Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 2 December 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Draft Planning and Development (LRD Fees) Regulations 2021: Motion
The meeting is to consider the Planning and Development (LRD Fees) Regulations 2021 in draft. I have received apologies from Senator Mary Fitzpatrick.
Members are reminded of the constitutional requirements that they should be physically present within the confines of the place in which the Parliament has chosen to sit, namely, Leinster House, in order to participate in public meetings. Members are expected not to abuse the privileges they enjoy and it is my duty as Chairman to ensure this privilege is not abused. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks and it is imperative that they comply with any such direction. 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 of the Houses or an official either by name, or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Malcolm Noonan. The relevant papers have been circulated to members. I invite the Minister of State to make his opening statement or give a brief on the regulations.
I thank the committee for affording me the opportunity to present this set of proposed planning regulations on behalf of Deputy Peter Burke, the Minister of State with responsibility for local government and planning.
The fast-track planning arrangements in respect of strategic housing developments, SHDs, for projects of 100 or more housing units, or 200 or more student accommodation bed spaces, were provided for in the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 - the 2016 Act - and came into operation on 3 July 2017. These arrangements were temporary and had an original legislative expiry date of 31 December 2019, which was subsequently extended to 31 December 2021 following an external review of the operation of the scheme. This end-date was further extended to 25 February 2022 arising from the Covid-related extension of statutory deadlines within the planning system by eight weeks in respect of the period March to May 2020.
Under the Large-scale Residential Development Bill – the LRD Bill – which is being progressed through the Oireachtas, decisions on large-scale housing projects will now revert to local planning authorities instead of An Bord Pleanála. This will, in effect, restore the previous two-stage planning process by returning the primary decision-making function to the planning authorities, with the possibility of subsequent appeal to An Bord Pleanála. These draft regulations, which will support the new LRD regime, propose to introduce a separate fee structure for LRDs in the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, as amended, with such fees to become payable to the relevant planning authority.
I will turn now to the draft Planning and Development (LRD Fees) Regulations 2021 relating to fees for large-scale residential development, LRD. Amending regulations are required to introduce these new LRD fees, which require approval by the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage and subsequent positive resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas before they can be signed by the Minister of State, Deputy Burke. The provisions in relation to the making of these regulations are set out in sections 246 and 262 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended.
The proposed new LRD-related fees largely mirror those that applied in relation to the SHD planning arrangements, which were shared on a 50-50 basis between the board and the relevant planning authority. Under the new LRD arrangements, the relevant fees payable will be retained in full by planning authorities, which will assist planning authorities in funding the increased staffing resources required for the new LRD arrangements from their own resources.
The draft regulations propose to amend Schedule 9 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, as amended - the principal regulations - which set out the "Fees for Planning Applications". A new class of development, No. 14, in respect of "Large-scale residential developments" is now being introduced into section 2 of Schedule 9 of the regulations to provide for the various planning fees to be applied in respect of LRD projects.
As the committee is aware, the new LRD arrangements will comprise three stages – pre-application consultation stage, planning application stage and appeal stage. By way of quick summary, the proposed new fees to be payable by project promoters to planning authorities in respect of LRD projects are as follows. First, it is proposed that the fee for the pre-application consultation on a proposed development between the developer and the relevant planning authority will be €1,500. Second, it is proposed that the subsequent fee for submitting a LRD planning application to a planning authority after the completion of the pre-application consultation stage will be €130 per housing unit in the proposed development. This will be supplemented by a fee in respect of the non-residential floor space of the proposed development, which will be applied at the rate of €7.20 per square metre and will be capped at €32,400.
As the committee will be aware, the maximum floor space now being allowed in LRDs for non-residential purposes is being increased from 15% to 30%. This change in the cap acknowledges that such developments, particularly on inner-city brownfield sites, tend to require a greater mix of residential and commercial or other use in order to take account of the differing needs of inner-city areas, as well as to make LRDs in such inner-urban areas more economically viable for developers. This increase in the cap is intended to facilitate greater development of brownfield sites in those inner-urban areas than might otherwise be the case or has been the case up to now.
