Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government

National Planning Framework: Discussion

9:30 am

Photo of Maria BaileyMaria Bailey (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I draw the attention of the witnesses to the fact that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given, and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Any opening statements submitted to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. At the request of the broadcasting and recording services, witnesses and those in the Public Gallery are requested to ensure that, for the duration of the meeting, their mobile phones are turned off completely or switched to airplane, safe or flight mode, depending on the device.

I am delighted that we will discuss the national planning framework. The joint committee is pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the framework, which is being developed to succeed the national spatial strategy. The framework will provide a basis for national planning, pulling together relevant Government policies and investment in national and regional development. It will have a focus on economic development and investment in housing, water services, transport, communications, energy, health and education infrastructure. I very much welcome from the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government Mr. David Walsh, Mr. Niall Cussen and Mr. Paul Hogan; from the Irish Planning Institute Ms Deirdre Fallon, president, Mr. Henk van der Kamp and Mr. Ciarán Tracey; and from the Association of Irish Regions Councillor Pat Vance, cathaoirleach, Mr. Stephen Blair, honorary secretary, and Mr. Jim Conway, director of the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly. They are all most welcome.

I invite Mr. David Walsh to make the presentation on behalf of the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government.

Mr. David Walsh:

I will say a few introductory words and then pass over to Mr. Hogan to run through the detail. I thank the Chairman and the committee members for the chance to give them an update on how the work on the national planning framework is going and our plan to timeline over the coming months. We have been working on this for quite a while. We have had much extensive engagement. We briefed Oireachtas Members last July on the overall structure and the plans for the national planning framework. This meeting is a very useful opportunity for us to bring forward some of the key ideas that are emerging and particularly to hear the committee's views on and have its input to the process. There is a huge amount of work beyond our summary presentation. We will be able to provide further detail and evidence to underpin many of the principles and priorities that will emerge.

We foresee a very important role for the committee, especially as we hope the NPF will be progressed through the Oireachtas process and ultimately adopted by the Oireachtas under the proposed new legislation in the Planning and Development Acts. The presentation will give the committee a good sense of our progress on some of the key challenges. The fundamental question we in the Department and many other stakeholders are asking is what kind of country we want in 20 years time and, perhaps more important, how we get there. The "how" is very important. I hope the committee's input today, our further thoughts and the views from the regions and the Irish Planning Institute will be very valuable in that. I will pass over to Mr. Hogan who will run through the detail.

Photo of Maria BaileyMaria Bailey (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Before Mr. Hogan starts, somebody's phone is interfering with the sound system. It might be okay now.

Mr. Paul Hogan:

We are using the working title Ireland 2040 because we are taking a long-term view. It is a long timeline. The national planning framework, Ireland 2040, will be the successor to the national spatial strategy, which was the one and only previous national spatial planning document. As such, Ireland 2040 will be the spatial expression of Government policies. It will draw together all the different Departments' priorities that have a spatial dimension. It is led by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government but is a whole-of-Government document. It will be necessarily high level and strategic, given that it must address national priorities and development goals, but it will be developed in parallel with and will lead into the three regional assemblies' regional spatial and economic strategies, RSESs, which will commence as soon as we have a draft national planning framework. As such, the national planning framework, together with the three RSESs, will be the basis for more joined-up policies and balanced regional development and will be the basis for or form the backdrop to planning investment and decision-making.

We all have a sense of the opportunities and challenges facing us as a country, but if we look 20 years or more ahead, it is likely that we will have to plan for up to an additional 1 million people in the country.

Over the past 20 years there has been in excess of that and we expect somewhere approaching that in most growth scenarios over the next 20 years or more. The likelihood is that because the population is ageing and household size is falling, the number of additional households will greatly exceed the average divided into a number of extra people. This means that we are looking at a minimum requirement of 500,000 additional households over the same period and this is a continuation of the current requirement of 25,000 homes per annum every year for the next 20 or more years. Although we will have a smaller workforce relative to the size of population, we will more than likely exceed the previous peak employment number of 2.2 million people. Against that backdrop we have looked at current trends over the past 20 years and there is a marked trend towards employment concentrating in and around larger towns and cities, yet housing has dispersed further and further beyond the settlements into the surrounding areas and around the edge of settlements themselves. When this is combined with an ageing population, with commitments to climate change and emissions, with expenditure considerations of service delivery and public expenditure and quality of life, we face considerable challenges.

The national planning framework, our national plan, is recognised as essential to ensure sustainable development goals. It has been referenced in the programme for Government. It has been cited by the action plan for housing as being important to a number of objectives. It is also referenced in the planning policy statement which dates from last year. In order for it to work, it is clear that the national planning framework must be backed by a wider policy alignment across all Departments and it requires alignment between planning and investment. That is one of the criticisms with regard to the previous national spatial strategy. The national planning framework will have statutory backing - this was the first planning recommendation of the Mahon tribunal, and this is covered under the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill which, I believe, is on Second Stage. Since the national spatial strategy was done 15 years ago we have significantly changed environment legislation. It is now a requirement that the whole strategy would be subject to strategic environmental assessment. That may have a bearing also.

The schematic which members have sets out the national planning policy hierarchy; the national planning framework is at the top, the three regional spatial and economic strategies feed on from that and these influence the relevant city and county development plans and local economic and community plans at a local authority level. It cascades down from a strategic to a more detailed local level. With regard to the experience of the national spatial strategy, NSS, and our ambition for this project, we have concluded that the NSS offers an invaluable learning experience, and we could talk a lot about that but we want to move forward. There was an expert advisory group report commissioned in 2014. It is a short report that recommended that a future spatial strategy would be more focused, shorter, higher level and would deal with hard choices as required. One of the important recommendations also was that rather than having a wish list of things it would be a genuine strategy combining the desired objectives together where they can have best effect.

The evidence from the preliminary census this year, and we will have more census data in the coming months, confirms what I have already said about the dispersal of population and the concentration of employment. It is clear that growth is increasingly happening, particularly population growth but also economic growth, around our key cities and towns. This growth is not so much in the urban settlements themselves but in their hinterlands. If we talk about Galway, Cork or the mid-east region of Leinster, that hinterland area is where the fastest growth continues to be. We are seeing a trend towards increasing vacancy within our urban areas and more development led growth at the edge manifest as sprawl, as it would be commonly known. I believe there is a kind of parallel in that some of the more inaccessible or remote rural areas of the State share some of the characteristics of the central urban areas where there is a fall in population and a feeling that services are no longer available to people.

It is clear that the national planning framework must be different from the national spatial strategy and the key lessons are that it requires a whole-of-Oireachtas approach and that a degree of support, or a majority of support, will be necessary. Rolling Government buy-in through funding and other supportive means would also be important to underpin the implementation of such a strategy. With regard to the actual content of the document, it will be important that it addresses each region's different potential and avoids the concept or the perception that there would be winners and losers, as has been the case in the past. That does not mean that everywhere can be treated in the same way - different areas have different levels of potential, but it can certainly be analysed, influenced and progressed for the benefit of everywhere, if we can get it right. The ambition is that Ireland 2040, or the national planning framework, must, through an evidence base, establish a plan making vision that people will understand and buy into as a plan that can be realistic and responsive. It needs to be adaptable over time as clearly things will change. We cannot anticipate everything that is going to happen over 20 years and we need to build in a mechanism for review.

There are four key areas of the work programme, namely, the governance of the project, communication and consultation, framework development and environmental assessment. With regard to governance we have put a structure in place, with the national planning framework team at the core of this at the moment, to progress the material to move the project ahead. The team is reporting to a cross-departmental steering group that involves representation from all the different Departments and the regional assemblies. This is chaired by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. We are also establishing an advisory group to reflect a broad range of sectoral and other interests. Feeding into this team is a series of working groups to address important aspects of the project such as the environmental assessments, demographics and more day-to-day and month-to-month interactions with the regional assemblies.

