Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 1 Dec 1993


I move amendment No. 17:

In page 14, betwen lines 11 and 12, to insert the following subsection:

"(3) The Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council shall, in addition to the functions provided for in subsection (2), have the functions which before the establishment day were vested by law in Dún Laoghaire Corporation.".

Section 11 states that the county councils will inherit the functions and the law that applied to the county council prior to the establishment day. My understanding of what is in the Bill is that the words "county council" were understood to mean Dublin County Council. Each of the three new county councils will inherit whatever law and functions applied to Dublin County Council.

No specific provision is made in the Bill to enable Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to inherit the functions and the law that applied to Dún Laoghaire Corporation. There are some slight differences. Because Dún Laoghaire Corporation came through the urban side of local government it is governed by some laws and has some functions attached to it which were peculiar to urban authorities and which did not necessarily apply to county authorities. The Minister wil be aware that a deputation from the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area committee pointed out to him, for example, that functions relating to school meals and school attendance which apply to urban authorities do not apply to county councils. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council would want to be enabled to continue those functions throughout its administrative area.

There may be other functions that I am not aware of at the moment because the law that applies to local authorities is extensive and complex. It may be that there are other functions and legislative provisions which apply to urban authorities and which would have applied to Dún Laoghaire Corporation which we will be cutting off now unless we make specific provision for them. It is important to have a general provision in the Bill that would enable Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to inherit the law that applied to Dún Laoghaire Corporation so that the new Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council will be able to carry out the functions previously carried out by Dún Laoghaire Borough Corporation.

I support this amendment because we may as a result of the Bill have certain anomalies in regard to the powers which have been vested in Dún Laoghaire Borough Council. I have tabled some amendments on this issue. One concerns the school attendance Acts and school attendance committees, matters that are causing difficulties. One of the difficulties — this was brought to the Minister's attention by a deputation which met him — is that different regime will operate in different parts of the country. This will be very difficult in terms of setting up a new county council and trying to have an identity for that council. If there were differences to do with certain powers and functions from the start, this would not promote the cohesiveness of the new county. From that point of view Deputy Gilmore's amendment is more encompassing. If the Minister takes it on board there may be no need for me to press my amendments.

I have tabled an amendment on the point Deputy Gilmore made about school attendance. We are all at one in what we are trying to achieve in this area. I would be interested to know what other borough provisions are not now existing at county level, apart from school attendance and school meals. There is a slight anomaly in the vocational education committee administrative area too, in that it was a borough vocational education committee. Will we now have that a county vocational education committee in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown? It is the same type of problem. Apart from those mentioned, could we have an indication of the other areas of borough responsibility which will not automatically extend to the county's brief and whether passing on these functions will put the county of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown out of step in these areas with the other two new county councils and the implications of that. With that caveat I support the amendment. I wish to know exactly what other areas of responsibility are involved and how it will leave Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown vis-�-visthe other two new counties.

This amendment proposes to vest in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council those functions currently vested in law in Dún Laoghaire Corporation. I am anxious that the new counties function as county councils and for that reason section 11 (2) provides that the new counties should have the functions which are vested by law in county councils generally. There are certain services which apply only in the borough and which at this time it would not be appropriate to extend to the new county, for example school meals, school attendance and weights and measures. These matters are the subject of later amendments.

Further, the local authority legislative code differs somewhat in its application to county councils and to boroughs; for example, in respect of the law relating to meetings and procedure of local authorities. The extension of tha law as it applies in the borough to the new county would inevitably lead to conflict and confusion as to the correct provisions to be followed. I hope to introduce a new local government Bill in 1994 — I indicated my desire in relation to that here last evening — which will update the law to remove the anomalous situations which exist in many parts of the country.

Deputy Doyle is right to focus on the difference that would exist between the other two counties and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown in circumstances where that type of arrangement was to be carried to the county. We will be returning to a number of those specific amendments later. It is important for Deputies to realise that we are establishing county councils, that they have a norm through out the country and that there are differences and contradictions with the boroughs. We had better deal with those contradictions in local government law for the country as a whole and in the meantime not to add to the difficulties that would arise between the three counties.

I am disappointed with the Minister's response. I know we will be coming to the question of school attendance and school meals later but he has stated that he does not feel it is appropriate to extend the provision of those services outside the old borough area. I will talk about that at greater length when we come to it, but I would say that these are two visible services provided by the local authorities and prior to the establishment of the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council there was already a considerable degree of unhappiness with aspects of the services. For example, the Loughlinstown primary school, which was in the borough area, got the school meals. However, the primary school in Ballybrack, a few hundred yards away, with pupils in the same socio-economic circumstances, did not get the meals because it was in the county area. Whatever arguments the Minister may have made about inheriting a 19th century form of local government which defined one as being in an urban area and the other as a rural or county area, it will be impossible to try to justify it after the reorganisation has taken place and the new councils have been set up.

The Minister has accurately described the two traditions in local government law — the county and the urban tradition. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown will be an urban county and little of it is left for development; but I do not want to get back into the rezoning debate. This is essentially an urban county and the county tradition and law to which the Minister refers reflected in many respects what were priorities in rural areas. I am concerned that if one cuts off the new Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council from interpreting the law applying to the Dún Laoghaire Corporation, it is then being put in the county format.

The only functions we have identified where this will cause a practical problem are those of school attendance and school meals. I do not think the weights and measures issue will cause many problems. There may be other functions we have not yet spotted. Therefore, we should not leave ourselves in a situation in a couple of years' time where there is something we could have done had we still been an urban authority which we cannot then do because we will be a rural authority.

