Last week when I was speaking on this Bill, I welcomed it for a number of reasons, the primary one being that the Minister for Local Government should be set free to deal with more urgent tasks than a backlog of planning appeals. I welcomed the establishment of the board which would free the Minister of the day to deal with such problems as might arise outside the planning sphere altogether. As an example of this I had suggested that the population explosion which would take place would require massive development of our infrastructure in terms of institutions, roads and houses. In considering this, that is, the Minister for Local Government of the day being free to deal with imaginative local government provisions for the future both of a social and physical kind, I had in mind the manner in which Britain had deliberately set its Minister free from the nitty gritty requirements of planning appeals in particular.
When we adjourned, I had made reference to the fact that dismissals from the board would have to be accounted for in both Houses and I felt this was an important principle of accountability and was one which we correctly emphasised. I had moved to consider the Bill itself, particularly section 29 which dealt with the withering away of planning applications after a period of five years. I said this section would do much to stop commercial speculative operations within cities, that is, where people seek outline permission and then do not carry out the development but at the same time are stifling any action by the local authority. The effect of section 29 would tend to make that kind of activity less easy to do.
On the whole notion of local government planning and development, there are a number of important features in the Bill. I had mentioned that the Bill could not be taken in isolation but should be taken along with the Wildlife Bill and the proposed Water Pollution Bill to be taken as forming the corpus of legislation of a relatively recent kind which dealt with the environment, that these three Bills in their impact on environmental questions should more properly be considered together.
I reiterate what I said last week, that the Minister for Local Government should be free. I think it is Professor Fogarty in his book Undergoverned and Overgoverned, describing Britain in recent times, has spoken about the manner in which members of the Cabinet and others have tended to become involved in far too much detail and this in turn has meant that the quality of legislation has suffered. An Bord Pleanála by their establishment will, as I have said, go a long way towards freeing the Minister.
There are a number of fascinating problems posed by the Bill. I have said I very much agree with section 29, that is, the one dealing with the withering away of permission. There are a number of sections for which I have some support. I do not want to go into detail as I feel the principles of the Bill are more important. The other House has made detailed comment from a local perspective.
Section 25 deals with the taking in charge of estates. Senator O'Higgins made reference to this. I should like the Minister to have another look at that section and to see if it would be possible to make broader provisions for the orderly taking over of estates, both in regard to the builder and the residents.
Section 26 is a narrow, legal section but it is a most important one. It deals with the position in law of objectors to development on a site for which development has not been authorised. The position in law was brought to my notice a few years ago when a development was being undertaken in Galway city by a builder without planning permission. He secured a High Court injunction prohibiting picketing outside the site on the grounds that the local residents were denying him reasonable access to his property. This section will tend to equalise in law the position of local objectors and the unauthorised developer. The way the law has operated up to now left the objectors at a disadvantage as regards the possibility of getting an injunction quickly. The law tended to be in favour of the unauthorised developer.
Section 27 deals with the ability to get an injunction from the High Court quickly. A number of sections have been commented upon already. Senator Horgan welcomed sections 32 and 33 which deal with declaration of interest, and I agree with him. These are important developments in the law and I am glad they are taking place.
I agree in principle with what has been said on section 39 on the provisions for environmental impact studies of proposed development, but I shall return to that in a moment. I feel this could be given more detailed expression within the Bill itself. There are important points embodied in the section. For example, subsection (c) deals with the power to impose conditions relating to noise in proposed development. But where that section is in difficulty is in the definition of "amenity". From studying the British definition of "amenity" I should like an assurance from the Minister that a second definition will be invoked, which I shall instance in a moment.
On section 42 (d), I am glad that in a Planning Bill we have recognised the particular difficulties of disabled people. This is an amendment of section 86 of the 1963 Act and it enables building regulations to make provision in relation to the special needs of disabled persons. I welcome this wholeheartedly.
When Senator Horgan mentioned section 43 (c) in regard to enabling the development plan to have objectives for the preservation of interiors of buildings, he might have made the point that whole areas should be preserved rather than just buildings and their insides. An entire area should be enabled to be regarded as worthy of preservation for amenity purposes. I have in mind the kind of provision that was made in the Private Members' Bill which was put forward in the British House of Commons by Mr. Duncan Sandys some years ago. The debate on that occasion showed that the suggestion was a sensible one and I should like to ask why this concession was not made here.