I will now turn to the education and consultation area of the programme. As Mr. Walsh has said, we undertook some initial high level engagement with stakeholder engagement in July. One aspect of this included a briefing to Members of the Oireachtas. We invited a range of different bodies, including infrastructure agencies, environmental and business groups and people who are concerned with society generally, to a series of events and posed a number of questions. We facilitated responses to get a feel for what people's views were. We have drafted a report on that engagement which will be made available as part of our general public consultation which we expect to launch in January. For those members who are familiar with the local development plan process, the pre-draft consultation in January is an opportunity for all interested citizens in our society to interact with the process and to give their views before we prepare a plan. We will prepare an issues and options paper to provide information at a number of different levels. There will be a basic summary overview as well as some more detail for those who are interested. The intention is that we will have a draft national planning framework by the second quarter of 2017.

The sort of questions we have been asking and on which we will reflect in the issues paper and for public consultation are what Ireland should look like in 20 years and how we ensure every place can realise its potential. We posed questions about jobs, housing, services and the wider context such as Northern Ireland and the relationship between the two islands and the EU. We also asked about the key environmental challenges, national infrastructure priorities, what the game changers might be, how we would implement a strategy into the future and what success might look like with regard to the outcomes at the end.

With regard to framework development, we are obviously taking on board what we hear from the stakeholders, regional assemblies and others. The public stage is next. We are certainly influenced by the Scottish national planning framework. A slide shows the cover of the third planning framework for Scotland, which is a very useful document. It seeks to strike a very good balance between addressing the whole of the territory without getting into very great detail that should be dealt with at a more regional or local level.

We are working with the Economic and Social Research Institute on demographic and econometric modelling projecting what the future might hold although it is not necessarily a predict-and-provide economics-led model. We must obviously take into consideration a whole range of other societal factors, including geography. We are using the model, however, to test some of the more technical scenarios in terms of what different options might lead us to or result in. There is an environmental assessment under way. We have appointed the consultant RPS to do that work on our behalf.

On the modelling inputs, the spatial data modelling and mapping services are being provided by the All-Ireland Research Observatory team in National University of Ireland Maynooth. We are a small team within the Department but we are working with a range of outside bodies and are very much open to all of that.

The second last slide shows where we got to in terms of strategic issues and policy choices. The key question regarding how we approach the way forward concerns determining the extent to which we follow the business-as-usual scenario, which is really pointing to an increasing level of development in Leinster, influenced by Dublin. Having said that, Dublin is critical to the national economy. It is not a case of Dublin or somewhere else but of Dublin and everywhere else. In getting to this stage, one of the first points we want to address is planning for people. In other words, it is a matter of determining what planning means for people over the course of the period we are talking about, particularly in terms of society and quality of life. Ultimately, people are concerned about what it means for them and their standard of living.

The second set of factors is really about the place-making strategy, which is really what the special planning is about, starting off with a vision for Dublin but then covering other cities and towns. There is an important role for elsewhere, such as regional cities and larger towns. We also need to examine the strengths and opportunities for the regions. By "the regions", we mean everywhere else in Ireland. We must determine how development can be balanced appropriately. It is important that we consider a future for rural areas. The backdrop has been one of growth, certainly over the past 20 years, but the resilience may have been challenged owing to population decline, certainly in the north and west, over the past five years. We need to consider a strategy to address that.

We must also consider the all-island, European and global contexts. We operate in a very uncertain, changing world. While we cannot account for everything, we must be adaptable enough to make changes if and when required. We must co-operate with our neighbours.

Regarding opportunities for integrated land and marine development, the concept of marine spatial planning is one which we are obliged to put a system in place to deal with over the next few years. The national marine territory is ten times larger than the national land territory. A system must be set up as part of the process.

With regard to equipping Ireland for future development, we are talking about infrastructure and infrastructure co-ordination. Obviously, it is also about aligning investment and setting out what the priorities might be. An important balance must be struck by us between identifying key national projects and a lot of local and longer-term projects that follow.

On making a virtue out of Ireland's unique environment, an issue arises over environmental stewardship. I refer to the environment as a resource and also as a unique asset to be protected in some instances.

With regard to implementation and delivery, we must ensure the NPF is not just a book that sits on a shelf. It must be followed up and have meaning by being adopted across government.

I have mentioned environmental assessment already. It must tie in to the framework development process. At different stages, we must produce the various reports. It covers flooding and habitats.

With regard to the project timetable, we are finalising the issues and options paper as well as a communications strategy for our expected launch of the consultation process after Christmas, in January. We are keen to work with the committee throughout the process and to take feedback. It is likely there will be a period for submissions extending to the end of February. Then there will be a draft NPF for further consultation in the second quarter of the year. That will probably be after Easter, which is in mid-April. It will be April or May, at the earliest. It is possible for us to have a final draft for approval by the summer. That is the most ambitious timetable for us. Clearly, however, the decision on this will evolve, particularly as we prepare a draft.

We would like to build in a future update and review to coincide with the availability of future census data. Census data are regular and reliable and their publication is a national event. The likelihood is that there will be a cycle of five to six years. We will start a review after five years with a view to having it in place after six.

Our contact details are in our submission.

Photo of Maria BaileyMaria Bailey (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. Hogan. I invite Ms Deirdre Fallon to make a presentation on behalf of the Irish Planning Institute.

Ms Deirdre Fallon:

We thank the committee for the invitation to attend the meeting this morning on the NPF. The Irish Planning Institute, IPI, welcomes the preparation of the framework and believes the work represents a major opportunity to consider, analyse and prepare evidence-based policy that can address many of the fundamental issues that will affect the future development of the country. As a policy adopted by the Government, it should form the means of co-ordinating activity across all the Departments by setting out clear spatial-development strategies, which can be used to direct funding for infrastructure, and by integrating planning with other considerations, such as climate change, rural development, landscape, built, cultural and natural heritage assets, energy planning, and infrastructure, from green infrastructure to road, sea, air, cycling, energy and rail infrastructure.

The institute believes there are a number of specific issues of which cognisance should be taken in developing the framework. I will outline them briefly. First, it is critical that the framework be supported by a strong evidence base, which must take account of the results of the most recent census. In developing the framework, there should be awareness that resource management and planning are inextricably linked. Population growth and urbanisation have given rise to very significant demand for resources. Ensuring the management and efficient use of resources will be a central tenet of spatial planning in the years ahead. Therefore, the planning system must play a central role in the formulation and implementation of policy on such critical issues as climate change, energy, transport, industry, raw materials, agriculture and food production, fisheries, biodiversity, regional economic development, and critical infrastructure delivery, to name but a few. The NPF, as the overarching national planning policy, has a fundamental role in this.

Energy needs to be a central concept within the NPF, and renewable energy policy should be considered as a spatial component. Strong and unambiguous implementation policies in respect of achieving a low-carbon society by 2050 must be set out in the framework and in subsequent regional planning policy and county or city development plans.

The NPF forms an ideal policy document to consider the implications of marine spatial planning for local authorities with a coastline. It is vital that the national marine spatial plan be consistent with the policies of the national policy framework and that this consistency is carried through in the hierarchy of plans, from national to local level.

A consistent approach is needed to deal with the visual impact of offshore wind farms, coastal erosion prevention and mitigation, the protection of sensitive parts of the coastline, and areas where marine infrastructure is likely to have spatial implications for the coastal zone, as with the landings of cables and pipelines, port development, off-shore oil and gas exploration, etc.

The NPF can provide such a consistent framework.

We believe that a radical revision of the national policy on rural one-off housing is needed. The current policies in development plans are too permissive as is evident from the high number of planning permissions. For example, between 2010 and 2013, one-off units represented between 30% and 52% of all housing units granted permission each year. The repot Rebuilding Ireland – an Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness stated that in the year end to August 2016, one-off houses represented 42% of housing commencements, an increase from 39% in the preceding period. There are urgent reasons to review current policies in respect of rural housing, for example, the demise of small towns and villages in rural areas, car-based mobility vis-à-visenergy policies, objections to wind farms and electricity pylons and climate change. The NPF should adopt new national guidelines in this area.

