Wednesday, 8 March 2006
Question 10: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on setting up a task force within his Department to examine the possible regulation of the planning status of adult entertainment venues and shops; if such regulation can be achieved through the planning code; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9600/06]
I recently received a request from the Association of County and City Councils to introduce legislation to regulate the planning aspects of the adult entertainment industry. Members of the association expressed concern that the recent growth of this sector can have a marked effect on the perception and character of a particular location. I acknowledge that the establishment of adult entertainment venues and shops can raise real public concerns, welcome the interest expressed by the association and believe it is appropriate that local authorities should be involved in regulating this sort of activity at local level. Further consideration is needed of whether planning regulation alone can adequately support a local control regime with regard to these activities. Entertainment venues and shops, adult or otherwise, are already potentially subject to a wide range of different regulatory requirements, a number of which may come within the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. These include alcohol and dance hall licensing. The importation and sale of pornography are addressed by the criminal and customs codes. The interaction of these codes with the local regulation regime also needs to be considered. I therefore intend to work with my Government colleagues to ensure the most appropriate form of local regulation in this area.
In advance of any new regulatory powers, local authorities should use powers available to them under the planning code to ensure that late night entertainment venues are not inappropriately located, for example, in quiet residential areas or near schools.
I am disappointed with the Minister's response. This issue was raised by my colleague, Councillor Emer Costello, following the recent opening of an adult entertainment venue in the Parnell Square area. She drew attention to the fact that if a person wished to open an Internet café, planning permission would have to be obtained. However, this is not required to open a lap dancing club. It would be treated by the planning code in the same manner as a newsagent or hairdressing salon.
Would it not be a simple matter for the Minister to make a regulation under the Planning Acts which would require that operations of this kind would at least have to apply for planning permission? People in the local community could at least express their views on the appropriateness of the location and activity through this mechanism. If he cannot do this through regulation, will the Minister take the opportunity of the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill 2006, which completed Second Stage in the Seanad today and will come to the Dáil shortly, to strengthen the law in this area? This would ensure that adult entertainment venues would have to apply for a planning permission.
It is a loophole in our planning law that needs to be closed. Much of the public would be surprised that if a person needs to build an extension over a certain size on to a house, planning permission is required, but if a person wants to open one of these clubs, he or she does not have to apply to the local authority for planning permission. A club licence would be required.
I see the logic in the Deputy's point. If he recalls, I took a similar decision a while back with regard to off-licences. It was remarkable that planning permission was not required for an off-licence, but if a shop was being converted to a chip shop, for example, it was required. The same logic would apply in this case. I am considering the issue.
I am surprised the planning process does not distinguish between ordinary entertainment and so-called adult entertainment. Neither does it distinguish between bona fide shops and so-called sex shops. A lacuna is evident. I am not saying there is a reluctance to examine the matter, but I wish to consider if the planning code is the only way of dealing with it. It is not as simple as the off-licence issue. I will be disposed to dealing with it.
Local authorities have certain powers in zoning, but this case in the Parnell Square area of Dublin is indicative of an issue. It is a concern to me to draw these distinctions because the planning code should do this. Planning authorities have powers to zone activities for certain activities, but this episode has indicated a lacuna, as did the off-licence issue. I am concerned with this and will look to address the issue.
I appreciate the Minister is discussing other forms of control with colleagues, such as the licensing side of things. There is a planning dimension to the matter. Planning control is appropriate for some elements, whether they be location, the change of a normal retail shop to one of these uses, opening hours or whatever. I acknowledge that the Minister acted on off-licences and I compliment him on having done so. I urge him to act in the same way on this issue. There may well be a need for a more comprehensive regulatory regime down the line, which may be worked out in time.
In the short term, the loophole facilitating the lack of planning control, with a local authority having no power over these outlets, needs to be closed. The issue should be brought under planning control and a requirement for planning permission should be included in these cases.
The Deputy's points are well made, and his latter point is attractive to me. Even if there is a short-term solution as well as one over the longer term, I will consider the matter. The Deputy may keep in contact with me on the issue. We in the House all agree that action should be taken. I agree that there is a lacuna and where there is one, we should look at existing law and consider how to deal with it. We can then deal with a longer-term issue.