Another practical example is that of water supply. In the borough area the householder's responsibility for the water pipe ends at the front garden wall, whereas in what was called the extra-municipal areas, the county areas, that responsibility for the water pipe extended out into the roadway. An urban authority can carry out functions which may be marginal and obscure and are contained in different legislation. I do not want to see the new Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council losing these functions.

I appreciate Deputy Gilmore's problem with this, as it is not just a matter confined to the instance of an urban authority changing to a county system. This also applies to the boundaries of counties, where the county council in one area is giving a service different to, or better than, that in an adjoining county. I was in the west recently where the service charges in the city were £30 for water and in the county border areas were £100. The Deputy knows that trying to explain anomalies like that——

There are bigger anomalies in the greater Dublin area.

In Dún Laoghaire Corporation, for instance, there have been the traditional charges and they did not obtain in the county area. I do not know to what extent that enabled the corporation to be able to deliver services which would be expensive if they were to be provided nationally. However, I would not know the detail of that. I understand the problems with it, because they are not confined to the urban versuscounty case; they happen all over the country where there are discrepancies. One would like to have the same conditions applying everywhere so that people cannot argue, but immediately that is done it takes away from the local autonomous regime, which may decide what it wants to do itself if it has a different preference. These are problems that emerge everyday.

In his initial response to this amendment the Minister referred to the legislation we can expect in the new year relating to overall reform of local government. Given that we are now in December and we are expecting the Bill to be published early in the new year, the Minister must have a good idea as to how he intends to deal with the anomalies of the sort that this amendment attempts to deal with. Given that the three new Dublin authorities would commence on 1 January, could we not for tidiness sake include in this Bill that portion of the Local Government Bill which the Minister proposes to bring forward in the spring. In other words, when we are establishing new county councils incorporating in their remit what were borough areas, either the provision of school meals and school attendance services will extend to the entire county or it will not, or the decision will be left entirely with the county council. Why can the Minister not indicate now what his intentions are in that regard so that these three new county councils do not start on the wrong foot and then change three months later? On Report Stage the Minister might be able to do something to resolve the problem highlighted by Deputy Gilmore.

All the legislation I have sponsored in recent years makes no distinction in law between the operation of urban and county councils. We are dealing with more archaic matters here and some problems that have developed over time which we will tidy up in the next Bill. It is sensible to ask me to do that now, but the problem is that in relation to some of these services operated by a local authority the ultimate responsibility does not rest with me. There are policy changes concerning another Department which are at a sensitive stage of change at present and will take some time to complete.

The Department of Finance?

No, the Department of Education. I must have those changes in place before 1996 and the next country wide elections, either through legislation which I will sponsor or in tandem with what would happen in relation to changes in education. I do not want to see this anomalous situation carried into that election and beyond. That is why I cannot just go forward. Notwithstanding my desire, I would not be able to do so in areas where policy is not finally decided in relation to matters concerning other Departments.

In other words, the school-children in Fingal or in other council areas will not be entitled to those provisions and in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area it will only extend to what was the borough area as of 1 January.

The general principle being not to change provision which does not change what is happening at present.

It is a bit messy.

There are other considerations involved and we will deal with them when we come to the amendment.

It might be a justification for postponing the local elections in 1996.

I do not know why your party is reluctant to have an election.

I would be concerned about the Minister using this as a justification.

Deputy Gilmore, without interruption.

The nuances are lost on him.

I know that. I cannot help it.

That is some excuse anyway. I do not think Senator Michael O'Kennedy would think the Minister was that thick.

I had not consulted him on that matter.

Deputy Gilmore without interruption, please.

That begs another question, but we will not ask it.

Is Deputy Gilmore pressing the amendment?

It is an important amendment and we will come to some of its practical implications in later sections. I will withdraw it at this stage and see what the Minister intends to do on Report Stage with regard to such issues as school attendance. I consider it quite important because it defined the character of the new authority.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 11 agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.

We now resume on section 12, amendment No. 18, in the names of Deputies Currie and Doyle.


I move amendment No. 18:

In page 14, before section 12, to insert the following new section:

"12.—(1) When any council established by section 11 of this Act is, in the performance of its functions as a planning authority (within the meaning of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963), making a development plan or any variation of any such plan, it shall be necessary for the passing of any proposal to include a provision, or to amend, the draft development plan or draft variation that the number of the members of the planning authority concerned voting in favour of the proposal or amendment is not less than three-quarters of the total number of the members of the planning authority (fractions being disregarded).

(2) Subsection (1) of this section applies only in relation to a proposal or amendment which seeks to alter existing development objectives for the use solely of primarily (as indicated in the development plan then in force) or particular areas for particular purposes.

(3) Subsection (1) of this section shall not apply in any vote unless the number of the members of the planning authority concerned voting against the proposal or amendment is not less than one-quarter of the total number of the members of the planning authority (fractions being disregarded).

(4) The requirement of subsection (1) of this section (when it applies) is in addition to and not in substitution to any other requirements which apply.

(5) The provisions of this section shall not apply where the Minister, in exercise of his powers under section 22 of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act 1963, has required a planning authority to vary its development plan or to co-ordinate it with the development plan of another planning authority.".

This amendment arises from our concern about some rezoning decisions taken by Dublin County Council during its recent consideration of the development plan and our fear that there could be a repetition of that in the new councils. I emphasise "some" decisions taken by some councillors who appear to be immune to public criticism. The Minister of State, Deputy Eithne Fitzgerald, speaking on the Second Reading of this Bill on 18 November, referred to:

. . . the orgy of land rezoning which has taken place in County Dublin over the last number of months, most of which has more to do with rewarding land owners or development companies who have speculated in land than with orderly planning and development of our capital city.