Ireland will continue to need to develop large-scale strategic infrastructure. During the period of the national spatial strategy, NSS, such infrastructural developments included the Corrib gas line, midlands wind farms, electricity transmission networks, a processing site for liquid petroleum gas, waste incinerator projects and port land works. Each of these had to be decided by An Bord Pleanála in the absence of a spatial policy framework at national level. The NPF provides an opportunity to develop such a framework and to correct this.

The experience with the NSS has shown how a policy that is based on one spatial development perspective can be highly vulnerable to changes in economic and population performance during the plan period. The Gateway strategy did not prove as successful as hoped. While population initially grew faster than projected, it later slowed down. It is suggested that the NPF should make use of the scenario approach to test different future paths of development, including Brexit, further policy integration with Northern Ireland and achievement of the targets in the energy white paper, which would suggest a radical change in mobility patterns, etc. It would be very beneficial if the NPF included a summary of economic forecasting models and potential outcomes which have influenced the preparation of the framework.

The investment in the national motorway network has radically changed the accessibility of the regions within Ireland. The creation of this network will put continued pressure on the development of land adjacent to this network, particular in the vicinity of motorway interchanges. It is important that a national policy is developed to protect these areas, both for suitable development but also prevent unsuitable dispersed commercial and residential development occurring.

The NPF provides an opportunity to adopt a national landscape strategy which could address national parks, areas of high scenic amenity and cultural landscapes in need of protection. Such a strategy could be integrated with an ecological strategy that seeks to maximise the potential of the European designated sites by linking these sites into a national ecological network.

The degree of spatial and functional integration between the Republic and Northern Ireland and between the main urban development areas of Dublin and Belfast is highly uncertain in light of Brexit and it is vital that consideration is given to this in the preparation of the NPF. We again thank the members for their time and the committee staff for their assistance. We are available to take questions or comments.

Photo of Maria BaileyMaria Bailey (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I now ask Mr. Pat Vance to make his presentation on behalf of the Association of Irish Regions.

Mr. Pat Vance:

I thank the Chairman and the members for the opportunity they have afforded us to present here today to discuss the forthcoming national planning framework, NPF. As they may be aware, the Association of Irish Regions is the representative body for regional government in Ireland whose membership is drawn from current and past cathaoirligh and the directors of the three regional assemblies. Two directors are here with us today, Mr. Stephen Blair on my left and Mr. Jim Conway on my right.

In line with wider public sector reforms, following enactment of the Local Government Reform Act 2014, the regional tier in Ireland also underwent considerable reforms with the abolition of the former eight regional authorities and the reconfiguration of two regional assemblies to become three, namely, the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly, the Northern and Western Regional Assembly and the Southern Regional Assembly. These three new regional assemblies, which took effect on 1 January 2015, have been mandated by Government to take on significant new roles and responsibilities not least in the whole area of regional spatial and economic planning.

Members may be aware that each of the three regional assemblies now have a statutory duty to prepare, adopt and monitor a regional spatial and economic strategy for their respective regions. When prepared, these regional spatial and economic strategies will replace the current regional planning guidelines and provide a long-term economic and spatial strategy for the development of the regions in the years ahead. These regional strategies must, of course, be consistent with and complimentary to the NPF and, therefore, must be prepared in tandem with the development of the national framework. Clearly, the NPF, at the top of the planning hierarchy, must be sequentially prepared first but it is very important that the two processes are integrated to ensure mutual consistency. Accordingly, the planning staff in the three regional assemblies have been liaising very closely with their colleagues in the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government as work on the NPF progresses.

The Association of Irish Regions is very supportive of the need to develop a new NPF to replace what is now a largely obsolete NSS, which dates back to 2002 and was prepared in a very different time. While the NSS had its faults, it was nevertheless a very important milestone as it represented the very first attempt in Ireland to have a spatial plan for the entire country. Having said that, it is important that, with the benefit of hindsight, we critically evaluate the weaknesses of the NSS and learn from our mistakes as we prepare for this new NPF. Unlike the NSS, it is very important that the proposed NPF is provided with a statutory foundation. Therefore, we would encourage the Oireachtas to proceed with passage of the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill through all Stages in a timely fashion to ensure it is enacted before the completion of the draft NPF in 2017.

It is very important that the NPF is constructed as a whole-of-Government exercise with every Department of State committing to the policy framework and its subsequent implementation. Unlike the NSS, which was seen very much as simply a Department of the Environment strategy, it is very important that there is complete "buy in" to the framework across all Departments and State agencies. In addition, the proposed legislative requirement to have the NPF laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas will also help to enhance its democratic legitimacy. There is a need for an accompanying investment plan.

The NSS was a purely physical planning strategy which had no budget provision attached to it. Even the very modest Gateway Innovation Fund of €300 million identified in the plan never materialised. It is very important that the proposed NPF has an associated investment plan attached to it so that the priorities identified in the framework can be realised. Unlike the NSS, which did not set out clearly the implementation arrangements, it is critical that the proposed NPF contains details of how the framework is to be implemented. In other words, the NPF needs to identify the "what, the who and the how", what measures-actions are to be taken, who is responsible for delivering them and how they are to be delivered and when.

One of the accepted weaknesses of the NSS is that it did not have a set of metrics which could measure whether the strategy was being implemented. Thus, for example, while the NSS was promoting the concepts of balanced regional development and regional potential, it did not set out any way of measuring this. It is imperative that in the formulation of the NPF, thought would be given from the outset of a set of metrics which could be used to monitor and evaluate progress on the implementation of the framework. For example, how is "regional potential" to be measured?

On the need for tailored policies for all parts of the country, there was a strong perception among the public that the national spatial strategy was just a strategy for urban areas and that rural areas were largely ignored and undervalued in the strategy. It is, therefore, very important that in constructing the national planning framework a vision is set out for all parts of the national territory and bespoke policies are devised which will contribute to developing the potential of all our regions.

There is a generally held view the national spatial strategy identified far too many growth centres, the gateways and hubs, which was unrealistic and counter-productive. Therefore, the proposed national planning framework should identify a more limited number of urban centres, which have the critical mass and are capable of being key drivers of regional economies. This will need to be followed by the prioritisation of national infrastructure to unlock the latent potential of these centres. This concentration of a smallish number of urban centres will need to be counterbalanced with policies and measures to further enhance and develop the potential of other regions.

As I have stated, the context in which the new national planning framework is being prepared is very different from that which pertained at the beginning of the century. Ireland is slowly emerging from a deep and prolonged recession and a recovery is far from uniform throughout the country. Furthermore, significant changes in the global economy have occurred which, when taken in conjunction with technological advances, make it a very different landscape in terms of job creation and retention. Therefore, in addition to the challenges set out above, the new planning framework will have to deal with a set of new challenges, not least how to avoid a two speed economic recovery and how to deal with the problems of congestion and other economies of scale in Dublin while at the same time dealing with issues such as population decline and economic stagnation in other parts of the country.

Other emerging issues arise from our climate change obligations and our need to become environmentally sustainable. Issues regarding renewable energy, energy efficiency and a low carbon economy must be addressed as does the sustainable exploitation of our extensive marine resources. What is very evident from an examination of past demographic trends is that the continuation of a business as usual model will see Ireland continue to develop in a very unbalanced way, with the greater Dublin area and east coast continuing to increase its share of population, labour market and economic output relative to all of the other regions in Ireland. Is this in Ireland's best interest? We in the Association of Irish Regions certainly do not think so.

