I propose to take Questions Nos. 135, 195 and 206 together.
My Department is committed to maintaining the maximum number of people in rural areas and to strengthening rural communities economically, socially and culturally. Rural development policy is set out in the White Paper on Rural Development which is being implemented primarily through the national development plan.
As pointed out in the national spatial strategy, in many rural areas the combination of a high dependency on a changing agricultural base, a scarcity of employment opportunities and resultant outward migration, has weakened their demographic, economic, social and physical structure.
My Department is represented on the interdepartmental committee on implementation of the national spatial strategy. During 2003, my Department contributed to implementing the strategy, through, for example, the CLÁRprogramme which is targeted at particularlydisadvantaged rural areas and supports the national spatial strategy objectives. In addition, I asked the Western Development Commission to co-ordinate a strategy for towns on radial routes in the west so as to maximise the benefit to the west of the NSS in regard to major roads investment, the strategic rail review and decentralisation. In addition, I commissioned a review of support for enterprise in rural areas, the report on which I expect to have later this month.
The national spatial strategy addresses many of my concerns in regard to such issues as rural housing. The rural settlement policy framework contained in the NSS, which represents overall Government policy on rural housing, aims to sustain and renew established rural communities, while strengthening the structure of villages and smaller settlements to support local economies. In this way, it seeks to ensure the key assets in rural areas are protected to support quality of life and that rural settlement policies are responsive to the differing local circumstances in different areas.
My colleague in Government, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, accepts that it is vitally important that there is clarity and consistency in the implementation by planning authorities of Government policy in regard to rural housing through their own development plans and in the operation of the development control system under planning legislation. This is the purpose of the guidelines on rural housing which the Minister, DeputyCullen, intends to bring forward to deal with this issue. These are at an advanced stage of preparation.
I understand from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that under the Planning and Development Act 2000, all planning authorities must draw up a development contribution scheme in respect of public infrastructure and facilities provided by, or on behalf of, the local authority that benefit development in the area. These schemes must be adopted by 10 March 2004. It is the elected members of each local authority who decide on the level of contributions, the types of development to which they will apply and exemptions from the scheme, if any, for their own functional area. I am advised that all planning authorities have drafted development contribution schemes and as at 21 January 2004, 14 city and county councils had adopted their schemes.