difficulty is that this relies on local officials making an arbitrary decision. We know that arbitrary decisions in the planning area can often be contested. I would prefer any consultation to have a statutory structure. My suggestion was that we would use the PPN. I propose that residents associations would register with the PPN and, just as local councillors get informed of planning applications, the secretariat of the PPN would distribute notification of pre-planning meetings to those associations. That would be a very simple system. PPNs are already part of our local government structure. People are already paid to be on the secretariat of a PPN. There are already residents associations that are members of PPNs. By use of regulation, we could, at pre-planning level, inform both local councillors and members of the PPN of pre-planning consultations. We could do that in the same way that you have a planning list. That would work very well. Local councillors would also appreciate that same facility.

I thank the Minister for his reply on the specific question around websites, which was very encouraging. The websites worked very well when it came to SHDs, but there were some shortfalls. Part of that is the search engine optimisation issue. If one sits down and googles "Palmerstown + SHD" or "Lucan + SHD", one cannot automatically find the planning website for which one is looking. It is great that the Minister will now be introducing this requirement through regulation. Can he make sure those regulations, or the guidance around them, are strong enough for people who are searching for these things online to come across them easily? Can he ensure that there are some diktats around what is required to be included in the website? I suggest that there should be an obvious reference number or a very easy link to the local authority website or the An Bord Pleanála website. People and residents associations may need to be signposted towards certain resources to help them to make thorough and comprehensive submissions. That is really at the heart of this.

It is very important that we take what has worked from the SHD process. Unfortunately, there have not been that many benefits to it. However, it is important we lift and shift what has worked from the SHD process and make sure it works in this process. We must we use this as an opportunity to improve the planning system and make sure that the websites are thorough, that all the information is on them for people and, most importantly, that they are easily accessible to people and easily searchable.

The Minister is saying he is sort of sympathetic to the issues raised but all we are being offered in the Bill is that, once an opinion has been given following the meeting, the public will be aware of that opinion. Across the board here everybody is saying it would be better to get communities in at the ground floor on these large-scale projects.

I could not understand why our amendment is different from Deputy Pringle's.

Which amendment is the Deputy's?

It is a bit further on. Maybe I am missing something. It is amendment No. 10. Deputy Pringle's is more detailed. I am not saying mine is better. I am trying to figure out the difference, what we are talking about here and what a structured pre-planning consultation with stakeholders, community groups and resident groups would look like. From my experience of listening to people talk, and the Minister is echoing it from his experience, I can offer advice if he wants to do away with the constant antagonism that exists between communities and sites where people suddenly feel as if they have been unleased on them and they are on the back foot. It is almost a knee-jerk reaction for people to say "No" because, particularly when it concerns significant sites in their area, they have often been chatting for month or years saying it would be great to have such a thing on that site.. There is local knowledge about some of these sites, what is needed need in an area and what would be good or appropriate. That local knowledge would benefit the pre-planning process and plans for proper development on a community or area and avoid much of the antagonism and protracted processes, if the Minister got people who are familiar with and have a stake in that site having input from the word "Go". The Minister should support the principle of these amendments.

We have to, and do, understand the distinction between pre-planning and planning. We also discussed this in committee. A lot of pre-planning does not go to planning. Deputies have referenced that when looking at large planning files and trying to track changes throughout, it can be complex. We have to figure out the best way to do this. There is something in the PPN piece. I could not accept Deputy Pringle's amendment because it is not defined. Phrases such as "Community Organisation'", "in the locality" are far too loose. Legislation cannot be drafted like that and, therefore, the amendment will not be accepted.

The principle is a different issue. We are making pre-planning transparent now. It is not just the opinion; it is the minutes of the meetings. When an application is lodged, they must be published. I would say to residents and the public that the best place to make an observation is at the formal planning stage. Observations, if we were able to get an opinion at pre-planning stage, would not necessarily have any weight. Deputies say they want a mechanism whereby local groups are recognised or informed of what is happening. That speaks to issues we want to do with regard to making this plan-led. I will examine this further, though not in this Bill, to see if there is something by way of regulation, potentially through the PPN, to allow for recognised groups on a development to be known about.

Deputy Higgins raised the issue of websites and so on. All the applications within them, to make sure they are searchable and so on, will be included in the regulations. Let us look at where we are going with this. We are bringing everything back to the local authority, we are making sure the pre-planning process when it gets to application stage and the application is lodged is absolutely transparent and that people know exactly what is there.