As well as the imbalance in population and employment growth east to west, the past two decades have seen a very unsustainable pattern of growth. This is manifested in the fact it is not our cities which are growing most, but rather it is the outer suburban areas and satellite towns around our major urban centres which have reported the highest growth rates. This in turn has resulted in people having to commute increased distances and has led to increased car dependency, all of which we know is unsustainable. Given these long-established and powerful market forces, it is necessary for the national planning framework to closely examine what policy levers could be most effective in counteracting these market tendencies. This will necessitate building up very robust evidence-based decision making, which can underpin the development of the national planning framework.

As was stated here earlier, it is projected the population of the State will grow by a further 600,000 people over the coming 20 years. Together with forecasts of smaller household size, this converts to a need to build 500,000 houses over the period. Where are these houses to be built to accommodate this population growth? While birth and death rates are relatively stable and hence predictable, migration rates are not and are highly volatile. It is estimated that approximately 50% of future population growth will be accounted for by external and internal migration. These rates play a major role in regional population levels and profiles. If economic activity and opportunity influence migration patterns it can be argued an interventionist policy to deliver sustainable long-term economic opportunities in the region, supported by appropriate investment plans, may be the most appropriate solution for delivering balanced regional growth in a small open economy. It is, therefore, critical the forthcoming national planning framework provides the strategic framework which will shape the spatial patterns of development of the national territory in the coming decades by enabling and supporting all regions to fulfil their potential.

What is clear is that a focused and sustained interventionist policy, clearly articulated in the national planning framework, will be required if past embedded trends in population and employment growth are to be altered to support more sustainable patterns of development throughout the regions. The challenges are substantial, but the risks associated with doing nothing are even more profound and should not be contemplated.

We in the Association of Irish Regions are fully behind the need to replace the national spatial strategy with a new national framework at this critical juncture as Ireland emerges from the recession to guide and direct future spatial patterns of development over the coming decades in a more balanced and sustainable fashion than which occurred during the Celtic tiger era. Strong policies, matched with prioritised and sustained funding, will need to be put in place if the vision and goals of the national planning framework are to be realised. We in the regional assemblies will play our part in preparing and adopting complementary regional spatial and economic strategies, which will articulate in much greater detail the regional aspects of the national framework and will drive the implementation of the national planning framework at regional level.

I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to present our views. I and my colleagues will be delighted to answer any questions.

Photo of Maria BaileyMaria Bailey (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I thank Councillor Vance. A number of people have indicated they wish to ask questions. I ask the witnesses when answering questions that where possible they might reference the member who has asked the question so we can keep track.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I thank the witnesses for their excellent and extremely informative presentations. While they were all from different perspectives there was repetitiveness, which is a good thing because we clearly understand there is an overarching concern, which is very important.

It was summed up in the presentation by Mr. Hogan, who spoke about establishing a place-making vision on an evidence base which people will understand as a plan and will see as realistic and responsive to their needs and adaptable over time. This sums it up in many ways. It is very important. If we have learnt anything from past experiences it is that it was not realistic, many of the objectives were not achieved and the resources to back up those objectives were not put in place.

As I see it, the national planning framework should reflect the expression of the Government's economic strategy and its commitment and plans for the infrastructure of the country. We have been discussing balanced regional development. During the election earlier this year, if anything kept coming up everywhere at national, local and regional level it was whether there is balanced development throughout the regions.

There is a huge feeling locally that there is no balanced regional development. We saw the negotiations for Government and the programme for Government ticking all the boxes on balanced regional development. This was partly formed by the fall-out of the politics and representation from the rural communities which mobilised. Let us face it, this is a political building. The electorate voted in large numbers for people who advocated balanced regional development. There is a clear political message and I am sure the Minister and those of us in this room are very aware of it.

I was a local councillor for many years, and I am very familiar with the county development plan process. I know the time, lead in and consultation process involved. The witnesses are being very ambitious, and I salute them, but their time plan is unrealistic with regard to all the consultation processes. It is great and I welcome it, as it is important that we have a national spatial strategy, but it is not realistic. I ask the witnesses to respond to this.

As someone who comes from Dún Laoghaire, which has a port, I am particularly interested in the marine spatial strategy. This was evident in the local plan of the area. I do not want to be parochial, but I hear from people throughout the country that local authorities are putting up their hands and stating they do not know about issues as simple as foreshore licences, water and tidal marks and the jurisdiction of port authorities. There is no synergy, and there has not been a proper synergy, regarding what is going on. I ask the witnesses to flesh out their thinking on this.

We have great opportunities.

There are national, regional and local plans. We have 31 local authorities and they need to be involved and to feel involved. I am not just talking about the executive and the planners, but the elected members who represent communities must be involved. Subsidiarity is a system of making decisions at the lowest common denominator where the people's decisions can have a real meaning. I really want to hear more about the detail. I think the Irish Planning Institute, IPI, has made an exceptional presentation. I have not seen a full copy of it because it was in small print. I think it raised really good issues and plays a really helpful and meaningful role in planning in general. The IPI has already appeared before the committee since I have become a member.

We need to provide a clear, simple, realistic national vision and a national strategy. That is where the issues paper, consultation and communication are vital. Local authorities - and I speak as someone with a lot of practice there - feel alienated from the national process. I think it is important that there is a local focus, a regional focus and a national focus.

I have a question on whether the time for the framework is realistic. Brexit and the all-Ireland dimension to planning was raised by the Irish Planning Institute. This is interesting because it will be important. Planning does not stop at the Border. There is synergy in the cross-Border interaction and that potentially will be greater because through adversity and challenges, it raises bigger issues for the island of Ireland's dynamic in agriculture, wind energy, alternative energy, transport and power. There is a range of things. We need an all-island approach to planning.

I thank the witnesses for their presentations. In their response, I would like the witnesses to focus on the timeframe and how it is proposed to engage with the professional planners and the elected members in the local authorities.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the witnesses for their presentations. I have six questions.

First, on the issue of balanced regional development, the over-concentration of economic and population growth in the Dublin region is bad both for Dublin and for the rest of the country. There is a benefit to having a much more proactive strategy of trying to achieve that goal all people say they want, which is more balanced regional development. I am interested to learn whether those who drew up the expert advisory report on the national spatial strategy looked at and came up with conclusions or whether anybody else in the Department or elsewhere looked at and came up with conclusions as to why that spatial strategy failed to produce balanced regional development, which was one of its own objectives. There was a reference to Scotland. Obviously regional development in Scotland is quite an important issue in terms of distribution of its own population. Are there lessons to be drawn from the Department's detailed knowledge of its national planning frameworks that could be applied here? Second, I am concerned on the basis of the presentation about the lack of any proactive engagement with the North and the Assembly in terms of the way in which our national planning framework could interact with comparable frameworks, specifically for the Border, midlands and north west region but also more generally in terms of the overall benefits of a truly national planning framework. I would like to hear more about the engagement, particularly at departmental level, that has happened with the Northern Ireland Assembly and your counterparts in the relevant Departments in the North? What will happen in the next period to ensure that it is not a blind spot in the plan?

I am even more concerned about the absence of any discussion on socioeconomic disadvantage. Socioeconomic disadvantage has a spatial and geographic reality. Mr. Paul Hogan mentioned the need to have interaction or synergy between the planning framework and the investment opportunities. If that is blind to the geographical distribution of socioeconomic disadvantage, then it will leave the status quoin place. I know it is something to which our planning discourse has a tendency to be resistant but has it been a feature of the discussions? Likewise, is it part of the conversation with the Irish Planning Institute? If not, I really think we need to consider it over the coming months.

This is not a criticism of the Department but I have another concern, having been through the county development plans and strategic development zones, I too like Senator Boyhan know stakeholder engagement is really tricky. The issue is getting people involved. It is not just about holding events but is about empowering ordinary citizens and stakeholders to have the level of knowledge about these technical and detailed fields of planning knowledge and that is really tricky. Trying to do that and have a draft document by the middle of the summer is even trickier. I wonder whether the Department is relying on the same models of stakeholder engagement as we would operate in local authorities or will something different be used, given the significance of this plan and the length of time available? I would be both delighted and amazed if we meet the target of the draft plan by the early summer. I notice that Mr. Hogan entered a caveat, by stating that would be the best case scenario. Again this is not a criticism but I wonder whether it is realistic to throw out something so ambitious. If it going to be a nice, short high-level strategic document, that is probably easier but I query that without saying I do not want it to happen.

