Thursday, 13 December 2018
Local Government Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 36, to delete lines 15 to 35.
We had a very detailed debate on the urban area committees on Committee Stage. I thank the Minister of State for his engagement on this. Most of us agreed with the concept. It is a sizeable addition to the Bill at a late enough stage. I believe the Minister of State also recognises that. That was a particular concern which we discussed with my colleagues, Deputies Casey and Butler. If there are reforms to local government we want to ensure that local authorities which share boundaries, particularly in urban areas, work better together and that a better structure is put in place for that to happen. For that to happen we also need to make sure there is full consultation. As I said, we spent a great deal of time in the select committee debating this proposal and its merits. The manner in which it was introduced at a late stage has posed some difficulties. A lot needed to be teased out, particularly in the area of planning.
The Bill as it stands would give power to these urban area committees to produce local area plans that would supersede county development plans and which would be transposed. We debated this at length and discussed it with the Minister of State. I know there is a willingness to ensure proper democratisation within this, to ensure there would be oversight by the local authorities and that unelected people would not be sitting and voting on these committees, and to deal with the area of proportionality. This is also very important. We should not have one large local authority telling another smaller local authority what to do. There is a lot of merit in what the Minister of State brought to this Bill, though late in the game, but there are issues that need to be teased out. There are concerns in particular about the eight areas that have been selected. Colleagues of mine will discuss these concerns.
All of us who spoke on Committee Stage, including myself, Deputies Ó Broin, Casey and others, saw the merits in this concept and in ensuring local authorities work better together, particularly on the planning side, for the good of the citizens they serve and whom councillors represent. However, we cannot have a democratic deficit either. We need to make sure locally elected councillors are included in this process. From a planning perspective, we also have to make sure that committees are not set up which will supersede well-planned and sequenced local area plans and development plans. It is in that context that we tabled the amendments which seek to remove these sections.
I know the Minister of State has indicated a willingness to return and look at how this could be done better by way of separate legislation. That is a sensible approach. I hope the amendments we have tabled will be supported and that we can look at this again more comprehensively by way of separate legislation. I firmly believe that is what should have been done in the first place. The concept of urban area committees was too fundamental to be introduced through a Committee Stage amendment. We did our best to be constructive on this concept and to tease out the points on Committee Stage. That will help the process into the future, but we have got to make sure the local authorities named in this Bill are also consulted and that the elected members on the ground are consulted. We can come back next year with more comprehensive legislation that ensures committees like these are set up on a statutory basis in urban areas to deal with shared services, but we must consult properly and widely on that.