Thursday, 25 May 2006
Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill 2006 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).
Finian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
I wish to share time with Deputy Gormley. I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill 2006. It is an important debate and I have listened to the views of Members from differing parties. This debate on planning and development is relevant given the present economic climate and boom. However, Members must acknowledge the debate's downside by facing up to the reality of what went on in this State in the areas of planning and development for the past 20 years. I refer to sleaze and corruption in politics in respect of politicians and planning and development issues. Members must face this reality.
Moreover, Members must accept the extent to which this issue has seriously damaged politics in general. It has led to much cynicism in public life and has led to the failure of citizens of good quality to turn out to vote at elections. This matter should be dealt with in the course of this debate. I raise this issue because it is important to have the confidence and trust of citizens. In that context, honest planning and quality development are required.
It is not sufficient to state that those who are in a minority should be overruled and all voices should be listened to and respected. As democrats, Members accept the views of the majority. However, it is very important for citizens to have confidence and trust in the entire planning process and in issues regarding development. The sensible position regarding planning and development in any part of the city or country is that one requires both quality planning and the correct balance. However, in some respects, the sense of balance has been lost as far as planning and development projects are concerned.
Law enforcement is another relevant issue. Members receive many complaints from residents' groups and individual citizens who state that the law is not being enforced properly. At present, much wildcat planning is taking place across the north side of Dublin. People are being overruled and citizen's voices are neither being heard nor listened to. The issue of enforcement is crucial to this subject.
The question of housing, to which other Members have already referred, also arises in this context. It is good that so many are doing well as a result of the economic boom, and some people now have two or three houses. My reaction is to wish them well. However, 50,000 or 60,000 people remain on the social and affordable housing waiting list. This reality must be accepted. Some people have two or three houses, while 50,000 or 60,000 others do not have a home. As a society, we must ask ourselves a fundamental question about our present direction.
Moreover, why was it possible to build such houses in poorer times such as the 1930s and 1940s? I refer to the Government's predecessor. It was able to build more social housing in the 1930s and 1940s than does the present Government in 2006. This issue must also be faced.
As for the proposed legislation, the purpose of the Bill is to amend the Planning and Development Act 2000 to provide for the introduction of a streamlined planning consent procedure for strategic infrastructure developments, which will be determined by a new strategic infrastructure division to be established within An Bord Pleanála, and to make the consequential and other changes to the 2000 Act. The Bill also provides for a specialised planning consent procedure for major electricity transmission lines. It amends the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act 2001 to provide that An Bord Pleanála will approve railway orders and amends the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act 1919 to provide for the compensation that will be assessed for the substratum of lands. This constitutes the bones of the legislation and it is important for Members to deal with its substantive part.
I refer to section 3, which pertains to permissions for strategic infrastructure developments. The sections set out the procedures for the initial consultations with the board, for making an application, the persons who must be notified of the application, including the planning authority or authorities for the relevant area, and the procedures and considerations to be applied by the board when determining the application. Section 3 is also very relevant. It is important the planning is done correctly for the development of major infrastructure projects. I appeal to those involved in planning and the Ministers for Transport, and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to listen to sensible people who make proposals.
I raised this issue before the construction of the Dublin Port tunnel in my constituency, which has now cost up to €1 billion and is nearly €250 million over budget. I was on the city council at the time and along with local residents we met the construction team. People were advised that under no circumstances would there be damage to their homes and that everything would be hunky dory. In the past week the number of damaged homes in my constituency has reached 254. We have seen structural damage, cracks in walls, and gardens subsiding because of the Dublin Port tunnel. In addition negotiation is ongoing with a further 115 families. The so-called experts told us nothing would happen. We even brought in an expert from London, Dr. de Freitas, who told us that everything really would be grand and that we were all imagining these things.
When we made the proposals we were dismissed as cranks and people jumping on the bandwagon. However, the residents of Marino, Fairview, Santry and Drumcondra have been proved correct. I would like the so-called experts to put up their hands and admit they got it wrong. I accept that all these families will be rightly compensated. However, these people have damage in their kitchens and extensions, and have gardens that are subsiding. This was a major infrastructure project with major problems. The project managers did not come clean and tell the truth. They caused considerable grief and hassle. I raise this issue in the context of the trust and confidence of citizens.
Developers of large apartment blocks treat the local community very badly. Some of them breach the planning requirements and get away with it. A block of apartments in the Cloisters off Grace Park Road in my constituency was built approximately 1.5 m above the accepted guidelines and was built above a major intersection of the route of the Dublin Port tunnel. The residents in the area were very concerned and angry. One Saturday, the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, went into the estate and was chased out of it because of the anger of the residents.