Furthermore, fees of €10,000 will also apply where an environmental impact statement or a Natura impact statement is required to be submitted with a LRD planning application. The fees payable in respect of appeals against decisions on LRD planning applications to An Bord Pleanála will be the standard planning appeal fees, which are already in place.
Overall, the maximum possible fees that will be payable to planning authorities by developers in respect of LRD proposals, taking account of the various fee elements that I just outlined, will be capped at €80,000. These fee arrangements are intended to reflect the positive benefits to developers of providing tailored and streamlined planning arrangements for LRDs, including adherence to mandatory decision timelines, thereby providing greater certainty to the development sector in respect of planning timelines, while also taking account of the significant resource implications for planning authorities in assessing projects of this scale and meeting the prescribed decision timelines.
It is also proposed to revise the maximum fees payable in specific scenarios, namely, where a development has already received outline permission and full planning permission is now being sought, and where a developer has received full planning permission for a development and now wishes to apply to amend the design of the development through a new application for permission. The change in the fee arrangements in these scenarios will increase the maximum payable fee - currently capped at €9,500 - to a new maximum of €20,000.
To conclude, I commend this set of draft regulations that will underpin the primary LRD provisions currently being progressed through the Oireachtas to the committee. If, further to today’s presentation to the committee, these draft regulations are subsequently approved by positive resolutions of both Houses of the Oireachtas as required under section 262(4) of the planning Act, it is the intention of Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, to sign the regulations into law on the day the LRD Act is commenced to ensure that the new LRD planning fee arrangements can be immediately applied on the commencement of the Act. I thank the Chair and members and look forward to their questions.
I will call on members to make their contributions in turn. We will follow the usual committee rota. I note, as all members are now attending remotely, the Debates Office has asked that each speaker be clearly identified by name to help ensure the accuracy of the official record. I request that members state their name clearly and confirm that they are within the confines of Leinster House. I will now move to the Fianna Fáil slot first. Who will take that? Some members are having connection problems. I will move to the next slot which is Sinn Féin. Who will take the Sinn Féin slot?
Like everyone else, I was having difficulties. My first question is on whether planning fees will be applied to local authorities. Will the fees be enough to cover the cost of the planning decisions of these developments?
Officials from the Department, Ms Ciara Gallagher, Mr. Brian Loughlin, and Mr. Terry Sheridan, are with us to deal with any issue I cannot reply to. I would say "Yes" that it certainly would. The positive aspect to these regulations is that the fees will go back to the local authorities to help enhance their resources within planning units to carry out their work. That is a very positive development of these regulations. I am not sure if any of our officials wish to come in on that specific issue as well.
I have to advise the Minister of State, and I am sure it can be accommodated, that if we wish to bring in officials to answer questions on some of the more technical aspects of the regulations, we will need to go into private session. We can do that if you wish.
Is that a sufficient answer to Deputy Gould's question? We can do two things. We can go into private session to answer the more technical questions that might arise in one block, rather than going in and out of private session, if there are more technical questions, or a written response to the question can be provided following the meeting. Would that suffice?
I thank the Minister of State and officials. These regulations are welcome in order to bring clarity to the sector. It is very important that they have clear sight of these in short order. The concerns I expressed on Second, Committee and Report Stages do not necessarily relate to the fees structure but relate more so to the resourcing of local authorities to be able to fulfil their obligations in terms of these planning applications. We put a robust system with timelines in place. There are fines in place for An Bord Pleanála should it fail to meet the requirements of the statutory timelines that are being set down. I would like to hear the Minister of State's comments on the resourcing of local authorities, particularly the larger local authorities. There is already a shortage within planning departments across the country. I cited examples of planning departments that sent further information requests to developers in their planning applications looking for information that was already in the planning documents. That was done to buy time and push out the decision time because they simply did not have the resources in-house to make the timelines that are set down. My concern in bringing it back to the local authorities, which in principle I agree with and I support the two-stage planning process, relates to current resourcing within planning departments. I welcome comment from the Minister of State on whether requests for additional resourcing from local authorities to central Government will be supported in this regard. We know An Bord Pleanála had significant additional staff to support the SHD process and it is fitting, therefore, that local authorities are staffed to the same equivalent.