The last question relates to Irish Water. Yesterday a number of us attended Irish Water's detailed briefing on their midlands-east region water supply proposal. Irish Water is currently engaging in a non-statutory public consultation that will run until February. The utility is planning to have a report mid-2017 and to then proceed to an application to An Bord Pleanála for planning permission by the end of next year. One reason I am interested in whether Mr. Hogan thinks he can meet his target of a draft report by the middle of next year is Mr. Hogan's report and Irish Water's proposal obviously have really significant interactions. If recommendations emerge from the Department's report on different priorities for regional development and infrastructural development, how will that conflict or coincide with such a major infrastructural proposition by Irish Water? Has Mr. Hogan been discussing that element of or the overall infrastructural plan with Irish Water and how will those two things coincide through out the course of the Department's work next year?

Photo of Pat CaseyPat Casey (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I take the opportunity to thank the three organisations for their presentations this morning. I go against the comments of Senator Victor Boyhan on the Irish Planning Institute. The Irish Planning Institute, in the course of its presentation today, gave percentage statistics on the number of permissions granted for one-off rural housing. It stated the number of permissions was between 30% to 52% of all planning permission granted. It was stated it had become easier to get planning permission for one-off rural houses. I think the statistic is misleading and has not been put in context. As a person who lives in a house that was a one-off rural house, I can guarantee that it has not become easier to get permission. This statistic is in the context of few planning applications being submitted to local authorities at the time. That is the reason the percentage of permissions for one-off rural housing granted was between 30% and 52% of the applications. I think in fairness that must be made public. If one took the number of applications for one-off houses during the period of the Celtic tiger, one would see a significant decline in the percentage granted. What has been presented here today is an unfair presentation of the number of one-off rural housing. The ongoing problem with one-off rural housing is that we are not providing ample opportunities in our towns and villages for people to build in them. I would like the Irish Planning Institute to acknowledge that what has been presented here today is not factually correct when put in context.

The national framework policy, now known as the new regional economic strategy, is fantastic but when one deals with people on the ground, it is difficult enough to get them to understand the local area plans and the county development plans and they see nothing at the end of the timeframe. However, by the time one mentions regional planning and national spatial planning, one has lost the public. They have equally lost faith in the system of delivering what they want for themselves.

I welcome Councillor Pat Vance, my colleague from Wicklow, who on Monday went through his fourth if not fifth county development plan process. Equally I acknowledge that these have now become statutory documents, which is a move in the right direction.

Recently I asked a question in the Dáil about the National Transport Authority's document, entitled Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin area 2016-2035. Which will come first? The NTA stated, "The Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 and the Planning and Development Act 2000, which state that the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (formerly Regional Planning Guidelines), Development Plans and Local Area Plans in the GDA must be consistent with the Authority's Transport Strategy." We try to consider economic development outside of Dublin. The strategy does nothing for regional economic growth. We are talking about the province of Leinster and the counties outside of Dublin. The strategy is completely restrictive of any growth potential. It states that it will maintain the current percentage level of economic activity in those counties. That provision does not address the fundamental problem of having 75% of the population commuting to Dublin daily. The strategy clearly states that regional, county and local policies must take cognisance of the NTA's strategy that is on a statutory footing. Who is the boss in this situation? Who is driving whom?

I am amazed that members from the regional authorities can interact with the strategy. The National Transport Authority launched the document this year. The strategy does nothing for economic growth and will not alleviate the urban-rural divide that will be created. The planning framework stipulates that we need to develop jobs where people live.

Mr. David Walsh:

I will pass some of the questions to my colleagues to answer and the other organisations will offer their input. I will address a couple of the issues.

Senator Boyhan and Deputy Ó Broin mentioned the timing and challenges of the strategy. As Mr. Hogan has said, it is a challenge. Equally, as nicely picked up by Deputy Casey, we need a document that is relevant and can influence funding, investment decisions and align policies not just within the planning sphere but across other investments ranging from energy to education and transport.

In terms of alignment, part of the drive to advance the document as early as possible is our alignment with the mid-term review of the capital investment plan. We have had discussions at Cabinet committee level. Bilateral meetings have also taken place between the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on how we can ensure that the mid-term review, that is due to take place in the first half of next year, will be informed by, perhaps not the final adapted plan but certainly the key principles and priorities that will emerge in a draft plan. As Deputy Casey has said, that is partly a driver to ensure that the national planning framework, NPF, becomes the touchstone that others match their plans with rather than catching up after measures have been adopted.

We have a very small team and there is a significant challenge. We do not rely just on the Department or regional assemblies that will do a lot of the work. The principles around the NPF will be made concrete and developed into something that is of more direct relevance to people living in the regions through the regional economic strategies.

On the point about ensuring this is not the same old consultation process, we get the same views from the stakeholders who we know will come back into it. We have decided to develop and build towards a January launch at a national level and rolled out across all 31 authorities to translate the questions that have been posed, including the more basic questions that are relevant, and not just from a national context. The responses of people living in villages or communities to questions such as how they see their communities in 2040 or what they would like to see in them can be of relevance to local authorities, various community groups and individuals who think about how their children will grow up in a different society and country in 20 years time. We can work back from that and we are tailoring the information.

Mr. Hogan indicated that there will be layers of documents. As well as technically detailed and evidence-based analysis to underpin some of the big issues we must face - we call them hard choices - there will also be a document that will be more general and will stimulate those discussions. The last layer will be a short, relevant and pertinent document - someone suggested that we must write a document that a ten year old can understand - that outlines what the NPF means to individuals, how it will impact on the development of the country and how it will be reflected in the regions and, more important, in the local plan.

As part of a multi-strand campaign, we plan to roll out early in the new year a communications plan with different spheres. We will tap into the social media side and looking at more innovative ways to access. We have not finalised those and it will be a matter for the Minister and the Government to take decisions about the scale of the programme. However, that is how we see ourselves. We know that those who are interested and have engaged in the past, like the institutes, regions and local authorities, will continue to feed into the process. We want to broaden that audience, however, and get more input in order that what comes out at the end of the document is a plan that is relevant and has buy-in not only from the system but from everybody. We recognise that is a significant challenge.

If we are looking at how we engage with the local government sector, and Senator Boyhan was quite correct, we cannot get this message out just from the centre. The intention is that we will mobilise a locally focused campaign beyond January for each of the 31 authorities. It will be for the chief executive, the management team, the elected members and the different groupings and committees underneath to discuss these matters, to make them available, perhaps even to bring them into some of the schools and organisations, and be asking those kinds of questions in order that it generates a discussion that can feed back into the decision-making process.

A question was asked about the marine and land strategy. There are two elements in that. Mr. Hogan mentioned the requirement for a marine spatial plan. That is under way and over the next couple of years we will develop a huge base, working with the Marine Institute and other Departments, to frame a process and vision for the marine environment. Perhaps more relevant is the work that we have been doing within the Department to align better the planning system and foreshore licensing system through a proposed maritime area and foreshore (amendment) Bill. It has been a long time in gestation and it was trying to address a range of issues around the consent processes and interactions and trying to streamline the environmental considerations across projects that require planning permission, possibly licensing by a Minister, and the foreshore element. That work is well advanced and is among the Department's priorities to get published during this current session. That will provide a good framework for dealing practically with something that is happening but has an impact on land management. There is a broader planning framework link-up with the marine spatial plan that will also address the more strategic and principle views.