I share her fear that the division of County Dublin "into three administrative counties would simply multiply the rezoning frenzy by three." I also note that the Minister yesterday repeated his previous concern about some of the rezonings and their possible affects. He implied that he would take action in reaction to some of the rezonings. This amendment is an attempt to ensure that what occurred at Dublin County Council will not happen again.

As the committee is aware, section 4 of the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955, empowered elected members to direct the manager to perform a specific executive act and section 26 (3) of the 1963 Act enabled elected members to direct the manager in cases of material contravention. Due to the widespread abuse of these two provisions, especially by the Fianna Fáil controlled Dublin County Council between 1985 and 1991, these provisions were amended by the Local Government Act, 1991. Section 45 raised the proportion of members required for a material contravention to be passed from one-third to three-quarters. Section 44 applied the three-quarters rule to section 4 resolutions in relation to a planning function. It also required that such section 4 resolutions be signed by three-quarters of the members in the electoral area concerned. These amendments did not affect the procedures for drawing up a new development plan or variations in an existing plan.

The objective of this amendment is to extend the three-quarters rule to rezonings or proposals to alter the zoning in the existing development plan. As far as possible the wording is adopted from parts of the existing planning legislation. The wording of subsection (1) is adopted directly from sections 44 and 45 of the 1991 Act and from section 39 (d) of the 1976 Act.

Subsection (2) is designed to apply this procedure specifically and directly to changes in zoning and only that. Proposals to change the existing zoning would not be affected. Deputy Doyle and I are anxious not to have a situation arise where minor rezonings, which are not controversial, would be blocked simply because it is not possible to get three quarters of the councillors into the chamber at the time.

Subsection (3) is designed to ensure that the three quarters rule only applies when one quarter of the members positively indicate their opposition to a rezoning by voting against it. Subsection (4) is similar to the second part of section 26 (3) (b) of the 1963 Act as inserted by section 39 (d) of the 1976 Act relating to material contraventions. In addition, we would not wish the three quarters rule to apply to a variation of the development plan by the Minister or to the Minister's power to require that development plans be co-ordinated.

The amendment in the form Deputy Doyle and I have drafted and proposed it may not, of course, be the only answer. Our concern is to prevent in the future what Minister of State, Eithne Fitzgerald has described as an "orgy of rezoning". It is important to get the Government to accept the principle that some special procedure is needed for rezoning as it was accepted in 1991 that special procedures were needed for section 4 and material contravention. In particular we are flexible on the proportion of the total membership required as long as the weighted majority required underlines the necessity for special procedures and the importance of the decision being taken. If the Minister opposes the amendment I hope he will outline to the committee his alternative to prevent a recurrence of disgraceful decisions by some Dublin county councillors.

As a co-proposer of this amendment, which has been so ably put by my colleague, Deputy Currie, I urge the Minister to accept the amendment. As Deputy Currie said, if the amendment has not been expressed to the satisfaction of the Minister and his parliamentary draftspersons, we will understand. I hope the Minister will accept the thrust of the amendment and ensure that, in effect and in practice, a weighted majority is required before rezoning decisions are made.

The proper planning and development of our country, county by county, is one of the most important functions of local government and, together with our programmes on housing, roads and sanitary services, the drawing up and reviewing of development plans — and this amendment deals with the reviewing of development plans — makes it one of the most important areas of responsibility for councillors. I have been a member of a county council for 19 years, so I speak as an insider rather than as a Dáil Deputy lecturing, preaching or giving an opinion on something I do not know about. It is my concern for local government and the standing of local democracy in our country which has brought me to table this amendment with Deputy Currie.

No one knows their area as well as the local councillor who is doing his or her job. While councillors as a rule are not professionally qualified to take technical decisions in the reviewing of draft plans, they have an intimate knowledge of the needs and wishes of their local community and the direction in which the development of that local community should proceed. Generally speaking, the technical and professional advice of the planners, the management and the executive is married to the views and experience of the local councillor and a conclusion is arrived at which is satisfactory from both perspectives. Occasionally, however, we have seen incidences where this symbiotic relationship has broken down and there is what appears to be open conflict between the views of the councillors and the views of management as to what should be done.

Occasionally conflict is healthy and every council has the odd difference of opinion between the democratically elected members and management. However, the extent to which the conflict would appear to have existed in the last few years, certainly in the review of the County Dublin development plan, has been a matter of concern to many people far beyond the boundaries of County Dublin. I am concerned that all of us who believe in local government as being one of the most, if not the most, important coalface delivery of government in the country have witnessed the erosion of respect for local government procedures because of lack of understanding or due to the way in which the proceedings of the review of the development plan of Dublin County Council was reported.

Depending on how one approaches it, one has different views as to what happened. Virtually all parties were party to what some might call controversial decisions. Most of the rezonings done in the review of the Dublin development plan were perfectly acceptable. One must have orderly development, and we have to accept — even those of us who would like to consider ourselves as environmentalists, and I am sure the Minister would consider himself among that number — that all development has environmental impact. Infrastructure must be provided. There has to be a disturbance of greenfield sites in many cases. We cannot all have it as we would like and keep a pristine untouched environment because we have to strike a balance between proper orderly development and proper physical planning in any area. That balance is the critical factor.

When motions to rezone areas are not unanimous and there is a conflict among members of a local authority on the merits of the issue before them, it is most important to remember that the development and rezoning of an area, particularly from agriculture or amenity to development or residential, is irreversible. Once developed there is no turning back the clock. We are making decisions that will affect generations of Irish people and not just short term decisions. On that basis, if there is conflict — and conflict can be healthy — on an important issue like rezoning and the review of a development plan, we are proposing that the outcome of some of the motions before a council should be decided by a weighted majority — three quarters is our proposition. As Deputy Currie said, if the Minister wants to change the figures in some way or if he has another way of implementing our requirement, we will listen to him. We feel strongly that the principle should be accepted. The Minister obviously felt sufficiently strongly about this principle of weighted majority when he changed the voting requirements in relation to section 4 applications and material contraventions.