As Deputies have mentioned, these are LRDs. Such developments are not necessarily bad. Deputies were talking about the impact on communities but those impacts can be, and, in many instances, are, positive. Some people do not like change and that is something they will have to stand over. If we are to house the growing population we have and make sure our people have an opportunity to live in safe and secure housing at an affordable rate to purchase or rent, we need to build homes and, therefore, we need a planning system that is fit for purpose.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 54; Níl, 72; Staon, 0.

  • Andrews, Chris.
  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Browne, Martin.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Cairns, Holly.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Carthy, Matt.
  • Clarke, Sorca.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Cronin, Réada.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Pa.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Paul.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Farrell, Mairéad.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Gannon, Gary.
  • Gould, Thomas.
  • Guirke, Johnny.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Gino.
  • Kerrane, Claire.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Murphy, Verona.
  • Mythen, Johnny.
  • Nash, Ged.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • O'Callaghan, Cian.
  • O'Rourke, Darren.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Patricia.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Tully, Pauline.
  • Ward, Mark.
  • Whitmore, Jennifer.
  • Wynne, Violet-Anne.

Níl

  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Costello, Patrick.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Crowe, Cathal.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Donnelly, Stephen.
  • Duffy, Francis Noel.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frankie.
  • Flaherty, Joe.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Foley, Norma.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Hourigan, Neasa.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Martin, Catherine.
  • Matthews, Steven.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  • Noonan, Malcolm.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Joe.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Connor, James.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Gorman, Roderic.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher.
  • O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smyth, Niamh.
  • Smyth, Ossian.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Varadkar, Leo.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Thomas Pringle and Richard Boyd Barrett; Níl, Deputies Jack Chambers and Brendan Griffin.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 have been dealt with. Amendment No. 4 is out of order.

Amendment No. 4 not moved.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 4, between lines 36 and 37, to insert the following:

"Amendment of section 28 (Ministerial guidelines) of Principal Act

3. Section 28 of Planning and Development Act 2000 is amended by the deletion of subsection (1C)."

I have already made the points I wanted to make about the section 28 mandatory guidelines. In the interests of time, I am happy to move straight to the Minister's response.

We have discussed at length this proposal to delete section 28(1C) of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. I listened to the Deputy and others speak about it on Committee Stage and set out their reasons for supporting it. It would have a wide-ranging effect insofar as it would remove the legislative provision introduced to empower a Minister to ensure we have a nationally consistent approach to planning in all 31 local authorities. The amendment would simply remove that. I think what the Deputy is trying to get at are the particular mandatory guidelines that were set. However, if we are saying to any Minister that he or she cannot issue national guidelines or effect a change in the practices of the 31 local planning authorities, the three regional assemblies and An Bord Pleanála, which would be the case if the amendment were passed, then it would make it harder to effect change in respect of many of the provisions Opposition Deputies and others, but particularly the Deputies opposite, have been railing against, because it would remove the power of the Minister to do so by way of a nationally consistent approach. Removing such a legislative provision is something I just cannot accept.

Most people will agree that we need to have consistency when implementing national planning policy, particularly in the performance of the local authorities and planning authorities with regard to their planning functions, including the determination of planning applications. As I outlined at length on Committee Stage when we discussed this, such an approach is necessary because it provides clarity for both public and private investment and enables the progression of construction and development projects through the planning system in a consistent manner. I understand the perspective some Deputies are coming from on the issue of setting aside, in effect, provisions within development plans through some decisions that have been made by the board. That is a different issue. The application of specific planning policy requirements under section 28(1C) enables the system to facilitate the delivery of outcomes with greater certainty and viability than would otherwise be the case. Right now, fortunately, we are seeing an increase in construction commencements and in the effecting of planning permissions that are in place. However, where we may in the future see a certain type of development, such as apartments, in respect of which the previous guidelines have not worked as they were intended and may have to be looked at again, we would not have the ability to do that if this amendment was accepted. That in itself would be a retrograde step.

It is important to look again at what we are doing. I will not repeat myself because we want to get to other issues but this point is important. It is about restoring the two-stage planning process, giving the planning function back to local authorities and having a transparent pre-planning system that is time-bound, as well as a time-bound planning application stage, within both local authorities and An Bord Pleanála. It is about providing that transparency and providing strict timelines to ensure efficient delivery. If we were then to remove the ability to have consistency in national planning and a national planning approach, it would be totally contradictory.