I will ask Mr. Cussen to deal with the issues around the advisory report and the lessons learned. The economic environment shifted quickly after the national spatial strategy, NSS, was published. We have taken strong lessons from it and certainly the NPF and the Scottish NPF version have a lot to offer us. I will ask Mr. Hogan to touch on the socioeconomic disadvantage issues and how that feeds into our modelling and scenarios.

Mr. Niall Cussen:

I thank the members of the committee for their good questions. I have taken detailed notes of them.

Deputy Ó Broin asked what lessons have been learned. The NSS was the first strategy of its kind in this country.

It was innovative and moving into a space around which many of our structures and institutions were going to be tested in terms of implementation. Sometimes we rush to judgment a little too harshly on the success of the national spatial strategy as it brought about a focus on what was sometimes dysfunction in the planning process, particularly with respect to land zoning and the development plan process. We should remember that before the strategy was done, we had 88 planning authorities in the country with 88 development plans and no overarching strategy. As a result of the strategy, we started to look more closely at statutory development plans, how they added up, how they interfaced with regard to boundaries and whether the numbers added up.

We found a story that was very clear with regard to over-zoning, particularly with regard to inappropriate locations. Without the national spatial strategy, we would not have had the following context. In the mid 2000s, for example, we found one local authority in the midlands was proposing to zone enough land to cater for the total projected population increase of the entire midlands for 20 years. That created a basis for a focused process of statutory interaction with the local authority. Today, that authority is an exemplar of integrating its approach to a broader regional context. So, through a series of statutory interactions using the section 31 direction process, local authorities started to understand more the need to co-ordinate and integrate their forward planning approaches, which led to the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010 and the core strategy approach, with an alignment of infrastructure and so on. Sometimes we forget that the national spatial strategy was the stimulus behind probably one of the most deep-rooted reforms of the planning process in 20 years.

It is a more mixed picture in terms of its regional development impact. There is no doubt that while we were addressing planning reforms, we started to encounter decisions that both moved against the strategy, particularly with regard to decentralisation, as well as the economic headwinds from the 2008 period. For example, the decision to suspend the gateway innovation fund was unfortunate as it was a very important instrument, even though it was limited to the gateway locations.

I will focus for a moment on the expert advisory group. Its view was that the national spatial strategy was trying to perform a number of functions and we had no regional planning guidelines when it was being done. It was trying to stretch from a national to regional to local strategy and it was not strategic enough. The expert advisory group also felt that we probably needed to focus a little more on place and that we needed to be much clearer with regard to implementation. Some of the points relating to metrics, etc., were very well made, although we do face certain challenges. It is not something in which we can get into a large amount of detail within a national document. Nevertheless, the points are very well made with regard to the implementation aspect. If we have not published it already, we can make the expert advisory group document available to members of the committee. It is a very short report that is accessible and easy to understand.

There was a very good observation from Deputy Ó Broin on the importance of engaging with our neighbours on the island. We are meeting our colleagues from the Department for Infrastructure from Northern Ireland this Friday and Mr. Hogan is involved with the north-west gateway project board and arrangements around that. We will meet them again in December. We will need to ensure that the planning framework, "Vision 2040" or whatever way it will be described should evolve very much from an island perspective and also from an east-west perspective, taking in the work of the British-Irish Council and so on, as well as spatial planning work streams. It is something we are particularly keen about.

Deputy Casey raised a point about the NTA and it is important, in the context of this committee, to address that. The transport strategy for the greater Dublin area must be consistent with the national spatial strategy and what will become the national planning framework. In effect, the transport strategy for the Dublin area must look upwards to what is overall national policy on planning, economic development and so on. The Deputy is correct in that there is a reciprocal arrangement in the legislation that the transport strategy for the greater Dublin area acknowledges the regional planning guidelines and what will become the regional spatial economic strategy and vice versa. We are trying to achieve co-ordination between planning, in a spatial and place-based sense, transport, etc.

There is an important connection between an issue raised by Deputy Ó Broin in respect of disadvantage, the transport issue and a general narrative raised by Senator Boyhan on regional development. Let us be honest. With the interface of the Dublin area, there is an ongoing debate around what we do with our motorway junctions and locations with much pressure for development. Some of our colleagues from the Irish Planning Institute have usefully and correctly identified that the billions of euro we spent on our national motorway network will make the latter a national asset for the next 50 years and that how we manage growth and development around that over the next five, ten, 15 or 20 years will be absolutely essential in how that 50-year or 100-year asset will be protected in future.

To bring this back to disadvantage and regional development, I know Wicklow very well because I have family living in the county. There are towns such as Wicklow and Arklow that, in their own sense, exhibit patterns of disadvantage, underutilisation of potential and so on. We can consider the pressure for development and debates around whether the NTA strategy supports the development of Wicklow, and I have followed closely those debates in the Dáil, for example, as well as the questions around that. When we strip it back, are we really talking about what is, in effect, opportunistic development in the locations that might provide cheaper land solutions or better accessibility? Would we not be better from a disadvantage perspective, with a people and place-centred approach to planning, to speak about trying to activate the potential of key towns like Wicklow and Arklow, which are now on the motorway network and accessible? There are people living there and it is where the jobs we need to provide for those people should be, as opposed to, in effect, catering for or in some way being unwittingly part of a further extensification and sprawl of the Dublin area. This example is being played out in most local authority areas abutting the Dublin area.

If we are going to tackle the issue of disadvantage, which exists in this city as much as in regional towns and rural locations, we must try to get the jobs, housing and infrastructure to happen in a more compact footprint. Sometimes that means resisting the pressures there will be for, in effect, more opportunistic development where we see business parks, etc., flung further and further out from where people live. Effectively, that is within an approximate 30 km radius of this city.

Mr. Paul Hogan:

I know there was a relatively short time for the presentation and that we exceeded it. On the issue of social disadvantage, under the planning for people heading, social disadvantage and how to tackle it is a key element. I covered that under the general heading of society and quality of life. Certainly in our analysis of the country and how we would approach the strategy, the issue of social cohesion is really important. If people feel they are being left behind, they are not part of society and cannot participate, there are all sorts of consequences. There is even a touch of that in very recent election results.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The witness might be stepping beyond his departmental brief. Not that we object.

Mr. Paul Hogan:

Yes. It is just to illustrate the point before moving swiftly on. It is a national development goal to reduce social disadvantage and we can all agree with that. What we can do in a high-level document is improve mobility and access to employment, both in terms of physical location in a strategic sense but also the types of choices that people have in transport terms to get to employment, where our employment is located and how we organise settlement versus employment location.

Ensuring more appropriately distributed employment and a better spread will be important, as will the provision of third level education and ensuring that, as the demand for third level education grows in the next decade, there is good access to third level so that people can improve their qualifications. This is not just an urban issue - it is both an urban and rural issue, which makes it more complex. It is something we are very aware of as a team.

Ms Deirdre Fallon:

In response to Deputy Casey's query on rural housing and statistics, any statistics collected will be reflective of the broader economic context but the figures we quote in terms of rural housing still illustrate that there is quite a significant number of units being granted at a national level. In the context of today's discussion about the forthcoming NPF, the approach it takes to rural housing will impact on other issues such as transport, energy and climate change. It is within that framework that the approach we take to it needs to be considered. More broadly, there has been much discussion about the demise of rural towns and villages. The Department's presentation noted the level of vacancy in towns. There needs to be a focus on these towns and villages and any changes to rural housing policy needs to be accompanied by realistic alternatives to that which, as I mentioned, should be centred on our rural towns and villages as service centres and as population centres.

Mr. Ciarán Tracey will speak on the issue of rural housing and Mr. Henk van der Kamp will speak on the issue that Deputy Ó Broin raised on the spatial and geographic link to socioeconomic disadvantage.