Whose idea was that?

We put it to the Minister that this proposal sits comfortably with the changes that were made in relation to section 4 applications and material contraventions and would ask him for his support in accepting the amendment. I emphasise that it relates to rezonings. We are not attempting to interfere with the procedure by which draft plans are made or where areas are zoned for the first time, but with regard to rezonings where there is controversy and not unanimity among members. Pprovision is being made under subsection (3) for minor zoning matters. It is only when more than one-quarter of the members of a planning authority are opposed to a motion or proposition that this principle of weighted majority is called into effect. It is most important that we understand that quite clearly. I am asking the Minister for his support and, having listened carefully over recent months to his views on the review of the Dublin development plan, I would expect him to be sympathetic to the motion before him and I look forward to hearing his views on it.

This amendment intends to address the rezoning problems that have arisen in Dublin as a result of the review of the county development plan. The first question to be asked is whether or not the amendment would actually solve the problem. While in general I support this amendment, I feel it will not solve the problem because the damage in Dublin has already been done. One of the difficulties with rezoning in Dublin is that one is dealing with the most expensive land in the country, so rezoning decisions around Dublin have the potential to greatly enhance the value of the land. Dublin has attracted rezoning in a remarkable manner because of the way in which land prices can be enhanced as a result of council decisions. One of the difficulties with rezoning is that once a decision to rezone land is taken it cannot be undone because if you subsequently "down zone" the land the local authority would be open to claims for compensation. As a result of 20 years of development plans in Dublin there are parcels of land which were rezoned in the early 70s and people now say these cannot be developed for various reasons. The land cannot be "down zoned", however, for fear of a compensation claim. In addition, land that is now zoned for development in County Dublin cannot be "down zoned"' at a subsequent stage for the same reason. So, the rezoning process is cumulative and one keeps on adding to the pile of land that is zoned for development in the area.

The problem experienced in County Dublin is not one of individual rezonings. In reviewing a development plan it is inevitable that land is going to be rezoned. It would be a remarkable local authority that would review its developments plan after five years or in the case of Dublin County Council, ten years, and not rezone anything. Rezoning is inevitable given the changing needs of the county and its residents, coupled with the need for employment creation and residential development. There will be controversy over individual decisions irrespective of whether or not they are in the public interest. One obvious cause of controversy is where a bad developer wants land rezoned but the local community is opposed to it. Controversy can also be generated by a competing business person who sees a threat to his or her interest in a piece of land being rezoned. There have certainly been examples of that.

The problem in Dublin is not about individual rezonings where people can have differing views, it is that there was a rezoning pattern. As such it is a political problem which the two largest parties in this State are going to have to address. There was a consistent pattern in County Dublin whereby, no matter what was put up for rezoning, virtualy all the Fianna Fáil members on the council and a large majority of the Fine Gael members on the council would invariably vote for it. Ultimately that is a political problem that has to be addressed by those parties.

Would Deputy Gilmore address the amendment?

I am addressing the amendment. I am explaining why, if in the review of the County Dublin development plan, a degree of political responsibility has been exercised by the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael members on those councils — certainly a large number of them — we would not now be faced with a situation where a legislative measure is being proposed to deal with what was essentially a political problem.

What is proposed in subsection (3) is that the three-quarters formula which was introduced for material contraventions should be extended for the making and variation of a development plan. A number of things about that need to be considered. I supported the three-quarters formula when it was introduced for the material contravention problem but I have seen, in practice, where that formula had gone badly wrong. For example, there was a proposal for a development of the former Clondalkin Paper Mills which required a material contravention. All the elected members for that area signed the motion for the material contravention. When the motion went before the council, with a recommendation from the manager, all the political parties on the council supported it. A vote was called which resulted in 52 votes in favour of the proposal and none against, yet the motion was lost because 52 did not make three-quarters of 78.

That was the quota on that day.

We should not have to do business on the basis of what time of the day motions are put. There was clearly across-the-board support for that proposal and it fell. The reason it fell was because the previous council had abused the whole procedure for material contravention.

Does the Deputy see subsection (3)?

I see subsection (3) which says that one can only have this if one-quarter are declaring themselves against it.

So, the proposal in relation to Clondalkin Paper Mills would have been taken care of.

Yes, but what this would not deal with are many of the rezoning motions passed by the county council in the last six to 18 months. There the numbers voting against them would have been fewer than one-quarter. When one eliminates fractions, and so on, it would be about 19 or 20. If one looks at controversial motions, like the Liffey Valley and various others around the country, im many cases the numbers voting against them were fewer than one-quarter, so that would create another problem. If it requires a legislative measure to stop abuse in making a development plan, then I will go with it, but it would be far better if some political responsibility was exercised by some members of the council.

I noted what Deputy Doyle had to say at her party's weekend conference. In press reports she acknowledged it was a pity she did not convey that a bit more forcibly to members of her own party at an earlier stage of the development plan.

My party knew, although I had not gone public. That is what the press said. My party councillors were in no doubt as to my view. I just did not go public on it, and chose not to.

This amendment is ironic because when there were public pronouncements about controversial rezonings in relation to part of Dublin County Council's development plan, I suggested by way of parliamentary question — I did not have time to obtain a copy of that day's Official Report — that the Minister, rather than issuing directives, should have introduced legislation to safeguard against what were seen as abuses at the time. The Minister did not look very favourably at this suggestion. My proposal was very much on the same lines as the approach required for material contraventions of the plan. I felt if we were serious about dealing with this issue, legislation was the best way of doing so.