I thank the Chair and Senator Cummins for raising these important questions. The Department is undertaking a review of local authorities across the country in regard to resourcing. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, will make an announcement around the resourcing elements the Senator has raised. We are conscious that this is putting an already over-burdened planning system within local government under more obligation - I say "obligation" rather than "pressure". They are doing incredible work up and down the country, from the smaller local authorities to the larger ones. This resourcing issue is something we are keenly aware of and are addressing. As I said, the fees will also help in that regard because they will be retained 100% by the councils.
In relation to further information, the pre-planning element of it is very positive in that much of the further information side can be dealt with at the pre-planning stage. There might be further information requests that come in from the public's participation that perhaps local authorities might not have thought of in discussions with project promoters and, obviously, those have to be dealt with as well. It is hoped that this will streamline the planning process in dealing with many of the further information requests at the pre-planning stage.
There is a positive aspect to trying to streamline but not stifle public participation in the process. I hope that answers the Senator's question.
Not to labour the point, the best-case scenario here is that we introduce a system in good faith to try to reduce the number of judicial reviews taken and to enable public participation in the planning process at the first stage. The worst-case scenario, however, is that we block up the entire planning process in local authorities. The only solution involves resourcing planning departments, and that must happen now. It must happen right now if we are going to be able to meet our timelines for the introduction of this process in the local authority planning system. It will take several months to get recruitment campaigns under way and staff in place. I cannot emphasise the importance of this aspect enough.
Again, I agree wholeheartedly. These regulations, and the LRD Bill, put public participation back at the heart of large-scale developments. They also seek to ensure the planning system is robust and allows for a streamlined planning process that ensures everybody can take part while also guaranteeing that decisions can be made in a timely manner. We take on board the points made regarding the resourcing of local government. As I said, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, will be making an announcement in that regard next week. I again thank the Senator for the important points that he made.
I am moving on to an Independent slot. Could I get an indication of who wishes to contribute? Apologies, but I cannot see the attendance list on my screen. I will moving on to a Green Party slot, which I will take it. The introduction of these regulations is a positive development. I have been looking at the fees associated with planning applications for a long time and they rarely, if ever, meet the cost of the effort and workload placed on the planning services in our local authorities. We must examine the whole area of the fees associated with planning applications.
These regulations, however, are positive, as is the introduction of the LRD Bill and the process it will establish to move away from the SHD procedures. It should not be forgotten that the SHD process also consumed a great deal of the time of the staff of the local authorities in respect of the requirement for them to meet with representatives of An Bord Pleanála. Now the first port of call and the first decision-making process will lie solely with the local authorities. This is a positive measure and it brings local democracy and participation back into the planning system and the first part of the decision-making process on planning applications within the ambit of planners who know their areas, their counties and their local area plans best.
The associated fees, however, should match the considerable workload that goes with making such decisions. Those decisions are often complex. Planning has become incredibly complex over several years. All sorts of considerations must be taken into account, such as flood risk assessments, retail strategies, environmental impact assessments, EIAs, which are becoming increasingly more complex, as well as other legislation, especially concerning low-carbon construction or energy efficiency in homes. Our planning services, therefore, are faced with many obligations, as the Minister of State said. The decisions the planning services make must stand up to a level of scrutiny across the board, so it is important that the fees in this regard match and support the level of work required to be undertaken by planning services.
Previous to this meeting, we met to discuss the Estimates. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, outlined the announcement, hopefully positive, that will be forthcoming shortly regarding local authority staffing levels and resources. We look forward to that happening because we must address many areas in planning and we must have the requisite staff resources in place to do that. Overall, I welcome these regulations and I thank the Minister of State for bringing them to the committee.
These points are critically important. We are also looking forward to that announcement by the Minister. There will also be a review of the planning fees. We need them to be more reflective of the interdisciplinary nature of planning decisions and the complexity now required at local government level in that regard to ensure robustness in planning decision-making. That applies not only to the planning sections specifically, but also to aspects such as having in place biodiversity officers, architects, conservation officers and climate officers. They can all contribute to a planning decision and how such a decision is made. Given the scale of ambition in the programme for Government regarding policies on climate, biodiversity and town centres, there is an onus on local government to play a central role in this regard. Local government has always played its part and always matched the challenge it has faced. In that regard, we wish to ensure that local government is adequately resourced to enable it to carry out this important work.