Mr. Ciarán Tracey:

It is very easy to read our submission about radical revision of rural housing as being against rural housing. Rural housing is a very complex issue. There is a huge amount of data available which would enable an appropriate and bespoke policy to be developed for rural housing. I have worked for the last 14 years in the most rural local authority in the country in Leitrim. We have the lowest level of urbanisation in the country and there is a huge volume of rural housing in Leitrim as a total proportion of the housing in the county. During the upper Shannon pilot scheme, which most people would know as the urban renewal scheme, the level of house building in the countryside in County Leitrim dropped by 50% because through the urban renewal scheme there were opportunities for people to obtain housing in the towns and villages throughout the county. I can produce those statistics for the committee if it wants to see them. In fact, they are in a published paper I did for the institute during that period. They are a bit outdated but Deputy Casey is correct when he says the statistics are being influenced by the level of applications being made throughout the country.

In Leitrim, one-off housing made up 85% of all planning applications because there was nothing else happening. It skews the statistics and makes one think of the phrase "lies, damned lies and statistics" but there are very solid statistics there which show there is a high degree of one-off rural housing happening in areas where they are actually not doing anything for rural renewal because they are happening in the immediate hinterlands of larger towns and villages where there is already existing pressure for services such as school places. If one takes a place like Ballyreilly West in County Leitrim, which has a two-teacher school, we cannot get anybody to build a house there. The policy in Leitrim is that anybody who wants to build a house out in Ballyreilly is more than welcome to build one because the placement of a new house there would be a significant investment in that community. The pressure is not coming from people who are native to the area looking to build in their own area but from urban generated housing. We have failed the community by not providing adequate choice in housing, whether in a town or a village. I live in a village 7 km outside Carrick-on-Shannon and it is a vibrant village. In terms of demand for school places, since I moved into that village the school has gone from a four-classroom school to an eight-classroom school. We have four pubs, a hotel, and a community. All of these were built because that village is vibrant. It has a vibrant rural hinterland with lots of people who are living in the countryside around it using the services. I can go to other villages elsewhere in the county that have nothing like that.

We need to radically revise national policy because sometimes the policy document is quoted to justify housing in inappropriate locations. It is like the devil quoting the Bible - one picks out the section of the sustainable rural housing guidelines that supports granting the planning permission in that particular location. We are not calling for the ban on rural housing because that is ridiculous. The rural population needs to be sustained. We need to do things to try to discontinue the depopulation of the rural areas. We have to make those areas that are suffering from population loss attractive to people to come into. That can only be done through appropriate location and convenience to jobs, etc. It can also be done by ensuring they do not go into those areas already suffering from urban generated demands in the hinterlands of the towns. There should be a policy that sets out a modus operandiwhere the local authority will identify, for example, electoral districts that have a population decline, those which have the highest levels of vacancy and those with the highest level of uncompleted estates, using data that is there like that. The policy should identify perhaps two or three categories of rural areas, some where anybody who wants to live in a rural area can go to live and others which are more restrictive, perhaps retaining what little capacity is still in those rural areas in the hinterland of the towns and urban centres to accommodate the progeny of the original residents in that area.

Many rural farmers cannot provide a house for their son or daughter on their land, which is in close proximity to the town, because the capacity has been absorbed by people who have moved into the area. We must have bespoke policies and in that sense we are talking about a radical revision. We have to set out a radical and detailed methodology by which we designate areas that are open for consideration, areas that have an open book approach, areas that have a limited approach and areas that we have to close down. That is the approach.

There have definitely been difficulties in recent years particularly since the water table and soakage tests have come in. It is now very difficult to find a site that is suitable to take a waste water treatment system. There are people, such as those in Trinity College, looking to devise non-discharge systems. They are very expensive and will really only accommodate people who have to live in these areas and who will have to go to extra cost because of environmental protection regulations if they are to do it.

I agree that some of the statistics have been skewed by recent activities but the underlying point has been made in our submission that at the moment there is not enough being done to provide housing choices in towns and villages and urban centres and that is forcing people to vote with their feet and look for a one-off house. It is an easy option. In the longer run, they are paying for those options. People who really do not need to be out there are paying for it with their pocket book. We are also paying for it with our competitiveness as a nation.

When people are living 20 km to 30 km away from their jobs, and one spouse is travelling 30 km in one direction and the other is going in the opposite direction to her job, they need two cars and their salaries have to be commensurate. It puts up the cost of living of those living in these isolated location, which in a sense they have been driven to, not necessarily because they are sons and daughters of existing landowners who want to be near home and in the area they grew up in. I support people like that because they become members of the church choir and join the GAA and actually know where the local school is. To them something that is convenient is across a field, rather than a two mile round trip on the road. We have to support the existing rural population to maintain themselves and to grow, but that will not necessarily mean a liberal housing programme. It needs the delivery of jobs on the ground, convenient to those people.

Mr. Henk van der Kamp:

Deputy Ó Broin mentioned that an over-concentration of population in Dublin is bad. Unplanned over-concentration in Dublin is bad but a planned concentration of population in Dublin may not be bad and this is one of the key questions that the national planning framework has to address. It would be a very interesting question to address it in social media, in community discussion and an even more interesting question to get the debate going might be that the national planning framework will make a radical change to one-off housing. That will get many people talking about our national policies. Spatial planning is a creative discipline.

The national planning framework is about a picture of Ireland in the future. Everybody should have a say in that. That makes it interesting. Deputy Ó Broin asked why the national spatial strategy, NSS, did not work. We can say it has worked in many way. I agree with Mr. Niall Cussen that the context it has provided has been very useful. One of the reasons it may not have worked is that it tried to do too much. It is back to the question of the social and economic disparities. Perhaps we cannot do a great deal about that in terms of the geographic location, certainly in terms of settlement patterns or major employment concentrations. Trying to disperse employment into eight gateway towns and even more hub towns clearly has not worked. The biggest mistake that the NPF could make would be to revisit that and to repeat it, even in a smaller number of centres. That would be a high risk strategy.

I think the scenario based approach would allow different models to be tested, including a radical overhaul of one-off housing, but also including concentration in Dublin as a realistic possibility for a national planning framework. Why do I say that? Ireland is not the only country that is suffering population decline in regions within successful economically performing countries. Almost every western European country has the same problem at the moment. While the cities are growing the rural regions are declining. We call it shrinking population. This is widespread. The projections are that the cities will grow further. We do not have many mega cities in Europe, but there are many mega cities in the world and these seem to be growing even faster. The idea that we have to disperse development across the island is a very important question for the national planning framework. In our submission we suggested that this can be done by scenario based approach, which would also help the community engagement.

Let me finish on another point that we raised in our submission, that is, that the national planning framework, unlike the national spatial strategy should not just be about population settlements or distribution. The national spatial strategy was to a large extent and perhaps had to be about that, but there is an opportunity now with the White Paper on energy to be proactive on the energy side and perhaps make energy more important than population settlement for the next generation because that is where the major challenge is and also where the significant opportunities are, ironically for the rural areas of Ireland. If I can make one case today, it would be an argument for the energy potential of the regions outside Dublin.

Mr. Pat Vance:

I will address the National Roads Authority now Transport Infrastructure Ireland. Deputy Pat Casey as well as the Chairman would be well aware of it, on the periphery of the area of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and the attitude and the frustration of members of the regional assemblies in regard to the NRA and its attitude to development along the N3 and the N11. Very expensive roads are built and one does not allow people on to them. In the north Wicklow area, we have gone through the proper process and we have to grow Bray to 40,000. There is not enough land and land is being properly zoned for the past seven or eight years. A planning application has been submitted recently for a substantial number of houses and commercial activity and the NRA has objected to it. The frustration of the members of the assembly both in Wicklow, Kildare, Meath and Louth in regard to the NRA is that the application was in compliance with the strategy for County Wicklow. It is very important that the national planning framework has a statutory base because we see when a plan has been developed and agreed and is legally in compliance with the regional strategy, we think stakeholders such as the NRA should be complying and helping to bring that plan to fruition and not frustrating it. At present, there is huge frustration in respect of the attitude of the NRA to development in the Wicklow area. Despite the fact that the county council is complying with everything under the spatial strategy, the proposals are being frustrated. That must be dealt with in the new planning framework. The stakeholder must be statutorily obliged to help the development that has already been approved.

