Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 May 2006

Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill 2006 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).


12:00 pm

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)

This presents an opportunity to speak on the general point of how the population has grown in recent times. Inevitably, in a strong economy, the need for facilities increases considerably. Until now, it has not been possible for infrastructure such as motorways, roads and power facilities to keep up with the requirements of the general public. People feel the Government or local authorities are not meeting the requirements of an expanding and more prosperous population. Part of the reason for this is the difficulties in the planning process which are addressed by this Bill. Other issues must also be addressed to speed up the delivery of essential public services.

Section 9 deals with rogue developers, who have been the bane of every elected representative's life. There have been difficulties with builders moving onto estates and not completing them. People living there complain that work has not been completed. Inevitably, land is sold off in subplots to second or third developers, who regularly display weaker commitment to the planning conditions attached to the original developer. Roads, paths and other infrastructure, including green areas, are not completed, particularly in housing estates.

It is different with commercial development, since if a premises is sold for commercial purposes and people must continue to conduct business through a shop, office or factory to earn a livelihood, it will have to be completed to a high standard. By definition, they will have to attract new customers to their place of business daily. It is essential for commercial reasons that all such developments in those areas be completed properly.

That is not the case with housing or apartment developments. We have all seen that people pay deposits and buy houses from the plans before ever a sod is turned. They make staged payments and are in their houses while the development is still effectively a building site. They have no control whatsoever over how projects are completed.

There were provisions in previous legislation regarding rogue developers to ensure they completed sites. An important one was that their previous track record could be used against them in a planning application. Section 9 tightens that procedure and places the onus of proof on the developer or applicant rather than the local authority, an excellent way of dealing with it. Under the new system, if the planning authority feels there is good reason to exercise its power to refuse permission, it can serve notice in writing to the applicant to that effect. It will give reasons and specify previous failures to comply, inviting the applicant to make a submission to the authority to give his or her side of the story. The onus is now rightly on the applicant in all planning applications to provide all necessary information. They must prove to the local authority's satisfaction why they should not have permission refused based on their previous track record. The onus of proof is now on developers.

It goes without saying that it can be a severe imposition on some developers. It can be difficult where previous sites have changed hands, and there can be legal complications. Naturally, the legislation provides for a period during which a person can apply to the High Court to have that provision satisfied. I have given examples where there might be bona fide reasons. There may be other grounds not taken into account for the planning authority to consider. A court can direct a local authority to satisfy that provision and consider the new application on its merits. It is correct that there be a right to a court appeal in such a situation.

However, I do not expect that many applicants would take that route, since it is in their interest to deal with the local planning authority rather than spend time in the High Court. If they do not answer to the council's satisfaction and give adequate reasons for not completing previous developments, the council can refuse planning permission.

I am particularly pleased with section 6(c), which states that no appeal may be made to An Bord Pleanála if a planning authority refuses planning permission under that section. Once developers have gone through the process without going to court, they cannot appeal the local authority's decision to An Bord Pleanála. This gives them tremendous power that residents' associations around the country have been demanding for years. There have been improvements.


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