In addition, I refer to the importance of full and proper public consultation throughout many of these processes. It was my experience when I was a councillor, and probably that of many of the other committee members and the Minister of State, that the more meetings there are with people to discuss the potential, the possibilities and the likelihood in the context of all the things that input into land zoning and potential objectives in that regard and the more people can be included in that process at any early stage the better the outcome will be. It is preferable to involve people early in the process rather than at the stage where they just see a planning application going in. This is an incredibly important part of the work done by planners at local authority level. Many of them would love to have a much broader and wider ability to have public consultations, because they are aware of this aspect as well. It is key to a successful outcome and to addressing any conflicts which may occur along the route. I refer to it being possible to address such conflicts at the first stage of a planning process. I note from the discussion last night on the LRD Bill that the Minister is open to and looking at how we can increase the public participation aspect of the LRD Bill. I thank the Minister of State.
Again, I agree wholeheartedly. The type of participation in this context is critical and embedding participative planning in our system is crucial to achieving that objective. It is also important from the perspective of the potential success of those proposing projects that they engage with communities at an early stage and at the same time as they are engaging in preplanning processes. As the Chair said, that type of engagement will ensure that there will be better outcomes for everybody.
Regarding the point made about having biodiversity officers and conservation officers and the range of different skills and expertise that are so valuable in local authorities, when those roles and skills are missing the cost incurred from their absence is evident. Conversely, when they are in place it is possible to see the great value brought to bear by a small number of individuals with broader experience and expertise. In that context, will the announcement the Minister is going to make ensure that every local authority will have that range of competencies? Will that be done? I ask the Minister of State to address that aspect.
We are all keenly aware of the lack of resources at the local authority planning level. The coming announcement is welcome, but what has been done to assess the level of the existing deficit that must be plugged? How can we be confident that the announcement will be sufficient to meet the need? What sort of analysis has been done in that regard? Will the gap in resources that has been identified be met in full? I ask the Minister of State to tell us a bit about that aspect. In addition, while it is important to have sufficient resources available at the decision-making stage, forward planning is also important and that aspect has been greatly under-resourced. Will that deficiency be sufficiently addressed as part of this announcement as well?
I will go through the three questions. The Deputy is correct in terms of the interdisciplinary competencies that we need across local government right now. Not every local authority has the full suite of them but some do and, separate from the announcements next week from the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, I will be announcing a scheme to roll out additional biodiversity officers. While it is not going to get us to every county, it will certainly move us forward with a view to trying to have a biodiversity officer in every county over the next number of years. We want those officers to have a key role in the planning process, so they are not just additional heritage officers but they actually carry out a very strategic role within local government around the protection of nature. We will be announcing that element of it next week from my side.
In terms of the analysis gap, as I said, that work is ongoing within the Department and we will see the announcement from the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, next week. If gaps still exist, it is the Minister, Deputy O'Brien's commitment to ensure that we address those. We want to have a robust planning regime and an adequately resourced local government system that is able to cope with what will be a decade and beyond of increased development and increased requirements on that development over that time.
In terms of forward planning, the Deputy is correct. We saw with the development plan process that some local authorities managed the Covid restrictions better than others, some were able to set up very good online portals for public consultation and there was very good engagement. We see this with many of the online meetings, which are fantastic. Again, there was a commitment in the programme for Government to try to move away from linear-type processes into much more expansive and participative planning with communities by using that interdisciplinary approach, be it the heritage section, the arts section or the libraries, in order to be part of engaging with communities very early on. That leads to much more expansive and inclusive development plans that are able to reach hard-to-reach communities and groups and ensure everybody is able to have their voice heard. We are keenly aware of it and local authorities are responding in kind, with some very good, innovative work going on in local government across the country on that side of things.
In terms of not being able to roll out biodiversity officers to every local authority straightaway, for some of the smaller local authorities, has consideration been given to perhaps providing them on a shared basis until we can get to the point of having a biodiversity officer in every local authority? Similarly, for the other competencies and disciplines, where that cannot be done for the smaller local authorities straightaway, is doing it on a shared basis being looked at? What is the thinking on that?