The other matter the Deputy and others raised can certainly be examined, and we will do so, through the planning review. However, if we were to accept this amendment and remove the relevant subsection, it would have an extremely detrimental effect, particularly when we are trying to do, or the Government certainly is trying to do, is to enable good developments in which people can live at an affordable rate, whether for purchase or rent, that are built to a good standard and of high quality and that offer people a high quality of life. In many cases, that will mean high-density developments. There is nothing to be feared in that; high density does not mean bad development. It can be very good development and we need to get on and do it. That is why ceasing SHDs and bringing in a much better, more efficient and transparent process is the way forward. For these reasons, I cannot accept amendment No. 5.

I do not know whether the Minister is deliberately misrepresenting the intention behind this amendment or just does not understand it.

I understand it. The Deputy need not worry about that.

Nobody on this side of the House is arguing against consistency or the right of the Government to frame policy. The specific problem with the section 28 mandatory ministerial guidelines is that they enable the Minister to institute profound changes to planning law without a single vote being taken in this House. That is the problem. As a direct result of the two sets of section 28 mandatory ministerial guidelines the Minister's predecessor introduced, we have had a perpetual series of conflicts at the High Court, often involving local authorities or third parties against An Bord Pleanála. The board has lost such a large volume of these cases that the bill to the taxpayer is running to millions of euro.

I made this point in our previous exchange. Returning to the two-stage planning process involving the planning authority and the board is a really good move, but unless the mandatory ministerial guidelines are removed and the misuse of the policy objectives in the national planning framework by the board is addressed - I make this point again because it does not get said enough - we are still going to have the same delays. Whether it is the local authorities or third parties, they are going to challenge decisions by the board to the courts, albeit at the second appeal stage, and, on the basis of the decisions the courts have made to date, the board and the bad and undemocratic planning decisions made by a Minister in previous years are at the centre of this.

This is an eminently sensible amendment. It is entirely consistent with what the Minister is saying he wants to do with this Bill. The Minister is misrepresenting the amendment to say that it would remove a Minister's power. A Minister should only have the power that is entrusted to him or her by the elected Members of the Oireachtas. They should not be able to make profound changes to planning law by diktat. That is what this amendment seeks to remove.

In speaking to the amendment, I have great sympathy with the point that we want planning decisions to by made in local authorities. That is why I said in the previous amendment that I particularly welcome this Bill. It is a fundamental delivery of our commitment in the programme for Government to restore the two-stage planning process. I do not want to rehearse the comments I gave in an earlier amendment. However, it is important that when we speak about these amendments, we acknowledge that what we have done here has restored to communities that ability to contribute.

One thing that we spoke about at length is the reasons people object. Height is one of those reasons. There are clearly people out there who are opposed to height in all cases. Many of our local authority members are not opposed to height in all cases and who have quite progressive views on height, where it is appropriate. For example, Dublin City Council had quite an advanced height strategy. Unfortunately, the ministerial guidelines prevented an upper height limit. That in effect eliminated the height strategy. If there is no upper height limit in any area, you cannot prioritise where you would like height. It was clear where local authority members wanted height. They wanted it in the docklands. They wanted it in places, such as in my own constituency in Ballymun, where we were trying to develop a town centre. When that upper height limit was removed from anywhere in the city, it resulted in us not being able to prioritise height. Unfortunately, we got height in inappropriate places.

I speak against the amendment for a different reason. That is because I worry that it would limit the Minister’s power to act in a way many Members in this House would like us to act. An example would be our decision, and another commitment the Minister made in the election, to roll back on the use of co-housing. Many people felt we did not want to see co-housing. As well as this, for example, the Minister gave an instruction to local authorities during the year to prevent student accommodation being turned into tourist or hotel accommodation. The Minister had these powers to direct local authorities on this. Many Members of this House saw this as a progressive move on housing. It saw us preventing something that would have decreased our supply. I worry that the deletion in this amendment may restrict the Minister’s powers to act in that way.

I appreciate the motivation behind this amendment. Perhaps it would be better to revisit those specific guidelines, rather than completely removing the Minister’s power to issue guidelines. As I say, we can trust local councillors. I believe we can. I believe we can ensure we have progressive height policies. However, I would not like to eliminate the Minister’s ability to be able to direct consistency in local authorities throughout the country, because it is important we have that consistency for the two examples I have given alone.