In relation to Dublin, this amendment is closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. Although I am sympathetic to the thrust of the amendment, one of the difficulties which may arise during debate on the development plan is that councillors may support zonings in areas other than their own — the larger parties have councillors spread right across the county. This happened in the case of some proposed zonings, which were not all bad. One of the benefits of three new county councils is that there will be more accountability on the part of elected members.

A safeguard under the planning laws, similar to the material contravention system, would be a good idea. It need not require voting by three quarters of the members, as in the case of material contraventions, but three quarters of the councillors from a specific area voting for a zoning or a motion in relation to that area. In regard to this amendment, I do not know if it is appropriate to have one law for the three new county councils in Dublin and another for the rest of the country. That is why I did not put my suggestion forward in the form of an amendment to this Bill. Special measures to deal with this problem cannot apply only to the new county councils, notwithstanding that the problem has arisen because of perceived abuses in relation to the draft development plan for Dublin. I do not know if it is possible to legislate for such measures.

I would strongly support any legislation which would make it difficult, if not impossible, to make the type of decisions which were arrived at in relation to the draft development plan for Dublin. I am glad that in the review process which has been undertaken many decisions, including some of the more controversial ones, were overthrown by the council. Whatever the thinking behind this amendment and Fine Gael's view on it, I do not think it is feasible in its present format; but I would certainly support safeguards in the context of planning legislation.

The amendment seeks to introduce new voting procedures whereby if a quarter of the total membership vote against a rezoning proposal to affect a change in a draft development plan, then a weighted voting mechanism is activated which would require three quarters of the membership to vote in favour and the motion to be carried. Colleagues will know, and Deputy Keogh has brought this up, that the Planning Acts apply to all planning authorities, that is the 27 county councils, five county borough corporations, six boroughs and 49 urban district councils. These Acts form a national planning code and hence the proposal to apply special provisions solely to the three new counties is unsound. If problems arise in a particular county, are we to enact special legislation just for that area? I think we all accept that planning matters should be tackled through a national planning code and that is what we have always tried to do up to now.

I agree with Deputy Keogh that the three new councils should result in a more focused and targeted system and that local councils will be seen to be responsible for local areas. It has been clear for some time that a council with a membership of 78 members gives rise to problems affecting local areas because such areas are represented by members who are at a distant remove from them. The changes we are proposing in the overall reorganisation of Dublin should remedy that.

The requirement in the amendment that any proposals in relation to the development plan can only be accepted if three quarters of the total membership of the council vote in favour of them may have the effect of preventing necessary change. Deputy Avril Doyle rightly said that the majority of the rezoning proposals in the draft plan are good. They are necessary and we have to balance what is needed in terms of development and expansion with the care and protection of our environment. Circumstances change, some areas and sectors develop while others decline, changes occur in transport and economic growth, and new facilities and services emerge. The development plan seeks to guide this continuing process. Plans need to be revised to take a leading role in guiding future development rather than become cast in stone. They need to be able to deal with development pressures which could not have been foreseen when the plan was drafted. Development plans cannot be frozen in a time warp only to be changed by 75 per cent of the elected members.

All of us accept that planning is not an exact science and that there can be diverging views. Ultimately, decision must be made as to what constitutes proper planning and development. This is a matter for democratic vote by the elected members, having regard to all relevant factors in connection with the proper planning and development of the area and in the interest of the common good. Decision by simple majority is the norm in our democratic fora. In the case of local authorities it is a majority of those present and voting. This is the way we elect Taoisigh and make many other important decisions. We place our trust in this system.

We will not get a three quarters majority on that.


On planning issues councillors are often under pressure from those immediately affected but need to operate on the basis of the proper planning and development of the entire county. In these circumstances it would be too easy for pressure groups to persuade a quarter of councillors to vote against a sensible and rational proposal and thus trigger the need for three quarters of the members to vote in favour of it. Plans would therefore be well nigh unalterable.

The development plan will deal with development objectives for different areas in the jurisdiction of the local authority and not with individual pieces of land, as in the case of planning applications. The plan is to determine the appropriate basis for proper planning and development in the interests of the common good and the normal democratic criterion in such circumstances is a simple majority vote. The proposed voting arrangements would apply to a draft plan or variation which is prepared by the executive arm of the authority. Surely it is anomalous that 75 per cent of total membership should be needed to effect a change in such draft when other decisions of the local authority, including the adoption of estimates, the striking of rates and making of by-laws, are decided by a majority vote.

The three quarters majority for planning section 4s, introduced by the Local Government Act, 1991, was to deal with proposals for individual planning applications decided on an ad hoc basis and which went against the overall proper planning and development set out in the development plan. As section 4s by law come first on the agenda at meetings, they were also clogging up local authority business.

Subsection (1) of the amendment refers to a proposal to alter existing development plan objectives. These were in the plan being reviewed or contained in the draft. The effect seem to be that members needed a three quarters vote to change, but the executive may include what it likes in a draft. The amendment seeks to remove development planning from local democracy. The underlying assumption is that councillors are so irresponsible and that they cannot be entrusted with making a development plan. The making of a plan is the most important and completely independent function of elected councillors.

The Minister does not trust them either and he is in the position of authority.

The Minister did not interrupt the Deputy.

I will not agree to its effective removal from the control of councillors. I stand over everything I said earlier this year about that matter, as far as one part of the country is concerned.

Does the Minister think Dublin councillors are irresponsible?