That is an excellent idea. Perhaps some of the smaller counties could share resources like that, be it architects, archivists or biodiversity officers. While we are straying off the core point, it is critical that all local authorities have those resources. That idea of perhaps sharing biodiversity officers is something we will give serious consideration to. I thank the Deputy for that suggestion.
I thank the Minister of State for coming in. I apologise as I am suffering from a cold. I have a couple of relatively short and easy questions, given other aspects have been covered. I want to reiterate Senator Cummins’s point of view, which is that these changes are welcome but they will not work unless local authorities are adequately resourced to stick with the timelines. That is the most important part of it.
One of the big failures of the SHD process was that activations were down. It seemed that some people were using it as an opportunity to be able to flip sites. Was consideration given to charging additional fees where the site was subjected to a second or third application, particularly if there was a second or third application for retention purposes or for changes within the application? Was it considered that there should be a disincentive to that happening on the site and to incorporate it into the fee structure?
I was interested to note that two student accommodation shared bed spaces qualify as one housing unit for the purposes of calculating the fees. Will the Minister of State explain why that was considered? I know 200 bed spaces were considered when going through the SHD process but with regard to the fees, why was this aspect considered? Those are my two questions.
With regard to the activations and the flipping of sites, a vacant land tax will be coming in and I am sure it will help in that regard. I agree with the Senator wholeheartedly in terms of the resources, and the point was well made by Senator Cummins as well. I do not have the detail of the announcement from the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, as yet. As I said, this will be an ongoing process where we are looking to find where those resource deficits are and address them on a council-by-council basis.
I thank the Minister of State for that comprehensive overview. For clarity, when we look at the SHD fees in comparison to the LRD fees, am I right in saying the fee structure is the same and the difference is that the fees are going to be retained by local authorities in this instance, and that funding can then be ring-fenced and used to increase the resources in planning departments across the country?
Yes, that is the case. The fees are almost identical but, where the fees under the SHD previously would have been split between An Bord Pleanála and the local authority, in this case they go 100% back to the local authority. That is a very positive initiative from this set of regulations.
That is super. I fully agree with it. On a point the Minister of State alluded to in response to other members, and it is a recurring theme that we have dealt with at this committee, people are very frustrated by the lack of investment and resources in local authorities to make sure that everything in regard to planning, from enforcement to decision-making, is done in a timely manner and to make sure we are adequately resourcing our housing teams. The Minister of State made reference this morning, as did the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, in our Estimates meeting earlier this morning, to the fact there may be some good news from the perspective of that local authority resourcing. I want to put on record that while I fully accept we need to make sure all of our local authorities are resourced, that means all of them and it includes Dublin. I know delivery action plans are under way in Dublin but we need to make sure that our Dublin local authorities, where an awful lot of the planning decisions arrive, are well resourced given it is our capital city and our most urban area.
Again, I agree wholeheartedly, particularly in regard to Dublin. The fees collected for SHD previously would have been about €20 million so we can anticipate that all of those fees will now revert directly to local government, depending on the scale of the development that progresses over the next number of years. There is increasing investment in resources and that should apply equally to Dublin as it does to Leitrim or to Sligo. We have a very good local government system in this country. The Minister of State, Deputy Burke, is deeply committed to ensuring it is adequately resourced because the challenges we have ahead, and the opportunities we have ahead, are very significant.
It is a changed landscape between the climate and biodiversity ambitions in this programme for Government and right across all aspects of development. We are committed to ensuring that local authorities have the adequate resources to carry out their work, and to go beyond that by being able to be ambitious in developing projects and plans for their communities, as well as meeting climate and biodiversity objectives.
That is a key point of the legislation we are discussing in the Houses at the moment. That extra funding will now be given back to local authorities. There will be increased democracy when it comes to these decisions. That is a real win for local democracy, for residents and for local authorities, which need these resources. I thank the Minister of State. Those regulations make an awful lot of sense.