I should like to mention some of the things I think should have been included in the Bill. When one is discussing a Bill such as this one must say that the bedrock principles of legislation on planning are that community provision, community amenity, takes priority over the individual right to property. Where there have been disputes both in Britain and in this country about the implementation of planning provisions, what has been new about the disputes in law is that communal provision and requirement has been expanded and given a place in law. Very often where an individual has come into conflict with the planning authority, it is in the assertion of individual rights against established rights. It is a moot point whether the new board will operate on the assumption that they are making a decision in justice between equal parties to a dispute or will act as a Government agency committed to a particular concept of planning. My view is that the latter must hold. In the final analysis a planning Bill does not provide for the establishment of some kind of court in which individuals and developers can have their cases treated justly. The board must be seen as an aspect of administration of policy. For this reason I was glad of the suggestion in the section that the board would be in consultation with local interests and with central government. This was brought out clearly in the Minister's speech.
We are fortunate to be able to discuss a planning and development Bill at a time when the uses and development of much of our land have not yet been decided upon. To date it has been possible for us to avoid a major confrontation between the requirements of industry, agriculture, tourism and domestic amenity. Nevertheless, it is clear now that in the future the interests of these different requirements will not necessarily be the same. May I give an example of this? As we are on the threshold of a major development in oil and gas, it is interesting to read the reports published by An Foras Forbartha which locate potential sites around the coast. The same areas are shaded in the map for amenity development by Bord Fáilte for five years as An Foras Forbartha are considering for oil and gas development. Are we going to have a peculiar form of oil and gas development which will make it attractive to tourists? Is this what Bord Fáilte have in mind? I think it is simply a matter of one planning agency not having regard to what another agency are doing.
The broader issues of planning are ones which the Minister is rightly set aside from by the establishment of the board. Many of the provisions in the Bill are good, but I wonder about the possibility of implementing them. Ideally one would need a much more scientific approach towards the planning prospects. I get the impression from the Minister's speech that he is perfectly willing to expand the old notion of planning from a narrow physical base to a social base, to give it a social and human component. While this is meritorious it must be realised that local authorities are crippled by the lack of availability of skilled well-trained planners. Nor are there facilities for the training of young people in planning, the training that is required so that the person is aware of the sociological implications of a proposal, of its physical requirements and so on. It is a mixed bag of skills. I doubt if our universities have responded to the huge increase that took place in planning in the late 1950s and into the 1960s. The more qualified of our planners are generally trained outside Ireland.
I would like to think that, while we are responding now to a new era and to new requirements at the level of our legislation, at the level of our institutions, particularly our educational institutions, we will recognise this new possibility. I would like to see special degrees or diplomas in planning being made available within the university or third-level educational structure.
The first Town and Country Planning Act was introduced in 1909 by Mr. Burns. The present Minister for Local Government is not as ambitious. Mr. Burns suggested:
The object of the Bill is to provide a domestic condition for the people in which their physical health, their morals, their character and their whole social condition can be improved with what it is hoped to secure in this Bill. The Bill aims in broad outline at and hopes to secure the home healthy, the house beautiful, the town pleasant, the city dignified and the suburbs salubrious.
Thankfully the language of Minister introducing Town Planning Bills has improved since 1909 and the Minister used less florid prose.
There are a number of points upon which the Bill could be strengthened. While it is true that section 29 in enabling permissions to wither away if they are not availed of within five years may stop a certain kind of holding operation for speculative purposes in the city centres, at the same time I wonder whether in this Bill we have adverted sufficiently to the fact that refurbishing the centre of a town or city presents peculiarly difficult problems in planning. An adequate town or city plan will make provision for density of a particular kind. Where there are old buildings, a couple of hundred years old, it is unrealistic to expect that the norm of density which would apply to new development should be applied to old development. If we are serious about the refurbishing of our town centres we need to insert this provision about speculative use of outline permission, and it would be best if there was some reference to this particular allowance for refurbishing town centres in the Bill itself. A number of objections made by other people could be met if as well we made allowance for the inclusion of specific areas as well as buildings for improvement. Section 5 states:
The Board shall, so far as may in the opinion of the Board be necessary for the performance of its functions, keep itself informed of the policies and objectives for the time being of the Minister, planning authorities and any other body which is a public authority...
I suggest that trying to achieve a balance of local, regional and national aspirations is not as easy a task as it might seem. For example, on the definition of the word "regional" when one speaks about a regional dimension in planning as far as local authorities are concerned it is merely the aggregation of what they are hoping for. As far as the central authorities are concerned, it is the central aim broken down to regional level. There is no meeting point between the two. That section is being more optimistic than real. It is a good provision to some extent and I hope it comes to mean something.
Section 10 and 13, which allow for the hiring of professional help for planning decisions, are necessary, given the low availability of highly qualified people who might be in full time employment in local authorities or who might be within the civil service.
