I thank the committee for agreeing to convene this session to discuss the proposed amendments to the planning code set out in the draft planning and development (amendment) regulations 2013. We gave some added information with photographs to illustrate the exemptions we are planning to make. These proposals provide for changes to the planning exemptions contained in the 2001 planning regulations in a number of areas. Section 4 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 provides that certain development is exempted from the requirement to obtain planning permission, mainly development by a local authority or the use of land for agriculture. Section 4(4) of the Act allows the Minister to make regulations providing for further development to be exempt where he or she is of the opinion that by reason of the size, nature or limited effect on its surroundings, the carrying out of the development would not offend against principles of proper planning and sustainable development.
It is important, regarding exempted development, to find the right balance between the right of the public to comment and input into decisions on developments that may affect them, and the necessity not to burden developers unduly by making them go through a consent process where this may not be necessary. My Department therefore keeps the planning exemptions under review to seek to reduce avoidable administrative or regulatory burdens and to ensure they remain in alignment with key national policy objectives. There are four amendments to the regulations proposed. I will briefly outline the nature of each of the proposed exemptions.
The first exemption is for charge points for electric vehicles. Under the EU directive on renewable energy, each member state is required to ensure 10% of transport energy, excluding aviation and marine transport, comes from renewable sources by 2020. Electric vehicles, EVs, are central to any plans for zero carbon emissions transportation systems. In 2010, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources signed an agreement with the Electricity Supply Board, ESB, and Renault-Nissan to support and promote the roll-out of EVs in Ireland, with ESB committed to providing the necessary charging infrastructure. Memoranda of understanding on a similar basis have also been signed with Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Peugeot-Citroen towards the same objective. ESB is currently working towards providing a charging infrastructure to support up to 10% of all vehicles being electric by 2020 and plans to complete the roll-out of a nationwide infrastructure by the end of 2013.
In addition to providing a national charging base, the infrastructure will ensure optimal integration of EVs with the electricity grid and deliver long-term benefits to the electricity system in Ireland in terms of demand-side management and optimisation of renewables. As things stand, under current regulations, class 29 in Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the planning regulations currently provides that the installation by an undertaker authorised to provide an electricity service of a unit substation of up to 11 cu. m for the distribution of electricity is exempt from the requirement to obtain planning permission. In this regard, the Department issued a circular to planning authorities in July 2012 advising that it was possible to take the view that a charging station for electric cars comes within the meaning of the term substation and is therefore exempt. This view was based on the International Electrotechnical Commission’s, IEC, definition of substation, the IEC being the internationally recognised standards body on electrical and technical issues.
To put the matter beyond any doubt, the proposed amendment will insert a new class 29A into the planning regulations which will provide an explicit exemption from the requirement to obtain planning permission for the installation of electric charging points, subject to certain conditions and limitations regarding size and advertising, including that the size of any such charging point shall not exceed 3 m or 0.5 cu. m when located on a public road. This amendment is to some extent intended to clarify and further elaborate on an existing provision. Class 29 of the planning regulations is also proposed for amendment to clarify that the exemption for a substation under that class excludes a charging point for electric vehicles but includes mini-pillars. A mini-pillar is a low voltage distribution box less than 0.5 cu. m in size. The ESB has always considered mini-pillars to be an element of the substation network. However, the proposed amendment would again serve to remove any potential ambiguity.
The second exemption relates to the use of existing electricity infrastructure for the provision of telecommunications services. Class 31 of Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the planning regulations currently provides that the provision of overhead communications by a statutory undertaker authorised to provide a telecommunications service is exempt from the requirement to obtain planning permission. The ESB is a statutory undertaker authorised to provide a telecommunications service and it intends to provide such a service. The ESB has sought clarity regarding the use of its existing infrastructure for the provision of telecommunications services. The proposed amendment to class 31 clarifies that any body authorised to provide a telecommunications service can use existing poles to carry fibre optic or similar telecommunications cable or erect new poles for that purpose, and it can also attach small brackets or devices - subject to size limitations - containing spare rolled-up cable.
The third proposed exemption relates to works arising from the new septic tank inspection arrangements. Section 70(h) of the Water Services Act 2007, as inserted by section 4 of the Water Services (Amendment) Act 2012, provides that inspectors will carry out inspections of septic tanks and on-site wastewater treatment systems as requested by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, or a water services authority. Inspections will be based on the national inspection plan, which is provided for under section 70(k) of the 2012 Act. Under section 70(h), inspectors are required to inform the owner of a treatment system and the relevant water services authority of the results of the inspection.
Where a water services authority receives notification that a treatment system is causing or is likely to cause a risk to human health or the environment, the water services authority must issue an advisory notice to the owner within 21 days. The notice will direct the owner to take the necessary remediation measures and will specify a timeframe for completion of those measures. Failure to comply with the provisions of an advisory notice within the specified timeframe will be an offence. Accordingly, the proposed exemption provides that remedial works carried out in compliance with an advisory notice issued by the water services authority are exempt from the requirement to obtain planning permission. Inspectors will shortly be formally appointed by the EPA, with inspections commencing from 1 July 2013. It is important that the proposed exemption is commenced in advance of this.
The fourth proposed change is a technical correction relating to provisions regarding thinning, felling or replanting of trees, forests or woodlands, not including the replacement of broadleaf high forest by conifer species, and the construction or maintenance of a forest road. Specifically, the proposed amendment to article 8 of the regulations is to provide that the following are exempted development: the thinning, felling or replanting of trees, forests or woodlands, but not including the replacement of broadleaf with conifer; and the construction or maintenance of a forest road other than the making of a point of access to a public road. Both these types of development have been set out in section 4 of the Act as exempted development for many years and both are regulated by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
The thinning, felling and replanting of trees is regulated under the Forestry Act 1946. Under that Act, it is generally unlawful to uproot any tree over ten years old, or to cut down any tree without a felling licence issued by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Various environmental checks are carried out by the Department as part of the evaluation of any application for a felling licence. The construction of private forest roads is also regulated by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, under the European Communities (Forest Consent and Assessment) Regulations. Private forest road construction projects must obtain the prior written approval of the Minister, as part of which the Department undertakes an assessment to determine the likely environmental impact of the project, in accordance with the environmental impact assessment, EIA, directive.
In the case of both consents, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine undertakes consultation with other agencies such as National Parks and Wildlife Service, Inland Fisheries Ireland, An Taisce and local authorities. Screening and appropriate assessment, if required, is carried out in accordance with the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011.
Section 4 of the Planning and Development Act was, however, amended by the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 to clarify and state expressly that no development could be considered to be an exempted development if it could require an EIA under the EIA directive or an appropriate assessment under the habitats directive, which effectively meant that once works are classed as “development” for the purposes of the Planning and Development Act and would require an EIA or appropriate assessment, they would require planning permission. It was not intended, however, that this provision should bring tree felling or forest roads back within the planning system in any circumstances, because they are subject to a consent regime under another Minister, as part of which an EIA and appropriate assessment are carried out where necessary.
Accordingly section 4(4A) of the Act, also commenced in 2011, gives the power to the Minister to exempt development from planning by regulation, notwithstanding that it might require environmental impact assessment or appropriate assessment, where it comes under such other consent regime. It is in exercise of these powers therefore that I wish to make these regulations clarifying that the thinning, felling and replanting of trees, and the construction of private forest roads are completely exempt from the requirement for planning, as they always were until the 2011 amendment I mentioned earlier, because they are regulated by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
I commend the regulations to the committee and look forward to a full discussion. I believe everybody got the documentation which illustrates what we are talking about in a way that my words might not be able to do.