I thank the Minister of State and the officials for the briefing. I have two sets of questions. First, let me dissent from the general consensus that seems to be that we adequately fund local government. We absolutely do not. Local government is chronically under-funded. Our housing departments and planning departments are stretched beyond belief. Covid-19 has exposed that probably more than ever before. We have a situation whereby there are a significant number of posts pending funding for our housing departments in local authorities. Some of these are dated back to requests from 2019. The situation is, therefore, not as rosy in the garden as the Minister of State seems to suggest. While I would welcome any additional money the Minister announces, my big worry is that there will be a time lead in between that announcement and when the posts are in place.
The Minister of State cannot tell us what the announcement is because the Minister would be then unhappy that he stole his thunder, and he would probably end up on "Callan’s Kicks" for that. However, can the Minister of State give us an indication as to how long it will be from when that announcement is made to when the staff will be in place? Large-scale residential developments will start hitting the local authorities early next year. I do not believe for a second - no matter how big the announcement is by the Minister - that the staff will be in place to do deal with that in the first half of next year. Some clarity around that would be helpful.
One other point I want to make on that is that it is important to remember that the local government sector lost more staff as a percentage of its total staff numbers after the crash in 2008 than any other sector of the public service. The figure was down to 25%. The vast majority of that has not been recovered. They are now back to working at the levels of output in planning and housing that preceded the crash. There is, therefore, a shortfall to get us back to standing still which has to be recognised.
On the fees, and I support many of the comments Deputy Higgins made, there is the line in the opening statement that the upper limit on certain fees will be raised from €9,500 to €20,000. Could the Minister of State explain how that relates to the fact that the overall fee structure does not change? Has there been any assessment by Mr. Sheridan, Ms Kenny and the staff on how much money is likely to accrue to local authorities by the strategic housing development, SHD, finances going to them on the basis of the level of fees and level of applications that we have seen to date going through the board?
The Deputy is correct that I do not have the detail of the Minister’s announcement next week. I agree with the Deputy about the historical under-funding of local government. This Government is attempting to address that with the resources we are announcing. We are making good strides to address the staffing shortfalls there. I can only speak about the local authorities in my constituency, including Kilkenny, where I am seeing a huge output of activity in social housing from working with approved housing bodies, AHBs. Really innovative housing projects are developing. That is happening right across the country. Despite those challenges, local government is responding well, notwithstanding the fact that we have to give those resources to them. The Deputy, therefore, makes a valid point in relation to that.
I do not have the detail on the fee scale from €9,500 to €20,000. If it is okay, we will get back to the Deputy with a written response on that.
Since Mr. Sheridan’s ears have just pricked up there, could I ask if the committee could get a note with further explanation on exactly how the fee structure will work, particularly on that upper limit? I presume there has been some assessment on what level of fees the board has gotten in the last year. This goes to Deputy Higgins’s point that Dublin, the commuter belt and a bit of Cork will carry the bulk of this. Therefore, we need to ensure that in addition to the huge numbers of extra staff the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, will provide for in his significant announcement in the coming days, we also see significant increased fees coming in. This is because one of the challenges for local government is that if they have to get more staff from roads, from water services or from elsewhere involved in pre-planning, it might be the case that they do not get extra staff, but they take staff from other crucial functions. Then we, as constituency Deputies, will start getting complaints about how the roads officials are spending all their time doing pre-planning and, therefore, cannot do X,Y and Z. Deputy Higgins’s point is, therefore, important not just for Dublin but for the commuter belt. If we could get a good detailed briefing note on the fees, that would be helpful for us.
We can do that. The note I have here says it relates to the change in the type of house that is proposed to be constructed, erected or made or modification of the design or external of appearance of a building. It reflects the additional staffing time that would be put in to address those changes. The reduction can be applied where a development has already received an outline permission and is applying for full permission where a developer has received full planning permission and wishes to apply to amend the design through a new application for permission. This proposal would increase the maximum payable fee, which is currently capped at €9,500 to a maximum of €20,000. It is reflective of the additional administration that would be involved. As I said at the outset, there will be review of planning fees next year. That again will try to reflect the additional workload that it is putting on local government. That revenue will go directly back into local government resources and staffing.
It may be helpful that the committee has a work theme set out to look at the whole area of local authority resources, staffing and funding allocations. I would expect that we will invite the Department in to one or two of those sessions. We can address all of those issues and questions around resourcing and funding that have arisen over the last couple of weeks while we have been addressing both the Maritime Area Planning Bill and Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill.
