Wednesday, 18 May 2005
I thank the Ceann Comhairle in his absence for giving me an opportunity to raise this important issue that has arisen as a result of the recent guidelines issued by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche. Rather than loosening planning, the planning guidelines have tightened planning regulations. I refer in particular to landowners' sons and daughters who want to build on their own farm in rural areas but find they cannot do so because bodies such as the National Roads Authority can object to a planning application.
I know of two applications in my constituency where planning permission was granted by Clare County Council to two local farmers' sons who wanted to build houses with direct access to national secondary roads. I realise safety is an important issue for anyone building a house, particularly if it has direct access to a national secondary route, but both these people whom I know well had gone to great expense in planning applications and safety audits. They satisfied the local authority that there was no danger to traffic emerging onto the national secondary route because they had the adequate site distance to overcome any problems.
Both applicants were granted their planning applications after a lengthy period of consultation with the local authority. I am disappointed to note that the National Roads Authority has appealed the planning applications that were granted by Clare County Council. These young people were born and grew up in their own parish and wish to continue living there. They do not want to relocate to the nearest town because they work and live on a farm. It is part of their job to be on-site in the event of problems arising on the farm.
The National Roads Authority objected to An Bord Pleanála, even after the council planners had satisfied themselves as to the safety aspects of the planning application. This places additional stress and an unfair burden on the applicants. They have gone through the planning process and received permission, yet they find they are back to square one after a year or two. They will now have to go through the long process again of seeking planning permission from An Bord Pleanála, although they do not know what the outcome will be. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, should sort out this mess.
The new guidelines were introduced to reverse rural decline by facilitating members of the rural community who wish to build homes in their localities. We find, however, that while council planners are implementing the guidelines, the National Roads Authority is operating a different strategy. The NRA should be mandated to work closely with local authorities on road strategy, not in opposition to them.
The Minister should examine that situation seriously having regard to the guidelines he introduced recently. He said he recognises the strong and continuing tradition of people living in rural areas. He also said that the guidelines should promote and support vibrant rural communities, but exactly the opposite is happening. People connected to the land find that they must fight their cases every inch of the way, even after they appear to have won.
According to the guidelines, housing should take into account the efficient ongoing development and safe operation of key transport arteries such as roads, particularly national primary and secondary routes, and the rail network. The NRA, however, appears to be at loggerheads with Clare County Council on the issue. The NRA wrote to the council last March stating that it was disappointed with Clare County Council's approach to the county development plan. The situation is serious considering that the new guidelines were meant to facilitate a more liberal regime. There is an urgent need for the Minister to clarify the position now. The Minister of State may say in his reply that he has no control over the NRA and the Minister for Transport would say the same thing, but what is the point of the new guidelines if an independent statutory body can overrule them? I ask the Minister to examine this situation with a view to allowing people to remain in their local areas.
I thank Deputy Pat Breen for raising this matter and I apologise for the absence of the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, who is unavoidably absent. He was most anxious to respond to this Adjournment matter on which he could probably provide more enlightenment than I can. However, I thank the Deputy for giving me this opportunity to clarify that the recently published guidelines for planning authorities on sustainable rural housing are, as provided for under the Planning and Development Act 2000, specifically for planning authorities.
Local planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála are required to have regard to such guidelines in the performance of their functions under the Act in making or varying development plans and in the day-to-day consideration of planning applications. Statutory planning guidelines do not extend to public bodies other than planning authorities. The guidelines are intended to facilitate people who are part of the rural community in getting planning permission, provided their proposals meet the normal standards in matters such as the proper disposal of waste water and road safety.
On the question of road safety, the guidelines deal with the issue of development along national primary, national secondary and key regional roads. In this regard, the guidelines call for key objectives to be included in development plans, which focus on the efficient ongoing development and safe operation of such roads.
The guidelines recognise that many development plans contain objectives regarding future road proposals and, in certain circumstances, the need to protect the routes of future roads from development and recommend that this practice should continue.
In addition, as regards the assessment of proposals on existing roads, the guidelines refer to policy on development involving access to national roads. They also refer to policy on development along such roads as set out in the documents entitled Development Control Advice and Guidelines and Policy and Planning Framework for Roads, which were issued in 1982 and 1985 respectively by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
That policy is given practical expression in the Department's 1982 document which stipulates that "as a general policy, the location of new means of access to the national primary roads, or residential, commercial, industrial or other development dependent on such means of access, should not be permitted except in areas where a speed limit of 30-40 mph applies". That would now be 50-65 km/h. The 1982 document points out that the same considerations also apply to national secondary roads.
The guidelines on sustainable rural housing state, therefore, that the objectives and policies of the development plan should make it clear that direct access from future development should not be permitted to national roads outside the speed limit zones for towns and villages.
Development control policy should also seek to channel traffic from new development on to existing local roads and in this way use established access points to gain entry on to national roads. The guidelines add that the development plan should make such policies clear as regards designated national routes in the planning authority's functional area.
The primary concern of the policy I have outlined is one of road safety. We are all only too well aware, for example, of the danger posed to drivers and passengers, and other road users, by cars or other vehicles stopping to make a right turn into a house entrance on a main road where the speed limit is 100 km/h.
I reiterate that the guidelines apply only to planning authorities and there is specific reference therein to development along the national primary, national secondary and regional road network, primarily for safety reasons. If other bodies choose to lodge an objection to a planning application for particular reasons, it is open to them to do so under the planning regime in place. When making a decision on a planning application, a planning authority is restricted to considering the proper planning and sustainable development of its area, having regard, inter alia, to the provisions of its development plan.
I hope that reply has provided some enlightenment for the Deputy.