I agree with the Minister when he talks about consistency and planning right now throughout Ireland. We do not have it at the moment. It could be down to a planner. It could be down to a director of planning. I will give the Minister an example. There are five counties in the west. If you worked in Dublin, bought a house in Dublin and then decided to move down to the west to build a house, four of these local authorities would not ask if you owned a house before. In Roscommon at the moment, which is scandalous in my opinion, if you own a house, whether it is in Wicklow, Kerry, or Donegal, you move to Roscommon because of work or you decide to move home to the family farm, if you say you owned a house anywhere in Ireland before this, you are not granted planning. That is scandalous in any county in this country. We need consistency with planners and with directors of planning in every county. The Department should be looking at this. It has been watching over this for a number of years. What is going on in certain countries is disgraceful at the moment.

I agree with what the Minister said around the regulations and why they are so badly needed. Also on a couple of points that were made around consistency, the guidelines provide such huge opportunity to give consistency. The Department, through the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, is working at the moment on rural housing guidelines to replace existing guidelines. Things like that are so important. When you look at one-off rural housing in South Dublin County Council, for example, and how differently the local needs assessment is taken, interpreted and used versus a couple of miles down the road across the border in Kildare or Wicklow, consistency is required. That is why we need these kind of regulations.

The Minister spoke about the judicial reviews. Unfortunately, we have had so many judicial reviews when it comes to strategic housing developments, SHDs. Some 50% of judicial views came from environmental legislation. Yes, height is a concern and there is a lot going on that space, but it is important to note that as well and to look at that.

I want to follow on from some of the earlier speakers who spoke about consistency throughout the country. Definitely, consistency is needed. There are plenty of examples in my own county of Wexford. I will give the Minister one example where a son or daughter wants to move into the family farm and the parents want to build a small bungalow or small house somewhere on the family farm. They are now being forced to build a granny flat onto their family home. I do not think that is acceptable. There might be younger children in the family. They might not be living in the family home but they come home for weekends or whatever. It is only right and proper that whoever is going to be living in the farmstead would have their own home, and that mother and father - the original owners - are not being forced to build a granny flat onto the farmstead. That is unacceptable.

Deputy Fitzmaurice was right in what he said about consistency in different counties. We are encouraging people to relocate out of the cities, maybe back to where they were born and reared in rural Ireland, to build back up our rural communities. However, some of these planners act like dictators. The director of planning in Wexford is not, but some younger planners are like dictators. They determine who lives and who does not live in rural Ireland. I would plead with the Minister and his officials to look at exactly what is happening in counties throughout the country, to look at the examples, to look at the refusals and to look at why they are being refused. They are being refused because some of these people act in a way they should not. They have some draconian powers.

Deputy Durkan spoke in this House last week. In fairness to the Ceann Comhairle, it is not often that Ceann Comhairle will cross the boundary and say yes, we need a debate on this issue. We need a proper debate on this issue. I hope that in the new year we will have a proper debate in this House on the planning guidelines and what is happening throughout the country. In this debate, Members should be allowed to stand up and have 15 or 20 minutes and should not be forced to limit their speaking time to two or three minutes.

I can assure the Minister that every rural Deputy in this House has a huge number of examples from which the Minister and his officials can direct policy. I sit down with some of my colleagues in government or opposition, and we all have similar examples to what I face in Wexford, what Deputy Durkan faces in Kildare, what Deputy Fitzmaurice is facing in Roscommon or what Deputy Ring faces in Mayo. I ask the Minister, who is a member of Cabinet, that we have that debate in the House, that he speak to the Government Whip to allow for a proper debate and time here for Members to be able to speak their minds on this. This is the House where we represent our constituents. It is only right and proper that we be given the opportunity to debate that issue here in the House.

I echo the points made by other speakers. We have to come to a decision that applies right across the country. People should be treated equally and the consistency that has been referred to should apply. It applies in town and country, as the Ceann Comhairle and I well know because we have had those debates in the past. There was a case once upon a time where there was a massive debate about an incline. There was a hill, for want of a better description, and the ridges of the houses had to differ. As it was proposed to raise the ridge tile nine inches, which had to be done or the work could not be carried out, the planning permission was refused. It is crazy stuff.

I would not be in favour of facilitating people who object to housing at all. However, I would always qualify any observation I make with the fact that it is not an objection to the concept but the way in which it has been done. It is quite simple.