On section 16, in relation to oral hearings, is it the position that where the board refuses an oral hearing. It would be useful if the grounds for the refusal of the oral hearing were given by the board. There may be a good reason why this is not so. If there are it would be useful to hear them.
On section 39 in dealing with environmental impact I noted the Minister adverted to the fact that the Wildlife Bill has implications for planning. On the Wildlife Bill I asked the Minister for Lands if he would consider having a professional botanist and zoologist made available to advise local authorities when they were redesigning or re-establishing roads. I was advised on that occasion that it was a matter for the Minister for Local Government. I am now faced with the opportunity of conveying to the Minister for Local Government my feelings on this subject and I feel I should not let the opportunity pass.
If we are to give meaning to environmental impact studies as adverted to later in the Bill and if major new development is required, the expenses incurred in connection with environmental impact will have to be provided by the proposed developer. Where new roads and new buildings are interfering with the environment it would be useful if the Minister would indicate whether it is his intention to provide sufficient funds to have this expert advice made available, particularly in relation to road development.
Amenity is one of the chief concepts now within the language of planning itself. This was not always so. The history of town planning is such that the major impetus to town plans was originally health and housing requirements. Much later on the requirements of planning began to be considered in broader perspective. For example, in Britain after the war people were quibbling over who should build what or who was responsible for what. The man responsible for forward planning, the distinguished Lord Reith, confessed in his autobiography to be in danger of expulsion from his post because he felt he was responsible for all future reconstruction. Be that as it may, the problem that arose in those years is that the concept of amenity enters the regular exchange of planners.
What is amenity? Amenity was described on page 169 of J.B.Cullingworth's Town and Country Planning in England and Wales who quotes Lord Holford's definition:
....amenity is not a single quality, it is a whole catalogue of values. It includes the beauty that an artist sees and an architect designs for; it is the pleasant and familiar scene that history has evolved; in certain circumstances it is even utility—the right thing in the right place—shelter, warmth, light, clean air, domestic service....and comfort stations.
If one defined amenity like that one could see therefore that amenity was everything that it was in the communal interest to provide. Our definition of amenity is a residual definition of the term. I mean to be very practical about this. If one takes, for example, a small wood viewed as I just described it now, the existence and sustenance of something which was valued by the public would become important in itself. An alternative notion of amenity is one which is offered residually, that is, that an amenity is something which it is possible to provide for the public good when the norms of economics or commerce have been met. Thus it is exactly the same case which arose in England in relation to a trees preservation order: one view held that a wood should remain intact, a second view of amenity was that it was after economic requirements are met one could apply to save individual trees. It was as absurd as that. So it is well to know when one is drafting legislation in what sense precisely one is using the term "amenity". I hope, for my own part, that the widest possible definition is being given to the term as it is incorporated in this Bill.
I just want to make a few minor points now. As regards section 43 (1), this provides that a development plan may include as an objective the preservation of internal fixtures or features of artistic, historic or architectural interest. I should like to know whether it is the intention eventually to list those systematically in different areas. As I read the Bill—and I read it rather carefully—I did not detect any suggestion that they might be listed, which, to my mind, is one of the prerequisites for adequate planning in this area.
In saying that I might make the point that in the Minister's Second Reading speech he seemed to say that he was happy with the existing situation whereby a number of different Departments were responsible for different aspects of the environment. He seemed to think that no single Department should be responsible for the environment as such. He seemed to be setting his face against a Department of the Environment. The systematic listing of what might be regarded as buildings of peculiar, historic or cultural interest would be one of the basic requirements of a Department of the Environment. I would like to think that if in the short term the Minister is setting his face against such a Department—I would be sorry to hear that he has—he would be making provision within the legislative instruments of his own Department for such systematic preparation which is one of the basic requirements of adequate planning.
It is appropriate that on the Second Reading I say this on section 42 particularly, and I want to emphasise this. Frequently when one speaks about making special provisions for old people in one's building outline, when, as in section 43, one speaks of the preservation of interiors of buildings, and when one speaks as in subsection (1) (1) of the preservation of internal fixture or features of artistic, historic or architectural interest, one encounters frequently in the public mind a most unfortunate—given our own circumstances—attitude. That is that these are matters about which we should not be concerned at present. In times of economic difficulty people suggest that jobs at any cost should be our aim.
I reiterate what I said earlier. We have not until now been forced to make the choice of environment versus industry. We should celebrate the fact that we have not been put into this head-on collision as many of the industrial nations have, where there was industrial development unthinkingly, uncritically and at any cost. The result has been people from the industrial nations fleeing their own countries. That is a fascinating aspect of the private enterprise system I so frequently refer to. The alternative flow within the Common Market, the tired and weary factory owners who are going to the peripheral regions for sustenance a few times a year, their factories sucking the migrant workers on a regular basis for the same reasons. The alternative flow within the migratory stream of Europe. We have not been forced to make those kind of choices and we should be very glad that we have not had to do so.