I draw Deputy Doyle's attention to other parts of that statement where I stated that rezoning was a necessary part of the planning process. I also said that good rezoning ran the risk of being classified as bad and ugly rezoning when it was an essential part of the character of the planning process now and in future.

The intervention I made, and the support it was given by my colleagues on all sides of the House and the media was a factor in the council's decision to scale down some of the earlier and unacceptable proposals. As Minister for the Environment, there are a number of other ways open to me to deal with haphazard rezonings which do not take account of good planning procedures. I mentioned on a number of occasions that my Department will no longer support the provision of financial resources for services in areas which are so classified.

The Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil membership of Dublin County Council has been criticised. I would like to put the record straight by stating that every party on the council has supported rezonings and has brought forward proposals for rezonings. It is easy for other parties to select my party, or the Fine Gael Party, for special mention when there are greater numbers from those two parties on the council. Many of them are trying to and have passed development proposals which all sides accepted were good for Dublin. We have also objected to such proposals and all parties have been involved in that process. I will do anything to encourage local elected members to desist from this type of activity and I hope I will succeed. Political responsibility in these matters must be taken on board by all parties and not by a particular section here this afternoon.

The amendment is unacceptable. Deputy Doyle will appreciate it is an undersirable way to do business when we are making a proposition that affects three councils in what should be a national planning code.

Opportunities are open to Ministers for the Environment to take steps which are not necessarily legislative. The Deputy may speak for County Wexford and from her own experience, but there is no need to include county councillors in every part of the country in the way this amendment seeks to do. While we agree there is a need for more sensible proposals to be adopted by the council in parts of Dublin, the majority of the systems we have adopted so far are still the best way to achieve our objective.

The comparison made about section 4s means we are changing to a material contravention which is different from a draft plan, where the consultative process, publication and the opportunity for the public to comment is a democratic function involving the local representative and the public to the greatest possible extent. I am reluctant to change that.

I suspected that an earlier statement by the Minister, and repeated a few days ago, was for public consumption and did not represent his intention to do something effective. He was aware of the scandal in relation to some of the rezonings and he was responding to that. His statement today confirms he has little intention of doing anything about it.

The Minister said that the aim of this amendment is to remove the development plan from local democracy. This is untrue and it is an astounding remark to make because my seconder and I said nothing to suggest this. In the discussions on this Bill we set out the role which should be played by local democracy and this remains our position. If the Minister meant what he said, he should have been opposed to the weighted majority in relation section 4s. One could also argue that a weighted majority in relation to the scandal about section 4s was so obvious, it could have been described as a removal from local democracy. If he believes local democracy has been practised in Dublin County Council in relation to these rezonings, why is he now threatening to take action over some of the rezonings about which he apparently disagrees? Why should he take action in relation to those matters if he stands by local democracy? The Minister cannot stand over this in relation to his efforts and he should not seek to attribute to us any suggestion that we do not trust local democracy and the majority of local councillors.

I have great sympathy for councillors because some are caught in an almost impossible position. They experience competing pressures and this may be seen from the record of Labour councillors on Dublin County Council. A number of them absented themselves from decisions——

That is right.

——and played up in public. I include the Minister of State, Deputy Fitzgerald, in that because of a recent speech she made. She was aware of what was happening. The councillors for whom she purported to speak were not doing what she suggested they were doing. They were staying away from council meetings where important decisions were being taken. I do not accept the highly political content of what the Minister said and I am prepared to be judged in relation to his determination to tackle these matters in other ways. That will be a matter for future decision, but I am sceptical about it. Deputy Gilmore was largely in support but there was also a high political content in what he said, or at least in part of it.

That is coming from all sides.

That should not be surprising, because we are all politicians around this table. I ask him to bear in mind a few points. He said that this would not solve the problem in Dublin where the damage has already been done. Deputy Keogh referred to closing the stable door when the horse had already bolted. There is land left in County Dublin.

They did not rezone all of it.

They did not rezone it all. In some cases wiser counsels prevailed, or the developer was not as greedy as most. There are still areas in the three new councils which can be rezoned. I wish I had the confidence some Deputies have in those greedy developers and that they would not attempt to do that. There are some sites near Lucan to which the developers will return at the first opportunity. There is no doubt about that. I do not want to have to admit that I had an opportunity on this Bill to prevent that and that I did not take it. Some councillors are already in sufficient ill-repute in County Dublin without taking the risk that they will do the same again. That is not a good reason for not proceeding with this amendment.

Deputy Gilmore argued that this was a political problem, but nearly every problem is a political problem. If we say this is a political problem and legislation is not required, will we ever solve any problems? Why should we propose any legislation? To that extent everything could be stigmatised as a political problem. We have to be practical and deal with the position as it exists. This seems to be a practical way of dealing with this problem.

Objections have been made. I agree with some of them, but I foresaw them. I said we were prepared to accept another way to do this, consistent with the weight of majority, for example. That remains the position. Deputy Gilmore said if it requires a legislative plan he will vote for it. He went on to say that it was political problem. I say to him this is a legislative plan to deal with this and I ask him to vote for it.

The Minister told us that Planning Acts are national. We are aware of that. However, there is a major problem in the Dublin area which the Minister has already recognised in speeches and by supporting changes to section 4 motions. The problem ought to be recognised and this is a way of dealing with it.

There is a way to deal with the Dublin problem. What Deputy Currie is proposing could be helpful if he can persuade his colleagues on Dublin County Council on 10 December to support my proposal that the council should not adopt the plan presented to us. I have reluctantly come to that conclusion and after much thought. County Dublin as a whole would be better off without the plan now before us.