The other thing I cannot understand, as it is an abuse of the Planning Act, is why somebody living 50 miles or 100 miles away from a development can slap in an application or objection. They win the case every time. The Ceann Comhairle and I know that applies right across the country. It is an abuse of power. People live on the basis of the success they have achieved doing exactly that and frustrating everybody else. There is an expectation that people living in rural Ireland or semi-rural Ireland want to look after their parents and be within reach of them, to give care and attention to their parents as they get older. Why do people frustrate that? There is no need for it at all. What is even worse is that when those people, whose families have lived for 50 or 60 years or four or five generations in the area, get refused planning permission, suddenly somebody comes in with what seems a good idea and they are told it will be considered and granted if possible. That happens to the outrage, frustration and annoyance of the people who have lived there all their lives. There is no consistency to that whatsoever and we need to address it. It is the kind of thing that we as elected public representatives get blamed for but that we have no responsibility for at all. We can do nothing about it so we need to do something about it. I agree entirely with the call for that debate.

I agree with previous speakers about consistency and guidelines within local authorities. There are huge issues there. We have to wonder whether planners realise the effect they can have on people's lives when they make decisions that they just cannot stand over. Young people who have emigrated to America, Dubai and so on and want to come home are faced with obstacle after obstacle. We should have a plan in place to bring back our children to this country when they want to come and encourage them. Instead of that there is obstacle after obstacle. There are huge issues. In rural Ireland where there are farming communities, two sons and a daughter might want to build on the family land but every time there is an issue and they are told they cannot live here or they cannot be there or there can only be one house on it. We need to have a look at the whole system in all the local authorities.

I now call Deputy Fergus O'Dowd to give us the Louth perspective.

It is a very important perspective. Development plans are a key part of the business of planning and it is the councillors who make that plan.

We are getting a right tour here.

I will just make my point if the Deputy does not mind. There is not much time and I hope he will be interested in what I have to say. When the development plan for County Louth was being put together recently, I received a complaint from two people who made a submission about their land. They wanted it zoned to build a family home and they very kindly received an invitation from the Sinn Féin Party in Dundalk to attend a Sinn Féin meeting to discuss their planning application. This is the issue which is at the core of planning policy. They had to go to a political party meeting, adjudicated by what they call a chairperson. Deputies and councillors may have been present. The decision would then given to the applicants some days later by a gentleman from Sinn Féin, or some other organisation, knocking on their door and telling them whether or not it was backing them. That should not be happening. It is wrong and it is abuse.

That is outrageous.

I had the temerity to bring the matter to the attention of the Office of the Planning Regulator and it was not too interested in it. There are many abuses of planning but political planning, where people must attend the headquarters of Sinn Féin or any other party to make their case is absolutely unacceptable.

It is wrong and disgraceful and Sinn Féin Members of this House should come in here and tell the truth about what is going on up there.

I have one last point and I hope I make it well and fairly. It is wrong for a county council to have a rule stating that if someone owns a house anywhere else they cannot apply for planning permission. That has to be unconstitutional. At the end of the day, the responsibility rests with the councillors who make the plan to exclude that as an option in the development plan. If that is excluded it cannot happen, which would mean a person could apply. There is a lot more work to be done. We need more transparency and accountability. We must not have political decision-making in any political party's head office on a person's county development plan submission. It is wrong.

I agree with all the previous speakers. The one common denominator in all contributions has been consistency with planners. What we have done in this country is not the Minister's fault. I blame fellas like Deputy Boyd Barrett and the Green Party, who come down to Mayo, Cork and Kerry wanting to build a holiday home but the minute they build it they do not want anyone beside them and they object. We had objections from Dún Laoghaire, Wicklow and Germany to local people building homes. This week, this State is 100 years old. It is 100 years since we signed the Treaty. The Minister must do something with local authorities and planners. There are inconsistencies with planners because some of them have been trained in Belfast and some in Dublin. There is no consistency.

We have a dictatorship in this country. It is not a political dictatorship but a public service dictatorship and it has got to such a stage now that they think they are more powerful than the Minister. The local authorities do not care about the Minister anymore. They are out of hand. When I was part of the previous Government I preached at every Cabinet meeting that these people were gone out of hand. The Dublin 4 media, RTÉ and all these media people criticise the likes of Deputies Durkan and Kehoe for making representations for the people who elect us. They want it left to An Taisce. They are the ones deciding on planning in this country now.

I am going to start a campaign in the new year. I have the fight back in me again and I am ready for a fight. If the Minister, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Government do not kick on the public service I do not know where this country is going to be. It is time a small bit of power came back to the elected representatives.

I have been in this House nearly 26 years. I have a question for the Ceann Comhairle and the Minister. Have they ever seen a public servant sacked or disciplined? Do they know what is done with them? They are rewarded and given a bigger office just to get rid of them if they are causing trouble. There has to be accountability. If these people were working for the private sector they would be accountable.