Mr. Jim Conway:

I support the argument. It is important that we maximise the fact that we have a capital city of international scale within the region, and which is of benefit to the wider region. It is important also to maximise the scale of the city and look to the sustainable development and consolidation of the urban centres generally within the region and to ensure that those are places where people see that people live and work in there, and not just view it as a commuter belt to the capital city. At the same time there is a need to recognise the value and strength of the rural elements of the region.

Mr. Stephen Blair:

I have two comments in response to the Deputy's comment on the National Transport Authority. Let me assure members that in the preparation of the regional strategies, we are working very closely with the National Transport Authority. Outside the greater Dublin Area certainly the legislation is different and the NTA follows the regional strategy and does not precede the strategy. They are working with us, for us to guide the development of the regional transport strategy for the regions.

Equally, Irish Water because of its current requirements to produce capital investment plans has to do it in advance of both the national planning framework and the regional strategies, but once the new strategies come on board Irish Water will revise its plans to be fully consistent with the regional strategies.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Chairman and witnesses for all the detailed answers. They were most helpful. First, may I remind witnesses of the question in respect of Irish Water and the overlap of the two plans. On the socio-economic disadvantage and the issue of the concentration of population in Dublin, the conversation was really interesting. For me, the unplanned over-concentration of population and economic development in Dublin is a very bad thing, both for the city and for others. However, over-concentration, even in a planned way is only a good thing if that is what people want.

While there are people who live and grew up in rural Ireland who want to gravitate to major population centres, and some who want to emigrate, there are many who do not. As policy makers, part of our responsibility is to find ways to give people that choice. If a person grows up in Inishowen, he or she should have a real choice as to whether to live, work and raise a family there or migrate elsewhere. Despite the fact that population migration to major cities in Europe is a reality, it is not necessarily a good thing or something we should support with public policy. I suspect that part of the reason it is happening is that the drivers of economic development have been large foreign direct investment companies, which are always going to locate in large urban centres such as Dublin or Cork, and there is not much one can do about that.

I am not sure that subsuming the spatial reality of socioeconomic disadvantage within the overall framework of people, place and economic opportunity is enough. The one thing the State can control is where it invests in public infrastructure. We are going to have a profound transformation of our water infrastructure over the next 20 or 30 years, whatever happens in the short-term debate about the funding model. We are going to move from a large number of water treatment plants to a much smaller number of larger treatment plants. Where we put those plants will decide who gets to work in them. If we decide to locate them in parts of the country where, infrastructurally, they make sense but where there is also a demand for jobs, it will make a big difference. I would like the plan to contain a mapping of socioeconomic disadvantage and its geographical reality. We know that some of it is regionally balanced, and in the south east unemployment levels reflect this, but Dublin is one of the most socially segregated capital cities in Europe and many of the infrastructural decisions taken over the years reinforce that. We have a DART along the south east coast in what has been the most affluent part of the city for a long time and this has reinforced the socioeconomic advantage for those of us who had the fortune to grow up in that part of the city.

To what extent are the spatial elements of socioeconomic disadvantage mainstreamed in the overall plan? If they are not, can we map these and overlay that map with other aspects such as energy, water or public transport infrastructure? That would be a real change in how we think about these things. My fear is that, in common with our equality framework, it is socioeconomically blind and, unlike other countries, we have a tendency not to want to be too explicit about it. I do not suggest that this should be to the detriment of the sustainable development and environmental goals or regional balance. I just think there needs to be a greater emphasis on it.

Photo of Pat CaseyPat Casey (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I am not in disagreement with what the witnesses have said about the NTA but we have a huge issue with the carrying capacity of the N11 and with its merger with the M11. When a jobs application comes in for Wicklow, on a zoned piece of land within an environs plan, the NTA objects to it on the basis of the carrying capacity of the N11. This does two things. It stops the traffic coming into Dublin and creates reverse commuting and this is taking the pressure away from the M50-M11 merger, which is in no capital plans anywhere at the moment. Anything that has a job potential in Wicklow will help solve that situation and a number of such applications have come in but the NTA has gone against them. We acknowledge that the Wicklow and Rathnew environs plan borders the M11 and is within 50 m of it. It will use the interchange and affect the carrying capacity but is that not what it is there for? I am not looking for ad hocdevelopment but there needs to be fairness over the submissions the NTA makes in respect of jobs in Wicklow. The document, which was launched this year, is focused on inside the M50 and on improving transport connectivity therein. It does not address issues outside the M50 and I have a problem with the strategy in this regard.

We had to rewrite our core strategy and a lot of our objectives in the county development plan, which was almost passed on Monday but will require a second round next week. Transport is now guiding our strategies so who is making the decisions? The NTA has launched its strategy and we had to conform, rather than the NTA having to conform to the infrastructure requirements for the development of Wicklow, Kildare, Meath or Louth.

I will not get bogged down in one-off planning issues but I will make one point. I agree that we should not have people living in a rural area have with no connections to that area. The statistic put before us today is unfair, however, because it looks at a percentage of the data where there were no planning permissions at all.

Mr. Ciarán Tracey:

It was 30,000.

Photo of Pat CaseyPat Casey (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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There is no village or rural town in Wicklow that has the capacity to take any housing so where are we driving rural dwellers? Until we address that we are not giving people the options of living in rural towns and villages. A rural village or town will never reach the objectives Irish Water has for a 15-year return on investment and will never be able to get a payback on water infrastructure. Something needs to be done to allow villages and towns to expand and develop because most of them have stagnated at the moment and have no chance of developing into the future, which adds to the one-off rural problem.

Photo of Maria BaileyMaria Bailey (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Casey's analogy could be copied and pasted into a study of who decided local authority plans and whether it was local authorities or the various stakeholders. We all have experience of that.

Mr. David Walsh:

I realise I did not address a couple of Deputy Ó Broin's questions. Irish Water has a couple of different plans, a five-year rolling capital plan which brings us back to the baseline and represents priorities with which we have to deal, and a 25-year strategic plan with which all facets of the Department, including the planning side, have been very closely involved. Irish Water and the water and planning divisions have all been aligning. We in the Custom House are ensuring that nothing clashes with, or runs counter to, what we are doing. Irish Water bases its requirements on the current plans and this further reinforces the need for an NPF that is updated and aligned. Once that is there and once regional plans are in place Irish Water, like the NTA, will have to ask how it will reprioritise. In advance of that we are engaging with it on the plans for the midlands and the east, among other areas. We see the underlying population demands of Dublin and how we need to manage those over the next 20 years or so. There will be a demand for significant national resources in that respect.

Another question was on how the NPF will or will not deal with some of the tricky issues that were raised. The NPF will set some very broad principles which the regional, city and county development plans will flesh out and prioritise. The planning system however is a lot more responsive and recognises the issues. In the west of the city there are three major SDZs and the whole point of strategic development zones is that it is not just about houses but the infrastructure that goes in before them and is integrated into the development. Making better use of the rail lines and the stations that have not been activated for some time, such as in Clonburris and Hansfield, is important and hopefully in ten years' time we will look back and agree that the city is more balanced, better serviced and more integrated across all its areas.

The last question on our list was, "What does a successful NPF look like?"

In 20 years time, what will indicate that we got it right? There will be the initial process in January and, as we draft it and bring it back to the committee, we will be able to get its views and feed those into what it is hoped will be not just the Department's document but a national document.

Photo of Maria BaileyMaria Bailey (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Are there any further comments? No. I thank the delegates for attending today and for the information they provided. I am sure we will meet them again shortly and that there will be close consultation.

The joint committee adjourned at 11.40 a.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 23 November 2016.