We should allow the new county councils to adopt development plans having regard to their circumstances. The work the professional planners have put into the preparation of the county development plan could still be put to use by the new councils. Within 12 months or so development plans could be adopted by the new councils. Deputy Currie's proposal and amendment could be helpful. Much land is left which can be earmarked for development, as he says.

The Minister is right to say that members of all parties on Dublin County Council proposed and supported the rezoning of various pieces of land. That is as it should be; it would be a normal process in the review of any development plan. What was extraordinary about Dublin County Council was that, as Deputy Currie said, members of another party behaved as if the review of the development plan was Lanigan's Ball. They stepped in and out of county council meetings when it did not suit them to make certain decisions. What was also extraordinary was the large number of members of both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who voted for everything. One would have to be extremely fond of concrete to vote for every proposal for development re-zoning that came before the council.

The Minister has been sending conflicting messages as to where he stands on this issue. He gave a glowing interview to his admirer in The Irish Times. It was printed most fulsomely. He said he was against what was happening on Dublin County Council. Then Councillor Coffey and Senator McGennis set upon him and he beat a retreat.

Show me the retreat.

The retreat is in the reply to my Dáil question to him yesterday where he states that limited powers of intervention are open to him and that he would be extremely slow to use them to overturn decisions of this kind taken at local level. He effectively stated today that the vast majority of the decisions made were good decisions.

I said——

It is different to what the Minister was telling the Press in July.

His speech is loud but the drums are muffled.

I have a letter here from the Minister's Department which was sent to the Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council about the Carrickmines valley sewer. The Minister is well aware of the matter. He tells the county council it will have to raise £2 million from its own resources for the financing of that sewer. In the course of that letter he stated:

It is also noted that there is potential for further private housing development in this area. The extent of this development will be determined by the council in the context of the current review of the development plan.

In a nutshell, the Minister is telling the new county council to find £2 million from development levies. The only way that can be done is if the county council rezones even more land in the Carrickmines valley for private housing development. That would have serious environmental implications.

The Minister is sending conflicting signals on this issue. On one hand he is saying that he is concerned about it and is pressing all the right buttons for The Irish Times. However, he then rowed back when he was put under pressure by a deputation he received from his party and in practice is effectively encouraging the county council to rezone more land for development in order to fund the sewer. He then comes back here and tells us that if the county councils rezone land for development he will not provide the resources to service the land. The Minister is going to have to make up his mind as to what exactly he is saying to the county council and to the public about this issue.

A number of totally false accusations have been levelled there. I was absolutely astounded to discover that the Deputy's council and elected members devoted the planning charges and fees associated with development to activities unrelated to the services required for those housing developments.

That is not so.

I have asked the council to devote the resources they raise in the normal way to those services, because there are a number of housing estates in this city and county where people paid for services which were not provided because the council devoted the resources to other purposes. As Minister for the Environment I am making an intervention there. If the Deputy has any argument against that——

That is not what the Minister said in the letter.

A large number of letters are sent out from my office and the Deputy is referring to one which I have not seen recently. However, I know that the basis for the decision is fundamentally right, which is that if a planning authority requires an obligation for fees to be paid in respect of services for development of a housing estate, the people who live there are entitled to believe that the moneys will be devoted to that purpose. That is what I am doing.

If the Deputy's party has a fundamental objection to that——

This is camouflage stuff.

It is not camouflage stuff. It is direct, open and a proper way to do business.

Sitting suspended at 4.05 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.

The Minister was in possession explaining Carrickmines drainage scheme. I was interested to know where this was leading us.

The Minister had concluded.

The Minister was provoked.

May I ask the Minister for clarification on——

Members should have the right to defend themselves and you should not mention the names of those who are not here to do so.

The numbers present limit us drastically. We almost need to call a quorum. Will the Minister clarify the reasons he gave for abandoning financial support for the Carrickmines drainage scheme? If I understand correctly, he indicated that Dublin County Council was accepting moneys but not delivering the services for which they were intended. It was accepting moneys for one service and spending it elsewhere. That amounts to a statement that Dublin County Council was misappropriating funds so the Minister has cut off the supply of moneys to the Carrickmines drainage scheme. Will the Minister indicate why he changed his once supportive attitude to the Carrickmines scheme?

This is unrelated to——

I was just going to say that.

It needs clarification.

——the amendment.

So is Taiwan.

I am quite happy to support the Carrickmines scheme. I have already indicated to the council that I am prepared to contribute considerable funds to the cost of providing the necessary infrastructure. However, where there are considerable incomes accruing to the council in respect of planning fees for services, I was concerned that they would be dedicated to the purposes for which they are intended. They will now form part of the nature of financing all non-EC infrastructure schemes.

Is it because it is non-EC that the Minister changed the percentage of funding that the council enjoyed heretofore for this scheme?

It is to ensure we will not be adding to the many estates for which services are now being demanded where considerable resources were put at the disposal of the council for the provision of services which were not provided.

Is this evidence of the Minister's "get tough" policy because of the excessive rezoning zeal of Dublin County Council?

It does not relate just to Dublin.

I know but——

Dublin does accentuate it more than others. We are having question time.

It is not a Second Stage debate or Question Time.

As I understand it, the Minister indicated to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council that he is willing to fund 40 per cent of the cost of providing the Carrickmines valley sewer which will service the lands currently being developed in the Ballyogan-Leopardstown area, the only industrial lands now available to the new Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in Ballyogan and over 1,000 houses built in various parts of the approaches to the Dublin mountains and serviced by septic tanks. The difficulty is the Minister expects the county council to find £2 million to fund the balance. I would like to make a point to him which I hope will not cause the rush of blood to the head that my earlier comments caused.