There is no accountability in the public service. There are fellas here who will lick the county managers and there are fellas here that rub them. It is time that power was brought back to the elected representatives in this country. The Minister is an elected representative and he might think this is a joke but if we do not bring power back to the people then the people will take the power from the politicians. There was talk about the Ard Comhairle or Sinn Féin, bringing people to public meetings.

The Army Council.

When the Army Council is on one corner and the public servants are in the other corner then it is going to be hard luck for this country so it is.

That certainly was a very colourful contribution, Deputy Ring. No more than we would expect. Thank you very much.

Ceann Comhairle, apart from that being a disgraceful slur on many public servants, I ask Deputy Ring to correct the record of the House. The State was not founded 100 years ago. The State was founded when the Republic was declared by the first Dáil.

Thank you very much. The bottom line is that the vast majority-----

I will tell the Deputy-----

No, Deputy, please. The vast majority of us do not want to see anybody fired from any job.

Do Members not remember? When the Treaty was designed, it was-----

(Interruptions).

Please, Deputy Ring.

(Interruptions).

When the Treaty was designed it was-----

Deputies, please. It is extremely late and that possibly does not bring out the best in any of us.

(Interruptions).

We need our beds.

Let us contain ourselves. Deputy Steven Matthews wants to make a contribution.

It is always a tough act to follow Deputy Ring but I will do my best here. In my contribution I will do my best to defend the planning system, the planners and An Taisce that have all been criticised here tonight.

The Deputy is finished with me.

I was probably finished with the Deputy well before I started this speech.

I have listened to planners being criticised in council chambers and up and down the country for the decisions that they make. The planners do not plan decisions out of thin air. The planners make their decisions based on a county development plan and the objectives contained therein or on a local area plan. The objectives contained in those plans are put in there by the councillors. The councillors craft a plan.

They interpret the decisions made about a plan.

I did not interrupt Deputy Fitzmaurice. I will discuss one-off rural housing in a minute because I notice, Ceann Comhairle, that this discussion on an amendment tabled by Deputy Cian O'Callaghan has turned into a discussion on one-off rural housing. The discussion on one-off rural housing is always just very shallow and below the surface when we talk about any planning matters in this country. I will come back to the amendment but I just need to correct some of the things that were said here if the Ceann Comhairle allows me the time to do that.

I think that the criticism of planning profession is unfair. Recently I was at the Irish Planning Institute conference in Wexford where we heard contributions from across the board from people who have an interest in planning, professional planners and people who contribute to the fine profession, of which planners are members, up and down this country.

I have heard planners being criticised in the Chambers unfairly. When people have a planning decision go against them they think that the planning system is corrupt, ridiculous or does not work. When they get a planning decision that goes their way suddenly the planning system is the best thing in the world and the planners are great. We need consistency. People have criticised here tonight and said that there is no consistency. In criticising the planners' decisions, we are saying that we do not want to have consistency in the planning system. We have to have planning consistency for people and developers who apply for planning permission, and for people who invest in developments in the planning system.

Recently we had a long debate and discussion on the Maritime Area Planning Bill. It is another planning matter and I hope that the Ceann Comhairle will allow me to explain why I mention the Bill. An amendment was tabled to that Bill, which was vague, uncertain and talked about interim measures. In my view the amendment would have brought an inconsistency and uncertainty to the system that would have resulted in contested decisions, quite rightly contested because the amendment did not accurately define what the Members sought. I learned a lesson that day that when one crafts legislation, in the same way that we craft development plans, it needs to be sure and precise because there is a huge amount of investment involved and people's homes depend on this planning legislation being correct.

I thank the Deputy and must interrupt him.

Am I out of time? Yes. Unfortunately, I am out of time. I would like to have gone on to defend An Taisce, which has an exemplary record in the planning system.

Deputy Steven Matthews made a very valid point. He emphasised the need for us to have a debate on this particular matter in the new year when we return after Christmas. I regret being involved in the debate as I have been-----

I am sure you do. So do I.

-----because of the debate that took place here before. I have to say that in 36 years of experience at local government and national levels, I would say yes, the planning system has been consistent. It has been consistent in its inconsistency and that is the difficulty but let us debate that matter in the new year as the opportunity arises.

The time permitted for this particular debate having expired, I am required to put the question in accordance with the order of the Dáil of 7 December: “That, in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, the section is hereby agreed to in Committee, the Title is hereby agreed to in Committee, the Bill is accordingly reported to the House without amendment, Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed.”

Question put and agreed to.
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