I am pleased to be here this morning to assist the committee in its consideration of the Local Government (Rates) Bill 2018, in particular, to discuss proposed Report Stage amendments. This is a very important piece of legislation and I thank committee members for their time and consideration.
I am joined by a number of colleagues: Ms Lorraine O’Donoghue and Sinead O’Gorman, who have been working hard on the rates Bill, from the local government finance section in the Department; Ms Sheila McMahon, who is here to cover the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act amendments; and Ms Patricia Curran and Mr. Paul Hogan, who are here to cover the planning amendments. As requested, we have provided advance briefing on these Report Stage amendments to the committee.
Commercial rates are a critical source of funding for local authorities, accounting for €1.51 billion, or 32%, of the €4.67 billion expenditure budgeted in the sector in 2018. The overall aim of this rates Bill is to modernise and improve the rates regime. In this regard, the drafting process is complex and of necessity, requires significant ongoing consultation with key stakeholders, particularly local authorities and the valuation office.
I might just mention that in terms of important provisions not subject to amendment, the Bill provides for the introduction of rates alleviation - waiver - schemes by local authorities, subject to ministerial approval, which can support important policy objectives contained in local, economic, community and land use plans.
The Bill also includes important provisions for collection and enforcement by local authorities.
The Bill was passed on Second Stage in the Dáil on 30 January, at which time a number of amendments were signalled for introduction on Committee Stage. Report Stage is provisionally scheduled for 3 July. Committee Stage consideration will take place immediately after this briefing session. The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, will be in attendance and it will present an opportunity to discuss important amendments such as those related to the Valuation Acts. The changes are required to ensure the ongoing national revaluation programme will remain revenue neutral for the local authorities, taking account of the revaluation of utilities on a global basis and the impact of successful appeals to the Valuation Tribunal. In that context, an amendment to allow the Commissioner of Valuation share the preliminary valuation of Irish Water with the local authorities is time critical to facilitate the calculations for 2020 budgets in local authorities.
A small number of important but mainly technical amendments were not ready for tabling on Committee Stage, but it is intended to introduce them on Report Stage. There will be a number of further amendments relevant to the Bill. Furthermore, amendments to the Planning and Development Acts, the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 and the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 are proposed. Amendments to the rates regime are proposed to enhance notification procedures and provision for additions and amendments to the valuation list to be immediately effective for rating purposes, given that there is currently a delay. A possible further amendment remains subject to drafting.
An amendment to the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 is required to overcome a risk that might allow the definition of an "owner of student accommodation" to be construed in a manner that could circumvent the intention of the Act. The amendment is required prior to the imminent planned commencement of the student accommodation provisions. Technical amendments related to the timing of the commencement of the student accommodation provisions will also be required. An amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 will be required to provide an alternative route for protected structures to qualify, further to substantial refurbishment works, for exemption from rent increase restrictions in rent pressure zones, RPZs, because they would be unlikely to qualify under the provisions recently enacted in the 2019 Act. The objective is to eliminate any potential negative impact on the planned refurbishment of protected structures in the rental sector.
An amendment will be required to the Planning and Development Act 2000 to address transitional issues following the establishment of the Office of the Planning Regulator. It is a time-critical amendment in the context of the ongoing development of regional spatial and economic strategies, RSESs, by regional assemblies. A further minor technical amendment will be proposed to underpin the special provisions for Cork city and county councils to extend the period for review of their development plans to incorporate RSESs into their plans. A possible amendment to the Local Government Act 1998 to reinsert a provision inadvertently deleted which empowers the Exchequer to pay into the Local Government Fund is no longer deemed to be required following further legal advice on the matter.
I thank the committee. We look forward to the discussion. We have provided some more detail in the briefing note on the proposed amendments.