We are a long way from the amendment in your name or in the name of Deputy Currie.

I will finish on this because it is a point which the Minister might well take on board. The difficulty is that we are dealing with a part of the county where it is not possible to have much development. The scope for further development in that part of the county is very limited unless one is to rezone additional lands in a very beautiful part of County Dublin, which would be a great mistake. In relation to the Minister's earlier comments, there has not been much development in this part of County Dublin although there is some at the moment. The local authority is not in a position to raise £2 million to fund the sewer which means that the industrial lands in that area, the only industrial lands available to the county council, cannot be developed. The same applies to the county council's own lands for local authority housing in Ballyogan. The county council cannot give any further planning permissions for development in the Leopardstown area, for example, where land is zoned for housing because of inadequate sewerage capacity there and a huge number of houses will continue to discharge into sewers. It is an environmental hazard apart from anything else. My concern here is that the Minister's position, and I am speaking in the context of the amendment where we are dealing with rezoning, offers a temptation to the county council to raise the money it needs by rezoning more land for residential development in an area not capable of sustaining it.

With all due respect, we are all moving from the amendment. Perhaps if we could stay with it we might make better progress.

I am trying to get support in the normal way from Deputy Gilmore. The levies extracted from the public when purchasing houses, intended for the provision of those services, form only part of how these services are supplied.

I have no difficulty with that.

That is agreed then.

I support Deputy Gilmore in relation to the Carrickmines valley. We have succeeded in capping development there and in achieving a compromise which is probably the best available. Anything which could be seen as an enticement to further development would be a great shame and would mean a great loss to the people in the area. Points were made about servicing the industrial site, the existing houses on septic tanks and the prospect of building local authority houses. It is not conceivable that a new county council would be able to provide extra money as it will be starting in debt.

The housing development in that area will raise considerable resources. I am just trying to ensure they are dedicated to the provision of services. I fail to understand why public elected representatives for that area find fault with that. Surely it is a principle with which everyone agrees?

I have been to the forefront over the years in highlighting what I perceived as abuses of the planning procedure in County Dublin. Its extent — and the media attention drawn to it — obviously brought change in relation to section 4 motions, which was helpful. We are talking about planning and about giving local councillors the responsibility of taking decisions. In the context of a county council with 78 members where it was open to much wider perceived abuse, there were strong grounds for taking protective measures, including amending the legislation to deal with it. We are talking about proposed membership of the three councils at the moment. Deputy Gilmore would like to see a different arrangement in that regard, there are 24 councillors in the Fingal area and 26 in each of the two other areas. In relation to planning, whether a development plan or material contravention was being discussed, local councillors, 24 in my area, should look at the issues and take cognisance of all the cases put forward——

And be present to vote when a decision is made.

There are 24 councillors in Fingal and any decisions in regard to material contraventions or changes in the development plan in future will be taken by them. They are responsible and have to stand over those decisions. I see no difficulty, in the context of a much smaller council, in acting on the majority decision of the council. Let the council stand over the decisions it has taken on behalf of the local community and the electorate. In the past we had an unwieldy situation with 78 councillors from all over Dublin where we had to be protected and the local people had to be protected. I would like to think in this planning process that people would be made more accountable. The 24 Councillors in Fingal should make the planning decisions in Fingal. As one who has a proven record in relation to taking issue with perceived abuse in the past, I will have no difficulty in standing over any decisions I have to take in future. I do not see the merit of this amendment.

It is only fair to say, now that a Labour Deputy is present, that some of us have concerns about how among other——

Deputy Doyle, please speak to the amendment, we already had a long run on this earlier on.

The amendment is being tabled because we feel we need a weighted majority of three-quarters to pass a rezoning motion. Deputy Gilmore referred to the behaviour of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael during the Dublin review of the development plan. It must also go on record that the Labour Party operated by withdrawing from the Chamber so that it did not have to vote for or against motions if it did not suit it and, in that way, its voting record might look a bit more attractive.

That is out of order. I ask the Deputy to withdraw that statement.

I certainly will not. More to the point, I will substantiate it and give details——

Deputy Doyle and Deputy Ryan, please stick to the amendment before us.

I am glad Deputy Ryan was supportive of the procedure for voting in relation to section 4 and material contraventions. I assume that, for exactly the same reasons, he supports the amendment before us today.


Chairman, it needs to be stated that we have a Labour councillor in this chamber for the first time at 5.20 p.m., and quite frankly——

With all due respect——

We should have had a quorum and if you would like a quorum, Chairman, we can have it. Government Deputies, including the Labour Deputies who renege on their responsibilities when they cannot face up to them, should join us for this debate and be here for what was said all day.

Deputy Doyle, please respect the Chair.

You should have a gong or something. You are seriously handicapped.


Is the amendment being pressed?

As there are fewer than 31 Members present in the Chamber, we are obliged under Standing Orders to wait eight minutes or until a full membership is present before proceeding to take the division.

Amendment put.
The Select Committee divided: Tá, 10; Níl, 15.

Boylan, Andrew.

Finucane, Michael.

Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).

Gilmore, Eamon.

Connaughton, Paul.

Keogh, Helen.

Currie, Austin.

Nealon, Ted.

Doyle, Avril.

Yates, Ivan.


Ahern, Michael.

Hilliard, Colm.

Ahern, Noel.

Kenneally, Brendan.

Bhamjee, Moosajee.

Kenny, Seán.

Broughan, Tommy.

Killeen, Tony.

Connolly, Ger.

Ó Cuív, Eamon.

Ellis, John.

Ryan, Seán.

Gallagher, Pat (Laoighis-Offaly)

Smith, Michael.

Upton, Pat.

Amendment declared lost.