Nobody has indicated from the Fianna Fáil slot or the Fine Gael slot. All members and attendees have contributed. Does Deputy Gould wish to come back in with another question?
I have a question for the Minister of State, which follows on from some of the other comments about local authority funding. I raised it earlier with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. At the moment, the Department gives €50,000 for a vacant home officer every year. We know from questions I have tabled that there are only three full-time vacant home officers, with the rest being part time. I have looked for those to become permanent positions. However, when one considers that there are almost 90,000 vacant properties in the State, having a part-time person in each of the 31 local authorities trying to deal with it will not work. We have a housing crisis and a climate crisis. Properties could be turned around fairly quickly and would help to house families who badly need to be housed. At the same time, by retrofitting and repairing these properties, we could do it quickly and in the most environmentally-friendly way.
There should not be a vacant homes officer. Instead, there should be a vacant homes department in each local authority and this approach should be looked at as part of the solution to the housing crisis. In addition, there is the issue of the derelict sites levy, which I raised with the Minister of State earlier. This matter comes down to resources as well. We have 13 local authorities that do not impose any levy-----
There was a lot of talk about the resources coming in. It is vital that local authorities get funding, and I ask the Minister to bear this in mind and to examine that aspect. We also have major problems with planning departments being unable to cope with the number of planning applications being submitted. That is particularly the case regarding projects that the local authorities are trying to manage themselves. They require extra resources. The Minister of State said there is going to be an announcement in this regard and I will welcome that if it helps to solve the problem local authorities have in dealing with the number of planning applications being submitted. We also have a shortage of resources, however, in areas such as housing maintenance, where local authorities are unable to keep up. Therefore, I ask the Minister of State to bear all those factors in mind when that announcement is being considered because they are vital for the local authorities.
I thank Deputy Gould. It may be helpful to the Minister of State that this committee is having a series of three meetings, one before Christmas and two after, where we are going to consider the whole area of urban regeneration in villages, towns and cities. Aspects to be addressed will include dereliction, vacancy and other factors that impact this context, such as the Town Centre First policy, transport-orientated development and many other elements that can contribute. I share Deputy Gould's vision for the regeneration of our towns and villages. There is much work that we can do, and Deputy Gould has recommended two expert witnesses to appear before the committee, namely, Frank O’Connor and Jude Sherry. The Deputy has spoken about their work in Cork. After those three or perhaps four meetings, we would hope to produce a report on our findings and recommendations and submit that to the Department for consideration. Those recommendations would be in addition to those factors contained in the Housing for All strategy, which lays out several policy objectives to address the matters raised by Deputy Gould.
I look forward to that session with Frank O'Connor and Jude Sherry. They have done fantastic work in highlighting dereliction in Cork city. We have major challenges and opportunities in our town centres. The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, will hopefully be moving on the Town Centre First policy soon and we hope to address this issue of vacancy.
From my perspective as the Minister of State with special responsibility for heritage and built heritage, I am astounded at the value we could find in our town centres through the regeneration of older historical properties that can be brought back to a high level of thermal comfort for families to live in. That can be done for social houses built by approved housing bodies, AHBs, as well as for houses for private purchase for families. That brings us back to the whole suite of arguments in this context, including transport-related mobility and compact living in respect of the growth of vibrant town centres.
Therefore, an open door is being pushed by the members in this regard. We have not reached anything near the full potential of what we should be doing in this area. Our Department gives out very good grants for the regeneration and repurposing of older buildings, and that undertaking could be a huge contributor in addressing our housing crisis. I agree wholeheartedly with Deputy Gould and the Chair regarding the potential that lies in our town centres.
I thank the Minister of State and the members for their contributions this morning. That completes our consideration of the draft Planning and Development (LRD Fees) Regulations 2021. The clerk to the committee will send messages to that effect to the CIerks of the Dáil and the Seanad in accordance with Standing Orders 101 and 75, respectively. I thank the Minister of State and the Department officials for their attendance. Senator Moynihan and Deputies Gould and Ó Broin had technical queries and they will submit those questions for a response. We look forward to that.