This notion of jobs anywhere at any price is most narrowminded. I might ask Senators and the public to bear in mind that our responsibilities do not extend only to the narrow limits or consequences of our actions but extend into the next generation and the following generation as to the quality of life we have made possible in our society. I want to correct the notion that I am some kind of neo-luddite. For me, in fact, the machines of the industrial age bring no terror whatsoever. But I think it unfortunate that the industrial system itself became established at a time when there was very little acceptance of more general social priorities in regard to saving the environment and saving society generally, where its social and physical manifestations were not well expressed.
We should be very glad we do not have to repeat the mistakes of other countries and that we can have an industrialisation in this country, if we want to, which will enable a great number of the mistakes of previous industrialisation to be avoided. Similarly, our industrial structures could be democratic in the industrial sense. We do not have to have the hierarchial nature of industry as there was in the past, nor do we have to have it environmentally despoiling. The history of industrialism so far is a history of mistakes which could be avoided.
I want to ask the Minister a question in relation to the provision of expert evidence on planning appeals and decisions. To my mind the notion of the Institute for industrial Research and Standards providing opinions is neither fair to the institute nor to the citizenry in general. The institute exists to do a particular kind of work, but they are being overtaxed. Last week I had in front of me a list of the number of cases of industrial applications before the Industrial Development Authority which they had investigated in the last few years. I feel that is too much of a strain also. The fact that one Government agency is providing the expert evidence for the proposal impact of another Government agency does not make for a sense of fair play in the public mind.
It was pointed out that one of the places where planning was examined in some detail was the town of Coventry. Coventry involved itself in a major democratic exercise. Page 324 of Cullingworth makes reference to the Coventry experiment. A letter was sent by the Coventry city planning department to community organisations and head teachers in the city announcing that a new plan was being drafted, that opinions would be welcomed and that they wanted people's impressions. The lessons which the city learned in terms of its planning consultation with the public were as follows:
(i) There is a tendency for people to become aligned with protest organisations before they have considered the full implications of a proposal within the totality of the Plan, thus inhibiting rational assessment of policy.
(ii) Modifications to meet objections, or compromises, can create equally important and often greater objections from those subsequently affected by the modification....
(iii) The processes of consultation and participation inevitably result in a lengthening of the administrative processes....
(iv) The complexity of technical evidence ... presents problems of explanation and communication....
(v) It is essential that pressure groups ... are not assumed to be representative of public opinion....
(vi) Participation and consultation are essential but they do not and cannot result in everyone being satisfied, if only because some interests are mutually exclusive.
Where hearings are held the collisions one has seen so far have not been collisions in the legal sense as much as collisions between private interest and communal interest. That is an entirely new dimension to hearings as such. It would help immensely if the public and local authorities had in mind what were to be the general norms of planning at national level. I am not saying that these should be given very rigid and narrow specifications, but the general norms should be there. As I said, if I was forced to say whether tribunals or the workings of a board were to be seen as a judicial function or an administrative function, I would think in the last analysis they were an administrative function. But, given that that is so, it is most important that the thinking of the Minister of the day and of his Department should be clearly in the public mind.
In conclusion, I welcome the Bill. The points I have mentioned are points on which I would welcome more detail. May I say that there is a point not mentioned in the Minister's speech which might have been mentioned by him in the other House in reply to some of the later Stages in the debate? It is the matter of the changed character of planning in an urban setting and in a rural setting. For example, local authorities dealing with the provision of houses in rural areas will often have to flow against the stream in a number of ways. On the one hand, if one wants social provision not to be totally run down, one must provide houses; yet, on the other hand, our migration from a number of small villages will be continuing. So one does not often have the demographic substance for planning Acts that one should be taking. On the other hand, in the urban areas there is immense demographic pressure.
I mentioned earlier the changed nature of the planning process in older areas and newer areas of cities. Another major contrast between the rural areas and the urban areas has been the changed character of housing. For example, over half of the dwellings in the aggregated rural areas of Ireland were built before 1919 as compared with one-third of the city dwellings. City dwellings therefore are newer on average than rural dwellings. One would like to think that when we have finished with planning legislation dealing we will have built into it sufficient flexibility to meet the differences between old and new towns and also the differences between town and country.
My other remarks deal more narrowly with the environment and would be best related to the Water Pollution Bill when the debate on it is resumed on Second Stage in the Seanad. Once again, I welcome the Bill and I look forward to the Minister's reply.